Hahn aims to see the world

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Hahn aims to see the world

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Chyan Metzger | Contributing Writer

Traveling abroad is on most 20-year-olds’ bucket lists, and Buena Vista University student, Cara Hahn, is no exception. At the age of 20, Hahn has visited 14 countries in the last five years.

While growing up, Hahn and her parents went around the United States, but she never journeyed outside the country until she was at Muscatine High School. Her first international experience was a trip to Mexico and the Bahamas. After the trip, Hahn’s desire to travel abroad only grew.

“It’s just something I wanted to do,” Hahn said. “I wanted to see the world.”

In the beginning of Hahn’s sophomore year of high school, she heard an announcement about studying abroad and decided to sign up. Hahn’s first choice was France. She was taking a French class and wanted to immerse herself in the culture.

Instead of France, Hahn would spend her junior year of high school in Belgium. Belgium has a similar culture to France, as well as distinct differences. Belgium’s history comes from the French and the Dutch. Today, half the country speaks French and the other half speaks Dutch.

Although Hahn wouldn’t spend the next year in France, she did get a chance to experience France. Later in her sophomore year, she finally had the opportunity to tour France accompanied by a teacher and another student. There began the start of many trips for Hahn.

“I love Belgium because I have connections,” explained Hahn. She went on to share she has fond memories when looking back on her time in Belgium.

In all of her globe-trotting, Hahn’s period in Belgium was the longest time she spent out of the country. She immersed herself in the culture, language, and everyday life. During that year she lived with three different host families. As anyone can expect in a new country, the first few months were rough. Hahn did not feel comfortable in the country until placed with her second host family. By this time, she was also able to communicate better.

Hahn describes her favorite home as an older, white, two story building. The 1940’s style home had a fence around the backyard. The kitchen was yellow to remind her host mother of her love for Italy.

During Hahn’s year in Belgium, she was able to journey through much of the country, as well as, other European countries. Hahn designates Brussels as her favorite city with many warm memories.

“I remember getting off the train in Brussels and smelling fries and waffles as I walked through the center of the city,” Hahn said.

Hahn, a big fan of waffles and fries, would eat these regularly during her year in Belgium. She had two favorite kinds of waffles. Hahn would delight over gaufres a liege waffles without toppings because of the sugar added to the waffle. Her desired toppings on gaufres bruxelles a liege were whipped topping, chocolate, and bananas. Another favored food during her trips included caramel, chocolate, or mango gelato in Italy.

Belgium offered many bars to explore. One bar she preferred to attend was the Delirium Café. The bar was off in a little corner down a flight of stairs and provided more than 2,000 types of beer. This was one place that was off the beaten track for tourists.

Hahn offered a tip for other tourists and said, “Get lost in a city. It’s one my favorite things to do.”

Hahn recalled an account of sightseeing through a city in Italy where herself and her friends were farther back in the city. They saw a menu and a stairwell. The group traveled up the stairwell to find an old, Italian man who spoke in broken English. They went into the restaurant and no other customers were there and no one else spoke English.

Foreign countries often surprise you if you’re not prepared. For another excursion, Hahn went to China. She was shocked to see babies not wearing diapers. The children could go to the bathroom wherever was convenient. The smell of China was also different as there was a fog over the city and it smelled of exhaust pipes. China was the hardest place for Hahn to communicate. Many people there didn’t speak English and everything was in Mandarin.

During college, Hahn had the opportunity to go on a medical voyage to Peru. The group she accompanied offered general checkups for the under privileged people of Peru off of the tributaries. She experienced watching a little girl have four teeth removed by one of the dentist with the group. The little girl cried during the procedure and Hahn felt bad the little girl was in such pain, but also felt admiration because she sat through and took it.

These are only a few of the countries Hahn has visited. She says she would return to every country she has been to, but has definite plans to go back to Belgium. In the future, she would also like to travel around Asia, with a specific interest in Thailand. After graduation, she is thinking about joining the Peace Corps to immerse in culture while teaching.

”I think college students should travel or study abroad because you learn stuff traveling that you wouldn’t normally learn,” Hahn said.

Hahn felt that traveling abroad makes one more culturally aware and tolerant towards other people’s way of thinking. She notes that her three years of taking French in high school didn’t compare to how much French she learned during her time studying overseas.

“I’m definitely more independent after studying abroad,” Hahn said.

Photo courtesy of Cara Hahn