Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Its our last night. Tomorrow we leave for the states. The group is excited to return to some sense of normalcy. Collectively there is an overwhelming excitement for what lies ahead: new jobs, new countries, new opportunities.
To wrap up the course, the students need to write a paper and prepare a poster regarding the environment in the places we visited. The students have plenty of material to rely on, as each location was drastically different from the others.
It has been an exciting trip and the group has grown into a tight knit unit. The evolution of the students perceptions while being abroad has been interesting. Studying abroad truly refocuses one's perceptions regarding politics, needs, wants, interactions, and various other facets. It is something I would say that every college students should do, regardless of comfort level. It is an unmatched experience and the opportunity in general is better than anything that will ever come around outside of college. If you haven't done it, do it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


We made it to our last destination, Dublin, safely. We are located to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, which is right by the Spire (a gigantic spike that sores into the sky).
Today we took a hop-on-hop-off tour throughout the city. This took us passed Trinity College, the GPO, the zoo, the Guinness Brewery, and the Jameson distillery. Several students hopped off at different locations to explore their own interests.
The city serves as a great contrast to the other cities in Ireland we have been to. The city is filled with original industry, whereas Killarney is known for its environmental beauty. The same situation occurred after visits to London and Bath past week.
It has been interesting to visit a capital city with a particularly brutal recent history. The riots in the 60's have created some of the most notable landmarks in the city including the jail and GPO.
From what I can gather, the students have developed a fondness for either London or Galway. Interesting, considering the two cities are absolutely nothing alike.
Tomorrow we will visit the Guinness Brewery and explore the city further. Some students intend on visiting the genealogical society to trace back their Irish heritage and others want to visit the famed jail that held those responsible for the riots.

Friday, May 25, 2012

La brea ata ann

That would be Gaelic for its a lovely day. It seemed appropriate considering that today and yesterday were incredibly beautiful! Yesterday we left Galway for Killarney but visited some gorgeous sites on the way. The most notable being the Cliffs of Moher. Stunning. There are simply no words. The weather was warm and breezy and ideal for the moderate hike up. To add to the already ethereal feeling, there was a harpist playing at the base. Today we visited the Killarney Park through the Ring of Kerry. The entire country seems to be one big scenic painting and every place is a prime photo opportunity. The purposes of our scenic travels over these past few days is to show the students alternative countries' natural parks and other areas. This shows the natural reources of a country and how they can quickly become restricted or limited. The students, having just presented on these topics, we're able to view see environmental preservation in relevant, yet different locations. These visits tie the content of the capstone course back to the information dispersed during meetings throughout the spring semester. Tomorrow we head off to our last stop, Dublin. Needless to say, everyone is excited for the change of scenery that comes with the largest city of any country. With this last stop many students are reflecting on the approach of the end of the trip. Some are excited to head back to the US. Others never want to leave. Still others are heading off to other countries in the European Union (because travel from country to country here is insanely cheap). Regardless of where everyone ends up, there is an overwhelming love for the places we have visited (especially Ireland).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Art of Studying Abroad

Today was our last day in Galway and was the first official time the capstone students have had class while abroad. They gave presentations on specific topical areas relating to the overall course. This included presentations on coal mining, nuclear power, endangered species, and even opportunities for sustainability efforts at UNI. When they return to the US they will have to write a paper detailing the trip and how it related to the class content itself.
Earlier in the semester, after they had signed up for the course, they attended a formal class two times a month. During this class period they watched movies and had large group discussions on the topics of environment and industry and their relation.
Traveling abroad provides an additional element to the class which adds context and truly shows global perspective.
This course fulfills the liberal arts requirement for a capstone, as do the other short term study abroad opportunities. Some of the other countries with UNI students in them include Greece, Poland, France, Italy, and South Africa!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Hello from Galway Ireland! Let me first begin by expressing how I have never been so taken aback by such beauty. Ireland is incredible, simply incredible. Sure! England has the Lake District which has a beauty all its own, but Ireland is in a world all its own.

We flew from London to Shannon yesterday and took a bus to Galway. Galway is famously known for the claddagh ring which originated here. We left London at 6 a.m. and eventually got to the hostel around noon. When we arrived our rooms weren't quite ready yet so we took a brief tour of the city followed by our first full group meal. That evening we celebrated our arrival at a few local pubs to really experience the culture.

The people in Ireland are so friendly and have been wonderful to interact with. The people in London are nice too, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it becomes evident that they grow weary of all of the tourists.

We rose early today to catch a ferry to the Aran Islands. The main island is only about 9 miles long and exactly the same picture of Ireland that most people have in their heads. Lush green, stone walls, quaint houses, plenty of pubs. When arriving at the island you have the option to either walk, bike, or take a small bus around. The original plan was to bike but the weather turned sour before we arrived. We bused instead and were able to get a full look of the island and some historical information from our driver.

The most incredible part of the island, according to everyone in the class as well as myself, are the cliffs. A short, but rocky, hike takes you to the ruins of a fort on top of a giganti cliff. The fort was built right on the edge of the island and in the highest point to prevent invasions. The view was magnificent. I couldn't resist the urge to dangle my legs off the edge of a drop that would surely be fatal if someone wasn't cautious. I don't think I have a very healthy sense of fear; it makes life more interesting.

Other interesting points of the island included low tide which opened up the beach for a colony of seals, a cemetery with graves over a thousand years old and craggy beaches rife with tide pools.

Spattered about the island were horse drawn carriages that tourists could take short distances. I found it necessary to ask most of the drivers the names of their horses. This list included Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, and Jimmy.

Many of the students stopped at a roadside cafe that was minuscule in size but no where short on delicious food. I enjoyed a cup of soup to warm me up, and found it so delicious that I asked the owner for the recipe. She obliged and I am excited to make it once I return to the states.

On the bus ride home I recapped with the students about the day. The weather was the only complaint.

Tomorrow we take a formal tour of the city, and the students will also be presenting projects they had worked on during the semester. On Thursday we leave for Killarney, our second to last stop.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Save the Queen!

I'm running out of title puns, I have none left on my witty arsenal.
It has been a whirlwind of activity here. The class took a hop-on-hop-off tour to the Tower of London. The buses are somewhat painful to navigate here, but the information provided on the tours is great. The Tower is always a preferred stop for new tourists because of its age old histoy. The Beefeaters, the crows, the white tower and the gruesome history that comes along with it.
The group dispersed, many students continued the hop-on-hop-off to get a better grasp of the city. I went off with some others to Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. The amount of people is simply incredible (and the shopping is great). Covent Garden is one of my favorite places to visit. There are always street performers (this time it was s contortionist), and great eateries.
At the end of the night a large portion of the group went to the London Eye to get a complete view of the city at night, as well as look at Parliament and Big Ben. As impressive as they are during the day, they are simply incredible at night.
The next day we took a river cruise down the Thames to Greenwich village to visit the royal observatory and the exact point of division between the eastern and western hemispheres. We returned from the cruise and visited Big Ben and Parliament again, as well as the Westminster Abbey. After some inquiring from the locals we located the tube stop for the infamous Abbey Road. It is tucked away in the more residential part of the city. There were a handful of tourists at the spot, because it isn't easy to find, but the street is still open. This make picture taking difficult and hard to time.
The evening in London was full of spirit as Chelsea won the European soccer (football) title. Much cheering and drinking ensued on behalf of the whole city. The team was originally a German team and this was their first title, and it just happened to be a win against a current German team.
Today we headed to Windsor Castle (the Queen's second residence). She was in the castle so security was much like the airport. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. There is nothing more I can say about it that would even adequately cover it. We took off then to Stonehenge, followed by Bath. The areas outside of London are gorgeous. Lush fields, well kept but not perfectly manicured, and serene. It truly is like visiting a picture.
It is all those reasons why I love this city so much. The people are animated, the experiences are ample, and there is so much history to take in. The diversity is incredible from multiple perspectives.
Out stay in London is ending today, sadly. Tomorrow we leave for Ireland and the first group of students returns to the U.S. I'll miss the city, of course, but my track record leads me to believe I will be back before long. The students have mixed emotions at this point. They are all excited for the new adventures but sad to leave London when there is still so much to see.
Ireland title puns coming soon!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hello from London!

The internet access in the hostel is somewhat shoddy, so my updates over the next few days may be slow.
The flight and arrival went relatively smoothly. We had a four hour layover in Chicago and an eight hour flight to London. My stay was located dead center, and I'm on the tall side. But oh well! Once we arrived it was already seven in the morning, the next day. Getting out of the airport was a bit of a struggle. UK border control took quite a while to get through. Luggage claim wasn't as smooth as I could have wished. One member of our group had her luggage taken by someone else unfortunately. Luckily the unintended recipient returned it to the airport and it was delivered to her this morning. 

Once the students and I arrived in London we took a bus through the city. Due to major delays and construction, it was a slow ride but it took us through parts of the city I had never before seen.
We finally made it to the hotel a little after 11. My group refefreshed themselves and we were off again! First we headed to Buckingham Palace to catch the very end of the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, Olympic construction kept us from getting very close.
Afterward we headed to the natural history museum and science museum. I've been to many of the museums in London but somehow had slipped over these. The students seemed to enjoy the British museum atmosphere. The exhibits are thorough and the admission free. The visit to the science and industry museum is key for their class. Understanding the past and future of technology as it pertains to the environment and global societal stability (or instability) is the primary learning objective for the class. 
After the museums the length of our travels caught up to just about everyone. We tool a break back at the hostel. Much needed.
Many of the students in the two groups dispersed for either a pint at the nearby pub or some late night shopping. A few of the students and I headed to a gourmet burger joint (odd choice for a vegetarian) and enjoyed the best milkshakes we have ever had. Seriously, it was nirvana.
It was an impossibly long day, but enjoyable none the less. Everyone seems to have taken a liking to the city, which I couldn't be happier to see. For me, it felt like I never left.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Agenda

Speaking of excitement, it still hasn't hit me yet. I've been so busy these past few months that my focus has been on about 30 other things, none of which were the fact that I am going to Europe! Again! I'm extremely obsessive about planning and preparation, so it is shocking that I have barely started packing. Normally, my packing would have been done about two months ago (not an exaggeration). Right now I have a pile of miscellaneous clothes that I have set aside as I fold laundry. To give myself a bit more credit, I had my packing list created in December, so I was still getting an early start.
Packing with Leah is an exciting trip within itself. Everything is meticulously planned. The minor things that you would never forget are always accounted for. Each bag is sorted multiple times and there are multiple lists created and separated by category. I pack with the intent of never doing any laundry while abroad because I simply see that as a waste of my time and my money. Instead, I pack enough clothes to get me comfortably through everyday. This means lots of interchangeable layers and basics, all of which can be changed up with accessories (I mean, it's London, I have to look fabulous). Shoes tend to occupy a lot of space, and I refuse to go without nail polish and sufficient hair products. I have a lot of space accommodating to do. 
Dealing with London weather is a less messy game of Russian Roulette. London is known for its dreary, rainy days (my favorite), but the last two times I have been there it was sunny and warm. Not what I had planned on. This time I'll pack what I think I will need and buy whatever I don't have.
Which leads me right into shopping. I plan to spend every waking moment that isn't already preoccupied on shopping. Every. Moment. Shopping is one of my favorite things to do and I love the ideas and inspiration it gives me. The Seven Dials district, http://www.sevendials.co.uk/, will be my first stop. It's located in the kitschy, yet endearing. Covent Gardens district. I've been to Covent Gardens before and fell in love. It is a neat area surrounded by non-linear streets which are filled with street performers. The shops are one of a kind and have some of the most incredible art work I have ever seen. The area is just a wonderful place to get lost in for a day. I haven't made any additional plans for myself during my free periods of time. I want to just take the tube somewhere and explore what is there.
Tomorrow I will head down to Cedar Rapids and stay overnight (after doing some pre-departure shopping, of course). The next day I'll head over to the airport and be on my way. I have a lengthy layover in Chicago O'Hare, but will arrive in London at 7 a.m. on the 17th!

The Final Countdown

Only a few days left! The past few weeks have been incredibly busy as I wrapped up loose ends and communication with the students going on the trip. I've been filling their inbox's with little reminders from security to remembering to be a towel. I remind myself that this is the most motherly activity I ever plan to do.
The Summer Olympics doesn't officially open until the 27th of July, but the city is already preparing. The torch was actually lit last Thursday in Greece (and accidentally went out a few days later) and will remain lit until the opening ceremonies. This is an extremely exciting time to be in London, but a stressful one as well. Security will be at its highest and this means that travelers need to be well aware that moving quickly through one of the busiest international airports in the world isn't really a reality at this point. I've driven the point home that the students need to be well aware of how their behaviors and frustrations can be perceived. After a long day of traveling I don't want anything to hold us up. Nonetheless, I am excited to see the city just before the peak of all of the Olympics hoopla.
My role prior to leaving for the trip was to prepare students for this venture, as well as make bookings and communicate with some of our liaisons abroad. Now that all of those tasks have been laid to rest, I can focus on getting everyone over there!
The England/Ireland trip is extremely popular and is available in two sessions. Session 1 has already departed and is currently in Ireland. Session 2, my group, will be departing next week. We will land in London and meet the first group there. At that time, about 40 UNI students will be together in the city. We will spend our time in London together as a large group for about a week, then the first session will head back to the U.S. and my group will head to Ireland. The professor will be with the first group the entire time and not fly back to meet the second group as they prepare to leave for London. It is my duty to make sure all 20 students get to England safely. Pretty anxiety inducing. This isn't my first time transporting a group of students across the pond. During my last trip abroad in my undergrad it was sprung upon me in the airport that I would be the go-to person to get everyone from London to Chicago. Surprise! It went off without a hitch, and luckily airports are easy to navigate (even for someone like me who can't tell you at any given time what direction she is facing).
The students on the trip first have been taking a class which revolves around technology, industry, and society in the world. Most of their assignments have been completed to this point, but there will be some class meetings while abroad. Doing the formal "student" thing is pretty difficult abroad, but I think these students have it pretty well off. Lugging around a computer, buying a printer abroad, and hand writing papers isn't a particularly fun way to spend your evenings.
While abroad I will be making sure that the students get from point A to point B successfully and safely. I serve as a point person for questions and also making sure everyone can enjoy their trip to the fullest. This means that I will handle any crises that present themselves, whether it be alleviating roommate issues or helping students through homesickness (which is exactly what I do now anyway!). It's a whole lot of excitement!