With Local Natives!

Explore and Get Lost

I have been in Belgium for over 2 months now, and now that the initial craziness has passed and I’ve comfortable settled into my new home I’ve been able to calm down and explore.

I’ve been taking a French class and have made a few local friends which have really helped with the language, and which has given me the confidence to travel to other cities on my own since communication is no longer such a big issue.

Antwerp Part 1

This trip was basically to Street Art Belgium, an outdoor /indoor graffiti art expo. Artists showed more traditional work on canvas in a little gallery space, while several others painted huge murals in Luchtbal, a suburb of Antwerp. Free and super, super awesome!

Lier/Antwerp Part 2

This second trip was a visit to two family friends who live in Lier, a really tiny town really close to Antwerp. I spend the evening with them in Lier, and then they took me to see “the sights” in Antwerp, which were fantastic.


A trip with two main objectives: the Local Natives concert at the AB Club, and a visit to the Magritte Museum for a 20th Century Art assignment.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing that I learned there, and probably so far in this trip, is to LET YOURSELF GET LOST. I had an hour to kill pre-concert and got lost the way back to the venue, which resulted in me running into 3 members from Local Natives on the street and getting to chat and take a picture.

The following day I did a hop on/hop off bus tour of the city (which is worth it!), and met a girl on the bus which I ended up exploring the whole town with.

It’s all a matter of giving out good vibes.


Unfortunately it poured all day so I wasn’t able to shoot much, but I went to the KIKK Festival here, which was basically a really awesome design convention. I sat in a theatre and listened to designers give talks from 10-6pm, and it was wonderful.

Also, if you’re here, go to Okawa if you like sushi, but don’t get the sushi lunch box. Get a simple roll or Sashimi/Nigiri, and tempura. They seem to do that best.


  1. CityMaps2Go iPhone app- Get it! It’s awesome and it will save you! It works on GPS so you don’t even need WiFi and shows you exactly where you’re at. It also lets you bookmark places and look for places by name and address just by downloading the map of the city.
  2. At least in Belgium, a GoPass 10 train ticket (available if you’re under 25)- 50 euros gets you 10 train rides, which can be used during an unlimited time span. Perfect if you’ll be staying in a place for a while and are planning to travel a lot.
  3. Make friends with the locals! Don’t stick to hanging out with people who came with you from your school, and try to be in different classes since it will force you to speak to people you otherwise might be too shy to interact with. You will get to not only practice the language, but also get to go to awesome things you might otherwise not have run into.
  4. Look for festivals and events! If you’re a student or under 25 you get insane discounts to things that are absolutely worth it! For example, the KIKK Festival in Namur was free (!), and a ticket to go to the opera will cost you 15 EU for a good seat vs. 80 EU if you didn’t meet the criteria.
  5. Don’t get an ombre dye here. DO. NOT. DO. IT. Or a haircut, honestly.

Study Abroad for Free, Like Me.

The 2012 school year was probably my most memorable year in college and I never stepped a foot on campus.

Last summer, I did a month-long study abroad trip in Salamanca, Spain. I had such a genuinely good experience I applied for another study abroad program the following semester.

I spent over three months in Oxford, England and received full credit for courses at USF St. Pete.

The best part of my experience was that I probably spent less money taking a full semester’s worth of credit hours in two different countries than other students did taking regular classes on the St. Petersburg campus.

The idea of participating in study abroad seems impossible unless you have the money to fund it.

Truth be told, the majority of the students who did study abroad with me had financial help from their parents. I did not have that luxury, but I still did two study abroad trips back to back and didn’t spend any of my own money. Here’s how.

Expenses for a study abroad experience are comprised of the fee of the trip, which includes tuition, airfare, room and board and personal expenses while abroad. I went to Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England for the 2012 fall semester and was given an estimated expenditure sheet of approximately $11,000.

I was one of only three students to be selected for the experience so I did not want that large sum of money to stop me from experiencing such a rare opportunity. I wasn’t working because I was only home for one month from the time I returned from Salamanca before I had to leave for Oxford. So, I turned to scholarships.

Radcliffe Bodleian Library University of Oxford Photo by: Alicia Gangi

Radcliffe Bodleian Library University of Oxford
Photo by: Alicia Gangi

The Education Abroad Website has an informative easy to follow scholarship and funding page that includes most of the opportunities to receive aid. Scholarships and grants I’ve seen range from as large as $15,000 to as small as $500.

When applying for these grants/scholarships you have two options: apply for as many small opportunities as possible or apply for one that pays more and focus all of your energy on it. I decided to do quantity over quality and ended up not winning any of the large grants or awards. I relied on FAFSA, Florida Prepaid and other small scholarships and grants to fund both of my study abroad trips.

Applying for all of these scholarships is the same responsibility as taking an online class. I put more effort into writing essays and cover letters for awards than I did studying for exams. If you want to study abroad, start funding it before you even get accepted. Apply for scholarships through the USF Foundation Scholarship list as well as the USFSP Privately Funded Scholarships website during the spring semester and then study abroad in the Fall. Study abroad seems expensive but it saved me tuition money in the long run.

London Bridge  Photo by: Alicia Gangi

London Bridge
Photo by: Alicia Gangi

In Oxford I had to find courses that would be considered appropriate substitutes for classes required to complete for my majors at USF.

I’m a Political Science and a Mass Communications major so I’m always trying to earn as many credit hours as possible in the least amount of time. Sometimes there are courses that actually fulfill the requirements for more than one class.

In my case, I took two classes in Oxford that gave me credit hours for four classes I needed to complete for my degrees. These courses would have never been offered at USFSP and I would have ended up taking extra classes and spending more money if I didn’t study abroad.

  • In Oxford I lived in a dorm room with four girls from Poland, Germany, Austria and China.
  • I took a bus or walked to class instead of driving my car.
  • I wore scarves and jackets instead of shorts and flip-flops.
  • I studied politics and foreign affairs from a European perspective.
  • I lived outside of London instead of outside of Tampa.
  • I traveled to cities in France, and visited Rome and Vienna on the weekends instead of going to the beach.

I lived a life completely different from my own for two semesters. I’m not saying that it’s worth $11,000, but I am saying it’s possible to do it for free!

Warner Bros. Studio  The Making of Harry Potter London, England Photo by: Alicia Gangi

Warner Bros. Studio
The Making of Harry Potter
London, England
Photo by: Alicia Gangi

I Had No Idea What I Was Doing In College

While applying at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and colleges in general, I thought a lot about that saying, “college isn’t for everyone.” People say things like you have to go to college and college will be the best four years of your life. No one says anything about what I could do if it turns out college wasn’t for me.

When I started school at USFSP I had the option of living on campus in a dorm room. Recruiters and orientation speakers told me dorms are where you’ll make life long friends, that’s where you can create memories, and living on campus is part of the college experience. Still, I had no interest in living on campus and being that close to students that like dubstep and ping pong tournaments.
After I ditched the dorm idea, I went through my first few weeks of classes constantly being asked to join some club or given a flyer to come to some event.
Sailing Club? No.
Movie night on campus? Nope.
Student Government? Nah.
Multicultural Affairs? No, thanks.

If this is what college is, I’m definitely not a “college person.” But, really what was I going to do? I couldn’t just quit school. After a year or so I realized I had to stop hating everything and let college work for me.

Spanish dancers performing during a USFSP guided tour.  Photo by: Dana Parkinson.

Spanish dancers performing during a USFSP guided tour. Photo by: Dana Parkinson.

That saying, “college isn’t for everyone” should really be “college is different for everyone.” Thanks to USF St. Petersburg’s and Tampa’s study abroad programs I became a “college person.” In the last year, I’ve participated in two study abroad programs. The first was in Salamanca, Spain and the second was in Oxford, England. The programs helped me find my place at USFSP. I returned each time with a new found appreciation for my campus. During my first two years at USFSP I took for granted its convenient location, small classroom sizes, and its accessibility. These are features not all schools around the world have. I am now a member of the TRIO Student Support Services Program. There, I help other students learn more not just about study abroad, but how to pay for it too.

I recently finished my minor in Spanish and Latino studies at USFSP. I’ve been taking Spanish language courses for eight years and even have Rosetta Stone… Surprisingly, I still wasn’t fluent in Spanish. Last Summer I spent a month in Salamanca, Spain as part of USFSP’s study abroad program. I received three credit hours, finished my minor, and was even having dreams in Spanish. I never would have accomplished this or became a fluent Spanish speaker if I didn’t find this program at USFSP.

Study abroad is a wonderful experience USF offers because it essentially takes the “college” out of studying. In Salamanca, I lived with a crazy single Spanish woman. She fed me, washed my clothes, commented on how late I stayed out at night, and forced me to take naps after lunch. She was like a mom. She only spoke Spanish, I went to an intensive Spanish language university, and met locals that only spoke Spanish. It’s safe to say, the only language I could speak for a month was Spanish. If you have absolutely any interest in learning another language, do a study abroad program in a country where you are forced to speak it. School was still school, but the nightlife and my free time drastically altered my speaking efficiency. Studying Spanish was embedded into my everyday life in a much more fun and relaxed way than just taking a few Spanish courses. My roommate, also from USFSP, and I went out almost every night. This experience was the only time in my life where I felt like going out wasn’t a method of procrastination. It was a genuine opportunity to take what I have learned in school for years and finally use it in real life.

Locals celebrating in Plaza Mayor after Spain won the Euro 2012.

Locals celebrating in Plaza Mayor when Spain won the Euro 2012.

USFSP also provided us with guided tours through other cities in Spain and put together cultural events like watching traditional flamenco dancing. I was in Spain when it won the UEFA Euro 2012 and I’ve eaten almost every traditional meal the country has to offer. I didn’t just get to learn the language, I was a part of Spanish culture too.

Fish and potatoes are common Spanish dishes.

A common fish and potato dinner my host mother made me. Photo by Alicia Gangi.

USFSP’s study abroad made it easy and affordable to have this one of a kind experience. I loved the experience so much I did study abroad again for three months the following semester. Although you won’t find me cooking in a dorm room or tailgating before a USF football game, I did figure out what I was doing in college. Still, maybe college isn’t for everyone, but USFSP definitely worked for me.

Study Abroad Spring Break 2013 in Moldova

Spring Break in Moldova

After much work on the logistics and course design, I am pleased to report that students may now apply for the USFSP in Moldova course for Spring Break 2013!

I hope students will learn more about the course and to apply for the program!

My colleague from the Universitatea Libera Internationala din Moldova, Larisa Patlis (who is at USFSP this semester conducting research as a Carnegie Fellow) will be making a presentation about the history and culture of Moldova, and I will answer questions about the Study Abroad course at an event on campus. So the session is part presentation about Moldova’s history and culture and part about the study Abroad course specifically (information session). 

Please join us Friday, October 26th @ 10:00 am in Davis Hall 236! All are welcome to attend — faculty, staff, students, and the public.

Please also have a look at my Moldova blog.