“Water to me, I confess, a phenomenon which continually awakens new feelings of wonder as often as I view it.” –Michael Faraday
I was trying to think of what I and the other AIFS Alumni Ambassadors had in common to write about from our study abroad experiences. An idea popped into my head while I took a sip from my always-present Camelback water bottle: WATER. Whether you are in the city, desert, or on the coast, water is always present. It may be in a water bottle, the ocean, or in a water fountain. Here, other AIFS Alumni Ambassadors and I share what water means to us when we think of our study abroad locations.
When thinking about Costa Rica, it is hard to think of a time without water being present. It’s in the rain forest and makes up the Caribbean and Pacific beaches I went to almost every weekend. However, I think of the one specific weekend I went to Curu, a small town on the Nicoyan Peninsula on the Pacific side in Costa Rica.
Curu is a special place because that night when we kayaked out to a beach further away from town lights, we saw something I will never forget. We saw bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is very tiny organisms in the water that emit light when it is dark out and moves. You could consider them the fireflies of the sea.
So when the sun went down, we went swimming in the water, and with goggles and flippers supplied to us, we were able to see a shining bluish-white light from the water movement. Our bodies lit up from swimming and splashing, and the waves crashing on the beach seemed unreal. The whole night was magical and is something I will hold with me for the rest of my life.
When I was abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile, I experienced for the first time what it was like to live right on the ocean. The beach was a five-minute walk from my homestay, and my peers and I often took advantage. One thing I learned is that beach towns across the world are so similar. Everyone seems just a bit more laid-back than elsewhere. Sure, these towns are also more likely to be tourism central, but the people that live there are more friendly, helpful, and happy than those from the city. When I visited Santiago, I realized that I had definitely made the right choice by going to Viña.
Living on the water was perfect. One of the best parts was the view. Our university, Adolfo Ibáñez, was on top of a hill and overlooked the entire ocean. Sunsets from there, or from the beach itself, were incredible over the water. Being able to experience this type of beauty every day, it was really no wonder everyone was so nice. Born and raised in landlocked Iowa, it was breathtaking to be able to live on the water, even if just for a short time.
In Rome, Italy, the ancient aqueducts bring in fresh, crisp water to provide for the entire city. This brilliant technology from thousands of years ago still provides free water for the tourists and locals today. So be sure to carry a water bottle around with you and re-fill from the many drinking fountains throughout the city. And here’s a fun hint: plug up the bottom hole with your finger to turn the spout into a traditional water fountain.
Aysel Angelina Demirbag
While abroad, the walk from my dorm to campus overlooked the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey. The water was bright blue with boats of all kinds constantly in motion traveling around the world, leaving a trail of white water in their wake. Our campus was on a slope, meaning from the the walk from the top of campus to the bottom, a spectacular view of the strait was clearly visible. The walk ended up at the boardwalk right beside the strait.
The view of the water from the top of the campus was therapeutic in many ways. When in the presence of such beauty, I was forced to acknowledge and remember the brilliance of the world, putting my own problems into perspective on the grand scale of things. Another therapeutic aspect was that on campus, you were able to walk along the edge of the water, a slight salty breeze in the air that felt good on the skin.
When on the boardwalk, I always felt relaxed and happy to be able to see and touch the water. The vastness of this body of water was a constant reminder of the beauty of the world and the many miracles it has to offer.
All my life I’ve heard TLC’s advice — “don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” Well, I listened to part of it. I did stick to rivers — the River Shannon runs right through the University of Limerick campus, so I spent a lot of time walking alongside it and over it, enjoying the sound of the water, the sight of birds on the river, and the view of the river’s twists and turns from either of the two bridges across it.
So truthfully, I also chased plenty of waterfalls (sorry, TLC)! The big one was the Torc Waterfall in Killarney, which is one of those famous waterfalls that’s always included in nature calendars, and for good reason. It’s huge and sinks into the rocks so naturally that if you couldn’t hear the rush of the water and feel the cool breeze from its movement, you would really think it’s a painting. We all stood at the base of it in complete awe, and it’s by far one of my favorite memories from Ireland.
Later in the semester, our program sponsored a trip to Blarney Castle, where a few of my friends and I quite literally chased waterfalls. After kissing the Blarney Stone, we followed our map to the Rock Close, a spot on the grounds of the Castle that is filled with magic, mystery, and fairies! Here, you can walk down the “wishing steps” backwards with your eyes closed, and at the bottom you’re greeted by the sound of rushing water and a beautiful waterfall that will grant your wish.
If you walk a little further, you’re greeted by another set of waterfalls tumbling down the side of a hill, and the beauty of it really makes you believe in the fairies that legends say roam the grounds of the Castle. It’s hard to go to Ireland and not believe in a little bit of magic, and I think the natural beauty of the country and its water play a big role in that.
When I think of water related to Berlin, the first thing that pops into my head is the River Spree that runs through the center of the city. I spent a lot of time either on or around this river while I was abroad. My classroom was actually located right by the river with a window that opened out to Museum Island. The island exists because the river forks off in two directions before coming back together. It left a perfect little slice of land for a hub of arts and culture.
I crossed the bridge right outside the classrooms to get to the beautifully columned walkway on Bodestraße almost every day. I also frequented James-Simon-Park located right on the river for lunch or to grab fresh air between classes. Many of Berlin’s most beloved landmarks are also located near the River Spree, so it served as a great point of reference when any of us got lost.
Water is a huge part of St. Petersburg. It is commonly referred to as “Venice of the North” because the entire city is built on a large network of canals and rivers. For most of the year, these canals and rivers are frozen solid because St. Petersburg is so far north in Russia.
When we first arrived at the end of January, the vast expanses of frozen water sprawling throughout the city definitely gave us a good look at a typical Russian winter and the conditions that come with it. But the best part was when spring started to arrive. The first sign of spring in St. Petersburg is when the ice on the rivers and canals finally begins to melt and break apart. When this happens, the bridges that connect over the water light up and open in the wee hours of the morning to allow ships and boats to finally pass through after the long winter months. This time of year in St. Petersburg is nothing short of magical and something that I will always remember about my time there.
The Salzach River runs through the city of Salzburg, which creates a beautiful riverbank setting where students often relax or do homework on sunny days. Usually, the river was a beautiful blue-green color that would shimmer under the sun as it ran through the city. Within the first few weeks of living abroad in Salzburg, the color of the river quickly became one of my favorite things about Salzburg.
As we went on more day trips with AIFS exploring the countryside, I realized that the blue-green color of the Salzach that I loved so much could also be found in other places. One striking example is the Lammerklamm gorge outside of Salzburg, which we went to on one of our tours. Hiking through the gorge was an amazing experience, with the water rushing below us as we made our way. This experience was one of my favorites during my time abroad, and I will never forget the blue-green color of the water found throughout Salzburg.
Water is my all-time favorite drink. You can always find me with my water bottle and if it’s not on me, it’s always near. While studying abroad in Argentina, I noticed water was different. Normally at a restaurant when I order a beverage, I always make sure to also ask for a cup of water. In Argentina I did the same, but it came with two caveats. The first caveat was water was not free; the price was between $1-2 USD (15 Argentine Pesos). The second was a question: still water or flat (sin gas o con gas)? This surprised me because I’ve always been used to a restaurant giving water for free in the United States. As Americans, maybe we take water for granted until we travel outside of our comfort zone. Having to pay for water almost everywhere I went, I learned not to take water for granted ever!
There’s something about the ebb and flow of an ocean that instantly calms me. The rocking of a boat, the rhythm of the waves, and even the timing of the bells on buoys and boats. We had one weekend free to do whatever we wanted to, and six of us, including our director Nele, took a train north to the Baltic Sea.
In Rostock, there is a district called Warnemünde with a beautiful sandy beach and a harbor for boats sailing across the Baltic to Denmark. The water was so cold, but as soon as I was in it I could feel all the stress run out of my body. For the first three weeks my legs were tired. Between the nonstop walking and the stairs I had to walk up to get to my apartment, I was doing some serious work on them. Maybe it was just my body getting used to the exercise, but the fourth week (the one right after going to the beach) my legs didn’t bother me much at all. That beach was just what I needed to unwind.
The definition of amazing water can be found in Venice, Italy. The entire city is built on stilts in the middle of the sea. During certain parts of the month, the water swells up from the sea and fills the streets and floods the plazas.
My first day in Venice, I was able to see one of these floods, and I decided to go one step further. It was the middle of February, and the water was cold as ice. I jumped in and splashed around much to the amusement of our group, and soon some other friends joined me. Sharing that moment with my friends in a massive puddle of water will always will be something I can look back on for how I made many connections while abroad, and it was all because of that good ol’ H2O.
I remember so vividly seeing the Salzach River for the first time upon my arrival in Salzburg. The river runs through the city, all along the downtown area. During my time abroad, I lived at Internationalles Kolleg, dorms for international students that faced the river outside of town.
The view was too beautiful not to take advantage of, so I’d go running a couple of times a month. I remember pausing across the river, mostly because I was out of breath (thanks altitude), and listening to the river run through. I remember thinking how this all felt like straight out of a movie. This was one of my favorite places to wander around without a bad sight in view.
I went on a day trip, included in the study abroad program fee, to Bath England. While there, I was able to experience and reimagine the lifestyle of those who ventured far and wide to come to these baths. Known for their healing power, both healthy and sick travelers would stay in Bath and visit the spa.
The water has a high concentration in different minerals, and at the end of the tour you are able to try it for yourself. The water was warm, so it fogged up my classes. I decided to have a second cup, to get a picture with my glasses fogged up, and as shown in the pictures, the taste was not that enjoyable the second time around. Taste aside, it was a really great experience to be able to try the same water that people have been using for thousands of years!
The best water in the world, while I am biased, is in Grenoble, France. From the first day we arrived, the water was what my resident director wanted us to know about (or at least emphasized greatly). As long as there is no concern, I don’t mind drinking tap water. I will do anything to avoid paying for water if I can, just like any other college student. I love my Camelbak water bottle, and I carry it everywhere I go.
The water in Grenoble, for drinking, showers, toilets, etc., all comes straight from the mountains and flows into the city in the valley. Since drinking fountains are not always available, the fact that Grenoble’s water was drinkable from any spout was delightful and convenient.
The worst water experience was when I travelled to Marrakech, Morocco for a weekend. We couldn’t drink the tap water. It was a good reminder of how we take good water filtration for granted in the US. We should appreciate the plentiful water we enjoy when others cannot.
As you can see, no matter where we were in the world, we Alumni ambassadors all had memorable experiences that involved water in one way or another! About 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, whether it is fresh or salt water. It is safe to say that without keeping our water clean and fresh, we would not be having these fun and memorable experiences all around the world. If you are interested, take a look at the steps the Planet Water Foundation is taking to keep our water clean all around the world — and see what you can do to make a difference too!
This post was contributed by Mackenzie Hudson and additional AIFS Alumni Ambassadors.