TU Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sarah Haines – Discover Her Perspective on Study Abroad in Costa Rica

Today we are spotlighting our TU faculty member, Dr. Sarah Haines. Below Dr. Haines shares a little about herself, her program in Costa Rica, and her overall perspective about study abroad:

“My name is Dr. Haines and I am a professor in the biology department at TU.  I came to TU in the Fall of 2000.  Before that, I was a middle school science teacher and a part-time instructor at several other colleges and universities.  I was a double major in college- animal behavior and biology.  In graduate school, I studied the feeding behavior of capuchin monkeys.  Then I realized that I was really interested in teaching.  I earned another master’s degree in education, which led me to my current position at TU.  I teach biology courses to student who want to be teachers.

My study abroad course is BIOL382/582: Environmental Studies and Conservation in the Tropics.  I chose Costa Rica as the location for this course due to the country’s focus on conservation, sustainability, and biodiversity.  My alma mater, the University of Georgia, also had a field station in Costa Rica at the time that I was planning to run this course for the first time, and after speaking with the director I knew I had found the right place for my course!

The one thing about the course that excites me the most is the opportunity that the students enrolled in the course have to see and experience so much biodiversity and geographical diversity in such a small country.  There is wildlife everywhere!  The country also offers a lot of geographical variation, which leads to variation in species found in different areas, so that presents a wonderful opportunity to study different ecosystems.

If I could tell students one thing about studying abroad, it would be to try to push yourself to go out of your comfort zone.  So many of my students have told me that they did just that, and it made the course experience very rewarding.  Speak to people of another culture.  Try foods you haven’t ever eaten before.  Try to speak the language!  All of these things will greatly enhance your experience.


If you are planning to visit Costa Rica, one term you should be familiar with is “Pura Vida” (pronounces poo-rah vee-dah).  Simply translated, it means “simple life” or “pure life”, but  in Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying—it is a way of life. Costa Ricans use this term to say hello, to say goodbye, to say everything’s great, to say everything’s cool. However, it is not
the words that reflect the true meaning of ¡Pura Vida!. Pura Vida is the way Costa Ricans live. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world, mostly because its inhabitants don’t stress about things the way most foreigners do. Costa Ricans have a very relaxed, simple way of looking at life. No worries, no fuss, no stress—pura vida to them means being thankful for what they have and not dwelling on the negative. Although many people use the saying ‘pura vida’, until you’ve been to Costa Rica, you will not truly know what pura vida feels like. It’s an emotion, it’s an attitude, it’s happiness, and it’s a way of life.  Once you’ve visited, you will understand the true meaning of pura vida.”

Be sure to stay updated with more of our faculty spotlights! And don’t forget to check out Dr. Haines’ program in Costa Rica! #TUProud #HowBigIsYourWorld



Student Profile: John Daniel Mabilangan – How the Pandemic Impacted Study Abroad Plans

Over the course of the semester, we will be collecting student stories about their experience with the pandemic and how that harmed their plans to study abroad. Our first story is from our student intern, John Daniel Mabilangan. Below John shares his story:

“I was looking forward to studying abroad earlier this year. Being an International Studies Major
and a student of the Honors College, I was hoping to kill to birds with one stone by doing a study
abroad program to complete the requirements of both programs simultaneously. I had intended to
go to Akita International University which was more of a country-side area of Japan for Japanese
language immersion. I clearly remember my heart palpitating with excitement as I submitted all
the requirements for my study abroad. I remember studying Japanese every single day after class
and before the date of the trip to prepare my language skills. I remember planning out my class
schedule, meticulously balancing my study abroad expenses, and texting my friends in Japan of all the plans I had and all the things I wanted to do in Japan with them.
My program was not going to start until April, so from January through April was open space for me to relax and eagerly wait for my trip. I had audited French and Chinese courses to productively pass the time and studied Japanese afterwards to prepare for my trip. Around the beginning of the semester, some international students from Japan had come to Towson to study abroad in the USA and I was given the opportunity to introduce myself and show them around campus. In meeting them, I was able to put my Japanese to use while helping them get adjusted
to campus life. Thanks to them, I was able to create and host a weekly Japanese Language Table program where they were able to meet Towson University students for language exchange. I had the most fun with the Japanese exchange students. We went out for food, watched movies, and we even got to go a trip to Philadelphia together. January to March, I was completely enjoying myself with the classes I was auditing and the new friends I have made.
When the news came that study abroad programs had been cancelled, I was completely devastated. All the preparations and plans suddenly became meaningless and all the thrill I had saved up these past few months had instantaneously dissipated. When the news came out, my
new Japanese friends, my friends from Towson, and all my professors had contacted me immediately expressing their concern and support regarding the cancelation. Though I was disappointed by the turn of events, all the support and encouraging words I received from those around me helped me coped with the change of plans. Around that time, I was, however,distressed. How was I going to get refunded from all the expenses I already made? What is going to happen to my Spring 2020 semester? How was I going to complete the requirements? All of these questions came crashing down on me and I was now scurrying to figure out my next
My problems seemed overwhelming, but fortunately they were not impossible to solve. As soon
as the cancellation news broke out, the Study Abroad and Honors College had reached out to me
on getting my refunds back and procedures on completing graduation requirements for the
Honors Program. In addition, I was fortunate enough to had been auditing because my
professors, who I have audited classes for, were more than willing to let me attend their class as a
full-time student so that my Spring 2020 semester would count and I would be able to graduate
on time. The cancellations notice had come out during the last week of February and by the first
week of March I was already enrolled full-time.
Though as a senior I would not be able to study abroad before I graduate, one thought that kept me positive is all the support I was able to get from my peers and the university community
They were really great help in helping me get through the Spring 2020 semester. Though classes
had ultimately switched to online format, I had a pretty good semester overall. Though I can’t
study abroad now, there is always opportunities to go abroad next time.”
We are sure other students have similar experiences of their study abroad plans being cancelled due to the pandemic. Our office would love to hear their stories as well. If you are interested in sharing your experience, please email it to peeradvisor@towson.edu. We can’t wait to hear from you! #TUProud #TUtogether

Study Abroad Recipes – Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas Recipe

When I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, I was fortunate to take a tapas cooking class. Tapas are small plates, which are cultural food tradition in the city. My favorite tapas recipe was Patatas Bravas, a simple roasted potatoes dish topped with a spicy cream sauce. After learning this recipe, this dish was something I could not get enough of. I would go with the friends I made on my program and explore different restaurants to get Patatas Bravas.

After I returned home from my program, I wanted to try to make the recipe but I never found the time. Also, with having minimal cooking skills, I was worried about not doing the recipe justice. But with quarantine and working at the Study Abroad Office in a virtual setting, I decided it was time to give cooking this recipe a try.

I found a recipe online by Bobby Flay on Food Network. The recipe required many steps and ingredients, but I knew it was going to take a lot to make this dish like the one in Barcelona. The first step is to preheat the oven to 375 degrees and to put a baking sheet in the oven. I did not have a baking sheet, so I used a tinfoil sheet instead and put that on a tray inside the oven.

Next, heat your stove to a medium temperature and place a saucepan overtop with a tablespoon of oil. In this step, I added onion, garlic, and cooked until five minutes or until they softened. I then added paprika and had that simmer for about 30 seconds.

In a food processor, I then added the onion mixture, mayonnaise, tomato (roasted), hot pepper sauce, and cooking sherry. It is important to allow these ingredients to smooth and then add salt and pepper. After you finish mixing these ingredients, place into a bowl and put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In the final step, I added 2 inches of oil to a pan and heated the sliced potatoes until golden brown. I then drained the oil out of the potatoes and placed them in the oven until they crisped. After the potatoes were finished, I added the sauce and I had a delicious Patatas Bravas dish!


Critical Language Scholarship – How can this program benefit study abroad students?

The Towson University Study Abroad Office is sharing a new scholarship opportunity through the “Critical Language Scholarship” (CLS). Through this program, American college students can participate in a fully funded study abroad program while learning different languages. The languages offered in this program are Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, and many more.

The CLS program expands American values across the world while also spreading diversity within the United States. Participants learn another language and culture while improving and refining their future career skills. 

But there are so many more ways students can benefit from this program. By participating in CLS, students can have a study abroad experience of a lifetime while being able to save financially. Studying abroad can be expensive, but it does not have to be. That is why at the Towson University Study Abroad Office we encourage all students to take advantage of scholarship opportunities.

Our office would also like to share the different impacts the CLS program has made. All of this information can be found on their website, but here are a few highlights. One impact CLS has made is through communities. In reference to the CLS website statistics, there have been 432 scholars selected from congressional districts, 231 from different universities, and 42% of scholars were people of color.

Another impact of CLS is through careers. About 91% of CLS scholars say that CLS benefited their future career, while 62% used the cultural knowledge they learned from CLS in their career and within these numbers, 23% were STEM majors.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can benefit from CLS, check out their website. It is not too late to think about applying to study abroad scholarships. And why not apply to a scholarship that gives you the benefit of learning a new language? You may surprise yourself on how much you may learn. So what are you waiting for? Apply today! Applications close for Summer 2021 close November 17th, 2020.

All information on this article can be found at: https://clscholarship.org



Study Abroad Alumni Story – Bradford Drewniak

Alumni Spotlight:

Bradford Drewniak went to Towson University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology back in 2016 and obtained a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology in 2018. Bradford is a licensed clinical professional counselor, also known as a mental health therapist or LCPC, for short. Bradford specializes in working with teens and adults with anxiety, mood disorders, chronic stress, and adjustment concerns at a private group practice called Chesapeake Mental Health Collaborative in Towson, Maryland. Full disclosure, Bradford is also a former study abroad peer advisor.


Hi Bradford, tell me a little bit about yourself…where you studied abroad, what you studied, etc…

I’m originally from Maryland and those that know me, know my “obsession” with the outdoors, hiking, and camping. In fact, I started the hiking club at Towson back in 2013 as a way to channel that passion. During my undergraduate studies, I studied abroad twice. Both of those experiences were with Dr. David Earnest of the psychology department at the time, one of which was in Argentina back in 2014 and the other in Italy in 2015. Both of these programs had a similar focus wherein they took a look at both cultural differences between the U.S and Argentina/Italy as well as how those dynamics impact mental health treatment, how multinational business attempt to bridge cultural those cultural gaps, common factors across cultures, as well as how culture changes the valuation or prioritization of certain aspects of day to day life.

Were you nervous or apprehensive about studying abroad? I see that you went abroad twice so I imagine that it turned out to be a great experience!

I had always wanted to go abroad growing up. I remember having a world map on my wall when I was a kid and I would look at it and wonder what “that place” was like or what “that place” looked like. By studying abroad with a program, rather than solely buying a ticket to another country, I felt sense of support and guidance that we had allowed me to feel secure and confidently navigate my experience abroad. Consequently, on both occasions, I utilized studying abroad as a springboard for additional solo-adventure at the end of the programs in which I was able to further my exploration. Having a sense of familiarity before really embracing total immersion was immensely helpful in building my confidence as I ventured into unfamiliar environments, both culturally and geographically.

Was there anything about your experience abroad that surprised you, caught you off guard, or was unexpected?

I have to say that one of the biggest things that caught me off guard was how generous, kind, and accepting so many of the people were that I encountered in spite of linguistic barriers or cultural missteps. While I do have a limited working knowledge of Spanish, which helped in Argentina, I did not know any Italian prior to going to Italy. With that, in both countries, I found myself carefully trying to get a foothold of how to approach things like “how do I ask where this bus line is? How do I order food? How do I get to _____?” Given the hyper-polarizing language that has often used in modern day U.S.A, it was refreshing to see how the most defining aspect of my interactions abroad being that of empathy, kindness, and compassion. It was profoundly impact-full to be able to embrace that sense of vulnerability

and connection with those living in a very different context. Furthermore, these experiences, encouraged me to further check my privilege as it pertains to things I had taken for granted back home. Periodic perspective checks are very valuable in keeping us grounded in the reality of situations rather than allowing for a skewed narrative to take roots in our minds. Whether on a college campus, in your hometown, or abroad, these skills generalize and apply to nearly every interaction that we engage in.

It sounds like your programs had a big focus on the more intricate aspects of how culture impacts interactions and day to day behavior. What was that like as someone who studied psychology and is now a mental health therapist?

I’m glad that you bring that up! That is what initially caught my attention about these programs in the first place. While my education at Towson was absolutely critical in developing the skill set, knowledge, and critical thinking that I possess today, I felt as though my undergraduate education would not have been complete without an experiential component. For example, you can learn about the information, the context, and the background of any topic, culture, or interpersonal difference but if you do not take that information and apply it, in context, there is an opportunity lost to fully internalize that sense of understanding.

A significant portion of my role today is to not only be knowledgeable, present, and in tune with the needs that my clients bring in, but to also acknowledge the context of how their life has developed. Therefore, I continually remind my clients that THEY are the expert on their lived experience. Consequently, my work has a significant focus on democratizing and destigmatizing the therapy space. In fact, my practice is pioneering outdoor and walk-and-talk therapy sessions at local nature centers as a brings these ideas to fruition. Furthermore, these efforts are to move away from this expectation that “I have to go to this office, dump out all of these ‘negative’ emotions and this therapist will pick it apart.” It makes far more sense to work as team; the client being the expert on themselves, the therapist being the expert on interventions, theory, and skill-building. While I may have a high degree of training, expertise, and tools to help my clients, my process utilizes a significant degree of collaboration.

In studying abroad, one of the most significant lessons that I have learned is to never make assumptions. Humans internalize certain narratives about identities and while the age, race, gender, ethnicity, or other factors about a person sitting across from you may be evident at times, that does not equate to understanding, knowing, or being the expert of that lived experience. That person is not a carbon copy of whatever narrative we may have learned about that set of identities. I challenge folks to proceed curiously, openly, and with kindness. When we make assumptions, we give up an opportunity for learning, for understanding, and for connection. Studying abroad was instrumental in teaching me these things. I encourage you to reach out to the lovely folks at the study abroad office to start your own journey.

Study Abroad Student Spotlight – Rachel Williams

Meet Rachel Williams!

Rachel is an incoming senior and a psychology major. In Fall 2019, she participated in the TU in Italy – Florence program. Below is a statement from Rachel about her study abroad journey:

“The best part of studying in Florence, Italy for a full semester was all the amazing people I met. I made so many friends and memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. I got to travel to several different countries in Europe and to different places throughout Italy. This experience helped grow me as a person and I am so thankful!”
Don’t forget to email peeradvisor@towson.edu to share your study abroad story! #TUProud #HowBigIsYourWorld

Study Abroad Student Spotlight – Ayomide Fashola

Meet Ayomide Fashola!
She is an incoming senior and a psychology major. During the 2020 Minimester, Ayomide participated in the TU Faculty-Led program called TU Culture and Psychology: Argentina from a Psychological Perspective. Through this experience, she was able to study cross-cultural and industrial psychology. This allowed Ayomide to discover cultural differences between Argentina and the U.S. Ayomide also was a speaker at this year’s Foundation Scholars Celebration, where she was able to speak out about her study abroad journey. Below is a little about Ayomide’s experience abroad:
“Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I made here at my time at Towson so far. My worldview has definitely expanded and I have been able to tackle the concept of Psychology in a different yet new way. I found incredibly new customs, traditions, food and social atmospheres. I gained a better understanding and appreciation for Argentina’s people, history, psychology and more. I was also able to simply discover more about myself and others while gaining an understanding of a different culture!”
We are still collecting student stories! Email yours at peeradvisor@towson.edu! #TUProud #HowBigIsYourWorld

Study Abroad Student Spotlight – Rachel Lux

Meet Rachel Lux!

Rachel is a junior and a business administration major. She participated in the Spring 2020 TU in Scotland program before the COVID-19 pandemic. But even though her program got cut short, that did not stop Rachel from having the time of her life! Here is a statement from Rachel below:
“Picking only a few photos to describe my entire study abroad experience was a nearly impossible task, regardless of the fact that it got cut almost 3 months short due to Covid-19. The only way I knew how to represent my experience in such a small series was to show what I cherished most from it: the people. In anticipation for my semester abroad I expected different architecture, different teaching styles, lots of flights, and of course new acquaintances. I experienced all of these things in full force as expected, but what no one told me was that those new acquaintances would quickly become lifelong friends. The memories I have created from different people all around the world will never be forgotten. For that, Scotland, you will forever be in my heart.”
We are sharing student study abroad stories on our social media platforms all summer long! Want to share your experience? Email us your study abroad story at peeradvisor@towson.edu and be a part of our Study Abroad Student Spotlights! Please include your name, major, the program you participated in, a quote about your experience, and some of your favorite photos! #TUProud #HowBigIsYourWorld

Student Stories: the point of view of an international student. How is studying abroad in the US?

silvia porto rico
My teammate took this picture of me when we were all in Puerto Rico for a tournament.

My name is Silvia Grassini, and I am a  rising Senior International Business major at Towson University. I am also a student athlete, I play Volleyball in the varsity team here at Towson.  This summer, I interned in the Towson Study Abroad Office.

I am an international student from Padua, Italy. My adventure in the US started in 2017, when I transferred to Towson. I started as a sophomore, since I transferred some credits from back home in Italy.

This is a picture of my hometown, Padua (in Italian, Padova). Did you know that “Prato della Valle”, the square you are seeing in the picture is one of the biggest ones in Europe?

My experience in the US

To all the readers interested in studying abroad, I’d like to share my experience studying abroad at Towson University. Maybe seeing America from an external point of view can make you realize things that you never thought about before.

The first point I decided to analyze is whether or not America matched my expectations. Well, the answer is definitely yes. Coming from a European setting, I expected America to be more globally oriented and to have a lot more commodities. For example, I imagined big shops and huge groceries stores and the expectations weren’t disappointed. Just walking into a Wegmans makes my heart race for how everything is laid out nicely and the variety of goods offered is breathtaking.

Besides my shopping addiction for everything that is aesthetically pleasant, I was very impressed with how many people have a job and attend college as the same time. I don’t think I saw a lot of people attending university and working at the same time back home in Italy. I think this is a very important factor for students’s futures, being able to manage homework, study sessions and at the same time a job without falling behind.

My student-athlete experience

From the student athlete point of view, I realized how much more staff are ready to help you and how many more facilities are available when someone wants to workout. Even outside the regular practice schedule. I have probably never been in better shape than I am right now (I mean I really have to work out a lot though, considering all the food that I eat 😊) both mentally and physically.

towson vb
This is my volleyball team roster as last year! Can you guys guess what is my jersey number?

At first, however, the changes that I experienced while playing volleyball were overwhelming: of course, being in a different country, things are different; after a period of adjustment, I realized ultimately that if you put effort in whatever thing you do, you’ll not only see improvements (and sometimes rewards as well), but also you’ll achieve a level of personal satisfaction that will keep you motivated and active.

My final advice

Concluding this post, I must say that studying abroad really opened my eyes up, so much that I’m looking forward for the next study abroad experience! You’ll probably see me on the Australian beaches next spring! To all of you, I would say that even if at first changes may seem scary, with a little bit of adaptability there is no obstacle you can’t overcome; the final result of starting an adventure abroad is an enrichment that changes you for the better, not only as a student but also as a person.

Student Stories: Being A Legally Blind Student Abroad

Post originally found on CIS Abroad. Guest author: Aly Hathaway, Semester in Aix-En-Provence – Institut Americain Universitaire, Fall 2018, Wagner College.

My name is Aly Hathaway, and I am a Senior French Studies major at Wagner College. I chose CIS because the staff were super helpful, and I knew that it would help me make the most of my study abroad experience.

Starting out, I had so many questions

FA18_Semester-in-Aix-en-Provence_Aly-Hathaway_Wagner-College_I-am-I-can-e1554929355797-768x769.jpgEver since I started taking French courses, I had dreamed about studying in France. However, when it came time to filling out the paperwork and moving forward with the process, fear almost got the best of me. The idea of throwing myself into an unfamiliar situation with my visual impairment terrified me.

I was interested in the Semester in Aix-en-Provence program, but I had so many questions that I didn’t know if anyone would be able to answer them all.

Will my French professors understand my disability and accommodate like my U.S. professors? How would I navigate airports? A new school? And even a new city alone?

It turns out that, while these questions may have seemed unanswerable to me, all I had to do was ask.

Support from CISabroad

CISabroad quelled my nerves, greeting me with open communication and warmth. Suddenly, I had the courage to ask my program manager these questions, and the answer was simple. I would never be alone; not in the sense that someone would be with me physically to hold my hand all the time, but rather there would always be someone willing to help.

“CISabroad staff showed me from the get-go that I would be safe and accommodated during my travels, and they were absolutely right”

After talking to my home university’s disability services office and Joan (my CISabroad program coordinator) it appeared that we were all on the same page when it came to making my academic success in France a priority.

My school sent Joan a letter listing my approved accommodations, and Joan served as liaison between myself and IAU College, where I attended school in France. She made sure that the school was aware of my condition, and in response, IAU assured us that my accommodations would be met.

IAU also told us that they would inform my host family, and that after about a week or two, I would have no problem finding my way around Aix given its small size and warm people. It was settled. I was going to France!

Arriving in France

When I arrived, I was not disappointed. And when I say that Aix-en-Provence welcomed me with open arms, I mean it quite literally.

After my cohort’s orientation in Paris, we took the train south to Aix together. When we arrived at the Aix train station, we were greeted by our site director, Christelle, who helped us find our host families. I nervously stood on the platform until a woman took me into her arms and greeted me with the famous French “deux bises” or two kisses–one on each cheek. I was startled at first, but she then introduced herself as my host mother. She then drove me to my new home for the next four months.Aix-en-Provence-France-street-scene-800-x-533

Settling into Aix-En-Provence

The next day, my host mother took me on a walk to explore the city. She told me that she wanted to make sure I could find my way around, so she showed me the route from her apartment to the school. Aix is a beautiful little city, and as we walked through the antique markets and cobblestoned streets, I realized how excited I was to be familiar with my new home.

I will never forget walking into the house after my first solo journey to and from school for IAU’s orientation. She was sitting at the dining room table, a big smile on her face, hands clapping. She was so proud (and relieved) that I found my way home.

After about three weeks, it seemed like everything was coming naturally to me. I no longer needed to use Google Maps to navigate the city, and I was getting the hang of taking five classes entirely taught in French.

My professors treated me like any other student in class, but would also routinely check-in with me in private to see if there was anything else they could do to help.

Overall, I managed to do very well in my classes, and by the end of my program, I had navigated through eight different countries.

I learned that no matter where you go, if you think you may be lost, there is someone always willing to help you find your way–all you have to do is ask.

Looking back, I couldn’t have done this without CISabroad

In retrospect, none of this would have ever been possible without the support of my family and friends (the American and the French), and companies like CISabroad, who believed in me and helped make my dream of studying abroad come true.

I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand CISabroad’s dedication to showing students that, with the right resources, no barrier is insurmountable when it comes to studying abroad. All it takes is a little spark of courage, an initial conversation, and a positive outlook. I never once felt alone throughout my time in France, and it feels amazing to know that there are now people cheering me on from another continent, while I carry them with me here in the U.S. And now I can continue to explore the world with the confidence to navigate and the courage to ask for help.