Day trip to Market Square in Bruges, Belgium
Day trip to Market Square in Bruges, Belgium

Author: Cydney Contreras, SSW

My second home for the past month has been a charming old city in the Netherlands called Maastricht. Like most of Europe, it is diverse and full of history, with cobblestoned streets and churches everywhere. A walk through the town center will lead you to a square surrounded by cafes and if you venture around the streets, you can find a bakery that still uses a mill to produce their bread. It is the stereotypical European city that everyone imagines and it is my new home.

When originally choosing the University of California Education Abroad Program I wanted to study, I mainly focused on two factors: Whether I could study abroad as a second-year and if it was located in France. Later, when I told my two friends, who were also in the UC system, of my plans, it changed to whether I could study abroad as a second-year and whether my friends also met the requirements. Our choices came down to Maastricht and a city in Denmark. Our choice was easy. Maastricht is in the center of Europe and is bordered by Germany and Belgium. We could literally ride our bikes to Belgium and in six hours be in Paris.

So our six months of planning commenced. We had to apply for a visa, select housing, choose our classes and most importantly, save money. This process lasted until a few weeks before we left, and when the stress of deadlines was finally over and we had saved all the money we could, all there was left to do was pack.

Now this was stressful. Imagine trying to pack enough clothes for four months into one suitcase. We had never been to the city and all we had was the internet. According to the weather channel, the weather in the summer was on average a nice 65 to 70 degrees with light showers. We were told to expect it to cool down to the 60’s in September, before it begins to rain almost daily in the winter.  

Fast forward to August and September and the actual weather is in the 90’s and humid — according to our professors, this was record-breaking heat. We had packed long sleeves and boots, expecting colder weather. Our only thoughts were that global warming is real and we needed our parents to send summer clothes.

Our next struggle, or at least mine, was cooking. There are no freezers and the food in the Netherlands goes bad in a matter of days. Also, most American foods cannot be found, and everything here is in Dutch, resulting in the most stressful trips to the grocery store of my life. I just realized this week that Europeans call cilantro, “coriander.” I also realized that I can’t cook food without a crock pot or on an electric stove to save my life.

Despite the unanticipated heat and my inability to survive on my own, we have adjusted to living in Europe and are now able to enjoy ourselves more fully. Never before had we seen streets that the Romans once walked upon or been to a museum where we could view an actual Monet painting. The smallest things excite us. I get a small thrill when I am in class and I remember that my classroom is literally a renovated gothic church.

And the ease of traveling here is unbelievable. I flew to Italy for a weekend for 100 dollars, and that was considered an expensive ticket. Next weekend I am going to Paris. It is the most surreal thing when you are talking to a group of people and everyone is sharing their plans and you say, “Oh yeah, I am going to Paris for the weekend.” Like who gets to say that?

It has only been a month and I already feel that I have grown as a person, as cliche as that sounds. Studying abroad has taught me how to balance a budget, how to cope with being homesick and how to manage my time. The experience has given me a glimpse of what I want my life to be like. A month ago I would have been overwhelmed with the idea of traveling all the time while balancing going to school, but I have learned that it is possible. I have developed a stronger confidence in myself and my ability to be away from my family and my friends. I have realized that even when things seem to be really bad, chances are that they aren’t.

Studying abroad definitely has its ups and its downs, but it is definitely worth it. I have seen numerous breathtaking sights and travelled to so many different places. My appreciation for the world has grown immensely. I appreciate technology and my ability to stay connected to my family and friends despite being thousands of miles away. I appreciate my home and California, because as great as Europe is, there is nothing like Mexican food and the beach.

So if someone were to ask me if they should study abroad, my answer would be yes. A thousand times yes.



Chew and her friends en route to Prague Castle.
Chew and her friends en route to Prague Castle.

Author: Bri Chew

If you are ever unsure of whether you should study abroad or not, stop thinking and do it.

Many students complain that it is hard to accommodate study abroad programs due to classes and other commitments. As a math major, there was no way I could participate in a study abroad program during the academic school year, but I didn’t let that stop me. Program Coordinator Macy Ring and the student interns at UCR’s study abroad office were extremely helpful and made sure I found a program that suited my interests. With their help I settled on heading to Cambridge, England where I’d study philosophy, business and finance at the University of Cambridge.

My study abroad experience at the university was unforgettable. Each day I learned something new about the world and myself. Although everyone there spoke English, it still took some time to adapt to changes in climate, culture and even the accents. All of y’all know that British accent is quite attractive, but that’s only if you can understand what they say!

All in all, Cambridge is your typical college-like town where everything is just a block or two away. With grocery stores, shopping malls and pubs, Cambridge has it all. It is convenient, safe and full of life. My favorite place in town was the Market Square where there was a farmer’s market every day. Cambridge attracts lots of tourists and often times, while my friends and I were studying on campus, tourists would come by and take pictures of us being studious as part of the “Cambridge” vibe.

Throughout my time at England, these were the most memorable and important aspects of my trip:

EDUCATION. The professors at the University of Cambridge were absolutely amazing. I took a philosophy class on “Good or Moral Life,” and the professor taught the class in a way that changed my perspective on our ways of living. The class sizes were also quite small and enabled me to voice my opinion to the professor and my peers. In addition, we had formal dinners with students and professors, providing us with more opportunities to get to know the faculty outside of the classroom. Some professors also invited students to local pubs to drink and socialize. With this type of atmosphere, it became really easy to network among the staff and faculty at Cambridge.

TRAVEL. Like many students visiting and studying abroad in Europe, traveling on the weekends was essential. You went to school during the week, and once Friday hit, you’d catch a flight or train to your weekend destination. My advice for weekend travels is to plan ahead. Set time aside to make sure you know exactly what attractions you’d like to visit because you don’t have a lot of time.

When my friends and I planned our weekend trips, the three things we looked for was photo ops, food and nightlife. My favorite weekend trip was Prague. Prague was filled with life and always kept us on our feet. From the John Lennon wall to the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle, each attraction had something unique about it. The John Lennon wall was filled with beautiful art painted by people around the world. The Charles Bridge was the best place to watch the sun set right above the river and the scenic views from the top of the Prague Castle were absolutely breathtaking.

WATCH A FUTBOL GAME AT A PUB. The Euro Cup is a big deal. If I wasn’t a soccer fan before, I am now. Any night that there was a game, every pub would be packed to the max. You’d always have to go a bit early to get a seat before the whole rush of people came in to watch the game.

ATTEND A MUSIC CONCERT OF SOME SORT. There is always some sort of music festival going on in England, especially during the summer. I went to EDC UK, which was nothing like EDC in Las Vegas, for those wondering. EDC UK was more of a festival than it was a rave. I couldn’t find materials for a totem, so I went to Sainsbury’s (local grocery store) and bought an extendable mop and used that as a totem … yes, a mop. The mop was named Felix and he now spends his days collecting dust in Cambridge. Like us on Facebook — “Felix the Mop at EDC UK 2016.”

LONG FRIENDSHIPS. The greatest takeaway from this summer program is the friends and connections I made. I made it a point to make friends with people not just from America, but from around the world. From California to Kentucky, Egypt to Singapore and Lebanon to Canada, the international relationships I made on this trip were ones that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It’s nice to know that if I ever want to visit Hong Kong or any other country, I have a friend to show me around and catch up with. Each person I met had a different story, a story that shaped them into who they are today. Each of us provided a different perspective of the world molded from our life experiences and taught each other more than we could have ever learned alone. Through our two short months together, we shared laughs, meals and tears. I am extremely fortunate to have been given this opportunity to meet such great people, people that I know I will certainly stay in touch with even beyond the program.


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