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Semana Santa!

Spring Break.

These are two very exhilarating words.  Spring connotes a feeling of growth, beauty & freshness, and Break, well, who doesn’t love a break? A break from whatever you are consistently involved with. Whether it’s a fun & exciting thing or a mundane & taxing thing, a break from routine, or a break from reality is always welcome 🙂

For a week or two in March, sometimes April, in America we celebrate Spring Break. Whatever that means for you, whether you take off to a beach resort location, fly to Italy for 8 days, or simply relax in your house with your kiddos, everyone should have a little rest, however they deem worthy. In many Spanish speaking countries,  the time we call Spring Break, there they respectively refer to this time as Semana Santa (Holy Week). This year, Semana Santa official runs Sunday, March 24, 2013 through Easter Sunday on March 31. 2013. (Although this is one of the most popular Latin holidays, many people will take off the Friday before to begin their vacations making the unofficial start date, Fri. March 22nd).

Semana Santa is celebrated in many different ways, depending on country! It’s really an amazing phenomenon because while it’s contrived from the same origin, the method & exposition can be so vastly unique, it’s really quite amazing! Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter and includes the Christian holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundry Thursday & Good Friday.

Have you investigated how & why Semana Santa is celebrated in YOUR host country? Let’s check out some facts:


In most Provinces of Argentina, Semana Santa is a time of parades, special Masses, Vía Crucis (special religious event – Station of the Cross), reenactments that remember the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Overall, whether you a devout Christian or not, it is a great time to remember & respect the traditions & customs of each town & city.  It is most definitely a time of rest & reflection for those practicing the Catholic faith and those that are not. It is a time of reflection para todo!

The Vía Crucis designates a specific path along which Jesus walked & many people reenact this walk to feel closer to God.

This week is really an amazing time to be in the city of Buenos Aires! For a more detailed calendar of cultural events during this week, visit the Official Website of Buenos Aires.


Costa Rica:

Although small in size, the country of Costa Rica has one of the strongest & largest cultural & religious strengths in Latin America! During Semana Santa the country flares with vitality & presence holding their dramatic religious processions & services, dedicated to the last remaining days of the life of Jesus Christ. The majority of Ticos & Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica consider this to be a time to be spent with their families and with travel to all distances to be able to do so. Because of their AMAZING geographical location, breathtaking coastal lines, and superbly luscious rainforests, many bigger cities are void of locals as they will spend their time off relaxing at the beaches & at tranquil mountain Hot Springs & getaways. Ticos observe the celebration in a variety of ways: bullfights, rodeos, dancing, parades, fireworks, etc.



Other than Christmas, this is one of the TOP, most important religious holidays in the country of Mexico! The country of Mexico is almost 90% catholic therefore making this celebration an almost completely country-wide assembly. A great highlight of this celebration in Mexico is that the weather is absolutely wonderful during this time! Many families go to the beach or enjoy camping. Of course there are the shared traditions such as the reflection of religion, fiestas, processions, vigils, reenactments of the Crucifixion of Christ and the Easter Sunday celebration, but Mexico also holds their own unique version  of the creating of the Palm crosses, celebration of the Good Friday mass and of course the burning of Judas in effigy (for betraying Christ).

Easter Eggs in Mexico? Another unique aspect to the way Mexico celebrates Semana Santa (and the day of Pascua) is with their colored eggs (just like the US!). But in Mexico, the insides are emptied out, filled with confetti & called cascarones.

The reenactments & dramatizations are one of the main ways the Mexicans observe this holiday. In some towns, they go all out as to put on full displays of the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Judgement, the Procession of the 12 Stations of the Cross, the Crucifixion and, lastly, the Resurrection. Flagellation or even, real crucifixion is often included as well. Some participants will prepare the entire year for these events, therefore making them splendidly staged & very detailed in costumes & acting. It’s quite an amazing time there!



Spain outdoes other European countries in its celebration of Semana Santa. It is eminently renown for its celebration of Semana Santa! The celebrations comes immediately the week before Easter and the most charismatic & entrancing celebrations are in Andalucía (specifically Seville & Málaga).

One of the most iconic visions during this time may be initially off-putting for Americans, however, this traditional garb, called a Nazareno, has been a traditional ornamental dress for this holiday for as long as most can remember! These robes can vary depending on which type of procession they are being used.

Major towns in Spain may have a procession every night of Holy Week! The parades will include a variety of people & displays, including many floats anchored in religious decoration, followed by a plethora of Nazarenos. The Nazarenos are dressed in a long-hooded túnicas made of velvet or satin, and will carry a vela. Some may carry a sceptres. During the processions, people carry statues of saints on floats or wooden platforms. Some may discern a sense of mourning, which may seem oppressive to foreigners. The end of the Easter week & all its processions will blast off with Easter Sunday – a day full of light & color; cathedral & church bells can be heard blaring throughout the cities and mostly all of España.


Of course this wonderful & very traditional holiday is celebratated around the world and spawned from the same, very magical religious meaning! We hope that during this time you take a moment to relish in some of the very fun, and traditional ways your host country celebrates La Semana Santa and everything it encompasses! 🙂

Un regalo for your Host Family!

So, you’re going away! You’re gathering up your belongings and packing what you can into 1 or 2 suitcases (definitely not more!). You also get the wonderful opportunity to stay with a local host family. Don’t forget to stuff something into your suitcase for them!

You’ll get to share three meals a day with them and through their lifestyle learn the language & culture. The Host Family is one of the BEST ways to completely immerse yourself in your host culture. This will be your greatest and most intimate contact with the culture and people of your host country.

Now, what to bring them? Not only is it a nice gesture to someone welcoming you into their home, but it’s a nice ice breaker and also gives them a glimpse into YOUR culture 🙂

We have some ideas of gifts for your host family, but we also want to share with you what some of our students have taken to their host family.

Sol suggestions:

  • A small, inexpensive regional gift from the states (such as a coffee mug, postcard book, small bottle of maple syrup or hot sauce, etc.). Food items that the family can share always work well.
  • Something for the house (maybe a coffee table book from your state, a kitchen towel, etc.)
  • Family-style board games (that don’t require a language), local treats like preserves, candies, or maple syrup, a coffee-table photo book of their hometown, or a dry baking mix like blueberry muffins, biscuits, or scones

Alumni advice:

  • “I bought my Mama Tica an angel chime... She hung it by the door, and still tells me she thinks of me every time she hears it! I got a fashion watch for my sister and toys for mi hermano! Food is always good too! My second time I brought my moms Xmas cookies and a pretty picture frame. Ok I want to go back now!”- Emily Mullen (Wisconsin)  – Costa Rica
  • “I brought my Mama Tica a waffle iron… waffles are my favorite breakfast…. once I showed her how to make it she made them almost everyday… her daughter is like in love with waffles now and if was a nice start to the time being there… I also got the daughter her own gift and the family some picture frames…” – Lauryn Green (Southern California) – Costa Rica
  • “I bought my mama Oaxaquena a personalized spatula from my University because she loved to cook and also I bought a Christmas ornament!“- Brandi Moore (Kentucky) – Mexico
  • “I work at a boutique so I knew my family was religious and I brought them a handmade pearl cross for their wall”- Kasey Hirl (Texas) – Costa Rica
  • “I spent 3 weeks with 2 families in Japan in high school. I got each individual something small (like a Superman t-shirt for the teenage boy, jump rope for the 8 year-old girl), etc. As a family gift, I created a small scrapbook. It featured photos of my family, school, friends, and hobbies. The photos were then captioned (as best as possible) in both English and Japanese – so that they could show off where I was from!” – Karolyn Wotjowicz (Indiana) (Colleague &  Study Abroad Alumni)
  • “Spent a week in Costa Rica and I brought my family some maple syrup from home and they LOVED it.”- Ben Marx (New Hampshire) – Costa Rica
  • “I got a key chain of my state cause every student gets a home key in Argentina.” – Laury Valdes (Alabama) – Argentina
  • “I brought a candle to my host family. Somehow we lost something in translation and my host family thought it was something to eat. They liked it once they realized what it was though!”– Parker Tibbets (Texas) – Mexico
  • “I took a little photo album with pictures that i felt best resembled me. Also, being a Texan, it wasn’t hard to find souvenirs to take over to represent the Lone Star State; which they loved!!!”- Jory Garcia (Texas) – Spain
  • “I brought food that was only made in my state. and candy they loved it!”- Mat Walter (Minnesota) – Costa Rica
  • “When I went to Costa Rica I brought a few things like a coffee table book of my hometown and a t-shirt for the kid but my host mother absolutely loved the cook book that I brought!!”- Zoe Rianna – Costa Rica

The Host Family gift shouldn’t be anything too expensive or fancy, but it is a nice offering & an opportunity to share with them about your culture as well!

Please feel free to email us ( or post on the Facebook wall about an other suggestions you have and would like to see added to our list! Even things that didn’t work out – did you have a bust of a Host Family gift, and wish you would have had something as awesome as this helpful blog post to guide you on choosing an item? We’d love to hear your funny tales of the Host Family Gift that DIDN’T Quite make the cut. Or! Do you have a funny story like Parker? How did the communication go when you first presented them with your gift? Did they want to eat your candle? Let us know!

Texas Table Cactus – maybe not take this on the plane, but it’s an idea!

“Thanks, I got it at Rebajas!”

While living in Cádiz, I knew this girl whom we’ll call Bootstraps. When the new year of 2010 rolled around, it seemed every day she would come into the apartment with a new jacket on or new boots. She often carried new hand bags, scarves and always had some new & amazing store to rave about! What was this anomaly? Boostraps had stumbled upon the January mercantile tradition of Rebajas! Whenever we said, “Oye, guapa, me encanta tu vestido nuevo!”she would answer, “Thanks, I got it at rebajas”, or ask, “Rubia, ¿dónde compraste esa chaqueta nueva? es super güey!” She would answer, “Thanks, I got it at rebajas”. It was simply such an exciting time, our ears & eyes were flooded with rebajas! Big red signs displaying the magic word were everywhere.


Whether you’re a fashionista, love saving money or simply like being clothed, you will love the sales in Spain during January. Some of the most amazing sales you will ever see in your life begin around the second week of January, right after the Three Kings Festival (Los Reyes Magos). These phenomenal sales occur in three stages: first, rebajas, then an even BIGGER markdown for a second wave of rebajas, and then finally, the third portion: FINAL CLEARANCE SALES! Europe in general is always on the cutting edge of fashion, and for our students in Spain, you’ll definitely get some of this filtered down into the South East corner to our favorite Spanish city, Granada! Stores will be swollen with incredibly priced clothes, jewelry, shoes, hats, garments, watches, etc. Anything you can imagine for prices you cannot!

The English translation of Rebaja is reduction or discount. Imagine an entire month just dedicated to reducing prices on fashionable items! (Sure, many of them you may not find suitable as the Southern Spaniards can be quite eccentric in what they choose to put on their bodies or how they style their hair, but who’s to stay the mullet didn’t die in the 80’s? (There is a little bit of everything for everyone). Have you noticed the abundance of Spanish mullets still? During my time in Granada my friends and I would spend certain afternoons on what we called our Mullet Safari. How many Spanish mullets can you count in one day?

Here are a few images of local Granada customs, including REBAJAS:

You will find clothes & accessories of all kinds, from the classy & streamlined edges of Zara, to the young & frisky elements of Blanco, swooping around to the edgy, urban woman of Mango, your shopping in Granada will not be in vain! (Okay, it might be, but take advantage of your time there). Course there are countless independent stores as well, including souevnir shops of local Andalucíans & Northern Africans. As for the Gypsies that congregate in front of the Catedral offering you a sprig of their rosemary – CAUTION!  They will hand it to you as a friendship offering, however  this “gift” is not free, not even on sale! Simply smile, watch your belongings closely, and enjoy flipping through racks of discounted goodies.

The main shopping area in Granada is near Puerta Real in the streets Reyes Católicos, Recogias, Mesones y Acera del Darro.

I hope anyone lucky enough to be in Spain at this time, or really, just be in Spain, has the time & means to partake in this wonderful tradition 🙂

P.S. Scarves make great gits.


Remember Your Pre-Departure Country Handbook!

¡Oyé! ¿Estás preperando embarcarse en nuevas aventuras en un país nuevo? Winter Break Study Abroad Programs are JUST around the corner, and Spring Semester will start soon after! Make sure you are as ready as can be. Remember way back when your application was processed and you were told you’d receive four emails, and if you wrack your brain enough you can barely just remember that the 4th of those emails was something about a Country Handbook…..Can you remember it? Have you looked at it since? No need to search your email’s trash bin, we’ve got it easy & convenient for you to read online! Make sure you read up (or prepare in your best way) for your host country! For example, did you know……Argentines are known for their high protein diet, particularly beef.

Costa Rica:Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos/as. *There are more than 121 volcanic formations in Costa Rica, and seven of them are active. *More than 25% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife refuges. There are more than 100 different protected areas to visit. * A soda is a small, informal restaurant that serves traditional meals like chicken, rice, beans and salad (for quite cheap!)

Mexico:The diversity of Oaxacan cuisine is suggested by its nickname, Land of the Seven Moles. *One of Oaxaca’s best-known products is mezcal, an alcoholic beverage similar to tequila but distilled from varieties of cactus other than the blue agave, which is used for tequila. *El Dia de Los Rabanos (The Day of the Radishes) is a festival occurring in December in which participants carve people and animals from radishes.

Spain: The Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in Spain. *Granada’s city symbol is the pomegranate. Why? Because “granada” in Spanish means “pomegranate”. * Granada was the last stronghold of Muslim Spain which fell to the Catholics in 1492. *Granada also has approximately 250 days of sunlight!

Make sure you immerse yourself in a bit of predeparture culture so it doesn’t knock your socks off that banks close from 3pm-5pm (for example)!

Buenos Aires Zoo

Oct 16th – Study Abroad Fair Alert!


Today Sol Education Abroad will have representatives at the following Study Abroad Fairs:

Austin Community College (Austin, TX)
When:11:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Where: Riverside Campus (Outdoor courtyard area in front of the bookstore) & Cypress Creek Campus!
Representative: Liliana Jones

Oct 10th – Study Abroad Fair Alert!


Today Sol Education Abroad will have representatives at the following Study Abroad Fairs:

CSU Northridge (Northridge, CA)
When:10:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Where: Plaza del Sol area of the University Student Union
Representative: Sol Education Abroad directors

Getting Ready?

Dear Future Study Abroad students & Travelers,

This is a work in progress (please forgive that!), but it’ll slowly grow into the best preparation document you could find 🙂 I wanted to share my experience & ideas with you while you’re preparing for one of the best adventures you will have in your life!

Again, it’ll be updated when I get time, and of COURSE I welcome any feedback and ideas. Lets help everyone have the best experience possible! Thank you!


A new country. Another language. New culture. Different food. And of course, distinctive dental work.

Distinctive to the perfectly, straight, bright & shiny, uniform smiles that us Americans get quite used to.


Are you getting ready for your Study Abroad experience?

Are you throwing clothes around you room and giddy with excitement? Has your Mom had it with you trying to invent your own Spanish tapas, or Costa Rican Gallo Pinto?

What to do…how to prepare….ways to organize.

First, stop & breathe! You are going to another country, and that is amazing! What a great gift that is to be one of the lucky people to get to jump on a plane and explore another world.

Alright, now here are some ideas & thoughts to help you get ready & prepared!


Get Prepared & stay excited!
– There will be paperwork. Get used to it. But any required forms, signatures & fees are ALL totally, and completely worth it. I’m just prepping you in advanced so you don’t let any unfriendly Financial Aid office people get you down, or deadlines stress you out. Keep yourself motivated by learning as much as you can about your country. When you have a free minute or two, read books, listen to music of your host country, online articles, Sol Education Abroad Country Handbooks, watch videos set in the country you’re going, and the Travel Channel! Never underestimate it’s power.

Here are a few examples of things that really helped fuel me prior to going (and help settle me back into the States upon return are):

Literature & Guides: Lonely Planet, Hostel World, Rough Guides, Mood Guides & Let’s Go!
Shoe String Budget Guides (Lonely Planet)

Rick Steeves, Fodor’s & Frommer’s!

Off the beaten path Travel Guide: Vice Guide to Travel! “Dangerous, weird, and offbeat locations throughout the globe” – Now doesn’t that sound intriguing?

Movies: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Spain), Motorcycle Diaries (South America)

Music: Rodrigo & Gabriela (Spanish influence), La Vida Buena ATX (Salsa & Latin influence),

Trip & Inspiration and Ideas:

– Guide Book Sites! – See above.
– Google: Independent Travel
– (tons of insights & tips!) (great review of all materials for travelers!) (catered for female travelers). (Go! And don’t come back….Just kidding! Your friends & family might be upset….)

Language: if you’re going to a country that hosts a different language (even English!), make sure you brush up on AT LEAST the basics! If you’re a beginner, great! You’ll have an achievable challenge ahead of you.

It is a GREAT idea to carry a little pocket-size phrase book (I carried a Lonely Planet one throughout Italy and used it about 13 times every day!)

All of the above suggestions are going to help you with language preparation, but stay as connected to your host culture as you can. Listen to music, read books, host country local newspapers, movies, and if you have any friends or family fluent in the language, use them as a great resource! They will be excited to help you and proud 🙂

Don’t brush off English prep. Of course we have our distinctive dialect. It’s a good idea to review greetings, salutations, and any word differences you might come across. For example, have you ever heard of the popular 80’s garment, a Fanny Pack? Well, check out what the British use the word Fanny for. There are PLENTY of other examples of phrases that might get you in trouble, so to avoid any troubles, check out the common language before you go!

– I like to use Word Reference for a quick word & phrase find.

– For Spanish (which is my forte) verb conjugation this has saved my life many times: Spanish Verb Conjugation

– Check out Sol Education Abroad‘s quick guide for Spanish Helpful Words & Phrases (you’ll find one at the end of every Country Handbook).

– Do a word of the day! Use your Smart Phone (Android, iPhone, Windows, whatever!) and download a word of the day app. You can wake up with it, and start your day right.
Then share it with us on our Facebook wall, so we can all work as a team to help all of our students to prepare.
*What’s YOUR word of the day?


One of the most procrastinated tasks of planning for your adventure abroad! But don’t put it off! It should top your list of priorities in preparation for your voyage.

My personal travel notion: “Put all the money you wish to take, and all the things you wish to take on your bed. Take half your things and twice your money!”

Make sure you think about all angles of the program! What are you going to need to budget for? What does your Program already include? With Sol Education Abroad programs you can count on EVERYTHING being included (minus airfare and personal spending money). Check out: What’s Included!

Lay it Out!

Program Fee: $#,### (make a list of what it includes!)
Airfare: Which country are you going to & when? How soon in advance should you book your flight? Generally, the best deals will be 2-4 months in advance.

Make sure you allow yourself enough time to purchase your flight, since ticket prices will only go up as you approach your program start date. We recommend the following sites to search for tickets:

– SideStep: (searches over 200 travel websites)
– Student Airfares:  &
– Orbitz:
– Expedia:
– Skyscanner:
– American Airlines:  (AA is no longer on many of the search engines!)

Personal Spending Money: – Our suggestions for our locations are as follows:
*Argentina:  $120-$150/week
*Costa Rica: $100-$130/week
*Mexico:      $100-$130/week
*Spain:       $130-$150/week

*These estimates are quite high, but it’s better safe than sorry! Also, make sure you think about if you will be do any weekend travel. Remember, in the summer there is a Sol led excursion every weekend! The semester sessions include one a month.

Some things to think about…
– What is your host country’s currency called?

Argentina: Argentine Peso
Spain: Euros
Costa Rica: Colón
Mexico: Peso

And what is the exchange rate? – Most up to date Exchange rates. (Use this site to compare and contrast the cost of living in different countries!)

What is my host country’s Country Code?
Argentina: +54
Costa Rica: +506
Mexico: +52
Spain: +34

Some helpful travel links para vosotros: (Travel Tips, Travel Planning & Discount Travel) (Help in choosing the best Credit Card for your international traveling)


– Bank

– Packing
– Phone

– Your school’s study abroad office
– Paperwork
– Flight

Sept 25th – Study Abroad Fair Alert!


Today Sol Education Abroad will have student ambassador’s at the following Study Abroad Fairs:

Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, TX)
When:11 AM – 1 PM
Where: mall area, in front of the Lowman Student Center
Student Ambassador: Shatika Clark (Heredia, Costa Rica – Spring 2012)

Winona State University (Winona, MN)
When: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Where: Kryzsko Hall
Student Ambassador: Jayme Klingberg (Granada, Spain – Spring 2012)