Indescribable: My Study Abroad Experience

Kayla Green—Europe is indescribable.

It’s breathtaking, captivating, colorful, and exciting. It’s everything.

Despite my inability to describe it in simply words, I’m going to try, because it was the best experience of my life.

Ever since I was a prospective student at Brockport, I heard all talk about the study abroad program. How it’s the second largest one in SUNY, how you can visit every single continent if you want to, and how studying abroad is a life changing experience. I always knew I wanted to participate in one of these programs, but I didn’t know how to begin to choose where, when, or how.

Fast forward 3 years and it was the beginning of my junior year. I realized time was ticking and I’d better decide how I’m going to do this, or I’ll never decide. So I started browsing the study abroad website.

I didn’t want to do an entire semester, just a shorter program, so that limited down my options a little bit — in a good way. I ended up finding the program that was perfect for me: Culture of Western Europe. A 12-day summer program with stops in Rome, Barcelona, Paris, and London.

Fast forward again to a month ago, May 2018. It was finally time to embark on my European journey. The flights were booked, suitcase packed, and all my American money had been exchanged for Euros. I traveled with one other person I knew, but the rest of the group would be new to me.

Our travel group was small, only 11 of us counting the faculty adviser. I loved having such a small group because it really gave us a chance to get to know each other, and we weren’t looked at as that huge American tourist group when we traveled places all together.

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I spent most of my free time with the girl I already knew and another girl we met and became fast friends with from day 1. Although there were a lot of planned tours, we also had a good amount of free time to explore at leisure.

Our trip kicked off with Rome, Italy. After a long day of travel and a time change, we stepped off the plane and immediately headed to our Colosseum tour. Even though I don’t think I’ve ever been more tired in my life than I was that day, every ounce of exhaustion wore away when I saw the Colosseum for the first time. It’s plopped down right in the middle of the city, the centuries upon centuries of history looming in the modern streets. I never knew how big it was until I really saw it with my own eyes. We also had the chance to go inside it, both the top view and down where the Ancient Romans actually fought. It was truly incredible.

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Rome’s city atmosphere is so different than any other city I have ever experienced. While it’s modern, it pulls you back in time a little with its charming shops, restaurants, and architecture. I enjoyed the simple joy of walking through the streets and taking everything in. My highlight of Rome would have to be that evening, when we found a rooftop restaurant to watch the sunset from. That view is one I will never forget.

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Next was Barcelona, Spain. I could tell Barcelona was different from Rome from the second we stepped off the airplane. It had a more lively vibe to it, and a combination of a city and beach all wrapped into one. Barcelona’s beaches are stunning. It’s not only what you’d typically expect out of a beach, but also tons of cheap shopping and an endless boardwalk. We walked along for hours, enjoying the music in the air and the amazing souvenir deals.

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Food in Barcelona is so unique! Tapas, or small plates, are the way to go. I had a wide variety of tapas, ranging from crab and shrimp salad to a ham and brie slider.

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The highlight of Barcelona for me would have to be Sagrada Familia. This is an 100+ year old church that’s STILL not done being built! The outside detail on it is incredible, but the inside is even more incredible. Light streams in through the stained glass windows, making the entire thing a rainbow. It’s impossible to put into words the feeling I got being inside this church.

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Next, we traveled to Paris, France. Once again, it was so different from Rome and Barcelona. Paris is fast moving, more serious, and more upscale. I felt important just being there, among some of the world’s best fashion, food, and history.

Paris has lots of cafes, but they aren’t like the American idea of cafes. A cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as coffee, dessert, and alcohol. Most Paris cafes have tables right out on the sidewalk, and you can just sit right down and be served. The chairs all face the streets so you can people-watch as you enjoy your food and drink. Something unique about Paris cafes is that they never rush you out. They don’t bring you the check until you ask, and they never pressure you to leave so they can turn over your table, like in American restaurants. This gave dining and drinking in Paris such a relaxed feeling, and I loved it.

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My favorite part of Paris is probably predictable, but it was simply unparalleled by anything I’ve seen before. The Eiffel Tower is everything I dreamed it would be and more. Seeing it for the first time, it was a lot bigger than I expected! I couldn’t stop staring at it. Getting to climb up in it at night was also an amazing experience. We climbed to the second level, which isn’t as high as the top, but it was an impressive enough view for us. We timed it out so we reached the terrace just as the sun was setting, which made for a gorgeous view. After climbing to the top, we went and sat down on the lawn in front of the Tower and enjoyed the view. Every hour, for 10 minutes, the lit-up tower twinkles with flashing lights. I could’ve sat there all night and just watched that.

The last stop of our trip was London, United Kingdom. London is a more modern city, and definitely reminded me more of the U.S. than the other cities did. Still, it had its own cultural charms.

Visiting Buckingham Palace and seeing the changing of the guard was so cool to me, just thinking that England still actually lives like this! I love the Royals and it was fascinating to learn about all of them. Despite London being so modern, the fact that they still have a Queen allows them to hold onto their traditional roots, which I think is so cool.

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Piccadilly Square is the Times Square of London, which was a really fun place to be. There’s action going on everywhere, including street performers, artists, events being advertised, and shopping and restaurants galore. Part of Piccadilly Square is the West End of London, which has tons of musicals and plays to see, similar to Broadway in New York City. Oh, and by the way, they don’t actually still use those red telephone booths. They’re just there for tourists because we “expect” to see them when we visit? (we totally do)

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The waterfront was probably my favorite part of London. Walking along the river, hearing an Ed Sheehan song being covered by a street musician, and seeing the pubs alive at dusk was 100% my scene. It was just such a good, happy, lively place to be. I wish we could’ve been in London longer, it seemed like such a whirlwind.

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My favorite thing about this trip was just how different every city was, as I previously mentioned. They were all so unique, and I’m so glad I got to experience each of them.

This trip made me want to get back to Europe ASAP. I would highly recommend to anyone who’s considering studying abroad to just go for it! You won’t regret it, in fact it’ll probably be one of the best experiences you’ll have in your life. There’s far more than I was even able to touch on in this blog post, so you’ll just have to go there and see everything for yourself!

Like I said, indescribable.

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