5 Things You Thought You Knew About Studying Abroad in Europe

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I’m going to go ahead and make a biased, totally un-researched assumption right off the bat: every person who has studied abroad would describe the experience as “life-changing.” I can make that assumption with unwarranted confidence because that’s the only way most people, including myself, can capture everything in an accurate phrase without boring the person who asked. “Life-changing” is the only way we can describe riding a time machine to Rome or standing where a queen once stood or being overwhelmed with the immense diversity that’s crammed into such a small area of the world. “Life-changing” is also the only way we can talk about living where no one knows you and finding your truest self by hanging out with strangers (who eventually become your best friends).

Unfortunately, describing a study abroad experience as “life-changing” is also one of the most cliché ways to go about it—and it’s not the only cliché about studying abroad that needs to be examined a little closer. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, or maybe just avoiding homework, here are some common misconceptions to be aware of:

  1. Studying abroad is just for rich kids.

Studying abroad is definitely more expensive than staying put, but I trust that most people can make it work. Let me break it down by using the University of Montana as an example: UM is partnered with over 50 international schools in about 25 different countries, which means that you can pay your tuition to UM while studying at a school abroad. So, if you choose a partner program, you’ll probably only have to budget extra for travel and living expenses, which can also be supplemented by a wide variety of scholarship opportunities if you play your cards right.

Plus, once you get there, traveling around the area is surprisingly affordable – plane tickets can be around 50€/round trip if you’re savvy and hostel reservations are even cheaper than that.

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  1. Studying in Europe = 6 months of non-stop partying

It’s true that almost every European country you visit is going to say they’re the best at making and drinking some sort of alcohol (I was in Germany, so, naturally, they loved their beer). That being said, however, there’s actually a lot to do over there besides partying – while I was abroad, I spent most of my time exploring different countries, going to all sorts of events in the community, hanging out with friends, and even volunteering at a local refugee shelter. And partying, of course.

Plus, there’s a cool old church around just about every corner if you ever get really bored.

  1. You’ll make tons of local friends.

Locals tend to hang out with themselves, so meeting and befriending them can be a little challenging. The good news is that you immediately get tossed in with a huge group of international students who are also looking to make friends for the next six months or so. It’s like a freshman year in the dorms all over again!

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  1. You’ll be fluent in that one language by the end of it.

Clearly this depends on a lot of factors, including your prior knowledge of the language and the region that you study in. Top three phrases I
recommend prioritizing, no matter the language or level: “Excuse me,” “Please,” and “Can I pet your dog?”

  1. You don’t actually study when you’re studying abroad.

I studied considerably less, but I still had to keep up with it. To generalize, the European education system differs from the American one majorly through class structure and expectations. Most people I’ve talked to agree that classes have less consistent evaluations (i.e., homework), meaning your final grade basically depends on your final exam. However, that also means you’ll have more free-time during the semester to do some experiential learning, like actually living your life in Europe, instead.

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As an obvious disclaimer, not everyone will have the same experience that I did. Some people will party with their local friends for all six months, speaking the language fluently, blowing life savings on crêpes and seafood, and not showing up to class until the last week – and they’ll probably have a freaking awesome time doing it.

As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad changes lives – but you’ll never know how it can change yours until just get on the plane and go.

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10 things to know about the Hiawatha trail

 #1. It’s a real thing

Opened in 1998, the Hiawatha trail is a 15-mile-long bike trail that operates out of Lookout Pass Ski Area right off of I-90 at exit 0. All amenities such as trail passes can be found at the ski area that opens at 8 a.m.  The actual main trail for the Hiawatha is actually located 7-miles east of the ski area at exit 5 in Montana. The trail is open roughly from the end of May and closes at the end of September every year.

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#2. You don’t need to own a bike to ride the Hiawatha Trail

Okay, that’s a lie, well only slightly. You do need a bike to ride the Hiawatha. However, you do not need to own one personally because you can rent one from the Lookout Pass ski area. Not only can you rent from two choices of mountain bikes for both children and adults, but you can also rent helmets, bike lights and bike trailers.

#3. You will never know what actual time it is

Because the Hiawatha trail main trailhead starts in Montana, but Lookout Pass ski area where you buy your ticket is in Idaho, and Idaho and Montana are in two different time zones it can get very confusing. Now you may be reading this and thinking that it’s logical to just reference Montana time because that’s where the trail starts. But actually half of the trail is in Idaho time because the first tunnel you bike through sends you straightunnamed-1 into Idaho from Montana. But then again be warned, I still don’t know this to be 100% because after riding the Hiawatha many times I still am very confused by the time concept.

#4. It’s fun for the whole family

Or in my case my best friend and I because we’re out of state college students.img_2858 But nonetheless, the Hiawatha trail is a perfect weekend outing for all ages. The 15-mile trail is mostly all downhill so it’s not as strenuous as 15 miles’ sounds. Along with this there are many pullout spots along the trail to take a break, take in the view and have a picnic.

#5. The views are incredible

I personally struggled with staying on the trail because of how pretty the scenery is. If you go later in the season, you’ll be able to see the trees begin to change color. So if you’re somebody who likes to look at everything but where you are going, go slow to avoid a spontaneous trip off the side of the trail.

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#6. There is a light at the end of the tunnel

One of the very cool things about the Hiawatha trail is that it use to a continental railroad system, and contains 7 sky high trestles along with 10 train tunnels. Right out of the gate, bikers will bike through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel which is 1.66 miles long. You will be totally consumed by darkness in this tunnel and it gets very cold. Unless you are Bane from the Dark Knight rises, it’s essential that you have a reliable and bright bike img_2848light, and no your IPhone flashlight will not suffice. It may sound scary to some, but the tunnels are one of the main attraction on the trail and an experience you don’t want to miss. Also, the acoustics in the St. Paul Pass tunnel will convince you that you should’ve auditioned for American Idol.

#7.  Make sure you pack the essentials

As a veteran of the Hiawatha trail I will tell you that it is much more fun if you pack the right things. Some of these necessities for ultimate fun on the trail include a helmet (everyone loves to be safe, also it’s required), gloves (the tunnels get very cold, so gloves come in clutch), a backpack (to hold all your snacks of course), snacks and a sack lunch (to fill your backpack of course. I also recommend img_2901packing a pb&j because it’s the one sandwich that taste best smashed), a bright light (if you have one, if not you can rent one), first aid kit (because better safe than sorry) and water (you’ve got to stay hydrated!). Also I recommend dressing in layers because some parts of the trail are more shaded then others which causes some to be colder than others.

#8. Always buy a shuttle pass

A shuttle pass is not required to buy because it’s possible to ride the 15 miles down to the bottom of the trail and then back up, and some people do this. However, from experience the 15 miles back up to the trailhead is a lot harder than the way down because, well, gravity. But when planning ahead purchasing a $9 shuttle pass so that you have the option to ride on the bus back up to the trailhead is never a bad idea. Better safe than sorry right? You never know what may happen to you on your 15-mile ride to the bottom. You may have plans to be an animal that day and go down and back up, but then realize you’re much more tired after the first half of the ride, or realize it took longer than you thought and you’re short on time. Like I said, it’s better safe than sorry, and also who doesn’t love fun facts and stories about the area provided to you by your very knowledge Hiawatha shuttle driver?  untitled-4

#9. Angels do exist on the Hiawatha trail

I recently learned on my past trip on the Hiawatha trail that angels exist. I was about 5 miles into the trail when tragedy struck and I popped a tire. I realized I was probably SOL because I never planned on popping a tire, because who plans on that? With ten more miles to go I began pedaling my sad self down the now extremely bumpy trail. After a mile or so on my embarrassing flat tire, a red haired angel pedaled up next to me on a blue bike and asked if I needed a replacement. Her name was Emma, or as I call her Angel Emma and she was one of the patrols on the trail that assisted the distressed like myself.  She quickly worked her magic and replaced my tire and sent me on my way. Thankfully Lookout Pass who operates the Hiawatha trail plans for people to have misfortunes down the trail.untitled-3

#10. Take your time on the trail and enjoy the ride

The Hiawatha trail has been dubbed the “crown jewel of rail to trail adventures” and a crown jewel of an adventure it is. Not only do you get to be outside exploring beautiful Montana Idaho but you get to be amongst other friendly cyclists! So enjoy the ride and take the whole day to experience it.

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Sad you missed your chance to ride the Hiawatha trail this season?

Because I know I would be if I missed it, but thankfully I didn’t! And because I didn’t you can experience parts of my ride in this short video.

Enjoy and visit www.ridethehiawatha.com for more information and to plan your trip next season!

 Have a hidden adventure you want to share?

Tell me about it!

Montana: by a Northern Californian

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-8-47-46-amIt is no secret that the majority of the University of Montana student body is made up of Montana born and raised students (we’re talking 74% in-state). It is also no secret that there are “Keep California Out!” signs on everyone’s lawn (not really).

“Oh where are you from?” – Seemingly interested older Montanan

“Sacramento, California!” – Me

“…I’m sorry…” – Now uninterested and bitter older Montanan

“I’m not 🙂 Thanks for having me!” – Smiling me

Take a minute to listen up. I may not speak on behalf of the rest of the Californians in Montana, but I have a perspective I’d love to share. The second I stepped on University of Montana’s campus I knew that it could be my home away from home. The city of Missoula, hell the state of Montana, felt like hugging someone that you haven’t seen in years. I’ve been here for 4 very short years and no, I don’t plan on staying, but yes I will be back to visit. The reason being that it offered the experience of a lifetime for this particular time in my life.
For anyone who’s interested, University of Montana allowed me to step away from most everything I knew in Sacramento (yes I had seen snow, every year in Tahoe minus the recent winters). I was able to clearly establish my values as a young adult, assess the type of future I wanted, and walk away with some of the best friendships I will have for a lifetime.
You see, us Northern Californians appreciate tall trees, snowcapped mountains, cleaning our campsites and wandering to find that adventure just doesn’t end. I can single-handedly agree that California has some extreme undesirables. But so does Montana (hello Meth Capital), so does Colorado, so does New York, and Wyoming and every other state you can name. How do you think Arizona feels hosting all the frail Montana old-timers looking for warm retirement? Probably a mix of “stay in your own state” and “please contribute to our economy; look we have handicap approved EVERYTHING!”

I’ll leave on this note. The amount of times that people think that I’m a Montanan prior to asking is remarkable. Let’s just say I’ve had to convince just about everyone I meet with a valid California drivers license. My experience with those who are excited to have me is what makes Montana “the last best place”. The nay-sayers couldn’t keep me out if they tried.

By: Lia Sbisa, proud Sacramento Native and Montana Visitor