Study Abroad and Travel

NRE Major? What’s is that, exactly?

by Hannah Desrochers

Every holiday that I spend with my family, I find myself explaining exactly what a Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) major is, and what I plan to do with it in the future. Many of my friends at UConn think that I am in Environmental or Animal Science. How did I get involved in such a little known major? 

The author with Loki at Honeyguide Ranger Camp, South Africa.

Truth be told, I was drawn in after a discussion with Dr. Ortega, one of the NRE faculty members. After just one semester within NRE, I had the opportunity to study ecology abroad in South Africa, and I knew that my future was within this field. I was able to learn about elephants, rhinos, lions, and much more within their natural setting, while also getting some hands-on animal care experience with the camp caracal, Loki. The learning experiences that occurred during my three weeks on the game reserve felt vastly different from any other type of learning I had experienced before, and I was eager to continue those experiences back home at UConn. It was fascinating to see just a small example of the opportunities that are available across the globe to study wildlife.  

I underestimated the height of the waders I would need!

Since then, I have found myself outside for nearly all of my labs, and for a fair share of my lectures as well. Every semester I have been in classes that have allowed me to do everything from taking water samples in waist deep water, to setting up trail cams to test a hypothesis on what animals inhabit certain areas of campus. It baffles me when I speak to friends in other colleges, who spend all day stuck inside a traditional classroom. Going into college, I was undecided, but I knew that I wanted to go into a profession where I wouldn’t necessarily be stuck behind a desk all day. The College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources  as a whole, and specifically Natural Resources, has made that goal a reality. 

Just the other day, I visited the Bronx Zoo as part of one of my classes to study mammals. I learned more than I ever could in a classroom, and got to do so out in the fresh air, face to face with amazing animals. Through this experience, I learned about the role of zoos in conservation, while also learning about feeding habits, social structures and many other biological facts. For example, did you know that rhinos are odd-toed ungulates, meaning they are actually related to horses, zebras and tapirs? As a student within the Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation concentration of NRE, it was fascinating to see how conservation is woven into the mission of the zoo. Since my primary interest within NRE is wildlife, I have helped widen my experience and knowledge with a minor in animal science. My interest in animals is purely wildlife, not livestock, which is why I chose NRE over Animal Science, but my minor has helped fill out my understanding in topics such as genetics and reproduction. My experience within the Animal Science minor has also allowed me to work with my dairy heifer, Leah, for a semester and show her in the Little I show! 

As a NRE student, I view my major as one that allows me to get hands-on with everything I am learning in a classroom, while preparing me for a future in wildlife research. I am interested in both animal behavior and human impacts on wildlife, and hope to educate the public on how to better improve the world for humanity and the species that coexist with us. The experiences I have gained have helped to shape my goals for the future, and have helped me expand my worldview. 


Destined to Travel

by Isabela Blackwell

Cusco, Peru!

There are so many feelings that come along with having too many options; you might feel overwhelmed, excited, intimidated or most importantly, that you’ll choose the wrong destination. What if I told you that there was no such thing as a wrong choice? Whether you’re only comfortable traveling a few hours away or you want to go halfway across the world, UConn offers an abundance of travel experiences suitable for all students! Yes, this takes into account your financial worries, preferred duration of travel, foreign language preferences, and personal travel goals. The best part is, you don’t even have to be certain of your study abroad plans upon your arrival to UConn.

The Education Abroad team offers so many programs that you can learn more about here. I strongly encourage anyone to browse through the options, and attend an Education Abroad 101 session—if there is a will to travel, there’s a way! The opportunities range from UConn faculty-led semester long programs, to service learning trips that last only a few weeks. There are opportunities available for all majors, and course credits can be applied towards electives, minors, or General Education requirements. If thisis something that interests you, make sure to talk to your academic advisor to keep yourself on track for graduation. UConn also provides wonderful opportunities through community outreach that allow students to do alternative breaks and weekend service trips either locally or internationally.

Machu Picchu, Peru – photo taken by me!

Last year, I decided to go out on a limb and apply for a UConn MedLife community outreach trip. I had never been out of the country before, but I was looking for something exciting to deepen my college experience and broaden my horizons. I spent about two weeks of my winter break participating in mobile medical clinics in impoverished areas of Lima, Peru. Aside from the clinical experience, I was able to explore Lima, travel to Cusco, and visit one of the amazing wonders of the world—Machu Picchu! As an Allied Health student with a minor in Spanish, this trip suited me perfectly and left me desiring more excursions. Next semester, I will be participating in UConn’s Allied Health/Pre-Med abroad program in Granada, Spain, where I will spend six months taking Spanish classes and completing an internship shadowing physicians at the Hospital de la Inmaculada. I’m so excited to explore a new country, work on my language skills and do some much-needed soul searching.

Anyone considering taking advantage of these opportunities should check out these 5 scientifically proven health benefits of traveling abroad!

Studying the Food Chain in Italy

by Martina (Mengtian) Zhu

Italy, well known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, is famous for its art and different styles of architecture. Last year, I spent four months in Florence as part of UConn’s Sustainable Food and Environmental Systems program to explore this beautiful city and local customs and experience an unforgettable food adventure.

When we talk about Italy, the foods that come to my mind are pizza and pasta. There are many different kinds of pasta common in Italy; they enjoy spaghetti, but they also cook fusillini, farfalle, pipe rigate, rigatoni, and gnocchi on a regular basis. These pastas are available in the U.S., but we tend not to cook them as often as the Italians do. In addition, rice lovers can’t miss the risotto here. It is not like risotto at most American restaurants: Italian risotto is filled with local mellow cheese, fish, mushrooms and barolo. Meat is also essential in Italy. In Florence, having “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” should be on everybody’s to do list. That is the Florentine steak that comes from Chianina. The ingredients are of a high quality, so Italians use the original recipe to keep its fresh flavor. The meat is frozen for two weeks, then grilled on both sides with charcoal and olive oil until there is no blood. Because the steak is very thick, the middle part is usually raw, but it is definitely soft and flavorful.

There are some food rules in Italy. For instance, there is no chicken pasta dish in Italy, because pasta is the main course rather than a side dish. The typical Italian meal structure usually consists of an appetizer, first course and a second course with a side dish. The first course contains staple food, such as risotto, pasta, gnocchi or polenta. Second course includes different meats and types of fish, like chicken, turkey, sausage, steak, salmon or salt cod. Salad is always considered as side dish. Italians don’t have any special dressings on salad, just olive oil and vinegar. There is no take away coffee in Italy, since Italian people drink freshly brewed espresso in actual espresso cups while sitting down, rather than any latte or venti sized macchiatos. Food is intended to be enjoyed and not mindlessly consumed.

We also participated in community service during the semester. There is a very impressive community garden called Orti Dipinti, which is a sustainable garden. We helped to weed, water and clean, and our group also tried to find a problem in the garden and solve it. When I first walked in, I saw a shelf on the left-hand side, which had a postcard, tea bags, and instructions on how to make a tea bag. The garden is not large, and it was rebuilt from a waste playground. I was surprised that this small garden has so many different types of plants and vegetables in wooden containers. It is possible to pick eggplants and tomato in the city! There are also lots of unique design elements in the garden, like a bottle wall that used recycled waste wine bottles as plants’ containers. Lingering in the garden is a wonderful restorative moment during a busy day.

The program also offered me the opportunity to volunteer at a local restaurant and supermarket, which was the best experience for me to get familiar with this country. I went to La Spada, a restaurant that serves traditional Italian food, and helped to grill steak and place plates. I also went to Sant’Ambrogio market and worked in the seafood section to clean the fish and sell the products. Studying how cook Italian food with the resident chef was impressive. Eleven of us were divided into three groups, and each group created their own menu through research for the final cooking show. The chef, Francesco, made specific recipes for us to memorize and practice. My group made cabbage soup with cannellini as antipesto, pappardelle with white truffle sauce as primo, peposo stew with polenta as secondo, and cream puff balls as dolce. Cabbage soup is a healthy appetizer from a nutritional view since our other courses didn’t have any vegetables. Tuscana is a truffle-growing region, so we could buy the good-quality truffle sauce to make with pappardelle. Peposo stew is a traditional tuscan pepper beef stew, which was invented by the furnace workers who baked the terracotta tiles for the Brunelleschi’s famous Duomo in Florence. Our dessert, cream puff balls, is called bongo fiorentino in Italian, and it was recommended by Francesco. Bongo fiorentino is very popular in Florence. We made the cream puffs first, and dipped them in the chocolate sauce. It was the best dessert I’ve ever had!

Staying in Italy is very different from living in the U.S. I purchased the most fresh fruits and vegetable in the local market everyday, and cooked everyday. The lifestyle in Italy was slow and enjoyable. By comparison, in the U.S., there are more fast food restaurants and takeaway coffee. People focus more on working instead of cooking. Each lifestyle has its own characteristics. I enjoy cooking everyday like Italians, but when I have a lot of work to do, it’s nice to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks since I don’t have time to wait for fresh espresso. I appreciated this study abroad program because I could experience different cultures. For a snapshot of my time in Italy, check out my video!

5 Things to do In Maui, Hawaii

My first dip at Kaanapali Beach!
My first dip at Kaanapali Beach!

With the semester ending in a few weeks, most students (including myself) are looking forward to making summer plans! Ever since I visited Hawaii in 2015 after graduating from high school, I have been planning my next trip to return. If you are planning on venturing out to this beautiful island, here are my Top 5 favorite things to do in Maui, Hawaii!

Road to Hana

The Road to Hana trail takes you around the rural half of the island Maui, where you can stop and venture out to see the natural sights of the island. There are about 30 different sites that you can stop and see, all ranging from different types of scenery. Although this trip is very popular amongst tourist, it is a grueling journey. Traveling by car pretty much all day on Continue reading

My Trip Across the World

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

Up until my recent trip to Australia over winter break, I was pretty much scared of my own shadow. For my whole life, everywhere I traveled whether it was on vacation, or somewhere as simple as picking up take out for dinner I always had to have someone with me because I was scared of being alone. I had always wanted to study abroad, but as a science major it was too hard to fit into my schedule, and deep down I was also scared of being away from my friends and family for an entire semester or even just a few weeks.

About ten years ago when I was on a cruise with my family, I met a girl from Australia named Alexa who ended up becoming my pen pal and life long best friend. We stayed in touch for all of these years, and every winter break Alexa would come to stay with my family for a few weeks, but I was always too scared to sit on a plane for twenty-four hours to go visit her. However, I found out over the summer that Alexa would not becoming to visit me this Christmas, so the only way I could see her was if I visited Continue reading

Elephant Crossing

Collecting samples in the field
Collecting samples in the field

Most days at work, I drive my car to a climate-controlled office and sit at cubicle working with a data set, or in a conference room discussing a research project. I try at avoid rush hour traffic in Hartford on my way back to Storrs. Last month at work however, I rode on the back of a motorbike over narrow dirt roads through lush vegetation and paddy fields. I sat outside colorfully painted homes with the participants of the very same research project. I had to be sure to make it back to the field house before the wild elephants came out because they tend to chase down bikes.

Through my internship with the Health Research Program, I had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka over winter break and work with research assistants in the field. As a dual degree student with Allied Health Sciences (CAHNR) and Anthropology (CLAS), my internship was already the perfect combination of my academic interests. I work under a medical anthropologist and help study factors associated with the progression of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lankan agricultural communities, where the disease is endemic and a major public health concern. Factors include environmental exposures, occupational hazards and behaviors, and other clinical components. This means that our research team is made up of experts from the fields of nephrology, environmental science and statistics as well. I had been studying issues relating to the CKDu problems for months, but just a few weeks in Sri Lanka completely changed my understanding of the disease, the families it affects, and the nature of the research.

Visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I always wanted to study abroad, and as my college career was wrapping up, it seemed like it would be something I simply “didn’t get around to.” When my mentor at UCHC and I realized how well it would work out if I were to travel to Sri Lanka at this timepoint, I knew we had to make it happen. I was able to make meaningful contributions to our team and learn about global health and international research in the process. This trip was the highlight of my college career and will help me in my future studies as I pursue public health in graduate school.

I would encourage anyone interested in research, traveling abroad, or both to actively seek out resources on campus such as the Office of Undergraduate Research and Education Abroad to learn about their diverse array of programs.

I am grateful for this opportunity and I could not have had this experience without the financial support from the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Health Research Program. I am also endlessly thankful to my boss who has been travelling to Sri Lanka for much of his career, and the other members of the research team who have also traveled to the same area as I in the last year, for all their advice and support. Lastly, I’m thankful to the University of Peradeniya, the researchers in Sri Lanka partnering on this project, and the participants who were happy to sit with me and tell me about their experiences.

Venturing Down Under

This past summer I was fortunate enough to travel a whopping 25,000 total round trip miles following my lifelong dream to visit Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand. I was one of 21 students from colleges across 13 U.S states, Singapore, and the local Cairns, Australia to be part of the School for Field Studies (SFS) rainforest management summer study abroad program. It all started on the morning of May 22nd, 2017 when I was driving to JFK airport about to embark on a journey I never imagined I would undertake. The six-hour flight to Los Angeles seemed like nothing compared crossing the Pacific. 14 hours and seven movies later I touched down in Brisbane, Australia, pronounced “BRIS-BIN” as I quickly learned. Next a short two-hour leap to Cairns (“Cans”), Australia- a city where one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef, and the oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree, meet.

I started out my month and half long trek on my own. I spent one week exploring the local tourist areas and taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. For someone who has spent countless hours of their free-time memorizing and studying reef fish and watching planet earth documentaries, being surrounded by the very scenes I’ve only seen on a screen was incredible. I was directly connected to the ecosystem that had inspired and continues to inspire the masses.

After my brief “vacation” in Cairns and Port Douglas – it was back to the airport to meet the rest of the SFS clan I would soon become family with. I had thought my first interactions would be awkward or uncomfortable, but not with these people. Almost immediately we were cracking jokes on our winding travels up into the mountains and into the rainforests of Yungaburra, Australia. Our station was tucked away from civilization in an area with a variety of snake, marsupial, bird, and terrestrial-leech (yes- terrestrial leech) species. This very plot of land became our home for weeks to come. We learned about effective rainforest management techniques, about local environmental policy, and the local agriculture economy.

For 10 days between our stay in Australia we ventured 2,250 miles southwest to the north island of New Zealand. We traveled through picturesque rolling hills and ocean views all while studying the local flora, fauna, and how local environmental issues were being addressed. During one of the most influential parts of the trip we got to live with a Maori family. Maori being the name of the indigenous people of New Zealand. We were exposed to a totally new language, culture, and way of life. We learned about the roles the Maori play in protecting native species and ecosystems as well as how they keep their traditions alive in a modernizing world. New Zealand was the most beautiful place I have ever seen and was that much better, for me, because it was a birders paradise. I got to pet the only Kiwi the general public is allowed to have contact with in the world as well as Continue reading

Eight Countries and Twelve Cities Later…

Florence, Italy 2017
Florence, Italy 2017

Last year at this time if someone told me that I should study abroad I would have told them that there is no way. I would have said that it is a huge financial commitment, cuts into time that I could be working and is too much time spent away from family. Flash forward a year and I can genuinely say it was a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.

I did a very specialized UConn study abroad program in the summer that was only with landscape architecture students. We traveled to 8 countries and 12 cities across Europe. I was one of 14 students with two professors teaching us along the way. We spent on average three days in each city where we would have half a day of class and half a day of free time to explore. We were able to experience different cultures, expand our landscape architecture skills and socialize with many people we had never met before. Don’t get me wrong, it was the most exhausting month of my life, but I will always look back at it with only fond memories.

As a College Ambassador I am always looking to improve as a person. I look back on my study abroad experience and have realized it allowed me to do just that. I am now more confident, independent and culturally aware. This transformative experience is something that everyone should absolutely try. UConn makes it particularly attainable by offering several different scholarships that can help fund your trip.


Here is a list of the places I visited! Continue reading

Junior Year as Told by a Premed Student

My reaction after watching a birth for the first time! I want to be a neonatal doctor, so getting to see a birth was very exciting.
My reaction after watching a birth for the first time! I want to be a neonatal doctor, so getting to see a birth was very exciting.

Junior year is notoriously very difficult, regardless of major or pre-professional program, there is a lot at stake. Students are tasked with gearing up for their last two years of college by planning classes, making sure to meet all requirements, and thinking about what their next step will be. Whether you plan on attending graduate school, entering the workforce, or taking time off, there is a lot to consider and it can be extremely overwhelming. I am an Allied Health Sciences major, beginning my junior year, and I plan on attending medical school following graduation. I do not plan on taking a gap year before going to medical school, so a lot is happening this year, and it’s happening very fast. I have spent a lot of time preparing for this year, and now I am working on how to manage classes, study for the MCAT, and find ways to improve my application to be the most competitive.

First, the MCAT. I plan on taking it in early 2018, and to do this, and do well, I have a lot of studying. It is important to think about your own study habits and how comfortable you are with the material when preparing for an exam of this magnitude. You must find what will work for you to be successful, because everyone learns and takes tests differently. Personally, I have found it helpful to enroll in an MCAT prep course through Kaplan. This course includes guided online sessions for three hours each week, study books, and personalized assignments that are geared to help you in areas you need improvement. This is just one of the many ways people go about preparing for the MCAT. Find what will work for you and make you successful. Additionally, make studying a priority along with all of your other classes!

A second thing that can be stressful about applying to medical school is the application itself. While this is many months away, it does not hurt to think about what you can do now to improve your application, makings yourself a more competitive applicant. What types of things are you involved in? Do you have any volunteer or clinical work in a hospital? These are a couple of questions you can ask yourself, and if you find that you are missing something, try to search for opportunities to fill the gap. For example, this past summer I traveled to Spain where I was able to shadow doctors in a hospital for a month. This was great exposure to the medical field, and I learned a lot about Continue reading

Floods and Massive Landslides in Peru

Recent landslide in Peru
Recent landslide in Peru (“Flooding in Peru.” AvaxNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.)

During the month of March, prolonged rainfall has caused severe river flooding, landslides and mud flows across Peru. Around 150,000 homes, including a lot of people’s businesses have been flooded. Approximately 1,250 schools and 340 health centers have suffered some type of damage. 24 of Peru’s 25 regions have reported damage, the most affected regions are: Lima, Piura, Lambayeque, Ica, Arequipa, Huancavelica, Ancash and Loreto.

As of March 25th, 2017, there have been reported the death of 90 people, about 40 people are injured and more than 15 people missing, cause of this climate phenomenon named “El Niño Costero.” As of right now more than 120.000 people have either lost their family, businesses or friends, the number keeps increasing due to the continuous floods and landslides which is making people move to other parts of Peru.

Aside from people losing their homes, massive landslides and floods are causing the loss of water.

Police trying to move people to a safer place
Police trying to move people to a safer place (“Flooding in Peru.” AvaxNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.)

Many Peruvians do not have access to water, some have to buy water from other people and the prices are very high. Unfortunately, many people do not have the money and resources to buy water. The loss of water is not only happening in the poorest regions of Peru, many of the districts of the capital have reported that they do not have access to water, some temporarily and others for a very long period of time.

Currently, Peru has been declared in state of emergency and the situation over there is not getting any better. Many companies have been helping people find shelters and places where they can stay and be helped but the number of affected people keeps increasing. There have been a few fundraisers here in the U.S. and even at UConn to help the victims of this chaotic situation.  Recently, Continue reading