Bearcats on the Road

What do Peace Corps Agribusiness Volunteers do in Panama?

Posted by Abby Bryant on Mon, Nov 03, 2014 @ 11:24 AM

When I think back to the months leading up to my Peace Corps service, I can still clearly remember how concerned I was about my future work. I was passionate about business, helping people, Spanish, and travel and had asked my recruiter to find me a placement where I could use all of those skills and hobbies. 

Since only 20 percent of volunteers are currently serving in Spanish-speaking countries and Community Economic Development is one of the smaller programs within the Peace Corps (Education, Health, and Environmental programs are all larger) I gave the placement team quite a task. When they assigned me to serve as a Sustainable Agricultural Systems Extension Agent in Panamá, I called to let them know they had likely mixed me up with another candidate. Other than living in the country, I had zero experience in agriculture. 

What I didn’t yet know was that Peace Corps Panama’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems, SAS, Program was in the process of increasing the business/entrepreneurial advising work that volunteers take part in in order to work towards the program’s goal of improving agribusiness practices in rural Panama (The other two goals relate to improved staple crops and agroforestry practices).

Though it may vary year-by-year, recently the Panama placement teams have been selecting about 20 SAS volunteers with more traditional agricultural experience, and 5 or so with a background in business. 

Teaching Agribusiness to Panama Residents

And though the work Peace Corps agribusiness volunteers do will vary tremendously by community and location throughout the country, here are some of the most common projects and responsibilities we might take part in:

  • Giving personal and group financial training
  • Training interested group or community members in computer programs like Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Email
  • Assisting with group organization
  • Training on the function and roles of board and group members
  • Official group establishment support (There’s a long paperwork process to this here in Panama)
  • Advising the producers on how to improve their products
    • Value can be added by improving the production process or by lengthening the production process: 2nd rate cacao -> 1st rate cacao; cacao -> chocolate bars
  • Directing producers on how to manage and/or improve their product line
  • Assisting with logistical challenges (We live in some pretty out-there places!)
  • Connecting producers with potential buyers
  • Teaching producers how to maintain positive and sustainable client relationships

Teaching Agribusiness in Panama

As you may have noticed from my posts, many of us like to work both in and out of our communities. Interested volunteers can apply for Work Related Leave to travel to other Peace Corps sites to help with casual informative sessions, charlas, in just about any topic relating to agribusiness/money/finance. For example, I’ve recently been helping several community water groups to organize their resources and financially plan for the implantation and maintenance of their new aqueduct systems. Though it’s not quite “agri-business,” the SAS volunteers in Panama are some of the only ones who receive relevant training during PST. 

So what about if you’re really into business and especially love working with new communities? If that’s your preference, you could apply to be a National Agribusiness Coordinator for the SAS Program! Usually formed as an East/West pair, the Peace Corps Agribusiness Coordinators are given additional support and a travel budget in order to spread agribusiness knowledge throughout the country. Duties include:

  • Train incoming volunteers in relevant agribusiness practices in Panama during their PST (Pre-Service Training) and IST (In-Service Training)
  • Develop positive relationships with related government agencies and NGO’s
  • Support volunteers in their in-site work through site visits, seminar assistance, and additional training
  • Develop new training materials and techniques to be shared through Peace Corps Panama’s Agribusiness Manual
  • Serve as the point person for volunteers and staff for any questions or resources related to agribusiness

Interacting with locals as a Peace Corps Volunteer

If you’re a future volunteer with an interest in business or a SAS volunteer coming to Panama, there are two important takeaways I want you to have.

First, just because you’re not enrolled in a business program does not mean you won’t get to do business related projects during your service. One of the great things about Peace Corps is that it is what you make it. If you want to work in business, do it! 

Secondly, if you’re a SAS volunteer, I can almost guarantee you that some business-related project will come up throughout your service, even if you’re intent on working 100% on the more agricultural side of things. So, don’t zone out during your agribusiness trainings and don’t be afraid to ask one of the agribusiness volunteers for help if you need it; Goodness knows we’ll need yours when it’s time to fertilize the yucca!   

Fertilizing the Yucca in Panama

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Volunteer Abroad, Abby Bryant

Saint Vincent Bearcats in Northern Ireland

Posted by Natalie Ambrozic on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 @ 02:11 PM

My last week in Europe was absolutely fantastic and I was even able to hang out with some fellow Bearcats!

My friend Rachel, who lives in Belfast with her family, invited me to stay at her house when she heard about my internship in London. My other friend Mary was visiting her the same week I was, which made the trip even more incredible. I booked a flight out of London that left at 7:30am, so I took the tube late at night with all of my luggage and slept overnight in Heathrow Airport to avoid paying an £80 taxi fare the next morning (the tube is closed from 11pm to 5:30am, so I would not have been able to make my flight the next morning if I did not stay overnight). It was totally worth it, since the US equivalent to the cab fare is $132!

Northern Ireland is definitely the most gorgeous place I have ever seen. I was amazed at how beautiful and green everything was. The first thing we did when I arrived was visit the Titanic museum in Belfast. The Titanic was built in Belfast and the residents like to joke that “it was built by Irishmen, but sunk by an Englishman.” We then ventured up to Portballintrae, a picturesque town by the coast, and spent a couple days there. Rachel says that this is her favorite place and it’s obvious to me why. Everything is so beautiful and calming there. We also saw the Giant’s Causeway while we were at the coast, which is a mound of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which were formed in the aftermath of an ancient volcanic eruption. According to legend, however, the causeway was built by an Irish giant named Finn MacCool so that he could cross the sea to Scotland, which you can see from the coastline. There are huge green hills that lead up to the causeway and make the beach scenery even more breathtaking. This was such an incredibly stunning place and I was awestruck by the beauty of it all.

Driving to Portballintrae

Rainbow while driving to Portballintrae



The path to the Giant's Causeway

The path to the Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway

Mary, Rachel, and I at the Giant's Causeway

Mary, Rachel, and I at the Giant's Causeway

We also visited Derry, which is officially named Londonderry, and toured the historic city walls. These walls were used in battles many centuries ago and still remain standing today. We returned to Belfast the next day and took a bus tour around the city (which was very windy on the top of the bus!). One of the things that particularly surprised me was that the peace walls were still being used in the urban communities in Belfast and Derry. These walls were erected in 1969 to separate the Unionist and Nationalist communities during the outbreak of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The separate neighborhoods still erect either the British or Irish flag to show their allegiance and the tension is still present, even though the fighting stopped many years ago. It was haunting to see the remnants of the past in the graffiti in both cities, but encouraging to see how the communities are learning to live with each other peacefully. We also visited a monument to honor the soldiers who died in WWI, which overlooks the entire city, and Queen's University, where Rachel studies. 

Historic walls of Derry

Historic walls of Derry

Graffiti murals in Belfast

Graffiti murals in Belfast

Mary, Rachel, and I on the windy bus tour

Mary, Rachel, and I on the windy bus tour

View from the WWI monument

View from the WWI monument

Queen's University of Belfast

Queen's University of Belfast

I have been back in America for a little over a week now and I can hardly believe that I had such an incredible summer. Looking back, I am shocked at how many things I was able to do and how many places I was able to go. I can happily say that I have absolutely no regrets about my experience abroad and I am so happy to have had this opportunity. I want to thank my family for all of their support throughout the past year, Sara Hart for helping me organize my amazing trip, and Rachel Macartney and her wonderful family for inviting me to stay with them. I am now about to start my senior year at Saint Vincent and I couldn’t be more excited! All of the opportunities that can be found at this amazing school have truly changed my life and, after seeing the world, I am so happy to call Saint Vincent my home.


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Topics: study abroad, internship, London, Natalie Ambrozic, Ireland, international marketing

My House in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Posted by Abby Bryant on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 @ 10:33 AM

Peace Corps House

One of the most frequent questions I get is about my living conditions as a Peace Corps volunteer. Despite the fact that more and more volunteers are living in houses or apartments in cities or towns with complete amenities (refrigerators! wifi!) my house leans more towards the stereotypical house in the jungle side of things.  

I'm very lucky to have a huge, awesome house and an awesome landlord. Though rent is valued at $25 per month, I am instead putting that money towards building a bathroom and improving the house. My house is in the center of town within 5 minutes of the school, our community pavilion, a small store, and 5 other homes.  

Pre-Peace Corps, I expected living without basic amenities like electricity and clean water to be pretty challenging, but as I've come to realize, it's actually quite relaxing.  And that's coming from someone who hadn't really even gone camping before!  


peace corps house

peace corps kitchen

Last but not least, here is a video tour of my house:

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Volunteer Abroad, Abby Bryant

I See London, I See France

Posted by Natalie Ambrozic on Tue, Aug 05, 2014 @ 02:49 PM

Hey everyone!  This is my last week in London and I can barely believe it until I realize how much I have done during my stay. My internship has been amazing and I have been able to learn so much while I’ve been here. Quite a lot has happened since my last post, so I will try to fill you in on the highlights of these past two weeks. First off, my friends and I were able to travel to Paris, which is a city I have always wanted to visit. To my surprise, however, I did not like the city very much and I was glad that we were only there for a weekend. I don’t want to bash Paris too much, but the overall environment did not feel welcoming and they have an awful metro system. In spite of this, I am glad that I went on the trip, and seeing the iconic destinations in this city was still a great experience. My favorite part was climbing 300 steps to the top of Montmartre and seeing the view of the city.  

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(Me at the Eiffel Tower)

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(Notre Dame)

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(View from the top of Montmartre)

The next weekend, my friend and I went to WB Studios, Leavesden to see where the Harry Potter films were made. This was so exciting because nearly all of the sets from the films were still intact and hundreds of props were on display. I especially loved seeing the detail put into Dumbledore’s office and the potions classroom, as well as the Great Hall. Probably the most breathtaking part of the tour was seeing the giant model of the Hogwarts castle. The model is incredibly detailed and takes up an entire room in the studio (a very large room, I might add). Up until the sixth film, the model was used to film all of the scenes that showed Hogwarts from above because the current CGI technology was not at a level that would have made Hogwarts look acceptable for the films. I was amazed when I heard that!

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(Great Hall)

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(Dumbledore’s office)

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(Me on the Knight Bus)

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(Hogwarts model)

That same weekend, we also visited the Portobello market, Hampstead Heath, Abbey Road, and the house where the Parent Trap was filmed. We also went to Tower Hill at night to see the city lit up. Tower Bridge looked amazing as usual, and we also visited the ancient wall built during the Roman occupation of Britain. There also were thousands of ceramic poppies on display outside the Tower of London to honor the soldiers who perished during WWI. This was a hauntingly beautiful sight, especially at night.

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(Roman wall)

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(Tower Bridge)

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(Poppies outside the Tower of London)

I am going to miss London so much when I leave, but I am also glad to be going home soon. Before that, though, I am going to visit my friend Rachel in her hometown of Belfast! My friend Mary will be there as well, and I can hardly wait to see both of them. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Topics: study abroad, Paris, London, England, Natalie Ambrozic

"Imagine this town in the '20s. Paris in the '20s, in the rain. The artists and writers!"

Posted by Austin Summers on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 @ 10:50 AM

describe the imageMy second stop took me to the lovely city of Paris. I was looking forward to this city because one of my favorite movies from the past 4 years happened to be "Midnight in Paris" by Woody Allen. If you haven't seen it and want to experience Paris in one of the most romantic, historical, and funny ways possible, I would suggest looking into that movie.

I hadn't seen it for a while before heading over (I meant to, but I never got back around to watching it again), but I planned to try to see as many thing from that movie as possible while I was over in Paris. I didn't see too much due to crazy business, but I was able to sit on the same exact steps that Owen Wilson sits every night in Paris to catch the yellow car that takes him away.

Aside trying to find all the beautiful B Roll spots from "Midnight in Paris,"Paris was a fun city to be in. In all honesty, I wasn't able to enjoy it the way that I wanted to due to the location of the group's hotel and the poor metro system they have there. Yet, although I have told many of you that I wouldn't go back (Sorry, I've been back from my trip for a week but have fallen behind on the blog here), I think, if I could change some things and knew what to expect I would probably revisit it. I would certainly have to watch "Midnight in Paris" again before heading over.

Here are all my pictures of Paris anyways. I don't have a cool song that makes them super romantic, but watch the second video if you want to have that Paris longing.

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Talk to everyone next week when I parlay my travels in Milan.  

describe the image

Topics: study abroad, Austin Summers, Paris

Castles, Giant Rocks, and Hailstorms

Posted by Natalie Ambrozic on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 @ 10:26 AM

Hi everyone! I got to see some other areas of England recently when my friend and I went on a bus tour to the Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford. This tour was a great way to see all of these places because some of the locations would have been hard to travel to on our own.

First off was Windsor Castle, one of the queen’s many homes. Everyone knows about Buckingham palace, but apparently the queen doesn’t like to stay there and only visits when she needs to work. Windsor Castle is her favorite place to stay. The castle, in its original state, was built in the 11th century and is extremely rich with history because of this. Different monarchs had renovations done throughout the centuries and a fire destroyed over 100 rooms in 1992. The queen needed to raise money for the repairs so she started allowing tours in Buckingham palace to raise the money. We had a chance to tour the beautiful state apartments within the castle, which are used for hosting events. They were filled with priceless art and gorgeous architecture, but we unfortunately were not allowed to take pictures, so you’ll just have to Google them to see what I’m talking about. Windsor castle is also one of the only places you can actually get your picture taken with one of the royal guards, so of course I had to seize the opportunity!windsor 1 resized 600windsor 2 resized 600

(Windsor Castle)

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(Me with a guard at the castle)

After this, we went to Stonehenge. The area around the stones is blocked off for preservation purposes, so you are not allowed to walk inside the stones, but you can walk around the edge. I was surprised that the stones were not bigger, honestly, but it was really cool to see this mysterious landmark. Some of the stones that these ancient people used were moved from thousands of miles away and the biggest one weighs 25 tons. The fact that we still have no idea why Stonehenge was constructed is so bizarre, especially when so much effort was put into its construction.stonehenge resized 600

(Me at Stonehenge) 

Our last stop was Oxford, where we took a walking tour of the university and town. The influence that this town has had on history is truly remarkable when you think about how many influential people were educated at the university. There were even some sites from the Harry Potter films on campus, which made me particularly excited. In the middle of our walking tour, a crazy thunderstorm broke out and our group had to flee back to the bus. The rain was a torrential downpour and it even started hailing on us! My friend and I had to share an umbrella so we both were pretty soaked when we got back on the bus, but the outlandish situation had us laughing our heads off.deer hat resized 600

(Me wearing a deerstalker hat at Oxford)oxford 2 resized 600

(Oxford in the sunshine)oxford rain resized 600

(....and during the biblical storm)

So despite the rain (and hail), I had a wonderful time on the tour and I’m so happy I was able to see these amazing locations. I was also able to see Les Miserables in the West End a couple days ago. The show had some of  the best singers I have ever heard in my life and a revolving stage. Apparently the stage makes 63 rotations each performance! The whole show was simply incredible. I am also heading to Paris this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited! More updates are soon to come!

Topics: marketing, summer program, study abroad, internship, public relations, London, England, Natalie Ambrozic, international marketing, travel

A Delicious Way to Teach Business

Posted by Abby Bryant on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 @ 02:19 PM

Since one of the biggest aspects of my job as a Peace Corps volunteer is teaching basic business skills and encouraging small scale entrepreneurship, I'm always on the hunt for fun or interesting ways to get villagers interested and involved.  Though sometimes I put a lot of thought into how I'm going to present certain topics, other times it's just gotta happen organically.  

What started out as a fun rainy day activity- baking with the women in my community- has actually become my most successful business class!  Once or twice a month I host a women's Baking & Business class in which some of the local ladies and I bake cakes, cookie bars, sweet breads, etc., and as we wait for the sweets to bake, we talk about product costs, pricing margins, product development, and basic marketing.  

Baking and Business Classes

Since only two or three families in my town have ovens and most still cook over an open fire, we too bake our desserts over an open fire in a McGyver type of makeshift oven.  It's simple- a baking pan on top of an empty tuna can inside a larger pot with a lid- but it works.  

A Makeshift Oven works well!

I usually try to incorporate local ingredients into the products- and since there are bastante bananas, oranges, lemons, cocoa, coffee, and coconuts, it's not too hard.  Needless to say, we're never short on taste testers :)

Teaching baking and business skills

Though most of the women haven't started officially selling their sweets yet, I'm hopeful for the future. They have started baking on their own, and our store owner has pledged his support, so that when they are ready to sell, he'll be their first buyer.  

Topics: Peace Corps, Panama, Abby Bryant

I Feel like a True Londoner

Posted by Natalie Ambrozic on Wed, Jul 09, 2014 @ 04:04 PM

These first two weeks in London have been an amazing experience! I have been working at my internship as an assistant publicist at Premier and I really like the work so far. My main job is to help the PR department promote the movies that are currently being released onto DVD and Blu-Ray. This includes helping to organize promotional events, emailing media websites asking them to post articles about the movies, and brainstorming for new ideas on how to promote the films. I was really impressed with the big clients that we work with and I am so lucky to have this awesome opportunity.

I commute to work Monday through Thursday on the tube (I get Fridays off). It gets ridiculously busy and humid during rush hour but I feel like a true Londoner when I’m part of the crowd. The commute has also allowed me to learn the tube system fairly well, which makes my exploring on the weekends that much easier.

But it hasn’t been all work and no play! I’ve also been able to continue my exploration of this spectacular city. I visited Covent Garden and the Camden Lock markets and bought some awesome souvenirs. My friend and I also went to the British museum, which is full of Egyptian mummies, ancient Greek sculptures, and other amazing artifacts.  

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(Greek statue of Venus at the British museum)

We also went on a creepy tour that visited the various sites on the East End where Jack the Ripper murdered women in the late 1800s. This was both disturbing and fascinating because, to this day, no one knows who the infamous serial killer was. The investigation shaped modern police research significantly because Jack the Ripper was the first person to ever have a psychological profile created for criminal profiling techniques. Since I love psychology, I found this fact pretty cool.

I also was able to indulge in some of my love for British literary icons, including Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter. Our group was able to attend a free play at the Globe Theatre, which is a modern replica of the Shakespeare’s original structure that stands in the same general area where the old one would have stood. We stood on the ground level like the peasants would have and it really made us feel like we had been transported into the 1600s. The play was Antony and Cleopatra, which I especially enjoyed because I had never read it before. 

A Shakespeare play in London

(Antony and Cleopatra at The Globe theatre)

I also was able to visit the fictional house of Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street.  This was the location of the detective’s home in the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the real address was made into a museum due to the character’s fame.

221B Baker Street!

(Me at 221b Baker Street)

What I was most excited about, however, was visiting Platform 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter books. King’s Cross train station set up a tribute to Harry Potter in the station by erecting a statue of a cart, filled with suitcases and a pet owl, in the process of going through the wall on the way to the Hogwarts Express train station. Harry Potter was definitely what made me want to visit London so badly when I was a kid and started my journey on this adventure, so it was incredible to see this in person.  I was also able to book tickets for the movie studio tour in August and I can’t wait! 

The famous Platform 9 3/4

(Me at Platform 9 3/4) 

There is still so much to do in this city and I am planning on visiting other cities in Europe as well while I am here, so I will have a lot more to tell in these next few weeks!


Topics: marketing, media, internship, public relations, London, England, Natalie Ambrozic, international marketing, travel

First Stop- London

Posted by Austin Summers on Tue, Jul 08, 2014 @ 11:33 AM

London is the land of excess and I love it! I’ve always enjoyed traveling to London ever since I visited for the first time last year, at the end of my brother’s AIFS program he attended there. It’s an amazing city, and after a few days in Paris, one of my favorites to visit. Everyone is nice, they say they enjoy your accents, call ‘blond women’ “uneducated sounding” (which cracks me up), and you get to see the best of the best in terms of everything. For example: You get to see the best home of the best empire builder since Napoleon, you get to see the best cars, the best suits, the best helicopters carrying the best princes of the best empire, and so forth. It just leads to an unforgettable experience that takes your breath away… and it does take your breath away due to the pollution in the air there.  

Sadly, for this blog, I didn’t take too many pictures of my own to put up here about Kensington Palace (even though I casually strolled past the future King George Louis when I visited the palace), or the shops on High Street (even though Jimmy Fallon walked right by my group when we traveled there and some of the girls fainted), or Parliament (even though I saw no one of importance there), or the Glob Theatre (where one of my friends on this trip was swept off her feet and danced with an actor during a play), but I was able to catch a real beauty: A Maybach parked on the street corner.

A Maybach on the corner of High Street
Now, you may be wondering: Austin, this is London, why do you care so much about a car? And to that I would answer: It’s a $2 million dollar limo that people privately own…why wouldn’t I? When I saw it I immediately started to get an adrenaline rush just because I was looking at it. It was a spectacle for sure, as you can probably see in the picture I have here. If you just can't seem to fathom why this is such a big deal, check out this video and it should put everything back into perspective:

So yeah, I did a tiny freak out because of this car, but in all honesty, it’s only the second time I have ever seen one and both were in London. From that, I can only think that when people go to London, they put on and show off their best for the Queen; which is a pretty awesome consumer behavior insight.

So, I apologies for not having the quintessential London blog post, but hopefully you will watch some of these videos that I post and be blown away by the amazingness that is this Maybach. Although, if you do want to see the touristy stuff of London, check out some of the other blogs on this page. I know one has all the big stuff: Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, all that good stuff and you can see them and think as if you are looking at them on my blog. :P

I’ll let you guys know what I’m up to in Paris this coming weekend. Stay tuned. :)

Topics: study abroad, Austin Summers, London, England

It's about to get hotter (for me, anyways)

Posted by Savannah Butler on Mon, Jul 07, 2014 @ 01:40 PM

In several hours, I will be heading to the airport. I finally finished packing but I am still a bundle of nervous energy. I doubt I will get any sleep tonight…

My name is Savannah Butler and I am studying abroad in Taiwan to learn Mandarin this summer. The month of July will be filled with classes every morning and immersion in Taiwanese culture in the evenings and weekends. I thought it might be fun to create a “wish-list” of things I want to do while I am there. Hopefully I can cross many of these items off in the next few weeks and share my memories with everyone reading.

Savannah’s Taiwan wish-list:

  • Visit a hot spring

    • Taiwan is one of the hot-spring capitals of the world, having something like 9 naturally occurring springs. It also has one of the only saltwater hot springs.

  • Shilin Night Market

    • I want to try interesting food and see a traditional Chinese puppet theater show

  • Visit Sun and Moon lake

  • Ride the High Speed Railway

    • It covers 215 miles in 90 minutes. (Awesome!)

  • Visit the Taipei Holiday Jade market

  • Visit a Buddhist temple and meditate

  • Scuba dive at Green Island

  • Go to a movie

I am sure I will find a ton of other things in Taipei itself (the university is a short trip away) and I will be sure to take lots of pictures. Wish me luck for my 20 hour flight. Taiwan, here I come!

Topics: study abroad, Taiwan, Savannah Butler

About this Blog

In Bearcats on the Road, students chronicle their lives while studying abroad or completing internships away from campus.

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About the Authors

Savannah Butler is immersing herself in Taiwanese culture this summer. The marketing major will learn Mandarin during her trip. 

Austin Summers is a junior marketing major at Saint Vincent. This summer, he's going on a tour of Europe - traveling to London, Paris, Milan and Florence to study fashion marketing.

Natalie Ambrozic is a senior marketing major at Saint Vincent. This summer, she'll intern as an assistant publicist with Premier Entertainment in London, England.

Stephanie Rukavina, a junior early childhood education major, is interning at a Montessori School in Dublin, Ireland this summer.

Abby Bryant graduated from Saint Vincent College with degrees in Marketing and International Business in 2013. That June, she joined the Peace Corps to work as an Agri-business Volunteer in Panama, teaching business practices to local farmers. 

Michael Cerchione is a junior management major at Saint Vincent. He studied abroad in Florence, Italy this spring semester. 

Michael Orange is a sophomore biology major at Saint Vincent. During the 2013/2014 winter break, he ventured into Mexico for a month-long study abroad experience.

Katie Kohler is a junior communication major at Saint Vincent College. In Spring 2013, she studied abroad in Australia, and wrote about her journey on this blog.