Things You Must Know Before Going to Vienna

Welcome to my most favorite European capital – Vienna! It is the only capital I keep on coming back and still fall in love with every time. How could I not? It is dubbed as the City of Classical Music where Mozart, Strauss I, Strauss II, Brahms, Schubert, Haydn, and Beethoven reigned. It is where the world’s most famous ball, the annual Opera Ball, is held. It is known as the City of Dreams where Sigmund Freud, the world’s first pyschoanalyst, was born. Vienna is synonymous to Baroque and Rococo architectural styles, as well as unique designs of the likes of Hundertwasser. It is the perfect mixture of the rich imperial Vienna as well as its modern and stylish version.

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To properly introduce you to The Imperial City, I made a list of the Things You Must Know Before Going to Vienna. For sure, there is a lot of information to be found over the Internet over the capital, but I am highlighting here the most important details I think that travelers have to know beforehand to have a more enjoyable and enriching experience.

Pronounce the capital’s name properly

The national language is Austrian-German and the local name of Vienna is Wien. To pronounce it correctly, simply exchange “W” in to “V” and read the rest /veen/.

Know how to get around

Vienna has a very extensive public transportation system including subways (U-bahn), city trains (S-bahn), trams, and buses. If you would like to explore the city through public transport (and I highly recommend that you do), I suggest getting a ticket suitable for your needs instead of buying a single ticket every time. For instance, a 24-hour Vienna ticket is valid to almost all-public transport within Vienna for only 15.40 Euros.

Be prepared to walk! I used to think I love walking back home, but I am challenged here in Europe. Stretch and prepare those feet of yours.

TIP: You are allowed to bring your bicycles and pets (usually dogs) in the trains. Also, wear your most comfortable footwear.

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Vienna’s Main Train Station

Standard and cost of living

Vienna is either the first or second most livable city in the world, depending on various international studies ranking different factors such as safety, healthcare, education, and infrastructure. It is also the capital of the one of the world’s richest countries. At first, I find living in Vienna expensive compared to its Eastern neighbors, but compared to 100 cities in Europe, Vienna only falls #37 in Expatistan’s Cost of Living Index. It is 35% more expensive to live in Vienna than Manila, but 45% cheaper than living in Zurich.

Get discounts for students

Almost everything is discounted for youth, students, and senior citizens. Just don’t forget to bring your appropriate identification card.

Access free public WLAN in key places

I did not appreciate it before, but when I travel outside Vienna and Austria, I feel disappointed to note that many European cities do not have available, strong, and free WiFi. For travelers who want to check maps or hotel bookings, bloggers who want to post a quick entry, or social media rockstars who want to update their followers, this information is really important.

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Strong free WLAN at Stephansdom

Coffee lovers, rejoice!

Coffee is more than just a liquid to start the day for Austrians; it is part of their heritage. Vienna is known for its coffee house culture, which originated in 17th century. It became a huge and important part of Vienna and Austria that in 2011 UNESCO listed it as “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Go out and try the traditional but pricey coffee houses where even Mozart, Schubert, and even Hitler frequented.

TIP: My favorite is Café Central.

Classical music and opera fans, rejoice too!

There are year-round Mozart and Strauss concerts offered in Vienna. As for the State Opera, it offers 50 to 60 operas, 10 ballet productions, and 300+ performances every year.

Mind the stores opening and closing hours

Most places in Vienna still follow the traditional working hours of 0900-1800. The evening off is an important freedom for Austrians. Also, stores and many establishments are closed during Sundays and holidays. This information must be kept in memory when traveling to Vienna. I didn’t know this before and ended up with nothing to get my necessities from since the supermarkets are already closed.

TIP: Spar is usually opened late (around 2000) in Hauptbahnhof and Landstrasse

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Spend (or not) at these shopping haven

Go to Kärntnerstraße and walk along the most famous shopping street in Central Vienna. Do not forget to go to the exclusive Graben for luxury shopping. Also, many shops can also be found along Mariahilferstraße and main trains stations.

TIP: Although not in Vienna, Parndorf is the nearest luxury outlet store located in the boundary of Austria and Slovakia. 

No stress for vegetarians and vegans

There are a lot of food options for vegetarians and vegans in Vienna. From supermarkets, restaurants, ice cream salons, the list is endless!

Beware of carbonated water!

Back home, it is not usual to drink carbonated water. Apparently, Austrians love drinking this. Imagine my surprise when I accidentally bought sparkling water from the supermarket. If you are also not a fan, stay clear of this type.

TIP: If you are buying bottled water, look for “still” or “ohne”. The ones with gas are usually labeled with “prickld” or “mild”.

But drink tap water!

Vienna and the entire country have excellent, potable and clean tap water. You can drink straight from the tap and from many drinking fountains around the city.

TIP: Bring a drinking bottle so you can easily refill it later during your trip.

However, do not order tap water!

When you are in restaurants, it is generally considered rude to order tap water in Austria. For a country with an extreme high quality of tap water straight from the Alps, this may sound weird. I still don’t know why this is practiced, but ordered tap water is usually charged (except in traditional cafés), so why bother.

TIP: I see many tourists do this, but it is also rude to drink outside beverages while inside a restaurant.

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Recommended food to try

Wiener Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel, Sacher Torte, Kaiserschmarrn, Käsekrainer, etc.

Recommended souvenirs

There are the regular ones – postcards, ref magnets, and t-shirts. However, I highly recommend these: Sachertorte (chocolate cake “invented” in Vienna), Manner Schnitten (Viennese Neapolitan wafers), Mirabell Mozartkugeln (chocolate ball), Freywille and Swarovski jewelry (Austrian brands), and snow globes! Yes, they seem like a typical souvenir, but you would want to get one from Vienna where the first snow globe was invented.

Prost!

Say “Prost” when you clink your glasses and don’t forget to use eye contact for sincerity and proper manner.

Be the Belle of the Ball

Waltz was introduced in Austria, so it only follows that the country/city hosts hundreds of balls in a year. This Viennese ball culture has its roots from the Congress of Vienna. When you find yourself going to Vienna between New Year’s Eve and Shrove Tuesday, you may as well try to attend at least one winter ball. You have around 200 – 400 balls to choose from: from the annual glamorous Silversterball on 31 December at Hofburg Imperial Palace to the world-famous and internationally well attended Opera Ball. Alles Walzer!

TIP: Attendance does not come cheap! From ball gowns to tails, a grand ticket festsaal at Silversterball costs 680 Euros while 25, 000 for double stage boxes at the Opera Ball!

Will you invite me?

When Viennese say they want to invite you for dinner, it means they will treat you. Likewise, when you tell that you are inviting them for dinner, then you must pay for meal. Don’t get misunderstood!

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I hope this list helps you get a better picture of the lovely city of Vienna. If you are a Filipino passport holder wishing to visit the city soon, I have written a detailed and step-by-step guide on How to Apply for Schengen Tourist Visa for Filipinos. More details on Top Places to Visit in Vienna, Free Things to Do in Vienna, among others, will soon be available at wheremonicagoes.com. Stay tuned!

DISCLAIMER: All thoughts written are my own unless stated otherwise. I do not pretend to be an expert and everything posted here are based only on my experience. The purpose of this article is to only give a brief orientation to first-time travelers in Vienna. More tips are welcome in the comments below. 

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How I Travel Cheaply Around Europe

 

A lot of people believe that since I keep on coming back to Europe, not to mention my numerous trips around Asia and the Philippines, then I have plenty, if not unlimited, financial resource to keep this lifestyle. I have corrected this misconception many times and will still answer it now. That is simply untrue. Like everyone else, I save, research, and travel wisely. My trips are always in a budget but without compromising my comfort and safety.

As of this writing, I have traveled to 22 countries. 23 if you count my numerous domestic trips in the Philippines. I know what you are thinking. How I could travel this much as a student? How could I maintain this lifestyle? In today’s post, I will share with you Where Monica Goes’ Hacks on how to Travel Cheaply Around Europe.

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1. Apply for just one visa

As a third-world passport holder, there are many countries in the world that are not easily accessible to me without a valid visa. More often than not, these visa applications require fees, which could still cut me back a couple of dollars from my travel budget. Since I love going to Europe, a Schengen visa is the way to go. Currently, there are 26 member countries and 2 candidates for accession. Just imagine paying for just one powerful visa! UK and Ireland are beautiful destinations, but if they are not yet your priorities then applying for separate visas for these two are unnecessary. For Filipinos, here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to apply for a Schengen tourist visa.

2. Maintain old friendships and create new ones

You may be wondering why this is included in this short list. In my experience, I have a lot of Filipino and foreign friends scattered around the globe. Despite the distance, we still keep in touch and promise that we will meet again someday. Well, some of my old friends are in Europe and you know what it means – free accommodation! Of course, it goes without saying that you should not keep or make friendships solely for this reason. READ: Change the Way You See Friendship.

3. Stay in a hostel, not a hotel

If you do not have friends in Europe yet or they are unavailable, save your travel funds and stay in a hostel. I understand you might have misgivings moving away from hotel accommodations you are used to, but trust my word that staying in a hostel has more rewarding experience. Pay for a €10 dorm bed in a hostel and spend the rest of your money with activities and food. READ: Top Must-try Food in Germany. Traveling cheap and in a budget does not have to be uncomfortable, you know. Hostels in Europe, from my experience, are cool and safe even for single and female travelers. Why pay for an expensive hotel room when most of the day will be spent outdoors? Travel cheaply, sleep cheaply!

Of course, you can also try Couchsurfing and learn the culture from within – instant friends, personal guides and FREE accommodation!

4. Travel with a group

Well, they say the more the merrier! That may be true, but traveling with someone or in a group can also make trips cheaper. Not only do I have someone to share accommodation, food and other expenses with, but my transportation cost can also be lessened. How? In Europe, there are a lot of cities and countries that reduce fare price for group traveling. In Munich for instance, a 24-hour unlimited public transportation for a single person costs €6,40 while a group ticket for up to five adults only costs €12,20. So invite your friends to join you to travel cheaply on your next European trip!

5. Use public transportation

I think it goes without saying that when you are in a foreign land, you should not use taxis unless it is very necessary. If you can help it, walk or cycle around Europe. On one hand, strolling around the continent is free, just wear your most comfortable shoes. On the other, many cities offer one-hour free bicycle use. Rental is also cheap. But if you are covering great distance or simply tired from walking, I highly recommend using reliable public transportation.

One of the things that make me love Europe so much is its fast, safe and reliable public transportation. Of course, fares seem expensive compared to what we have in the Philippines and other developing countries, but I will share you how I was able to travel cheaply around Europe with these important travel hacks.

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I. Train Rides

Back home, I usually don’t take trains. For me, they are slow, always late, overcrowded, and unsafe. In Europe, I love them and they are my #1 choice of transportation. They are fast, efficient, and on-time. They have clean coaches, comfortable seats, and large space. You can even take your bicycles, baby trolleys, and dogs with you! But they are not cheap. After my first-ever trip to Europe, I learned ways how to get train tickets cheaply and did not commit the same mistakes again in my succeeding visits. Here’s how.

ÖBB Sparschiene

Österreichische Bundesbahnen or the Austrian Federal Railways offers Sparschiene (saving rail) or discounted tickets. Instead of paying €90 euros for a one-way trip from Vienna to Frankfurt, I can wait for Sparschiene offers in the company’s website and grab affordable tickets available at €29 or €39. More than 50% off, right?

TIP: Use ÖBB’s main website or mobile app to get Sparschiene tickets. Better book in advance as there is only a limited number of inexpensive offers available per trip. Don’t forget to print your ticket!

Bahn Card (Train Card)

As mentioned, traveling with train is really the fastest way to get from one place to another. However, train rides in Europe are not cheap. In some places, it could be even diamond-expensive! Yeah, I sometimes exaggerate, but you get my drift. For instance, my 3-day pass in Switzerland cost me €195. For frequent train users, I suggest getting a bahn card or train card. Many European countries have this service but in different names. For instance, I have the Austrian Vorteilscard as well as German’s Deutsche Bahn Card. My Austrian card enables me to travel with trains around Austria (and sometimes in other countries) with 50% discounted price while my German card gives me 25% off only.

TIP: I highly recommend purchasing a bahn card if you will stay longer in one country or would really travel around with trains.

II. Car rides

If you want to travel and meet new people along the way, you should try carpooling in Europe. Back home, they have a different notion of carpooling and I hope it will change soon. In Europe, people can travel with strangers if they are going to the same direction. Blabla Car is famous for this. It is a ride sharing website which allows everyone to travel with others and share the cost. For instance, from Göttingen to Berlin costs only €19 per person compared to a train ride with DB of €30.

TIP: Ensure your contact information is correct when you book your ride with Blabla Car. Also, contact your driver and make sure that you understand and agree for the pick-up point.

For a FREE ride, you may also try hitchhiking your way around the Continent. Not sure if it applies all over Europe, but Germany has friendly drivers who can take you in.

III. Bus rides

Recently, this has been my favorite way to travel around Europe. A lot of my foreign and European friends prefer to use trains because they are fast and well connected, so it is only this year that I started taking bus rides. I wish I had done so earlier.

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Flixbus

Aside from hitchhiking, this is the favorite way of my fellow exchange students to travel around – Flixbus. It is a German’s start-up bus company, which now offers 900 destinations in 20 countries. It is very affordable compared to Sparschiene and Bahn card discounts. It takes longer though, sometimes twice the time for a train ride. Well, you get what you pay for. On a positive side, Flixbus offers comfortable rides, free luggage allowance, toilet, snack bar, power outlet, and the most important of all – free WiFi!

How cheap: From Frankfurt to Amsterdam, I got a one-way ticket for €11,11. I booked it during a promo since the regular rate is €25, but it is still cheaper than a train ticket of €120 with Deutsche Bahn. Amsterdam to Brussels regularly costs €9, while Frankfurt to Vienna is only €33.

TIP: Download the app to have hassle-free and paperless travels.

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Hellö

Flixbus seems to have a new rival starting this year – Hellö. This is a very new Austrian bus company under ÖBB. I was lucky to learn about it few days after it started operating this July. It features comfortable and spacious seats, free luggage allowance, mobile apps, power outlets, toilet and a snack bar. Like Flixbus, it offers free WiFI but unlike the former, Hellö has uninterrupted Internet connection after crossing country borders.

Currently, it has a starting promo of having €15 for almost all of its routes! Promo ends in September and until seats last. Some of its routes include Vienna to Frankfurt, Vienna to Venice, Innsbruck to Zurich, etc. It is crazy cheap! Hellö offers €15 for Vienna-Frankfurt while €33 for Flixbus. I wished Hellö were already operating before I went to Venice!

TIP: Try this out until the promo lasts.

PLUS POINT: Student Semester ticket

As I have mentioned in my previous post (READ: Welcome to Philipps Universität Marburg, Germany), the only thing I paid in my German education is the semester ticket. This costs €250 for international students. Is it expensive? You may think so at first. But if you consider not paying any tuition fee in Germany (I paid my full tuition fee in my university back home though), this is really a steal. Also, once I tell you the benefits of this ticket, you would want to offer your Euros in exchange for this.

Basically, a semester ticket allows students from my university to travel around the area of Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund – RMV for free. Yes, we students can take buses, trams, subways, metros, and even IC/EC trains of DB Fernverkehr within the semester and is valid for full seven months entirely free.

For instance, Frankfurt is only one hour away from my university in Marburg, but a one-way ticket for the slowest train possible is around €20. Because we are traveling for free, we can go to Frankfurt at least once a week and do sightseeing and shopping there.

TIP: If you are studying in Philipps Universität Marburg as well, always travel with your semester ticket! Try your best to travel to all cities and locations in the ticket as well.

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These are my major travel hacks on how I am able to roam around Europe with a student budget. Remember, it does not have to be a luxurious trip just so there is something to boast back home or follow where everyone is going. There are numerous ways on how to make a European trip affordable and comfortable without cutting all your savings. I hope these tips help. Come back here for more travel tips, guides, and itineraries in Europe and beyond. You can also subscribe to Where Monica Goes via email to get the latest updates straight to your email.

Guten Appetit! Top Must-try Food in Germany

One of the most exciting things to look forward to as an exchange student in Germany, aside from drinking the night away with liters of beer in hand, is trying the authentic German cuisine. Although international restaurants have been sprouting in many cities and countries offering most popular dishes, they still could not compete with the real deal – the one complete with perfect German ambiance and merry, but not always drunk, people.

I believe that to learn more about a country, one must be able to immerse into the foreign culture. Food is a great part of history and culture anyway. When it comes to trying new adventures through food while studying abroad, here is my list of must-try food to eat in Germany to have a well rounded and delicious study abroad experience. Do note though that this list is based on my preference (and some of my friends’ as well) and you should not limit yourself to the food mentioned in this article.

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The Land of the Wurst

Whenever I ask friends, the first thing that pops in their minds when asked for any German food they would like to try is (drum roll please) sausage! Well, it is truth universally acknowledged that aside from beer, Germany is known for its sausages or Wurst.

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Meat everywhere. Location: München

Now, there are hundreds of sausages you can get in Germany. I am no expert, but below are some of the most common varieties that my friends and I like to order (with or without beer).

Currywurst 

This is a typical sausage fare with either ketchup and curry powder or a homemade tomato curry sauce, usually with side of fries.

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It is the land of the wurst! Location: Frankfurt

Käse Krainer 

I admit I normally eat this in Austria than Germany, but since the food is almost the same in these two countries, I put this in the list. Käse Krainer is a delicious combination of cheese, usually Emmentaler, and sausage. This is my favorite and I love getting it in a Wurstelstand. Pair it with a dark bread and a can of beer for perfection.

Weißwurst

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Wurst and Bier. You can get rid of stress with these. The best match in the world!” – Jeong Ju, South Korea

A specialty of Bavaria, Weißwurst is simply white sausage. Sounds strange at first, but tastes heavenly. Traditionally, Weißwurst is eaten only during breakfast or as a snack before lunch because it is not preserved or smoked, and thus perishable. Eat it with a warm Brezel, mustard and Weissbier for a very Bavarian meal.

Döner

Next to Wurst, I believe that Döner is another German version of fast food. With Turkish influence, Döner is basically a kebab sandwich, filled with thin slices of meat, usually beef though chicken is also available, topped with various vegetables – lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and yogurt sauce.

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Döner stands can be found literally everywhere in Germany and since it is open until late at night and usually near bahnhof, it is also very convenient. I think I should note it here that one serving is huge and I have never finished one order of Döner. Maybe I just don’t eat a lot?

Auflauf

Nope, not that Olaf from Frozen. Auflauf literally means “casserole” and I think that is simply what it is. It has different versions though – potato auflauf, maultaschen auflauf, Spätzle auflauf, etc.

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“We simply love auflauf!” – Valentina, Lucia, and Federica from Italy

Maultaschen 

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Maultaschen literaly means mouth bags. I find them similar to the Italian ravioli. They are usually square or rectangular in shape. They traditionally filled with minced meat, eggs, spinach, and some spices. You can buy a ready-made maultaschen and simply boil it whenever you want to taste some.

Brezel

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“I will recommend German Original Prezel, which can be a main snack or meal for everyone almost everyday!” – Dongha from South Korea

Bakeshops abound everywhere in Germany and I haven’t seen one that has not offered Brezel. It is loved being eaten throughout Germany. In Bavaria, this is usually paired with Weißwurst and washed down with a white beer. But for a normal fare, you can find Brezel cut with butter, jams, or even Nutella.

Schweinshaxe

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It is roasted pork knuckle, especially popular in Bavaria. We paired it with beer! Don’t be fooled. It may look small in the photo, but my friend and I struggled to finish the entire thing. It is too heavy for my small stomach!

Käsespätzle

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Käsespätzle and Maultaschen

Spätzle is like a noodle or dumpling made of flour, eggs, and salt. As most German cuisine is heavy on the meat, Spätzle usually accompanies a meaty dish. Thankfully, there is also a Käsespätzle which can be a stand alone dish served with lots of grated Emmentaler cheese and fried onions on top. I have tasted the best one in Stuttgart.

There is in fact a wide variety of food to try in Germany though those listed here are my favorite and can really recommend. I hope this list offers an insider’s view on what food to try when studying or traveling in Germany. Don’t limit yourself to this list though. Be curious and try everything. That’s what immersing in food culture is all about! So what are you waiting for? Get that chance to travel in Germany or visit a nearby German restaurant and have a taste. Guten appetit!

Come back here for more lists of what to do, where to go, and what to eat and drink in Germany and other countries. Don’t forget to follow Where Monica Goes, too! 

 

Change The Way You See Friendship

How do you define friendship? Over the years, my concept of friendship is that of a relationship between people who care and nurture each other to be the best of what they can be. I believe that friends are those who immediately notice that you are not okay even before you utter a single word of complaint. Friends are those who celebrate with you in times of success and cry with you when the going gets rough. I believe in the existence of this ideal friendship. I just wished I didn’t take that too literally and narrow-minded as before.

This year, a lot of great things happened that made me changed the way I see friendship. And I am very glad it did.

ME BEFORE THEM

Some millenials see my lifestyle as one mirroring their current dreams – living independently from my parents before I reach my mid-twenties, continuing my graduate studies in a top university, staying in a nice condo all by myself, traveling around the Philippines and 23 other countries so far, and having full autonomy of my life.

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Location: Tour Eiffel, France
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Location: Jardin du Luxembourg, France
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Location: Venice, Italy
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Location: Vienna, Austria
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Location: Titlis Alps, Switzerland
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Location: Hallstatt, Austria

However, breaking the beautiful façade one can see the lonely truth of this lifestyle. When the excitement of having my own space started dying, I began feeling lonely – trapped in a box on the 29th floor, watching the world goes by with only my furniture and gadgets with me. I started actively seeking company– going out almost everyday to meet friends, asking people to visit me often, offering to swim with me in the pool, among others. But life happens and I get disappointed when I wanted to hangout but friends have school, work, family and love obligations, etc. I started questioning whether they are really my friends. Why can’t they sense that I am lonely? That I need company? Is the horrendous traffic really a strong deterrent for meeting me?

DAWN OF A NEW DAY

It started early January of 2016. As a frequent traveler, I have heard about several apps for travelers, one of those is Couchsurfing. Basically, Couchsurfing is a global community of travelers that believes in the idea of a paying-it-forward hospitality. Members are encouraged to host other members traveling in their country or hometown and provide them free accommodation and opportunity to know a local and understand the culture from within.

One day, I was chatting with this Swiss national who was in New Zealand at that time. He asked if I could host him in my flat in Manila. I had Couchsurfing hosting experience before, but only for females so I was a bit wary offering my home to a complete male stranger. He fully understood where I was coming from and we both agreed that I could at least meet him first and decide from there.

However, I totally forgot the date of his arrival and it was only two days after when he also messaged me and said that he had found a male host. I was both happy and relieved. Later that day, as I was eating lunch prepared by my new Korean neighbor, I spontaneously invited her and a Filipino friend to come over for dinner at my place. As an afterthought, I also sent an invitation to the Couchsurfer.

The Fateful Day: 11 January 2016

On that momentous day, I hosted a simple dinner for my Korean neighbor, fellow Filipina blogger friend, and the Swiss traveler. It was love at first sight, if there is even that occurrence for friendship. From 8 PM of that day, we talked nonstop until 2 AM when I finally voiced my concern of the lateness of the hour. It seemed no one wanted to leave. The company was simply that great, conversation easily flowing, atmosphere friendly and uplifting.

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L-R: Sunny (Korean), Eyah (Filipina), Me, Marcel (Swiss)

Sometimes, we meet people who we feel very good instantly with – from the very beginning of meeting each other. There is this lightness in the feeling that you can trust this person. That you can see yourself being friends for so long. That just upon that meeting, you see this person can be part of your future.

On that day, the Stinky Project was born. Well, our group didn’t have that name until a weekend after when we went for our Banaue-Sagada trip and were followed by stinkiness in the air. Long story, but filled with fun memories.

TRAVELERS BOUND FRIENDSHIP BY TRAVELING TOGETHER

Below would be several photos taken during our travels around the Philippines together. Sometimes, I would bring my Canon DSLR to our trips to come up with better quality images. However, I often complain on its weight and bulkiness. Besides, I want to be a traveler and not a tourist and the DSLR screams very touristy for me. I mostly prefer using a smartphone because it’s lightweight and handy. However, it sometimes cannot produce high quality photos especially when zoomed and the battery won’t last an entire day especially while I am wandering around and snapping photos of beautiful landscapes.

For now, let me share some memories of the friendship captured in these photos. Most of the time there were only three of us because Sunny’s school schedule couldn’t match our free time. However, we try our best to spend time together whenever we were in Manila. She’s my neighbor anyway. 🙂

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Location: Batad
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Location: Sagada

The weekend after our first meeting, we had a spontaneous trip to Banaue and Sagada. It was a litmus test for the newly formed friendship. Will we return to Manila as friends or enemies? That was a senseless question. We had so much fun like old souls who have known each other for so long!

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Location: Pico de Loro, Batangas

Our first climb together. Due to Sunny’s school schedule, she couldn’t join.

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Location: Chocolate Hills, Bohol

For our first flight, I was very excited to show them Cebu and Bohol. Both Eyah and Marcel had never been to these islands which happened to be two of my favorites in the country. We keep on remembering how Marcel, being a Swiss with four official languages, keep on pronouncing tarsier as /tar-syee-yay/ with a French accent. Haha!

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Location: Kawasan Falls, Cebu
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Location: Osmena Peak, Cebu

Cebu captured our hearts. It was simply beautiful. We did not want to leave. As I look back, perhaps I can blame that statement for what happened later. We arrived in the airport few minutes after the boarding gate closed and the final call was announced. We missed our flight. I expected this would ruin the mood we were in, but boy I was so wrong. I think we only got disappointed in less than five minutes! Can you believe that? No complaining, blaming, or finger pointing. We were all chill and even laughed at the situation we were in. Friendship tested during stressful times!

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Location: Legaspi, Bicol. Sorry, Sunny. I really like this photo!

These photos and videos are testaments that we really met in this space in the world and had forged friendship which I hope would stand the test of time. The proof that my friends, no matter where they are in the world right now, exist and I was lucky enough to meet them. In these digital files, I tried to capture those moments when friendship and companionship are in the air, when we were all strangers in foreign places and have only each other to rely on.

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE?

However, Marcel’s journey had come to an end. With a heavy heart, we said our goodbyes along with tearful messages of gratitude for a wonderful and intense friendship. We hugged each other tightly, not wanting to let go for fear of being forgotten as we slowly put distance from each other. Promises were made, future plans and hopes of meeting again were said. On the 16th of February, The Stinky Project bid farewell to one of our friends.

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Location: Maginhawa, Quezon City

Do all good things really have to end? What about those promises? Are those simply empty words to console those who would be left behind? Despite the intense friendship, I had a moment to doubt him. I had many foreign friends who simply forgot about the Philippines and me as soon as they arrived back in their countries. Will Marcel be different?

ONLY TO MEET AGAIN TWO MONTHS LATER

Exactly two months since Marcel flew back home, I found myself in his homeland – Switzerland. I am taking my exchange program in Germany and was traveling around Europe with a friend when this happened.

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Location: Lag la Cauma, Chur, Switzerland

Just look at our goofy faces! Finally reunited. Half of the Stinky Project was in Europe, while the other half was in Philippines. Talk about balancing. 🙂

Even before this day arrived, The Stinky Project made true to its promise. We keep in touch. Our group chat remains active and loud. We do Skype video calls despite the wonky Internet connection wherever we are. Whenever we are free, we try to check on everyone and see if all is well. I am very touched. I honestly did not expect the friendship to come this far.

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Location: Zurich, Switzerland. I bought him a belated birthday present!

It’s as if nothing happened. Nothing changed. It didn’t feel like we were separated for two months already. I didn’t feel that he was only friendly to me because he was in a foreign land with no one to depend on. No. Marcel is the same person. Our friendship stands. The bind of friendship still holds. I was surprised with this. I didn’t know before that this can really happen. Like Charles Dickens once said, “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.”

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After that trip to Switzerland, I continued with my journey. On the 11th of June, to mark our sixth month of friendship, we had a video call via Skype. Marcel was in Zurich, I was in Vienna, Sunny was in Quezon City, while Eyah was in Pasig City. We were all over the place. It was loud, we were talking at the same time, someone got disconnected sometimes, Internet connection got sloppy. It was very funny!

CHANGING THE WAY I SEE FRIENDSHIP

How can one define friendship? Well, I still hold to the ideal friendship I have formed in my head. However, I found out this year that it is possible to find wonderful people in the most unexpected ways. Moreover, I realized that friendship does not have to be about consistent presence and proximity. That friendship is not measured by how often you see each other or how near one person lives next to you. Daily conversation is not a validation of true friendship. The Stinky Project is a group of four people from three different countries, living from different sides of the world, who bind themselves in a friendship no matter the distance.

I am grateful that in 2016, the way I see friendship was changed. That no matter where I go, how long I haven’t seen and meet my friends, nothing will change between us. That the next time we will meet, we would still be the same crazy and loving souls we were from the beginning. I learned that to keep the friendship alive, we need to hang on, to stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for us. To value a friend, we should not give up. Do not be too busy or tired. Do not take them for granted.

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The Stinky Project

Friends, they say, are the families you choose for yourself. I am glad I chose well. I am more grateful that they chose me. And I am beyond appreciation that we choose to be friends despite of everything – country borders, distance, colors, races, gender, languages, culture, and religion. I am confident that wherever we are in the world, the Stinky Project will keep the friendship alive no matter how busy we will be. And with us being avid travelers, I know it won’t be far before we find ourselves in one place in this world again.

Welcome to Philipps Universität Marburg, Germany

In the About Page of Where Monica Goes, I have mentioned that I am currently an overseas graduate student in Germany and this new website would be an online chronicle of my life abroad as well as my travels around the world. After my previous entries about the Top Reasons Why You Must Study Abroad and 10 Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program, I believe now is the perfect time to share information about my host university. As it is my first time participating in a student exchange program, I am very excited with this new experience and would like others to understand my happiness in being here. I am studying here for five months now and I can confidently say that I love every minute of the program.

Whether you are an existing student or an excited overseas exchange who is digging the Internet for more information about your future university, this website is for you! Without further ado, let me introduce my host university, Philipps Universität Marburg.

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Welcome to my university!

Philipps Universität Marburg: An Introduction

Established in 1512 by the Magnanimous Landgrave Philipp I, the Philipps Universität Marburg is the oldest Protestant university in the world and one of the oldest educational institutions in Germany as well. That is how old the university is! Overtime, it has become a non-secular state university.

For more than five centuries, the institution was proudly a place for research, teaching and learning. A variety of academic disciplines are represented in the university, except engineering. Before, only Medicine, Philosophy, Theology, and Law were offered, but this has expanded to 17 departments encompassing physical and social sciences. The university is especially known for its scientific fields and is home to the country’s traditional medical faculties.

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Elisabethkirche, one of the earliest purely Gothic churches in Germany

Location: Where is Philipps Universität Marburg?

The university is located in Marburg, in the state of Hessen, 100 km north of Frankfurt, heart of Germany. Marburg is a small, charming medieval town popular for its gothic churches and castle. Adding to its enchanting appeal are the cobblestreets, 17th and 18th century timber houses, and Elisabethkirche, one of the first purely Gothic churches ever built.

How to get to Marburg?

From Frankfurt Central Train Station (Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof), take a train in the direction of Kassel and alight at Marburg Main Train Station (Marburg Hauptbahnhof). The ride takes roughly one to one and half hour depending on which train you get – ICE, RE or HLB.

Student body

Marburg has 86, 000 residents, 25 000 of them are students. The majority of the student body comes from all over Germany. Among these, more than 12% are from all over the world, making the university the institution that has the largest foreign students in the entire Hessen state.

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School cafeteria

It is common to see and hear a saying here that goes, “Other towns have a university, but Marburg is a university”. Wherever you are in the town, you are part of a vibrant academic community. Therefore, Marburg is the proverbial “university town” or Universitätsstadt in German

School Fees

Like many German public educational institutions, studying in Philipps Universität Marburg will not require a matriculation or tuition fee. Instead of paying for a lofty sum, the university only requires students to pay for the semester ticket (semestertiket), a student contribution. It costs €150 for Erasmus students and €250 for exchange and free-mover students. The semester ticket enables students entirely free transportation service within the semester ticket area of Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund – RMV whether buses, trains and even IC / EC trains of DB Fernverkehr within the semester and is valid for full seven months. So if you like traveling, this is perfect for you!

Noted alumni

T.S. Eliot, Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm, Hermann Cohen, Christian Wolff, etc. The list is actually long, but based on my experience here, Marburg is exclusively the Grimm brothers’ town. If you are a fan of their wonderful stories, then you are in for delightful fairytale walks around here!

How is the weather in Marburg?

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This, I believe, is especially true in Marburg. It is normally colder in Marburg due to its location. Especially when you live in Studentendorf where you are surrounded by woods and forest, temperature can drop quickly. Even in summer, temperature can sometimes be as cool as 17 degrees. How can my friends in warm Vienna do sunbathing while my fellow exchange students still wear cardigans? Haha!

Where to stay in Marburg?

As a student, there are many options for accommodation in Marburg. If you are an exchange or overseas student, Studentenwerk Marburg offers affordable student dormitories and flats. In my experience, the university searched and assigned a room for me in a WG or Wohngemeinschaft (shared flat) so I didn’t have the hassle to do it for myself.

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My room in Studentendorf

Aside from this, private accommodation and homestays are also available. I will share more about this in my future posts.

Philipps Universität Marburg is a wonderful and charming university to attend to and if you are considering to take your overseas program here, then you are in for a treat!

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The ball has just started rolling for this blog and this is simply a short overview about Philipps Universität Marburg. More information on Marburg, its town highlights, and overseas students’ survival guides and tips will be uploaded regularly on Where Monica Goes. Stay tuned!

 

Where have you been? | Travel World Map Generator

Ever wondered how many countries in the world have you visited so far? If you are as addicted to traveling as me, chances are you have a fair amount of numbers to share. Today I stumbled upon this travel world map generator and it made me so giddy to input and color places I have been. 

As May is about to close and soon half of the year is already over, I think it is a good time to evaluate how far I have been in my mid-twenties. I only discovered my passion to travel last year and know that I have places to catch on. As of 30th of May, Where Monica Goes has visited 20 countries in the world. I know it isn’t much and I probably covered less than 10% of the globe. Still, as Susan Sontag says, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

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Where Monica Goes has been to:

Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macao, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates.

So where have you been? Feel free to list your countries here or share a blogpost of your own travel world map! I got mine  generated for free from Matador Network.

Top Reasons Why You Must Study Abroad

Are you considering studying abroad but uncertain whether or not to take the plunge?

If you are looking for a new challenge or simply want to make your high school or university life so much better, why not study abroad? Studying overseas is a major decision to make and it can have a huge impact on one’s life, but the fruits of this endeavor are priceless – opportunity to know yourself better, learn about the world, and transform your future, among others. Don’t believe me yet? Continue reading and check out Where Monica Goes’ Top Reasons Why You Must Study Abroad.

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GAIN NEW PERSPECTIVES

Studying and living in a foreign country and different culture give you the opportunity to see the world with a new perspective. After observing how people behave and things are done, you get to have a different way to look at things. You broaden your horizons. You become more open-minded and culturally sensitive. Your prejudices will be cleared and opinions more educated. You learn to appreciate a different outlook on daily life, social and maybe even political issues.

DEVELOP LANGUAGE SKILLS

Classroom classes, textbooks, audiobooks, and online apps can aid you in learning languages, but there is something much more helpful if you are immersed in it in a local setting. Even though you know next to nothing about German, living in the foreign country for a week could make you understand some simple words and phrases already without you realizing it. With an overseas education, you get to learn and practice the language first-hand as you go dining in a restaurant, haggling in a flea market, or making new friends.

Since you are studying abroad and somehow forced to use (and hear) foreign language everyday, you are soaked into this new world that will ultimately bring you to hone your skills conveniently.

ENHANCE EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES LOCALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY

It can start with your CV. By adding that line about your study abroad experience, you get ahead by some of your peers in the eyes of prospective employers. They would be more interested in you and perhaps let you get that dream job. Employers look for self-motivated, independent and flexible individuals who also have time management, organization, and people skills which all describe foreign students. Along with being able to go out of your comfort zone, ability to handle stressful environment, willingness to learn, and worldliness, an overseas education highlights your language skills, cultural sensitivity, and sense of adventure. You will appear and become a worldlier and more culturally aware person, something that not anyone can describe themselves in their resume.

GET IMMERSED IN A NEW CULTURE

When you study abroad, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience new culture from within. Different from being a traveler, studying overseas will ultimately give you a new perspective on the country’s culture from the inside. You observe customs and traditions that travel guides only mentioned in passing. You get to know which tourist attractions are really worth it, sample best and hidden restaurants, and the cheapest places to hangout on a Friday night, for instance. During your stay, you learn a new culture by simply living in it. In a globalized world, the best way to understand how people are is to immerse in a new culture.

GAIN LIFELONG FRIENDS

One of the most significant reasons and the second-best by-product of studying abroad is establishing international friendships. Everyone you come across in your journey can enrich your overseas experience – students in your language class, colleagues in seminars, host families, backpackers and hitchhikers you meet on the road. You get to meet complete strangers who speak in foreign tongues, believe in various religions, have different colors and races, eat with chopsticks or forks, who will become your lifelong friends and acquaintances and be treasured for a lifetime. These people who may or may not share your interests can inspire and transform you to a much better person.

LEARN MORE ABOUT YOURSELF.

Left to your own devices in a foreign land, you learn to be independent and self-reliant. You realize things that you can do by your own. Back home, you always have your family and friends to rely on, even when you are living by yourself. Staying overseas is another story. Each day is a new challenge. You get to be pushed to your boundaries, testing your limits. When you put yourself out of your comfort zone, you get to know more about yourself – strengths and weaknesses, abilities and skills. By studying abroad, you gain invaluable life skills, which will enable you to grow more. Even though the beginning may be scary and everyday is not always filled with happiness and rainbows, you will end up becoming a stronger, more confident, and more self-reliant person. This is, I believe, the best by-product of studying abroad.

TRAVEL THE WORLD

The most rewarding experience and Where Monica Goes’ top reason why you must study abroad is the chance to travel the world. Not only are you in an exotic and foreign location for at least a semester, you also get the opportunity to look around your locality and see the sights no traveler can do. When you are done learning the ins and outs of your university town, go out and explore nearby cities and countries. Even though you are just staying for a semester, you have all the weekends and holidays off to travel. Yes, go and discover the world!

Studying abroad is the ultimate opportunity for globetrotting youth. You may be traveling on a student budget, but the experience is worth it. Go backpacking for a weekend or school holiday. Book via Mein Fernbus, Euro Rail, or Ryanair. Eat tapas in Barcelona. Ride a vaporetto in Venezia. Sleep in a 16-person hostel room in Zurich. Enjoy free Mozart symphony orchestra in Vienna. Get drunk in an underground pub in Prague. Attend Oktoberfest. Cool down in Plitvice Lake. Get lost in the streets of Paris. The options are limitless. Take advantage of being an international student and benefit from discounts you can get.

Those are my top reasons why you must study abroad. May it be for a semester exchange or long-term study, I believe the opportunity to gain exciting and once-in-a-lifetime experience should not be missed. Why skip the chance to try this incredible event in your life?

Already convinced, but want to know more? Read Where Monica Goes’ 10 Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program

Country Spotlight: The Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines gains the honor of being the first country to get the spotlight on Where Monica Goes. From its more than seven thousand idyllic islands, clear turquoise waters, world-class diving sites, diverse wildlife, rich culture, friendly and hospitable locals, to delicious food, the Pearl of the Orient Seas can offer so much that one cannot help but to fall in love with it. As a Filipina myself, I can proudly say that I love my country and will always encourage others to come and visit this jewel in Asia. After reading this post, please let me know if I have convinced you to travel to the Philippines!

With a total land area of 300 000 square kilometers, the archipelago lies in Southeast Asia with Taiwan directly in the north, Vietnam in the west, Brunei and Indonesia in the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the east. It is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire and has many active volcanoes, which contribute to seismic and volcanic activities as well as abundance of mineral deposits – gold (estimated to be second largest in the world after South Africa) copper, nickel and zinc. As for its wildlife, the Philippines is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna within its numerous rainforests and marine habitat.

The Philippine culture is a beautiful combination of Eastern and Western influences. Values, beliefs, languages and other aspects are similar to its Asian neighbors, but also exhibit traces of Spanish and American conquests. Being an archipelago with thousands of islands, the country is home to 186 individual languages. The official languages are Filipino and English. Travelers have easy communication with any local as more than 90% of the population can speak and understand the lingua franca of the world. For religion, it is predominantly Christian with 82.9% of the population Catholics while Islam is the second largest with 5%.

BASIC FACTS ABOUT PHILIPPINES

Capital: Manila
Population: 100+ million
Official languages: Filipino and English
Government: Presidential Republic
Currency: Philippine Peso
Climate: Tropical
Average temperature: 26 degrees Celsius
Time zone: UTC+8
Driving: Right
Electricity: 220V/60hz

GETTING AROUND THE PHILIPPINES

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Photo from Justin James Wright: http://www.jjwrightfineart.com/philippine-street-life-in-color/

Jeepney – king of the road; runs within Manila and provinces

Metro – LRT1, LRT2, and MRT3 run within the capital

Bus – ordinary and air-conditioned run within and outside Manila

Van – locally known as FX Taxi; more comfortable than bus but cheaper than taxi

Tricycle – local auto rickshaws that are common public transportation

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Photo from Justin James Wright: http://www.jjwrightfineart.com/philippine-street-life-in-color/

Plane – with more than 7100 islands scattered in the archipelago, flying is the fastest way to get from one point to another

Boat – locally known as Bangka; best mode of transportation when island hopping

Taxi – both ordinary and cab hailing companies such as Grab and Uber cars.

Kalesa – horse drawn carriage introduced during Spanish occupation; common around Manila and Vigan

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Image Source

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The Philippines have three seasons – hot dry (March to May), rainy (June to November) and cool dry (December to February). The coolest month is January while May is the hottest. To avoid strong typhoons from July to August, traveling can be between October to May.

High season is December to April (coolest and hottest months when locals usually take holiday trips) and low season is June to September (typhoon season).

WHERE TO VISIT

To give you a glimpse of the Philippines, here are some wonderful places that I have visited around my country. These will also be featured separately here in Where Monica Goes soon, each with detailed itinerary and travel tips and guides.

I. MANILA

The Capital. Culturally and historically rich. Bustling, skyscraper-smothered city where you can eat, drink, and shop almost 24/7.

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Manila skyline. Image Source

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II. PALAWAN

The paradise of the Philippines. Home of the most beautiful island in the world according to Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards.

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Coron, Palawan
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El Nido, Palawan
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Kayangan lake, Palawan

III. Cebu

Queen City of the South. One-hour plane ride from Manila. Home of the whale sharks, white sand beaches, turquoise waterfalls, spectacular diving sites, among others.

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Whaleshark encounter, Oslob, Cebu. 
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Sardine run, Moalboal, Cebu. Image Source
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Kawasan Falls, Badian, Cebu. Image Source

IV. Bohol

One-hour plane ride from Manila. A short ferry-ride from Cebu. Home of the majestic Chocolate Hills, world’s smallest, bug-eyed primate called Tarsier, pristine sandy beaches, world class diving sites.

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Chocolate Hills, Bohol. Image Source
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Tarsier. Image Source
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Diving in Panglao, Bohol. Photo courtesy of Agoda.com

V. Banaue

Hidden gem in the north. Home of the 2000-year-old rice terraces carved into the mountains.

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Banaue Rice Terraces. Image Source
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Image Source

VI. Bicol

The very active, perfect cone-shaped volcano. Beautiful, surfing-friendly beaches.

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Mayon Volcano. Image Source
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Caramoan islands. Image Source

VII. Boracay

Flagship tourist destination. World-famous white, powdery sand beach. Romantic sunset.

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Boracay island. Image Source 
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Boracay sunset. Image Source 

Aside from the seven mentioned above, there are still seven thousand islands left worth mentioning and exploring. The Philippines really has varied beautiful places and activities to offer that one should simply take and enjoy.

If you are planning for your next trip, will you consider the Philippines as your next destination? If you have already traveled here, which is your most favorite part of the country? What is your most memorable experience? Let Where Monica Goes know!

 

10 Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program

Preparing to join a student exchange program can be pretty exciting, especially after you have received those admission and invitation letters from your host university. However, when the initial excitement finally went down, the images of tasks ahead can be overwhelming and exhausting. It requires a lot of researching and meticulous planning especially if it is your first long-term trip away from home. Also, it usually comes with long lists of required documents, appointments, and tests to be done and passed. I hope that with determination to grasp this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, these administrative and bureaucratic requirements would not deter you from reaching your dream.

As a current exchange student myself, I would like to share stories and experiences while I am on this journey. This post would be a part of a regular series where past, current, and would-be exchange students can read and learn from each other various survival tips as we leave the familiar back home and plunge to the exciting unknown.

To aid you on having a smooth transition to your new life, I am providing some tips on how to prepare for your student exchange program adventure. The list seems basic, but you would be surprised to know how many students and even seasoned travellers forget one or some of these. It won’t hurt to have a guide, right? All in all, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to be in a foreign country merely because you overlooked a simple requirement.

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So without further ado, let me present my Ten Tips on Preparing for your Student Exchange Program. Do note though that these tips are only for those who have already passed the admission requirements by their partner/host educational institutions.

1. Prepare, double-check, reproduce, and bring your documents. We still live in a paper-based society where not everything can easily be scanned through smartphones, so yes, paper documents are necessary. I highly recommend to duplicate or triplicate all your documents, so you would always have a copy with you, at home, and your new accommodation.

  • Check whether your passport is still valid and have several required remaining pages. More often than not, your passport should be valid more than six months before you travel. If yours would be expiring soon, better have it renewed while you are still in your country.
  • Get valid visas. Your host country (and the countries you might be traveling to while studying) might require visas, so do check this as well and prepare the necessary requirements.
  • Make several copies of your letter of admission and matriculation for safekeeping purposes. Also, there are instances when these need to be translated in your native language, so please bear this tip in mind.
  • Bring your language proficiency test results if you have any.
  • Take note of your embassy’s contact information for emergency purposes.

2. Visit your physician before leaving. Health is important, but it is always sad to know that many travellers take this for granted. In a foreign land, it is recommended to be prepared for all emergencies that may arise.

  • Get a certificate attesting to your good health and a copy of your medical record.
  • List down all of your known allergies and bring required prescription drugs, as you will never know if your host country has them. It would also be helpful if you have the translated versions of this.
  • Take the required shots and bring your immunization records when you travel.

3. Be insured. No one knows what may happen and it is wise to be always covered by insurance policy. There are already a lot of international travel and health insurance providers out there, but choosing what is best for your situation requires careful research.

  • Check if your insurance policy is recognized in your host country. You can just look up at the embassy page or send an email to your coordinator in the partner university to inquire this.
  • If required to get a new insurance coverage, research which offers the best and worth the money.

4. Book your tickets in advance. Whether through plane, train, or ship, it is always best to get your reservations ahead of time when prices are cheap and good seats are still available. The longer you wait, the more expensive the price can get.

  • To get the most out of your bookings, do not forget to use your frequent flyer information. Sometimes, typing these little details can get you free business class upgrade for instance.
  • If you are traveling by train, always use your discount cards. In Europe, DB (German), ÖBB (Austrian), and SBB (Swiss) have train cards that can give you up to 50% discount of the original fare.

5. Know how you can access your money abroad. There are banks that require you to have your account unlocked so you can use it outside of the country. Know this ahead of time and better contact your bank if you have no idea whether your cards are eligible to use overseas or not.

  • If you haven’t one yet, create an online banking account so you can easily monitor transactions you make while abroad.

6. Study or refresh foreign language skills. Chances are you would be spending your semester abroad in a country, which does not speak your native tongue, so I recommend studying the appropriate foreign language prior to your departure. Although most beneficial, you do not have to get to a formal class for this. Just hit on the Internet for most common and useful words and expressions so you will not feel at lost as soon as you arrived at the airport. Watching films and TV shows, listening to songs, and buying a pocket dictionary can help in overcoming those first few days while you are still adjusting.

7. Know the culture. Be aware of what are acceptable and not in your host country. Slurping while eating your noodle soup is normal and okay back home but does not automatically mean you won’t be frowned upon when you do this abroad. Read and research. You do not want to make a fauxpas on your first day.

8. Stay in touch. Don’t be a stranger to your family and friends as soon as you left your home country. Of course you want everyone to know every wonderful moment you are enjoying in your amazing student exchange program.

  • If required, have your phone unlocked then get a local SIM card from your host country. Research the best local network provider. You should look for those affordable bundles like 200 local calls and texts plus 750 MB for several Euros.
  • Create a Skype account and/or other messaging platforms that offer free voice and video calls. Family and friend chat groups are also good.
  • Set up social media accounts if you don’t have anything yet for easy updates from you to your friends and family.

9. Pack light. I wish I could highlight this more. I know many exchange students who bring their entire home with them (me included)! If your program has a suggested packing list, stick to it. If there is none, do your research or ask current students in the university. Please check the weather and temperature of your destination, as packing thin clothes for Europe in February is just plain silly. Leave things you can easily buy in your host country e.g., shampoo, body wash, etc. Take your chargers, travel adapters, and gadgets. Bring several photos and other mementos with you to help cope those homesickness moments.

10. Be mentally prepared. Saying goodbye to your family and friends, albeit temporary, can still be tough. However, this is part of the experience. When you are finally in your host country, expect the unexpected! You will be out of your comfort zone and the world will be your one giant classroom. You will meet people from around the world who have different customs and perspectives from yours and you should be open-minded and not judgmental about this. The same differences will later enrich your student exchange experience and understanding of various culture and people.

Alexander Graham Bell once said that preparation is the key to success and I strongly believe in that. To have a successful and enjoyable student exchange program, being prepared is necessary. I hope that these tips can help you achieve that. All the planning and preparation can be overwhelming and nerve-wracking at first, but believe me that all of these would be worth it. Just imagine yourself being here!

Are you an upcoming exchange student? Already have an experience spending a semester abroad? Share your thoughts and questions.