Paris Reflections!


Since I arrived back in Michigan, I have been thinking and reflecting on my summer semester in Paris. I kept a journal from the first day I arrived in Paris, and detailed every moment and funny memory. Looking back, I am so glad I did this because I was able to better understand what I learned and see how I adapted to a foreign culture. Studying abroad in Paris was undoubtedly the best adventure in my life so far. I met the most incredible group of people through IES, who became my close friends I am blessed to have lived in France over the summer. If I typed out everything I learned about living in a foreign country, we would be here for hours. So to save the trouble, here is a short list of the best lessons I learned while living and studying in Paris:

  1. “So much of who we are is where we have been.” -William Langewiesche. I found this quote written in graffiti on a wall in Paris near the Seine River, and it resonated with me as I progressed through studying abroad. I felt myself becoming more adventurous, where I traveled by myself to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Stonehenge. I felt myself becoming more comfortable speaking a language I had never studied before, where I was not afraid speaking French with locals. I felt myself falling in love with Paris. So much of who I am will remain in Paris.
  2. Bread will never be the same. When it comes to bakeries, the French have this perfected to an art. I probably ate my weight in croissants and baguettes, but French bread is incredibly delicious. My favorite dessert, and what I will miss the most about French food, is Pan du Chocolat (chocolate-filled croissant). Hopefully I can find an authentic French bakery in Michigan!
  3. Travel. Travel. Travel. Traveling within Europe is incredibly cheap and easy. When are you ever going to live in a foreign country again in your life? Take advantage of every opportunity and leave no stone unturned. My group and I went to London, England together, and I went to Brussels, Belgium and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg by myself. My group was more interested in exploring Paris than traveling far, but I didn’t let that falter my plans. Even if you have to go alone, don’t regret not going somewhere. I had a blast both on my own and with my group. Also, I learned how to book travel accommodations and research places to go all on my own. When my flights were delayed and trains became cancelled due to strikes, I figured out alternate routes on my own last minute. How cool is that? Travel, and travel far.
  4. The Eiffel Tower never gets old. From the first time I saw the Iron Lady to the last night under the sparkling lights, I never grew tired of looking at how beautiful the tower is. Every Wednesday, my friends and I had a picnic under the tower to watch the sunset and sparkling lights. I always looked forward to every Wednesday, and could not get enough of the Eiffel Tower. The view from the top of the tower isn’t bad either, but I’d much rather watch the lights sparkle with a baguette and wine from our secret terrace we found.
  5. Take the leap and study abroad. I have to admit, I was a little nervous just before I left. I had never traveled on my own before and had never been to Europe. I would have to learn a new language and learn to navigate a foreign country. Luckily, the nerves went away the second I got to my apartment. I fell in love with Paris and made incredible friends in my study abroad group. I learned a ton in my classes that I know will take me far in the rest of my studies. I created internship connections through my professors. I tried food I never thought I would dare eat. I traveled alone to other countries. I saw Stonehenge. Nothing will ever compare to what I experienced, and most importantly, I learned that a classroom is much more than four white walls.

Take the leap and study abroad; you just might learn something about the world around you.

À bientôt, et je t’aime Paris!

-Alissa Smith

Disability from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

Part of my course load abroad was an internship to finish up my psychology major at Hope. The placement process began months before my arrival in which I was able to express my desires and qualifications for an internship in Santiago. Quite honestly, I did not feel equipped to actually contribute to a workplace environment, attributed  to a limited vocabulary and the fear of not being able to understand the directions and responsibilities given to me. Looking back on this semester, my internship challenged me in multiple ways, but more than anything it motivated me in the pursuit of my intended career path.

My main goal for an internship was to be involved with a population with physical and intellectual disabilities. I have always had a passion for working with people with special needs, and I wanted to see how that could grow and be challenged in a new culture. I was placed at a national foundation that offers many services to those with various types of disabilities. I chose to intern at a location that provides a home, schooling, and medical attention to a population who had been abandoned by their own families. There were 93 residents, nearly all of which had cerebral palsy, used wheelchairs, and were nonverbal. From my first visit, I knew this would be a challenging environment to be in, but I felt that my prior experiences had prepared me well.

I vastly underestimated the differences that existed between the rights for those with disabilities and how they vary across countries. Chile is a developing country, and the rights for the disabled populations are very far behind those of the United States. Furthermore, it was a difficult transition from working with privileged families who could send their children to summer camp or hire nannies as simply “an extra set of hands,” to working with an overcrowded foundation of residents who had no contact outside the walls of the residence.

As an intern, I was able to contribute to the building upkeep and supported the teachers and health professionals in their work with the residents. I can’t quite say that I made much of an impact on this organization, but to be a fly on the wall in a completely unique setting offered a cross-cultural perspective on disability that I would not have been able to find here in the States. I learned that empathy, joy, and friendship can be communicated without a common language or even the ability to speak. I also learned how privileged we are to have the facilities, legislation, and compassion for those with disabilities, and this is distinct in comparison with the rest of the world. As a global citizen, it can be difficult to see the injustices and imperfections that exist across cultures and people groups. However, this newfound passion is what motivates me in my studies and in future career, and will be an experience that will always remind me to be an advocate for others.


The First Bout of FOMO

I began dreaming of my college study abroad semester pretty early on in my high school Spanish classes (what else would have motivated me to get through all those “preterite versus imperfect” lectures?). During Hope prospective student visit days, I sat front row at every off-campus study info session, stored away all the pamphlets, and talked to countless students about their experiences abroad.  When I arrived at Hope in Fall 2014, I plotted out my 4-Year Plan based entirely upon my semester abroad.  However, when it came time to actually make the plans a reality, fear and anxiety crept in.  It wasn’t that I lost the desire to go abroad, but rather that I didn’t want to leave Hope for a semester.

Clearly, events occurred that changed my mind, because here I am writing from Chile.  I can confidently say that I am exactly where I am supposed to be– being challenged, humbled, and left in wonder by this new home of mine.  However, I will break the myth that every day abroad is as much of an adventure as an Instagram picture or blog post may convey.

This past weekend at Hope was Orientation Weekend.  Having been a part of the Orientation Staff for the past two years and loving freshman orientation myself, it has been incredibly difficult to miss out on the best weekend of the year.  Flipping through all the Instagrams and Snapchats, the reality hits that life goes on without you.  When your friends are all moving in together and reuniting after summers apart, you’re not a part of the group texts to meet up at New Holland, Captain Sundae, or a Lake Michigan sunset.  No matter how much we glorify FaceTime and Skype to keep us connected, nothing adequately compensates for the 10,000 miles of distance that exists.

Amidst the FOMO, I am reminded of the gift it is to have a place and people to miss.  I would not trade this adventure abroad for anything– even for my long-awaited senior year fall semester at Hope.  As I write this, I fear that this is just the beginning of the FOMO.  There will be an abundance of things to miss out on, and plenty more anticlimactic days abroad.  However, when I allow myself to sit in that ache to be with the people that know me the best and in the place that I feel the most at home, I am grateful to carry that sense of belonging with me.  Best of all, it’s what will welcome me home in just a few months!

Week Two Complete! Park Güell, Tarragona, and so much more


Hello everyone! Week number two is complete here in Barcelona and I could not be more excited to share my recent adventures with you. Just yesterday, I visited Park Güell, a masterpiece of the famous Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudí. His work primarily was created around the early 1900’s, when Barcelona was flourishing after expanding rapidly through the Industrial Revolution. Interestingly enough, Park Güell is declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Please view the slide show below to see more of Park Güell!

The weekend prior, I went on a mandatory school field trip to the coastal city of Tarragona (I know, a mandatory, free, weekend trip… sounds awful right? (; ). Tarragona is about an hour south of Barcelona and is one of four Spanish Provinces in Catalonia. During the existence of the Roman Empire, Tarragona was the main hub for Romans in all of the Iberian Peninsula.

View of the Mediterranean Sea from Tarragona.
Amphitheatre of Tarragona

I found this trip not only educational, but also an excellent way to build relationships with other students. I was able to meet Garrett and Charlie, two soccer players from Wofford College in South Carolina, whom to no surprise, I have a lot in common with (For those that do not know, I play soccer at Hope). I also met a lot of students from the Midwest, since nearly one-third of my entire IES program are business students from the University of Indiana.

At the end of my previous blog, I set a few goals for myself. One of these goals, was to find a soccer team to play on. After jumping through a couple of hoops, I have managed to achieve this goal. I am now officially a member of FC Lokomotiv Chill. The team has Amateur status and plays in the BIFL – Barcelona International Football League. Players in the league vary in age and ability; some being former professionals and others, well, not so much. All and all it is an excellent way to further my craft as a soccer player and participate in a game that I love, soccer.

We had our first friendly this last weekend. Although we did not get the result, it was great to finally get out and play; especially at a wonderful stadium of a 4th Division side, CF Montañesa. I am looking forward to the challenges and adventures that will arise in the next week. That is all for now, hasta luego! IMG_1007

First Impressions

The view from the restaurant window where the IES leaders took us to eat on the first day. Look at those mountains! Too beautiful!

The altitude takes some getting used to, but the view is phenomenal! This season is the rainy season in Quito, so it’s been mostly cloudy (Quito has two seasons: dry and rainy). However, when the sun comes up it gets HOT! I made sure to pack some SPF 50 sunscreen bottles to protect my skin.

So far I’ve met the other students who I’ll be studying with this next semester and the IES program coordinators/directors in Quito. We signed a contract to pledge that we would only speak in Spanish throughout our time here (except for emergencies, etc.) to really immerse ourselves in the language. Luckily for me, I already have a lot of experience con el español, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

The main dish at the restaurant on day one: ensalada, pollo, y arroz.
The rice was in the shape of a pyramid!

Still… there are some words that I don’t understand/use because they are not common in Mexican Spanish. For example, I didn’t know that ñaño(a) could be used in place of hermano(a). That confused me a little. Also, Ecuadorians use the word chévere to describe something that is cool or awesome or great. When I Skype with my parents in a couple of weeks, I’m going to inevitably use chévere in my conversations.

Speaking of Skype, I video-chatted with my parents last night to let them know I got here safely (but I used Facebook Messenger instead). They were super worried that I hadn’t called sooner. Ah, I love my parents, but they worry too much! I told them about the lovely host family who welcomed me with lots of hugs and kisses (I’m not making this up). My Ecuadorian family is super kind and affectionate, as most Ecuadorians are.

My cozy room in Quito 🙂

I’m excited for this next week since I’ll still be in my IES orientation. They’re taking us to explore Quito and other nearby cities! So until next time, mis amigos. I’ll leave you with this view from the 12th floor of the IES building. ¡Que se la pasen muy chévere!

Looking west towards the Pichincha Volcano from the IES building’s balcony.

Cheers to new adventures!

There is something so comforting about living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the same language. Don’t get me wrong, it can get extremely frustrating wanting so desperately to engage in conversations with those that you meet that both ends end up talking so much louder than normal in hopes of the other gaining some understanding….but even that becomes entertaining. It has officially been a month since I arrived to Freiburg, Germany and my experience so far has exceeded my expectations.


FREIBURG: I’ll be completely honest, before reading about the IES European Union program at Hope, I’d never heard of this city. All I knew is that I was drawn to Germany and needed to find any reason to live there (while studying abroad my sophomore year I visited Berlin and since have day dreamed of spending more time in this country). Second, this program seemed like a lot of fun while maintaining a strict educational regimen.


This college town is located in the south west corner of Germany, surrounded by the Schwarzwald, better known to Americans as the Black Forest (have you ever had black forest cake? Come visit this place and you can eat it in its birthplace). During the program’s orientation we actually spent a day hiking in it! Our guides are college students and they took us to some of their favorite locations. I chose the route that involved hiking across waterfalls. There is something so lovely about the untouched feel of this area and it literally is our backyard! After getting home from class, we often grab stuff for a picnic and wander through vineyards, picking apples along the way for a snack, finding a quiet area to spend the sunny afternoons. Here are some pics of our orientation trip to give you a better idea:

THE cake


Like most cities in Germany, WWII heavily damaged Freiburg. However, upon its rebuilding the city maintained its medieval architecture. I live a 10 minute tram ride from downtown and often go just for the daily farmer’s market that houses food trucks and fresh groceries from the region. It gathers around the Münster, Freiburg’s cathedral, and you can munch on a bratwurst or what I like to call a German hotdog.

a brat


Much like Hope, the University of Freiburg has diverse living arrangements for its students. I got placed in a 9 person flat in Vauban, which also happens to be the most eco-friendly neighborhood in Freiburg. All of Freiburg is very green in itself. The predominant form of transportation for people of all (and I really mean all!) ages is a bike. You also do not just throw your trash away, you separate it based on its material and this careful consideration is very instilled in the culture. Other examples include renewable energy windmills and solar panels in the majority of houses. Any way, Vauban is known as the most famous eco-neighborhood in all of Europe! Aside from living with a girl from my program, our flat houses 2 other girls and 5 guys, all of which can best be described as eccentric and incredibly patient. Right away you see the first aspect by how the flat is decorated. The walls are hand painted in wild colors, artwork hanging everywhere you look, and vegetation hanging from the ceilings. It’s something else! They are all so costumed to meeting foreigners and I’ve been intentional in forming connections with them. It’s great to have roommates that are willing to translate the simplest of things for you, like ingredients and give you insight on where to go for a trendy coffee shop.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset10380285_10152806891843083_5954890614258274545_n10369987_10152806891848083_3677574864987728033_n10635784_10152806891568083_4096850975643250020_n1458635_10152806890918083_4991836308579272042_n


What set this program apart from others for me was that it’s just for political science, international studies, and business majors (now if my posts for some reason convince you that Freiburg is the place you need to be, IES does provide programs for other majors so no worries!). All of my classes are in English and are taught by German professors in our program’s building, which I will refer to as “the center.” Depending on your level of German, you get placed in a certain level of a German class. Since I knew “nein” German before coming here, I’m in what’s ironically called German 101. With only two weeks of classes, I’m already learning so much about the EU framework and it has been pretty amazing to be surrounded by so many diverse students that share this educational passion.

It is human nature to build a community in your residence that at times you don’t often encounter new people with such different backgrounds. Being in this program hasn’t just meant meeting German residents but growing from encounters with the people in my program as well. That to me ignites a sort of wanderlust to explore the States even further. As a senior at Hope, I have a special love for my school to the point where there is mild separation anxiety creeping in. Being away for a semester, it develops into a topic of conversation with my peers. These dialogues end up in me feeling even more grateful for my school, it’s location, and the relationships that I’ve made along the way. I’m a firm believer that you need to leave your comfort zone and venture into the wilderness of your intuition in order to discover yourself further. One thing I’ve been reminded of by this action is that I picked the right college for my undergrad, as cheesy as it sounds – that is so comforting!

Every day there is a new discovery in this city, whether it’s a new favorite word or shop, and I’m excited for what is to come.

Prost to one month in my new home!