Brussels, Morocco and Laos: Georgia State students take on the world

Diana Beach kayaks in Halong Bay in Vietnam. Photo Submitted by Diana Beach

The ultimate summer break begins with a new adventure, and one way to break away from the typical boring summer is to travel to another country. It’s not easy trying to plan a trip across the world. Knowing where to go or how to start is one of the hardest part.

For most students, enjoying a new adventure begins with having an open mind and being prepared to step out of comfort zones. Some Georgia State students decided to embrace their wanderlust tendencies and travel to become fully immersed in another culture.


Ayla McLelland

Georgia State sophomore Ayla McLelland and her family take a yearly trip to Spain for the summer to visit her grandmother. Aside from the usual family vacation, this summer consisted of non-stop traveling as Mclelland and friends used an interrail train pass to visit Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Krakow and Budapest in a month.

What was it like traveling by train for a month, and how did you arrange sleeping accommodations at each location?

AM: All I could take was one carry-on bag. For a whole month I was living out of a carry-on, but it was really fun. We did a lot of hostiles, it was exciting, we would get to a room and there was 20 bunk beds. That was the cheapest option because we were trying to keep our cost low, and we did Airbnb as well.

When you arrived at a new location, how did you plan activities? Did you have a set plan for places that you wanted to visit or did you just wing-it?

AM: We tried to look up key things to do, and we had to figure out what we wanted to do [while] prioritizing. My thing with traveling, I like to get lost places, so I’ll start walking with no map. We found a lot of really small restaurants and shops. [We tried to see] what each city had to offer, which is hard because we had a limited amount of time.

How has living in America and then traveling around Europe influenced your reaction towards experiencing other cultures? Did you encounter any culture shock?

AM: As people who speak English, we get used to everyone being able to speak English. When you go to [another] country, it’s very different to realize that ‘Oh,’ we’re not the only place on this plant. Everyone was so unique and different and each country had its own thing.


Jessica Meadows

Taking a foreign language in another country allowed Jessica Meadows to pick up on a new language at a faster rate. Meadows is a senior and political science major at Georgia state, who recently spent over a month in Morocco, Africa learning Arabic for a summer study abroad trip.


What was it like staying with a host family?

JM: We met our families at around 10 p.m., it was kinda weird walking into someone’s house at night, and we were already tired. We ate dinner with them and the second day we were able to build a connection. The family was really nice, and the interesting thing was our family could not speak a lick of English. It was really hard to communicate, but it forced me to use my Arabic at home, at school and in the streets.


Where there any moments or memories that resonated with you during the trip?

JM: One of the best ways to travel is to travel like a local. I was very ambitious to make sure that I made Moroccan friends. I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture. The first friend that I made in Morocco was an eye-opening experience for me, because they introduced me to their friends. Just having a [native] with you that is willing to show you to all the cool places, talk about culture, school [or] politics was really nice.


During your free time, did you have an opportunity to attend any celebrations or cultural activities?

JM: I did go to a wedding. I kinda distanced myself from the group. They saw me sitting in the corner and they started talking to me, pulling me to get out of the chair, and forcing me to dance. They pushed me out of my comfort zone, that was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to.  


Diana Beach

Life changing moments began with motivation, especially for Senior Diana Beach. After switching majors, Beach decided it was time to make a change. For nearly three months Beach traveled through Southeast Asia visiting countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.


What influenced your decision to travel through Southeast Asia?

DB: I went to Georgia College and State University for three years [studying] nursing, and I realized I don’t want to do work in a hospital. [After] completing my core classes, I realized that it wasn’t for me. I chose Southeast Asia because it’s less expensive and it’s a complete 180 on culture. It was a place where we would be the minorities and the culture was completely different.


How did you adjust to the culture in Southeast Asia? Was there more emphasis on family values or traditions that might differ from American Culture?

DB: In Thailand we stayed at this place called the Vipa House, it was family-owned and that was a big thing about the culture that I appreciated. A lot of the places that we experienced were owned by a family. It was a different lifestyle rather than going to a nine-to-five job. It wasn’t a separation between work and life, it was a combination, so it was easier than I expected to jump into the culture.


Did you encounter any challenges when finding resources, and if so, how did you overcome the issue?

DB: The hardest time [was] in Vietnam. The first night, we couldn’t find anything to eat or anything in English. I was vegetarian at the time, so finding something that didn’t have meat was really hard. We went to three different restaurants and the last place was incredible, because it ended up being the place that we ate at every night. They gave you fuel and they gave you a personal stove top, and you throw in veggies and tofu [for] like $2.


Tyrone McDuffie

Tyrone McDuffie is a Senior studying Exercise Science. Over the summer, McDuffie participated in the China Sports and Exercise Science program. McDuffie and his fellow classmates studied traditional Chinese medicine, massage therapy and culture classes.


What is your overall impression of China after your study abroad experience?

TD: Since it’s was my first time out of the country, I figured out that people are the same everywhere. When you get down to it, there are good people and bad people everywhere. Everybody takes a smile or a wave the same everywhere. A lot of the stuff is the same, one of the big differences is the food and the cultural norms.


What are some examples of cultural norms in China that might be different from American Culture?

TD: You can’t wear sandals or open toed shoes to class. [In] the bathrooms they have squat toilets, which is like a regular toilet but it’s just on the floor. Things are a lot cheaper, I could eat breakfast every day for like 70 cents. Generally the [concept] of respecting elders is a lot more serious. There are certain things that you would ask an elder, because you have to gain respect first, but you have to be cautious about what you say.


If you could reflect on any lesson you received from your professors at the university in China, could you pick one lesson that really stuck with you?
TD: Dr. Wang Anli was our massage instructor, and he was probably the one of the most knowledgeable professors at the university. During the banquet night, he explained how much he appreciated our culture, and how people in [America] have the opportunity to be whatever they want. He appreciates the freedom that we have. That was the first time that I thought, ‘yeah, we do have a lot of freedom,’ there is a conservative nature in their country, and you can tell some of them long for the opportunity that we have in [America].