Month: September 2018

Thoughts on Home by Laura Jones

Morning light.

Drops of sunlight pour through my window, warming my face as I blink my sleep away. I hear a distant rumble of morning traffic, the din of a thousand ambitious souls marching to another 14-hour work day. It’s a hopeful sound, fueled by promises of wealth and prestige, dripping with determination and valour, and endlessly beating onward.

Red. Yellow. Green. Back again.

I stretch and yawn. My roommate, Emi, stirs.

Outside, this is the fast-paced, monotonous, eclectic life of a Hong Konger. Right now, inside a damp little dorm-room that smells like wool socks and tangerines, all is quiet. Even though we have no heat and the morning is chilly, it feels cozy somehow. It’s home.


This is life in Hong Kong-- a constant clash of stop and go. And I’m living it. I listen again to a layer of mournful silence picking at my eardrums. There are no chirping sparrows or cardinals outside my window. Though the nights are warm, the fields which should be filled with crickets are silent. These skyscrapers are a monument to the tenacity of mankind, to his cunning and dominion over beings he deemed lesser. Dominion for now. I see flashing neon lights and a red and yellow double decker bus zooming by in my mind’s eye. Scenes from the night before. All that remains here is the endless buzz of industry.


I love this city.

My mother looked at me quizzically when I told her I wanted to study in Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong? Why not Paris, London, or Sydney? I could have told her I wanted to save money, or that I wanted to learn Chinese, that I wanted to eat lots of Dim Sum, or that I wanted to challenge myself by experiencing a culture completely different from my own. But I would have been lying. I wish I could tell you that I chose on rational grounds, that I crafted carefully color-coded spreadsheets filled with dollar signs and cost-benefit lists. But, I sheepishly must tell you that the principal force urging me to Asia was an ingrained contrarianism which has propelled me forward (and landed me in trouble) since childhood. I wanted to do something different. There, I said it. How original I thought I was!

Yet I haven’t regretted it for a minute.

In my first month in Hong Kong, I have met some of the most intelligent, fiercely independent people I have ever known. That’s what travel is really about, anyway. It’s not about photographs or sightseeing, or even new philosophies you are exposed to along the way. It’s about the people who touch you and the way you made them feel. I know that’s what I’ll remember most.

There’s no way to predict what the next four months will bring.

Carefully laid plans can be erased in an instant.

More monasteries, nights out with friends, nature preserves, bungee jumping and looking for weird buildings to sketch. A trip to Port Elizabeth, then Taipei. A two-week excursion in Komodo, then Borneo, and a million small miracles that hide in the mundane, waiting to be noticed.

An old woman in a pink skirt smiled at me on the underground today. Yellow flower petals drifted lazily in the wind near my favorite street market. Lanterns from the lunar new year festival cast a soft velvet glow over a glittering black fountain. This city is full of magic, especially at night. It’s so big, such an intimate place. Everywhere I go I am a stranger, totally forgettable, and every alley is my own private stage.

Sometimes I like to climb up the peak across the street to watch the action from afar.

I remember empty stares in an elevator car;

I wonder what they were thinking of.

I see eight million lives as intricate as my own,

Eight million pairs of eyes looking upwards,

Tensing against the waves, leaning into the storm,

Pushing, pushing, pushing,

Until suddenly...

Mild disappointment.

I’m far away from everything I’ve ever known, and I miss home;

But I don’t ever want to go back to the way I was.

Suddenly I realize, home is not a place. It’s with the people who really know me.

The joy lies in how deeply I laughed, how carefully we listened, how deep our silences, how generously I gave my time and money away.

I’ll never leave this citadel.

We are totally free, and I am the luckiest person in the world.

London Calling by Pearl Matteson

Dear Readers,

I have to confess, I have never written a blog before so bear with me and feel free to reach out with questions or thoughts should you want to. Aside from this small disclaimer, I have to confess that I am very excited to begin this journey together on the topic of all things travel abroad. Hopefully in these blogs I can write about traveling to different countries, food, culture, entertainment, etc. The world really is our oyster if you will. For this week’s edition, I am going to be writing about my first initial thoughts on London, and the journey to getting to the city.

I knew that with the Acting Program here at UConn, it is written in our curriculum to study abroad first semester of our third year. I was going to be studying abroad in London with the Theatre Academy London program, which is a Third Party Program in partnership with Florida State University. This abroad experience changed my life, and I truly mean it as cliche as it sounds.

Sophomore year, we were given the initial paperwork with details on how much abroad was going to cost. WOW! Studying abroad, as amazing and fun as it can be, is indeed expensive. So, thus I began saving up every penny I could, while researching all of the amazing things about London (Shoutout to Buzzfeed, and TimeOut London). When the time came, we had another meeting about applying via UConn through the abroad website… You need a letter of recommendation and there are short answer essays that you need to fill out with the information as to where you want to go. I highly recommend that you  meet with an abroad advisor (shoutout to Laura Hills). They can help you with the application in the office in Rowe 117, and also give you scholarship ideas. After filling out the abroad information on the site, I then needed to fill out the forms that Florida State needed, as I was going to be studying abroad under their third party program in London.

I highly suggest that you also update any visas you may need, and make sure your passport is up to date. Once I was able to send in all of my forms and Florida State confirmed that I was indeed studying abroad, I began to look for flights and talk with my family about further external expenses.

During the summer, I began to pack. Here’s the thing, I am very much an early packer. I love to pack… I think there is a subtle aesthetic to packing and embarking on a journey.

So I needed to figure out what I needed in terms of everyday clothes, as well as what to bring as my major also required us to bring certain things across the pond. I packed a huge suitcase, but then began to find things I actually wouldn’t need or that I could just buy when I got to London. Thus, after many moments of adding and getting rid of clothes, I settled with extra room in my suitcase, knowing it would be helpful at the end of term instead of having to ship everything I own back home.  

I also talked with my bank to make sure that they were all set with me going abroad and figured out the process of traveling with my credit cards. Then the time came for me to get on the plane and I was off!

Side note- Keep a journal or a blog or something whilst there. I collected postcards and show tickets from every show and place I went to.

I had been to London before for a week with another program, but I was finally back and going to be living there for five months. I could truly call myself a Londoner.

I figured in these blogs it would be fun to have a quick section about little London secrets called LONDON ALERT!

So here is this week’s LONDON ALERT- Download CITYMAPPER… this app will save your life, as it tells you how to get everywhere via the tube, bus, train, or by walking. Second LONDON ALERT- There are so many things the Brits do better. Stand on the right side of the Tube escalator or all escalators really...if you want to just stand and enjoy the ride. If you are in a hurry, walk down on the left or up on the left. If you stand on the right you WILL GET RUN OVER. Just Kidding. Kind of.

Stay tuned for my next blog “Mind the Gap”... Reach out to me if you want. Email me if you have questions, requests or helpful suggestions. (

GSM Spotlight: Katie Ouimette

(3) Katherine Ouimette


Year Senior

Major Studio Art

Minor Printmaking


Study Abroad Program University of Melbourne, Australia (Exchange) Spring 2017

What advice would you give your pre-study abroad self?

Save your money!!!! Wings over isn't worth more than a trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

How was the academic system in Australia different from being at UConn?

Assignments are very rare, so keeping up on your studies is all on you. I find it is great for exchange, because you can plan a busy week of activities and balance it with a week of completing your studies.

What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most of their study abroad experiences?

Try everything! Try new foods, new sports, new activities, and really get involved with the locals. They want to learn about us as much as we want to learn about them. Also, traveling around is great but get to know your home city! There are many hidden wonders in all of the cities that we're off to!

What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?

The only place I've really ever known is Storrs! It made me nervous having to know the ins and outs of a new place, but it really does come quickly to you when you're absolutely immersed. Making friends with locals and asking them questions about everything made this experience so much easier.

What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at UConn?

Living and surviving in a city! City living is 100% different, but now I feel more prepared to live on my own in a different place other than my hometown. I also was exposed to so many different types of people.

GSM Spotlight: Lisa Darminova

Year Senior

Major Applied Mathematics

Minor Computer Science


Study Abroad Program Hong Kong University (Exchange), Spring 2017

How were the academics different in Hong Kong than in the US?

The academic system itself was pretty similar, except that there is more competition for grades at HKU. It gave motivation to all students to do better while also only basing their grading on competition and not on points received. All in all, it was similar to the US system.

If you could go abroad again, what would you do differently?

Apply to study abroad for a whole year instead of a semester!

What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?

As this trip was my first time in Asia, I was scared to see how I would find the culture. I was scared that i would be stuck in a foreign country and not enjoy it to the full extent. However, HKU and my fellow exchange students all help expose each other to different cultural aspects of Hong Kong and I started loving the city more and more each day.

What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?

Hong Kong is an amazing city. The city itself is both a concrete jungle and also a normal jungle. While the central business district is huge there, Hong Kong has amazing beaches and hikes that are popular throughout the Hong Kong community. There is definitely something to do every day there! In addition, the location of Hong Kong is so practical in cost efficient traveling to both south east Asia as well as places like Korea, Japan, and China.

How can studying abroad impact your future career?

It shows future employers that you can adjust to new things easily, that you are not afraid of going out of the box, and that you have a positive mindset.

GSM Spotlight: Olivia Villecco

Year Senior

Major Accounting

Minor International Studies


Study Abroad Program UConn in Florence, Italy (Faculty-Led), Spring 2017

What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most of their study abroad experiences?

Have an open mind to try new things and see things from different perspectives. Don’t be judgemental of other cultures. Eat the local food wherever you go. Speak the language, travel often, and savor every moment!

Why did you choose your program?

I wanted a program that enabled me to travel throughout Europe, broaden my knowledge, and just have an unforgettable time. The city of Florence is such a culturally rich city and I was able to take art, food, history, and language classes to immerse myself in it all. I also really liked that my walk to class was down cobblestone streets past the Duomo and not on a confined campus; it made me feel more like a local. The location of Florence allowed us to easily travel all around Europe too.

What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at UConn?

Everything. I could not have learned about the historical intricacies of Michelangelo's David while standing in the Galleria dell'Accademia looking up at the masterpiece if I had stayed at UConn. I could not have developed a rich appreciation for Renaissance art if I had been sitting in a business classroom in Storrs. I could not have traveled to nine different countries, learning about the history of each, experiencing the culture of each, and interacting with the people in each country if I had just stayed at UConn. Studying abroad opened my eyes to so much more in the world.

If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?


Why Study Abroad? And how has it impacted you for your future academics, career and self?

Studying abroad changes a person's outlook on life. For me, studying abroad has ignited my curiosity for new cultures and ways of living, becoming a more well-rounded person. Studying abroad has given me the confidence to navigate through Europe and travel anywhere. I‘ve been bitten by the travel bug, and now I want to plan my life around traveling more.

GSM Spotlight: Michael Costello

Year: Senior


Major: Biomedical Engineering

Study Abroad Program National University of Singapore (Exchange) Spring 2017 

How can outbound study abroad students to help them make the most of their study abroad experiences?

Go into the situation with an attitude of openness and a readiness to learn as much as possible from everything new you experience. Immerse yourself in the culture and try to make as many local friends as exchange friends.

Were you nervous at all before studying abroad?

I was nervous about missing out on experience and friendships at home, but I kept in contact with everyone and kept up to date with the different organizations I was a part of.

What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at UConn?

I was able to experience a very unique country located in a region not too many Americans get to know personally. I had a chance to meet political leaders from ASEAN and the UN and hear them talk about the culture and politics of Southeast Asia from a different perspective than the one I was used to.

If you could give only one reason, why study abroad?

It is very unlikely you will ever have a chance to immerse yourself personally and academically in another country like this outside of college, so take the unique opportunity and I promise you will not regret one second of it.

How has studying abroad changed you?

It has helped me develop as a person, has helped me to meet many different unique and interesting people, and has opened my eyes to a possibility of incorporating a more global approach to my future career aspirations.

GSM Spotlight: Shannon Foley

Year Senior

Major Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and Psychology

Minor Cognitive Science


Study Abroad Program University of Nottingham (Exchange), Nottingham, England, Spring 2017

What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?

I was never the kind of person who sought out change, and suddenly all I wanted was to be somewhere completely new that was unfamiliar and I would know no one. I decided it was just something I had to go for and not to look back or get afraid of, and it ended up being the best decision I've made since being at UConn. I think it's easy to feel like you're sort of stuck somewhere, and studying abroad definitely gave me the space and freedom to go out and figure out what it was that I wanted and the opportunity to experience education and culture in a whole new way.

How was the academic system in England different than the US?

The academic system there was surprisingly different from what I was used to at UConn. It definitely depends on what your major is and what year classes you take, but at Nottingham my work almost completely consisted of readings, and my final exams made up 100% of my grade. The grading system is also much different, and it's just something you have to get used to when you're here. It is much harder to get a really high grade there, but a 70 is also equivalent to getting an A at UConn. So, if you get a grade back that is something you would be upset about back at home, it probably isn't nearly as bad as you think!

What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most of their study abroad experiences?

Don't be afraid to try new things! Go places you've never heard of, talk to people everywhere you go, eat something that might sound weird, and step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Just do as much as you can, because the time flies by and soon you'll be flying back home and it will seem silly that you were ever worried about going!

What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at UConn?

As lame as it might sound, I honestly think I got to know myself in a way that I don't think I would have back at UConn. Studying abroad gives you more independence than you have probably ever experienced, and it is really up to you to go out and figure out what it is you want to see, and do, and accomplish. I made more of an effort to meet new people and try new things than I did at UConn, and I definitely gained a clearer understanding of who I am as a person independently and within a group of people. This probably goes without much surprise, but I got to experience so many different cultures through studying abroad than I could ever imagine back at UConn. Traveling throughout Europe you interact with so many different people and learn about the customs and traditions they hold and have the opportunity to really see them in comparison to other places.

If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?

Go for yourself. Really take this opportunity to go somewhere alone and figure out what you like to do. I'm not saying you will go and become a whole new person and figure out so many different things about yourself, but you will be completely independent with no real influence from your friends and family at home for the first time ever probably, and it will be up to you to decide what you want to do with yourself and all your time!

GSM Spotlight: Emma Burns

Year Senior

Major Marketing

Minor Psychology


Study Abroad Program University of New South Wales (Exchange) in Sydney, Australia, Spring 2017

What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?

I've always wanted to travel and I didn't think I'd ever get a chance to live in Australia if I didn't go abroad.


What advice would you give your pre-study abroad self?

Don't be so worried! It will all work out.

How was the academics or academic system you were apart of differ from UConn (or the US system)?

The academic system was fairly similar to the states, but a few differences were that all of the lectures were recorded, so you could watch them whenever and the grading system was very different. It is average to get in the 60's or 70's for your grades which was very surprising to me at first.

What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most of their study abroad experiences?

I would tell anybody going abroad to not just stick with the people they went with (if they are going with friends) but to really reach out to as many people as they can and make friends from all different backgrounds and cultures. I would also just tell them not to be stressed about making every single moment a big moment, or every single day a big day. Going away to a place for 3 or more months is a long time, there is no need to stress about making every second of your time huge, you can have relaxing days as well as crazy fun days.

If you could go abroad again, what would you do differently?

If I were to go abroad again I would try even harder to immerse myself in the culture more. Most of the friends I made abroad were other exchange students which was awesome, but I only had a few Australian friends and I would love to have more time to meet more of them.

What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?

I was afraid about finding a place to live and I was afraid about making friends, especially since I wasn't going to be living on campus. I overcame this because I really had no other option than to, but it was awesome because I grew up a lot from it and now I know how to find a place to live in the future! It's amazing when you find out what you are actually capable of. The friends component also happened naturally, it's just like if you were doing your freshman year of college all over again, everybody is in the same boat and everybody is nervous. But you always find your people. I've met my best friend in the world here and I'm so sad to be leaving her.

What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?

I really wanted to do the UNSW program because it was in Australia which I had always wanted to visit and it was in a city which I wanted to experience living in. I have always been from small towns and UConn is pretty isolated, so I thought it would be a cool experience to do something different.