COLA Study Abroad Interview-Shannon McGrath-Ghana

Intro: (Tell us a bit about yourself)

I am a junior occupational therapy major pursuing minors in race and ethnic studies, women’s studies, and outdoor education. My career goal is to open an outdoor summer camp for children who have special needs. During my free time I try to travel as much as possible and spend time doing outdoor activities like hiking and snowboarding. I chose to study abroad at the University of Ghana in Legon, Ghana during my spring 2016 semester.

Why did you choose the Ghana semester program?

I honestly didn’t care where I went for my study abroad semester, I just knew I wanted to go somewhere unique and not commonly travelled by Americans. Having a race and ethnic studies minor and women’s studies minor, there were so many places I could go to meet my requirements. My sights were originally set on Nepal, Thailand, and South Africa, but then I came across the UNH-Managed Ghana Program and everything seemed to just fall into place. After some research, I realized Ghana would be a culturally rich place where I could learn a lot and push myself out of my comfort zone.

Did you find your course work pushed you to explore more of Ghana that you might not have otherwise? 

One class in particular that I took was Rural Development Experiences. During this class, we took a weekend trip to Upper East Region of Ghana to visit a community who was using a new irrigation system to help with their yearly harvest. This trip consisted of a 17 hour bus ride each way while only spending about 26 hours in the town of Navrongo. Although it was a short trip with grueling travel conditions, we were able to visit a town called Paga that worshipped crocodiles (we even touched one!), hopped the border into Burkina Faso, and visited a huge waterfall on our return home. If I hadn’t taken the course, chances are I wouldn’t have visited any of these amazing places! Other than that, my course work offered such a wide range of knowledge about Ghana as a whole, so many weekends were spent traveling around and visiting the different regions.

What will be your best memory of being abroad?

During one weekend, a group of girls and I traveled to the Volta Region to visit Wli Fall – the tallest waterfalls in West Africa – and hike Mt. Afadja, which is the tallest mountain in Ghana. On the first leg of our trip, we took moto-bike taxis to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary where we were able to feed bananas to the monkeys and allow them to jump on our arms and sit with us. This whole trip was an amazing memory, but traveling on moto-bikes and seeing the wildlife firsthand was an experience like no other.

Were you able to carve out opportunities to meet locals abroad? How was socializing in Ghana different from socializing back home?

I did have the opportunity to meet many locals while abroad, with one huge reason being that there are roughly 40,000 students who attend the University of Ghana. I had many school friends from my many group projects and they were all very helpful and concerned with my schoolwork and making sure I knew what was happening. Because I was pretty much gone every weekend traveling around Ghana, it was hard to become close with many locals, but I am happy that I had the opportunity to work with my classmates and find out more about their home life and life in Ghana.

What personal and professional changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? Are they positive or negative? Why do you think these changes have occurred?

There have been a few changes since I began my study abroad program. I definitely see myself as a more independent person who is able to take on any challenge confidently and head on. On both a personal and professional level, I think have the ability to adapt to a variety of environments and situations and see the brightness when life gets difficult. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world and there is so much inequality with how people live their lives. I want to change this – I want to help make the world a happier, more peaceful place. Ghana is beautiful and showed me that all we need is kindness and community to be happy individuals. This is something that can be brought anywhere and I will try my best, in my personal and professional life, to bring this out.

How has it been readjusting to life in Durham?

Readjusting to life in Durham hasn’t been too terrible. Sometimes it is very overwhelming with the pace life goes at here. The Ghanaian way of life was much more laid back and relaxed. People do things when they want to and everyone is always so disconnected from social media that people enjoy being around others more it seems. Even for myself, in Ghana I had a small tracphone I hardly used and my Wi-Fi was so iffy that I rarely was on social media accounts. This allowed me to go through my days completely disconnected from society and what was happening in the outside world. Ghanaians have a huge sense of community value and are so welcoming. I would not go anywhere without getting multiple greetings and smiles. Now back here, I can’t go anywhere without people being glued to their phones with little social interaction. I think the lack of community and straight up kindness to strangers has made the readjustment aspect a bit more difficult than I expected.

Top 3:

Place to eat:

1 – Chez Afrique in East Legon offers great local food and live music on the weekend!

2 – Pinocchio’s has typical American-style food and yummy ice cream. There is one in Osu and East Legon

3 – Chez Clarisse in Osu offers delicious local dishes such as the popular tilapia and rice! Cozy, local atmosphere where we spent many birthday celebrations

Places to go:

1 – Cape Coast! So much history in a beautiful, friendly town just 3ish hours away from Accra.

2 – Cape Three Points. It is known for being the closest piece of land to the center of the world (0 degrees lat., 0 degrees long.). We stayed in an Ecolodge next to a small fishing town.

3 – Big Millie’s Backyard is a must go to beach spot! Layout on the beach with locals, eat great food, and enjoy live music!

Events to attend

1 – Asabaako Music Festival at Busua Beach for Independence Day

2 – Any showing or event at the Ghana National Theatre in Accra

3 – Local theatre productions put on at the University of Ghana

Stores/shops to go to

1 – Obroni Piles in Macola

2 – Fetish Market in Lomé, Togo

3 – Boabob House in Cape Coast

Transportation tips:

1 – Always barter with the taxi drivers.

2 – Be prepared for cars to break down/get to places later than expected

3 – Relax and ask around for help. Tro-Tros (main form of transportation) are cramped and hot with confusing stop names. Don’t be afraid to ask the Ghanaians around you for help!

Random things to know:

1 – Ghana is a conservative country and Ghanaian women typically wear pants or long skirts and dresses. You can wear shorts but you will stick out, and depending where you are, someone will say something to you about the length.

2 – The people are very friendly! There is a huge sense of community feel and you will feel welcome! The area is safe in regards to physical safety, but petty theft is very common – just be aware of your valuables at all times

3 – Most traditional foods are eaten with the right hand (the left hand is looked at as disgusting) and people drink water from little plastic bags called water sachets

Home Away from Home (But Actually)

Hannah Drake about to depart on her semester abroad in Grenada, Spain.

Hannah Drake about to depart on her semester abroad in Granada, Spain.

Hannah Drake is a family-oriented girl. She loves spending time with her younger sister and her parents. And since she is an English major, she often finds herself writing stories with main characters closely resembling her loved ones.

But Drake, who is spending the semester in Granada, Spain, has a new set of family members to write about: Her host family.

Now, sure, living with a host family isn’t for everyone. Some people find it scary.

What if they’re crazy? What if I can’t communicate with them well enough? What if they don’t like me? What if…what if…what if…

But for Drake–who embraces the literary inspiration–those “what ifs” are the draw.

And Beatriz and Javier (her host parents) have welcomed Drake into their home with open arms from the moment she arrived in Spain. A seamless embrace, really.

Drake is the couple’s third guest, and she recalls her first moments in the Spanish home as heartwarming and comfortable.

“The first thing I did when I got to Spain was eat and unpack,” Drake said. “My host mom was a big part of both activities, and I was so overwhelmed and excited and terrified that I couldn’t do anything but nod when she spoke.”

Drake sat in the small, bright home as Beatriz made her soup and croquetas (“little nuggets filled with ham and cheese and covered in buttery bread crumbs”).

“And there was a loaf of fresh bread on the cutting board,” Drake said.

Now doesn’t that sound warm and inviting?

Even still, Drake must admit she found it all a little hard to swallow, being her first night and all. It was a grand gesture she didn’t quite know how to accept.

“The jet lag and the anxiety and the excitement were just a little bit too much, but I was [still] grateful,” Drake said.

Hannah and one of her Spanish

Hannah and one of her Spanish “sisters” named Ana, 10.

Since then, it is clear Drake has started fostering a soon-to-be-wonderful relationship with her family away from home. She has learned quite a bit about Beatriz and Javier’s two daughters, whom she calls her sisters.

“Beatriz (named after her mother, of course) is 14 and Ana is 10,” Drake said. “Beatriz has braces and a huge smile, and Ana has warm brown eyes and loves to sing, dance, and play piano.”

The family has also done their part in introducing Drake to their home city of Granada.

“[On my first day] my host dad took me on a walk with my youngest host sister,” Drake said. “She wore roller blades and held my hand and tried her best to remember English words when I couldn’t figure out the Spanish ones.”

Javier pointed out bars and some of Granada’s hotspots, but being only her first day at the time, Drake said her nerves took over. She found it hard to remember everything he pointed out. But nowadays, with a couple of weeks under her belt and the continued help of her new family, she is getting to know the area.

“I’m so glad I chose Granada.” Drake said, adding that she likes how small it feels for a city. “The world-famous Alhambra palace is surrounded by a green valley and blue sky and purple mountains–the Sierra Nevadas–in the distance. Streets are narrow and people walk slow and there’s fresh bread and olive oil with every meal.”

And meals happen to be one of Drakes most cherished events–not due to the constant bread and olive oil, though. But instead, because of the time she can spend with her host family.

“Their kitchen is small and our elbows all touch when we’re eating dinner,” Drake said. “But that’s one of my favorite parts of the day!

During these elbow-touching meals, Javier does his best to speak English, Drake said, taking any chance he can to use his favorite words: “teenager” (which he pronounces as “teenydor”) and “perfect” (which to him sounds like “pehrfek”). And Drake’s host mom sets out the food for the family.

“[She] is a beautiful, elegant, welcoming Spanish woman with dark hair and tiny smile wrinkles around her eyes,” Drake said.

This elegant woman has made Drake feel comfortable and welcome–no small feat for Drake, who describes herself as a “study abroad rookie,” and who is very close to (and undoubtedly missing) her own mother back in New Hampshire.

It is early in the trip, and Drake’s anxiety still lingers each morning, but her host family is certainly helping her settle the nerves.

“As exciting as everything here is, it can get overwhelming sometimes,” Drake said. “And when it does, I give myself some advice: live in the moment. Feel what you’re feeling right now – it won’t last forever. Write it down. Follow your gut. Feel the fear, and do it anyways.”

And most of all, keep getting to know that generous, lovely host family. They’ll be the main characters in your next big story, after all!


Jacqueline Sullivan– Spring 2016, COLA study abroad alumna                                                             

Nick D– Spring 2016, COLA study abroad alumna

Rachel V– Spring 2016, COLA study abroad alumna



A Trip for the History Books

Steven Cowley was well-prepared for his trip to Belize this past January-Term.

Of course, he’s an adventurous, outdoorsy, easygoing guy with an interest in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and a major in History…so…this comes as no surprise.

The Archaeological Survey & Mapping J-Term program is a 2-week trip in the jungle, really. Students earn 4 credits by spending their weekdays getting hands-on training in field reconnaissance, and surveying and mapping ancient Maya archaeological sites.

And this all takes place in the Caribbean/Central American/jungle hybrid country that is Belize.

“On your two weekends you get the chance to really explore,” Cowley said about the program. “A lot of students go to the coast because it has that very beach-y, Caribbean feel.”

The program, which allowed Cowley to apply his passions for history and GIS mapping in the real world, gave him an experience he says he would otherwise never have had.

“I like to sign up for things that I have never experienced before and let them take me where they go,” When I interviewed Cowley before the trip, he admitted: “[…] My knowledge [of Belize’s archeological sites] is still more based on a lifetime of National Geographic articles rather than the real anthropology.”

He was excited to change that. And thanks to that excitement, the days before Cowley’s trip pretty much lacked all nervousness.

Which is a lot more than most soon-to-be study abroad students can say!

His levelheadedness before and during the trip comes from his preparedness. Cowley knew going into this that it was a short trip and he needed to make every moment count, and that’s exactly what he did. It was just a completely successful learning experience, Cowley said.

“The professors were so knowledgeable and professional, they made it all happen. It was a short trip, but it encompassed so much,” Cowley said. “And I think that was because [the professors] just know what they are doing now, after going on this trip for so many years. They make the adjustment easy for the students and a lot of learning happens.”

Cowley said that the trip was challenging physically, intellectually, and at the end of the day he was in a foreign country and, like many study abroad students, realized he needed to adjust his behavior and actions to suit the needs of the task at hand.

A challenge, indeed.

And a challenge is what Cowley wanted. This trip was a chance to continue learning about GIS systems, on top of the knowledge and experience he already had. It was a chance for Cowley to apply his studies and experience them in a real-world situation…

…in a short, action-packed amount of time.

553326_986144484733430_2410274037505511949_n“That’s why I chose the January program,” Cowley said. “It is a unique experience. It wasn’t a huge time commitment–which was the only way to make it work with my schedule–but it was still study abroad and it was still beneficial.”

Cowley described himself as not one of the “typical” study abroad students. He wasn’t looking for a semester-long extravaganza of foreign culture. (Not that that isn’t awesome, too). He wanted a time-sensitive challenge, wherein he could get a taste of history and GIS in a foreign country.

And that is what’s so great about J-Term!

“At the end of the day, I want people to know that it was awesome,” Cowley said. “It met all of my expectations.”

And that means it must have been really awesome, because Cowley’s expectations were pretty high. In the days leading up to his departure, he sent me a long message spelling out his hopes for the trip.

And he ended with this:

“I have always seen the past as full of narratives [that are just] as entertaining as any movie or novel around today, but…[the past’s] apparent inaccessibility is due to the complex nature of it being forgotten or buried in our limited memories of the past. However, much of it remains literally buried, and over the next two weeks I hope to get a comprehensive look at this tiny corner of the past. I know I can never see the whole picture in any sort of detail, but by closely studying a few snapshots, I can gain an appreciation for the depth of the history I would otherwise never be able to encounter.”

Cowley had some high hopes for this trip, and in just two short weeks, he says the trip met all of his expectations.

As a true study abroad experience, J-Term programs are not to be discounted.

Just ask Cowley, and he’ll tell you that he will remember his trip to Belize forever–just like every other study abroad student there ever was, no matter how long their stay.

These Are A Few of Her Favorite Things…

Shaina Maciejewski doesn’t have any negative things to say about her experience in London this past semester. Even when pushed about the challenges of studying abroad, asked about what she found most frustrating, Maciejewski couldn’t find an honest answer.

“I’ve changed here,” Maciejewski said. “And that’s a good thing. My adaptability has improved, and my confidence, too…I’ve learned that I can take care of myself and I don’t need to be scared of everything.”

So with the semester winding down and the holiday season upon us (The Sound of Music on replay), here is a simple list of a few of Maciejewski’s favorite things (cue Julie Andrews singing about bee stings in an Austrian valley).

Shaina Maciejewski’s Favorite Things About London

Big Ben/Westminster: “When you get here, like, first get here, and see Big Ben and Westminster…its just like, ‘oh my god. I’m in London.’”

The Tower of London: Over 900 years old, this enormous place is a hub of British history, and Maciejewski loves it.
“I spent like five hours there, “Maciejewski said. “There’s so much information and so much stuff to take in. We got a guided tour from one of the Beefeaters, which was great. That was definitely my favorite tourist attractions.”

A photo of Portobello Market, captured by Maciejewski on one of her many trips to get unique souvenirs for family and friends.

A photo of Portobello Market, captured by Maciejewski on one of her many trips to get unique souvenirs for family and friends.

Markets: Maciejewski has purchased food, souvenirs, and a whole lot of other things at the many markets in London. She likes them because they feel “a little less touristy.”
“And they all have different vibes and themes,” she said. “Camden’s food market is so ethnic, and Portobello Market is where the rich people live, so it is all antiques and beautiful things. There is so much to see, and it’s all just real people, doing their jobs and doing their shopping.”

Public Transportation: Maciejewski was very nervous about whether or not she’d survive on London’s “tube.” However, she ended up doing much better than she thought she would.
“You get a hang of it really quickly, and it’s a great way to get around. Everything in London is organized, and it really helps you get adjusted. Getting good at something so day-to-day is a huge part of starting to feel at home in a new place.”

Classes That Require Field Trips: “Two of my classes involved field trips around the city,” Maciejewski said. “In one, every other week we go to places I never would have otherwise visited. It’s just really local stuff. And in the other one we go see a show every other week, which gives us a great taste of the London theatre scene.”
Maciejewski said that classes like this make the actual academic experience of studying abroad more worthwhile.

Her New Schedule: In London, Maciekewski believes she’s mastered the “work vs. play” balance far better than she ever did in Durham.
“I have started doing my schoolwork differently than I did at UNH. I explore the city during the day, and then stay up late doing my homework at night. At UNH, I did the opposite. But I’ve been able to accomplish so much more this semester by changing it up.”

London Culture: “My favorite part of this experience has been the weekends I stayed in London and explored the city,” Maciejewski said, adding that the multicultural setting which London provides is incomparable. “Combined with all of the museums and shows and movie premiers,” she said, “there is always something to do, something to see.”

Maciejewski posing in front of Big Ben, with a notorious, red phonebooth.

Maciejewski posing in front of Big Ben, with a notorious, red phonebooth.

And these are only a few of her favorite things. (Julie Andrews continues…)

In the end, if there was only one bit of advice Maciejewski could give to a prospective student, it would be to go abroad as long as possible.

“Even if you’re scared, try to do the full semester. I went to Costa Rica this summer for six weeks, and just seeing how different I feel and how different my mentality was between Costa Rica and London, it is totally worth facing your fears and coming for the full semester.”

“When I was in Costa Rica and I didn’t like something, I was like, ‘oh I am going to be home in a couple weeks, so it doesn’t matter,'” Maciejewski said. “But in London, I’ve had to really get used to things I don’t particularly like.”

However…Maciejewski couldn’t put her finger on anything she didn’t particularly like!

Maybe her experience in London has made Maciejewski better at accepting the things she cannot change…or maybe she really couldn’t find any negatives about her experience.

Either way, her final message for prospective students is clear: “Don’t be scared…just go.”

The London Ear

When Michele Nunnelly made the trek from UNH to Regent’s University in London, England, there were a few things she knew for sure.

She knew she would eventually get homesick.

She knew she’d travel to other countries.

She knew she’d have to push herself academically.

She knew she’d have a blast.

Michele Nunnelly is currently studying abroad in London, England as part of the UNH-Managed program.

Michele Nunnelly is currently studying abroad in London, England as part of the UNH-Managed program.

What she didn’t know, however, was that studying in London would offer her the chance to hear music in a way she’s never heard it before.

“There are so many opportunities to hear things,” Nunnelly said. “There are so many free concerts and shows. I’ve heard some things here that I never would have heard at home.”

You’re probably thinking, big whoop! Everyone knows there’s more culture in Europe! But for this music education major and flutist, experiencing music is an integral part of her education, her happiness, and her future.

Not to mention: That homesickness she knew she’d get? Yeah—the comfort of getting lost in a Brandenburg concerto certainly helps.

So, it’s no surprise that Nunnelly’s ears have heard their fair share of London melodies this semester.

“It’s all very inspiring,” Nunnelly said. “London is a city that attracts a lot of people and it’s created a very unique environment for music.”

Nunnelly recalled a music festival she heard about in her very first week abroad.

“It was a Jewish Klezmer festival,” Nunnelly laughed. “I mean, that’s some really interesting stuff.”

(According to Wikipedia, Klezmer: a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, the genre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations.)

The first concert Nunnelly attended was the London Symphony Orchestra, where they performed 20th century Russian music.

“That was a really cool experience because they are one of the number one orchestras in the entire world,” Nunnelly said. “They had a guest pianist there and he ended up getting four standing ovations and came on stage for an encore.”

She’s also attended a few concerts at a church near Trafalgar Square. Once she watched a Spanish flutist and Indian Pianist play an arrangement of solo pieces from around the world.

Nunnelly's view of the London Symphony Orchestra--her first concert experience in London, located at the Barbican Theatre.

Nunnelly’s view of the London Symphony Orchestra–her first concert experience in London, located at the Barbican Theatre.

Another time she had the “great opportunity” to see world-renowned flutist James Galway and his wife, Lady Galway, perform together.

“That was really great,” Nunnelly said.

Soon she’ll be going to see a baroque flute concert. Baroque, Nunnelly explained, is “differently constructed music with a different sound quality, and different ornamentation aspects of the period—just different in general.”

James and Lady Galway performing Brandenburg concertos.

James and Lady Galway performing Brandenburg concertos.

And this past Tuesday she took a master class at the Royal Academy of Music, after which there was a recital with flute and African music.

When interviewed for this blog, Nunnelly was very excited for the master class.

“I am just growing so much as a musician here,” Nunnelly said. “I have a much broader array of things I’ll choose to listen to in the future, and a better understanding of all the different things people are doing with music.”

Through the many concerts and recitals she’s attended, Nunnelly has gotten so much music education outside the classroom, that as far as actual classes go, she has been able to use her semester in London as a chance to take Discovery courses and some extra topics she’s “simply interested in.”

“The music schedule—especially music education—is so hard to manipulate to even get abroad,” Nunnelly said, adding that she feels lucky to have been able to manage it. “But if you can somehow make it possible, I think its incredibly valuable to your growth as a musician.”

And with more than half of Nunnelly’s semester come and gone, some of her classmates will undoubtedly start to make their final souvenir purchases; maybe a Big Ben coffee mug, or a British flag to hang in their dorm room back in Durham.

But Nunnelly will fill her last weeks with as many last-minute music experiences as she possibly can, taking in all the music she never knew she’d hear.

Because the musical and cultural experience is, after all, the souvenir Nunnelly will keep with her forever.

Michele Nunnelly

Cuisine Questions, No Answers

Emma Rayner studying abroad in Italy.

Emma Rayner is studying in Ascoli Piceno, Italy as part of the UNH-in-Italy program.

From eating gelato to wearing a black faux-leather jacket, Emma Rayner has learned a lot about Italy and what it takes to blend in there. She does her best not to stick out in the streets and alleyways of Ascoli Piceno…

…That is, until she has to talk to someone.

“If they didn’t talk with their hands so much, I seriously would be hopeless,” Rayner laughed.

But in all seriousness, Rayner has not stopped learning about Italy since the moment she arrived at the beginning of the semester.

“I took a Philosophy of Food class, and we went on a lot of field trips,” Rayner said. “We learned through experience rather than through a textbook, which I think made for a way better learning environment [than at home].”

All this learning, however, and especially the field trips, have raised several internal questions for the junior English and EcoGastronomy major.

The first field trip Rayner went on was to a restaurant right in Ascoli Piceno.

“It was pretty fancy, and we went there as a class and we had a meal, and talked about if food can be aesthetic or if its just for fuel. Like, can food be enjoyable aesthetically or is it just for nutrition?”

Rayner took several field trips for her Philosophy of Food course.

Rayner took several field trips for her Philosophy of Food course.

The second field trip was to an Italian farm where they make all their own food from scratch.

“They have their own plumbing system and the couple that lives there have part time jobs and a simple life. They do everything on their own pretty much,” Rayner said. “And so the point was to go and see it and then ask ourselves if that’s something we [students] could do.”

And the last field trip Rayner attended was a wine tasting.

“The class discussed whether or not we think that certain wines taste better because they cost more or because an expert tells us they are better, or do we really taste them and think they taste better? So is taste subjective or objective?”

Rayner said she hasn’t found the answer to any of these questions, and isn’t sure if she will.

“I’m still thinking about them and talking about them. I can’t necessarily come to a conclusion, but I guess that is kind of the point,” Rayner said, adding that keeping the questions open-ended has forced her to think about them throughout all her travels this semester, in and out of Italy.

Rayner has come to love the Italian cuisine, which has sparked many academic questions for her.

Rayner has come to love the Italian cuisine, which has sparked many academic questions for her.

This is why Rayner believes the entire study abroad experience has been something beneficial to her student life. She is out of her comfort zone, not only asking questions within her field of study, but also asking questions about herself.

“It’s hard to be yourself here,” Rayner said of Ascoli Piceno. “On Halloween we all went to this bar, and we were being loud and having a good time. All the Italians were on the other side of the bar and staring at us. It makes you wonder why you are the way you are.”

Rayner laughed about the fact that she went to a market and bought a faux-leather jacket and boots.

“I mean, I liked them and wanted to buy them anyways, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking that they’d help me blend in,” Rayner said. “They dress very muted here and a lot of people wear the same things, and that’s something [I’m] not used to.”

So has studying abroad not only changed Rayner’s view of the world, but the way she wants to portray herself?

“[College] is the first part of your life when you change and grow, so submerging yourself in a new culture and taking yourself out of your comfortable box is an enormous opportunity and absolutely worthwhile,” Rayner said. “If you change when you’re there, I think that’s okay. I am the most nervous and anxious person in the world and even I can see myself become more confident and changing a little.”

“[College] is the first part of your life when you change and grow, so submerging yourself in a new culture and taking yourself out of your comfortable box is an enormous opportunity and absolutely worthwhile.”

So like the rest of the questions Rayner’s time in Italy has raised for her, it seems the question of whether or not she’s changed is also open-ended.

“I am having a blast, and I don’t want this to end,” Rayner said.

But so long as Rayner continues to think about her Italian teachings, keeps on asking herself those open-ended questions about her food and herself…will her study abroad experience ever truly end?

Education & Excursion: A Balancing Act

Most students have a lot of fun when they go abroad. That’s just common knowledge.

But prospective students should bear in mind that there are also several problems study-abroad students may face. From homesickness to language barriers, to just learning the social norms of a new city, there is no doubt that if one chooses to study abroad, they may need to make a few lifestyle adjustments.

Meg BattersbyFor Meg Battersby, who is studying in Budapest, Hungary with the UNH Justice Studies program, the one problem she’s had to deal with is learning how to juggle her class work and her widespread and wonderful globetrotting.

Of course, that’s a problem she’s happy to face.

“Honestly, I love being able to meet different people and see all the cultures and countries around Europe,” Battersby said. “I’ve been to Hungary, Croatia, France, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and I’ll be going to the Netherlands with the group of UNH students as a class field trip soon.”

Battersby’s face lights up as she describes her many trips, especially her trip to Italy.

My vacation in Italy was amazing, the views were absolutely breathtaking and I cannot stop talking about it. Honestly there is a new thing every week that I like the most about this experience, but right now my time in Italy is number one in my mind.”

Now…the downfall to all of her explorative gallivanting?

“Balancing homework and tests versus the traveling has been difficult,” Battersby said. “We get a four day weekend—we don’t have Friday or Monday classes—so we get out of class on Thursday and then try to take advantage of the weekend as quickly as possible. So we leave to visit another place, but then it’s like, when do you do your schoolwork?”

This is indeed the eternal question for study abroad students. Battersby describes it as a constant struggle between remembering that she’s still part of an academic program, and also trying to make the most of the experience by taking every opportunity to see a new place.

“Because,” Battersby said, “I may never get that chance again.”

“If you’re going to study abroad, be abroad and be a part of it. Don’t be afraid to try new things and go to different places.”

But finding that perfect balance simply isn’t easy, because as much as Battersby loves to travel around Europe, she is also thoroughly enjoying the experience of taking classes abroad.

“Every Wednesday we have a field study where we go to different places around Hungary. We’ve gone to a lot of justice-related places, like a rehab facility,” Battersby said. “I stand by the fact that you can’t truly know a situation until you’re placed in it. You can read about topics in books, but until you experience something you can never truly know about it. So I think my studying in Hungary as made me a more well-rounded and knowledgeable student, especially in justice studies.”

Battersby has found it particularly interesting to be studying in a post-communist country, where the relatively recent oppression is apparent.

“I didn’t realize it effected so many people and families and countries,” Battersby said. “Hearing my professors here talk about Hitler versus my professors at UNH, it is a totally different feeling. You can tell it is just such a huge part of who the people here are.”

As a justice major, Battersby feels studying abroad has made her a better student and given her a broader understanding of her field.

“Being abroad tributes a lot to my thought process now. Just meeting people from all around Europe…I wouldn’t be gaining this well-rounded view of the world were it not for coming abroad, I’m just becoming a more educated person.”

One of the night clubs Battersby has attended with fellow UNH students.

One of the night clubs Battersby has attended with fellow UNH students.

So all in all, it is the combination of education and excursions that has made Battersby’s abroad experience complete. She’s not afraid to admit, however, that her excursions tend to take precedent.

“The best advice I could give a prospective student is that when you get here, just jump in and immerse yourself. If you’re going to study abroad, be abroad and be a part of it. Don’t be afraid to try new things and go to different places. I’m starting to run low on money, and luckily my family has been so helpful with that, but take as many travel opportunities as you feasibly can.”

In the end, balancing schoolwork and exploration will forever be an obstacle for study abroad students.

But for Battersby, the key to success is not being afraid to tip the scale. And so…

…She’s off to the Netherlands!


Pros and Cons of London Life

“Life is full of beautiful things.” – Bri Leclerc

Bri Leclerc (second in on the left) and fellow UNH students in front of Big Ben in London, England.

Bri Leclerc (second in on the right) and fellow UNH students in front of Big Ben in London, England.

Bri Leclerc is studying abroad in London, England as a part of the UNH-Managed program, which allows students to study at Regent’s University London. She is a junior, Business Administration, Marketing, and Entrepreneurial Studies major, and in her free time she’s made herself comfortable in the buzzing city.

And in case you’re reading this and wondering if you should take a leap across the Atlantic, too, Leclerc is ready to weigh out her pros and cons of studying in London to help you make that decision.


Traveling around Europe

“So far I’ve been to Oxford, Bath, Stonehenge, Amsterdam, and this week we are going to Rome and Athens and Santorini, Greece. I have plans to go to Paris with my Mom in November and then to Budapest, Hungary to see some more UNH study-abroad students.”

Interesting locals

“You’ll be waiting at a bus stop at three in the morning and someone will come up to you and your friends and just strike up a conversation. It’s really fascinating. Everyone is so unique; no one is like the next.”

Making herself at home in London

“I don’t have a lot of free time during the week because classes are pretty strenuous, but on the weekends we go out to bars and have a couple drinks and casual conversation, then come back to the dorm for some pizza.”

Pubs, Pubs, Pubs!

British Pubs are a major part of the culture in London and the rest of England. So it is no wonder why Leclerc’s favorite memory thus far is one of the first night-time outings she had on a pub crawl in the northeastern borrow of Camden.
“It’s going to sound bad, but my favorite memory is the night that me and my friends all went on a pub crawl in Camden. It was the best because it was in the beginning of the semester, so we didn’t know a lot of people. Dancing around a pub like an idiot is one of the best ways to make friends! …That’s the night that I made one of my best friendships here.”

Bri Leclerc sitting in Vondelpark, Amsterdam, Holland.

Bri Leclerc sitting in Vondelpark, Amsterdam, Holland.


The University dining hall

“The British are not known for their food. Ew.”

Time difference of loved ones

“My loved ones at home aren’t as readily available. I’ll text my parents and my boyfriend when I wake up and it will take about 4 or 5 hours to get a response with the time difference.”


(In regards to the time difference) “Also, having to calculate what time you should post something on Instagram to get the most likes [is difficult]. I mean if you post at 9 am [London] time, everyone [at home is] asleep and no one will see it. That’s tough.”

A little bit of both:

Being pushed academically/learning to balance a heavier workload

“I thought that the amount of class work was going to be the same or less than UNH, and boy, was I wrong. There are 10 times more readings and the exams are pretty hard. The classes are smaller so there is a lot of discussion and a very large percentage of all your grades are based on participation.”

The verdict is in: After weighing the pros and cons, Bri Leclerc is certainly enjoying her time studying abroad.

The verdict is in: After weighing the pros and cons, Bri Leclerc is certainly enjoying her time studying abroad.

At the end of the day, Leclerc is happy to be spending her semester in London. Experiencing the culture of a different city and meeting new people every day are some of the highlights of her travels, and it is clear this trip abroad is just the beginning of her globe-trotting future.

And the truth is, every student that studies abroad will find his or her own pros and cons. Who knows, you may love the British cuisine…maybe.

But more than anything, Leclerc wants prospective students to realize that even if they do decide to spend time studying outside the US, the experience they have will be determined by the choices they make when they get there.

“It will be tempting to spend all your time sitting there in your bed watching Netflix, because you can,” Leclerc said. “But don’t. There is a whole new world out there, filled with opportunities and experiences. Take every chance you can to do something new. You won’t regret it. You will be homesick, you will miss your friends, but you will make a new home with new friends.”

Leclerc can be followed on her own blog, Wanderlust and Europeans.

And lastly, the very enlightened Leclerc wants everyone to know: “Life is full of beautiful things.”

Now go weigh your pros and cons…and come to the realization that it’s your turn to see those beautiful things.

Taking a Bite of Ascoli Piceno

Victoria Georgetti has tried her best to talk to the woman selling baked goods in Ascoli Piceno. The woman is at the street market every week, ready to sell some of the most authentic Italian goodies the Euro can buy. She is kind, but assertive, according to Georgetti—“a typical Italian.”

“You can tell she loves what she does,” Georgetti said.

However, much to Georgetti’s dismay, the woman can’t speak a lick of English, and Georgetti is still perfecting her Italian. So the two have resorted to smiling at each other and using a combination of facial expressions and body language to make pie transactions.

Woman selling homemade baked goods at a street market in Ascoli-Piceno, Italy.

Woman selling homemade baked goods at a street market in Ascoli-Piceno, Italy.

“Let’s just say I’ve eaten a lot of her baked goods,” Georgetti laughs.

Georgetti is part of the UNH-in-Italy: EcoGastronomy program, spending her entire fall semester in the small town of Ascoli Piceno, Italy. As a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major, she is taking the opportunity to soak in as much edible culture she possibly can, and describes the daily market as her favorite place to spend her time.

“This program revolves around around slow food and culture, so it takes someone who is interested in that subject and type of lifestyle in order to be successful here. You have to appreciate small towns, and culture that isn’t your own…You can find that culture in a market—they have food ones, antique ones, a bunch—so it’s my favorite place so far.”

In Ascoli Piceno, however, you can pretty much find that deep-rooted culture anywhere you go. Known as “the city of one hundred towers,” several travel guides describe Ascoli Piceno as an ancient city, wherein the culture—and more specifically, the food—has not changed in centuries. Traditions and recipes have been passed down for years, remaining an important part of day-to-day life.

Which is why it’s a great place for the UNH-in-Italy fall semester program, as the program is the gateway to a dual major in EcoGastronomy: a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary program, which allows UNH students interested in nutrition, hospitality, and sustainable agriculture to study food, cooking, and holistic eating habits.

“This program revolves around slow food and culture, so it takes someone who is interested in that subject and type of lifestyle in order to be successful here. You have to appreciate small towns, and culture that isn’t your own.”

Of course, Ascoli Piceno’s unchanged food history did not surprise Georgetti upon her arrival to the city. She has been to Italy before; while taking a gap year between high school and college. She spent time tutoring in English for an Italian family. So, having experienced the flavors of Italy before, she knew she would find delicious food in a small town like Ascoli Piceno.

It is another, widely accepted tradition in this particular Italian town which Georgetti did not expect. A tradition she was part of before she even knew it was a tradition.

Every fall this small town, with a population of 51,000 (versus Florence’s 370,000), increases by about dozen people. A dozen bright-eyed, curious, hungry people: students from the University of New Hampshire.

Homemade Pizzas by UNH Students

Pizzas made by students in the UNH-in-Italy program, made from scratch with fresh ingredients from a farm in the Sibilin Mt. Range.

“It was one of our first nights here, and we were sitting at a small bar, all speaking English,” Georgetti said. “All of a sudden this guy came up to us and said, ‘New Hampshire?’ And we were all so stunned, like, how could he know? And then he said, ‘it’s just a regular thing, the New Hampshire students come every year.’ And then we talked for a while. You know, it’s such a small town, everyone knew when we arrived.”

And luckily, according to Georgetti, not only do the locals know UNH is coming, but they also embrace the students’ arrival. Most locals don’t speak English, and beg the students to help them practice it.

“It can be really frustrating, though,” Georgetti said. “Because we’re trying to practice Italian, but the second they realize we speak English, that’s the language they want to use.”

So that’s why Georgetti finds herself wandering back down to the street market, doing her best to communicate with the woman who sells delicious baked goods.

Georgetti points at a pastry covered in something that looks sweet, silky—delicious. Maybe a Zeppole, or an Anisette cookie. Her mouth waters as the middle-aged woman shouts something in thick, authentic Italian, trying to explain the taste, trying to sell her item. Eventually, though, the woman resorts to splitting off a piece of the goodie and handing it to Georgetti.

It’s a universal message: free sample.

“[And it’s] a good thing,” Georgetti said. “Because half the time it doesn’t taste how it looks.”

Georgetti (right) and classmates visiting the Colosseum.

Georgetti (right) and classmates visiting the Colosseum.

3…2…1…Take off!

Interested in spending a semester abroad? Not quite sure if you’ll find what you’re looking for? Want to know more about the programs but don’t want to hear the typical and simple “it-will-be-amazing” sales pitch?

Berlin, UNH Summer Program, 2013

Berlin, UNH Summer Program, 2013

Well, welcome to your newest window to the world.

The purpose of this blog is to provide the real stories of studying abroad: by students, for students. Each week it will offer a new student, a new story, and a new piece of information to help you make your decision about studying abroad. No sugar-coating the struggles, no down-playing the triumphs; just the truth about students and their experiences in the study abroad programs offered by UNH’s College of Liberal Arts.

But most importantly, this blog will provide you with an interesting, eye-opening, fun read about some of your traveling, fellow Wildcats! So whether you’re researching for your potential foreign future or just want to get a little piece of the action while sticking close to home, this blog will provide the perfect read.

So stay tuned, get acquainted with the site, and be sure to save it to your “favorites.” When everyone on campus is buzzing about the new COLA blog, “Tales From Abroad,” you won’t want to be out of the loop!