Final Week!

As soon as the Czech Republic Study Abroad program was canceled we knew that we were probably living on borrowed time. However, I’m extremely thankful that our trip wasn’t terminated before we got the chance to go on our field trip to Northern Ireland. My heart aches for the Czech students who didn’t even get the chance to start their program, especially since I went last year. We really were lucky to get the 5 weeks in Ireland before this pandemic called us home. I’m also really glad that we planned our week in Iceland for the beginning of the trip and not the end!

Our last week together was a sad one, but I think we really savored it. We didn’t get the news we were being sent home until Thursday, so on Tuesday and Wednesday we lived like normal. Tuesday we didn’t have class because it was our rest day after the field trip. I slept in, wrote week four’s blog, and Face-timed some friends from home. Nicole made pizza for dinner and that night we watched a couple of movies together. Wednesday we had our literature class and discussed short stories written by James Joyce. I made hobo packs for dinner and then the majority of the class got together to watch Titanic. We all were wanting to see it again after visiting the Titanic museum in Belfast.

On Thursday we had our tin whistle lesson, and after we started to realize the severity of the situation. Our culture teacher came in and told us that Ireland was shutting down. After 6:00 p.m. that day all schools and public buildings would be closed until further notice. There were students that planned to go to Scotland that weekend, and they started to question on whether it was worth it to go and risk getting stuck. They clearly made the right decision in staying because the university told them they were not allowed to go regardless. After we heard that decision, I knew we’d be sent home soon. We knew we’d most likely be sent home, but we didn’t know when. A group of us decided to go in to Galway and do some souvenir and grocery shopping. While we were getting ice cream at one of our favorite spots we ran into some students from Notre Dam that had already been sent home. We were in line to checkout at the grocery store when Hannah connected to WiFi and checked her email. We quickly discarded the majority of our groceries because it was official, the program had been terminated.

We shared a couple of watery eyed hugs.

We made our way back to the cottages and had a group meeting. Apparently, we were all supposed to book flights home “immediately.” As we quickly realized, this was easier said than done. Ideally, we would have gotten ahold of our original airlines and moved up our round trip flights home. However, getting a hold of airlines was nearly impossible. Many of them were only allowing communication via phone call and were requesting that you didn’t call unless you had a flight within the next 72 hours. In addition, we had 2 phones with international plans for the 13 students. I ran one of the phones out of minutes while on hold with Iceland Air. Thankfully, the university responded to us quickly and ultimately made the decision that they would book the tickets for us. I think this was a very sound decision because it allowed us all to travel together on the same flight and saved us all the extra work of getting refunded. It was a stressful period of time between when we were told to book our own flights and when we were told they would be booked for us. We were all trying to find the cheapest flights possible, because the response on how much we could spend and be refunded for was vague.

My original plan for this weekend was to have a visitor. My german friend Matthias had been planning to come since the start of the program. He was already on his way to Ireland from Germany when I discovered the program was terminated. On Friday, a group of us picked him up from the bus station in Galway! We then ceremoniously went to go eat at An Pucan, the first place we ate in Galway at the start of the program. I wanted to take advantage of my favorite Irish meal, seafood chowder and a pint of Guinness. The group had some more souvenir shopping to accomplish and then we headed back to Park Lodge and took a final walk to the beach. Having Matthias around, even just for a couple of days, really kept me in a good mood.

Saturday was our final day. We savored it, and enjoyed the day slowly. We had a group lunch of paninis, watched a John Mulaney comedy special, and walked to Spiddal. We had a potluck for dinner to try and use up the remainder of our groceries, and the hotel owner opened up the bar for us to celebrate our final evening. The majority of us stayed awake until the bus left around 3 am to take us to Dublin.

Sunday was a long travel day. A 5 hour bus to Dublin and then a couple hours standing in line at the airport. Dublin has a pre-clearance customs system set up with the U.S. so we went through customs before leaving the country. There were two lines, one for those who had only traveled in Ireland in the past 2 weeks and one for those that had been elsewhere in Europe. Since we were lucky enough to get in the fast lane, we went through a normal customs experience. We believe the other line had intense medical screening involved. We made it to our gate in time to board but then sat on the tarmac for 3 hours while we waited for passengers from the other line. The 7 hour flight to Newark finally took off and we arrived right as our connection was scheduled to depart. I stood in a customer service line with our program director, Marta, until we learned that the whole group was rescheduled on a later flight. I tried to look at the whole endeavor as an educational experience on leading group travel. We had a 4.5 hour layover and finally made it into Omaha a little passed midnight. I was bound and determined to stay awake on the final flight home which was made easier by my seat buddy Kevin. Before the plane took off a flight attendant offered a free row that I could have moved to, but I was already enjoying our conversation. We chatted the whole flight and it even turned out to be a networking opportunity as he passed along a contact that could help me find a job in Nebraska City.

Being sent home was definitely a heart breaker for all of us. However, as the situation has progressed its become clear that we are not the only ones to have to endure a change of plans during this pandemic. As individuals sacrifice their travel plans, family gatherings, weddings, and pretty much everything else I am thankful to be home and not stuck in another country. I briefly considered the possibility of continuing to travel on my own, but clearly that would have been a disaster as the world closes down. The hardest thing since coming home is not being able to see my parents, boyfriend, and close friends. Both my parents’ and boyfriend’s employers will not allow them to be in contact with me until after the 2 week quarantine. Other than that, this quarantine has been a lot like the social distancing the rest of the world is (or should be) currently going through. I’m extremely thankful that my sister and her husband are currently social distancing and were able to take me in. I’m 8 days in and have not shown any symptoms. I hope that this pandemic is resolved quickly, but I’m slowly accepting the reality that social distancing will likely be required for several months.

Week Four!

At the end of last week I started noticing myself feeling a little warn down and irritable. I was definitely feeling a little lonely and missing people back home. I’ve learned that traveling is taking the good with the bad, and recognizing that being in a beautiful place doesn’t make you immune to the human condition. On Monday, we went to Galway to do a debate for our history class. We debated on Oliver Cromwell and on whether or not he deserves his reputation as a mass murderer in Ireland. After the debate, I recognized that I needed some time alone so I broke off from the group for some self care time. I wandered up the River Corrib, stumbled upon Galway cathedral, and found a cafe to write last weeks blog in. That night I spent 4 hours facetiming Lexi, Liv, and Michael. Those conversations really cheered me up and made me feel like myself again!

On Tuesday, we had our language class. Afterwards, my group went to our community connection project. As an assignment for the course, everyone needed to find a project that brought us closer to members of the local community. A few girls with backgrounds in agriculture decided to help out a local farm family. I asked if I could join them, because I have no experience in agriculture and wanted to try something new! It was an amazing decision because the family is incredible and their animals are adorable. Anne taught us to make her delicious scones from scratch. She didn’t have an exact recipe because she’s made them so many times so we’ll have to remember “a good bit” of buttermilk and “quite a lot” of flour. Sean and their son Tom introduced us to their dog and newest calf!

On Wednesday, we had the best weather since we arrived. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for most of the day and it was sunny and warm. We cleaned our cottage, and I took some videos of the area we live in so that I can post them on the study abroad page during my internship this summer. I went on a long walk and started watching the sunset from the cemetery. I figured if I ran, I could probably make it to the beach before the sun went below the horizon. I booked it, and when I got to the beach all my classmates were already there watching! The clouds usually prevent us from seeing the sunset so it was a special moment we all got to spend together.

Thursday morning we left for our longest trip to Northern Ireland! Many of my friends from home had no clue that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are two different countries on the same island. I don’t blame them because it was news to me also along with the troubles, Bloody Sunday, and the division of Belfast. On day one we slowly made the 6 hour journey to Belfast. We made stops at the Lisadell House and the Ulster American Folk park. The Lisadell house was unique because it’s privately owned, and there is a family currently living in it. We didn’t tour the actual part that they live in that’s been modernized, but there were current photos around the house of their family and events that they’d hosted. The Ulster American Folk park is an open-air museum with several exhibits reenacting the emigration from Ireland to the United States.

On Friday, we learned about the troubles in Northern Ireland during our conflict walking tour. I had no idea that Belfast is a city that is currently divided by a peace wall that closes from 7pm to 7am every day. The walking tour started in east Belfast, the side of the city that is primarily protestant and swears allegiance to the queen of England. They recognize and celebrate that Northern Ireland is a separate country and a part of the United Kingdom, and they’re referred to as loyalists or unionists. The second half of the tour took place in west Belfast, the side of the city that is primarily catholic and does not wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Referred to as republicans or nationalists, these people are fighting for a United Ireland separate from British rule. The Troubles began in the late 1960s and didn’t end until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Over 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles. Over half of those killed were civilians, murdered in public spaces through bomb explosions or gun shots. The tour was really interesting because the first tour guide’s father was killed by an IRA bomb attack and the second tour guide was a member of the IRA, and his best friend was killed by British soldiers. On the west side we were shown murals celebrating men that murdered IRA members, spots where innocent civilians were murdered by IRA attacks, the decorated side of the peace wall, and current loyalist murals. On the east side we were shown a neighborhood that was burned down, the cathedral the republicans defended on the same occasion, murals for dead IRA members, several republican gardens, and an international wall of art showing murals of struggles around the world. Both of the tour guides agreed that the future should hold nothing but peace and any changes should be done diplomatically. After the walking tour portion we toured the beautiful Crumlin Road jail were political prisoners were held during the Troubles.

Friday evening we went to the Titanic museum. The museum was beautifully done on the inside and out and is at the location where the Titanic was built and set sail from. It was heartbreaking to hear the testimonials of the survivors and read the distress signals that were sent out after the iceberg hit and shortly before the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean.

Saturday was my favorite day of the program so far! It was filled with natural beauty and hiking. We started the day on the Gobbins Walk. This footpath runs along a cliff side and originally opened in 1902. It fell into disrepair before WWII and wan’t reopened until August of 2015. It felt special to be on the new path and hear about the paths history while seeing some of the original features. I love that over 100 years ago humans still appreciated the natural beauty of the spot and chose to pay the expensive fee to walk the path.

After the Gobbins Walk, we made a brief stop at a Game of Thrones filming location. The Dark Hedges is one of the top tree tunnels in the world, and was depicted on the show as a portion of the King’s Road to King’s Landing. Kylee and I walked the whole tunnel and marveled at its beauty.

The next stop on our day of outdoor adventure took us to the rope bridge Carrick-a-rede. I think the bridge was a little shorter than we were imagining but still in a gorgeous location. I’m glad that I’m not afraid of heights, my dad always told us not to be afraid of heights but to respect them.

To end our day on Saturday we went to Giant’s Causeway. The causeway is made of interlocking basalt columns resulting from an ancient volcanic eruption. The columns are unique because they’re shaped in to hexagons. I always say that national parks are adult playgrounds and this definitely held true in this moment. It was windy and the waves crashing against the columns were wild, but it didn’t stop us from climbing around and enjoying every moment. On the walk back I even found a spot to gather seashells, if you know me you know what a big deal that is!

Sunday we switched gears back in to the history side of things. We made our way to Londonderry, or Derry, and toured the walled city. Contrary to the impression we were under, the walls do not close or divide the city like the peace wall in Belfast. The walls are fully intact and protected the city during a 105 day siege in 1689. After the tour of the walls we went to the Free Derry museum. Here I learned about the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972. This mass shooting occurred during a peaceful protest against internment without trial in the Bogside of Derry. British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians and 14 died. Several of those shot were shot in the back as they ran away from the soldiers or while they were trying to help the wounded. I found this museum impactful and it brought tears to my eyes as we learned of what the families had to endure after their loved ones were taken from them. An initial report claimed that the British soldiers didn’t do anything wrong, and all of those killed were gunmen and bombers. The families fought tirelessly to clear the names of their loved ones that were unarmed when they were killed. The museum is right on the spot were a few died, and you can still see some of the bullet holes on the side of the building. Our museum tour was given to us by the niece of one of the victims. She told us that the British soldiers would cut into the rubber bullets and fill them will glass and shrapnel to make them more deadly. The museum had a letter preserved that was sent to the family of one of the victims. According to our guide all of the families received similar atrocious letters. It is shocking and awful to say the least. The families fought for their to be a second inquiry, eventually they got one and it took 12 years to complete. Upon completion it cleared the names of all but one, who had bombs planted on him by the British soldiers. The prime minister said the events of Bloody Sunday were unjustified and unjustifiable and apologized. The last thing we did in Derry was walk across the peace bridge.

For our final day we went to Strokestown and learned about the potato famine. We had a tour of the Strokestown house and through the museum. Our tour guide was really engaging and made the tour of the house more interesting by sharing details about the objects in the house. The house was lived in by the same family, the Pakenham Mahons, from the 1600s until 1979. Everything in the house is original and belonged to the family. Our history teacher came with us on the tours and then gave us a lecture about the famine and its lasting impacts here in Ireland. We had a discussion whether it could have been avoided and if England could have done more to help. The famine occurred because the poor in the country were dependent on the potato as their only source of food. The average man would eat 45 potatoes a day and the average woman would eat 30. During the peak years of the famine 1,000,000 people starved to death and another 1,000,000 left the country. We learned that the trend turned to not getting married to avoid having big families and in the 1930 census 83% of 18-35 year old men were unmarried.

Week Three!

This week I feel like we really got settled in to our daily life at the cottages! Monday-Thursday we have classes from 10am-1pm. The classes are Irish History, Gaelic Culture & Language, Irish Literature, and the course our UNK professor teaches that varies week to week. We eat leftovers, sandwiches, quesadillas, and other simple meals for lunches and we’ve worked out a rotation for dinners. Nicole, Kylee, Dan, Ron, and I each make about one dinner a week, and I’ve been using these meals as an excuse to try out new recipes! For my first meal I stayed pretty basic with chicken quesadillas, but the next week I made my boyfriends Taco Soup recipe, and this week I tried to be a little more adventurous with bacon wrapped jalapeño popper stuffed chicken and rice!

I try and go on a long walk at least once a day, sometimes twice when I walk down to the rock shoreline for sunset. There is no shortage of beauty within walking distance: rock walls lining property lines, the rock beach, cattle, sheep, donkeys, ponies, and a nearby cemetery. When I heard that there was a cemetery near by we could walk to, I wasn’t particularly intrigued. However, visiting the spot really stood out to me. The cemetery is basically a large garden, instead of cut flowers in vases decorating the headstones there are actual soil plots with flowers and vegetables growing.

I spend the rest of my free time reading, crocheting, watching Netflix, watching movies, face timing my people back home, hanging out with my friends here, and doing homework for the classes we’re taking here and my online class. This week in our culture class we started learning how to play the tin whistle, which for me turned out to be a daunting task. Anything musical for me is apparently out of my comfort zone.

This weekend, we went on a field trip through Connemara National Park and up Croagh Patrick mountain. The weather was not on our side, and we almost canceled the trip. Luckily, we toughed it out! We made our first stop at Patrick Pearse’s cottage. Patrick Pearse was was of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. While this rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, historians look on it as one of the necessary stepping stones for Ireland’s fight for independence. Pearse was executed at Kilmainham jail. At this stop we learned more about the man and his role in Gaelic education. He was also a prominent author of Gaelic poetry and short stories. He believe Irish children had the right to be educated in their own language.

After the cottage we decided to put our other plans on hold and race the weather. We went straight to our hostel to check in and start hiking Croagh Patrick. Hiking this mountain has become a pilgrimage. The mountain was named after St. Patrick, who apparently fasted and prayed there for 40 days in the year 441. Thousands of catholics climb the mountain every year in the last Sunday of July and there is a mass held on the summit. Some individuals still climb the mountain barefoot as an act of penance, ouch! It is likely the pilgrimage predates Christianity and began as a ritual celebrating Lughnasadh, the start of harvest.

We found the hike to be quite difficult, especially the last leg at a 35 degree incline over loose rock. Only 5 of us made it to the summit. The summit itself was a little anticlimactic because the cloud cover blocked our view. This apparently is pretty common, my friend Claire told me that she’s climbed the mountain 4 times and the clouds have never cleared for her. We were pretty lucky because on the way down the clouds cleared for about 2 minutes and rewarded our efforts with a beautiful view. We had to get back to the cottages quickly the next day, because a storm blew in that made travel unsafe. We only had enough time to make a brief stop at the National Museum of Country Life. This museum preserves the life of the average rural Irish person from 1850-1950.

Week Two!

This week we only spent 2 days at the cottages taking our normal courses before zipping off our our first field trip. On Monday we had our history class and on Tuesday we learned some more language and culture, as well as get an overview of the tours we’d be taking on the trip our trip to Dublin.

Wednesday morning we left for our 4 day long trip! The trip had 2 planned main activities every day and then the rest of the day we had free time to choose our own adventures. Our first stop was to New Grange tomb. I didn’t even know this spot existed, and it’s older than the some of the pyramids at 5,200 years! This stop was my favorite of the entire trip just because of the sheer age and beauty of the monument. The especially unique feature of the tomb is that on the winter solstice each year the channel and center tomb light up at sunrise. It blows my mind that they had the knowledge to calculate this perfectly over 5,000 years ago. The tomb is much smaller on the inside than it is on the outside, with only a hallway leading up to a small opening. Every year they do a lottery to decide who will be allowed in the tomb during the solstice, I hope one day I might be so lucky!

After New Grange we set our sights towards Trim castle, the oldest and largest castle in Ireland. We first spent some time exploring the outer grounds of the ruins. Then we got a tour of the inside and history of the castle. The castle was constructed by the Normans and is strategically placed on the south bank of the Boyne river. In our history class, we learned that castles and strongholds were built along rivers because they provide a source of food, water, protection, trade, defense, and aesthetics. Building near water created the optical illusion that castles were bigger because the reflection. That night we went to see a professional comedy show!

Day 2 started off with some free time. I decided to tour the Guinness storehouse, which is apparently the number one tourist attraction in the country. Other than a tasty pint at the end, we enjoyed the gorgeous view from the skybar at the top of the building. I also especially enjoyed learning to pour my own pint and their advertising floor. It was here I learned that the official emblem of Ireland, the harp, first belonged to the Guinness company. The government of Ireland had to ask Guinness special permission to use a reflection of the harp to represent the country. This story was reiterated later on at Dublin castle.

I then decided to join a group of students touring the Irish Whiskey Museum. Whiskey has never been my personal favorite, however, the tour contained excellent history that tied in really well with what we have been learning in the classroom. Irish whiskey used to be called Uisce beatha (pronounced like ishka baha) meaning the water of life. The making of whiskey began with illegal poitin distilling in everyday households. It was so common to make the illegal substance that 8,000 stills were confiscated in the country in one year. People often hid their barrels of poitin in forests so that they couldn’t be confiscated. Sometimes the barrels would be lost and forgotten, and would be later found as a darker and much more flavorful substance, whiskey! Creating poitin was dangerous business because distillers would often be drinking straight methanol instead of the ethanol they were after. Many people died because of this, and grave robbers later learned that many of the individuals they thought had died were only in comas. They discovered deep scratch marks in some of the caskets. To avoid doing this in the future, the Irish wake was created. During these times, an Irish wake would take place for 3 days and the family and friends would mourn, drink alcohol, and say their goodbyes to the deceased person, who every once in a while, would wake up! Though they are now shorter, Irish wakes still take place and I hope my death is someday celebrated in a similar fashion.

Though the British controlled Ireland for 800 years, they were originally invited in by Irish lord Diarmait Mac Murchada. Mac Murchada invited them in as back up to protect his lands. The lord promised the British knight Strongbow his daughter Aoife’s hand in marriage and all the Uisce beatha he could drink in exchange. I can’t help but feel bad for young Aoife as she had to marry a man more than 40 years older than her that was written in history to be an ugly man. Later that day, we saw a painting depicting the marriage of Strongbow and Aoife at the National Gallery of Dublin.

In our history class, we also learned of the meeting of the two queens: Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley. Grace, known as the pirate queen, had stolen one of Queen Elizabeth’s ships. In response, Queen Elizabeth kidnapped Grace O’Malley’s children. In an attempt to peacefully retrieve her children Grace O’Malley traveled to England to meet with with the queen and brought along with her, you guessed it, loads of poitin. The only language both queens spoke was Latin. The two queens drank together and reached a peaceful agreement that resulted in the pirate queen getting her children back. As you might be able to tell, I thought the Irish Whiskey museum was the most educational part of the whole trip!

The rest of the evening we briefly walked through the National Art Gallery of Dublin, ate Thai food for dinner, and went to see an Irish play. In our literature class, we prepared for the play by reading The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge. In Dublin, we went to see The Lietenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh. All in all, we learned that Irish plays are anything but boring! They sought to disrupt the upscale ideal that was held about the Irish as a high society by depicting pesants and murderers. Calling the play dark would be putting it mildly!

The third day of the trip started with a tour of Dublin castle and a walk in the castle’s gardens. The garden’s were beautiful and seeing several different flowers starting to bloom was really reassuring that better weather is on its way. I’m looking forward to returning to the grounds at the end of my trip in May. We had Korean for lunch and then toured the Leinster House, Ireland’s parliament building. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside but it was cool to see the beautiful ornate room where their senate meets. That night we had some true Irish food for dinner and most of the group went on a pub crawl together.

On our final day we toured the tragic historical sight Kilmainham jail. The jail was insanely overcrowded at nine times its maximum occupancy during the potato famine. Many individuals were in jail for stealing food or intentionally got arrested to guarantee themselves one meal, a piece of bread, a day. The jail was also the execution site for the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, the event that eventually led to the independence of Ireland in 1922.

Our final stop of the trip was to the ruins of Clonmacnoise monastery. The monastery was covered in Celtic cross headstones. We learned that the Celtic cross was a clever way that catholicism was introduced to Ireland. The circle in the center of the cross is to represent the Pagan belief of worshipping the sun.

Week One!

We made it, and I couldn’t be happier to live so close to the ocean! It’s mind blowing how scenic the area we live in is. We’re located a little over a mile and a half from Spiddal Village and a 25 minute taxi/bus ride from Galway. I was under the impression that we’d be living in Spiddal and within walking distance of Galway, so we’re a little bit more remote than I was expecting.

One of my goals is to undertake some sort of adventure everyday. During our first free afternoon, we ventured in to Spiddal to see some local stores. Nicole, Kylee, and I immediately fell in love with the colorful craft village, and we’re hoping to do our community connection project with them. The jeweler we met, Eric, was ecstatic that the Nebraska students returned! He told us that some of the shops were still closed for the season but within the next couple of weeks everything will be in full swing. The locals also keep reassuring us that the weather will improve. We are currently hunkered down during storm Dennis, and all of our gas fireplaces unexpectedly turned off!

The weather here has been even more sporadic than what Nebraska is known for. In Nebraska, it seems one day will be snowing and the next could be up to 60 degrees! Here it’s even crazier, within 10 minutes we’ll experience sunshine, pouring rain, hail, and back to sunshine. Our literature professor put it best, “The only thing consistent about the weather in Ireland is that it never lasts.” Our cottages can get a little chilly, but normally we’re able to keep the gas fireplaces running to keep us warm, and they don’t use any of our electricity. We’re only allotted a certain amount of electricity a week, once we run out it’s on us to put euros in to keep the lights on! This has taught use to be mindful and keep all lights and outlets switched off whenever possible. We also keep all appliances unplugged unless in use. The hot water has been a bit of a hit or miss issue as we continue to figure out how to work with the timer setting on the water heaters.

Our second free afternoon we decided to take on the rock beach. The beautiful shoreline has been my favorite part of living here so far! We have access to the beach right across the street from the our accommodation at the Park Lodge Hotel. We might as well be on an adult playground, the way we run around and climb up rocks feeling like the explorers of a new frontier.

Today our daily adventure brought us into Galway to explore the aquarium and weekend market. Unfortunately, the market wasn’t happening, we’re assuming due to storm Dennis. However, the aquarium was lovely! The more I travel the more I learn what specifically appeals to me. Two of my favorite things are aquariums and hunting for local street art! I’m looking forward to what adventures are in store for week two and our first field trip to Dublin!

Preparing for SA Round 2

“Lex Milburn’s studying abroad again?! Is she ever going to graduate?” A thought that may be running through many of your minds. It was not my original plan to study abroad again, I was planning on completing an internship this semester and graduating in May. However, there are several more internship opportunities available for my major during the summer, and my favorite professor that just recently retired from UNK, Marta Moorman is leading the trip! These factors combined with the fact I’m always itching for a new long term international adventure led to my decision to Study Abroad again in Ireland! This will push back my graduation until the end of the summer after I complete an internship with UNK’s Study Abroad office.

My favorite part of preparing for any trip is buying my plane ticket. As soon as I got my acceptance I was looking around for the best deal. I remembered a tip I learned: if you book your flight to Europe through IcelandAir, you can book a free stopover in Iceland. I ended up finding a round trip flight from Denver-Reykjavik for one week- Dublin for 3 months- back to Denver in May with bags and seat selection included for $550. After the plane was booked I told Nicole Mittman and Kylee Meyer about the deal and they happily hopped on board and decided to join me! Later on Ronald Gonzalez and Daniel Keeling decided to join as well.

After the flight was book my next step was obvious, choose a tattoo artist and set up an appointment! Our second day in Dublin I met with Camila Conti at Reinkarnated Tattoo Dublin and we spent the whole day together on my first color tattoo.

After booking my flight and tattoo appointment, my next big planning decision was how much luggage to bring. I’ve learned from experience that less is almost always better, however, I knew Ireland was going to be cold! Sweaters and coats can take up a lot of space. I decided I’d bring a small normal size backpack and the osprey pack I bought for the trip I took to Spain, Portugal, and Greece a few summers ago. Unfortunately, while searching for the pack, my mom realized it had been mistakenly sold at the last garage sale! That was definitely a disappointment, but I ended up buying a new Osprey pack that I like better because it’s not top loading. I’m proud that I was able to narrow everything down to the one checked bag and a carry on because traveling light is always so much easier. Last time I forgot to take one of Michael’s sweatshirts with me but we didn’t make the same mistake twice!

Another thing that I wish I would’ve taken on my last study abroad adventure were photos to hang in my room. Reading Kylee’s first blog post before we left was a great final reminder!

I’ll really miss my people (and animals) while I’m gone!

Our week in Iceland was truly incredible and breath taking! Nicole put together this video: https://youtu.be/p_881piUw5Y

What Do You Wish You Would Have Known?!

Packing and Traveling

-What are you glad you packed from home?

I bought a full-sized towel at Globus upon arrival, otherwise bedsheets and a small towel were provided. I recommend grocery shopping at Billa instead of Globus because it is near the tram stop by our classes and requires a lot less of a trek. 

Razors, Dayquil/Nyquil, Aleve, Lotion, Shampoo, Conditioner, Sunglasses, Retainer, Phone charger, Fitbit charger, Laptop and charger, Chacos, Tennis shoes I was comfortable leaving behind, a coat I was comfortable leaving behind, sweatshirts

-What do you wish you had left at home?

Large suitcase (I have a large backpack I should’ve stuck to instead)

-Do you have any travel tips to pass on (planning advice, safety considerations, guidebooks, train vs. bus, etc.)?

Packing cubes are awesome!

Hostel world is a must app for booking cheap accommodations.

I liked Skyscanner for flights, sometimes we would get together in groups and someone would price check google flights, someone student universe, someone Skyscanner, someone Omio to get the cheapest flights.

DO NOT SPEND $1000+ for your flight, shop around, you don’t need to fly in to the Czech Republic just get the cheapest flight to the continent. For us that was a $450 round trip ticket from Denver to London. I wouldn’t spend more than $700.

-What places would you advise future students to see and why?

One of my favorite weekend trips was renting a car and going to Austria. I loved this trip because I got to see the Alps Mountain range! We also went to Hallstatt, a cute town centered between a lake and mountains. I would recommend this trip because it allowed time to be outside and hiking instead of only in cities. 

I also would recommend Amsterdam, Sicily, and Switzerland.

*Disclaimer* Switzerland is very expensive

Social Life

-How did you meet students from your host country?

The Nebraska students all lived together in the same dorm building for the first time which was super convenient.

-How did you like to spend your free time and why? Is there anything you regret not doing more of in your free time?

I spent almost all of my free time hanging out with my friends because I knew it would go by fast and that would be what I missed the most. I regret never going to the zoo in Olomouc! Bowling in the large mall was really affordable, so we took advantage of that often. 

-What opportunities for social, recreational, and cultural events that the host university or program offered did you like best? Why?

I loved all of our field trips, and the opportunity to go paintballing! I was afraid to go paintballing at first, however, the fun outweighed the pain by a long shot (pun intended)!

-What piece of advice would you give future students regarding their non-academic life while abroad?

On free weekends there really is no wrong answer whether to stay in Olomouc or go on a weekend trip. We went to Prague for a weekend to save money!

School Work

-How did your academic experience abroad differ from your U.S. experiences concerning?

It basically felt like we were enrolled in 2 classes. One class was made up of lectures with different professors almost every time and the other class is Czech Language! Monday-Thursday we generally had class 3-6. On Friday’s class was usually 9:45am-11:30ish.

-Relations with professors/classroom instruction?

Most of our classes were lecture rather than discussion based. Our professors were all interested in us as people and what we had going on. The professors stated over and over again that they really enjoyed being invited to lecture for our group!

-Grading?

Grades haven’t been finalized yet, but it’s different because there aren’t continuous updates throughout the semester, just your final grades at the end.

-Study habits?

A lot less time was spent outside of class studying and more time was spent learning through experiences!

-Library?

The only time I saw the library was from the outside during our welcome tour.

-Computer access?

We had strong reliable Wi-Fi in our dorms. A laptop is a must for the blogs.

-What enabled/hindered your successful academic experience?

 The best way to succeed is to show up every day with a good attitude and make time for the minimal assignments.

Money and Communications

-How much money in U.S. currency would you recommend students have at their disposal for their whole time abroad?

$5,000 other than plane ticket to Europe and back is pretty comfortable, some people were fine with $4,000 while one girl is on track to spend over $10,000. It really all depends on how much you plan to shop and spend on luxuries!

-How much money did you have in foreign currency when you left for your program? Was it enough?

I did not bring any host country currency, but it is not a big deal either way. The biggest thing to do is shop around for the ATM with the best exchange rate. You should also be aware of your bank’s foreign ATM fees and foreign transaction fees. The higher those are, the more cash you’d be better off bringing with you. If I could go back, I would have probably brought $500+ in cash. 

-How did you manage your money (credit cards, traveler’s checks, bank accounts etc.)? How and where did you access your money?

To measure where I was at financially, I would often calculate how much money I had in my bank account and in Venmo and then subtract what I had on my credit cards. I brought 2 credit cards, a VISA and a Discover. VISA is much more widely accepted. I would recommend getting a VISA card that doesn’t charge for foreign transaction fees. As a group we were constantly paying for things for each other and then paying each other back for convenience, and some restaurants won’t split up checks. I advise doing that but keeping track of how much you lend/borrow. 

How much money did you spend on:

Books? $0.00

School supplies? $0.00

Food? I don’t have an exact number; however, this was a major expense for sure. Meals in the Czech Republic typically ranged from $5-12 a piece. I also opted to buy groceries for some of the meals, this did not make the food particularly cheaper, however, it did provide convenience. 

Entertainment? I went bowling a few times and to a movie! $50.00 max

Local transportation? Our tram pass was included! $0.00

Travel? This was another bulk expense! I spent $100-$350 on weekend trips and approx. $650 on my spring break.

Personal items (toiletries)? I brought most of what I would need with me! We had to buy our own toilet paper as a flat. $10.00

Postage? $0.00

Airfare? I included this in my weekend trips/spring break price estimates!

Laundry? Laundry cost $8.00 to wash and dry each time. Saving money was possible by combining with another person. $30.00 

-How did you communicate with the U.S.? What would you recommend to future students (e.g. calling card, set up e-mail account and where, etc.)?

I used Facebook Messenger, Snap Chat, Facetime, and iMessage.

Top 10 Must-Do Activities

  1. Holy Hill at Sunset

Take any numbered tram and get off at the train station. Then, get on bus 11 and ride it the rest of the way there. Holy hill is a hill behind a church that overlooks the city. Unfortunately, I went on an overcast day, but catching sunset there with some wine is still a must.

  • Olomouc Zoo

Unfortunately, I never made it to the zoo. Apparently, there are baby goats starting in April, I wish I would have made it and I recommend trying to go!

  • Paintballing

I can’t stress enough how afraid I was to go paintballing. I remember lying in bed that morning and I still hadn’t decided. Ultimately, I decided to go, and we all loved it!

  • Bowling

Ride tram number 7 until you reach the big mall. Upstairs in the big mall there is a bowling alley and movie theatre. The bowling is super cheap, $2 a person for the lane and shoe rental. I recommend their pink gin and tonics. 

  • Oxygen Bar

Another place I never made it too. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover this place until we were on a walk on our last night! It is a bucket list experience for me for sure.

  • Walk to the Lake

There is a lake an hour and a half walk from the dorms. On a nice sunny day, throw on your swimsuit and walk to Podebrady lake for swimming and sunbathing. 

  • Peaky Blinders Bar

While we were over here, my group of friends decided to watch Peaky Blinders, a show on Netflix. Then, we discovered a Peaky Blinder’s themed bar in Olomouc, a block away from the lower square!

  • Eat Local Cuisine 

Goulash, Sirloin, Bread Dumplings, Kebabs, Schnitzel, Croquettes, Beer, Ice cream and Hot Raspberries, Fried Cheese, Crepes

Never miss an opportunity to eat something that you can’t get at home!

  • Make friends with students from other countries

If you go out to the Erasmus clubs, you will have the opportunity to meet tons of non-American students. This trip would not be the same if I wouldn’t have met Orhan, from Turkey, and Fabri, from Italy.

  1.  Cherish your fellow Nebraska students

Do not waste any time on petty drama! You only have 3 months with these people, and they will quickly become your best friends!

How was Bohemia?!

Our last field trip already?! No way, you gotta be joking. Somehow nearly 3 months flew by in the blink of an eye! I am so grateful for each member of this program for making it spectacular. On our last night before the field trip, the majority of us got together to play games and reminisce and laugh about all the things we’ve experienced together, and it will always be one of my favorite memories of the trip.

On our first day, we left Olomouc and bussed to Litomyšl. We toured a baroque church and a chateau. While we were in the church, we were able to climb up the stairs to a lookout of the cute Bohemian town. The chateau (Litomyšl Castle), was beautifully and ornately decorated inside and out. I’ve never seen an exterior of a building quite like it, as it was covered in unique hand made elements. The inside was equally as extravagant. Ever room had a different color scheme. The little details like the curtains and flowers painted on the wall were especially interesting to me. This trip has showed me I want a colorful house, inside and out! We had dinner in Kutná Hora, where we stayed in a hotel for 2 nights.

The next day, we took the tour everyone was waiting for, the cathedral decorated in human bones. But first, we walked around the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist. The Cathedral was a mix of both the Baroque and Gothic styles. The long windows and exterior in the Gothic style, with the spacious interior and ceiling fresco in the Baroque style. Next, the cathedral decorated with human bones was truly a sight to see. The bones came from the remains of mass grave sights. There were 6 massive pyramids of skulls and bones.

After the bone cathedral we checked out our third cathedral of the day, St. Barbara’s. St. Barbara’s was a large gothic style cathedral with beautiful stain glass windows and paintings in the interior. Next, we took a break for lunch. I am trying to soak in all the traditional Czech cuisine I can before I leave the country on Wednesday! I had goulash soup in a bread bowl!

After the lunch break, we toured Kutna Hora’s silver mine. They gave us hard hats and white coats to wear, coats similar to the ones wore by the traditional minors. Climbing through the mine was quite the experience because at some points the ceilings would get really low and we would need to crouch, while other times the pathway would get really narrow. The passage ways were so small that obese people were not allowed to tour the mine. That evening I tried an incredible Bohemian desert, hot raspberries with ice cream!

The next day was one that I’ve been highly anticipating, touring the Budvar Budweiser factory! First, we stopped in a small village named Trebon. Trebon was one of my favorite stops in southern Bohemia because of the large park and beautiful lake! There was a trail that wrapped around the lake that we walked on for a bit, and we saw some ducks and ducklings! The Budweiser factory was a blast, I am definitely a beer lover. This Budweiser was not to be confused with Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser, my dad’s favorite beer. In the United States, Budvar Budweiser is sold as Czechvar. I’m going to have to get my dad some Czechvar for father’s day so that he can compare the two!

That night, we arrived at our final destination, Cesky Krumlov. Our final day consisted of touring the royal chateau and theatre. The chateau had a bear exhibit, as is tradition for the chateau for the past 500 years! For our last main event of the trip, we went rafting! I shared a raft with Griffin, Cody, Tiffany, Mary, and Ria! It was our first sunny day that we’ve had in a long time, which was perfect for the festivities. We rafted 12 kilometers, it was supposed to be 14 but we were taking too long on our stops so they picked us up a little bit early. One of the stops was a bar that had a bonfire, it was a really cool last thing for the whole group to get to do together!

Our view of the castle from the water!

These past 3 months have taught me a lot about the world and by myself. Of course, I will continue to travel. For the past 3 years, I haven’t returned home from a trip without having booked my next one. Keeping to tradition, I will be going to Mexico for 2.5 weeks in July! This is the way I fight the travel blues that often hit people after they return to regular life from a long trip. As for now, I have 2 weeks left to travel with my best friend, Lexi Liebig, who will meet me in Croatia on Wednesday! Thank you so much to everyone who has been following along my pictures on Facebook and posts on here! Also shout out to our professor, Matt Mims, a.k.a. Pops, for making this such an amazing experience!

How was Krakow?!

Time is flying on this study abroad trip! We are already took our second to last field trip, and only have one more to go. I’ve been feeling productive lately because I finished planning my trip for the last 2 weeks, when my friend Lexi Liebig will be joining me! We plan to spend 8 nights in Croatia, 2 in Berlin, and 4 in London. I’ve also started an online course through UNK this month. I will finish the class right before I fly home in a month! This class will add some extra difficulties to my trip including time management and the need for Wifi everyday, but I’m optimistic I will be successful!

Our second to last field trip brought us to Krakow, Poland. Poland is a beautiful country with buzzing night life and a currency conversion rate in our favor! On our way to Krakow, we stopped at McDonalds for brunch. McDonalds is higher quality and tastes much better in Europe. Once we arrived to our hostel home, we split up for lunch. Ria, Mary, and I weren’t hungry after eating already so we decided to opt for a liquid lunch at a nearby cocktail bar!

After some fancy drinks, the group met back up so that we could tour Schindler’s factory. In preparation for the trip, the class watched the Spielberg film together. The movie was really hard to watch because it showed on screen the years of brutality the Jewish European population suffered. A specific scene sent chills down my spine as a group of human beings was being moved to a concentration camp and a small girl is throwing things at them and yelling, “Goodbye Jews!” Tears filled my eyes during Schindler’s monologue at the end of the movie when he breaks down wishing he would’ve done more. Oskar Schindler was a humanitarian during WWII that saved the lives of 1,200 Jewish people during the Holocaust. His factory in Krakow has been turned in to a museum. It was impactful to see the same exterior of the building from the movie in person.

After the factory a group of us had something we’ve all been missing, authentic Mexican good! Krakow is known for it’s trendy spots and concept bars so we spent the rest of the day trying craft beers and unique cocktails.

On the second day, our group toured the salt mines! I didn’t really know what to expect but I loved the tour. The walls of the mine were made of salt so you could even lick them! Apparently being in the salt mines and breathing deeply is really good for you. The tour was full of intricate sculptures made of salt, and my favorite part was this underground lake right in the middle of the mine! I was dying to swim it, unfortunately that was not a part of the tour. I’m imagining the water would be so salty it would hold you afloat like the dead sea.

We must have really enjoyed the Mexican food because we went back for round 2! Then our professor, Yan, led us on a walking tour to some of the sights in Krakow, including the Wawel Royal Castle and Cathedral. Then the group got tickets to go see St. Mary’s Basilica! The interior of this church was colorful and covered in intricate designs. Next a group of us found a cosmic mini golf pub! We played a round of golf and a few games of JENGA. For dinner we had a traditional polish meal, dumplings with meat, and a side of Bruschetta!

The next day was the hardest of the entire program but a cumulation of what we’ve been learning all semester. We toured Auschwitz I and Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camp that murdered over 1.3 million people in World War II.

Upon entering the camp, prisoners read, “work will set you free”

In Auschwitz I, there was an entire building dedicated to helping understand the sheer volume of human beings murdered. There were piles of belongings that were taken from the prisoners: luggage, shoes, pots and pans. For me, the hardest part of the entire day was the exhibition of human hair. There was a small display explaining how the hair of the victims was sold and turned in to fabric. Then, as you turned around, there was an entire wall covered in a gigantic pile of hair. Tears filled my eyes as I imagined how degrading it was for the people to have their hair shaved, and that is nothing compared to all they endured.

Prisoners all had to wear different patches sewn in to their clothes to identify themselves. For me, this sparked a connection. In Amsterdam, we saw a memorial for members of the LGBTQ community murdered in the Shoah. The memorial was in the form of a pink triangle.

The group was as quiet as we’ve ever been. No one complained or said hardly anything at all. Normally we’re laughing and goof around a little during our tours, but not this one. We understood that we’ll never truly grasp the scope of what these people endured, but we owed it to them to try. When Yan’s son asked us what we thought, the only word we could manage was, “sad.”

How was Germany?!

When I first started traveling, every goodbye was a stab to the heart. I was alone, on my first trip, in Southeast Asia, and I truly thought I would never see the people I met ever again. Travel friendships are intense because you spend such little time together. To my surprise, it has not been nearly as difficult to stay in contact and plan meet ups with my travel friends as I thought it would be!

I first met Matthias in Madrid, Spain. It was the very start of my solo trip to Europe last summer, and I had just walked 8 hours from the airport because I didn’t understand public transportation yet! We spent a few days together and he told me I had to go to Portugal, which was never a part of my plan. I took his advice and went to the hostels he recommend and had the time of my life! I met some friends of his working at Urban Garden Hostel in Lisbon, and even ended up working there myself! While I was there Matthias made a trip back over to hang out with our now shared pals Madi, Marissa, and Dylan.

The group even got so close that Dylan went so far as to get all of our initials tattooed on his leg, along with the German flag in honor of Matthias!

We went to a tattoo place where the tattoos were 2 for 60 euros and Dylan said, “If anyone pays for mine I’ll get whatever you want” and Matthias took him up on that offer

Before I left the U.S. for this study abroad trip, we planned a meet up in Boston, where Madi goes to school. Crazy enough, this trip to Germany will be the 4th time Matthias and I have managed to meet up since we met last summer! At the end of our Boston trip, we had already set the dates that I would come and visit. I brought Mary and Ria with me as well, and I love watching my friendships form between separate groups of my friends!

Matthias and his family were kind enough to host us at his home, saving us some considerable money for the weekend. He also was willing to drive us from town to town, being our local guide along the way! We arrived at dawn after 13 hours of bus travel, Matthias picked us up and took us to his place for a nap and breakfast in Arbach. After we were well rested, we drove an hour and a half to Heidelberg. It was a rainy day in the university town. We started with a traditional German lunch. I had Hunters Pork Schnitzel with wheat beer. We then wondered around the town until pouring rain forced us in to a pub for some more German beers! Germany has a “purity law” for beer that limits the ingredients that can be used to make beer down to water, hops, and malt.

After a few pitchers shared between the group, excluding our chivalrous driver, the rain had subsided and we climbed up to the castle. The Heidelberg Castle was in ruin and had a beautiful view of the city. We debated the difference between castles, palaces, and chateaus, a topic Mary is particularly passionate about. Castles have walls or are in ruins, because their purpose was to defend. Palaces are usually grand lavish places that were designed to be lived in. Chateaus, a french word, are generally more equivalent to palaces than castles. We drove back to Arbach, and spent the evening meeting Matthias’ friends and having a great time playing games and trying to tackle the language barrier. Some of his friends were self conscious over their English, but of course we were nothing but appreciative that they were willing and able to talk with us!

The next morning we set off on the 3 hour drive to Neuschwanstein Castle, the original castle that inspired the design for the Disney castle. We left bright and early so that we would arrive with enough time to enjoy a typical Bavarian breakfast. It included white sausages, spicy mustard, a pretzel, and wheat beer. We decided we’d skip the tour of the interior castle to spend more time admiring the exterior and the natural features surrounding it. There’s a waterfall along a stream and an expanse of trees.

Once we had our fill of fantasy, we drove to Munich to continue our 2 day long beer tour. Our first stop was Hofbräuhaus, the royal beer hall. Here we had our second pretzel of the day (this one the size of my head) and my first ever liter of beer, followed by my second liter of beer! After the beer hall we set off for the festival. Our timing was perfect because we were in Munich for what Matthias referred to as, “the spring equivalent of Oktoberfest.” At first, we felt right at home at what seemed like a Nebraska county fair. Then we walked in to a large blue and white tent that was packed full of people drinking beer and dancing on tables! Many of the participants were wearing typical German festival attire, lederhosen and dirndls. We participated in the beer drinking and the table dancing until it was time for us to catch our night bus back to Olomouc. It was a perfect weekend full of friends, beer, and culture. Thank you Matthias!