In 2013-14, 1,516 UC Berkeley students traveled to more than 40 countries through the UC Education Abroad and Berkeley Summer Abroad programs, according to data provided by the Berkeley Study Abroad office. We wanted to share some of these study abroad stories, so we’ve asked eight Daily Cal staff members about their experiences abroad and compiled their answers below.
Group tour buses remind me of elementary school field trips — and not necessarily in a good way. So I was slightly apprehensive about spending an entire day on a tour bus to see the Great Ocean Road along the coast just outside of Melbourne. My apprehension faded away, however, as I took in the gorgeous beaches and vistas, temporarily forgetting about school to enjoy my weekend away. About five hours into the drive, we reached the most famous stop: the Twelve Apostles, which are limestone rock stacks jutting out from the stunningly blue Pacific Ocean. Seeing them in real life surpassed the expectations Google Images created. I, along with hundreds of tourists packed into buses, crowded the short trails for pictures at various vista points overlooking the Twelve Apostles. Never before have I seen so many iPad picture takers. But I can’t judge, because although I wasn’t snapping pictures with an iPad, I had my camera, iPhone and GoPro.
About a month before seeing the Twelve Apostles, I journeyed to another “must-see” natural wonder: Cape Byron, Australia’s easternmost point, which provided a completely different experience from that of the Twelve Apostles. Instead of shuffling off a bus with exactly 30 minutes for the stop, I hiked to the point with three other friends without anyone else setting our schedule. Although the hike took 45 minutes, I felt hours away from urban areas and got lost staring out into the Pacific Ocean, scanning the waters for signs of whales breaching. In contrast, the area surrounding the Twelve Apostles, attempts to cater to tourists, offering: a gift shop, parking lots for the buses and helicopter rides that distracted from nature.
While I am grateful to have been able to see both beautiful sites on a weekend getaway, I would choose to be an independent traveler instead of a dependent tourist.
— Martha Morrissey
Spontaneity. It’s an apt word to describe a summer in Beijing.
I hadn’t planned on going at first, but when I passed by UC Berkeley’s study abroad office one day, I decided to apply anyway, figuring I could always change my mind later. Months later, I was packed and on a plane.
That first weekend in China, spontaneity led to four of us UCEAP students scrambling to buy high-speed railway tickets to Xi’an. A mere few hours before our departure, we sighed in relief as we managed to book a reservation at a hostel listed on Google. We left Beijing with almost no sleep and no map — just a list of places we wanted to visit: the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the Ancient City Wall and, of course, the Terracotta Warriors.
And I recall at the Shaanxi History Museum, when we asked a tourist to take our group photo, one of us said, “OK, everybody pretend like we’re not strangers.” We looked awkward in the photo anyway. But as the weekend passed, that initial awkwardness faded. I remember those moments at the fountain in front of the pagoda where we hoped to sneak a quick picture, risking a guard’s wrath and when we sat on the hostel’s bunk beds, talking past 3 a.m. even though we had to catch a 7 a.m. train back to Beijing.
I miss taking those random trips every weekend, despite the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekday classes. I miss the ease and convenience of the bullet train that could take you from northern to southern China in just a few hours. I even miss the thrill of seeing one of those rare blue skies on the more-often-than-not smoggy days. But what stands out is that first trip, when we went as strangers and came back as if we had been friends for years.
At the end of the day, sometimes the unplanned events can make for the best memories.
— Daphne Chen
Getting to the nearest road takes an eight-mile uphill hike through vivacious secondary forest and requires traversing many small and large rivers. The trail led to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where tourists flock to see bellbirds and leaves as big as bicycles and maybe, just maybe, the elusive quetzal. I was on a five-night backpacking trip into Penas Blancas, a tropical rainforest in the mountains of Costa Rica. Eladio, a farmer-turned-naturalist and our trusted guide, danced away with his machete as he cleared us a trail. The orchids. The fungus! Wild. That day, I discovered that when a wasp bites you, it releases a pheromone that beckons other wasps to bite you, leading me to scream obscenities in the middle of the forest. But lying under my mosquito net, the 15 wasp bites faded away, and I was grateful. I was part of this planet, living in a country full of people armed with reason rather than guns, forests rather than bombs.
I remember my first journey to Monteverde. The bus wove up and down the windy mountain road as we ascended into the cloud forest. I tried to remember that the bus driver probably didn’t want to die either, so I should just enjoy the view. After arriving in San Jose only two weeks earlier, our group of 23 budding biologists had already camped on a remote Pacific island (in the midst of a tsunami warning) and spent a week in the dry forest. Our four inspiring, dedicated and hilarious professors told us to ask questions and open our eyes, so we saw sloths, humpback whales and venomous snakes. My waterproof field guide overflowed with scribbles of plant families and mutualistic relationships. I had become a bird-watcher and a marine biologist, but soon enough I would become infatuated with an organic coffee farm, live with chickens and goats and eat an obscene amount of rice and beans during my three magical months in Costa Rica.
— Anya Schultz
Seven years of flirting with the French language always conjured up images of baguettes, pastries, fashion and art in my mind. I remember feeling like an outsider in all of my French classes, but the language and culture continued to entice me until I decided enough was enough — I would just have to go to Paris.
A semester abroad wasn’t an option because of my demanding science classes, and global internship scared me — reading technical documents and attending meetings in a foreign language sounded like a nightmare. Then, an answer came to me like a blessing: Berkeley’s Summer Abroad Program, which boasted five weeks in Paris, where I would be taking French and French history classes while being fully immersed in the culture.
Though five weeks initially felt like too little time, I realized within just a few days abroad that this option was far superior to the traditional study-abroad route. It was enough time to really breathe in the surroundings. The best part about the program was that the “study” part of it was virtually nonexistent. Because my classes were essentially language and history, I didn’t need to spend hours in the library poring over humongous textbooks. Walking around the city, interacting with locals and sightseeing — that was my studying.
I’ve heard that oftentimes with semesters abroad, it can become too much to juggle both school work and tourism, because it takes a long time to adjust to living in a different country. People told me to expect reverse culture shock when I came back home, but luckily, I didn’t have that problem with my summer abroad. I made new friends, saw the sites and learned a lot about myself. I got a glorious taste of the city, which was enough to satisfy me — for now.
— Shruti Koti
When I found myself in times of trouble during my summer study abroad in Spain, the Cheetah Girls came to me, speaking words of wisdom. What would the Cheetah Girls do? Would they eat that second helping of chocolates con churros? Probably. Would they dance until the discotecas closed listening to the Spanish and much better version of “Bailando” at 6 a.m.? Most likely, if they weren’t confined to Disney Channel’s PG ratings.
Now, I don’t usually live my life according to what four cheetah-print jumpsuit-donning girls would do, but considering I grew up dreaming of traveling to Spain to strut like I meant it, I figured it was acceptable.
Before my trip, I couldn’t decide whether to let these dreams become fully realized by choosing to study abroad in a dorm in Barcelona or to experience living with a homestay family, something I’ve always wanted to do. I knew the only way to be able to say more than “Donde esta la biblioteca?” was if I immersed myself fully into the Spanish culture by going to Comillas, a small beach town in northern Spain. The day my fellow homestay roommate and I met our host dad, we realized just how little Spanish we actually knew. Thoughts of “What did I get myself into?” filled my mind until he spoke English to us. We had won the homestay lottery.
Some might doubt just how much Spanish we learned this way, but we were able to ask questions about the Spanish language, culture and history we would never have grasped had we been forced to communicate through awkward nods of pretend comprehension.
Although I didn’t get to meet a charming Spanish duke with incredible tango skills, I did get extremely close to my host family, whom I miss on a daily basis. They opened their home to us as if we were completely a part of their family, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
— Soyolmaa Lkhagvadorj
I try to avoid taxis in Istanbul. There’s a lot you can miss going around like that.
There are protests in Istanbul –– young people running at you, away from a police truck. They’re dodging tear gas and rubber bullets, and you’re in the street, running away from all that.
But the street probably hasn’t moved for a thousand years. There are about four churches on it, and they’re probably just as motionless. Some of their mosaics are covered, but they still have this dignified holy thing going on.
The call to prayer comes over loudspeakers there, too. If you’re at the top of one of Istanbul’s seven hills and outside, you hear all these calls going off at once. It’s a terrible sound, all of them together, like a crowd of men screaming. If you’re very close to a speaker, though, it’s a nice, melodic sound. If you’re at the university, it’s kind of an interrupting, melodic sound.
In the woods behind the university, you can hardly hear the call to prayer. Or you might hear it, but holy shit –– there’s a pack of wild dogs chasing you out of the woods behind the university!
At the borek place afterward, it’d be nice to tell someone about the dogs. The borek chef obviously only knows English vocabulary specific to basketball. Then there’s this old woman leaning from her window across the way like always, smoking an endless cigarette next to a big Turkish flag. She looks like a good listener, but she’d probably make some critical comment eventually, you know.
Back at the apartment, there’s the smell of tear gas on the balcony. The call to prayer goes off for the fifth and last time that day, and some dogs bark at it.
Pretty often, though, I get in the taxi.
— Eliot Claasen
“Wait.” My friend’s face fell as we explained the acronym we’d just used. “That’s kind of sad.”
“Oh.” Our smiles faded a little bit. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
We began throwing “YOBO” at each other more and more frequently as, with a pang of impending nostalgia, we realized our time was winding down. There were still embarrassing experiences to push each other toward, more moments to savor together and nothing to regret. At first, “You only Brighton once” was just a joke, but it became a fitting phrase to describe the temporary nature and consequent specialness of this summer. It seemed as though each moment became a memory as soon as it happened, and for me, my two months in Sussex will always live in that treasured, floating haze.
During those two months, the undulating hills and fields full of cows and sheep that were initially underwhelming would become a place I fleetingly, affectionately called home. There are a lot of things I knew I would miss: perusing the aisles of Sainsbury’s for warm baguettes, hummus and wine for our many picnics; studying with tea and scones instead of FSM house coffees; climbing the hill behind our dorm and running through shaded footpaths; drinking warm, cheap rum on the beach as we listened to the waves and waited for each night to begin; the infectious and unexpected enthusiasm from locals when they heard our accents; the feeling that we would never again be so young or wild or free.
My study abroad trip was decided spontaneously, and I didn’t realize it would be so transformative. But because of it, I’m beginning this year more confident in my abilities, more humbled in my perspective and more aware of what life has to offer.
So: YOBO. It was more than I could ever ask for.
— Kai Ridenoure
It happened for the first time on a Tuesday morning.
It was January, pouring rain as I dragged my feet into a coffee bar around the corner from my study center in Rome. Coins jingling in my coat pocket, I could feel my cheeks turning red with embarrassment as I mentally prepared to order un caffe e un cornetto in Italian. The simplest of requests, but still nerve wracking as a newcomer in an unfamiliar country and an unfamiliar language.
I’d been to this bar only twice before, but the owner’s face beamed at me as I walked through the door.
“Ciao!” he yelled. He took my order. And then it happened — he asked my name.
It’s easy to become a regular in Rome. Somehow, in a city so enormous, you find your niche — your usual bar, your usual market, your usual bakery. Your face becomes familiar to the people who frequent the same places you do. Eventually, you make small talk. And before you know it, you notice the waiter of your favorite restaurant yelling your name as you walk by.
Friendly faces became a godsend during my first few weeks in Italy — having never left North America before and knowing pretty much no Italian, I was sure that my lone arrival on Italian soil would be a disaster lost in translation.
But soon enough, polite nods to the doorman I passed every morning became friendly salutations. And then those friendly salutations became small conversations that made a huge city feel a little more like home.
I studied abroad to have new experiences, learn a new language, travel as much as my wallet would allow and push the boundaries of my comfort zone, but the simplest of routines — like saying hello to the doorman — kept me grounded when things started feeling a little too foreign.
So I got my coffee at my usual bar every morning. I stood at the counter and made broken small talk with the woman at the espresso machine. And as I would turn to leave, opening the door to step back into unfamiliar territory, I could hear the owner yell once again.
“Ciao, Gina! A domani!” Bye, Gina. See you tomorrow.
And I knew I had come to the right place.
— Gina Cova