Never a Dull Moment

What. A. Week.

I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start by saying that this is the first time that I’ve had time to sit down and really take everything in. I’ve been in the country for 10 days and sometimes I still look out my window and can’t believe it. With the view I have, how could I not?

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View outside of my bedroom window. Please take note of the palm tree behind the larger house next to the pine trees…

But before I get into all of that, I’ll start from where I left off:

The Journey to Spain

After I had what I considered to be sufficient battery in my phone for the next 12 hours of my life, I left the Helsinki gate and went off to wander around and hopefully find the gate of my own. It was still about an hour and a half before we were supposed to board so I wasn’t in any particular hurry, but I wanted to make sure that I figured out where I was supposed to be to avoid any and all issues. I picked a random hallway and started to walk down it, checking signs for Madrid as I passed. By pure chance, I ran straight into the gate in less than five minutes. Little did I know at the time that this would be the beginning of my long string of good luck that I somehow managed to carry from JFK to Málaga.

I hung out in the gate for a while, recharging my phone for good measure and looking around at the people in the terminal. Do you ever wonder about who you’re surrounded by? I looked at person after person, wondering if they were going home, flying to Madrid as a layover, or if they were just like me. Who else was doing something new that they hadn’t ever before? Who else was a scrambled combination of giddiness and worry? I was brought back from my daze only moments later when a guy who looked to be about my age asked if he could sit down to plug his phone in too. Of course I obliged, and a little while later we got into the “Where are you headed?” conversation that I’d had so many times that day. I gave him my spiel and then asked what he’d be doing in Madrid, but it turned out that he was pulling a Helsinki hangout like I had earlier and was waiting for the next flight out of the gate at 9PM to Qatar with a final destination of Sri Lanka for a medical internship. Having someone to talk to that was doing essentially the same thing that I was definitely welcoming, though simultaneously realized even further what I was about to do. But destinations aside, here’s the kicker:  He asked me where I was from and where I went to school, and upon the reply of Penn State made a snicker. Without missing a beat, I rhetorically asked if he went to Ohio State, even though I already knew the answer by his initial response. Though rivals, I think that we both found a sense of comfort in the fact that someone else was also about to jump in a plane and set off for a strange land.

By the time that the conversation began to wind down, my ticket group was being called so I wished the unnamed Buckeye luck and headed for the boarding line.

Navigating through the Madrid Airport ¡Hola, España!

After an hour delay in takeoff due to a burnt out light bulb in the pilot’s cabin, we left JFK. After an entertaining seven and a half hours of sleeping on and off, eating free airplane food, and listening to a section of German women clap and sing, we arrived in Madrid. It is at this point in the trip that I like to describe myself as a ping pong ball bouncing around or a puzzle piece trying different spots in the frame to find its place. To put it briefly: My conversational Spanish was sub par. I managed to make it to security before I actually spoke with anyone. While my two backpacks and other various contents passed through machine, the guards stared intently at a screen that beheld none other than my Epi-Pens. I’m allergic to a few things and have to carry them in case anything happens, so as I’m sure you can imagine I had an internal uh-oh-what-do-I-do-if-they-ask-me-about-these-I-have-no-vocabulary-for-such-things conversation with myself. Sure enough, the guard asked me what they were in Spanish and I began to fumble over words to describe what they were for. She then asked me for a medical ID, which (thanks to a last minute addition to my belongings by my precautionary mother ) I pulled out with a welcome sense of relief. THANKS MOM.

Once I’d dodged that bullet, I waited for my flight to  Málaga. It was only supposed to be an hour in duration, and since the distance was so short they used a smaller plane since not many people were flying there at the time. Instead of using a tunnel, the passengers all had to go outside and then follow up the stairs as seen here:

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Passengers entering the plane for the flight to Málaga

Post Arrival 

I sat next to a happy Spanish man who whistled for majority of the flight while I slept. Upon arrival to Málaga, I picked up my luggage and headed towards customs. To my surprise, customs really weren’t the kind of customs that I was expecting. In Madrid, they at least stamped my passport and asked a few questions, but in Málaga, they said hi to me and pointed me to the airport exit. I never thought that it would’ve been so relaxed, but was too sleepy at the time to really think about it too deeply.

Since I arrived a day earlier than everyone else in my program, the next step was to try to find out how to locate the bus stop at the airport and navigate through the city to arrive at the hotel that I’d booked for the night. After wandering around for a little while, I found the stop and a bus came shortly after. Looking back now, a lot of the transportation from the beginning was based on being in the right place at the right time. I had read online that the bus was supposed to go from the airport to the hotel, but wasn’t particularly sure how to get to the hotel once I got off the stop. I had assumed that I would walk, but the site said that the hotel was slightly far from where the bus let its passengers off. My dad had looked at it in a previous day and said there was a “footbridge” to cross the street. Until I got there, I didn’t understand the caliber of what he meant. This is what I saw:

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This picture was taken from the bus stop that goes back to the airport the following day.

So here I am, in a strange country, with a language that I don’t yet fluently speak, pushing a three foot tall suitcase at its maximum capacity allowed while also toting two equally heavy backpacks up this HUGE “footbridge”. Even though it was the middle of the day, I was the only one on it at the time. And I couldn’t help but to burst out laughing at myself at the oddity of my situation. I had just successfully navigated halfway across the world on my own and the combination of that and the exhaustion that comes with a time difference was just too funny to me. Needless to say, after I closed the distance between the bridge and the hotel and checked in (successfully using some uncommon vocab from my Spanish classes, who knew it’d come in handy so soon?) I fell right asleep, still in my clothes from the day before.

En Route to Ronda

The next day I met the rest of the group at the airport when their flights came in and we drove to Ronda. I was so excited to finally meet my host family! When we arrived at the station, all of the host moms were eagerly waiting outside of the bus to meet us. Another student in the program and I were paired with the same family, so we waited together until ours found us. We took a walk from the bus station to her house, which was only a few short blocks away.

View from the front of my host house

View from the front of my host house

Inside, we met her dog, Ciro (THEE-roh) which is a mix between a black labrador and a daschund. Picture the face of a lab and the body of a daschund (or as they say here, salchicha, pronounced sal-chee-cha).

The host pup

The host pup sitting in the kitchen on one of the first nights of last week 

Shortly after, her son came downstairs. I had previously assumed that I’d be doing the typical cheek-kissing Spanish greeting, but I forgot that it was both cheeks and not just one like it is with Spanish speakers from Latin America that I’ve met. I felt weird about it at first after only doing one side, but it served as a good ice breaker and we all laughed about it later on. My host brother’s name is Pablo and he works from home in a realm of the business world. After getting to know them after this week, a few things are clear: they’re both incredibly nice, Pablo speaks some English, and my mom is a fantastic cook. Pablo helps to close the language gap and supply Spanish words when I don’t know  the translation, and my host mom makes the greatest food. The first day that we arrived we had what she told us was a traditional Spanish dish, called tortilla española. It’s made from potatoes and eggs and is much different from the typical tortilla that most are familiar with in the United States. Instead of being completely flat, this one is about two inches tall. When eaten with tomatoes on the side, it’s a wonderful combination.  I also have another host brother named Juan who is coming home this upcoming weekend to celebrate his birthday. We also go to Madrid this weekend for a few days, so there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming days.

As for what I’ve been up to since arrival, I don’t know where to begin. There’s so much to do, to see, to hear about. We’ve put a week of classes behind us and have seen and done tons of incredible things. Stay tuned for an insight to them in the following posts!

 

 


Location: 29400

Just 3 flights away

I love new experiences. I was born and raised in Redondo Beach, CA and set out on my first adventure when I decided to attend Penn State. This Fall I will be a Junior (ahhh how did that happen already? Seems like I was just starting out at Penn State not too long ago). I am studying Supply Chain in the Smeal College of Business and getting a minor in Spanish as well as international business. This Summer I am embarking on my next adventure—> Spain! I am looking forward to blogging while I am in there and sharing what I learn and experience.

After several months of planning, I finally fly to Spain today to begin my Summer program! When I started preparations back in January, embarking on this Summer adventure seemed like a dream and something so far off. There were so many emails, texts, calls, and internet searching that was a part of planning this trip. I exchanged many texts with my mom about things that I needed to pack, do, sign up for, buy, look up….. and the list goes on.

Although I was taking care of several details, I didn’t let my mind daydream too much about Spain because I wanted to finish out my Spring semester strong and remain focused on my track season with Penn State. But when finals week came to a close and all was said and done…… my May 24th departure date quickly crept up on me and I became both excited and nervous.

Among several things, I am excited to experience a different culture, eat delicious food, live with a Spanish family, and improve my Spanish speaking skills. I have never been to Spain before so there are many unknowns about what it will really be like and this makes me a bit nervous. I have some moments of fear/doubt such as  What if I can’t remember any Spanish? Even though I have been studying for years, these silly fears sometimes creep in among my excitement. But the unknown and all the fears mix together and add to what makes adventure and new experiences enticing.

So today as I am packed, prepared and ready to go…..I am just 3 flights away from Seville, Spain!

State College—>Philadelphia—>Barcelona—>Seville

Spain, here I come!

 

 

 

 


Location: University Park Airport 2535 Fox Hill Rd, State College, PA 16803

Karibu!!!IMG_1645.JPG

Unlike the past couple of days, today was more focused on observing and understanding the Tanzanian health care system. I was really excited about this for obvious reasons. The main one is that I would like to pursue some type of health career especially within the public health sector. Needless to say, today we visited a district hospital in the outskirts of a town called Iringa. It’s a hospital clinic in partnership with Doctors with Africa that was founded by this AMAZING talented Italian doctor. The main objective of this hospital is to provide prenatal and postnatal care. The second big thing it deals with is aiding kids with severe malnutrition. This hospital was so inspiring because it honestly was a great way to see the various problems people here have. The one thing that made me really sad was the fact that a lot of these pregnant women were really young–20 to 21 year olds. It made me so sad because my only were most my age, but I also felt so helpless. Even  writing  about it brings me to tears since I’m reflecting on my life and education. Today was just another reminder that I need to help out and give back to this continent because it is such a huge makeup of who I am.

Makumi National Park

Jambo Tanzania!

Officially in Tanzania! I cannot begin to express the excitement I have when it comes to expressing how I feel about being here. First thing first, it’s amazing how friendly the people of Tanzania are. I expected myself to be very nervous and anxious because I do not speak Swahili nor do I understand it. I will admit that the  very first night spent (which was in Dar es Salaam) here, I did feel conscious about the language barriers. But Lately, everything has really been turning around. I am so proud to say that I have picked up a few terms! For example, I know that if I wanted to say, I would like some water then it would be “U-ni taka Majhi.” Well I least I hope that’s it (in my defense, I’m still learning so cut me some slack!).

There is so much I want to say and write about but don’t even know where to start especially because the access to internet here is very limited so in a sense, I have to pick and choose the most exciting parts of my day to share. I will say that so far, what my group and I have been experiencing is incredibly cool. Just yesterday, we slept for a night in the “Mikumi” national park of Tanzania. It’s the third largest park here and it was great seeing animals such as elephants, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, and elands. Oh…don’t even get me started on the different type of birds I saw. I typically don’t identify myself as a bird fanatic but yesterday, you should have seen me. My favorite one by far, was the lilac breasted roller. The different hues of this bird were just breathing. A Google picture definetely can’t do it any justice. It was just so refreshing seeing these animals in their naturals habitats without the constraints of being in cages.

AKARAKA!!! 아카라카

I used to think Penn State had the most school spirit in the world, what with our overwhelming school gear, screaming fans at our packed football games, and our ability to never let any “We Are” go unfinished.  That is… until I studied Yonsei University for this semester.

Don’t get me wrong, Penn State is Penn State. It’s my #1. Nittany Lion forever.  A part of me felt like I was cheating on PSU when I put on my bright blue Yonsei shirt and decided to attend the annual school festival called Akaraka.

Akaraka was something that the school told us about on the very first day at our international student orientation.  Our program said it was something we definitely did not want to miss.  When the ticket sales began, it was all I ever heard about on campus.  The amount of lines I passed of students waiting for tickets was overwhelming. Lots of the international students struggled to find tickets and it was a long drawn out process for many. Luckily I didn’t have to try hard to get tickets, because my drum club got it for us.  I had to just pay 11,000 won ($11), give my student ID number, and boom. I was going to Akaraka.

But the thing is… I didn’t even know what Akaraka was.  It seemed so hyped up and overrated.  A part of me didn’t even really want to go.  A school festival?  Would it even be fun?

Why did I ever doubt Akaraka.  Why do I ever doubt if anything in Korea is going to be fun? The default assumption should always be yes. Yes yes yes.

To begin the festivities, Yonsei had a pre-game for the festival.  We’re talking a two day pregame.  Koreans go hard, to say the least. The sports stadium was completely overrun by students, performers, booths, everything!  And on a Wednesday and Thursday night.  Here are some pictures, courtesy of my girl Anne.

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(A pop up bar on campus. That’s something you don’t see in America)

Performers, friends, cheap food and drinks. What more could anyone ask for?

On Wednesday during this pre-Akaraka festival, my drum club had our big performance! In classic Korean style, we practiced every. single. day. for a total of three weeks beforehand. The preparation was intense, with the practices lasting three to four hours.  My poor feet. Even my blisters had blisters.  But it was all worth it in the end! Shoutout of my incredible club members for giving it their all, and for every single one of my friends who came to cheer us on. There’s a part of the performance where audience members come and stick money in our hats, and some of my friends gave me money! :’) That’s when you know the friendship is real.  (Also big thanks to them for these great pictures!)

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When Friday came around, I was starting to get excited for Akaraka. Although I didn’t fully know what it was, the pregame activities managed to fill me with enough school spirit.

Akaraka ended up going from 2:30 to 10:00 pm. And I stayed for the entire thing, cheering and having the time of my life. For the entire seven and a half hours!!!!! The first hour or so was school cheers (which I can’t exactly explain in words… it’s something that needs to be experienced) There are multiple cheer songs and each one comes with fun moves and dances the crowd does. It was great being with my club because I was surrounded by Yonsei students who all knew every word and every move.  When that ended, famous korean celebrities came to perform. Among those was Psy. That’s right, Mr. Gangnam Style himself. He performed for an entire hour and absolutely killed it. I felt like I was at his concert! Some other celebrities were EXO (really popular boy group), Kim Bum Soo, Rainbow, and the rapper duo Leessang 리쌍.  Once the performances were over, we finished with another hour and half of cheering!!!

Akaraka totally lived up to the hype. If I could do it all again, I would. Thanks to my drum club for entertaining me throughout the whole thing! From seeing the girls go crazy over the celebrities to having my president practically destroy me during the cheers (I fell over multiple times ㅜㅜ), it was an awesome experience..

.akaraka6  akaraka1 akaraka    akaraka5akaraka10akaraka8

 

 

 

 

 


Location: Seoul, South Korea

First Week in Florence

Well I’ve been in Italy about a week now, and life has finally slowed down enough to write something. Between the jet lag, meeting new people, and all the beautiful sites to see I’ve barely had time to breathe. Ok, some quick history about me, I just finished my sophomore year. I am an Accounting Major and after this trip I’ll be well on my way to an International Business Minor. My program is through the College of Business so I take one class through the school here in Florence (ISI) and one class through a Penn State professor.

I left for Italy on Wednesday May 13th, and I had quite the journey to get here. I flew from New York to Berlin, and then Berlin to Vienna, and finally Vienna Florence. Luckily I was flying over with my friend so it wasn’t that bad. Our overnight flight was very good but neither of us slept a wink. That night of no sleep caught up to us on the second two flights, but they were only an hour each so we really didn’t get much shut eye. By the time we got to Florence we were exhausted but too excited to care! We took a taxi to our apartment and met our roommates who were all super nice.

All I wanted to do at this point was crash but I knew that I had to wait until Italian night to sleep if I ever wanted to get over the jet lag. So we unpacked and went out to explore. I read once that the best way to get to know a new city is wander until you don’t want to go any more and then find your way back, so that’s what we did! We walked around until we hit a ton of the main sites including the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. Finally, we started making our way back and stopped for dinner. The first of many meals of pasta and gelato :)

After that we made our way back to our apartment and crashed. The next morning we had orientation at nine and then we went out to dinner with our roommates. Since then we’ve been going nonstop trying to hit all the main stops as soon as possible! Tomorrow I’ll try to get in a post tomorrow about the first week of classes! And then this Friday I am off to Brussels for the weekend!!!

Bariloche: the Swiss Argentina and so much more!

Class Field Trip!

This trip was probably the closest I have ever gotten to having an out of this world Magic School Bus trip. I had an amazing time traveling to Bariloche on our field trip. Bariloche was so beautiful: mountains, lakes, trees changing colors, while roses crept up the side of our cabin. We stayed right on the edge of the lake, Nahuel Huapi, the namesake of the national park that surrounds Bariloche.

Bariloche´s location in relation to Buenos Aires

Bariloche´s location in relation to Buenos Aires

The cabins where we stayed by Lake Nahuel Huapi

The cabins where we stayed by Lake Nahuel Huapi

The town of Bariloche was so quaint: wooden edifices with cobblestone streets that wound around the lake. We had free time to wander through the small town filled with chocolate shops. I enjoyed taking in the crisp, fresh air, as well as the changing colors of fall that have only  just started to arrive in Buenos Aires.

We were able to take a few hikes while we were there, and I am afraid to say that my legs have completely forgotten what hills feel like in the flat pampean landscape of Buenos Aires. Indeed, that will be a rude awakening when I return to State College. Neverthless, it was great to spend sometime in the National Park and learn more about the ecology of Patagonia. There is not a huge amount of biodiversity, but a lot of species found there are completely unique to that area. So I saw a lot of interesting trees and plants that our guide, an ecologist, pointed out to us.

These types of trees only grow in Patagonia.

These types of trees only grow in Patagonia.

Learning first-hand

I am so glad I was able to take this trip with my class. Of course the touristy spots of Bariloche were spectacular, but with my class, we saw other parts of Bariloche outside of its tourism that I would never have seen on my own. For example, one day we went to a Mapuche community, an indigenous population of Argentina, and they prepared us a typical Mapuche meal. They prepared curanto. To prepare the meal they create a fire over rocks outside, and once the rocks are heated, they remove the firewood. They then lay fabric down over the hot rocks and put all of the food- chicken, beef, lamb, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and apples- and cover the food with leaves from trees typical of the region. After folding the fabric over top of the leaves, they shovel earth on top of the mound to seal it off and allow everything to cook.

As they prepared our meal, we listened to a lawyer´s lecture about indigenous rights in Argentina and heard community members´perspectives on securing these rights. The community we visited is one of the few that have obtained the right to their traditional territory, although the government has created laws to allow this reclamation to happen for all native communities. Once the food was ready, they called us outside for the process of disinterring our meal. Steam rose from the earth, and we could smell the distinct combination of earth, the leaves, and our food.

 

Cuarnto; a typical mapuche meal prepared on hot rocks beneath the earth.

Cuarnto; a typical mapuche meal prepared on hot rocks beneath the earth.

The food was amazing, and the experience entirely unique. With everything I have learned through my anthropology class about Patagonia in mind, I was able to interact and share a first hand experience with this Mapuche community.


With my class, we also had the opportunity to see art that is prohibited from being shown in the museum. Why? Because the art was painted by a Nazi-refugee, Toon Maes, in Bariloche. The town was actually a refuge for many Nazi leaders, where they lived quietly and solitarily until they died. Once the artist’s past was discovered, human rights activists protested for his art to be taken out of exhibitions. So when we went to see the art, the paintings were just leaned up against a wall. Normally they are kept in an office, hidden from the public. Our teachers spoke to us in English about the paintings instead of Spanish, because the person who maintains the collection was once a student of the Nazi artist. She really cared for him, so they didn’t want to disrespect her by denouncing  these paintings as art created by a Nazi.

Art by Toon Maes, a Nazi leader who found refuge in Bariloche, Argentina

Art by Toon Maes, a Nazi leader who found refuge in Bariloche, Argentina

We also visited a school in El Barrio Alto of Bariloche, a poorer neighborhood outside of the touristy center of the town. Our bus drove through dirt roads, with precarious homes on either side of the road. We arrived at the school, filled with happy children and surrounded my colorful murals on every walls. We brought with us musical instruments to donate to their school band and posters of pictures of our homes in the US. My group had a picture of mac and cheese on our poster, and the kids excitedly asked, “What’s that, what’s that?” They loved asking us questions about football and wanted to know what our school´s mascots were. The town´s newspaper was actually there and wrote an article about how we donated instruments to the school.

http://www.elcordillerano.com.ar/index.php/actualidad/item/26001-universitarios-estadounidenses-donaron-instrumentos-musicales-a-la-escuela-cailen

These excursions were very special and made my experience in this beautiful town all the more incredible. So, I was disappointed to leave this peaceful place but was happy to come home to my homestay family. They waited for me to arrive before they sat down to eat and were so excited to hear all about my trip.

 

 

Pre-Tanzania

After months of planning, the day has finally come  for me to start my journey in Tanzania. I haven’t even arrived at my final destination yet but I am already tired!  I am currently, impatiently waiting for my connecting flight to Tanzania in Nairobi. By now, the people I’ve met in this transit, that reside in Tanzania, are most likely annoyed by me because of all the questions I am asking them. But I just can’t help it. I’m just too excited, anxious, and nervous at the same time.

As I am writing this, my thoughts are all over the place because I’m wondering if I packed too much, didn’t pack enough, how the culture and the people are, how will I fit in or not fit in. Even thisbeing said, I’m just going to take it all in and enjoy every moment.

Sadly, I have to board now so can’t say more but I be continued! :)

 

 

 


Location: Nairobi, Kenya

In Which the International Study Abroad ‘Show’ Gets on the Road

I embarked on my study abroad trip today and I’m beginning to see why people describe travelling as a tiresome activity. The travel day hasn’t really even begun yet. I’ve only completed one flight out of my set of three flights in my journey from Pittsburgh to Philly to Toronto to Rome. I am writing this in a 6 hour intermission in Philly before my flight to Toronto. (Heck yeah to low price Kayak flights!)

Although I know I will be tired from both the travel and the time change adjustment, I can’t help but marvel at twenty first century travel. When the plane in Philadelphia took off I was fixated on the window as we left the earth behind. As we were speeding through the clouds I thought about how for most of human history most people never left 10 miles of their place of their birth but technology has enabled people with so much freedom. I looked around at other people on the flight who mostly did not seem as impressed with the plane trip as I was. However, to them I probably looked like a slack-jawed fool staring out the window. ;)

If all goes smoothly, I’ll be in Rome in 18 hours. * knocks-on-wood *

-Cecilia


Location: Philadelphia Airport

PRE-Europe

I just finished speaking to my parents on FaceTime and they seem to be more confident than I am about me leaving for study abroad. I’m nervous-excited for the next three weeks, I cannot wait to experience what it’ll be like to live with a french family and interact with a language barrier.

I’ve been outside the country before but never to Europe. All those those french classes I took in high school and college will hopefully have paid off. I do expect quite a few blank stares from people trying to figure out my broken french. I exchanged my Dollars for Euros today. This is one of the best times to travel to Europe because the Euro is almost on par with the dollar. In my mind all that means is more croissants and macarons to devour.

I’m almost all packed and ready to head out the door. I have the feeling that I’ve overpacked, you can never be too cautious about this stuff. The next couple days will be hoping on and off cabs, planes and trains.

Bon Voyage!