Semester Abroad in Cáceres, Spain (x2)

This was taken right outside the cathedral in Sevilla! Joi (left) Maggie (right)

by Joi Latson and Maggie O’Brien

Has anyone ever done a joint blog post? If not, we are honored to be the first!

My name is Joi Latson and I am studying Global Resource Systems with a double major in Spanish.

Hola! My name is Maggie O’Brien, and I am a sophomore studying psychology and Spanish with a minor in biology.

We have both spent the past semester studying at the University of Extremadura in Cáceres, Spain.  We didn’t know each other before coming, but are lucky to have met and become good friends in just a few months!

Cáceres is a city located in the community of Extremadura in southwestern Spain. Besides just being a really pretty old town with roman, gothic, and Islamic architecture, we have found that it is also a great place to live if you want to learn and speak a lot of Spanish, especially in comparison to large cities like Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia that usually have more tourists and English speakers.

One of the coolest things about studying abroad is that even if you stay in the same town, attend the same university and classes, your experience is going to be unique to you. Even just between the two of us, we have each had completely different experiences within the same study abroad program between our individual travels, our families and our overall day-to-day lives.

Joi: This has been my first time out of the country and only my second time on an airplane. I was able to travel for two weeks prior to classes starting with some other ISU students to visit The Netherlands, France and Belgium. It is a little bit scary when you hop off a plane in a foreign country where you can’t understand the language and are confused as to what timezone you’re in/what day of the week it is.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to do some traveling before the semester (even though I was pick-pocketed in Paris and lost my phone, IDs, debit cards and money) and I would definitely recommend traveling to a new place! Just be smarter than I was and guard your valuables on metros.

My favourite trip this semester was to Italy in March! We had a long weekend so I was able to visit Rome and Florence with a friend. I consumed so much gelato, pasta and pizza that weekend and I would do it all over again if I had the chance. Florence is my favorite city I’ve seen in Europe so far! It’s less touristy than Rome, but there is still so much to do there. I didn’t find Paolo at the Trevi Fountain like Lizzie McGuire, but Nick Jonas was in Florence the same time I was so I guess that counts for something, right?

My host family has been a huge impact on my time in Europe. I am lucky to have two younger “siblings” who can bother me and teach me the hip slang that the Spanish youth use (because I’m clearly not a hip Spanish youth). My Spanish has definitely improved since I’ve been here! I’ve made countless errors, such as using the word “mierda” when I wanted to say “merienda” (look them up if you don’t know what they mean) and I will continue to make mistakes as I learn Spanish.

Hanging out at la playa in the Canary Islands for Semana Santa

Riding camels in the Sahara while on a weekend trip to Morocco: Much larger than expected and really, really like to eat grass.

Maggie: While it was not my first time traveling internationally, it was for sure the longest amount of time I had ever spent in a plane or so far from my friends and family.

Between our new classes and lifestyle, the entire first month here was a messy, wonderful overload of information. Not only was the immersion process one big Spanish lesson, but a lesson of patience as well, it takes a lot of trial and error to get the hang of our new lives here in Cáceres.

In a place like Europe, there is so much liberty to travel and make the most of your time abroad, which definitely added to the diversity of our experiences.

In addition, we still chose to spend a lot of our time in Spain, exploring different communities through class excursions and planning our own trips between members of our group. We were lucky enough to go on day-long or weekend excursions as a group and with our lovely director, Toñi, to notable historic landmarks throughout the country, like the Alhambra in southern Spain (which was absolutely incredible!!). We were also able to take advantage of long weekends and spring break to do our own traveling. One of my favorite trips was to Morocco where we got a chance to camp in the Sahara with nomads and ride camels!

Spring break in Tenerife, Islas Canarias

Joi and Maggie exploring La Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Like we said, Joi and I have had very different experiences despite studying in the same city through the same program, including our host families. I lived alone with a single woman named Inés who speaks absolutely zero English. For me, spending so much time with her at meals and just hanging out together when we were both at home, I have slowly but surely improved my Spanish communication immensely since the beginning of the program. Over the past three months she and I have laughed, shared stories, learned from one another and have come to know each other as family.

While we are sad to leave, our experience abroad has given us the opportunity to step outside our comfort zones, widen our perspective and conquer cultural and language barriers, as well as develop unique and life-long friendships with those we have come to know along the way.

Hasta luego!!

College Student Cooking: Ali’s Alfredo

by Ali Stevenson

So you think you can’t cook? Well, here’s a recipe to prove you wrong!

Craving something carb-heavy and filling? Want to impress a date? Or is noodles and Co. too far away? Look no further for an easy, recipe that will impress even your mom!

Homemade Alfredo

*Serves two really hungry people, or 3 sorta hungry people.

What you’ll need:


  • Two Pots: One large pot and one quart sized pot
  • Wooden or plastic stirring spoons. NOT metal. You should never stir a pot with anything metal.
  • A mixing bowl or 2+ cup measuring cup
  • A fork


  • 1lb box of noodles (penne, fettuccini, and bowtie are all great)
  • 1 pint of half-and-half (it is usually near the milk)
  • Garlic salt
  • 1/3 stick of butter
  • 2 or 3 forkfuls of white flour or cornstarch (if you don’t want to buy a lot, check the bulk section in HyVee; you can buy small amounts of ingredients there)


  • Chicken (three great precooked options are HyVee’s oven roasted chicken breast strips in the sandwich meat section, canned chicken breast which is near the tuna, and any leftover scraps from a rotisserie chicken)
  • Vegetable(s) like broccoli, peas, artichoke hearts, etc.
  • Dried parsley

Get Started:

  1. Start a large pot of water boiling. When the water is boiling, add half a pound (half a box) of noodles. Stir occasionally.
  2. If you are planning on adding chicken or a vegetable, now would be a good time to cook those.
  3. In a measuring cup or large bowl, add the whole pint of half-and-half and stir in the three heaping forkfuls** of flour. If you are using cornstarch use only 2 forkfuls. Make sure there are no flour clumps in the mix.
  4. Add the butter in a quart sized or bigger pot. Turn the heat on high, and wait until butter is melted. Once butter is melted take it off the heat and slowly add garlic salt. Shake a little bit in the pot, stir the butter, and smell it. Keep adding small amounts until you can clearly smell garlic (the smell shouldn’t knock you over but you shouldn’t be questioning whether it smells like garlic).
  5. Re-stir the half and half mixture to make sure the flour is evenly mixed. Turn the heat down to ¾ max and add the half-and-half mixture. Stir constantly to avoid the half-and-half burning on the bottom.
  6. This is the tricky part: Keep it on the heat until it begins to thicken, stirring constantly. It should take 5-10 minutes. Remove it from the heat when it reaches the final consistency of alfredo sauce. If in doubt, keep it on the heat a minute longer. The sauce will thicken a bit more as it cools, but its best to get it right while its hot!
  7. Pour sauce over noodles and mix. Sprinkle parmesan cheese to your liking. And if you want to get fancy, a few shakes of dried parsley makes it look restaurant ready! Enjoy!

** This is a heaping forkful:

Traveling Abroad Tips and Tricks

by Sarah Bennett

UCD, my home for six months

Hello world!  This semester I am studying abroad at University College Dublin (UCD) in Dublin, Ireland.  After spending the first half of my semester exploring Ireland, for spring break I decided to adventure out to the rest of Europe.  Having never been to Europe before, this experience has been all very new for me and taught me a lot about traveling.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way!

1. Travel with someone you trust:
Though I have done some traveling on my own in Ireland, I was extremely lucky to have the same spring break as my boyfriend, who is also studying abroad.  This made our trip a lot more enjoyable and now we have a ton of stories to share when we get home.  I have also traveled with friends from UCD and no matter who you go with, having someone else is better than traveling alone.  Overall a second person is a second set of eyes in a busy train station, an extra wallet to help keep costs down and obviously double the fun.

“Double the fun” = mirror selfies in the Palace of Versailles?

2. Eat the local food:
You may or may not like it but you’ll never know until you try.  Living in Ireland is fantastic because shepherd’s pie is one of my favorite meals and it’s one of theirs too.  In Belgium, the waffles are delicious so I would highly recommend those. Though it may feel weird, don’t be afraid to take a picture of your food.  I’ve never been one to do so but sometimes you want to remember the best meal you ate in a city (or ever).

I ate so many waffles in Brussels and honestly wish I ate more.

3. Travel light:
Only bring as much luggage as you feel comfortable lugging around for the course of your trip, especially if you’ll be walking with it a lot.  Of course, bring enough to have what you need but know that a train won’t wait while you struggle to get your suitcase up to the platform.  While packing to go, make sure to leave room for items you may pick up along the way.  Packing light is also a great way to save money on flights because while flights here are cheap, sometimes checking a bag can cost as much as your ticket!

4. Try to know a little of the local language:
If you’re learning the language it can be really exciting to use it in real life but odds are  in Europe you will go somewhere and not know the language.  I know French, which helped until I spent a week in Germany.  Though in most countries I traveled to it seems you can find someone who speaks English, you are a visitor so it’s polite to at least try.  If you put in the effort you may notice a change in the attitudes of the people around, which can make for a much more pleasant experience.  I recommend knowing how to say hello, thank you, you’re welcome, sorry and excuse me.  Even though actions have different meanings across cultures, a smile is universal so if you don’t know how to thank a waitress there is always that option!

View from the top of the Imperial Castle in Nuremberg, Germany

5. Trains are great:
In the U.S. getting around can either take a long time or be pretty expensive.  However in Europe, getting around is fairly inexpensive and easy.  There’s flying and taking a bus of course but I was surprised by the many options there are if you choose to travel by train.  Since most cities in Europe are old and pretty established, the airports can be located quite a ways outside of them (I’m looking at you Paris).  Trains can be more convenient for getting into the hearts of cities.  The other great thing about trains is you only have to get there a couple minutes early giving more time to explore before you have to leave.  The downside to traveling by train is they take a lot longer.  Planes are great if you prefer to take an hour to get somewhere rather than five or six.  However, I would highly recommend a train trip because it allows you to see more of the country you’re traveling through.  I took trains everywhere except to and from Ireland and I loved that it made me slow down and relax because once you get to a city things tend to move a lot faster and it can be easy to burn out.

6. But bring something to do on long train rides:
Sometimes trains have wifi and sometimes they don’t.  The way chance would have it, my two long (as in six hours) train rides did not so make sure to bring something to pass the time such as a book to read or a laptop so you can write a blog post.  Another thing to note is whether the area you’re sitting in is a quiet zone or not.  I brought a deck of cards but the first time we shuffled them we got a couple looks because even that was too loud for a quiet cabin.

Our train in King’s Cross Station, London!

7. Stop into souvenir stores:
Souvenir stores are loads of fun and full of the craziest things.  I personally like to pick up postcards but part of my souvenir hunt this trip is to collect a rubber duck from each place I visit.  Though the main point here is to buy something to remind you of your travels, souvenir stores can also be a place of inspiration for where in town you may want to visit next if you see something cool on a postcard.  After visiting the EU Parliament Building in Brussels, Chris and I were browsing the gift shop and noticed a couple of cool places on the postcards that we made a point to visit.

8. Write things down:
This was advice given to me by a friend who studied abroad and it was some of the best advice I got before leaving.  You’ll take a thousand pictures (not exaggerating) and though you say you’ll remember what everything is, once you get home three months later and have to show other people you may be finding it harder to remember than you thought.  Chris kept a list on his phone of everything we saw in each city and I wrote it down in a little pocket-sized journal.  I promise you won’t regret it and it’ll give you something to hold onto in the future.

9. Always carry cash:
Maybe this seems obvious but I cannot emphasize this enough.  There’s nothing more awkward than having to pay a waitress with coins because you’re short a couple euros.  Though most places will take your card, inevitably you will go somewhere that doesn’t.  We had heard that many places in Germany don’t take cards but didn’t realize how true that would be so just a head’s up for anyone going there anytime soon.

10. Most importantly make sure to enjoy it:
Everyone will say this but it’s good advice so I’ll say it too.  Take your time and make sure to do what you want to do.  There isn’t a list of things that you absolutely have to see when you go somewhere, though it may feel like it.  No matter how long you spend somewhere, there’s always more to discover so I recommend doing what you want rather than what you feel obligated to, chances are that’ll give you a better experience.  Besides if you take your time and don’t get to everything on your list that gives you a reason to go back one day!

I would say a successful trip means you spent a lot of time smiling like this!

Overall choosing to study abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Writing this blog felt impossible because there are so many experiences to share with you all.  Even though I didn’t write about Ireland much, if there were one place I would tell people to go it would be here.  There’s just too much to say about this island for one blog post.  If the opportunity ever arises to study abroad or even just to travel, I highly recommend taking it because the experience is really incredible.

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland: one of the many reasons you should go to Ireland

The 7 Phases of Preparing for the MCAT:

by Becca Lair

Hey there! So I’m pre-med, and as part of that, I’m required to take what’s called the MCAT or Medical College Admissions Test. Basically it’s a crazy difficult and 7 hour long test that determines the future of all students wishing to one day be doctors. I’m about to take it really soon, and I’m sort of freaking out about it, so I thought I would get my frustrations out and share the journey of a student preparing for the MCAT exam in the form of words and gifs. Enjoy!

Phase 1: Discovery
Me, first entering college as pre-med: What? I have to take a test? Easy, I’m good at standardized testing.
*does 30 minutes of research about the MCAT*
Me: I’m gonna die for sure.

Phase 2: Denial
Sophomore year I definitely pretended it didn’t exist. What happy times those were, except, just kidding, I was still pre-med I was taking organic chemistry.

Phase 3: Dread (and lots of money-spending)
Entering into my junior year I knew this was the year I wanted to take the MCAT, and I totally panicked as this overwhelming sense of dread washed over me. I spent hours on the AAMC website learning about the test, followed by hours on pre-med forums trying to figure out the best time to take the test and the best study tools. Finally I talked to one of Iowa State’s pre-health advisors and went to a conference at the University of Iowa medical school. There I got to talk to people who actually got into medical school and find out what made them successful on the test. This lead me to spend a small fortune on study books, eight months before I actually needed to take the test.

Phase 4: more denial
Junior year as a biology major being what it is, you kinda lose track of time. The fact that the test was still months away was too much of a cushion.

Phase 5: panic (and more money-spending)
Finally, as the test gets closer, you pick a date and location, pay the fee, and the real panic starts to set in. Goodbye friends, I’ll see you in two months!

Phase 6: despair
Face-down in a test book, cookie crumbs in your hair, what day is it again? Is this test in English? Is that the sun?

Phase 7: relief
You finished! Yay! Now to eagerly await your score…


Jessica + NZ + a campervan

by Jessica Brown

Hey, you wonderful blossoming students of Honors! I’m Jessica Brown, and I am a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at THEE Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. But who cares about the studying part, right? (Sorry Mom and Dad) I just returned from a two week hell-raising, memory-making, AMAZING road trip around the South Island of New Zealand.

My friends Joey (fellow Iowa Stater), Sam, and I flew into Christchurch and picked up our campervan, which we affectionately dubbed ‘Tammii’.

After picking up 10 pounds of cookies from the Cookie Time factory (no, I’m not kidding) and pressing play on our dope jams playlist, we headed for Lake Tekapo, which overlooks Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand.

Lucky for us, we actually got to camp underneath Mount Cook. I tried my hand at night photography, with a few shots actually turning out pretty well.

In Queenstown, which reminded me of a Colorado ski town without the snow and with a lot more adventure activities, we took a ride up the gondola to catch some amazing views of Lake Wakatipu and the city. We also indulged our inner children and raced each other down the luge, a mix between go carts and bumper cars.

One of my favorite parts of our trip, and the most nerve-wracking, was the Nevis Canyon Swing. Boasting as the world’s biggest swing, the Nevis Swing is suspended 160 meters above the valley floor, then launches you 125 kilometers per hour (77 miles per hour) through a 300 meter arc as adrenaline courses through your body. I chose this picture instead of the one of a terrified me screaming as I freefall. You’re welcome.

No matter where you go in New Zealand, you are always treated to magnificent views. As we were driving to our next destination along the coast, the sun began to set, treating us to a brilliant display of rays and various colors. We stopped 7 times on the way just to take it in.

When I left for New Zealand, my parents feared that I wouldn’t come back. I wasn’t too worried, as New Zealand doesn’t have Chick-Fil-A and I can only go so long without those nuggets, until I got to Milford Sound. A fiord situated on the west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is truly the 8th wonder of the world. It was raining on our boat ride through the sound, but it was even more breathtaking as the waterfalls cascaded down the cliffs. I love the water and even as our boat approached the Tasman Sea and the water started getting choppier, I was leaning forward, laughing and urging the captain to take any opportunity to get me soaked. He obliged, and the turned the boat so the water started coming over the sides of the boat, hitting me like walls at full force. I loved it. The captain must have too, because he invited me into his cabin, gave me his pirate hat to wear, and even let me drive the boat for a while! Once again, sorry Mom and Dad, I may never come home.

It wouldn’t be a trip in New Zealand without some hikes, right? In Fiordland, we did quite a few, with my favorite being the Lake Marian hike. The 1 ½ hour hike was well worth it when we arrived in view of the gorgeous reflective lake. Joey and I couldn’t help ourselves: we jumped in the freezing cold waters, shivering and clattering our teeth as we climbed out.

We also got the chance to kayak Doubtful Sound, which was SO COOL. I loved being right on the water, getting to see everything up close. A little blue penguin swam near us as we glided through the sound. Our guide for the day, Tony, went fishing during our lunch break and caught a very large grouper. The way I feel about this clearly shows on my face.

We loved kayaking so much we did it again in the Abel Tasman. Just a small ways out from the shore stood an island with seal pups playing in the water! Did I mention I may never leave New Zealand?

I’ve been loving my time in New Zealand. Studying abroad has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I’m so thankful to my family, friends, and all the people at Iowa State who have supported me and made this possible. Every day in New Zealand is a new adventure waiting to happen. I’ve come down with the travel bug, and here’s to hoping there’s no cure!

College Student Cooking: Kaitlin and bananas

by Kaitlin Peterson

Hello! My name is Kaitlin Peterson. I am a junior in the English Education program. Between juggling classes, work, research, and life in general, I do not tend to have a lot of spare time. Whenever I have the time, two of my favorite things to do are bake and cook!

Baking ingredients can be expensive to buy all at once, so I tend to try and use leftover ingredients that I have in the kitchen that are going to spoil soon. One ingredient I tend to have a lot of are bananas! I will buy a bunch of bananas, but they stay the proper amount of ripeness for consumption for two to three days. Usually I end up with two or three extra overripe bananas at the end of the week. Thankfully there are a ton of ways to use bananas in baking or for substitutions in regular cooking.

If you want some safer things to try out first, try using bananas as a staple in these recipes.

  • Banana bread
  • Smoothies
  • Pancakes
  • Oatmeal
  • Cookies
  • Ice Cream

However, bananas can be used as substitutes for other ingredients as well.

  • 1 banana = 1 egg
  • ½ cup banana = ½ cup butter
  • Bananas in place of yogurt or sour cream in cakes
  • Banana instead of cream cheese
  • Bananas as an oil substitute

If you are super excited to try all of these banantastic recipes, but live in the dorms, don’t worry! Depending on the dorm, you may have a kitchen on your floor. If not, then you can use the kitchen at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center! Make sure to bring your own ingredients and clean up after yourself when you are done.

Geocaching 101

by Charlie Labuzzetta

What do geocaching and Harry Potter have in common?

The term “muggle” is used by both communities to describe those who do not know about geocaching or wizardry! This post will answer your questions about geocaching so that you are no longer a muggle.

What is a geocache?

A geocache is a small container placed at specified GPS coordinates in a public place that geocachers can search for using clues from an online database. Each geocache contains a signable list of all the previous geocachers that have found it and some geocaches are large enough for tradable trinkets to be left inside.

How can I give geocaching a try?

First, you will need a free account at Then you can search either online or in the geocaching app on a smartphone for a geocache near you. There are many different types of geocaches, but the standard type will provide GPS coordinates and a few hints to help you find the geocache once you reach the coordinates. Sometimes you will need to solve a puzzle to discover the coordinates or visit multiple caches before reaching the final geocache.

When geocaching, you will need access to a device that can provide GPS coordinates. Most smartphones now have this capability and there are several free geocaching apps that are very useful. You should also bring a pencil/pen so that you can sign the log inside the geocache when you find one. Be sure to wear long pants and tennis shoes when geocaching. Sometimes, geocaches are located in the woods or even up trees. A few years ago there was a geocache on central campus about 40 feet up in one of the pine trees.

Are there geocaches at ISU or in Ames?

You may have guessed that there are geocaches on campus and in Ames! In fact, there are over 100 within 2 miles of campus. I have only found a handful, but it is an enjoyable weekend activity to grab a few friends and trek through campus on a geocache hunt. If you’d like to start out easy, try finding the geocache at the “coordinates”: GV1202 G46 M35 2004 in our very own Parks Library!

Happy Hunting! Beware of muggles.