Study Abroad and Cultural Tours Blog

2018 Host Family Application and Informational Sheet

To Current and New Host Families of CONEXUS International students coming to the USA in 2018:

Please fill out the application and turn in by the deadline. If you have been a host family in the past, you are already pre-approved, but we need to update our records and we will need the bottom of the application signed by all host families. Thank you again for your participation.

2018 CONEXUS Host Family Application 3.3

2018 USA Host Family Informational Sheet 3.3

A World of Thanks to All the Host Families!

To all the Host Families of the our international students who come to study English and do cultural immersions and exchanges in the USA:
Thank you for making such a huge, positive impact in their lives! You are a big part of the continued success of our programs, and we are grateful for your participation and presence. We are blessed by your generosity, kindness and attention. Thank you again, from the bottom of our hearts.
Happy Holidays to everyone!!!



Holy Week in Spain

a cultural curiosity


CIMG2771In the States, Holy Week seems often to be lost in the flood of Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, and Peeps. In Spain, Easter is lost in a flood of Holy Week somber marching tunes, people dressed in religious costumes, and antique religious statues being taken out for a walk. For an American living in Spain Easter takes on a whole different meaning – taking on the role of teacher to the innocent tourists of the traditions and history of this culturally rich country.
CIMG2780It is honestly a surreal experience to find oneself in Spain during Holy Week. In modern times, after decades under a Catholic dictator, most young Spaniards have little interest in religion, yet, so many here have an intense connection to the country’s traditional Holy Week festivities. Ten days chock full of tradition complete with pasos, which are statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or other religious figures, many dating as far back as the 1500’s, processing down the streets flanked by marching bands droning on with somber tunes. It seems like everyone you meet is signed up to carry, accompany, or play for one icon or another. And when they aren’t participating, everyone is lining the streets to see the processions meander by.
CIMG4121 (2)In most towns the festivities start on Friday of Sorrows, two days before Palm Sunday (which I always thought started off Holy Week), and it’s hard to avoid being pulled into the strange celebrations. In my case, round about 1am on Friday of Sorrows I started to hear the drums approaching, literally heralding in the start of this eventful time. As the week goes on the processions continue to proliferate until it’s impossible to escape them. By Holy Thursday, everywhere you turn you find yourself corralled by one train or another of people dressed like monks, or in robes that are eerily reminiscent of the KKK regalia.
CIMG4151 (2)And I realize how all of that sounds: a little creepy and dark, and in some ways it is, but this age old tradition is, as all things Spanish, a celebration to be enjoyed. Being a Catholic country, both Holy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays, making Easter weekend a time when the Spanish flock to cities like Seville, Malaga, and Zamora, famous for their processions and enjoy an intense immersion in tradition and culture. Holy Week in Spain is a cultural curiosity fit to be seen and experienced especially if you combine it with a glass of tinto and a tapa, which no self-respecting Spaniard would go without.
So if you’re willing to open your mind and allow yourself to be mesmerized by this somewhat odd tradition, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised. Maybe you’ll get lucky and score a torrija, the French toast like sweet proper to this time of year.

Talent for Travel:

 how to travel abroad for free

Often we find ourselves with the dilemma of wanting to travel but without enough of a budget to make it happen.  However, money doesn’t have to be an obstacle if you can be a little creative and happen to have a few talents you don’t mind showing off.   In my experience as a musician I offer you some tips on how to undertake your trip without spending a dime.

MF638U3720-2The first thing that you have to take into account is that on a vacation of this type you have to know how to improvise. Even if you choose a particular destination as your objective, you must keep in mind that circumstances can change at any time and maybe destiny will take you other places you hadn’t planned for but that are equally interesting.

The fundamental objective is to earn enough money to cover your basic needs. It is recommended that you take nonperishable foods with you like canned goods or things that are vacuum packed. You should think about what destination might be good for demonstrating your abilities and be ideal for those passing by to be able to reward you for your efforts. The usual mistake is choosing a spot with a high volume of tourists. There is such an overcrowding in these areas that it’s unlikely for anyone to pause and pay you much notice. What’s more these spots will be so flooded with others like you that it’s difficult to stand out and call people’s attention.  You should look for a spot with foot traffic but relatively tranquil, where people have room to stop and fully appreciate your art. Sometimes it can pay to choose medium sized cities with less people who like you are looking to make money. They’re your biggest competition.

busking_saxophoneYou don’t always have to perform for money. On many occasions it’s important to do so for food. The best place for this is an open air market. There is always someone working hoping for you to change their daily routine, and that’s where you come in.  Dedicating a song to the workers at one of the stands usually translates to free lunch. The same is true for street vendors or sidewalk cafes.  Playing near these posts is great publicity for them and the owners will be more than happy to repay you with a meal.

When it comes to the performance you should transmit happiness and pay attention to people’s reactions. Small things like a gesture or a correctly timed smile can arouse compassion in the spectator that won’t hesitate to leave you a tip.

It’s important on a trip like this to rest well. There are lots of cheap places to find lodging. Either hostels or university residence halls that rent extra rooms can often be the cheapest places to spend the night. Plus places like these can be great for finding people to swap stories with and make friends for future adventures.

prague_musicianA way to travel the world at minimal cost, playing music or performing of any kind can be an enjoyable way to finance your travel dreams. Whether you use it to fund a whole trip or a just a weekend getaway while studying abroad, use your creativity and talents to make your way. Good luck adventurers!

Has this blog inspired you to travel abroad? Check out our web page to find the right travel or study abroad experience for you!



Between our Mardi Gras blog earlier this month and our resident musician’s blog on his experience in New Orleans from last week, I’m feeling inspired to make something Cajun. So today we are cooking up some Gumbo.

Cajun food is great for the cold winter days we’ve been having too. The mix of French technique with rustic traditions and locally available products fashioned this food into one of the most unique and identifiable in the United States. The tradition of making Gumbo dates back to the beginning of the 1800’s in New Orleans. The must haves for this dish are okra, meat and/or shellfish, and roux. Some might add filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves – adopted from the Choctaw traditions) to the list, but living in Spain I can’t get my hands on it so we made do without.997091_670439377570_5264889757987796219_n

The dish itself is a perfect incarnation of the melting pot that is New Orleans. It combines ingredients and techniques from all the nationalities that have colonized the area over the centuries: West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw to name a few.

In my experience, stews always turn out better in the slow cooker, and this was no exception. The roux takes a little time and elbow grease, but once it’s done you can have it on hand and the rest was just throwing in the ingredients and waiting.

Has this blog inspired you to travel? Check out our web page to find the right travel or study abroad experience for you!

Slow Cooker Gumbo

(serves 6-8)

10411179_670439417490_4485544457572464867_n1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 cups okra
3 celery ribs
Italian parsley
1 can crushed tomatoes
3 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
3 chorizo links*
1lb monkfish tail**
4 Tablespoons brown roux (recipe follows)
8oz shrimp

*You could use Andouille, we just don’t have it in Spain where I live.
**Or other fish with a meaty texture

Chop veggies chicken and chorizo. Stew in a slow cooker on low 6 hours.
Add 4T brown roux. And shrimp (peeled and deveined). Simmer on high another 20min
Serve over long grain rice.

Brown Roux

Equal parts butter and flour vigorously stirred over medium heat until brown. Probably 15 minutes. Most recommend a 10173788_670437107120_2351037600899939043_nwooden spoon, but I found a whist helpful.

I usually make a ton and keep it in the fridge to throw in soups or thicken up meat juices from the slow cooker into a grave instantly.

by Katalina C. Thomas


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