Edinburgh Fringe Festival

EdinburghStudying abroad with ASA in Edinburgh, Scotland means you’ll get to do more than just study.  ASA offers the exciting opportunity of interning with the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival for four weeks. As an intern, you get to do all kinds of things like reading, analyzing and improving scripts; reporting on productions and writing reviews; observing rehearsals and scouting for shows to bring to other festivals; participating in educational programs and networking events; working with the press to market shows; and participating in stage-crew and event-monitoring.

http://www.academicstudiesabroad.com/programs/scotland/edinburgh

“The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and takes place every August for three weeks in Scotland’s capital city. Every year thousands of performers take to a multitude of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste. From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, musicals, operas, music, exhibitions and events.

Our story dates back to 1947, when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform at the (then newly formed) Edinburgh International Festival, an initiative created to celebrate and enrich European cultural life in the wake of the Second World War. Not being part of the official programme of the International festival didn’t stop these performers – they just went ahead and staged their shows anyway. Year on year more and more performers followed their example and in 1959 the Festival Fringe Society was created in response to the success of this growing trend.

The Society formalised the existence of this collective of performances, provided information to artists, published the Fringe programme and created a central box office. Its constitution was written in line with the ethos that brought these theatre companies to Edinburgh back in 1947: that the Society was to take no part in vetting the festival’s programme. To this day that policy remains at the core of our festival and we’re proud to include in our programme anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.” (taken from http://www.edfringe.com/about-us)

A complete listing of all performances for the 2011 Festival this August can be found here: http://www.edfringe.com/

Study Abroad with ASA in Edinburgh, Scotland and be a part of the action!  Check out the program details at http://www.academicstudiesabroad.com/programs/scotland/edinburgh.

La Sorbonne

Eiffel_TowerASA now offers semester and year-long study abroad opportunities for those of you out there lucky enough to already be proficient in a foreign language. One such program that we are especially excited about is at La Sorbonne – Paris IV. While some programs say that they’re sending you to study at the Sorbonne, it’s really a small language school set up for study abroad students simply affiliated with the Sorbonne. ASA, however, will send you to directly enroll with French students at the Paris IV division of the oldest university in Europe.

“Paris Sorbonne University is the main inheritor of the old Sorbonne, which dates back to the 13th century. It was one of the first universities in the world. The biggest complex in France, dedicated to Literature, Languages, Civilizations, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is located on the original medieval foundations, and now extends to the Latin Quarter and to other areas in Paris.

The University has two characteristics : rich culture and tradition, with top-quality researchers, and therefore an excellent scientific reputation shown through publications and international exchanges; its concern to constantly adapt to present day social and technological changes and to encourage as many students as possible to study at Paris-Sorbonne while preparing for their future careers. The Sorbonne incites its students to think freely, to construct their own judgment, so that they can become responsible and inventive citizens who can promote dignity and peace culture.” Professor Georges Molinié, Paris-Sorbonne’s chairman (http://www.english.paris-sorbonne.fr/the-university/)

Paris, whose influence upon French culture is enormous, is the ideal city in which to learn and perfect French. Students have the options of home-stays with families and an excellent program of cultural activities in classical theatre, music, and dance, as well as excursions to the Loire Valley and Mont Saint Michel.

Money abroad

MoneyWhen traveling, one of the biggest problems that you can have is to not be able to access money or use your credit cards.  Traveler’s checks can be expensive and difficult to cash, but it takes careful planning to be able to take advantage of the convenience of ATMs and credit cards when you go abroad.  Most ATMs will accept your debit card, but your home bank may charge you an exorbitant fee to use it and will most likely cap your daily withdrawal allowance.   Because the rest of the world is so accustomed to the chip and pin system, our American credit cards do not always work.

When reading this week’s article in the New York Times I was fondly reminded of all the times I had to wait in long lines at train stations to buy my tickets because I didn’t have a chip and pin credit card to use at a ticketing kiosk; and the time I had to mail a friend cash because my bank wouldn’t let me withdrawal enough money to cover what I owed him before we parted ways. Amazingly it made it to him. I’ve learned a lot of lessons on the road and here are a few quick tips I’d like to share to help ease your money troubles as you explore the world:

  1. Call your bank to find out how much the fee is for using foreign ATMs.  Credit Unions usually do not charge fees, even abroad, and if they do, it’s only roughly $1.00.  I’d recommend if you can, opening a credit union account and using it while abroad!
  2. While you have your bank on the phone, ask what their daily cap in USD is on ATM withdrawals.
  3. Call your credit card companies or look into your user agreements to find out what their foreign transaction fees are.  Most of mine are 3%.  Capital One’s Venture Card has no foreign transaction fee.  I’d recommend applying today!
  4. While you have your credit card company on the phone, let them know where you’re traveling to and when.  Nothing worse than having your accounts frozen due to ‘suspicious activity’!
  5. Leave your American Express card at home.  With its high fees to vendors, it’s not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard.
  6. If you need to wire money for any reason, to avoid the fees which can add up quickly between the sending and accepting institutions, ask the recipient if Paypal might be possible or use your Credit Union account.  Credit Unions either won’t charge you a fee or will charge you a set fee and not a percentage of the wired amount to send or receive wires, allowing you to eliminate or lower at least one set of fees.
  7. To avoid issues with credit cards or extra fees, use cash whenever possible, as the article says – “Cash is king!”

Machu Picchu

Machu_PicchuThis year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu, an important Peruvian tourist attraction that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Revealed to the outside world in 1911 by US historian Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu has been a source of wonder ever since. Even today as anthropologists continue to research this sacred ground, lingering questions remain about the ancient city and its relevance to Inca history. It’s no surprise that hundreds of thousands of intrigued travelers visit Machu Picchu every year to see for themselves what the world is talking about.

ASA hosts two study abroad programs in Peru – one in the capital metropolis of Lima and one in the mountain city of Cuzco, only a short trip from the infamous “Lost City of the Incas” that is Machu Picchu. As ASA continues to further develop these programs we constantly wonder how we can improve how our students understand both the historic and present cultures of Peru. Whether you are studying culinary arts in Lima, or beginning your journey of learning the Spanish language in beautiful Cuzco, a trip to Machu Picchu is a must. Don’t be turned off by the tourist chatter – Machu Picchu lives up to the hype it creates. Breath-taking and awe-inspiring, you won’t regret your train ride or trek to the most important symbol of the Inca Empire. It will remind you why you were inclined to study in Peru in the first place – it is a magical place with so much to offer for whatever experience you’re interested in pursuing. Between the bustling cities and serene mountain towns, you’ll never go hungry for cultural stimulation. Oh yeah, and the ceviche isn’t bad either!

Follow the Los Angeles Times Travel section as it releases 1 fact a day to reach 100 facts about Machu Picchu 100 years after its discovery:

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/01/news/la-trb-machu-picchu-fact78-20110623

Biking It

Bikes_of_OxfordMost of our study abroad locations offer bike friendly cities which can present many fun and exciting opportunities and give freedom to those of you who fear you’ll miss your wheels living away from home. While studying in France I rented a bike for a full month for the equivalent of $16 USD. Although prices may have gone up over the years, renting a bike can still be very affordable and will allow you to explore your host city from a completely different perspective. It will also give you the means to get out and away from the city center and, in some cases, into the country side or up into the mountains.

Another positive that I personally saw in my $16 investment was the workout. Since gyms are not always as available as they tend to be in the US, riding a bike to and from campus can be a great way to get exercise or, in my case, to work off some of the extra pounds that eating a different diet can pack on. If you’re living with a host family, be sure to discuss where you will keep the bike before you come home with it. If you’re living in an apartment or dormitory, be sure there is a secure place to lock it up at night.

You can also rent a bike one day or one week at a time and bigger cities offer loads of options. The next time I’m on London, I think I’ll try one of these on for size: http://www.bbc.com/travel/blog/20110622-rent-an-electric-bike-in-london. Ride safe!

“Viña/Valpo” – Twin Cities of the Chilean Coast

abroad3I just got back from a site visit to a few of our ASA locations in South America. Part of my trip led me to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, sister cities located about an hour and a half from Santiago, Chile. I had never been to Chile, but “Viña/Valpo”, as they call it, was a nice place to start. I never really understood why the cities were referred to in the same breath, but now I do – they sit right next to each other, and they really complement each other well.  They are kind of like fraternal twins. Let me explain:

“Viña” is modern. She reads up on the latest trends – is very into fashion and always is trying new restaurants that open up. She studies Nutrition and has begun writing her thesis, which may turn into a book. After studying all week at her favorite spot in the park, she spends weekends at the beach catching rays with her friends. She stays in shape by surfing early mornings before class, and running along the boardwalk as the sunsets.

“Valpo” is vintage. She’s artistic – she’s into photography and she paints and has recently gotten into street art, which is a more respectful and well-intentioned version of graffiti. She studies Social Work and volunteers at a homeless shelter. She gets her studying done in local cafes, and on the weekends she and her friends gather for jam sessions in their favorite local square. She likes to ski in the winter months, and walking up the hills of her neighborhood keeps her in shape during the summer.

However, since they are sisters, they still have a lot in common. They get together a couple nights each week to enjoy some vino tinto or a pisco sour and catch up on the latest news. They cruise artisan markets and catch concerts when there’s a good show in town. They both work hard at their studies but know when it’s time to relax and enjoy good company and good scenery.

Viña del Mar and Valparaiso has something for everyone, no matter where your interests lie. ASA’s program at Universidad Viña del Mar is a great option for any student who wants to learn Spanish, likes medium sized cities, and is interested in dynamic culture. With opportunities to volunteer in the community, there are even more ways to get to know this city and its people, who are as warm and welcoming as they come.  Don’t miss out on the chance to study in Chile’s preferred destination for college students – you won’t regret your semester abroad with ASA!

Festivals of England

BigbenLondon is one of the most international cities in the world, which makes it a great destination to explore and enjoy not only the culture of Great Britain, but also what the rest of the world has to offer. London hosts almost 70 festivals a year, each with a different flare and spice. Even more festivals are organized across England, so there are plenty of good excuses to get out of the big city for a day or two.

If live music is your thing, the Glastonbury Festival held in June is an event that is not to be missed.Glastonbury is located in the beautiful southwestern county of Somerset, characterized by picturesque English villages and farmland that stretches as far as the eye can see.  International superstars young and old grace the stages of this festival, and also many up and coming acts that are surely to gain worldwide popularity thanks to their performances in this famous concert. It began as a hippie-inspired event in 1970. It still continues to carry the free festival vibe, while fans enjoy eclectic and diverse sounds from all genres. This year performances were given by U2, Coldplay, Beyonce, B.B. King, Paul Simon, Wu-Tang Clan, Radiohead, Mumford and Sons, The Chemical Brothers, Queens of the Stoneage and more.

You have most likely heard of “Carnival” festivals in Brazil in February to celebrate the beginning of Lent. However, did you know that London celebrates Carnival as well? The Notting Hill Carnival is in August but the fiesta is quite similar to those held in other parts of the world. The celebration began in the early 1960’s as a way to unite Londoners of all backgrounds, mainly organized by the Trinidadian and Tobagonian British in London. It has since grown into a very popular celebration of the diverse cultural landscape of London. Although there has been some violence in the past at this event, it is now generally a very safe and fun way to expose oneself to unique experiences within a new and distinct culture while studying abroad. This year they expect that 1 million people will visit theNotting Hill Carnival to enjoy a party with decades of tradition.

Other English festivals include: Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling, Battersea Beer Festival, Birmingham International Jazz Festival, Brick Lane Festival, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Cambridge Folk Festival, London Pride, and the list goes on and on.

Street Vendors

A couple of photographers heading into a crowd at jazz street festivalMy favorite souvenir from my time abroad is a silver ring I bought from a street vendor in Pisa.  It’s a bendy snake-like ring that has so far survived 10 years of bending, twisting and daily wear.  It’s a funky piece that reminds me every day of the adventures I had while backpacking through Europe.   As you traverse the streets of your new found home abroad and nearby cities, you may find that street vendors can be quite pushy.  While backpacking I quickly learned to keep my hands in my pockets, my mouth shut, and to avoid eye contact when passing through the touristy parts of towns.  I also quickly learned, however, that these same street vendors can offer souvenirs that you will never find elsewhere and knowing how to act in these crazy areas can mean the difference between getting a great bargain and finding yourself the proud owner of some very expensive junk.   Navigating pushy street vendors takes some know-how and this article gives some great advice on how to avoid the uncomfortable situations that can arise: http://www.frommers.com/articles/7487.html