Blake Page
Universitat Autonoma
Barcelona, Spain 2020

The beach at Sitges, Spain.

I’ve arrived in Barcelona and it has exceeded every expectation. The city is beautiful and very full of life. It is also very fast paced, with a lot of people walking, which was overwhelming the first few days. My main transportation for getting around the city and to class is the subway, of which I had to get familiar. The subway system was very confusing with many different routes and stops, in addition to the large amount of people using it. After the first week or so, it became much easier to navigate the subway with the help of the Barcelona subway app. My commute from home to class is usually around 20 minutes combining riding the subway and walking. Walking is a must, here in Barcelona, and virtually everyone does. I do not mind the walking, because you get to enjoy the scenery and the wonderful smells of the numerous restaurants, pastry shops, and bars around town. While walking, you may even stumble upon a restaurant you want to try out.

Me in front of Arc De Triomf

I have been here for about 3 weeks now and my homestay has been nothing short of amazing. My host family is a retired couple who are the kindest people. They speak no English, only Spanish, which I was afraid of when I first arrived, as my Spanish is not the best. The first few days it was hard to communicate and get past the language barrier between us. But, we never got frustrated and worked to communicate by gesturing and using google translate on my phone. Today it is so much easier to communicate, as I am building on the Spanish I already knew prior to the visit, plus learning from my host parents, friends and using the language around the city.

Visiting La Sagrada Familia

My host family stays in an apartment, which is not far from a metro stop for the subway, which is very convenient. My room is a good size with a desk, closet, and probably a XL twin-sized bed. I have a half-bath right outside of my room, which I use. To take a shower, I have to go to the full-bath, which is located next to their bedroom. My host mom does all the cooking and she is an excellent cook. Dinner is my favorite time of the day, because she makes amazing food. This is also the time I usually mingle with my host parents, as we watch soccer (my host dad’s favorite sport) or a Spanish food channel. Breakfast is not big here, as I usually eat toast with jam and orange juice. So far, my homestay has been great and I am glad I made the choice, because many of my friends who chose to stay in apartments complain about having to cook for themselves and are always eating out.
I will be traveling to other places with friends very soon, which will be exciting to blog about. See you soon!


Spring Semester in Spain 2020

Anthony Vinson
UVA 2020
Valencia, Spain

Three weeks later, I feel fully adjusted to Spain. I realized how lucky I am to have a host mother who truly enjoys my company and loves to enhance my Spanish. I have made friends on the trip who are less fortunate and fell victim to unloving host mother that serves cold food and had set strict rules to follow in the house. My host mother cooks hot meals and sends me to school with buffalo wings, fresh cooked potatoes, and fruit for a delicious snack. When I arrive home after a long day of class, I am alone for a few hours before my housemate, host sister, and host mother return from class or work. During that time, I enjoy the peace and quiet by participating in an afternoon siesta or getting a head start on homework. In the evenings, I watch a gameshow/trivia television series known as “El Boom” with my host mother, Pilar. She knows the answer to almost every question and responds back quicker than the contestant. Meanwhile, I sit there on the couch and try to decipher the question in Spanish. After “El Boom,” Pilar prepares a hot dinner in the kitchen, and we eat between 9 and 10 pm. I am still adjusting to a late dinner, because I get hungry very quickly in between meals and do not have the liberty to “snack” during the daytime. Therefore, I make sure to eat as much food as possible at each meal and hope it holds me over till the next course. The biggest obstacle I have encountered is a lack of breakfast. Spaniards do not eat breakfast, a meal. Americans pride themselves on a hardy breakfast and run campaigns to encourage everyone to eat breakfast. Luckily, I have found a bar near my apartment that serves eggs, ham, and potatoes in the morning. After my morning lift, I walk to the bar and sit down to eat a more formal, American-style breakfast. I typically check my email and skim through social media as I await a hot meal and a cup of “café con leche.” Afterwards, I return to my apartment to shower and get ready for school before catching the bus.

UVA of Valencia

I have embraced the Spanish lifestyle, but have added a few American changes. I enjoy the extended time given to leisure and a feeling that time is irrelevant. In Spain, everyone lives in the moment and takes the time to sit down and share a meal for hours and listen to one another. I am accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle of America, but I have quickly embraced the laid-back lifestyle and home-cooked meals of Spain.

Spring Semester in Spain 2020

Anthony Vinson
UVA 2020
Valencia, Spain

It has been one week since I left the U.S. to embark on a journey to Valencia, Spain; here, I will be studying with the University of Virginia. Since this is my third time studying abroad, I was not nervous to be in a foreign country for an extended period of time; instead, I was excited. After landing in Valencia, and running on four hours of sleep, my host sister picked me up from the local soccer stadium, la Mestalla. She immediately started speaking Spanish and I quickly flipped the switch in my head from English to Spanish as I understood every fifth word she spoke. We arrived at a small apartment, located in downtown Valencia, and ate a very large delicious lunch before walking around the area. I was greeted with a big hug after my host mother arrived home from working as a nurse at the local hospital. Next, she took me on a walk around the neighborhood and pointed out the great bars and cafés nearby. I quickly discovered that the neighborhood where I was going to spend the next four months is lively and will be the perfect setting for an incredible experience.


Two days later, UVA took all of the students on a day trip to visit the classical city of Xátiva—where I hiked to the top of the old castle. The bus ride was only an hour long and the group was greeted by a local who the school had hired to give us a tour of the city. The walkways were very narrow, but we slowly hiked up through the town to the old castle that once stood at the top of the hill. On the way up, we stopped to walk into and examine an old ice cellar. It was located deep beneath the ground and had a long dark corridor through the hillside to access the main freezer corridor. Afterwards, the tour guide pushed us forward as we climbed the top of the hill to the base of the castle. The group was given three hours of free time to explore the grounds and eat our “bocadillos” which our host mothers prepared.

Anthony taking in the view at Xátiva.

I chose to keep hiking up the hill to the tallest point of the castle where I was greeted by an astonishing view of the town, countryside, and hills in the surrounding area. I remained at the peak for the rest of the duration and took in the beautiful view as I enjoyed my lunch.

After one week here, in the beautiful city of Valencia, I have already traveled to a new town and visited many magnificent sights. I am optimistic for the next four months and have recently planned a trip to Barcelona for this upcoming weekend.

Nos vemos,


Studying in Spain 2020

Blake Page
Universitat Autonoma
Barcelona, Spain 2020

When deciding where I wanted to go for my semester abroad, it came down to architectural landmarks and architecture classes. AIF’s program in Barcelona, Spain met both those requirements, as Barcelona is a beautiful city with breathtaking architectural landmarks, while also offering architecture classes. I chose to stay with a host family because I heard great reviews of experiences while doing a homestay abroad. I am definitely looking forward to meeting my host family and eating traditional Spanish food, while also learning Spanish. I am also looking forward to the wonderful sightseeing trips around the city of Barcelona. However, not only Barcelona, but also other cities and countries, as traveling is cheap in Europe.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

While I am definitely excited for my semester abroad, I am also nervous about it. Not connecting with my host family would make the semester hard since I will be living with them for close to 4 months. Also, I will be away from my family and friends for an extended period of time, which would be a first for me. I’ve never had a problem making friends, but having none in Barcelona would be hard as I would have no one to enjoy the trip with socially.
Part of my program was a two-day layover in London before arrival in Barcelona. London was a vibrant and beautiful city with a lot of different people. I did have to get use to the driver’s seat being on the right side. Street signs seemed like they were hiding because they are on buildings.

Millennium Bridge

Seeing London’s historical landmarks on television and computers do not compare to the feeling you get seeing them in person. Landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, The Shard, and Tower Bridge were alluring sights, as was the majority of the city. I would definitely return to London for an extended period of stay to explore more of the city. I will be on a flight soon to Barcelona so until then, see you in Spain!

Blake Page

“Bon Voyage” 2019

Will Driskill
SAS 2019

As we enter our tenth day at sea, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and Africa, and head towards South America, I am very aware that Semester At Sea is quite a different and unique study abroad experience. Unlike any other study abroad program, it offers a college semester traveling by sea on a large cruise ship to eleven different countries, and three continents in the span of three plus months. While on the ship, more than four hundred students are taking classes, studying, exercising, eating and socializing while traversing the globe. When you arrive at each new port, you become immersed in a new culture through required field classes, optional travel programs, or free time to explore on your own or with a group.

This experience does not make classes any easier, or the experience any more beneficial than other study abroad programs; instead it offers a unique way to study and travel. There are amazing opportunities while at sea, however, the biggest challenge has been adjusting to life on a ship. The living spaces are small, and focusing on a teacher’s lecture can be extremely difficult when the seas are rough and you are seasick! Even on a large ship, the best traveler can become nauseous once or twice, which makes focusing, let alone getting out of bed, almost impossible. Another challenge is the limited WIFI on the ship. We are only allotted seven minutes of WIFI a day, which makes it very difficult to keep up with friends and family while sailing.

However, the positives of this experience heavily outweigh the negatives. With a shipboard community of nearly four hundred and fifty students, you become very close with the people around you. I have made many new friends from all over the United States, and from around the world. Living in such close quarters with students and teachers from all walks of life has really helped me reach beyond and outside of my comfort zone, and enhanced my appreciation of others’ values, beliefs and personalities.

This close knit ship environment also encourages students to interact daily with our professors, who become not only our teachers, but also our friends. They, in essence, become our second parents, who teach, exercise, give advice, dine and occasionally share an evening cocktail with us! This is an amazing community environment, and a very different way of education. The classes are not just taught by the subject you are taking, but also enhanced with a global discussion of the culture, politics, history, geography and general information of each country we are visiting.

I have enjoyed taking Oceanography as a science class, which has provided me with the opportunity to study the ocean life, the mangroves, and the local marine environment for each area we travel to. I have learned that marine lives are vastly different in Africa than they are in Europe, and each new place we visit.

One of my favorite experiences of this voyage has been the opportunity to experience the food from different cultures all around the world. Even though the ship food is probably as institutionally awful as the food we have to eat at Hampden-Sydney’s, “Moans”, the foods we have experienced off the ship has been amazing! I have enjoyed Croatian pastries, “bureks” from street vendors and bakeries, filled with sweet fruit, rich cheese or savory meats; then shared tagine chicken and couscous under a tent after traveling through the Saharan Desert of Morocco by camel. I have been served a homemade meal of beans and fish, while staying in a seaside village hut in Ghana, but favor the local plantains they serve boiled, grilled or fried. My next stop is Brazil, and I am most excited for my next meal off this ship, and maybe at a Brazilian steak house!

Sailing across the Atlantic from Europe and Africa, it is hard to believe that I am almost half way through my journey. I am looking forward to the sights, sounds, people, art, culture and food of Brazil, Ecuador, Trinidad, Tobago and Costa Rica. I have been on this voyage for about two months now, and I have made new friends from all over the world, and formed connections and experiences that I will have for the rest of my life.

“Bon Voyage” 2019

Will Driskill
SAS 2019

It has been a little over a month now since I started my journey with Semester at Sea. It is hard to believe that I have already been to five countries in Europe and am now headed to the second continent with this voyage, Africa. Starting in Amsterdam a little over a month ago, I had no idea what to expect. I have never really done solo travel, let alone traveled to five completely different countries in such a short amount of time. Looking back now, it is amazing how much I have learned not only through school but also from visiting each place. Each country I have been too is completely different when it comes to food, culture, and experiences.
Croatia has by far been my favorite place, with Amsterdam coming in a close second, and Spain not far behind that. What makes Croatia so cool is not just the insane beaches but also all the amazing natural wonders you can find off the beaten path. One of the most memorable experiences I had in Croatia was when some friends and I did a day trip to a national park. What we thought would only be a big hike, turned into two nights of camping and exploring this amazing island. It was pretty tough because we did not have proper camping gear or clothes. But at the same time, we got to see some of the most beautiful waterfalls and hike some amazing trails that a lot of tourist miss out on. My favorite part of this adventure was jumping off a waterfall into a natural pool that then, if you kept swimming went down to a underwater cave where the natural spring was sourced from. Living off the grid for a few days was definitely tough, but it was an experience that I will never forget! Croatia also had some of the best Pastries I have ever tasted. They are most famous for one called a Burek, which is croissant filled with whatever you want from a savory cheese to a chocolate filling. I probably ate about three of these a day! I do have to say that I have tried a Mojito in about every country I have visited, and Spain definitely comes out on top. Spain also came out on top when it came to some of the coolest clubs I have ever been. My favorite was in Lagos Spain. This was a club that was built into a cave on the side of the ocean. You could go for drinks or food then if you go deeper into the cave you would eventually find a underwater pool where you could swim through and come out on the other side to another bar. Definitely an experience I will never forget.

I have made tons of friends on this journey and have had many experiences already that I would not trade for anything. I was honestly a little nervous starting this journey because I knew absolutely nobody. But that has also opened up many doors and made this such an amazing experience so far. Ship life is definitely hard to get used to as well and seasickness is real, no matter how big the ship is!! I know Morocco will bring a completely different view on traveling compared to Europe, but I am excited for next place.

“Bon Voyage” 2019

Will Driskill
SAS 2019

I started my Semester at Sea adventure about a month ago in Amsterdam, Netherlands and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Most of my travels before Semester at Sea have consisted of family vacations up and down the East coast. But, my travel bug really started several years back when I traveled to Pamplona, Spain to Run with the Bulls. For many, running with the bulls would be well outside their comfort zone, but I considered that to still be well within my comfort zone because, I traveled to Spain with family and close friends. Now, when I first heard about Semester at Sea, I was in disbelief. How was it possible to travel to eleven different countries and three continents all while getting an education for only half a semester? It was too good to be true and I believe that is what made me jump at this opportunity and not turn back. I was all in from the beginning and so far, it has been one of the best choices I have made.

So, about a month ago, I packed my bags, said bye to family and friends and headed off to start my journey in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Honestly, I was a little nervous at first because I have never done solo travel before and I knew absolutely nobody going on Semester at Sea. But, I think that is what made me want to go on this journey the most. Being able to meet people not only from the United States, but all over the world has been an eye-opening experience and something that challenges me to get outside my comfort zone.

I know that there will be many challenges that I will come across while traveling the world, but that is what I am looking forward to the most. It’s not just Europe that I am traveling to, but also Africa and South America. In both Africa and South America, I will be way outside of my comfort zone and that will be the biggest challenge for me. I have to be willing to not change, but become more open minded about the cultures and the areas that I will be visiting along the way.

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University

A Competitive Cultural Exchange
As I promised in my last blog, I plan on catching back up with the present, which means I will have to go back in time a few weeks. A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an amazing opportunity, but I had no idea what was actually involved at the time: all I knew was that there was an opportunity to stay over a weekend and meet people from other colleges in the area, as well as a group of Taiwanese students.

Hard at work at the workshop. From the left: Lai, Sasaki, me and Ko.

The program was called, “Yokote City Design Workshop,” but I just assumed that some company wanted feedback from international and Japanese students about their products. However, when I arrived, a large panel of Japanese officials and Taiwanese product design professors informed us that we had three days to design a product that represented the traditional values of Yokote City’s culture and people. I was assigned to a group with two students from Tatung University in Taiwan, Ko and Lai, and one Japanese student from Akita University of Arts, Sasaki. Early on, there were issues with communication as Ko spoke some English, and Sasaki spoke little English and no Chinese. Fortunately for us, Lai was a Linguistics student, so she formed the link that connected all of our ideas and passed them on to everyone in the group. When I realized that we were all expected to design a product from scratch, create samples and create a PowerPoint presentation, which would be presented in English and Japanese in front of a panel of local officials, I thought for sure that I would be dead weight: what business does a History major, who can’t draw to save his life, belong in a room full of graphics design majors from Art Schools. I did my best to contribute ideas and some “rough” sketches, and my teammates assured me that I was helpful, whether they were being nice or not, I don’t know.

The same scene from another angle. And, if you look in the background, you can see my friend, Jo, in the white hoodie: he is a grad student at Akita University of Arts.
Fortunately, the workshop wasn’t all work and no play. On Saturday, we were all given a guided tour of Yokote City, and it was amazing.


Yokote-jo (castle).


Nature area behind the castle.







The view from atop the castle.









Some cool examples of Samurai armor from inside the castle.








Perhaps one of my favorite places in Yokote is the Kamakura-house museum, which maintains a real example, all year round, of the “igloo-type” houses that the locals build in the winter.

From the left: Zack (D.C.), Me, Jo and Hiroomi (Akita Univ. of Arts). By the way, it was extremely cold in there: the room is a kind of refrigerator that keeps the snow from melting.



Afterwards, we headed back to the old High School where we were working on our projects. After the presentations, the winners were announced, and, unfortunately, we did not win.

Here was our banner, which Ko designed himself.


Here was one of the covers of our notebook, which had all four seasons, designed by Sasaki (she drew these from scratch using software!).



This was the Spring themed cover, with Yokote-jo surrounded by cherry blossoms.






Here was the Summer themed cover, featuring the fireworks festival.






Here was the Autumn themed cover, representing the local produce, which would be harvested in the Fall.





Finally, my personal favorite, the Winter themed cover, featuring an Akita-inu in traditional festival clothes, sheltering in a Kamakura-house.





Here, you can see my modest contribution to the drawing: many of the professors complimented me on my efforts, but I think they just thought it was a cute attempt.



At the end, all of the participants were given hand-towels as gifts, and the winners received nice, gift-wrapped packages. And, since I was a late addition to the program, I was not presented with a certificate, so Ko drew me up a new one.

After the awards ceremony, we all got on busses and visited the new manga museum, which hadn’t even opened to the public yet. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside, but I have some pictures with all of us before we had to say our sad goodbyes.

Ko and I.









Lai and I









The last photo of us all together.


Afterwards, we all got on separate buses and headed back to our respective colleges. The Taiwanese students stayed another night before getting on a plane back to Taiwan. Ko informed me afterwards that it was significantly hotter in Taiwan than in the mountains of northern Honshu.


After all was said and done, I was so happy that I was able to attend the workshop and meet these wonderful people. Initially, I was skeptical because we had to sleep on the floor of an old classroom, for one thing, which I was not excited about, but, by the end, I find everything memorable and are unique experiences, which come straight out of an anime.

Spring Semester in London

Yafet Cole
Richmond the American International University
London 2019

There are several different things that I am going to miss when I go back to Hampden-Sydney in the Fall of 2019. The lifestyle and the friends I have made are most likely what I am going to miss the most when I leave London. I have gotten into such a routine here and it will be difficult to transition back once I return to Hampden-Sydney. Due to the private nature of the campus, I will not be able to walk out of the dorm and head down to the coffee shop. I have to get into my car and physically drive down to the café in Farmville. The luxury about living in London is that everything is close, or you can at least get somewhere easily whether it is through the tube, bus, or even Uber. Being so close to everything just makes it so much easier to live life. With it being a city as well, there are a lot of different activities that people are able to partake in. There is also so much that needs to be seen in the city. As for Hampden-Sydney, the campus is secluded from the rest. Plus, after a night out in London, there is the benefit of being close to food instead of having to drive down 10 minutes into town if you do not want to eat at the moans. A part from all of that, I have truly met some great people since I have been here. Leaving them will for sure be a difficult task, but I know I will keep in contact with them. I am already planning a trip back to see them once I graduate next May. Although, I am looking forward to seeing everyone that I have left at Hampden-Sydney. It will be nice to catch up with them as we all enter our final year of College.

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University

Settling in With New Friends

I apologize for the wait, but every day seems like a new adventure, and I don’t know where to start or where to end a blog post. Here at AIU, we are now mid-way into our spring break, which is known as “Golden Week,” and, apparently, it is something that is planned semesters in advance for Japanese students, so, for us international students, many of our plans had to be altered because of flights and trains already being bought out. Also, the recent events with the abdication of Akihito, the former Emperor of Japan, who became the first Emperor in 200 years to abdicate the throne, and the coronation of his son, Norihito, today, made “Golden Week” that much more packed with events.
In other news, since I was unable to find a flight or a shinkansen (bullet-train) for a reasonable price, so that I could go to Kyoto, Nara and Osaka (Kansai region), I have made the best of the situation and have spent my time exploring all that Akita prefecture has to offer with the friends that I have made since I have been here.

From the left: Rekka (Japan), Ania (Romania), Danika (Alaska), Shannon (Germany), Ben (New York: you can see his legs), Autumn (Taiwan, taking the picture) and I at Senshu Park, enjoying the Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) festival with a variety of Japanese snacks and homemade foods made by Rekka.

Here you can see Autumn, Ben, Rekka (being lifted), Ania and I posing for a funny photo in front of the Sakura trees.








For me, this was one of the highlights of the day: petting an Akita-inu. They are so fluffy and cute!!!


The same scene as before, but, this time, we were expecting the photo. Once again, Autumn was the wonderful photographer.

Here, we all pose for a picturesque scene with an air of contemplation; at least, that was what we were going for.
























Here are a few pictures of the beautiful scenery at Senshu Park with all of the Sakura trees at full bloom.






I will break off this part of the blog, as it pertains to Senshu Park and make it a multi-part series until I can catch up to current events. Before I do, however, I want to share some thoughts on spending time with the other international students and Japanese students, as well as make some comments on the differences between being in Japan versus America.

For me, the most enjoyable part about spending time with people from around the world is seeing how their cultures/languages are different, (and finding out how different they are in funny ways), how they are, in many ways, the same as me, and finding how each country views other countries. For the Japanese students, there seems to be a keen fascination with all other cultures, including America’s, which is especially the case with Rekka, who did his semester abroad in California. But, for the Europeans and other international students, American culture is so widely publicized that they find little novelty in spending time with Americans or learning about our culture. That is not to say that they don’t want to spend time with Americans, but that, as is the case with other European countries, since they have learned English, studied about America and other European countries, they aren’t particularly enchanted by America’s culture. During a fun interaction with Martijn (Dutch), Ingird (Norwegian) and Doris (Estonian), where we were exchanging popular songs from our countries, as well as comparing names for things we had in our languages, I found out that the Europeans had already heard almost every song that I played, and I couldn’t really enjoy the word game because they all spoke English fluently, so, unless it was a colloquial southern phrase, I was just an interested spectator.
Seeing as I am running a little long, I will make a brief closing comment about being in Japan, particularly rural Japan. Even though I have lived in a rural area my whole life, nothing compares to the beautiful scenery that can be found in rural Akita. Despite the high population densities all over the country, the preservation of vast amounts of beautiful landscapes makes me think back to issues of land preservation in America, even though we have a much higher ratio of land per capita than Japan does.

I don’t know how good of an indicator these pictures are, but most of them were taken from the inside of buses to and from AIU.

Anyway, that’s all for this blog: look forward to more soon.