Sydni, from our SPEA on the Rhine program, writes about the decidedly un-exotic O’Hare Airport. Emma, participating in SPEA in Croatia, writes about a searing museum experience. Brandi describes highlights of SPEA in the Caribbean journey to Bonaire.

Scenes from the Chicago O’Hare International Terminal

– Sydni – SPEA on the Rhine

“Over the next few hours, I chatted with the Irish woman and a young Scottish man who had spent the last year studying abroad at the University of Iowa. They discussed their fondest memories of their home countries as well as Americans’ perceptions of Scotland and Ireland that they found mutually amusing as I listened. ‘How did your mother feel about you moving to America?’ the woman eventually asked the young man. ‘We Skype every weekend,’ he laughed. ‘She told me that was the only way she would let me go.’ It was then that I realized that everyone on the plane with me had someone they had left behind in their travels. And as I listened to the Scottish man discuss his studies in engineering and his eagerness to return home, it was clear to me that what we all hope is that the journey – whether to work, school, or vacation – is big enough and important enough that we find meaning in our absence and, upon our return, find ourselves changed. I put in my headphones and switched on an in-flight movie, finally excited for the journey ahead.”

Dealing with War and Genocide in the Balkans

– Emma – SPEA in Croatia

“The War Photography Museum made everyone emotional and contemplative. Seeing images of fellow human beings in such distress and seeing beautiful landmarks and buildings so senselessly destroyed takes a toll on you. Talking to locals from Dubrovnik who were in the city during the siege all detailed how impossibly tough of a time it was, but all echoed the sentiment that those in Bosnia had it much, much worse. And those who had it the worst in Bosnia were the Muslim Bosniaks in Srebrenica – a UN ‘safe zone’ that was essentially abandoned and that became the site of the worst crime on European soil since WWII. More than 8,000 Muslims, mostly boys and men – from the ages of 1 day old to 98 years old – were massacred by the Bosnian Serb Army in the name of ethnic cleansing.”


– Brandi – SPEA in the Caribbean

“As dusk was approaching, we all gathered back together to BBQ ribs and chicken. We stayed watching the sunset as it turned into a starry sky. One by one, we watched a new star or constellation appear. We were even fortunate enough to see Mars and Jupiter! We sat at the edge of the ocean listening to the waves crash in, and truly getting to know one another. Without the presence of the Internet and cell phones, I felt like the conversations were longer and the topics got deeper. We were present. Living in the moment, enjoying the location and who we were with. This was my favorite night on the trip because I could not ignore the intense feeling of being in the moment. I could not ignore how fortunate I was to be under the stars watching the waves crash in by moonlight – I want to implement this notion when I get back into my daily life; ignore the urges to turn on a Netflix episode or check my news feed, and go outside instead to appreciate my surroundings and well-being. For those planning on studying abroad, take advantage of the disconnect you have from your daily life and breathe in everything around you. Few things feel as liberating as leaving your phone or worries on your pillow from time to time, and going out to explore the world … Let your abroad experience be a time to fill your soul with gratitude, happiness, and learning.”