Farewell Letter to Perugia

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Dear Perugia,

It’s going to be weird not cursing at your Wi-Fi when trying to load Netflix.

It’s going to be weird not climbing the mountain of which we call Via dei Priori.

It’s going to be weird not pushing a door to enter a building.

It’s going to be weird not having to worry about data when trying to post a Snapchat of that early morning croissant filled with Nutella.

It’s going to be weird not having to play charades when trying to purchase something because you just started speaking the language a few weeks ago.

It’s going to be weird not worrying about the physical state of your feet because cobblestone is not kind.

It’s going to be weird not trying to find an ounce of warmth while walking on the cold tile floors of the apartments.

It’s going to be weird not rearranging our entire lives around the train schedules and what time the mini metro stops running.

It’s going to be weird not struggling to find just a spoonful of peanut butter.

It’s going to be weird not waiting for the stores to open up after 4 p.m. because of la pausa.

It’s going to be weird not worrying about if you should bring your own towel or if the hostel will provide one for you.

It’s going to be weird not eating dinner at 8 o’clock after near starvation during the day.

It’s going to be weird not pulling your hair out deciding what color bag the trash goes in.

It’s going to be weird not practically going bald after missing the right color bag trash day and having 20 blue bags piled up in your kitchen.

It’s going to be weird not spending the night in the Rome airport just to catch that early morning flight to your next destination.

It’s going to be weird not attempting to split the check at a restaurant 13 different ways because separate checks is a myth in Italia.

It’s going to be weird not waking up to the smell of sweet pastries in the morning.

It’s going to be weird not indulging in pounds of gelato without having any regrets.

It’s going to be weird not having pizza that’s actually fresh and not greasy like the sad round things we eat in America.

It’s going to be weird not walking down the street and having hundreds and hundreds of years of history in your view.

It’s going to be weird not waking up to the peak of the sun rising over the Western Alpine mountains that reside in your backyard.

It’s going to be weird not experiencing the relaxing nature of the Italian lifestyle.

It’s going to be weird not conversing with the sweet old sandwich man who always put a smile on your face and greets you with not one but two “Ciao’s.”

It’s going to be weird not sitting on the steps in the main piazza with some of your closest friends discussing when you would visit each other when you arrive back in the States.

It’s going to be weird not falling in love with you, Perugia, and all the amazing people you brought into my life.

It’s going to be weird…but the weird experiences are the ones you miss the most because they make for the most memorable stories.

Sincerely,

The girl who will forever keep Perugia in her heart.

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So, are you fluent yet?

An Interminable Progress

One of my pet peeves is when I talk to my friends at home and they ask me, “So are you fluent yet?” Considering I came to Argentina to improve my Spanish and practice it living day to day in a foreign country, this is a valid question. After being here for about two months, my Spanish vocabulary and my ability to speak has improved immensely. However, it is very hard to   say yes, I am fluent in a second language. I am still learning constantly, so I would say that I am certainly proficient in Spanish. But saying I am fluent makes me feel that I am done learning Spanish, that I am satisfied with my ability to communicate in a second language. I always try to improve my accent, but I am resigned that this is very hard to do. Even people whose first language is not English who have lived in the US for decades often still have accents. Even with this being said, I do not think I will ever be satisfied with my fluency in Spanish. Even in English, I love reading and learning new words to enrich my vocabulary. Of course, I would say I am fluent in English. But the never ending process of learning a second language – learning new vocabulary, learning the context of when words and expressions are used- makes it harder for me to say yes, I am fluent in Spanish.

I need something that glues things together a.k.a glue

For example, the other day I needed glue or tape to finish a poster project about fracking in Argentina for my Spanish class. As I was walking to the store to buy glue, I realized I couldn’t remember the word for glue in Spanish. This presented a problem because in the school supplies stores here, the worker asks what you need and they get it for you. I couldn’t just look around for glue and pay without speaking. However, I remembered the verb to glue. So I asked the worker in the store for something that I could use to glue paper to a poster. She understood and asked if I wanted liquid form or the stick. Of course, this was not the most concise way for me to buy glue, but I got what I needed and finished my project. But now, I now the word for glue and won’t forget it anytime soon. This kind of learning is a daily occurrence.

Living in a foreign country that speaks your second language is the most incredible learning experience. All of my courses here are in Spanish. Whether I’m in my Argentine poetry class or my Patagonia anthropology class, I’m constantly learning new words. When I take the bus through the city, advertisements and store signs flash by me, teaching me new words and expressions. When summer was ending here, every store had signs of “rebajas, rebajas!”, “sale, sale!”. I learn new social and political terms when I pass by signs campaigning for candidates. In the Plaza de Mayo, there are always political demonstrations or political graffiti and posters across from the Casa Rosada, the equivalent of the White House.

The poster hung in the Plaza de Mayo says Truth...? Memory...? Justice...? Inclusion...?: Lies from those governing! We want to believe in their commitment to memory, justice, and truth.

The poster hung in the Plaza de Mayo says Truth…? Memory…? Justice…? Inclusion…?: Lies from those governing!
We want to believe in their commitment to memory, justice, and truth.

Sail or candle?

Although I read La Canción de la Pirata (The Song of the Pirate) in my Spanish literature class, I have never had a sailing unit in any Spanish class at Penn State. When I first told my host family I was going sailing, I remembered the word for sail, but my host family didn’t understand me at first. I second-guessed my memory of the word for sail because it also means candle. But after going sailing, I have a concrete experience of sailing, had conversations with our Spanish speaking captain, and learned lots of new words related to sailing and the river: words like sailing, stern, and words for different types of sailboats.

Sailing with my friends on the Río de la Plata

Sailing with my friends on the Río de la Plata

Oh, I can read a menu in Spanish… I think

We also had alfajores on our sailing trip. Alfajores are two cookies that have dulce de leche in between them, and the whole thing is dipped in chocolate. A lot of Argentine dishes, like in any language, have their own specific name. So, it has surprised me how difficult reading menus or reading labels in the market has been. For example, lomo is a word I commonly see on signs near large cuts of meat at delis. I am normally a vegetarian at home, so not knowing what type of meat my sandwich has freaks me out. I think, “Oh, is lomo rabbit? Deer? What could this possibly be?” Turns out lomo is just a cut of meat. Argentines are very serious about meat, so normally signs and menus always include the cut of meat, no matter whether it is a to-go sandwich shop or a nice French restaurant. I also saw a quiche that was labelled “puerro” in the market. This also freaked me out because puerro sounds very similar to perro, meaning dog. However, I found out puerro means leek, so I didn’t need to worry that the market offered dog quiche.

My favorite bakery: In the name of dessert!

My favorite bakery: In the name of dessert!

An alfajor

An alfajor

I have even learned a lot of words for vegetables, fruits and herbs here: eggplant, basil, arugula, parsley, grapefruit. When I go to my favorite bakery, En el Nombre de Postre, I learn new words for spices like cinnamon or the phrase for whole-grain bread.

Another language challenge is the ice cream parlor. You would think this would be simple, but if a foreigner came to an ice cream store in the US, there are plenty of names that don’t really describe what the ice cream actually is. For example, what the hell does moose tracks actually mean? There are many ice creams like this in Spanish too. I have been intrigued by one flavor named Roger. Sometimes I feel silly asking what an ice cream is like, so I remind myself that there are a lot of nonsensical names for ice creams in English too. I ask my friend who owns the store what the mysterious Roger ice cream is like, and he says that it is like the candy Ferrero-Rocher. So I tried it, and it was amazing!

So, all in all, I work on my Spanish constantly outside of the classroom. A lot of it depends on my own effort to learn. I can either point and gawk, or I can exercise my ability to ask Argentines what something means or get my point across without knowing the exact word that I want to use. So sometimes, it seems so much easier to point instead of say, “what is this like?”, “what is this made out of?”. So even though sometimes I feel like a complete idiot asking silly questions, I am an idiot that is learning new things every single day in the city, unlike any experience in a contained classroom at Penn State.


Location: Paraná 1205 Buenos Aires, Argentina

French…. English… Spanish…

My time in France has presented me with several opportunities but the most important one as a French major is the ability to speak French ll of the time! I have been very impressed with my progression in French. While I am no where near native fluency, I can tell my confidence, my vocabulary, and my overall abilities in French have greatly improved this semester. While I am very content with this, I have also become sad as opportunities have also arisen to speak Spanish.

I am a triple major, two of which are languages, and a double minor, one of which is a language (Arabic). At Penn State, I have no problems keeping up with my various languages because I have at least one class in each language. This is the first time in around eight years that I have not had a Spanish course. That being said, when the opportunities to speak Spanish have arose in France, I was not too pleased with the result. I spoke slower, with less confidence, and with French words tossed in. Up until this point, Spanish has always been my strongest language since I studied it for three years longer than I have been studying French. Now, I would have to say the opposite!

Two weeks after my program in Paris, I fly to Ronda, Spain for a study abroad program with Penn State faculty. I am hoping that my Spanish picks back up quickly because I really feel embarrassed about its current state. At the same time I really hope I do not ruin my French that has progressed a lot in France. It is a tough balancing point that all double language majors and or anyone going through a bilingual setting would understand. I am hoping that some day I will achieve equal confidence in both, however, I feel that the only way to do so would be to find a job that permits me to speak all my languages an equal amount, allowing me equal practice in all languages and equal development in all languages (well that is the goal anyway!). But for not, I go back to Paris and continue my French progress for nine more days before the end of my program. I do not want to leave Paris or France but I am excited to see what Spain has to hold!

P.S. You know you are speaking in another language 24/7 when your native language becomes infected by your second or third languages idioms, expressions, and/or mannerisms/ sounds.


Location: Paris, France

Milano E’ La Mia Casa

The title of this post truly captures how I have felt the last month living abroad.  After a little over three months, I can truly say Milan is my home.  Whenever I travel on the weekends, I simply can not wait to be back home in Milan.  It is strange to think about, because three months ago this city was foreign to me.  The city felt very big and the language barrier made it seem even bigger.  As each week has gone by, I have become more accustomed to the culture of Milan, therefore giving the city more and more of a feeling of being home.  I remember not being able to pronounce anything in Italian, now I can speak full sentences with the locals.  A month ago I decided to break free from that routine I found myself in that I mentioned in my last post.  I decided to pain the town everyday as much as possible, because I do not want to leave this place with any feeling of regret.  I do not want to regret not going out to explore as much, regret not walking without a destination in order to discover more of the city, and specifically regret not feeling as if I did my best to immerse myself as much as I could.

As a student studying abroad, I believe it is important to immerse yourself in the culture of the city you live in.  Do not waste the limited time you have on social media, watching Netflix, or anything in particular that you know you could do back home.  I only have three weeks left in this beautiful city, and I do not plan on wasting a minute.


Location: milan

Soaking Up That Capri-Sun

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Last weekend was our school’s optional trip to Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, and Naples. I was excited because it was my last weekend of traveling and it allowed for time to be spent with some of my favorite people. But I hated it! I hated the fact that I bonded with even more people in my program. I hated the fact that Sorrento and Capri were the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I hated the fact that I had so much fun. I hated all of this because it made it that much more difficult to leave this amazing country with these phenomenal people from my program.

We left Perugia at 6:15 early Friday morning. While waiting for the bus I was pooped on by a pigeon, so I figured that was a good sign for an awesome weekend. The bus ride was about 5 hours to Pompeii. When we arrived we had a private tour of the ancient city ruined by a volcanic eruption from Mt. Vesuvius. Mt. Vesuvius is still in the background of the ancient city. It doesn’t peak as high now, but its shadow still lingers over the ruins. You can also see the new modern city of Pompeii in the background in the opposite direction of Mt. Vesuvius. Some images that will always remain with me are the preserved victims of Pompeii. Bodies were preserved in mud (preservation was made possible because of the deoxygenated mud that didn’t allow oxygen to decompose the body). The expression on the victims’ faces and their body positioning really got to me. The exact moment they experienced their death is when their bodies were captured in the mud produced by volcanic reactions.

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After only being in Pompeii for a few hours, we headed to Sorrento. Sorrento is this gorgeous little city on the water next to the Amalfi Coast. Our hotel had an incredible view of the sea, and that night we just drank wine by the water. Everything felt perfect, but the real fun didn’t start until the next day.

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Saturday morning we all took a 30-minute ferry ride to the island of Capri. When the ferry rode up to the port in Capri I thought I was in some mythical place. It looked like something out of fairytale because it was this unexplainable magnificence like something I’ve never seen before. The island was pretty small compared to the more famous islands of Italy: Sardinia and Sicily. The island itself was like a large mountain range and a lot of rocky cliffs, but even the Romans found a home in Capri. There were ancient Roman ruins at the very top of the island that overlooked a sea of blue bliss. Even the founder of the Gerber baby products built a mansion on top of the island, which came with an incredible view.

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About 20 of us from the same program got to take a private boat ride around the island. It was great being on a boat, in a beautiful place, and with some of the people that I love the most. We bonded even more, we laughed, we cried about the good times we had this semester, and some people even took a dip in the freezing cold water.

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Capri is well known for their Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is a small cave that allows minimal sunlight to enter through. This miniscule amount of sunlight creates an illuminating reflection from the water that displays a sight that you can only see to believe. The boat let us off right in front of the entrance to the Blue Grotto. Five of us then got on an even smaller boat in order to enter the Blue Grotto. The cost to enter the cave is a ridiculous 13 euros, but once you enter you don’t regret it one bit. We had to all lay on top of each other in a horizontal position as we entered the cave. The entry hole to the cave is unbelievably small and even though we were lying down our heads almost scraped the top of the rocky cave. The cave was much smaller than I expected, but the reflection of the translucent blue water sparkled in my eyes. I didn’t even feel like I was on this planet anymore. It reminded me of the planet Pandora in Avatar. It was just so outlandish but all so exquisite. Our Blue Grotto boat driver even serenaded us with a beautiful Italian ballad that echoed through the cave, and everything was tranquil.

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Capri was everything! Out of all of my adventures it probably was my favorite place. I knew that nothing could ever beat that experience. The next morning we had to leave the perfection that was Sorrento and Capri. We took an hour bus ride to our last stop: Naples. For this leg of the trip we had our own personal tour guides. One of the guides joined us early in the morning in Sorrento. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from the day before that I fell asleep while she talked all the way from Sorrento to Naples. I’m sure I missed something important, but that nap just felt too good. When we arrived in Naples we picked up our other tour guide who is a native of Naples. Both gave intriguing lectures on the city, but once again I found myself coming in and out of consciousness while trying to fight exhaustion. We were finally let off the bus to find what was on everybody’s mind: some Neapolitan pizza. Naples is the home of pizza, and we were not disappointed.

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Our journey in Naples didn’t last long, but that might’ve been for the best. Naples was the most congested place I’ve ever visited. Maybe it was just me but it was worse than any day in New York City or Rome. Surprisingly, Naples was my least favorite city that we ventured to during the school trip, but I’m glad I went.

On the 5-hour bus ride back to Perugia there was a lot of quiet time. I can only imagine what everyone else on the bus was thinking, but for me it was a great time to reminisce. I looked at everyone who surrounded me and realized how much I was going to miss traveling, but the thing I was going to miss the most was traveling with all of these people…all of these new friends…all of these people I now consider family. Although we are all extremely different and come from many different places around the world, we had 2 things in common: We called Perugia our home for the past 4 months, and we all fell in love with the adventure it brought us. And for that I am forever grateful.

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Location: Naples, Italy

Easter Weekend

“It’s the freakin’ weekend, baby I’m about to have me some fun” is what I thought to myself as the Easter weekend rolled around. Easter weekend gave us both Friday and Monday off, meaning that it was time to travel outside the country! I’ve always wanted to travel to Greece, and since Italy is practically right next door I knew this would be the perfect time to visit. We departed from the Rome airport Thursday evening and landed in Athens around 10 p.m. The flight took maybe about an hour and a half, and I sat next to a very “affectionate” couple. But I was glad nothing went wrong like with Barcelona, and I was even more excited to be in Athens, Greece for the first time in my life.

When we landed, we had to take a bus into the city center. The Athens airport is nowhere near Athens. If you pick up a tourist map of the city, the airport doesn’t even make it on there. So the bus ride ended up lasting about an hour. Finally we arrived at Syntagma Square where our hostel was located. We received some beauty sleep and headed out exploring early Good Friday morning. We decided to dedicate all of Friday to exploring the ancient history of Athens. Our first stop was the Panathenaic Olympic Stadium. This stadium hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896 and is the largest marble stadium in the world. This was surprisingly my favorite part of Athens. We paid only 1.50 euro to enter the stadium and along with that we received an audio tour. The tour told us a bunch of information regarding the construction and history of the stadium. For example, did you know that the term “stada” is the Greek term of the distance around a track, which is where to word “stadium” derives from? We even got to take our photos on the Olympic pedestals, which was the one and only time I would actually feel like an Olympic champion.

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Next, we headed over to the temple of Zeus. In all honesty, anyone who visits Greece should do some research before going because we had no idea what we were looking at for the longest time. We saw a line leading to some ancient temple ruins but had no idea what temple it was or anything else for that matter. The line moved quickly and our entry was free after showing our student visa. Many things in Greece are actually quite cheap because the country is unfortunately bankrupt. The city of Athens itself beyond the historical centers are quite poor. It was disappointing to see a city with so much history and significance be so run down and overdrawn with poverty. Graffiti was even drawn across some of the ruins. But here at the temple of Zeus we took an abundance of selfies with my friend Lynnsey’s selfie stick in where we overheard some guy who was looking at us say, “that is just a whole new level of narcissism.” I guess he didn’t approve of our selfie style and luckily this temple’s beauty was not overrun with graffiti.

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Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at a local restaurant where I ate a traditional Greek gyro. While being in Greece, I also found a new love for Greek food. Hands down one of my favorites. We debated whether or not it was custom to tip (in Italy you pay a cover charge but actual “tipping” isn’t a thing, so we were lost) and then headed over to the Acropolis.

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The Acropolis sits on a hill overlooking all of Athens. It was once the religious center of ancient Athens where a majority of the temples dedicated to Roman Gods and Goddesses resided. The most famous is the Parthenon. The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Athena.

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Saturday we took a ferry over to the Greek island Aegina. The boat ride lasted for about 40 minutes and was a bit bumping. Although that day was a little chilly, the island was still remarkably beautiful. We walked around the island and took pictures by the water while getting our Little Mermaid on! We even made a friend (a stray dog we named Budster) who followed us for hours until he finally found more entertainment in the stray cats on the island. It turned out to be an amazing day, and even though it wasn’t warm enough for us to take a dip in the clear blue water it was nice to just enjoy the chill breeze on our skin and the warm sun on our faces.

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Easter Sunday was a big shock. Let me tell you why: It wasn’t Easter Sunday! We had a late flight out that evening and still wanted to do some exploring in Athens before we left. We planned the whole day just knowing that everything would be closed because of the holiday, but that wasn’t the case. In Greece, the people celebrate Orthodox Easter, which wasn’t until the next Sunday. This was actually great news for us! We looked like fools for not knowing, but it was still great news. We were able to see one last exhibit before we left: The Ancient Agora. The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens. It was to Athens what the Roman Forum was to Rome. There were some more beautiful temples and even churches that still remained.

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Our trip ended with a short shopping spree at an Athenian farmer’s market and a long metro ride back to the airport. All in all, Easter Weekend was a success. It was the first time I had ever really felt kind of homesick while here in Europe because it was also the first Easter I had spent away from home, but I was in Greece. My mood didn’t stay down for long!


Location: Athens, Greece

Sippin’ Slow

It wouldn’t be Italy if some wine weren’t involved. Finally, another weekend came around where we could just stay and relax in Perugia. A few friends and I decided to take this advantage and go to a wine tasting at a legitimate vineyard. We did our research and one of the places recommended was a vineyard called Lungarotti Winery, which is about a 10 minute taxi ride outside of the city center of Perugia.

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When the cab pulled up one of the first things I noticed was that there were no grapes outside in their vineyard. I later learned that harvesting season is actually in the fall, and the wine that they made from the grapes was busy aging in these gigantic wooden barrels. The wine absorbs the flavor of the wood and that is also why the wood barrels have colors of red (from red wine) showing. We received our own private tour of the winery where we learned all about the process of making wine and packaging it. Wine is first held in what they call a nursery, which includes small wooden barrels. Once in the barrels for some time, they are transferred to the much larger barrels. These barrels cost around 2,000 euro each and are probably the size of a baby elephant.

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One of the coolest parts of the tour was learning about how they make bubbly white wine, which is called prosecco and is just like champagne. They lay the bottle of white wine at a horizontal position for weeks and then upside down for a few more weeks. This way the bubbles form at the top of the bottle, so when you open it that is what that popping sound and all that pressure is. The bottles are held in this room with barely any sunlight and at a monitored temperature.

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After the tour, we sat inside for the wine tasting. We were given 2 glasses of their white wine and 2 glasses of their red wine. The first white wine we tasted was my favorite. It had a hint of green apple in it and was very smooth. The best red wine was their signature one that has won many awards. It is called Rubesco Reserve and includes grapes from only their vineyard.

Lastly, the best thing I learned from that visit was information about their wine baths. That’s right…a person can pay about 50 euro to take a bath in some of their finest wines. Apparently, the wine is good for you because it has similar water content found in the skin and helps flush out toxins. Dream goals: bathing in wine while sipping slow on that Rubesco Reserve!

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Location: Perugia, Italy

We’ll Always Have…Morocco.

Two weeks ago, I had the best trip of my study abroad experience so far in Morocco. It was unlike any place I’ve ever been to in my entire life.

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Left: Beach in Rabat

Right: Kasbah of the Udayas, Rabat

 

 

 

This was the first time I had ever traveled alone, and it was to Africa of all places. I was meeting with a male friend who was visiting there as well, which means going from Florence-Rome-Morocco was all on my own until I met up with him. I mention the fact that he’s a guy, since in Muslim countries, a single female traveler isn’t the best of ideas. I had to get permission from my mom, as well as from my host institute, before I could leave to Morocco.

Getting there wasn’t too bad, honestly. Time consuming, but I’m comfortable navigating airports and train stations by myself. It wasn’t until I was on the plane to Morocco that I uncomfortably realized I was one of the only females wearing leggings, instead of a long skirt or dress. However, I obviously did my research beforehand and packed accordingly-nothing tight, everything covering wrist to collarbone, no leg showing. Even so, being Asian made me stick out a little more, and it was a bit uncomfortable.

When I got to Morocco, it was breathtaking. Our hotel was right in the middle of the Medina (the marketplace area) in Marrakech, and I felt like I was in Aladdin walking around. There were snakes in baskets with men playing music to them, trained monkeys running around, and dirt, dust, and sand everywhere. I absolutely loved it. The Medina was a literal maze of shops and stands, with the directional signs completely false, so it’s impossible not to get lost in there unless you’re doing a Hansel and Gretal with breadcrumbs. The whole place was so busy, with all these people trying to get me to buy clothing, Argan oil, wooden chess boards, sandals, jewelry, and more. They would go as far as to follow me down several streets! One man quoted me at the equivalent of $250 for a wooden chessboard. I definitely was not interested then and kept walking, where he followed me and kept lowering the price until it finally became $20. (The trick, for anyone reading, is to act thoroughly disinterested.) The traffic was completely awful, and therefore my favorite part of Morocco. People were absolutely crazy driving and biking, with complete disregard for any lights or signs (not that there were much to begin with…) We just had to stare ahead and walk, because no one was going to hit us (they have brakes, we don’t) but just looking around at traffic when you are trying to walk through it was enough to give us a heart attack. We also went sight seeing around, visiting the Majorelle Garden as well as seeing the mosques from the outside.

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Photos by Jeremy Pushkin

After two days in Marrakech, we took the train to Rabat, a city along the coast of Morocco. This was quite different from Marrakech in that it was a much more modern city. We spent a day wandering around the Kasbah of the Udayas, which is their walled fortress. It was gorgeous, overlooking the beach, which we then spent some time on. Fun fact though, as modern as Rabat is, it is still Africa. This was blatantly clear when we were laying on the beach and looked over to see a dead goat just hanging out right there. Fifteen feet away. And everyone was walking around it like it was no big deal. Africa, man.

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Overall, my trip to Morocco was amazing. It was so nice being away from European culture and experiencing another culture entirely. It also made me reconsider a lot of things about my view on how this particular area of the world treats women. I definitely appreciate being American a bit more now, with the freedom to walk around by myself a female and not feel worried. While I was in Morocco, I got stares everywhere I went, even if my friend and I pretended we were together. It made me feel a bit disrespected.  However, at the same time, I now understand the whole headdress situation a bit better. Many women don’t wear it because they have to, but because it makes them feel safer and protected to.

Anyway, I highly, highly recommend going to Morocco-specifically Marrakech-to anyone and everyone! European culture is rich with history, yes, but you have to admit that in general, the cities are somewhat similar. Marrakech was unlike any place I’ve ever been to and I am definitely planning on visiting again soon!

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Italy has my Heart, but Barcelona is the Mistress (Part II)

IMG_3875When our plane finally touched down in Barcelona, we felt the struggle. We had not slept that whole night, and for some reason Italian flights just seem to be way more chaotic than most. We knew we needed rest, but our blood was pumping. We were in a new city…in Spain…on the beach. Sleep was not a part of the agenda. We had to take a bus into the city center, which lasted for about 30 minutes. Once we arrived in the city, we took a 10 minute metro ride to our hostel called Sant Jordi. This was definitely one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever been to. It really catered to college students traveling and had beanbag chairs in the lobby, which is always fun! We couldn’t check in until 2:00, so we kept our bags in their luggage closest. We asked for a place to get decent breakfast, and the woman at the reception desk told us about a place down the street—the best breakfast I’ve had since being in Europe! It was actually something more than just a croissant or a pastry (not to say that I am ungrateful for the multitude of pastries here in Italy). We finally had some eggs, sausage, and some delicious bacon (more like Canadian bacon but still tasty nonetheless).

The next thing on our list was a free walking tour. We had heard that Barcelona was full of them and wanted to take advantage of this. The meeting place was at bar called the Travel Bar. It was an Irish owned pub that actually served some incredible food. It took us a little longer to walk there than expected, and we showed up about 5 minutes late. Luckily, they hadn’t left yet. The tour was lead by a Greek woman who had visited a friend in Barcelona and never left. She new 4 different languages: Greek, Spanish, English, and French. Our tour group was full of people from all across the globe, but surprisingly we were the only ones from the U.S. Our tour covered the Gothic area of Barcelona. I won’t lie to you…I started to fall asleep while standing up. Not because it was uninteresting, but because we still had not received an ounce of sleep. I was happy for the tour though. We saw parts of Barcelona that we wouldn’t have checked out if we were just wandering around by ourselves. She showed us a church and school that had been bombed during the Spanish Civil War and even some ancient Roman ruins (Italy just follows me everywhere). She told us more about the history of Barcelona and it’s obsession with dragons. The most intriguing thing that I learned was about the language they speak in Barcelona: Catalan. Catalan is the official language of Barcelona—no it’s not Spanish and no do not refer to Catalan as a dialect. Catalan is best explained as a mix between Spanish and French pronounced with a Portuguese accent. Needless to say, my 7 years of fairly mediocre Spanish was no match in Barcelona. I also kept saying Ciao instead of Hola, which was quite embarrassing (that darn Italy following me everywhere again).

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Later that evening, we met up with some other people in our study abroad program and had dinner. All I wanted was some traditional Spanish Paella! And I got it! Although it wasn’t the best Barcelona had to offer (apparently the best is by the beach and also 25 euro a plate), it was still delicious! Oddly enough, it’s actually difficult to find Spanish food in Barcelona because it is so touristy, so they try to appeal to tourist and have so many other ethnic foods. Of course everyone started falling asleep in between each bite, but we womaned up and decided to experience the Barcelona nightlife. I may be bias because Barcelona is one of my favorite places on this Earth, but their nightlife exceeds just about any. All of their clubs are located directly on the beach, and they have great taste in music. The Spanish don’t start to party until pretty late, so even though we showed up about 1 a.m. we were one of the first people in the club. This also meant that we got in for free because clubs were trying to quickly fill their venue. The club we got into was called Danzatoria. They had 2 levels. The first level was some pretty cool EDM music, and the second level was hip hop and house music (I was on the dance floor for a while). They also mixed in some nice Spanish music and my friend Roxana tried to teach me the salsa (I am not like Shakira…my hips do lie). That was one of the best nights I’ve had since being on my study abroad experience and of course we didn’t sleep again because we didn’t get back to our hostel until about 5 a.m.

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The next morning we woke up quite earlier to head over to the Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia means “Sacred Family.” It is the most impressive church I’ve laid eyes on. It’s untraditional and far more unique than any church I’ve ever visited. The outside displays so much detail, and the inside is covered in colorful stain glass. I’ll just let the photos below do the explaining.

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We even bought tickets to go to the top. Luckily, it was not like the Duomo in Florence where there were 463 steps. This church had an elevator. I repeat…this church had an elevator. My day was made!

Next, we met up with my friend Lauren who was in Europe for her spring break. We headed back to the Travel Bar but this time for a private bike tour around Barcelona. Our tour guy was this real chill guy from Australia. This tour showed me 2 things: Barcelona is amazing and after not riding a bike for a while it is not just like riding a bike. It is difficult. The tour took us by the beach first. This is where our first bike mishap occurred when my friend Ayanna accidentally ran over a whole row of sunglasses that were for sale on the street. All of this just shortly before almost running over a small child. Surprisingly, there were a lot of people on the beach. And even more surprisingly, there were nude people on the beach. Apparently, Barcelona has beaches where nudity is allowed, but there is one rule: you must where shoes. The view of the beach was gorgeous. We even stopped to take photos. We also learned about how much Barcelona actually spent on making the beach look decent and how much the people of Barcelona dislike Christopher Columbus. Barcelona was chosen a few years back for the Olympics, so they imported tons of sand from Egypt and palm tress from Hawaii so their beaches could be up to par. There is also a statue in the main circle in front of the beach. The statue is of Christopher Columbus who was hired by Queen Isabella of Spain to find a route to India. Now I have a dislike for Mr. Columbus because he killed many Native Americans, spread disease, thought he was in India (genius), and is credited for finding the Americas (which is false because the Vikings first landed in North America years before Columbus ever did). Barcelona dislikes the man because his discovery actually made Spain quite poor, and the rest of the European nations involved in the transatlantic slave trade pretty wealthy. We also stopped by this beautiful park that was right outside the Barcelona Zoo. Their zoo is famous for an albino gorilla that they used to have. They tried to copy the gorilla’s DNA many times in order to keep the albino trait alive. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been successful.

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That evening, we went and watched a spectacular water color show in front of a beautiful museum. We also decided to finally catch up on some sleep and headed to bed early. Our last day was spent mainly shopping and visiting Park Güell. Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, designed Park Güell. Gaudi, who also designed the Sagrada Familia, created a whole park out of mosaics. He also designed a few unique houses that reminded me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book. His style is completely original and nothing like I’ve ever seen before. The best part was that his mosaics overlooked the ocean!

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Leaving Barcelona was so bittersweet. I was happy to return back to Perugia and catch up on some sleep, but I still talk about Barcelona like I left a piece of my heart there. I get jealous when people tell me that they’re visiting for the weekend because I would do anything to go back, but I know one day I will. Just like Italy…I can’t stay away for too long.

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Location: Barcelona, Spain

The Best Day of My Life

April 11, 2015 was the best day of my life.

ALmafi Coast
Nearing the end of this trip, I can definitely say that I have lived a full and meaningful life. What I was probably searching for the most abroad was the meaning of life. At home I felt cooped up. I went to school 4 hours away from home, and traveled around the United States and various islands with my immediate family on vacation. But, I felt like I was holding myself back and constantly stuck in the same routine. Getting into medical school is my ultimate goal and dream in life. And I definitely don’t consider myself one of the smartest people in my classes. Therefore, I feel like I have to put in so much more work and effort, to be in arm’s reach of those who are just more naturally intelligent than I. I didn’t mind putting in the work if it lead me to my goal; but it definitely was frustrating when I had to miss out on things to prepare myself for an exam or lab report. I remember selling my Michigan vs. Penn State football game a year ago, to instead study for a chemistry exam that upcoming Monday. I was devastated to find that the game was truly one of the best in Penn State history, us winning after going into several overtimes, and I was on the same campus in a computer lab alone.
I had never been to Europe before coming abroad in January. The extent of foreign territory I previously visited was Canada and the Bahamas. This past fall I watched several of my friends go abroad, and followed their experiences on social media sites. I was so jealous taking only science classes and studying for the MCAT, while watching them pose by the Leaning Tower of Pisa or visit Harry Potter Studios. I was accepted to my Italian program in July, but it didn’t hit me that I was actually going to spend 5 months in a foreign country until after I went through security at the airport on January 3rd and could no longer see my family in the crowd. It was then that I started to feel a huge mix of emotions: frightened, alone, excited, nervous, and anxious all at once.
This experience abroad has definitely had its up and downs. The downs consisted of more homesickness than I could have ever imagined; and difficulty learning the Italian language as a beginner in the country of Italy itself, which was a necessary key to survival.
But the ups are absolutely amazing, and make life worth living. The best day of my life, hands down, was yesterday on April 11, 2015.
My program, the Umbra Institute of Perugia, Italy, offered an optional trip to my class this weekend in The Almafi Coast. The itinerary was Pompeii Friday morning, Sorrento Friday night, Capri Saturday, and Naples on Sunday.
I was a very nerdy and weird child grouping up, so I thought the bodies and artifacts being preserved in Pompeii from the volcanic eruption was so incredibly cool. I read as many books on it as I could get my hands on; and remember writing a creative story in 6th grade for a writing assignment on it. Pompeii had a lot more buildings and its site’s structure was overall more preserved than I expected. They told us that if volcanic mud lacks oxygen and therefore an item covered in in will not decompose from within, but something covered in volcanic ash will. Therefore, everything preserved on the site was covered in mud because the organic elements were still conserved. I expected a lot more bodies and animals preserved on site than there were. I only saw two casts of bodies in hardened volcanic mud, and was really excited to see more as gruesome as that is.
Pompeii
Pompeii
Skipping ahead to Sunday, we went to Naples. Naples is the birthplace of pizza and also one of the most mafia controlled regions of Italy. The city itself was ruined for me in my Contemporary Italy class, where my teacher who is from Naples told us a horrific story of how the mafia controlled her family’s lives at one point. If I had not been told that before visiting the town, I probably would have found it quite pretty. But I did get an awesome pizza that I had no problem eating in one sitting for lunch, which is an awful skill I have acquired here and am quite scared of. After a traditional Neapolitan pizza lunch, we got back on the bus for a 5 hour bus ride back to Perugia for school on Monday morning.
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On Saturday morning we took a ferry from Sorrento to Capri. I thought Sorrento was quite pretty, and it absolutely is, but Capri is nothing I have and will never see again. Capri is this absolutely GORGEOUS town on the shores of the Almafi Coast. It is famous for it’s Blue Grotto, and there are tons of boating agencies that give you an ample number of flyers and brochures with all your options of getting there. Some include a boat tour around the island with a trip to the Blue Grotto included for around 17€ or some take you starlight to the Blue Grotto for around 14€. I went with a group of 45 students, and we broke up into several groups. My group turned out to be about 20 people and a man who owned his own boat came up to us and offered to give us a tour of the island and to the Blue Grotto for 15€ for 2 hours, because we were already such a large group. The larger agencies had boats leaving for the tour at least half an hour later than his offer of leaving immediately. I think I’ve gotten pretty good about reading people here that offer services, and this guy did not seem like he would rip us off or take us away to somewhere else, and the rest of the group agreed so we took him up on his offer. It was the best decision I ever made.
Capri
We all went on his speed boat and were given over a two hour tour around the entire island and it was the best experience of my life. The island’s view from the water is one that you would see from a final 2 date on the Bachelor or a challenge in Survivor. It was a place that you never thought you would ever be able to see, without being a millionaire. The cliffs and rock formations all around the island are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life. The water was so naturally aquamarine blue, even at deep depths – it was magical. I was glad we took his smaller boat than a larger, touristy one because we were able to fit into caves. He would take us into caves and show us the most beautiful bright orange coral on the floor and walls of the cave. I kept tearing up, along with several of my friends, on this boat tour because of how absolutely amazing it was. We all just kept repeating how unreal it was that we were able to see all these things just in these two hours; and how grateful we are for this study abroad experience overall.
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Coming out of a cave we were in this cove surrounded by cliffs and grottos. The ocean was crystal clear all over and you could see all the way to the very far bottom with fish and marine life bustling around. I swam on a swim team for 13 years. There is nothing I love more than the water. I love to swim more than anything in the world. I actually wrote a college admissions essay on it. When I swim, it’s like the whole world is gone. The only thing that exists is me in the water. Everything bad that happened that day melts away and I feel like I am in the clouds, as peaceful as ever.
So, we were about to head out to see the rest of the island and slowly backing out of a grotto. The captain of the boat showed us how the water glistened in the sunlight on the absolutely beautiful day. And it was the biggest tease ever. So here I was sitting on the boat, mesmerized by the most beautiful sea I have seen and wanted nothing more than to jump into it. Several girls in my group wore bikinis under their dresses in hopes that they would be able to make use out of them. And one asked the boat driver if we could swim. He turned off the boat and said, “Get in and swim, but I don’t want to”.
Before any of us had made a decision of whether to jump in or not, one girl from our group jumped in a dress completely clothed. All the other girls in my group started throwing their clothes left and right, getting down to their bikinis. They all jumped in one by one, two boys following in their boxers. And I had a decision to make: to jump in, or not to jump in. You see I was not wearing a bathing suit under my dress, and this is probably the heaviest I have ever been in my entire life due to pizza and gelato almost daily and little to no exercise. But I said to myself, if you don’t do this now you’ll always regret never taking this chance. So quite spontaneously, I stripped down to my bra and underwear and jumped into the water joining my friends.
Capri

Capr

It was one of the coldest things I have ever experienced in my entire life. When I came up for air I couldn’t feel my entire body. My heart rate was the fastest it had ever been, with my body trying to adjust to the drastic change in temperature. It was so cold that it was actually extremely hard to breathe. And everyone in the water agreed with me, but told me after a few minutes your body gets used to it and calms down. Another one of my friends didn’t have a bathing suit either, but was inspired by my underwear swim and joined in on the fun.
Mediterranean Sea

Mediterranean Sea

They were right. It did get warmer, or at least my body got used to it. And it was the most amazing thing I had ever done. I looked up and was surrounded by the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea, breath-taking rock formations, and plenty of sunshine. I laid on my back and floated around for a bit, the happiest I had ever been in my entire life. I understood life. I understood living. I finally understood the meaning of existence. For moments like this.

Location: Capri, Italy