I’ve Studied Abroad Twice. Here Are My 6 Biggest Regrets:

I have never met anyone that studied abroad and regretted the decision. However, during some of the best days of your life, there are some things that you will miss out on, and things that you’ll do and regret later. I’m here to tell you exactly what I regret, and what I would have done differently.

1: SPEND MORE TIME WITH YOUR HOST FAMILY: I can’t stress this enough. I was blessed with the most INCREDIBLE host mom that was so beyond loving and accommodating to my vegetarian dietary restrictions. With my rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language, I was intimidated to have lengthy conversations with my host mom. Though we used Google Translate A LOT, I cherish every memory I have with her, and I wish I would have spent more time with her.

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(The best host mom in the entire world. Granada, Spain 2017)

2: Do Your Research: STUDY! We live in a global era of communication. There is no excuse not to research every detail of the city in which you’ll be studying. However, I do understand that it can be daunting and downright time consuming. I wish that I would have studied my Spanish history more as well as taken my Spanish language courses more seriously. I felt underprepared and I hadn’t planned a single trip by the time I landed in Madrid. If there is any advice I can offer, it is PLEASE do everything in your power to plan ahead and learn about your new home. While I did not have as much free time when I studied in South Africa, I still wish I would have looked into fun things to do in Cape Town in my free time. Day trips and weekend trips within Europe are easy and inexpensive.

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(Awesome day trip from Granada to Nerja 2017. Day trips are easy and inexpensive!)

3: Document Everything: On my first study abroad in South Africa, I kept a journal every single day and the benefit was absolutely priceless. Keeping a journal helped me record little details that quickly fade from mind such as the names of tour guides and professors. In Spain, I meant to update my blog more, but it just didn’t happen and I deeply regret it. By the same token, I also deeply regret not taking more photos and video. Sure, when living in a foreign country, no one wants to look like a, “tourist”, but I’m sorry, you are. SO take as many pictures as you can, the memories far outweigh the brief embarrassment. Ask people to take individual shots as well because, chances are, you wont talk to a majority of the people you studied with once you’re state side again. Sure, you’ll make a few really close friends, but it’s always nice to have some individual shots to commemorate your greatest adventure.

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(Luckily, I had a great friend take photos of me on one of our last days in Granada)

4: TRAVEL!!: Okay, this might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s true. I regret not spending some extra time traveling Africa after my first study abroad. I also regret not visiting Morocco during my time in Spain. I had originally planned to visit Morocco while in Granada, but after no one else expressed interest in going, I let that dream die. TAKE THE DANG TRIP Y’ALL. Even if you travel alone, you will make friends through your hostel or tours. I studied in Spain, and did not once set foot in Barcelona. How does that even happen? I was allowed four absences from class at Universidad De Granada, and I used all but one to sleep in… Plan ahead. Travel. Meet new people.

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(I can’t believe I didn’t explore the rest of this beautiful continent. Cape Town 2016)

5: Branch out: This was much easier for me while studying in South Africa, as there was only one other student traveling with me, and I was forced to make new friends. This was probably the best part of my first study abroad experience and I still talk to my friends from South Africa regularly. However, in Spain I stayed with my school group too much because I could speak English, and I knew that they more or less had no choice but to hang out with me. While I loved the people I was with, I wish I would have made more friends outside of our group like I did in South Africa. So put yourself out there! You absolutely won’t regret it.

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(Squad goals from all over the globe. Atlantic Point Backpackers, Cape Town 2016)

6: Don’t Settle: In Spain especially, I settled for doing some activities I just didn’t want to do, and I missed out on things that really peaked my interest. It’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to go off on your own and chase your own interests. One of my favorite memories from Granada is of a morning where I just wandered the Albycin solo and learned so much about the city. It’s okay to fly solo. You just might find yourself along the way.

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(Weaving through the streets of Granada by myself was just what my soul needed)

While I do have regrets from my travels, studying abroad is not one of them. In fact, I have a tattoo on my foot to commemorate the incredible experience that I had in South Africa. If there is any advice that I can give students wishing to study abroad, it is simply, DO IT. You will find yourself and gain a whole new level of confidence along the way. As someone who has constantly struggled with anxiety, depression, and self-love, I can tell you that study abroad will bring you to a fuller version of yourself.

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(My tattoo of Table Mountain South Africa in the Sierra Nevadas of Spain)

Siestas and Fiestas: Studying Abroad in Spain

Spain is so full of life and culture that it makes it the perfect country to send college students of any major. From the sights and sounds, to the tastes and smells, Spain ignites every sense of the human body, and sets your soul on fire.

From indulging in Tapas under the Spanish stars, to stunning Flamenco shows showcasing the intricate balance between beauty and tradition, there is something for absolutely everyone. For sports fans, Spain is home to not just one, but TWO major football clubs with incredible stadiums and museums. For the outdoorsy type, there’s both mountains and beaches that will cure your quench for adventure. Personally, I enjoyed just wandering the streets solo while taking in the sights and sounds of the city.

IMG_0249 (I may be biased, but Real Madrid takes the cake).

For the creative soul, Spain is home to some of the most breathtaking galleries and architectural wonders.I was lucky enough to live in the shadows of Spain’s most visited architectural masterpiece, The Alhambra.

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(The views from the Alhambra will bring out the romantic in everyone)

In Spain, our trip was organized by an awesome program called Educatrip. They took care of organizing an itinerary, setting us up with host families, enrolling us in university, and, of course, showing us all of the fun spots in Granada. This was pretty new to me. Though I had studied abroad, I had never stayed with a host family, much less a host family that didn’t speak the same language.

Upon getting my host family assignment, I did what any other decent person would do, I got on Facebook and stalked my host mom. She was everything I could have dreamed of and more. Though we didn’t speak the same language, we shared countless laughs and moments together that I will treasure forever.

While studying in Spain, all of Europe is at your fingertips. Travel within Spain, Portugal, and even Morocco is easy and inexpensive. My friends and I took advantage of this by signing up for a student trip to Portugal through Discover Excursions. They set up an itinerary that involved taking us to local bars in downtown Lagos, to an unlimited sangria cruise. Though some of us may have left our dignity in Lagos, the trip was by-far one of the best parts of my study abroad experience and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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(casually enjoying a churro at the end of the world)

Alright lets talk about it… You have to go to class. It’s called study abroad for a reason. I had class for just four hours every day with two amazing professors. The time flew and they were both so willing to have off topic discussions about Spanish culture and language. My courses were entirely in Spanish, so even if we went on an hour long tangent about Flamenco, we were still being totally immersed in the language. 

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(attending class in a re-modeled hotel made school bearable)

Don’t speak any Spanish? That’s totally fine! My dear friend (who will remain nameless) had never taken a single Spanish course before stepping off the plane in Madrid. She thought the Spanish word for school was, “escoolio” (It’s escuela by the way). Watching her grow  during our time in Granada was so amazing, and her willingness to be fully immersed in a culture she knew nothing about was inspiring.

Actually, let’s talk about the people for a minute. Study abroad basically forces you to hang out with people you may not have hung out with by choice otherwise. There’s something about being dropped in a foreign country with strangers that builds a unique bond like no other. Sure, you may not love everyone on your study abroad trip, but you will undoubtedly form bonds and friendships that will become so special to you. Perhaps it is because of the priceless memories you share with these people, or maybe it’s the adventures you didn’t even want to necessarily be a part of (See my upcoming post about getting stranded in Madrid during a taxi strike). Either way, study abroad will teach you so much about yourself and others.

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(One of these lovely ladies is the “escoolio” girl. You decide)

Honestly, whether or not you choose study abroad in Spain is totally up to you. I’m not here to convince you to put yourself out there like my friends and I did. All I’m saying is that there is something so magical about this place. The atmosphere is electric, and I promise that you just might find a piece of yourself during your adventure abroad. Thanks for the memories, España. You changed me.

Wait, You Play Rugby??

Here in the United States, it’s a feat in and of itself to find someone that has a remote understanding of the sport of rugby, let alone someone that understands why we chose play it in the first place. Rugby is punishing, it is unforgiving, and it doesn’t need or want you; thank you very much.

At 5’1 and 95 pounds, I spent my high school career as a cheerleader, winning national titles, and cheering on my football team on Friday nights. Never in a million years did I think the wind would blow me in the direction of rugby, but that’ why it is so amazing, rugby didn’t need me or want me, but I sure as hell needed it.

After a life changing experience in South Africa, I saw how one sport had the ability to unite a nation after the divisive and tumultuous era of Apartheid segregation. Rugby, with a little help from Nelson Mandela, united people of all races and ethnicities toward a more progressive South Africa. For some reason, this really spoke to me. So, I got up every ounce of courage in my tiny body and showed up to the women’s rugby practice at my university.

IMG_3522.JPGI was greeted by some of the most incredible people I have ever had the privilege to know. The captains saw my potential; they saw my speed, not my size. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I was being judged for being too small, or not small enough. I was just the speedy girl on the wing that could definitely afford to learn how to tackle. Rugby is about finding your niche and becoming the best at what you do so that you can be there to support your teammates when the time comes.

Rugby doesn’t stop. Play doesn’t end after you take a hit, it isn’t like football, it keeps going, for eighty grueling minutes. It is your job to be there to support your teammates, which is the beauty of the sport.

I’ll admit, I let quite a few girls blow by me before I completely grasped this concept. I thought I was too little to make the hit, or that I wasn’t good enough, so I figured I better let the fullback handle it. But one day it just clicked. (Okay, it was the last match of the season, but it finally clicked). I looked at the people on the field with me, and completely decked some girl girl. To this day, I don’t ever think that I’ll find that same feeling again.

Rugby is about defying expectations, which is exactly why I do it. Because no one, not even myself, expected this. Maybe it’s because no one took me seriously as an athlete in cheerleading. Maybe it’s because I felt that I had something to prove. Either way, rugby made it clear that I am much stronger than anyone ever imagined I could be.

Rugby is about empowerment and equality. There is no difference in rules or play between men’s and women’s rugby; proving that women can do anything a man can do in this sport. This feeling of empowerment leads female rugby players everywhere to know that they are truly strong athletes, and that they are capable of achieving anything.

Rugby is about family. If you don’t do your job, your teammate gets laid out, that’s just a fact. You protect your family. You ruck for your family. You bleed for your family.

Rugby is about being part of something bigger than yourself. It is about being a part of an international community of athletes and fans. It’s about cheering on your favorite team even though it may take years off of your life (I’m looking at you, Springboks). It’s about beating the living crap out of another person on the pitch, then sharing a few beers after the match. There is nothing like the rugby brotherhood, which is why it is so addicting.

This sport has given me more than I ever even thought possible. I have never been more confident in myself and my abilities, and I owe it all to rugby. I have an incredible family that I otherwise would have never even spoken to. I have a sense of discipline, as well as a few scars, but I wouldn’t trade this past year for the world. So, rugby, thank you. You didn’t need me, but I needed you more than I ever imagined.

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Why I Studied Abroad In South Africa, And Why You Should As Well

When most people think of studying abroad, they think of sipping fine wine in Italy, or shopping in London, or even swimming off the beautiful beaches of Greece. Most don’t envision themselves sitting on a dirt floor in a shack drinking illegal beer out of a paint can. Then again, I’m not most people.

There are so many misconceptions about Africa, one of which being that Africa is all one in the same, that every part of Africa is similar enough. Obviously this is far from the truth because the continent of Africa is home to over 1,500 languages, 54 countries, and countless different ethnic groups. South Africa is amazing because it encompasses much of what makes the African continent so incredible. South Africa recognizes eleven official languages, with many more unofficial languages spoken. On top of the many languages, South Africa is home to so many unique ethnic groups and people. In my time in South Africa, I spent time with the Xhosa people, which are the people from which we were given the great Nelson Mandela. So, for a history major and anthropology minor like me, you can see why this was an obvious choice. But what if you’re not so into history or the study of other cultures? What can you even do in South Africa?

IMG_8606Well, for starters, you don’t need to go to Italy to find some tasty wine. During our study abroad, my professor took us wine tasting at Vergelegen Vineyard. In South Africa, drinking wine at 10 AM is totally acceptable and, as it turns out, South Africa is actually a powerhouse in wine production, they just like to keep a lot of it inside the country (and I can’t blame them). We were even able to sample Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite dessert wine at Groot Constantia. I brought home multiple bottles as gifts, one of which is still in my wine rack at home. If you study abroad in South Africa, you better enjoy a good wine.

Wine isn’t your thing? No big deal. The lovely Xhosa people of Langa Township invited us into their Shabeen, which is a one room structure in which they brew a traditional beer and serve it communally (basically, it’s served in a paint can, but I’m always up for whatever). After all, the best way to experience a culture is to immerse yourself in it, and the best was to become fully immersed, is to drink with the locals. IMG_7919

What better way to wrap up a day of drinking with the local people than with a night of drinking on Long Street? Basically, Long Street is the Bourbon Street of Cape Town, but way better. I know what you’re thinking, “Abbie, it isn’t safe to be drunk on the street in an African country by yourself.” Maybe you’re right, but Jesus loves us, which is why he sent us Uber. Due to the exchange rate in South Africa, Uber is super affordable and extremely safe, as all drivers must be background checked. Once you arrive on Long Street, you will find a number of security guards walking the street should an incident arise. Now, I’m not saying you can just be a drunken buffoon, you will get your phone or wallet stolen, but it is no more dangerous than being a drunken buffoon in Greenville, North Carolina. So, now that you know Long Street is just as safe as any American city, you’ll be excited to know that you will definitely bump into other Americans, as well as Europeans and folks from all over the world. Thanks to nights out I have made some lifelong friends from all ends of the earth. So, if the nightlife experience is what is drawing you to study in a different city, I’m telling you that Cape Town is the place to be. I swear I’m not a drunk, and there is so much more to South Africa than its incredible alcohol, but it’s also fun as hell and I’m trying to make a point.IMG_8193

IMG_8678If you’re a more adventurous soul, I’m not sure why you would chose to study abroad anywhere else. By the second day of the trip, my professor and guide were dragging me up the side of Table Mountain (one of the seven new wonders of the world). The experience was so spiritual for me that I came home and got a tattoo of Table Mountain’s silhouette. For the hiker, Cape Town is heaven on earth. If the beach is more your thing, you can go surfing literally all over the Cape. For beginners, my recommendation would be Muizenberg beach where you can rent a wetsuit and board for next to nothing. Plus, a lot of surfers have dogs which is a major bonus. If all of this seems a bit too boring for you, there is always the option to go cage diving with great white sharks. For those who are glued to their TV during shark week, you know that South Africa is home to Seal Island, which is where I embarked on my sharky adventure. Within minutes, our boat was being circled by sharks over twelve feet long. For me, being in the water with these creatures was so powerful that I have made it my duty to make sure that they become better understood.

IMG_8817Okay by this point I know that you’re only still reading in hopes of seeing a photo of a cute animal. For the Animal lover, South Africa is heaven on earth. A quick drive to Boulders Beach will have you catching some serious rays with adorable little African Penguins (Just don’t get too close). A visit to the Cape Of Good Hope ensures an encounter with baboons and ostrich, and even a ride down the highway can lead to zebra and bontebok sightings. Though you have to travel to the northern part of the country to see animals like lions, giraffe, rhino, and elephant, in their natural habitat, there are plenty of game reserves all over the country where you can go on a shorter safari and still see all of the wildlife Africa is famous for. We went to Botlierskop private game reserve near Mossel Bay, and within three hours we saw every animal on my bucket list up close and personal. No matter how you experience the wildlife of South Africa, you sure as won’t experience anything like it anywhere else on earth.

So, as if I have left you any choice, take the plunge, study abroad out of your comfort zone. Save Europe for another time, and experience the magic of South Africa while you’re young. South Africa holds such a place in my heart that I’ve spent my whole week as a college graduate trying to get a job in Cape Town so that I can experience this magic all day, every day, for the rest of my life.

So You Think You Want A Great Dane

So, like me, you’ve done all the research, watched all of the tutorials,  and you’ve found yourself wanting a Great Dane puppy; now what?

I had spent my childhood around larger dogs, as my family had always had Golden Retrievers. I was looking for something that was, like me, a little on the quirkier side. Great Danes are known for their massive size, mine being only sixteen weeks old and already over fifty pounds (to put this in perspective, he already weighs more than half of me). However, the Apollo of the dogs is probably best known for their gentle nature and sweet disposition. So, in February of my senior year in college, I threw my best friend in the car and drove over an hour to a breeder to check out his pups. When I first saw the whelping box full of thirtten (yes, THIRTEEN) little black puppies, there was Hank, only three weeks old, already seven pounds, and sitting on his sister’s head. Yep, that one would end up coming home with me just three weeks later.

Now, I know many experts recommend keeping pups with their mother and litter mates until at least eight weeks of age, but bringing Hank home at six weeks was arguably the best decision I’ve made so far. As it turned out, his six week birthday and my spring break coincided perfectly, so I was able to bring him home with me and spent my entire week long break training and bonding with him. By the time I brought him back to school with me, he was completely potty trained. For those of you that struggle with math, yes, he was potty trained before he was eight weeks old.

While bringing him home at six weeks was the best decision I made, giving up on crate training after he was potty trained was the worst. None of my childhood dogs were crate trained, so I didn’t think it was all that important. Well, as per breed standard, Hank has terrible separation anxiety. No crate + separation anxiety = four pairs of my underwear, and one pair of bikini bottoms completely destroyed. Only dirty underwear though, apparently clean underwear isn’t as fun. I get that they will cry, and I know it hurts to hear your baby cry when you leave them, but you will be so glad you stuck with the crate in the long run. Since he was not crate trained, he slept in bed with me from eight weeks of age to sixteen weeks of age. Unless you want to share your bed with a massive lap dog forever, just don’t go there.

Those are my two biggest recommendations, get your pup as early as possible to ensure proper bonding, and keep up with crate training. One of the other things I wish I would have known, Great Danes are so sensitive in every aspect of life. It took Hank a very long time to warm up to playing with other dogs at the park. He was afraid of anyone and everyone, as Danes the biggest babies. DO NOT give up, your Great Dane will weigh up to 200 pounds one day, so they need to be socialized. Period. They also have the most sensitive tummies, so do your research and don’t cut corners on their food. I had Hank on a regular puppy food with premium protein, and I was told to switch him to large breed food immediately. Well, Hank wasn’t about it and his stomach would not hold onto any food that was put in it. So, Hank was on boiled chicken and rice for three agonizing weeks before finally being put on a (very expensive) prescription Royal Canin GI food to help with his tummy. After that whole ordeal, I switched him to the Royal Canin Giant Breed puppy food. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE between a large breed and a giant breed dog, so I would stick with Giant breed food. It’s expensive, but he loves it and it sets well on his tummy. He also has the most sensitive skin EVER. In fact, he currently has to wear a shirt to keep him from scratching a rash that covers his entire stomach. The vet claims it was something that he picked up in the environment, which means that he’s just hyper-sensitive, like every other Dane. My point is, Great Danes are very high maintenance, but worth every penny!

So, think twice before getting a Great Dane. You will never experience a love like you will get from your Great Dane, but be prepared to spend a lot of money on veterinary care and food. They will love you with all they have, but be wary, they can develop severe separation anxiety because of this. Stay strong in your crate training, and you will thank me that you have your own space. In the end, though they have a short life span, a Great Dane is for life. They will get VERY big. They eat A LOT of food. They are prone to health issues. But, you will never find a love like you’ll get from a Dane.