Rafael Almanzar studied abroad in Greece during the Winter session. He has since graduated from Lehman and is currently pursuing his Masters degree at New York University in Bilingual School Counseling.
To be able to witness what I have only seen and read in textbooks and on television has become a phenomenal and life changing experience for me. On my final semester at Lehman College, I learned about the possibility of studying abroad for the winter session. I was always under the impression that only wealthy students could afford to study abroad. Greece is a country that I had had an interest in because of its ancient and rich history. I had also enjoyed reading Greek mythologies. Determined to take advantage of this amazing opportunity, I applied for the STOCS (Study/Travel Opportunities for CUNY Students) Scholarship. I was honored to be the only Lehman student, at that time, to receive the max STOCS award. Receiving the STOCS scholarship was a tremendous support for me because it paid for half the cost of my study abroad.
In January, I flew to Athens, Greece. The course I took, called Quest for your Ithaca, was held at the University of Indianapolis in Athens. It was a course on Greek history and culture. Professor Constance Tagopoulos was incredible. After the lectures, she would take the class on field trips, museum visits, and plays. We also had the opportunity to visit some of the Greek islands such as Crete and Hydra. The cultural excursions gave my fellow classmates and me the opportunity to see the sites that we had discussed in class.
Soon after my study abroad experience, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology with a Psychology minor. I am currently working for the S.E.E.K (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) program at Lehman and I am also a M.A. candidate at New York University in Bilingual School Counseling. I would ultimately love to work for the Board of Education as a School Counselor. The New York city schools are full of students from diverse cultures and backgrounds; going to Greece gave me a taste of what to expect in my career. I encourage all undergraduates to consider studying abroad. My experience in Greece was truly unforgettable and I have many fond memories that will last a lifetime. I thank the Study Abroad Office for all their help and support.
Esmeralda studied abroad in Paris through the Paris/CUNY exchange program for one academic year. The following article is an excerpt from the Lehman Study Abroad Newsletter.
"Esmeralda’s Séjour à Paris"
Most students find the idea of studying abroad rather intimidating. Despite the feeling of nervousness or anxiety that may accompany such a decision, Esmeralda Frias, a Lehman undergraduate student who studied in Paris for a year, did not let her fears stop her from spending her academic year in France. Soon after her first two months in Paris, Esmeralda, who intended to study in Paris for only one semester, opted to stay the year in order to improve her French. She shared her impressions of France, the educational system, and anecdotes about her travels.
Esmeralda began taking French courses at Lehman and felt that she could improve her language skills by participating in the Paris/CUNY exchange program. “I thought that studying abroad in Paris would be a great opportunity to travel and practice my French.” Students are required to complete three semesters of French language courses before they can participate on the program. As is the case for all Lehman students who participate in the program, language skills greatly improve. “I have now been living in Paris for 6 months and I feel that my French skills have improved a lot.”
Esmeralda talks about her impression of the French educational system, which she finds different from that of the United States. “You will most likely not get a syllabus or an academic calendar, but the professors are very helpful…” She also adds that while the classroom experience will vary from professor to professor, you should “enjoy the ride!”
Another great aspect of studying abroad, especially in Europe, is that students can easily travel to other countries at very inexpensive rates. Many students like Esmeralda, take advantage of their study abroad experience and explore other countries during their vacations and even weekends. Esmeralda notes, “Traveling is really cheap but you have to do a little research.” During her stay in Paris she traveled to numerous cities in Spain and Italy and “in 3 weeks, I’m on my way to Dublin, Ireland. I found a flight for 11 Euros ($15)! I just had to buy it.”
When asked about her overall experience in Paris, her response was “Life in Paris is GREAT! The French have a very different lifestyle, but it’s not that hard to adjust.” She adds “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so dive into the culture. Eat French food, listen to French music, and make friends!”
For more information regarding the Paris/CUNY exchange contact the Paris/CUNY Director: Dr. Maxine Fisher at Maxine_Fisher@qc.edu, or Emmanuel Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher studied abroad in Florence, Italy through the College of Staten Island during the summer session. Below, Christopher shares his thoughts about different aspects of his study abroad experience.
"La Mia Mezza in Italia"
Thoughts about Italy before studying abroad
I thought my idea of studying abroad in Italy for a month was great. I imagined that there would be great food, great scenery, and I looked forward to having a great time in another country. At this time, I had never left America and was anxious to see what it would be like to live in another country – especially one where English is not the official language. My Italian was at an intermediate level as I had taken Italian in two previous semesters, but my comprehension and pronunciation was terrible.
Florence is a small town located in the heart of central Italy. It is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian renaissance and it is home to some of the world's greatest artists and inventors. Two worlds come together in Florence, the old and the modern. The narrow driveways, architecture, and cobblestone streets are reminiscent of the renaissance, while the many restaurants, bars, cafes, and stores remind me of a modern ever changing world. It was easy to walk everywhere, although it took me a while to understand the addresses and where the street names were located. There was also plenty of art everywhere. I couldn’t turn around without seeing someone selling paintings or drawings on the sidewalk.
We had a few choices to select from, including off-campus apartments, dorm-style rooms and hostel accommodations. When I arrived, I stayed at the PLUS Florence hostel, which was walking distance from my school and del Duomo. The hostel had a friendly staff who aimed to please, a basement bar that also served food, and a nice swimming pool with a steaming sauna. My room had internet access, private bathroom, TV, and a small kitchen where I would cook some of my many delicious meals. Many of the students that lived in the apartments were American students from all areas of the United States, but the PLUS Florence visitors were mostly tourists from all over the world.
The classes that I took were mainly taught in English, with the exception of the Italian language classes where the instructor interchanged between English and Italian. My professors were fun and engaging. They had a more interactive style of teaching. On nice days, my class would take place on the school’s patio. We were allowed to drink coffee and eat small meals during class! There were excursions at least every week; some were mandatory and some were optional. There were also daily homework assignments and weekly quizzes, which were fun and encouraged us to better understand Italian culture and strengthen our Italian language skills. My group felt well prepared for the quizzes and class assignments. It was very different compared to classes taught in America.
The excursions were both educational and fun, some of which included: museum visits, a lemon tree garden, a Gelateria where we got to see how gelatos were made, a boat ride down the Arno river, and a traditional Florentine soccer match. We also had the opportunity to help Italian students with their English. The professor who led the excursions was cool and explained everything in both Italian and English.
I studied abroad for an entire month in Italy and then traveled around Europe for another month before I went home. During my study abroad program, I traveled to Rome, the Vatican City, Pisa, Livorno, Naples, Milan, and all over Florence. I was able to travel around by train, which wasn’t too far from Florence. After the program ended, I traveled a span of eleven countries, including France, Monaco, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Czech Republic, Austria, Ireland, and England. I scheduled a bus tour that picked me up at PLUS Florence and then dropped me off at different hostels during my travels. Since many of the European countries are a short distance from each other, the bus rides weren’t too long. I was able to meet and befriend many Australians, Canadians, Koreans, Europeans, and other Americans during the trip, and have a lot of interesting stories that happened to me along the way. Out of all the cities I have been to, I have seen some of the most beautiful scenery and tasted some of the best food in Florence.
Tips and Advice before studying abroad
- Prepare in advance! It is very important to do everything months before you leave.
- Make sure to have your passport on you at all times, because you will never know when you might need it.
- Although many of the European cities are generally safe, always be aware of what is going on around you.
- Always take out more than what you need out of the ATM. Most bankcards will charge an extra fee because you are converting currency, or using a Foreign ATM. If possible, try to use your debit/credit card instead.
- Only go to an exchange market if you don’t have any use for your remaining currency. They will often give you a bad exchange rate and then charge you for using their services.
- If you are planning to travel beyond your home stay, consider getting a Eurail pass, or look into bus tours. You can save a lot of money and still get to see places at reduced prices.
- It is very important to set a daily budget, and not overspend! If you happen to overspend on one day, subtract the additional costs into your tomorrow’s limit to balance the lost.
- Pack lightly and try not to bring things that you don’t need.
- Most importantly – Loosen up and have fun!
Christopher studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia during the summer session through AIFS' international studies program. Below, Christopher talks about his experience in Russia.
How big was the city or town?
The city of St. Petersburg has an approximate population of 5 million people making St Petersburg the second largest city in Russia. The biggest Russian City is of course the capital, Moscow. Moscow may be the capital of Russia, but St. Petersburg has long been considered Russia’s cultural capital. These two monumental cities jointly define this vast land, but St. Petersburg is perhaps one of the world’s mostbeautiful cities.
Were there different things to do?
There is always something to do in St. Petersburg especially during the summer months. There are so many historical sights in St Petersburg that anyone can enjoy. It is incredible to witness fascinating and varying types of architecture that decorate this city. One can always tour the many museums, cathedrals, historic landmarks, and palaces that border the city. Being a cultural capital St. Petersburg always has fine ballets, musical performances, and art to offer. Summer nightlife can be very active as the sun on cloudless nights sets way past midnight. St. Petersburg is quite far north and so during the summer months the people can enjoy much longer periods of sunlight, a stark contrast to the long winter months. These sunlit nights, known as white nights, seem to energize the people and so one can enjoy strolling about the city even late at night. There are also many restaurants, cafes, and stores.
Was it easy to get around?
St. Petersburg has an amazing subway system. The trains may shut down at midnight but they run incredibly fast and are always on time. They connect you to all parts of the city and the metro fares are quite inexpensive. There are also tramway cars, and several buses that can take you outside the city. The people in St. Petersburg can be very friendly and helpful and generally appreciate anyone learning and participating in their language.
How often were the classes?
Every student in my program had two periods of the same language class everyday except Fridays. Students could also take elective classes such as Russian history, art, and literature. Elective classes met three times a week.
Were the classes with American, International, or Native students?
My particular program offered only classes with other program participants. The participants of this program are generally only American, but students from other countries may also apply to this program. At the St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University however, there were other programs and students that were mixed with native students and international students.
What kinds of projects or exams did you have in your class?
Our language class was much like a language class at Lehman. These classes were comprised of grammar lessons, and other sessions more heavily focused on reading and writing. The classes were small and each student had time to converse with and identify with the teacher. We had to prepare certain drills for homework and we had several small tests.
Did you have any field trips?
I had nearly two field trips and or excursions every week. We toured many museums, and cathedrals and took bus rides to palaces outside the city limit. We also were able to see a ballet at the Marinsky Theatre, and see a traditional Russian orchestra performance. Students in the elective classes also went on different smaller field trips relevant to their classes. The many excursions and day trips were all fascinating and wonderful experiences.
Were the classes taught in English or Native Language?
Upon arrival a placement test is given. The language classes are primarily taught in Russian, but the lower the language level the more English is used.
I had a little more than 5 weeks in Russia. The greatest portion of my time was spent in St. Petersburg. Our program also allowed us to stay in Moscow for 3 days and we also had a whole day trip to Novgorod (Russia’s most ancient city). We traveled to Moscow on a fast train, and to Novgorod by private bus. In addition to these excursions we had 3 days in London before arriving in Russia, and one more day in London when returning back home.
The food was one my favorite things about Russia. The food was entirely unique to American food. Russian is a vast land that combines many traditions. Russian identity is the consolidation of many unlike things. Russian food is vast, extensive, and delicious. A traditional meal would have to involve borsch a dark colored soup usually served cold. Borsch is a beet stew that is served with dollops of sour cream. There are many variations to this hearty stew that are delicious. Another traditional soup is shchi, a cabbage soup. There is also blini, which are Russian style crepes that can be filled with practically anything, but are generally stuffed with caviar or sour cream. There is also Kvas, a fermented bread cider drink that is strong but very sweet. St Petersburg is where the rich and filling beef stroganoff was first created, and is also a great place to sample other traditional dishes like chicken-Kiev. There is also Kefir, a type of yogurt drink that can be flavored or plain. The list of great Russian foods goes on but interestingly enough I perhaps miss most a particular type of shawarma, which is a pita bread stuffed with lamb meat inside. Shawarma is available in New York, but the shawarma I tasted in Russia was entirely unique perhaps following a caucus recipe. Russian sweets such as chocolate are abundant and delicious as well.
I was fortunate enough to be housed on campus in the international dormitory. This dormitory was in a different part of the same building where classes are held. The dorm rooms were small but cozy. There were two bedrooms with four beds in total, and a small kitchen in-between the two bedrooms. There was also a shower and bathroom.
If you have the opportunity to study abroad you most certainly should. It is a great opportunity that you will remember for the rest of your life. It is amazing to experience another culture and be able to become absorbed in its language, art, history, food, and very way of life.
Giovanni participated in the Summer in Crete program sponsored by Lehman College. Below, he shares his experience and notes some tips and recommendations for students interested in studying abroad through our program.
According to history, Crete it is the second largest island in all of Greece. It is located on the Southern part of the Aegean Sea. The upper part of Crete is Europe; the bottom part is Africa; and to the right side is Asia. But as a student studying on this island it seems much smaller. Smaller because of the warmth you experience from its inhabitants, the location, and the scenic surroundings that seem to kiss you the moment you step out of your hotel room.
There are many sites to see and explore on this island. The best aspect of my experience was the fact that because you are learning as you go along, you are your own personal tour guide. As a student abroad you get to explore places that normal tourists would not discover nor get to know. With map in hand and a wing man by your side, it is very easy to travel and move from point A to point B. What was exciting about being a wing man was that you got to learn your way around the highways, towns, and how to read the road signs. And if all failed, and you needed assistance from the locals, they all seemed to want to extend a helping hand to anyone in need.
My favorite aspect of my trip and what I miss the most about Crete is the scenery that greeted me every morning when I woke up to meditate on the porch. The unrealistic, dreamlike, jaw dropping scenery was comprised of majestic mountains, the sun rising in the east, the color formation of the houses, and the landscape that opened up before me as the day was greeted by the cool breeze and warming sun. The sunsets were equally magical. The weather was in the low 80’s every single day and we only experienced one day of rain on one of our trips on a mountaintop. While the experience was a bit scary for a city boy like me, it felt as if Zeus was finally giving his visitors water to quench their thirst. We were on the way to the place that Greek mythology as places the birth of Zeus. Everywhere we went we saw olive, grapes, and tomato orchids. Goats and sheep were commonplace to the mountainside. Everywhere you went was a perfect picture waiting to be taken, because not one spot of this island is without beauty.
Everyday we went to a site like Almyros. Kato Syme, Kato Zackros, Knossos, Malatos Cave, Malia, Myrtro Pyrogos, Palaikastros, and Phaestos, The cave of Zeus and the birthplace of Aphrodietes were other places that we were able to travel to. Because classes were held on the sites we were able to take in not only the knowledge we got from the text (required for the course). But as students, we were able to comprehend the lesson visually and orally. But the most important part of the lessons was not given during school hours. They were given at night as we gathered together and got treated to Greek Mythology by Prof. Marianetti. Since we all received Greek God names, we would start with the story of the Greek God, (for example my Greek God name was Dionysius God of wine and love), and go from there. As a group, we were also able to explore the towns and sites on our spare time.
Classes were held on site as students were selected to do presentations about the locations before and after the exploration of the place. Lectures were held mid afternoon after we returned from the site and some classes were held in the early evening. Other classes and presentations were also held in the hotels or villas that we stayed at.
There were two classes held on our study abroad trip but I took the Archaeology class along with another ten students. Every class included two presentations that were given by students on the site, or a book reading that was due on a particular assigned day. What made the lessons so easy to follow and absorb was the fact that whatever the students were going to present on their given day, was covered that same day or on the following day. Any unanswered questions could be resolved easily enough the following day on the site. Professors Marie Marianetti and Yuri Gorokhovich, both experts in their respective fields, led the program. Marie is a native of Greece and is very knowledgeable about not only Cretan but also Greek society and culture.
While we didn’t take any excursions or trips on our own, we had the opportunity to experience many beaches and sites as we traveled to and from sites.
The quality of the food was like no other. The fish, the feta cheese, cultural dishes, and the wine were exceptional. The people were so humble, the skeptical New Yorker in me, always felt that they were giving me something to receive something in return, but that was never the case. The people extended their hearts, culture, homes, and food so openly even after all this time still feel home sick for the island that I fell in love with.
We traveled to the different parts of the island because we stayed at different locations from a standard hotel to a private villa [just for our group], we experienced everything from a local fishing village to a tourist town. It all worked in our favor, to the favor of the students, because there was always something new to discover.
I wish I had known we were not going to have free time or have a weekend to do some independent excursion. While it was amazing spending all my time with the other students and professors it would have been great to see the professors have alone time for themselves, allowing students to maybe go away for a day alone or with a fellow student without feeling as if I were in class. It would have been great to have the freedom to travel on our own for a day trip.
When it comes to packing, pack very light. Take every tip that the professors give you. A hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, rock climbing sneakers or sandals with proper grips are recommended. Always carry a bathing suit because you will go to the beach every day while you are there. Be prepared to let your mouth drop at every turn. Remain open to new experiences. Be open to laugh openly, cry openly, and form a family without even trying. Buy yourself a camera and never stop taking pictures they will remind you of this unforgettable experience.
Plus, there is no way you would not want to share this experience with your home school, fellow students when you get back, family, and friends.
If you never traveled before ask questions at the orientation meetings. No question is too small to have answered. Remain open to possibilities. Remain open to new adventures. Remain open to be guided by those more experienced than you. And never be to shy to ask for help or assistance from your fellow students or professors—after all you will become a family FOREVER1
Last modified: Feb 15, 2012