February 28, 2022

Celebrate Study Abroad Day with CEPA!

International Study Abroad Day is all about raising awareness about the benefits and the impact of study abroad—on your students, your campus (organization), and the global community.

The team at CEPA decided to celebrate by gathering our favorite stories from our own study abroad experiences and memories from our international travels.

Stories from our staff

“Our Favorite International and Cultural Experiences”

Tilburg in the Netherlands

In the fall/winter of 2017, shortly before I started at CEPA in January 2018, I spent two months in Tilburg in the Netherlands. During the first weeks, I stayed with friends of mine and afterward, I moved to a nice little B&B. I did some translation work for my friends’ company (the friends I stayed with) during the week and went out to explore the city on my own during the weekends.

So on one Sunday, I went to the harbor in Tilburg as I had read that Sinterklaas would arrive on that day! I already knew that Sinterklaas (the Dutch St. Nicholas), along with the many traditions associated with it, is very important in the Netherlands, especially to the children of course and I thought it would be nice to experience such an important tradition firsthand. You can read more about it here if you like: Celebrating Sinterklaas in Holland – Dutch traditions – Holland.com

I really enjoyed seeing how happy the children were when they saw Sinterklaas arrive by boat and then walked through the city in a parade, led by Sinterklaas on his beautiful white horse and it was special to participate in the event, even as only a spectator. It felt like participating in a special and important part of their culture. The fact that supermarkets sell special candy for Sinterklaas around those weeks also shows how important this tradition is to the Dutch and “kruidnoten” (that’s one type of candy) are so so good! Unfortunately they are not available here as far as I know 😊

Julia from Operations

Costa Rica “Pura Vida”

Just after my graduation from university, I embarked on a 3 weeks group trip through Costa Rica. During these three weeks, I truly got to experience the Costa Rican “Pura Vida” lifestyle.

There are many stories of how I got to experience this laid-back view on life but this one is one of the most memorable ones:

On our last travel day, we were supposed to travel from Santa Teresa on the Pacific Coast back to the capital, San José.  After getting on the bus – a discarded American yellow school bus that was used as a regular bus – we were told that there was a construction site in the middle of our route and that we had to change the vehicle. To cross the construction site and get on our next bus, we had to walk over a wooden plank across the giant hole in the ground while carrying our overseas luggage. Some of us were even wearing flip-flops and could hardly walk on the plank but in the end, everything worked out well and we returned to San José safe and sound.

Some of my fellow group members wished the transfers would have been handled similarly to how they would have been handled in their home countries. In my opinion, although it might not seem to have been a logical solution for someone living in Germany, the USA, Canada, the UK, or Ireland – this is where my fellow group members were from – it seemed to have been the best solution for this particular situation. I thought this was a perfect summary of the relaxed “Pura Vida” philosophy and how embracing other cultures will also give us a new perspective on the culture(s) we grew up with.

Lorena from Operations

Semester Abroad in Northern Ireland

When I moved to Northern Ireland to study abroad for one semester, I was surprised that everything was so green. The coastline of Northern Ireland is beautiful, and you can spend hours and hours walking along the coast. Basically, the weather is a big part of why Northern Ireland is so green, as their climate is temperate and maritime. As I moved there in winter, it surprised me that they have all year long similar weather. Of course, with the maritime climate comes to a lot of rain and your rain jacket is your constant companion.

The surprising thing I learned is that due to the climate zone, locals started to go swimming in the sea whenever the sun comes out. It can have 55°F and that is warm enough for them to go to the sea. I was still wearing a warm jacket and could never imagine going into the water.

Also, locals started to wear summer clothes with those temperatures. I talked to them and asked them if they are not cold and they replied that due to the climate zone, it also does not get much warmer during summer. They usually have temperatures in summer around 65°F, so for them, it was just about time to get their summer clothes out. I will always remember this when looking back at my time abroad in Northern Ireland.

Cornelia from Operations

Guatemala in my heart

The first time I visited Guatemala was in 1995 after I had worked the first 5 years of my professional career for a German Savings Bank and needed a break – 5 months in Central and South America sounded just about perfect. I was fascinated by the culture and people of the countries I visited and explored, loved riding around in a VW-Beatle in Mexico, was thrilled by the beaches and mountain trails of Venezuela, rode on the rooftop of a train in Ecuador, and survived the peccaries and poisonous snakes during my jungle hikes in Costa Rica. However the country and the people that fascinated me most and that I kept in my heart until today was Guatemala.

I was stunned and very touched by the simplicity, warmth, and kindness of the Maya people, by their traditions and their culture.

I stayed with a Maya Family for 8 weeks in Quetzaltenango, or XELA as the locals say, to learn Spanish. They gave me their one and only bedroom and slept somewhere on the kitchen floor (which I only found out weeks later). The tiny little house put my expectations back home in terms of comfort into perspective. “My family” ran a little eatery and this is where I enjoyed a delicious lunch with Tortillas and Tamales every day. Their main customer was Don Rudolfo, who (believe it or not) had a car- which of course made this gentleman in his 40s (with a long, black mustache!) an outstanding personality. My family was determined that he would be the perfect match for their blond German princess and tried everything to get us together. Well….this thankfully didn’t work out and I eventually had to leave Guatemala to travel back home but kept very fond memories of the beauty of the country, its culture, and all the friends I made.

When I finally came back almost 20 years later I decided together with my husband to start an aid project in the mountains between Antigua and Guatemala City to help the local Maya population. Our little school has been a great success and besides education and medical support, our main aim is to help to support families that have been deracinated from their homes and cultures due to civil war and land-crabbing.

We now have a reason to come back “home” to Guatemala every year and there is nothing more awarding than to look into the eyes and see the smiles of the little Maya children at our school. Not to mention the best Cheesecake ever at the Café Condessa in Antigua of course 😊

Uli, Executive Director

Crossing the Alps – What a Challenge

Travelling is always a kind of adventure. You get out of your comfort zone, more or less, depending on how different your destination is from what you are used to.

A few years, after I discovered how enriching and relaxing hiking can be, I began my plans to cross the Alps during a 10-day hike with a small group of friends. The preparations were already very exciting: Which route should we take, where should we sleep, will space be available, what can be carried, and what has to stay at home since you have to carry everything in your back, the entire day, the entire trip.

Unfortunately, our group leader had an accident in the mountains shortly before our trip even began and it became clear that she cannot join us. We were quite unsure whether we could do it on our own, just with the maps and instructions prepared. But we decided to brave it on our own and were soon greatly rewarded.

Even though theoretically, you know what to expect, you can never be sure how it will feel when it really happens. Yes, I was exhausted some days and I had to overcome fears when the paths were quite narrow and/or steep. But I was so impressed by the landscape, the scenery, the blue (and sometimes grey) sky, the animals I could watch, and the flowers I saw. These rewards more than compensated for the struggles of the journey.

Seeing the mountain lodge far in the distance where you will spend the night was usually my motivation and gave me an extra boost of energy, even if it sometimes could still take quite long to get there – distances in the mountains seem to be different than in the valley.

Arriving at the hut I was glad, relieved, tired, hungry, thirsty – all at the same time. Then we were checked in and shown the dormitory which we had to share with sometimes 20 or more people, 6 or more mattresses in a row without any space in between. I also had to get used to just having super cold water to wash – brushing my teeth with that water was a bit challenging. Only a few mountain lodges had limited warm water for a shower. But I survived. 😊

In the evening we were pampered with a delicious and healthy meal. After dinner, we relaxed in the dining rooms, talked to other hikers from all over the world, exchanged experiences, and played cards. And all of a sudden I was happy to get up at 6 am, have a simple breakfast with just some bread, jam, and butter, and head off for our next hike, our next hill, or mountain. Luckily when we climbed up the mountains, we often had the opportunity to drink fresh, cool spring water. I now know that was the best tasting water I have ever had and it was the best beverage you could ever imagine. I will always remember these 10 days full of joy, achievement, and impressions.

Marion from Operations

Volunteering in Croatia

The most memorable experience abroad for me is also my first experience abroad, volunteering in Split, Croatia. I didn’t know much about the place beforehand, except that I would be teaching German in a coastal city in Southeastern Europe after I graduated from high school. The welcome was warm and lively when I arrived. From the airport, we drove past beautiful canyons lit by the sun.

I taught different beginner and advanced groups in the center of Split. While teaching, I also learned a lot about the history and people of Dalmatia and soon had a second home.

In the center of Split stretches the white marble palace of Diocletian, which the Croats have integrated into their modern architecture according to today’s needs. At lunchtime, people drink coffee among white marble stones, under a blue sky with the sound of the sea in the background on the Riva, before they return to their daily lives.  The lessons in my organization were fun and even when I faced big tasks, the mood of the city helped me. “Pomalo, slow down, then we’ll see”….

Katharina from Operations

Pubs, ponies, and cattle grids

If you are looking for a place to romanticize your life, visit the New Forest National Park. After I finished school, I wanted to travel and left home to work in a hotel in the village of Brockenhurst in the South of England. I was equally excited and nervous. But most of my team members were from all over the world and in the same situation and I truly had a great time.

Brockenhurst is beautiful.It was everything I expected the English countryside to be. I lived in a thatched cottage that was 400 years old. There are wild ponies, cows, and even donkeys roaming around. The cattle grids are supposed to keep them from wandering through town, but traffic still comes to a halt if ponies decide to take a break in the middle of the main junction. The first time I met the donkeys was in the parking lot of Tesco–a bit of a surprise.

Another thing I learned to love is that village pubs also function as a communal living room. You can have a drink and play board games or pool while chatting with someone you just met. It might be better to stay home on football nights if you are not into sports. I went on lots of day trips too, including Stonehenge and the Roman Baths. It is worth mentioning that public transportation was very reliable. Even the trains were (almost) always on time!

Of course, no place is perfect, and living abroad for the first time is difficult. I learned a lot during my time. But I always remember the good times more than the bad. The New Forest looks like a postcard and if you are looking for a place where you can find a little romance in everyday life, I highly recommend it. And do not forget to bring your wellies!

Faye from Operations

My year abroad in Spain

Summer 2017 was the first time I set foot in Spain. Before I started studying, I wanted to take the opportunity to make a two-week round trip through the country.

Already in the first city I visited, Barcelona, I was hooked by the lively, exuberant city life and the charismatic locals. Although Spain is rather close to Germany compared to other countries, this attitude towards life was different from anything I had experienced before. After seeing many sights and colorful works of art in Barcelona, I moved on to Madrid, the country’s capital, which is at least as bustling with life. Whether it was the Spanish musicians on almost every corner, flamenco dancing, paella (a traditional rice dish), or art museums, the city constantly offered me new cultural impressions.

Finally, I moved further south to Seville and Malaga. Both are located in Andalusia, an area I associate mostly with sun, sea, beach, and good food. Together with impressive buildings in Mudejar style (= application of traditional Islamic art-styled motifs and patterning to Christian styles of architecture) the area leaves nothing to be desired and was a fitting end to a trip that I still think back to with great pleasure.

Jana from Operations

First Time in Europe Alone

I have many precious memories abroad from my bachelor’s years. However, nothing can really compare to my first time traveling to Europe alone in January 2016. During my one month as a backpacker, I decided to visit Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Rome, and Venice. Although the trip was a bit chaotic, I enjoyed every second of it to this day.

I arrived in Berlin on New Year’s Eve just in time for the countdown party next to my hostel. The first thing I did after a long nap was to grab some Currywurst and Glühwein, which is a match made in heaven, especially for a cold winter’s day. From that point on, my journey slowly turned into a food adventure. The highlight of the trip was most definitely Rome where I got the chance to try authentic pizza, carbonara, and gelato for the first time. And who would have thought that melon and prosciutto can taste so amazing together? I am sure it was the combination of wonderful food and mesmerizing scenery of the ancient city that make me fall in love with Rome.

If you are traveling somewhere, do not forget to take the opportunity to learn how people around the world prepare and enjoy their food. I promise it will help you appreciate different food cultures and give you a little reminder of wonderful memories you made abroad.

Pattra from Operations

Brazilian Jungles

Having traveled around the world quite a lot in my early 20s, there are many memorable experiences that come to my mind, so it was hard to pick one specific, but I would like to share my experiences that I had in Brazil when I went on a field trip with my university class in 2011. This was also the first time that I left Europe for another continent and I was very excited.

I fell in love with the country right away as people were so relaxed and welcoming to us and the nature is just beautiful.

One day that I will always remember was an excursion to the jungle that was arranged for us. We were driving around in off-road jeeps and were even allowed to sit on the roof of the jeep or stand at the back of the truck while we were driving through the mountains and the jungle. At some point I feared for my dear life driving very close to the edge of the sandy paths with nothing but steep slopes next to us, but I guess this is also part of the experience. Our lunch spot was beautiful, right next to a waterfall with lots of local food. Later that day, we arrived in a small town and had to wait there for another part of our group.

It started to pour and we decided to get out of the rain and get some coffee at a nearby convenience store. There were so many locals hanging out at that store and they were playing loud music. Suddenly, people just started dancing in the rain and engaged us to dance with them. It was so much fun and I was impressed about their enthusiasm and vitality even though it was pouring rain. Growing up in Germany, we also have lots of rain, but I never saw people here dancing in the rain in the middle of the day. We should take the Brazilians as an example and do this more often. It is fun.

Lena from Operations

My most memorable experiences

My first study abroad experience was back in the 90s when I spent a year as au pair near Washington D.C. My experiences during that year in the United States have influenced my life ever since.
I enjoy traveling and have been able to explore for example Thailand, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, and Indonesia during group travels.

Back in 2019, I was given the opportunity to visit our partners from campusb as part of a staff exchange. I had not traveled for some time due to my kids and it was my first time ever in South America.
During my days in Sao Paulo and Rio, I somehow felt like a study abroad student being the first time abroad. My language skills did not help much and the way of communicating and getting around
was different to what I was used to. This being said, using Uber with Portuguese-speaking drivers was a challenge that I enjoyed.

I was also curious about getting to know campusb neighbors and although they did not understand my English and I did not understand their Portuguese, I made some wonderful experiences at a cake store, a capoeira school, a brewery, as well as a coffee roastery downtown. The people were very friendly and helpful. Besides the food was extremely good and diversified. I had the most wonderful sushi outside of Japan.

The combination of exploring a new country, different culture, meeting local people, and being able to work in a company abroad for some time has enriched my life and again confirmed me in making such experiences available to students.

Silke from Operations

Vespa Scooters in Rome

I will never forget the very first time I was in Rome. It seemed like a whole new world to me. I have so many wonderful memories, but one that sticks out for me still to this day is how the city buzzed with so many different types of transportation – scooters, small Fiat cars, busses, trams, taxis, trucks, and of course, crowds of people around the traffic circle near the Piazza Venezia.

I grew up in a town with mostly highways, roads, and sidewalks and almost everyone drove cars. I was and still am fascinated by the fashionable Italian women I saw driving on their colorful Vespa scooters everywhere around Rome – but also in their high-heeled designer shoes, wearing scarves, big sunglasses, and hats to protect them from the dust and wind. Not really a necessity where I live now either, but who knows, maybe one day, I will also be able to live the dream and ride on my own Vespa scooter.

Heide from University Relations