Study Abroad in Florence: Un Compleanno Italiano

Emily Kyle is one of CAPA’s Official Bloggers for Fall 2014, sharing her study abroad story in weekly CAPA World posts. A UCLA student, she is studying abroad in Florence this term.

In this week’s post, Emily lets us in on the details of how she spent her 20th birthday in Italy – one of her most memorable, which included Florence, Venice, Milan, and a canoli from a street vendor. 

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Birthdays have never been a big deal in my mind.

I spent my sweet sixteen following a mind-numbingly ordinary itinerary of school and then soccer practice and then home and then homework. I’ve never particularly identified with the rather arbitrary feeling of being “one year older.” Sure, it’s an important moment to acknowledge and celebrate, but I’ve never been one to glorify it. Fancy presents and decked-out parties aren’t really my style.

And as a result of this mentality, my birthdays have seemed to blend into the indistinguishable stream of ordinary days that have composed my life: one day every year that turns out to be much like any other, save for significantly more Facebook notifications and maybe better food. (Who doesn’t like cake?)

But this birthday, oh my.

One for the books, I tell you.

The 21st of September marked my twentieth birthday. And while my sixteenth birthday stands out in my mind for its utter banality, I will never forget my twentieth birthday for its complete spectacularity.

But let’s not fuss with generalities: let’s get down to the magnificent details.

My birthday weekend began with a bang.

First thing Friday morning, I hopped on a train and a couple hours later I hopped off and I looked around and I was in Venice.

And let me tell you, Venice is amazing.

Photo: Welcome to Venice: criss-crossed with canals and waterways, views like this one jump out to greet you around every corner

Photo: A beautiful sunflower garden in the middle of the city made for a pleasant surprise

Photo: The perfect spot to just sit and watch the boats go by 

I wandered around Venice for several hours, soaking in its grandeur and enjoying its aquatic bustle, before jumping on another train and heading to Milan.

Because I’m in Italy and I can.

The ease with which one can explore this nation’s treasures is incredible: I enjoyed breakfast in Florence, explored the waters of Venice over lunch, and feasted in Milan for dinner.

You certainly can’t say something like that every day.

Now, my trip to Milan wasn’t completely unfounded: a friend of mine, an exchange student from my high school, lives in the smaller city of Monza, located about 20 kilometers outside of Milano. She met me at the train station and I spent the weekend under her Italian-savvy guidance: she asked me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and I told her, ‘Fede, take me wherever you want to do whatever you want.’ And go and do we did.

Saturday morning, we went to Lago Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy located about an hour and a half north of Monza. The lake was absolutely gorgeous: waters of the clearest blue and hills of the greenest green.

Photo: Fede and I standing in front of the lake

We took a boat to an island that went by the name of Isola Bella, literally translating in English to ‘beautiful island.’ And let me tell you, beauty doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Photo: View from the boat to Isola Bella

We arrived at Isola Bella and walked around the island, soaking in its majesty. But the true beauty lay in the palace situated on its banks: this place was hands down the most artfully constructed, ornately designed, and entirely beautiful piece of architecture I had ever seen. It looked like it was chiseled by the hands of a god. I spent most of the afternoon walking around the palace, gazing up at the walls and ceilings and down at the floors and banisters—every minute angle afforded a rich and vibrant image. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

That evening, a few of Fede’s friends came over to her house for dinner. One thing that is undeniable about Italian women: they are completely fabulous. Fare bella figura indeed.

We spent the evening drinking wine and eating gelato and talking (più o mena, more or less) in varying levels of English and Italian. For much of the time, I simply sat and listened to these Italian ladies chatter expressively away in their foreign tongue, picking out snippets of recognizable words and phrases and sometimes being able to piece together an approximate picture of what they might be saying.

It was a lovely experience.

The next day, Fede greeted me early in the morning with a giant hug, a huge smile, and a loud ‘Happy birthday!’

We hit the streets of Milan, and she gave me a walking tour of the city. Like all of Italy—and forgive the redundancy but there are simply no other adequate words—Milan is beautiful.

Photo: The Duomo

Photo: Inside and outside the Duomo

Photo: The view of the city from the top of the Duomo

And then, as the afternoon began dwindling away and the impending departure of my train back to Florence came to make itself known, Fede did something completely and unforgettably adorable.

Here’s how it goes: we stop at a street vendor en route back to the car, she buys me un canolo (a canoli), fishes inside of her purse and pulls out a candle and a lighter, sticks the candle in the cream, lights the candle, and then she sings me happy birthday in the middle of a street in the center of Milan.

How’s that for a birthday present?

And with that, I collected my newly formed memories, hugged Fede goodbye, and boarded a train back to Florence.

A wonderfully beautiful way to spend my 20th birthday: tanti auguri indeed.

Thanks Emily!

Stay tuned for another post from Emily next Tuesday. If you’re interested in learning more about the CAPA blog and vlog grant program, please visit the scholarships page on capa.org.

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Study Abroad in Dublin: 10 Instagram Accounts to Follow

Instagram feeds in each of CAPA’s global cities around the world offer wonderful insight into what’s happening now from a local point of view. In this Tuesday 10 series, we share a few of our favorites in each destination. This week, we take a look at Dublin. You can also follow us: @CAPAStudyAbroad. Feel free to share yours in a comment and let us know who else we should add to our Dublin list!

1. DUBLIN DIARIES. As the name suggests, Dublin Diaries is like a photo journal of urban life, from American families dressed in green rain ponchos on Grafton Street to a teen jumping into the Grand Canal in the rain fully clothes and wearing sneakers. It’s about the everyday and the slightly bizarre and the outright eccentric. It’s about life in a global city.

2. INSTAGRAMERS DUBLIN. Many cities have a community instagram feed through which anyone can submit images using a hashtag. The best are featured for a daily glimpse of city life. The photos here represent somewhat of a “best of” collection from Dublin’s instagramers. Expect anything from kayaking lessons on the canal to pride parade pictures to the Dublin Kite Festival.

3. VISIT DUBLIN. The official guide to all things Dublin, the Visit Dublin feed works similarly to the Instagramers Dublin feed above in that they feature the best from a collection of images submitted by photographers using a hashtag. The images are usually crisp and clean and focus more on scenery than people. Expect architecture, cityscapes and local attractions.

4. PICTURE THIS! DUBLIN. Scroll through the Picture This! Dublin feed and you’ll find images of backflips into the sparkling Liffey, stolen moments like the hand of a homeless man reaching out to feed a flock of pigeons and the sculpture outside of the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. New photos are posted almost daily so check back often.

5. CIARAN CUSSEN. A colorful Instagram feed, Ciaran is a big fan of Dublin’s doors, street art and the city itself. He puts his own twist on images whether it’s looking at a lighthouse through the spokes of a rusted gear, catching a fox trotting across Merrion Square Park or waiting to shoot an empty Ha’penny Bridge at night instead of a daytime scene full of people.

6. MY DESTINATION DUBLIN. Billed as a “one stop shop to inform, entertain, and highlight Dublin’s best”, My Destination Dublin’s Instagram feed doesn’t disappoint. Follow along for crunuts from Krüst Bakery, an image of Dungarvan Harbour when the tide goes out and a few videos from places like the Dublin Zoo and Airfield Farm where a string quartet was playing.

7. DUBLIN DAILY. Dublin Daily is an all black and white feed and is indeed updated daily, sometimes twice. Expect mainly street scenes of every day life in the city, from friends chatting at a coffee shop to a woman sweeping the streets to a group of men bonding over their dogs on a bridge. There’s a wonderful attention to detail in the composition of each image.

8. CONOR POPE. A Dublin based journalist, Conor populates his Instagram feed with mishmash of images from daily life. You’ll find anything, really: a Simon Says game and a doll left upside down in a buggy at a city flea market, an Irish flag flying high in a deep blue sky, an elephant taking a shower in the Dublin Zoo and the sun dropping in the distance as railway tracks curve off into the horizon.

9. THE DOORS OF DUBLIN. When you think of Dublin, the famous colorful doors instantly come to mind, right? Well this is an Instagram feed dedicated only to them. Boarded-up, grand and elegant or graffiti-covered, yellow, orange, blue, or splattered with stickers, there’s a huge variety here and it’s forever growing!

10. THE DUBLIN EXPERIENCE. As you’d hope from the title, this Instagram delivers on Dublin experiences, from lining up outside the ice cream van in Marrion Square to walking on sleek wet pavements under umbrellas on Grafton Street to street artists in action on Camden Street to Moore Street market shoppers stocking up on fruit and veggies for the week.

BONUS: Follow us @CAPAStudyAbroad for plenty of Dublin photos as well:

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Study Abroad: 5 Reasons to Choose the Homestay Life

Emily McGeary is one of CAPA’s Official Bloggers for Fall 2014, sharing her study abroad story in weekly CAPA World posts. An Arizona State University student, she is studying abroad in London this term.

In this week’s post, Emily talks about her rewarding homestay experience in London and shares five reasons why she’d recommend to other study abroad students the option of staying with a host family.

She also mentions the comments that she often hears from other students (who are currently on a study abroad program but staying in shared accommodation) when they hear that she is staying in a homestay.  

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When filling out my CAPA International Education application to study abroad, the decision to live in either a flat with other students in central London or with a homestay family was actually a fairly easy one. I think what’s important about my decision process, though, is that I considered all my options thoroughly.

Photo: Emily with her host parents. She said they were laughing so much while trying to take a photo that they all came out slightly blurry!

The subject of my being a homestay student comes up a lot when I meet fellow CAPA students. I usually hear them say one of three things:
1) They didn’t really look much into the homestay option or understand what it was all about.
2) They were afraid of being tied down by the family’s rules.
3) They didn’t want to live in the suburbs of London because it would be too far away from everything.

Now, there are definitely pros and cons to every living situation—that’s just life—and this option is not ideal for every student, but it made me a little sad to know that some students either didn’t fully understand or were afraid of some of its aspects.

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CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview: Brooke Scanlon

Brooke spent Spring semester in Florence, studying abroad with CAPA International Education and interning with Euroadventures. Below, she shares the thoughts that were going through her mind when she was on the plane to Italy and then on her way back to the States. She talks about volunteering to teach English at a local school in Florence, her favorite restaurants in the city and a side trip to another CAPA city – Istanbul.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
BROOKE SCANLON: I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during Spring semester 2014. I am a senior at Indiana University majoring in Human Development and Family Studies with minors in Psychology and Gender Studies. I enjoy playing sports, swimming, snowboarding, attending concerts and reading. I am incredibly excited to spend Christmas break snowboarding in Breckenridge, Colorado, with Indiana University Ski Club!

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Samantha’s Favorite Vegetarian Restaurants in Dublin

Samantha Gauvain is an Official CAPA’s Blogger for Fall 2014, sharing her story in weekly CAPA World posts. A Journalism major at Arizona State University, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.

In this week’s post, Samantha shares a few of her favorite vegetarian restaurant discoveries in Dublin and catches us up on a few of the other CAPA and travel related plans she has for this semester. 

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My stomach is currently bursting with casserole… a vegetable casserole….from a vegetarian restaurant. Yes folks, there are vegetables in Dublin and they are amazing. Within the past week I have eaten at a number of Tripadvisor-recommended restaurants. Though to be fair, most of the restaurants downtown have green owl stickers in the window. My favorites so far are Goose on the Loose near Camden Street, Cornucopia off of Grafton Street and a tearoom around the corner from the Griffith College where CAPA classes are held. Most of these places I stumbled upon by accident, some strange turn of fate perhaps.

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Walking in Global Cities

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education

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Hugh Pope, author of Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World and Turkey Unveiled wrote that legs can be “faster than combustion engines in Istanbul”. That concept can be applied to the centers of many of our global cities, with traffic congestion on the one hand and pedestrian streets, back alley shortcuts and footbridges on the other that cars cannot access. The walks around our global cities below show that many famous sights can be taken in in around two hours of reasonably-paced walking, so long as one is not tempted by a coffee break or shopping. The suggested walks do not return us to our starting points but there is plenty of public transport for that.

Photo: Walking on Brick Lane, London by Chris Goldberg

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VIDEO: Saving Money Abroad and US-UK Shop Comparisons

Anita Chomenko is CAPA’s Official Vlogger for Fall 2014, sharing her story in weekly CAPA World videos. A Digital Media major at Rider University, she is studying abroad in London this semester.

In this week’s video, Anita shares a few of her favorite tips for saving money when you study abroad. She was curious when she came to London about where she might shop when she arrived, so she’s gone through a list of some of the most helpful comparisons to shops she’s familiar with back in the States. She shares the London equivalent of Kohls, Whole Foods (note that there actually are a few Whole Foods locations in London) and CVS, among others. 

Anita’s journey continues Thursday so stay tuned! If you’re interested in learning more about the CAPA blog and vlog grant program, please visit the scholarships page on capa.org.

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Thousand Word Thursdays: Hard Candy in Beijing

Each Thursday we will post a photo worth a thousand words from one of CAPA International Education’s global cities and let the image speak for itself.

Photo: Hard candy in Beijing by See-Ming Lee

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Taste Test: American Study Abroad Students (and a Swiss Guy) Try Aussie Biscuits

Celeste Guhl is one of CAPA’s Official Bloggers for Fall 2014, sharing her study abroad story in weekly CAPA World posts. A University of Massachusetts Amherst student, she is studying abroad in Sydney this term.

Inspired by the taste test videos that have been popular on YouTube, Celeste decided to create a video for this week’s post. She gathered a few friends and her cooperative host brother, got permission to use her host mom’s kitchen and stocked up on biscuits. Below are the results as the group dig in to boxes of Mint Creams, Tim Tams (and a knock off version), Jaffa Cakes and Anzacs. 

Thanks Celeste!

Stay tuned for another post from Celeste next Wednesday! If you’re interested in learning more about the CAPA blog and vlog grant program, please visit the scholarships page on capa.org.

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Study Abroad in Florence: The Art of Food

Emily Kyle is one of CAPA’s Official Bloggers for Fall 2014, sharing her study abroad story in weekly CAPA World posts. A UCLA student, she is studying abroad in Florence this term.

Don’t read this week’s post hungry! Emily delves into the food culture of Italy, one of her favorite topics. She talks about food as an art form, the food her host mother prepares and a few snippets of culinary knowledge that she has picked up since her arrival in Florence.  

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So let’s get down to what we all know everybody’s really interested in: food. (This will be the first of many gastronomical posts, I assure you.)

I’ll just cut straight to the chase: Italians know how to eat. The food here in Florence is absolutely sensational—every bite has sent my taste buds buzzing with joy.

The ingredients are simple, the flavors pure, and the taste, oh my god.

There’s a reason people come from all over the world to experience this culinary paradise.

Photo: Fresh produce at a local market

The emphasis Italians put on food is strikingly contrary to the comparative negligence seen in America. My host mom spends hours each day preparing dinner; I enter the house every evening to a warm embrace of delightful smells wafting out of the kitchen and into my happy nostrils. It’s (almost) better than being greeted by a dog.

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