Spain: Camino de Santiago

Submitted by Amanda Reed on the 2022 spring semester program in Granada, Spain…

Last week, for Semana Santa (Holy Week), I walked the Camino de Santiago Portuguese Way from Tui to Santiago de Compostela. It was a total of 118 km (73.3 miles) spread out over 6 days of walking. I went solo, but met so many people from all around the world along the way. I came back with a lot of blisters and sore muscles, but it was a really unforgettable week and one of the coolest trips I have ever taken.

My first day of walking, I started in Tui, a small Galician town on the border of Portugal. Almost immediately when I started walking, a fellow pilgrim approached me to say hello and get to know me. He asked me where I was from, why I was walking El Camino, what towns I planned to lodge in, etc. Quite honestly, I was somewhat uncomfortable at first. In normal circumstances (in the U.S., for example), when a person (especially a man) approaches me while I’m alone, walks with me, and asks me a series of questions, I feel on guard. He was so friendly that my instincts told me that he might be dangerous (which is funny to me now that I know how completely harmless he is). I soon learned that day that people on El Camino are really just that friendly; it’s not just a group of people that walk alongside each other for a week—it really feels like a community. Over the course of the day, I had many people walk up to me, greet me, and share with me what they do for a living, about their spiritual reasons for walking El Camino, about their kids, their future goals, you name it. Almost everyone you passed would say, “hola” (hi) or “ buen camino” (have a good walk) as you walked past them, and many would invite you to walk with their group if you were traveling solo. On my first day, I met a group of middle-aged English-speaking women, some from the United States and some from Canada. I walked with them for some time before meeting a Portuguese woman, who I went on to walk with for the rest of the trail. Eventually, after about 18 km (11 miles) of walking, I arrived in O Porriño. I was absolutely exhausted and laid in the bed at my hotel for at least an hour before I showered and went out to explore the town. In my hostel that night, I met a group of amazing Spanish girls that invited me to walk with them the next day.

Days 2 and 3 were my most social days of the trip. On day 2, I walked about 21 km (13 miles) to Redondela with the 5 Spanish girls I had met in my hostel the night before. They are all a little older than me (either in graduate school or just starting their careers). They were so much fun and really pushed me to improve my Spanish (only one of them spoke English). They would occasionally play music on the trail, inviting other pilgrims to dance and sing along with them. Their energy was contagious and I felt much more animated this day on the trail. By day 3, when we all walked together to Pontevedra, I felt like I was able to sustain my energy all day even while walking 11-13 miles. I had so much fun walking on the trail on this day, and felt like I was getting to know the girls really well. In Pontevedra, the girls took me out to eat right next to a Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession, and I was able to watch as people carried the elaborately decorated thrones through the streets and played beautiful music. We finished off the night by going to Spanish karaoke, where I belted out Spanish songs on stage with the other girls (even though I had only heard most of the songs once or twice before), which has always been a dream of mine to do.

On day 4, I took a rest day and the Spanish girls continued on to their next pitstop, so we said good-bye and I promised that I would come visit them in their hometown in Andalucía. The next several days on the trail were quieter, which allowed me a lot of time for listening to amazing podcasts and self reflection. I journaled a lot on these days, and although I’m not quite sure if I “found myself” or made any life-shattering revelations, I did find a lot of peace being with myself and found myself looking at my life through a different perspective. These days also had the most beautiful views, with waterfalls, rich forests, and amazing vantage points of Galician cities.

Overall, my time on the Camino de Santiago was more memorable than I could have hoped for. It was very difficult at times, but I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to do it while here in Spain and am already thinking about my next trip back to do another section of the trail.

Map of Route
New Friends

Final Destination – Santiago de Compostela

Spain: Visit to Tenerife

Submitted by Cameron Kravitz on the 2022 spring semester program in Madrid, Spain…

After another few weeks of exploring Madrid, we had the opportunity to visit Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The island was beautiful, and it was such a nice change of scenery from the more fast-paced environment in Madrid. Since it was so warm there, we took advantage of the weather and were able to spend our time by the beach. We also tried lots of new foods and learned more about the culture by talking with people who live there. One major difference that we noticed between Madrid and Tenerife was the amount of English and Spanish that was spoken in both places. In comparison to Madrid, we heard much more English in Tenerife and many of the signs were also written in English. Overall, I really enjoyed our trip there and would love to go back to experience even more of the island!

Playa de las Américas
View From the Hotel

France: The Gift of Family

Submitted by Lauren Brooks on the 2022 spring semester program in Paris, France…

For about the past two weeks, my family has been visiting me. Originally, when I got to Paris, I knew I’d get a bit homesick here and there from not seeing my family. We’re really close and I knew I’d be missing fun family gatherings and birthdays. Having them here with me now has been wonderful, including the occasional hiccups typical of any family vacation. I’ve gotten to show them slices of my life here in Paris and experience new aspects of the city with them!

Seeing how my family interacts with the culture has shown me how much I’ve grown over the past few months in my understanding of French language and culture. From something as simple as saying “Bonjour” when walking into stores to restaurant etiquette to navigating the metro, I’ve gained a better understanding of life and culture in Paris.

Spending this time with them has also shown me just how much I’ve missed the love and community of home. Receiving all of the hugs, kisses, and words of encouragement from them has been refreshing. As for any university student, the second half of the semester can drag as you get closer to the finish line. Enjoying the company of family while exploring the city has given me a boost that will hopefully allow me to finish my semester off strong.

Lauren and her parents making memories by the Eiffel Tower
The famous Pont Alexandre III bridge in Paris

Greece: Aegina

Submitted by Hannah Kirby on the 2022 spring semester program in Athens, Greece…

This weekend, my roommates and I finally were able to go on our first excursion with the American College of Greece. The school took us on a day trip to the nearby Saronic Island of Aegina. Once again, Greece did not disappoint. The port town was picturesque – beautiful architecture, horse drawn carriages, fishing boats perfectly aligned, and lots and lots of pistachios. Aegina is internationally known for having some of the highest quality pistachios. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try any as I was feeling unwell for most of the trip, but many of my friends raved about them. Due to my unexpected illness during the trip, I spent most of the day on a bench reading or people watching – so it wasn’t all that bad as those are two of my favorite pass-times. I did, however, receive a grand present from the universe on the ferry home. After a rough day of missing out, I was lucky enough to be seated next to the most beautiful dog named Summer. I was able to pet and love him the whole way home and it quite literally brought tears to my eyes. They always say, “after the storm, comes a rainbow”.

England: Weekend in Wales

Submitted by Caroline Knotts on the 2022 spring semester program in London, England…

Getting to explore the UK has been one of my favorite parts of studying abroad in London. A short train ride can take you to many different cities and in my case, a different country. Traveling by rail is now one of my favorite methods of transportation and I have found it easy to do school work, read or just relax and enjoy the views of the countryside zipping by.

This past weekend, I enjoyed a short trip to Wales where I was able to eat homecooked meals, relax by the fire and even go coasteering, surfing, and hiking. Coasteering was the activity that I enjoyed the most as I suited up in a wetsuit, climbed cliffs, and swam in the cold water. I loved jumping from the cliffs and seeing the views from the top. I also had the opportunity to go surfing even though the surf wasn’t particularly good while I was there. This was my first time doing anything close to surfing and I definitely would love to experience it again. On Sunday, I got to go on a seven mile hike and see the beautiful coastal views of Wales and encountered many fields of sheep on the way,

Wales was a nice weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of London and a must-do if you are in the UK for an extended period of time. I enjoyed my time there and the views from the coast are unmatched.

Greece: Temple of Aphaia

Submitted by Dara McNally on the 2022 spring semester program in Athens, Greece…

This weekend was the trip to the nearby island of Aegina. There, we saw the ruins of the Temple of Aphaia and had lunch on the beach before exploring. While there, I was reminded of the fact that the ruins we see in all their white marble glory, are not at all what a lot of ruins looked like in their prime. They were originally painted with bright colors and patterns that were simply lost over the years due to exposure to the elements. Though some of that was preserved through being buried and away from harm. Some good representations of what ruins and artifacts sort of looked like are shown at the Acropolis Museum. It was fascinating to learn that these massive blank buildings were once very full of vibrant colors and patterns. It blew away all of my preconceived notions of their appearance.

Spain: Seville

Submitted by Cameron Kravitz on the 2022 spring semester program in Madrid, Spain…

As I approach the second half of my study abroad program, time seems to be flying by even faster! While it seems like I have been in Madrid for months, it also feels like we just arrived yesterday. I am so thankful for all of the memories that I have made so far along with all of the people that I have met from both UD as well as other schools. As I reflect on my time here, it is hard for me to believe how much I have learned and how much I have grown as a person in just two months. I have definitely gained a greater sense of independence and confidence by living abroad in ways that I did not expect. Not only have I have learned to balance my responsibilities better, but I have also learned to appreciate the world around me more and take note of things that I may not have before. Although I am now more than halfway done with this semester, I plan on taking full advantage of my time left and exploring Spain as much as possible.

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to travel to Seville, which may be my favorite place that we have visited so far in Spain! The scenery was beautiful and the architecture was amazing, specifically that of the Royal Alcázar of Seville and of Plaza de España. The Alcázar is the oldest royal palace that is in use in Europe, and is filled with different areas to explore and learn about. Plaza de España is the main square in Seville, where it has colorful ceramic benches along with a canal that has boats available to rent. We also climbed La Giralda Tower in the daytime in order to see a view of the city and of the Catedral de Sevilla, as well as the Setas de Sevilla at night time in order to admire the light show that took place. While in Seville, we also went to a traditional flamenco show consisting of singers, musicians, and dancers. Their entire performance was amazing and I loved learning more about the culture in Seville through this experience!

Setas de Sevilla
Traditional Flamenco Show
Plaza de España
Royal Alcázar of Seville
Catedral de Sevilla

Greece: Santorini Sunshine

Submitted by Hannah Kirby on the 2022 spring semester program in Athens, Greece…

We visited Santorini and the weather did a full 180 degree turn within the two days that my family and I were there. The first day it was cold and windy. We weren’t hopeful for a dip in the Aegean Sea. However, the next day it was gorgeous – not even a whistle of wind, and the sun was hot. The day was perfect. We woke up with the orange and pink tints of the sunrise. Our villa was in Fira so we made our way to Oia for the morning. It was Greece’s Independence Day, and we were greeted by the most wholesome of celebrations within the town center. It certainly goes to show that national pride runs thick through all countries. It’s easy for me to understand as I can say that I am proud to have lived in Greece for the past few months. On the same day, we saw the sunset over the same ocean on a private catamaran. It was a once in a lifetime experience to say the least. Greece is breathtaking, and I don’t want to go home.

Sunrise over the Aegean Sea from our villa
Sunset over the Aegean Sea from the catamaran

Austria: Hallstatt

Submitted by April Pappas on the 2022 spring semester program in Salzburg, Austria…

This past weekend, everyone in my program traveled to the town of Hallstadt in Austria. Hallstatt is a village on Lake Hallstatt’s western shore in Austria’s mountainous Salzkammergut region. Its 16th-century Alpine houses and alleyways are home to cafes and shops. Hallstatt is best known for the production of salt, dating back to prehistoric times. Social media images of Hallstatt captioned “the most Instagrammable town in the world,” went viral worldwide and especially in Southeast Asia. In 2020, the town had a population of 780, and an estimate of 10,000 to nearly 30,000 tourists per day, coming primarily via bus tours which bring tourists briefly into the town for photo opportunities, then quickly move on. Our group wandered through the town and ate lunch right on the water. Taking the funicular up gives you great views of the town and mountains.

France: Visiting Hidden Gems of France

Submitted by Lauren Brooks on the 2022 spring semester program in Paris, France…

Last week, midterms ended and our week of spring break began! After some searching and intense consideration, my Blue Hen roommate and I decided to take a trip to Strasbourg and Colmar. These two towns are located in the Grand Est (or Alsace) region close to the German border. Scanning the pictures, we were captivated by the vastly different architectural style of the towns compared to Parisian architecture. I notified my internship supervisor of my trip, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that he had family in the region. He was kind enough to send us a list of places we should visit, and of course, where to eat!

We spent two full days in each town. Strasbourg is akin to a medium-sized European city while Colmar is a small village about an hour from Strasbourg. While perusing the cobblestone streets and passing down riverside walkways, we would pass by cute storefronts, restaurants, cafes, and cultural sites. From our self-guided walking tour of Petite France in Strasbourg to our boat tour through La Petite Venise in Colmar, we tried soaking in as many views as we could.

Something we found very interesting while we were ordering (primarily in French might I add!) was the amount of German influence in cuisine. I’ve come to recognize words in French by reading menus and eating at restaurants. However, there were quite a few German words that appeared to be mixed in. The Grand Est region has a rich history surrounding it and its borders from previous wars and conquests. Knowing a bit of this context helped us understand the fusion of both French and German culture in these areas. We enjoyed a dish my supervisor recommended to us called Flammekueche, a thin-crusted dough traditionally topped with fromage blanc (white cheese), onions, and lardons (bacon bits). We’d also been lucky enough to find a vegan version so that my roommate could enjoy this traditional dish as well.

Of course, it wouldn’t be spring break without some surprises. Unfortunately, we found out that our train home had been canceled soon after arriving at the train station. As a result, we had to stay the night in a nearby hotel to take another train at sunrise. However, we made it through, and we were able to come back safely the next morning. We’ll just consider it a surprise roommate bonding experience.

If you’re a student that’s looking forward to studying abroad for a session, don’t forget to find the hidden gems in your host country! Although COVID restrictions are still in place for our program, we were able to make the most of our time and see something new, even getting a peek into German culture. If you have the means, definitely get to know your host country and its culture to a fuller extent.

Street in Strasbourg, France over the Ill River
Boat Tour in Colmar
Flammenkeuche in Strasbourg