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Athena Study Abroad has been selected as a finalist for two GoAbroad Innovation Awards: The People's Choice Award and Innovation in Philanthropy​ Award​.

GoAbroad's People's Choice Award honors the top international education organization was selected by study abroad professionals and students​. T​o become a finalist​ in this category​, Athena was ​nominated by study abroad advisors​​ throughout the ​United States​. Starting ​on ​Monday, April 27th, a public vote will ​begin to select the winner of this award.

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So last week I was in Ireland for a long weekend, and it was absolutely fabulous. It made me feel closer to home. All the green grass, sunshine, and lack of city!  As much as I love living in London, I do miss the country life. And i got to expirence a little bit of that staying in Kinsale Ireland.

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These photos show Kinsale which is where our B&B was, a cute little town in county Cork, it also shows the Midleton Distillery, which is one of Jameson's main Distilleries. As well as Blarney Castle, its grounds, and my favorite it's poison Garden.

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Last week, I climbed the Duomo and the tower with two of my friends. We went into it knowing there would be a lot of steps, but I was not expecting to be this sore afterwards. It was a perfect day outside--74 and sunny. It has started to feel a little more like California recently. When we started to walk up the spiraled steps, I thought about the intricate details of the Duomo. How come there aren't any more churches built like this one? The pillars, the masterpiece on the ceiling, the artwork on the outside: these are all parts of the Duomo that I cherish and I will miss when I leave in under 5 weeks. The view from the top of the Duomo was stunning. It made me think of all of the things I still want to do in Florence. I saw rooftop bars, museums, churches, and a lot of other places I need to see. 

On Saturday, I took a train to Pisa and took obligatory leaning tower photos. From Pisa, my friends and I took another train to a town called Lucca. Lucca reminded me slightly of Florence in areas, but it was surrounded by walls, seeming like a fortress of some sort. It was smaller and inhabited less people. We had a nice lunch and rented bikes to ride around the town. It was exhilarating to ride a bike again; it had felt so long since I rode mine back at school. We took a break and laid down in the grass. We people-watched and looked out at the view of the town. A little later, we walked around and got self-serve ice cream (which kind of felt like Yogurtland :) ) then we got on a train back to Florence. Saturday was one of the best days I've had abroad.

On Sunday, my roommate and I decided to be productive. We set out to do homework and reading at the Boboli Gardens. This was difficult though since it was so beautiful outside. We got some things done, but we also enjoyed the sun and laid out. I noticed many cute Italian families playing and giggling. It was adorable to listen to the Italian kids but then I thought, "Wow a 3-year-old is better at Italian than I am..." But it's okay I get by! 

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I read about the half marathon event on twitter Thursday night and I was really excited to register for the 5K. I enjoy running for the endurance and the challenges that it can put you in, mentally and physically. To register for the event it costs 5 euros. I was really surprised at how low the cost was because back home in Washington, to enter into any race the minimum is at least $25 to $35 dollars but the proceeds go towards cancer societies or other similar organizations. The price for this event was low to encourage people to participate in a healthy activity and to have fun while running. Besides the usual 5k and 10k runs, there was a Tommasino Run for children and families, and the half marathon which consisted of two laps of the 10k route for the competitive athletes.  

The weather today was perfect for a run and the crowd of people were so colorful! I showed up early to sign up and receive a bag with a free-tshirt, snacks and energy packs to mix inside water bottles. While I was waiting for the race to start I met a few runners, one from Florence and one from Brazil. We reached the 5K sign at 33 minutes and it was a breeze it went by quicker than I had expected and that's when I decided to keep going to see if I could run the full 10K. I've never ran a 10k before nor did I train for this, but I've been running recreational for about 4 years so I told myself, Why not? We ran beside each other and talked about running and about the event itself as we passed the Duomo and crossed over the Arno. We ran non stop for 8K until my little heart was having trouble keeping up with them, we parted ways and I walked a few minutes to catch my breath. I tried for as long as I could to keep up with them but it's important for everyone to know your body's limits and know when to push them and when not to push them. I saw stores I had not seen and piazza's with beautiful spring flowers. There were also tourists taking pictures of the runners passing by. Half way through the run there were tables with small cups of Gatorade and water to quench your thirst, some tables had energy bars and freshly cut fruits to eat while you run. I took a few pictures but I wanted to enjoy as much as I could. When I crossed the Finish line at 1 hour and 20 minutes. I was both excited and relieved, proud and extremely exhausted. I never imagined that I would be running a 10K in Florence; it was an amazing and refreshing experience. This was a fun and exciting challenge and I would definitely do it again. :D 

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So often I hear, "It's best to study abroad the Spring semester of your Junior year." Why? 
I did exactly that, though not intentionally. I had no idea of this advice before I studied abroad, only after I had talked to other students about their study abroad plans. Now I really wish I had not done that. I wish that I had studied abroad sooner so I could have gone abroad more often. 
 
College is probably the best time to go abroad considering you're not tied down to anything just yet. As an added bonus, you get to learn something substantial while you're there. Sure, you could read up on the culture beforehand. Sure, you could hire a tour guide. Neither of those can give you the depth of knowledge that study abroad can. There's also a difference in the length of time you could go later in life. You may be able to go for a week or two later on, but now you can go for three months with no problems. Those are the reasons why I wish I had been able to study abroad at least one more time. 
 
Though I've heard that the explanation for studying abroad Spring Junior year is that a student is more stable and they've gotten most of their important classes out of the way, it doesn't mean a student can't go earlier. 
 
Don't get me wrong, I have to say that if you do study abroad earlier it takes some planning (actually, this applies to study abroad in general). The point is to plan ahead either way. Meet with your advisor to map out when you should take certain classes. By the time you're a Junior you may be more interested in taking major classes in preparation for graduation, especially with Core classes. To me this is the worst thing that could happen: That students say they'll go Junior year and then never go at all. Those students are missing out on one of the most amazing experiences they could possibly have. 
 
If you go early you can go twice or more. (I realize the financial issues in this, but that's what financial aid and scholarships are for, which is another thing you won't have if you travel after graduation.) 
 
Go abroad early and get your gen eds out of the way! This is especially where you should explore your options. Do all of your school's lit classes sound boring? Take a lit class in England! Need an art credit to graduate? Take an art class in Italy! What about the language requirement? Go basically anywhere abroad and do it there! 
 
There are also many upper level major classes offered abroad, so go a second time, and if you must, do it the Spring semester of your Junior year! Worried about landing an internship before graduation? Yes, you can do that abroad too, which is a really great asset when entering the business world in general. 
 
My point to all of this is that there is no wrong time to go abroad. I know a girl that has studied abroad multiple times and she was able to start going abroad when she was a Freshman. What's wrong is to not plan ahead and to let life get in the way. I don't want preventable circumstances to keep anyone from studying abroad. Most of all, I don't want this idea of studying abroad Junior year to get in the way of anyone's dream of studying abroad whenever they want to and as often as they want to.
 
-Sara Dorsten
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