Travels in Uzbekistan


<Originally posted by Carl Kasten, who is studying Central Asian Studies in Kyrgystan.  Visit his blog page at;

The old city of Khiva. So many excellent stories from this place, so much fascinating history, I honestly didn’t know where to begin.

Khiva is located in southern Uzbekistan. So far south, the horizon there is probably in Turkmenistan. The city is old. It’s dated to between two to three thousand years ago, and has served as the seat of government of the Khiva Khanate, an important stop on the Silk Road and one of the many kingdoms left behind by the breakup of the Mongol Empire.

We had the privilege to tour the Old City, which is contained within walls that range up to thirty feet high and an easy twenty feet thick at the base.

Within the Old City are numerous madrasahs (a sort of school common in the Arabic world) minarets, and palaces. Visible in this shot is the city’s main madrasah, which now works as a hotel, and the incomplete minaret.

The large blue tower is the incomplete minaret. Had it been completed, the minaret would have stood somewhere around eighty meters high based on the size of its base. Unfortunately, the Khan who originally commissioned it was killed before it was completed. His successor/probable murderer allegedly walked up to the top of the incomplete structure, surveyed the city below, and, immediately recognizing that the tower would have a direct view into his bedroom across the street, ordered construction to halt.

The main madrasah has similarly interesting stories surrounding it. The school was home to up to one hundred fifty students at a time. The students were required to study the Quran and Arabic language, but most every other subject was theirs to choose. However, at the end of their three year studies they were required to stand before their lecturers and answer any question on the subjects they had studied. The final question was always the same; “What can you teach us?” Should the student fail to produce a noteworthy advancement in their field they were made to repeat their studies until they could.

Our guide for this area was a local, his family had lived in the city for generations. As we entered the courtyard of the madrasah he took a long look at the rows of doors that lined the second floor and explained– “It used to be that every room was used by two students. Then the Bolsheviks came and every room was used by two prisoners.” A man on the second floor yelled something in Uzbek while desperately trying to install an external air conditioner above the crumbling brick doorway. Our guide just nodded and finished: “And now every room is used by two tourists.”


Adventures on a New Continent

<Originally posted by Helena Scharf, a CSU student currently studying abroad in Spain. Visit her blog page at;

I don’t even know how to begin. This trip cannot be described with any adjectives I’ve been able to think of, except maybe one: incomparable. Wait, here are a few more: out of a dream, priceless.

The ferry ride across the Straight of Gibraltar was fun. I’ve never been on a ferry (that I can remember), and this boat was big and pretty dang fancy. So packed full of people excited to take a vacation in Morocco, or excited to be going home. And it only took about an hour, and all of a sudden I stepped off the boat onto a new continent. We docked in Ceuta, which is a Spanish territory, so we were still technically in Spain, but it dawned on me that I was standing on African ground. AFRICA, you guys! Never in my life did I dream I’d be in Africa at age 19. I never pictured myself riding a camel through the Sahara, sleeping in Berber tents, or exploring the medina of Fes. And experiencing this stuff of dreams with so many marvelous humans.

We got a tour of Fes the next day, including visiting the markets, a Koranic school, the Bou Inania Madrasa (madrasa is Arabic for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religious), and a Moroccan ceramic workshop, all within the medina (the oldest part of the city). We also visited a tanning shop, actually — where they tan the leather hides of animals to make bags, hats, jackets, wallets, etc. This had beautiful views of the city and the tanning “pots.” Everything about the medina was amazing: the guide we had led us through so many tiny, winding streets — I never would have been able to find my own way around that part of the city!


I’m so glad I didn’t bring my wallet into the ceramic shop, because I definitely would have spent unnecessary amounts of money on breakable items… It was fascinating to see the artisans creating the ceramic pots, cooking dishes, and even small tiles for mosaics! Those people are incredibly talented and artistic, and do everything by hand — which most definitely takes a lot of time and effort, as was visible in that beautiful shop.

We arrived for a night’s stay in Erfoud after driving through1915674_1021001714613027_3533652868010686296_n snow in themountains. We stopped in an alpine town called Ifrane to stretch our legs and play in the snow! We threw snowballs, and made tiny snowmen. This was more than amusing: we were playing in the snow just one day before we would be in the desert. What differences!

Then we went to the hotel where we’d leave on camels to ride into the dunes of the Sahara. Most people went on an optional excursion (I didn’t want to pay for it, naturally), and there were only nine of us who just hung out at the hotel until everybody else got back. Then we mounted the c12933020_1021014117945120_8712728948941363360_namels. They’re actually called dromedary camels, because they only have one hump. Camel camels have two.

The next day, we visited Asilah on our way from Fes to Ceuta. Have you ever heard of Chefchaouen? It’s known as the “blue city” in Morocco, because of fully-painted blue streets. We didn’t go to Chefchaouen, but Asilah also had some stunning blues and greens. I couldn’t stop myself from taking a photo of nearly every door. But I only saved the ones I truly fell in love with 😉12919713_1021017577944774_7383848976367415768_n

I don’t think I’ve felt so many feelings in so little time. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with so many people in so little time. This experience was more than I can express with words, actions or photos.



Excursion to Dublin Highlights

<Originally posted by Ashlyn Keil, an English major at CSU currently studying abroad in Galway, Ireland.  Visit her blog page at;20160207_153057(0)

I went to Dublin as part of the first CEA Study Abroad Program Excursion, and here are all the fun places we visited, along with as many pictures as I could take!

Guinness Brewery Tour

This was the first stop on the tour — and I mean literally. We got off the bus and it was straight to the huge Guinness signs.

And the tour was impressive.

There were 7 floors of information and exhibits — all the way from what the ingredients that are used and the whole process of making Guinness, its entire history (marketing, transports, the famous horse, etc), to a Guinness Academy where you can learn how to pour Guinness properly and receive a certificate.

Oh, and the best views of Dublin that you can get on Floor 7 – the Gravity Bar, which is a circular room lined with windows where ticket holders can get a free pint (or soda, but who would do that on the Guinness tour?) and check out the city from above.

The favorite part of the tour for me (not being a beer lover) was, of course, the cooking section, where I snagged two recipes for Guinness Chocolate Truffles and Guinness Chocolate Mousse.

All in all this was an impressive tour that increased my appreciation for how much care and thought and effort is put into making every barrel of Guinness, even if I won’t be the one consuming it.


National Leprechaun Museum

This was a fantastically entertaining visit that was right near the center of the city on our first day — how we could not go the National Leprechaun Museum?

Our tour guide was the best I’ve ever had in terms of knowledge, confidence, and all-around enthusiasm.

She yelled, danced, told creepy Changleing stories, and took us through multiple rooms in the museum that depicted different Leprechaun-themed places. If she hadn’t been so great it wouldn’t have been half as fun of a tour.

She taught us about how the stereotypical, international green-clad Leprechaun came out (apparently viewers of the “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” film didn’t remember that the king of the Leprechaun’s was dressed differently than the traditional ones that followed him, and Lucky Charms followed suit, and the image hasn’t changed since).



Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle (or the remaining part of it anyways) was pretty nice, especially in the morning sunlight — our Program Coordinator let us know a little of the history and told us that there are still government offices in use today in parts of it (and the new parts that were built attached to it).

According to the official Dublin Castle website, the remaining south-east Record Tower “functioned as a high security prison and held native Irish hostages and priests in Tudor times” (

I was thinking how long it would have taken to build such a perfect circular turret by hand (the castle was completed by 1230).


Viking Splash Tour

This was also one of my favorite experiences this past weekend, even though it was quite chilly in wintertime, cloudy Dublin.

This was a new experience for me:  I’d never heard of or even seen a DUKW, which is basically a boat and 4×4 truck developed by General Motors for use by soliders in WWII. The one we rode in was quite old (I forget the date exactly at the moment) but it was in fantastic shape for how old it was.

Go check out their website for all the history on these fascinating contraptions:

I, sadly, don’t have any pictures for this particular event, since my hands were covered in two pairs of gloves and I didn’t really want to freeze my fingers off taking them off to take a picture with my phone. But that’s what Google Images is for, right?

Our tour guide was fantastic! Hilarious and very well-versed in every site he had taken us to see. He had obviously been doing the tours for some time.

And the best part of this was the Viking yell we had to do (with fists up and a nice, terrifying roar) to each of the “kinds of Celts” that we would encounter while on the road:

  • the Lost Celts (tourists looking at maps)
  • the Unsuspecting Celts (people walking along with their backs to us, not paying any attention)
  • the Cappuccino Celts (people sitting outside enjoying coffee/tea)
  • the Competition Celts (those on the the other tour buses going around Dublin)

Needless to say this was a fun time for us and for the laughing pedestrians that looked up to see us (a lot in cheesy, plastic Vikings caps) “roaring” at them. Best part:  we actually scared a young girl, who laughed and held her hand to her chest as she watched us go by.

National Museum 

This is where the “Perserved Bog Bodies” comes in:  our Program Leader decided that we couldn’t not go see the National Musuem’s exhibit on them.

It was pretty amazing:  actual preserved bodies that had all been murdered in some kind of nasty way (axes, decapitation, you name it) and thrown into bogs only to be found and now put on display.

Visit for mrore fascinating info!


Overall it was a great, busy weekend full of fun experiences, and I hope to return to focus on a couple specific places and spend even more time in Ireland’s capital.

Three places in France that will surprise you

(Originally posted by Amanda Thompson, a CSU student currently studying at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy.  Visit her blog page at

The very first time I visited France was July 2014. I traveled through a tour group with my family, and the tour took us to Paris, France. Paris has always been a top destination on my travel bucket list. Indeed it is a very typical travel destination however, the stereotypical image of Paris always appealed to me. I loved the idea of a city so full of romance, class and midnight magic. I loved the picturesque image of strolling across the Pont des Arts, marveling at the scenery and taking in the moment as the light reflections project off the thousands of metal locks that contain a promise of a lifetime. However, after spending a couple of days in the supposedly romantic magical city, Paris did not fulfill my expectations. Perhaps my expectations were 70% based off pure fantasy and movie-like assumptions, but deep down I knew that there had to be a lot more to France in general than what I experienced in Paris.

Fast forward to October 2015 when four great friends hop on a bus headed to the French Riviera. I have to admit, the French Riviera was not on my travel bucket list and I originally had no desire to travel there this time around, but nevertheless I decided to go on the trip because I traveled with three of my closest friends here abroad. Needless to say, the company was the deciding factor. Fast forward again to the end of the trip, on the grueling bus ride back to Rome. The French Riviera in all its greatness and glory, definitely took me by surprise. From the gorgeous Exotic Gardens in Eze, to the crystal chandeliers and the red carpets where some of the greatest high rollers once stood in the Monte Carlo casino, the south of France was a place of beauty, wealth and tropics.

Nice, France.

  1. The entire city of Nice, France.

The panoramic view of Nice, France was one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. Orange roof top houses litter the entire city, ranging from big to small in size, but all with the same iconic orange roof. The houses are along the coast which is lined with lush green palm trees right next to the turquoise blue waters. Our first day in Nice was spent snorkeling in those turquoise blue waters. Snorkeling was both exhilarating, frightening, yet calming all at once. After the initial shock of diving into the freezing cold waters wore off, I began to adjust to the water’s temperature and dove under, excited to see what lay beneath the water. Colorful fish swam under my flippers and around the beautiful coral reefs. At one point, we even spotted an octopus ,hidden between two corals, which began to change colors as it sensed us swimming nearby.

Exotic Gardens, Eze

2. Exotic Gardens in Eze.

After what seemed like 200 stair steps later, we finally arrived at the top of the Exotic Gardens. Unlike your typical garden most likely featuring bushes of colorful roses and tulips, cacti of all shapes and sizes covered the Exotic Gardens. Maybe it was the fact that these cacti were 50 shades of beautiful green, some spotted with small pink flowers, some towering and tall and some short and stubby, but the gardens were portrayed almost tropical-like, despite all the cacti. At the top of the gardens, we came across a picture perfect area where you could look out and feast your eyes on a full panoramic view of Eze. It was that view that made the 200 stair step climb worth it. It was that view that made one secretly smile and feel absolutely breathless.

Monte Carlo Casino, Monte Carlo

3. Monte Carlo Casino in Monte Carlo.

Welcome to Monte Carlo, home of the rich and famous. Home of the high rollers, big spenders and classy party goers. Home of the 18,000 Euro jackets in Chanel and the 800 Euro leather shoes in Gucci. Monte Carlo is a place that forces one to physically stop and take everything in. From the many flashy Lamborghinis zooming around the casino, to the thumping music coming from the exclusive rooftop clubs, to the brightly lit store signs to only the most expensive clothes and shoes imaginable, Monte Carlo is the definition of glamour and wealth. Stepping into the Monte Carlo Casino itself felt as if I just stepped into a movie scene from James Bond. Huge sparkling crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling and the casino itself was full of slot machines, and Blackjack and Roulette tables in the back. Security guards patrolled every inch of the casino, including near the bar where one could purchase an 18 Euro glass of champagne.  Unfortunately, my luck at the casino ran out rather quickly, and I did not win the millions I needed to quit school and travel the world for life.

A Young Monk Told me I was Beautiful

(Originally posted by Rebekah Glebe, a Journalism and Communications major studying abroad in Thailand.  She her blog at

Even after spending a month here, I am still enamored by monks. Their bright saffron robes knotted around their bodies catch my eye every time they pass by. They have a mysterious air about them that draws me in. Monks are everywhere; I don’t think I’ve gone a day in Chiang Mai without seeing one. But I hadn’t interacted with them at all. I had been watching from afar, curious and intrigued. But this morning I had the opportunity to teach young monks English with a group of students from my program. It wasn’t structured, so we had to make up a casual lesson plan on the rot daeng to the monastery.

The large group of USAC students filed into the classroom and a group of young monks (16-20) drifted in and took their seats at wooden desks. We all introduced ourselves and wrote our names on the board, and had the students say our name back to us to practice reading and speaking in English. Then, we went over a list of prepositions and explained each one slowly. We made the lesson more lively by acting out each word and asking the monks to describe the scene with the words we had taught them. “Sally is behind Mark,” or, “Bekah is under the sunglasses”. Simple to start. Then, we had each monk come up and write a verb on the board. Using their list, we incorporated the verbs into our little teaching skits. “Iva is running in front of them,” and “April is singing between Mark and Sally.” It was a tad unorganized, very unstructured, but a boatload of fun.

Looking at the group of young monks, I could pick out the studious types, the goofy kids, and the quiet ones. Some of them were taking notes; their eyes were glued to the speaker. Yet others gazed into the distance, a daydream face I know all too well. When we did something silly, like act out “singing,” they would laugh and smile with us. It hit me that these monks were just regular kids. We were teaching people, just like us, but they wearing bright orange and had sworn to abide by 227 precepts.

Choosing words
Overseeing the class
Small groups

Small groups


The second activity was “conversation practice.” We broke up into small groups, and the reality of their regularity sunk in even more. I learned that a 17 year-old-boy liked rap music (like Whiz Khalifa). Another like watching movies, particularly Spiderman. They had even read Harry Potter (did we just become best friends?)! These young men, some of which had been living as a monk since they were 5 years old, had elements of 21st century life engrained into their being. It surprised me at first, but the more I thought about it, it made perfect sense. They were regular kids in the turn of the century: they just happened to be Buddhist monks.

During the breakout conversation session, two of the monks were speaking Thai to each other and looking at me like they were trying to figure out the english phrase. They pointed to my eyes and my hair, and one said, “You are beautiful”. I was a little surprised that he came out and just said it, but also flattered. Then I was confused, because I knew monks are supposed to ignore women (to an extent). I wondered if it was somehow taboo for him to say that. But it wasn’t awkward or discomforting. It was a genuine compliment, almost more of a statement. I suppose seeing beauty in others is acceptable in their culture, and pointing it out doesn’t have any connotations or romantic ties.

This experience demystified the meaning of “monk”, but I am no less enamored by their presence in the city. They still have that air about them that makes them seem more… enlightened. I guess that’s an obvious descriptor, but you can really feel it when you are near them. Being a monk is more than wearing orange and waking up at the crack of dawn; it’s a conscious and mindful lifestyle which emanates from their very being. I’m not trying to be super cheesy and preachy here, I promise. But it’s hard not to describe them in these ways.


Castles, Markets, Churches and a Stone-cold Kiss

(Originally posted by Katie Virostek, a junior at CSU studying abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland.  You can access her blog here:

Saturday I took a day trip to Blarney Castle and Cork City, which is in the very southern part of Ireland. The day started very early at 8:15 am — I have quickly realized that when I return home and back to American people time I will have a very, VERY difficult time getting used to waking up early. My earliest classes here are at 10! After about a two hour bus ride, which I definitely napped during, we arrived at Blarney Castle. We started the day the only proper way- with much needed tea/coffee and scones at the tiny local hotel. Once the caffeine kicked in we made our way onto the castle grounds to explore a bit. Blarney Castle is the home of the Blarney Stone, which you can kiss once you walk to the top of the castle. Because our tour group consisted of 150 students, it took us about 45 minutes to actually walk the 100 stairs to the top and kiss the stone. To kiss the stone you lay down on your back, hold on to two iron bars with your hands while a worker holds on to your hips, lean your head all the way back, and MWAH! Kiss the stone. I actually really enjoyed doing this, even though it looks really scary. Those who kiss the stone are said to have bestowed upon them the gift of eloquence. I will leave that up to you to decide if it’s true or not.

Because we had to wait so long in time we didn’t have time to properly explore the rest of the grounds, which includes a lake, fern garden, and water garden. We did survive the Poison Garden, which contains a wide array of poisonous plants. One that I came across and found rather humorous was cannabis, which is illegal in Ireland. A totally unexpected find for me. Our leader joked that this is probably the only place you could find it growing and not get in trouble for it. I’m not going to touch on that subject any more though.

After Blarney we drove another half hour or so into Cork city, which has the River Lee running through it. Cork is a lot bigger than Limerick and the term “city” is more appropriately used to describe it than Limerick.  We got lunch at Cafe Mexicana, where I had some incredible enchiladas. We then visited the famous English Market, which is like the Milk Market but for Cork and a bit nicer. It contains some of the best foods from all over the world, including some ice cream that I got post lunch.

Once we finished up at the English Market Sally and I walked to St. Anne’s church, which houses the Shandon Bells and Tower. You actually are able to climb the tower and ring the bells yourself, but we got there too close to closing time to be able to do that. The tower itself though is pretty iconic, and we enjoyed the walk over.

I’m excited for fall to start here! I’ve seen some amazing pictures of fall in Ireland, and I cannot wait to experience it firsthand.

Stranded in a Strange Surrounding Week One

(Originally posted by Cory Odom, a CSU student studying abroad in Spain.  Visit the blog page at

My name is Cory Odom, and I have just arrived at strange land that the locals call…. Espannyeah?


It would seem I am not alone on this voyage through this country. I met a woman who people tell me is my mother here, as I go in for a hug (A common greeting where I am from) I am met with two kisses to each of my cheeks. Yes, you heard me correctly. Without being bought dinner, this stranger kissed me on my face. I am told that this behavior is common, so it would seem that this land is full of loving people. May the lord have mercy on my soul.

This woman speaks in a language I can barely understand at a rate I cannot comprehend. I hope that if I smile and nod enough I can make it through this experience.

I have discovered a word of seemingly magical qualities. Vale, or Ball-ehh? One can never be sure, but it has the power to progress a conversation without having any idea what is going on. I will use it often as I cling onto any hopes of comprehension, but for now I will take a quick nap and will get back to writing later today.


My quick nap has rapidly turned to days straight worth of sleep. I can only guess what day it is. Today the other survivors and I walk around the city of which we now inhabit while a learned man bombards us with questions. Now is my chance to show my intelligence and mental prowess. I will come back boasting stories of my quizzical victories.

UPDATE: I h20150903_102632ave answered all questions incorrectly, and I must remember to never talk of this day again.

Later at an ungodly hour I find a bar.  I stay in the bar for what seems like an eternity before I decide to leave. Confident in my navigational prowess I head off to my house. I should be home in no more than 25 minutes.

UPDATE: It would seem as though all the streets here look identical. I have spent the last hour wandering around the streets of this town at 3 in the morning. Do not worry for me, for I am sure that nothing bad has ever happened to a lost tourist wandering alley ways so early in the morning.

I find my way home, by this time it is 3:30 in the morning, and I quietly unlock the door to my new home so as to not wake my surely sleeping family. As I open the door my mother tells me that I am back early, and that she did not expect to see me here for another couple hours. When retelling the events of my evening to this woman, I leave out my wandering in hopes to maintain my rapidly diminishing manliness.


Today we explore a place called Madrid? The place is indescribable, almost like…..

DAY FIVE:20150906_185839-1

I awake today with a start, as today is the day that I get to run with the bulls! This is a story I have heard of this land for years, today I will finally be able to cross something off my bucket list.

UPDATE: My host mother has forbidden the idea of running with aforementioned bulls. But my Facebook friends don’t need to know this fact…

I spend the next couple of hours watching other men fulfill their dreams of participating in the event, even one man who later got gored (Remember to never tell host mother she was right in not letting me run).

And when that day ended, I had to prepare for classes. Apparently they expect me to learn here.