Author Archives: aecasperson

It’s about culture

I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour writing, deleting, and rewriting just the first sentence of this post. It seems nearly impossible to put my experience into words, but I am going to do my best.

My time in Slovenia was life changing. I laughed. I cried. I learned to love. I tried new things. I accomplished goals. I made life-changing relationships. I would do it again in a heart beat, and since being home there have been several times where that is all I want to do.

I loved my time abroad, not because I wanted to be away from home, but because of who I have become from my experiences while I was gone. In the time I was gone I visited eight countries and lived in two, and the most important thing that I learned from all of it was that I have culture too.

I grew up in a small, conservative town. Everyone in my family going back for generations on both sides are Caucasian.  We enjoy family time, camping, card games, eating good food, and finding good deals while shopping. Since I was a little girl I have wanted to travel the world because quite frankly, I didn’t think that I had much of a culture and what little culture I did have was boring.

So, finally, 2018 was my year. At the age of 24, I was going to experience  r e a l culture. I left in February to study abroad in Slovenia, and in June went directly to India for an internship.

I forgot to pack a hat in Iceland.

I ate the best gelato imaginable in Italy.

I fell in love in Slovenia.

I sketched in Austria.

I ate delicious halusky in Slovakia.

I stood in awe of the Parliament building in Hungary.

I explored the catacombs in Serbia.

I rode a bike in Denmark.

I swam in the sea in Croatia.

I ate with my hands in India.

It is impossible to describe everything I experienced in these countries. It was incredible, but now I’m home. Back to a small, conservative town that I used to think had no culture. But guess what? I was completely wrong.

I have a culture that is completely different than every one I experienced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a culture. Out of the 10 countries I have now been to, none of them were the same. Each one had something a bit different whether it was the food, the currency, the language there was always something unique.

So now I am learning to notice and appreciate my culture, and I think that by doing that I will be better equipped to appreciate other cultures. I think that traveling isn’t really about going and seeing other places, but it is a way to teach each of us to appreciate what we have. We are all unique and a bit odd, but that’s what makes us great.

Traveling taught me that our cultures are all very different, but most importantly, we’re all human. And it is that similarity that bonds us together.

Cultures will differ, but humans are humans. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how you eat your food, or what you wear. We all need companionship and acceptance. So where ever you may be reading this, take a look around and remember that we’re all trying our best in the way that we know how to. So let’s just smile and appreciate the differences, because they really don’t matter.





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This Impact Will Last

I’ve always been a big believer in change. I think that no matter what culture a person is raised in, it is human nature to be constantly pushing towards something. Some sort of goal that is driving each individual to act the way they do. I think that goal setting nature is a big indicator of the ability that we as human beings have to change, and that change can happen quickly or slowly in ways that we wouldn’t expect.

Two and a half months ago I arrived in Slovenia. At that point I felt pretty confident in myself. I had set a goal to study abroad, and getting to Slovenia meant I had achieved my goal! What I didn’t know is how immensely these last two months would affect me. The changes that I have seen in myself in these last two months are far more than just academic growth. It has been personal growth. The kind that hurts at times, that is scary to face, that makes you smile and laugh uncontrollably, the kind of growth that is so far outside of your comfort zone that it seems comfort is no where in sight.

The kind of growth that is life altering.

Being in Slovenia has taught me that it is perfectly okay to try new things. Academically, when I came to Slovenia I was really confident in my abilities. I knew how to achieve good grades, work hard, and produce work that was above average. I thought that I knew the intense design process, and the best way to accomplish a good design. In Ljubljana the design process is a bit different. Each project is to be started in a place that I wasn’t used to. I was being asked to try new methods and push my understanding of what design is. I’m happy that I have learned this new way of design. It is difficult and far from comfortable, but I don’t think I could have learned it anywhere else.

As far as personal growth goes, it seems impossible to put into words what being here has done for me. I have learned the importance of being true to yourself, and holding onto what you believe. On the contrary however, I have learned that its okay to put my walls down sometimes. To let myself form lasting relationships here that will affect me for the rest of my life. I have learned how to be a solo traveler and to enjoy being alone sometimes. I’ve learned that I am capable of far more than I thought I was.

I have been able to travel to a lot of countries that I never thought possible. I have seen the effects of the recent war in what used to be Yugoslavia, and how people are still responding to and in some cases holding grudges about what has happened. I’ve seen first hand the bomb shelters and destruction. I have always been interested in history, but learning about the history of this place that I have grown to call home will stick with me forever.

Serbia[picture of me in Belgrade, Serbia]

Celje[picture of me in Celje, Slovenia]

Budapest[the famous Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary]

Postojna[Castle of Postojna, Slovenia]

Italy[the epitome of my joy to be in Italy eating real Italian food]

I will never regret my decision to study abroad. It has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I think that everyone who is even mildly interested in trying it should do it! Traveling abroad and living abroad is probably the fastest way to discover yourself. It is hard, and you’ll be forced into a lot of difficult situations. You won’t know where to go or even how to ask for help. You’ll try new foods, some that are so good and others that really aren’t. You will grow. I know that I have, and I hope to keep growing in my last month here.

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Paradiznik: tomato [Slovene]

It has taken me quite a while, but I am slowly adapting to the language here. Take the word above for example. Thanks to my new job I have mastered the word, paradiznik. I love to say it primarily because it sounds cool, but most of the locals just laugh when I say that the only word I can remember in Slovene is tomato. I’m not sure why it has stuck with me, but I don’t think I will ever forget it.

I am picking up little words and phrases as well:

Zivjo: Hello/goodbye

Dober dan: Good day

Dober tek: Enjoy your meal

Hvala: Thank you

Prosim: Please

This week I asked a local what they would miss most about Slovenia if they were to move, and his answer came as a surprise to me. He said that out of everything in Slovenia, the beautiful landscapes, great food, amazing architecture, he would miss the language the most. I loved that answer!

I know that Slovene isn’t a very useful language back home, but there is something about it that really just makes me want to learn it. So while I’m here I am going to try! This week I’m learning how to count, ena, dva, tri, stiri, pet…

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I made a new goal

After arriving in Slovenia a month ago, I have really started to get the hang of living and studying abroad. Even though Ljubljana is considered a small city compared to most European capitals, it is huge to me! I know my way around really well though with some help of the public transit app and kind people I meet on the street.

It has been very, very cold since I’ve been here compared to most Slovenian winters. Everyone keeps saying, “Oh, it’s going to warm up next week, and then you can really see Ljubljana.” It’s been several weeks and its still cold and snowy, but I have come to really love the city covered in snow. And I know all of the good places to go for hot chocolate and tea to warm you up after a very cold walk.

Before coming to Ljubljana I had this unspoken goal to visit every country in Europe. There was a part of me that knew that it was a really unrealistic goal, so I just never really vocalized it. However, it was always there. I figured out a completely realistic goal this week though.

I am going to make a friend from every country in Europe while I am here. 

I didn’t really understand how common it was to do a do a semester exchange in Europe, but it really is. From what I understand, Europe has this program called Erasmus, and students from all over can apply for it and go. So there are A LOT of exchange students in Ljubljana this semester (someone told me there are 900)!

It makes it really easy to make friends because all of us are in a new place, alone. And to make it even better, there is a student organization that just organizes trips and events for exchange students. So far I have been to an international dinner, a city tour, skiing in the Alps, and this week I’m going to Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria! All of these opportunities lead to making a lot of amazing friends from just about everywhere. I have a great start so far: Slovakia, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Turkey, Iceland, Belgium, Finland, China, Argentina, Croatia, and of course Slovenia.

Here’s to setting achievable goals and meeting so many cool people.

Lake Bled(Picture of me and three friends at Lake Bled)

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Lovin’ Ljubljana

Have you ever been to one of those really small towns? You know the type of town that is so small that you would miss it if you simply blinked. The one with only a single gas station, a family grocery store, and a post office. The town that you see on the road signs as you drive by, but never actually imagine people live there.

Believe me when I say, people do actually live there.

My name is Ashley, and I am from that type of town. 

Lovin Ljubljana

I was born and raised in Inkom, Idaho aka ‘Inkom Stinkom.’ Most people don’t use that name much anymore, but as a child I remember hearing it a lot. Now it just comes as a habit to chime in, “Yep, I’m from Inkom, Inkom Stinkom. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it.” The conversation always ends up with me naming the closest ‘big’ town to Inkom just to provide some sort of context.

Shortly after graduating high school, I moved to the big city of Logan, Utah to attend Utah State University (USU).

(Disclaimer: Logan is actually a really small city, but compared to Inkom it felt huge to me).

After three declared majors, a two year break, and a new job as a bicycle mechanic I realized that basically everything had changed since I moved to Logan. Well, almost everything. The one thing that remained the same through those 4 years, was that I new I wanted to study abroad. I didn’t care where or when, but I wanted to do it.

By the end of 2015 I was finally settled on a major – Landscape Architecture. This was a huge change from my previous three majors (psychology, international studies, and pre-law and constitutional studies), but this time I was sure. 

(Note: I know that many people think that landscape architecture is just mowing lawns, and I’m here to tell you that is not the case! If you were under that impression, that is okay, but from now on you’ll know better. Watch the following video for a short intro to what landscape architecture is:

Fast forward two years. I am in love with my program! It’s that type of thing where I love to wake up and go to school, and I’m willing to stay up all night. Not because I have to, but because I genuinely enjoy it. (Yes, I’m a nerd). So I was faced with a dilemma. Do I leave this place that I love to fulfill my dream of studying abroad or do I stay?

I won’t lie. It was a really hard decision for me.

My department at Utah State has had a long standing relationship with the University of Ljubljana in Ljubljana, Slovenia so I knew that study abroad was possible for me, and it wouldn’t delay my graduation. The struggle in deciding for me was simply the thought of leaving a place that I was really comfortable. A place I had worked really hard to network in, where I had made lasting relationships, and became involved with student leadership. The department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP) at USU had become my new home. How could I leave it?

With an outpouring of love and support from my close friends, family, and faculty members at USU, I decided to do it.

“I’m going to Slovenia!” I said it a lot after I made my decision, but it really never seemed real. I spent the entire fall semester of 2017 applying, preparing, and saving. It was the most difficult semester I think I have ever had. My class load was difficult, and there was so much to figure out between transportation, lodging, vaccinations, visas, classes, etc. I know that it was meant to be though, because everything just fell in to place.

I’ll save you the details of the planning, because of there are many. Just take it from me when I say that all of the hard work is worth it. 

As I write this, I am sitting on my bed in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It is my second night here, and I already feel at home. Don’t get me wrong, culture shock is real. Currently I feel a mix of emotions – excited, nervous, happy, uncomfortable, and yet completely comfortable. It’s like all my emotions are in a big mixing bowl, and I’m trying to figure out which one is going to surface next.

I’m okay with that reality though. Being in a new country without my family for the first time is hard, but I’ve done hard things before and survived. So bring on all of the emotions! These next few months are going to be amazing!

I do have a few goals that I want to accomplish while I am here.

  1. Visit at least 13 new countries (which will bring my total to 20)
  2. Learn how to understand the basics of Slovene
  3. Go to Kurentovanje in Ptuj (this is a traditional holiday in Slovenia known throughout the country as Pust, and Ptuj is the old village where the grand celebration kurentovanje takes place. The easiest way it has been explained to me is to compare it to Halloween, everyone dresses up as some type of monster to scare away winter)

I’m excited to accomplish all of these goals, and many more, but the third one is happening soon! Kurentovanje is on Tuesday (2.13.18), so I will definitely be attending that. I can’t wait to experience is, and learn more about what the holiday is.

I know that as I continue on this crazy adventure my eyes will be opened to a lot of things. I will probably continue to have a mixing bowl full of emotions, and I know things will be hard. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

From one small town in Idaho, to a little bigger town in Utah, to a really big city in Slovenia (even though most Europeans consider it to be a small town in comparison to other capital cities), I feel confident that I will be okay.

-Ashley in Ljubljana-




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