IES French Studies

Bonjour! So I am sorry about not posting last week. I had a lot going on with class decision and IES took us on a four day long trip to the south of France where I had no internet in order to post. Speaking of IES, I am focusing this post on why IES has been such a great company to study with, at least thus far into the program. I am not going to go into much detail about my trip in this post, but I will post another time this week about my trip, so look out for that!

What is IES?

IES, The Company

IES is a company that specializes in sending students abroad. They began as the Institute of European Studies sending their first group of students to Vienna in 1950. The second center opened in Paris in 1961 (my center!!! as if I actually own it). Eventually, their programs expanded and the first program outside of Europe began in Mexico City in 1982. Now they offer programs in so many different countries that there is a place to study practically for everyone. Check out their website at iesabroad.org for more information on their history or their programs.

IES and Penn State

I am not sure about the history between Penn State and IES but Penn State accepts a lot of programs from IES and it is very easy to find a program. IES courses transfer easily to Penn State. Also, I am not sure about all programs, but IES always has a big showing at the Education Abroad Fair in the fall semester and they have a representative present to you about your program. Beyond that, IES also gives various webinars and supplies a lot of books with information which are available to you in the Peer Advising room on the fourth floor in Boucke!

French Studies Program

The Facilities

IES used to house the BIA (Business) and FS (French Studies) programs in the same center. Both of the programs have grown to a larger size and now the old center is used for the FS program and the BIA program has moved to another center. (I will tell you why that is a great thing in just a moment)

Our facilities are very nice. The center requires a code to enter in the front door so it is very safe. There are no signs that have IES on it because it would basically be saying “HELLO FRANCE, WE ARE FROM AMERICA!”

There are four classrooms at our center as well as a lounge. The classrooms all have a white board and a tv for powerpoints and showing movies, etc. The lounge has several couches, a few tables and chairs, as well as a microwave to heat up food. There are two vending machines with really cheap drinks from coffee, hot chocolate, and cappucinos to coke, water, and juice. There is also a piano in the lounge for people who want to play some music. Beyond that, there is also a library and a computer lab in the center for everyone to take advantage of (with free printing aussi!!).

Orientation

To start off our time at IES, there was an orientation program that was mandatory for all students. They gave us a lot of information about Paris and their ideals for the program. They also give paper copies of everything so that we can review it on our own later since it is all in French and everyone comes from different levels of French.

They were very helpful getting a cell phone and a Pass Navigo (metro pass) as well. They lead groups around to help you get past any language barriers to purchase these items. They also gave tours to various places around Paris that we will need to know how to get to for our time here.

Added Bonuses

So, we have a fantastic student activities coordinator. He is in charge of all the activities and programs that are for the students. Every month there is “Une question du mois” that we can answer and get a prize if we answer correctly. I was fortunate to win a brunch at Angelinas which is a very famous restaurant in Paris! I heard that later there will be a prize to win tickets to a soccer game!!

Beyond that, there is also a daily contest called “Où suis-je à Paris?” (Where am I in Paris?). You can win different French candies each day if you answer correctly.

Le défi

This is something started this semester. It translates as “the challenge” and it  is where someone says that they are going to speak only French for the entire week except when you talk to your parents back home of course. Beyond speaking, you must also turn your Facebook into French and change your home page to a French website. You also have to write a paragraph about your week.

If you do le défi for five weeks, you get your name on a plaque and win a prize. I am currently on week 1 of 5 but I am just taking it week by week for now and we will see what happens later!

French Studies vs. BIA (Business)

So, in one of the sections above, I stated that it was a good thing to separate the BIA and FS students. Here is the difference between the programs: FS students are required to have previous experience in French before coming and are generally French majors or minors. BIA students have no language requirement and generally come in with no French knowledge at all.

I have noticed a lot of “hand holding” with the BIA students. They were given an IES Rep to help them in the airport where as the FS students were expected to do it on their own. Most of the BIA students stay in apartments and not homestays which is such an important thing for students that really want to learn French to do! I think it is great to have a business school in Paris but it is good that the two programs are separated since one is obviously serious about French and the other is here just to take classes in another country (and that is not to say that none of the BIA students care about France or French, this is just the impression of them in my center). Many people also say they only speak English so I am glad to be separated from English as much as possible!

 

Please comment below with your experiences and if you are in an IES program, what is it like?

Loquacious, Literary, and Loving Every Second

Now that I’m back in Galway, I have been drinking up the abundance of literary culture faster than the pints I’ve been partaking in.  I really lucked out in choosing to study in a place where music, art, history, and literature dominate the city; around every turn, there is something new and wonderful to stumble upon.

But to get to those places, sometimes it helps to ask questions along the way.  Before I arrived in Galway I was determined to find the residence of Nora Barnacle, who was James Joyce’s wife.  She was born and raised in Galway before she met Joyce, and now her old home has been turned into a museum (even though the house is tiny!).  When my friend Mary and I ventured into town, we stopped by the Galway tours office and I asked the man working how to get to Nora Barnacle’s house.  Jokingly, he said “She’s dead, she doesn’t live there anymore.”  After a bit of laughter, he did give us directions, and after two failed attempts, Mary and I finally made it to the small house nestled inside a side alleyway.  We happened to arrive at it at the same time as an Australian couple, so we all helped each other out by taking one another’s photos.

Mary and I standing in front of Nora Barnacle's House.

Mary and I outside Nora Barnacle’s house

It’s still difficult for me to fathom that I’m so close to the history of my favorite authors.  Every time I go into the center of town, I pass a statue of Oscar Wilde, who is one of my all-time favorites.  I’m loving being surrounded by a prominent literary culture here – it’s such a change from what life is like back in State College.

Oscar Wilde statue in Galway City

Oscar Wilde statue in Galway City

A few days after our Nora Barnacle adventure, my friends and I chatted with a local shop owner and got directions to Charlie Byrne’s Book Shop, which stole my heart as soon as I entered.  I could have spent hours looking around, but we had to get to class so we only had about an hour to browse.  It was time well spent, though!

Me reading a book in Charlie Byrne's book shop

Me enjoying a book in Charlie Byrne’s

There are so many book shops in Galway – I seem to notice a new one each time I walk down Shop Street.  It’s definitely a dream come true for me… all of it is.  There is something inherently magical about Galway, as cheesy as that sounds.  The constant music that’s played in the streets, in the pubs… everywhere, really… seems like a soundtrack to life.  I don’t think I’ve gone a day without singing here – it’s impossible not to.  And yes, my friends and housemates do call me out on how I’m always singing.  Galway makes it so easy to live my passions, though.

And Galway always seems to point me in the right direction, too!

Me pointing at a sign for Diagon Alley in the book shop

Diagon Alley and Galway feel like the same place to me!

Looking forward to sharing more of my adventures with you!

-Maddison


Location: Galway City, Galway, Ireland

Heading to Mayo

This past weekend I participated in a home stay, which means I went to stay with an Irish family and explore their hometown for a few days.  I spent my time in Ballintubber, County Mayo, which is just a ten minute drive from Castlebar, the biggest city in the whole county.  My friend Kaity and I spent the weekend with the Murphy family.  On Saturday we explored Castlebar with our friends Mary and Bridget, and then on Sunday we visited Ballintubber Abbey, which was conveniently located just across the road from the Murphy’s house.

Visiting the abbey was my favorite part of the whole weekend, though admittedly the drive to Castlebar from Galway was scenic and beautiful.  Driving through Ireland is something I could always do – it gives me time to take in the beauty of the country and really think without interruption.  Watching the sun descend on the fields and houses was one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen so far.  Writers, beware… Ireland will inspire all sorts of literary and romanticized thoughts.  No wonder this amazing country has produced so many successful authors.

Before we explored Ballintubber Abbey on Sunday, Kaity and I went on a walk to explore local Ballintubber.  We walked down past the school and around the training pitch, admiring the quaint houses and small town atmosphere.  On the way we made friends with some ponies who live right near the pitch.

Ponies in a field, Ballintubber, Co. Mayo

Ponies in a field, Ballintuber, Co. Mayo

When we returned to the Murphy’s home, Mrs. Murphy and her daughter, Katelyn, took us to Ballintubber Abbey, which has been offering Mass without break for 800 years.  It was founded in 1216 by Cathal Crovderg O’Connor, the king of Connaught (one of the four provinces of Ireland).  The beauty of the abbey took my breath away… the old grave markers, the hazy grey day, the sheep in a field near the abbey, and the looming presence of the ruins made for a memorable experience.  We walked around the grounds and admired the amazing history that surrounded us, both inside the abbey and out.

Celtic cross cemetery marker in front of Ballintubber Abbey

Celtic cross cemetery marker in front of Ballintubber Abbey

I enjoyed exploring Mayo, but I was eager to get back home to Galway during my stay in Castlebar.  It’s amazing that I’ve only lived in Galway for three weeks and yet I miss it when I’m away.  Every time I go into Galway’s city centre, I fall in love over and over again.  I’ve been feeling really attached to the city lately, and I know at this point that saying goodbye will be very difficult.  But until then, I have a lot more adventuring to do, so I’ll save sad thoughts of departure for another day!

Until my next post,

Maddison


Location: Ballintubber, Co. Mayo, Ireland

First You Live, Then You Learn

Three weeks and ten pounds of gelato later, I finally have 30 seconds to breathe. This semester is flying by at such a rapid pace; a pause button would be handy at this moment in time.

After just three short weeks of living in Italy, I have already fallen in love with Florence. The history of this ancient city can be felt everywhere.

It crumbles from the bridges and crawls from the cracks of the buildings. It is a surreal feeling, to walk the same streets that Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo did hundreds of years ago. In a time period where technology and modernity is craved by all, Florence embraces the past.

Even with only a few weeks conquered, I have learned so much about the culture of Florence.

The first thing I picked up on is that Italians are very passionate people. When walking down the streets I am greeted on every corner by shouting men and women waving their hands, tempting me with their handmade jewelry and paintings.

I also learned quickly that Italians are never in a rush. They take their time, and appreciate doing things at a leisure pace. I found this odd after growing up outside of New York City. When I think of New York, I think of running through subway stations or Grand Central to make meetings and conferences. In New York no one sits down to enjoy a coffee or a lunch. We eat our lunches at our desks, and coffee is sipped while in the back of a taxi cab. In Florence, people take their time to enjoy a cappucino and the company they are with. Dinner is a social event paired with great food that can go on for hours. Whereas back in the States, dinner is quick and simple.

Learning how to slow down was a struggle for me. I am someone who eats while studying, and drinks my coffee while running to class. So naturally, I was not a happy camper when I had to sit down and drink my first cappucino, because Italians don’t believe in to-go cups. But 50 cappucinos later, I have learned to embrace the Italian way. I think we can all sacrifice five minutes of our day to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee.

With almost one month down in Italy, it amazes me how much I have grown. I never thought you could learn so much from living in a new city. I have learned how to communicate with people who speak a completely different language than I do. I have learned how to find my apartment in a city that is more complicated than human anatomy. I have learned how to light a gas stove without burning my eyebrows off. I have even learned how to live without wifi and netflix, which was the biggest lesson to master of all.

With over three months left in this city, I am eager to see what life lessons lie ahead. Stay tuned to find out.

“Coming of Age”

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As I move past my second week and well into the third week, I have come to the realization that studying abroad is not very different than normal life in the fact that we are all always riding a roller-coaster. The only clear difference is that with studying abroad, there is a European context. With the past week and half of classes in the books, I am experiencing similar situations to that of a typical college student.

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Having to walk to class
  • Forgetting to do a reading
  • Having to prepare dinner
  • Did I exercise today?
  • Always having work to do

While these items seem to be globally applicable, it does provide me with a sense of comfort in that I have been there and done that. The best way to not feel homesick is realize there is always something to be accomplished.

As the weeks go by, I realize that I am allowing Rome to become my home. I am starting to develop a routine and provide some much-needed structure back into this European lifestyle. Preparing meals, doing school work, and exercising at the gym allows me to feel like my typical self while still embracing this excellent culture.

Entering my third week, I can honestly say I have made numerous new friends that I am proud to call my friends. I still baffles my mind that I have only known these people for a couple a weeks considering our familiarity and comfort with one another.

With regards to the actual city of Rome, I am slowly starting to know my way around the confines of the city. I took a three-hour jog the other day and just allowed myself to get lost and learn by exploring. I managed to see the Vatican, the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona and the Fountain of Four Rivers, and many other exquisite places.

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While I plan to keep getting to know Rome, excursions to other destinations are quickly approaching. Not only am I fortunate enough to make Roma my home, but I have the exciting opportunity to familiarize myself with all of Italia.


Location: Vatican City, Roman Forum, Roman Colosseum, Piazza Navona

The sights of Sevilla

a Spanish cafe on a Saturday night

For those reading some of the other posts on this site, everything being written is true: it is extremely difficult to keep up a blog while abroad.  I’m glad I have made a commitment to the GeoBlog, since I am obligated to post with a certain frequency (I just spelled frequency like this: frecuency, similar to the Spanish equivalent frecuencia).  But scheduling time to write is very hard, especially when I am trying to form relationships here with my peers as well as dedicate time to my Spanish familia.  I apologize for not posting sooner but I plan to write again towards the end of this week.

I think part of what is getting me is the energy of this city and the people around me.  There is an element of frantic desire to live and experience things, which I think the photograph above these paragraphs captures.  I took this picture at a bar/cafe in el centro of Sevilla; I went with some friends there to get churros con chocolate (a type of fried dough, covered in sugar, which you then dip in the melted chocolate).  The cafe-tenders were yelling and in a sort of purposeful frenzy.  They seemed to be loving every minute and were joking and laughing with the many customers at the bar.  “Proximo!  Un cafe con leche!  Vamos!” they called out.  The customers fed off of the energy of the men behind the counter and laughed right along with them.

This is the energy that I become wrapped up in every day.  I lose track of time and when I do have a few hours free, I feel the need to rest and recharge, probably due to my inherently introverted nature.  But my friends in this program are eager to see and do everything they possibly can, as am I, and when the situation demands your full attention and participation, you find that you have the emotional and psychological resources to get your head in the game (so to speak).  I think this is part of how you grow and mature.

But enough of this psychological mumbo jumbo!  Here I list some of the things that have been occupying my time in the past week and a half, during which time I have not written a blog!

Dinner in Sevilla, plus a trip to the discoteca

Last Saturday night, January 17, a group of us went out to the centro in Sevilla to celebrate our one friend’s birthday.  It was a fairly large group–I think around 15 total–and because the restaurants in Sevilla are fairly small (especially in el centro, where cafes and bars thrive on the visits of small groups, not large ones) we had to sit outside.  Luckily there were heaters, but oh my gosh.  It was around 55 degrees with a breeze.  Warmer than State College, but not quite summer weather, or even spring.  Regardless, it was a nice dinner: I ordered a small bocadillo (sandwich) with smoked salmon and cheese, served with chips.  Then we headed to a discoteca called Buddha (if you look it up online, it is actually called Kudeta, but for some reason everyone calls it Buddha).

a stamp for the discoteca

We were stamped in and explored a little bit!  Buddha has three floors, all playing great music, but a group and I decided to stay on the second floor (actually considered the first floor in Spain, and the rest follow accordingly), where they were playing some Spanish hip hop.  It was about 1:30AM when we arrived, and we spent the next 4 hours dancing.  One of the things that amazes me about the nightlife in Sevilla is how late it starts and how long it lasts.  We were there until 5:30AM and there were people that stayed hours longer than we did.  I have no idea how they have so much stamina.

Local Finds

One of the things that has been really fun in Sevilla is just walking around and seeing what kinds of things you can stumble upon.  Restaurants, sights, cafes, artwork, you name it.

Ofelia’s Bakery

Ofelia's Bakery in Sevilla

A friend in my intensive class discovered this before coming to Sevilla and it happened to be very close to the CIEE center in el centro.  They sell cupcakes, brownies, coffee, all kinds of sweets.  It’s tiny but wonderful.  I bought an Oreo cupcake for my host mom and a carrot cake cupcake for me.  Yum.

cupcake's at Ofelia's Bakery in Sevilla

Apparently nameless tapas bar

focaccias at a tapas bar

We actually first saw the back of this tapas bar while walking along the river one day.  We thought it looked really cool!  Then a week later a few of us were on our way to buy bus tickets to Portugal (look for the post about my trip on Friday!) and we walked into the same place.  We looked everywhere for a name but couldn’t find one.  It seems like it is more of a building that houses many small vendors, each selling something different–wine, gelato, focaccias, etc.  I’m excited to come here intentionally one day and spend some time trying different foods.

Various architectural sites

Sevilla is teeming with incredible architecture, even in places where you wouldn’t think to find it.  After class one day I was walking around with a friend and we took a random turn down a street that looked pretty.  We ended up in a pretty little park that didn’t have a name (seems to be a trend).  We found a bench where we were able to sit in the sun and bask while watching the people and their dogs (plus many stray cats) pass.

an old tree in a Sevillan park

a pretty pathway we took while walking

Some other great things I’ve seen/done/been to:

  • a coffee shop/bar (the combo is pretty common here) called Mercado Provenzal, where they sell coffee that costs half of a Euro
  • the church (iglesia) where my host parents were married (doesn’t your heart swell?)
  • a local chain of coffee called Cafe de Indios (I think that is the right name)
  • another local chain for sandwiches called 100 Montaditos (where they actually have 100 different kinds of montaditos, or tiny sandwiches)

It’s that time again.  Currently it’s 12:53AM in Sevilla and my bed is calling me.  But, like I said, I’ll be writing again towards the end of this week, and I’ll have pictures of my weekend trip to Faro, Portugal.  Hasta luego!


Location: Plaza Nueva, Sevilla

Switzerland for the Night

We got a call from a new classmate saying Basel in Switzerland is having a Museum Night where all of the its museums are free. She asked us if we wanted to join her and her friends. YES!! We were going to SWITZERLAND for a night! My one friend, Aviva, couldn’t get over how cool it was we could just hop into another country!

As soon as we’re on the train, all of the Europeans are pulling out apples, sandwiches, cupcakes, chocolates, thermoses with coffee, and even wine! They all were offering each other and us tastes of snacks. We quickly learned: always carry food on the go. Maybe it’s a European thing, but it would explain why my European mom is always prepared with basically an emergency picnic.

In an hour, we were in Basel and it was raining. Everyone was un-phased by the weather and the museums still packed. I felt that in the States bad weather means smaller crowds – but in Europe I haven’t seen anyone fearful of some bad weather, they just pull out umbrellas, rain coats (and cool rain cover-up pants our one friend ripped off once in the museum) and go. All of the city trams were free that evening so we hopped between several museums and awed at works by Gustave Courbet, Peter Doig, and Alexander Calder (originator of the mobile). Unfortunately no snapping pics in the museum but we had so much fun meeting some new classmates and seeing the gorgeous works. We caught the train home sleepily with lots of Freiburg-er’s and were all home by 3.

Life around Freiburg

Not only did I hop over to Switzerland, the next weekend I was in France within 40 minutes. I made a daytrip to Colmar and Strasbourg. Upon arriving, I kind of forgot that I have absolutely no French and resorted to “merci” and the language of hand gestures.

Picture in Colmar, France

On the streets of Colmar, France

For now, I am working on improving my German language. Last week I apparently mixed up an order so badly that for a tuna sandwich without cheese, I somehow ended up with a cheese sandwich…surprised on the first bite. But actually laughed. Otherwiseee, I’m practicing my German in the markets and saying, “Wie sagt mann” (how do you say) for the words I don’t know yet and want to learn. It really helps to pick up words and phrases!

Snowy pathway along river - Freiburg

Light snow along river outside of Freiburg.

Freiburg streets

To Come

I’m heading to Berlin this week! A friend and I are organizing our trip and we found our 7 hour train ride tickets for 37 euros each, with some research and time. I can’t get a cheaper 3 hour bus ride to Penn State for that. Basically we will spend under 200 euros for 4 days in Berlin, saving for other things! Can’t wait to share details!! (P.S. Paris booked in 3 weeks too!)


Location: Basel, Switzerland

Pisa My Heart

To Quote Christopher Walken:

I love spaghetti. And I like to cook spaghetti. And I used to eat it every day. I weighed thirty pounds more than I do now. You can’t – you can’t do that.
– Christopher Walken from Love, Eat, Cook 

Daytrips the Past Two Weekends

Assisi

Last weekend my roommate and I went to Assisi as a day trip to check out the town 30 minutes away from our school here in Perugia, Italy. It was a sort of run through of the train system here in Italy and understanding how they all worked so that we had a better understanding of it for future/longer trips.  I LOVE the Italian train system. You can buy a ticket to practically anywhere in Italy, for the most I have seen to be is 50 euros, and you can use that ticket once anytime between the day you got it and 3 months after the day of purchase. To buy the ticket you can go up to a ticket counter and speak in Italian to the man at the desk (not an ideal option for non-fluent speakers such as myself) or you can go to these self-service machines like the ones now at the movie theaters in the US that let you buy your ticket electronically there or an ATM. These electronic machines can be used in almost any language, which I love because there are so few times in Italy that I have been able to speak only outside of my apartment. The only trick is that when you want to use a ticket you have purchased for that route, you have to validate it at a train station the day of. This means you have to put your ticket in a machine, there are dozens of them at larger train stations and a few at smaller ones, and it will stamp your ticket with the date. This means that your ticket is good for that day only and to use one-way.

So my ticket from Perugia to Assisi was 2.50 euro which I think it very affordable, and we jumped on a train around 11:30 pm and got to Assisi’s train station around 12:00 pm.  The only thing in our way was the huge hill to get from the train station to the top of the “mountain” where the town of Assisi lies. Instead of buying a bus ticket to get to the top, my roommate and I already came dressed prepared for a pasta and pizza calorie killing hike up the mountain. Let me tell you, it was an amazing workout. We stopped for a water break halfway and were both sweating when we reached the top. I’m sure the bus would have been pretty cheap and the more touristy option, but we wanted to see how the climb up was and hadn’t worked out in awhile so accepted the challenge. After leaving Assisi we both agreed we are so glad that we didn’t do the bus route up because we think we appreciated the town so much more because we earned it by just getting there.

Assisi

at the top of the climb

Because  I went to Catholic school for 12 years, the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi absolutely amazed me. When you walk in the cathedral is definitely bigger and of more grandeur than your average church at home – but it wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought it would be adorned in more lavish attire and have paintings basically “dripping” in gold. For those of you who don’t know very much about St. Francis, he started the Franciscan order of friars who believe that you should rid yourself of all wealth and riches and live as simply as possible following the way of the Lord. Therefore, it made sense that the main floor of St. Francis’s Basilica was not as fancy – I guess as a lack for a better word. His tomb site is open to visitors below the main floor and I hope everyone reading this is able to visit this place, it is absolutely magical. You go downstairs into what seems like a dungeon and there is this Twilight Zone effect where everything frozen in time back in the 13th century. There are candles and lanterns everywhere and in the center of the room is this great big cement like column which has an opening with St. Francis’s tomb inside lifted up above the ground. It is absolutely amazing. It is absolutely silent in this room with pews to pray scattered around and everyone is just in complete awe being there. I talked to someone in Assisi after this experience, and he said he does not consider himself a religious person nor necessarily always believe in God and such. But he said that when he visits that tomb, this immense and powerful feeling comes over him and he is overcome by belief. It is one of those things in life that is so hard to put into words because of how mind blowing the experience is.

After visiting the tomb, I ventured to the second floor of the Basilica and it took my breath away. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever been in, in my entire life. It is much more grand than the main floor and houses the most beautiful and colorful fresco paintings all over its walls and ceilings it is unbelievable to comprehend that you are actually seeing these things.

I do not have any pictures of the inside of the Basilica because photography is prohibited. I actually do not have a problem with this, because pictures cannot contain the experience of actually going to and visiting this amazing church. I was not able to visit the Cathedral of St. Clare because my roommate and I were short on time after having lunch to make the next train back; but I will most likely go back with a school trip in a few weeks and will report back. I would also like to make a shout-out to my Aunt Mary’s class in Springfield, PA who are following my blog and go to St. Francis of Assisi school!

Assisi

The Papal Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi

Assisi

Me in Assisi

Pisa: So far my favorite place

Pisa

Tower of Pisa

Now everyone, I am in love with Pisa. It is by far my favorite place in Europe – so far. I cannot really explain it very well but the town is just so cute and bustling about and everyone is so friendly. I just really loved our day trip there. They have this stretch of shops anywhere from H&M to Foot Locker, and many Italian boutiques and eateries. All the buildings were painted in these bright warm colors and the weather there was fantastic! I go to school in Perugia Italy and it’s usually in the high 30s or low 40s here. In Pisa I did not check the temperature but as you can see in this picture I took off my winter jacket and sweater because it felt like high 50s, maybe even 60s!

PIsa

beautiful buildings in Pisa

It was actually so funny, while my roommates and I were taking pictures with the Tower, this group of boys from Gonzaga introduced themselves to us because we were one of the only people there speaking English and asked if we could take their picture. Shout-out to my sister who goes to St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, I immediately knew Gonzaga because it is a Jesuit school just like St. Joe’s.

Anyway, I am also in love with Pisa for another reason other than its climate: gelato. Final shout-out to my Aunt Kara who told me that I need to eat as much gelato during my time here. Man oh man was that good advice. I have had some stellar gelato here so far in Italy but nothing comes close to the one I had in Pisa.

Pisa

the best thing ever

My friends, this masterpiece consists of half tiramisu and half coffee flavored gelato. When I tell you this was the best thing I have and will probably ever eat, I absolutely stand by that. It was the best 3.50 euros I will ever spend and has been my best purchase on this Earth. As you probably could tell from my past posts, I clearly love food. But I mean how can you not? And when you’re in a country like Italy, everyone is a foodie.

Well folks, that’s all for now! This weekend I am traveling to Paris and could not be any more excited – I seriously still cannot believe I am able to do all these amazing things here this semester. Some things still haven’t hit me and everyday I am blown away by something new. So with my 20 years of experience at life in hand I would like to give a word of advice: Go for it. I don’t care what it is or who you are or where you’re from. If you want to do something with good cause, do it. Life is too short to regret missing out on opportunities.  Get out of your comfort zone and do something that makes you happy. I am trying each and every day to do something different and new and daring to get as much out of this experience as possible; and each time I do so it has been extremely rewarding.

So my final note is, and in the words of a popular brand of athletic wear, “Just Do It”.

From American Tourist to Wienerin Bewohener

I’ve been struggling to find a blog-worthy topic. I have been waiting for a life directing epiphany, an “ah-hah” moment when it finally hits me that this incredible city is my home. So far, my only epiphany has been realizing that I am far from this realization. My walk to school is an architect’s dream. I attend class in an 18th century palace. Last Friday my class enjoyed drinks and pastries at one of Vienna’s Coffee Houses during lecture time in order to practice ordering in German. I am still in awe of this life and remain a tourist in the best sense of the word. I prayed in the Mariazell Basilica, which remains one of the top pilgrimage destinations in Europe. I have stood in the room that holds the file used to assassinate Elizabeth or “Sisi” of the Habsburg Empire. I have admired the gardens of Prince Eugene’s summer guesthouse and questioned what a Melange is. I have partied in a nightclub in the basement of an art museum.

Amidst my tourism, I have managed to notice noteworthy information about the culture of Vienna. Firstly, this country has managed to accomplish a fascinating balance between tradition and progression. 61.5 percent of Austria’s population is Roman Catholic and tradition shows in everything from their refusal to enjoy “grab and go” coffee to the patriarchal theme of Viennese Balls. Despite this, or maybe because of it, Austria’s society is present in and aware of the 21st century in a way I have yet to see displayed in American government. Prostitution is very legal and very regulated, both heterosexually and homosexually. Sex workers pay taxes, are tested regularly, and have the right to sue for unpaid services. Even better, it is strongly enforced that prostitutes must be their own employees; no one can collect money from another person’s body. This is one example of a socially complex country that I adore being a part of!

And while I may not yet feel like a local, I now know where to find Ben and Jerry’s peanut butter cup ice cream on a continent that doesn’t believe in Reese’s Cups AND which grocery stores tend to keep their Milka bars at the optimal temperature and away from contaminating flavors. I’d say that’s a pretty good start!

This is my apartment building... quite a transformation from The Collegian on South Atherton

This is my apartment building… quite a transformation from The Collegian on South Atherton

The Big 3

Today marks three weeks that I have been here in the Dominican Republic. As I look over my first two blog posts I realized that I really did not give too much background info on my living situation here. Now that I have been here for a little bit, many of my first impressions have subsided so I think I’ll be able to explain things to you in a better way than I would have done so before. I’ll explain the three main aspects of my daily life. For the rest of my time here, I will share a photo at the end of my posts with an interesting experience that I had and would like to share with you.

Home

I live in a neighborhood of Santiago called La Zurza II. It is a middle class neighborhood situated about a ten minute walk from the University. The houses in this neighborhood are beautiful. I don’t have too many photos of the houses here but I will be sure to take some and share them with you in future posts. I live with my host mom and my host brother, Jorge. Jorge is 12 years old. Last week, Jorge adopted a puppy Chihuahua, Nikki. At the moment she is about as big as a guinea pig, and couldn’t have more energy. She is very fun to play with and gives me another reason to love living here.

School

I take all my classes at the University close by. It’s called La Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, but since that is an absolute mouthful to say, we just say PUCMM in daily discussion (Pronounced PU-KA-MAI-MUH). I am majoring in business, so I cannot take classes which will count towards my major. However, I am minoring in Spanish, so I have come to a perfect place to focus on that. A few of the classes that I am taking are Dominican Folklore, Political Processes of the Dominican Republic, and of course Dance for Foreigners. These are all taught in Spanish by local professors. The professors here are very experienced at working with foreigners, so they are extremely patient and realize that struggling through conversation is the best way to learn a language.

Spanish

This brings me to the next aspect of my life here. You may be wondering how I could possibly live and function in a world where I can’t even use my own language. Well it’s not as scary as it seems, but still pretty tough. Although I have a couple years of classroom experience with Spanish, it’s a whole different ball game when you need to converse. As of now and for the most part, I am still hearing things in Spanish, translating into English, thinking of a response, then translating back to Spanish. Even then I still always seem to get something wrong. It can get frustrating at times, but I have wanted to learn Spanish for a while, so the fact that I can actually use it is a few years of hard work finally coming together. A whole day of classes thinking like this takes quite a toll on your head. However, it has definitely gotten easier since I’ve arrived. I can’t wait to see how much more my Spanish will improve while I am here, as it is more or less the inspiration behind my trip.

Photo of the week

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I apologize that this photo is a bit blurry. I came home from class one night, and my host mom had left dinner for me. Next to the plate there was a piece of tree bark on the table. As I looked closer I realized that it was actually a moth. I was instantly out of my comfort zone and started considering my options.  I’m usually pretty calm around bugs but this thing was huge! I carefully went to my room to grab my camera and something to use as a size comparison. All of what I just described amounted to this photo. See you next week!


Location: Santiago, DR