Monthly Archives: May 2011

the search for balance

So, now that I’m home (and have been so for about one month now), I probably think about Venezuela every ten minutes (not an exaggeration).  The good news is that I already have plans in the making to return for a few weeks in December.  When I envisioned my study abroad experience, I honestly never thought I would want to return so badly.  I thought it would be more like “Okay, so I’ve been to Venezuela, now where else can I go?”  Now, I have that mentality, somewhat, but I can’t even explain how much I miss Venezuela.  It’s like when you listen to those love songs and think about someone you had feelings for but it didn’t work (or couldn’t) for whatever reason, and now you just miss them and can’t stop thinking about them… Yeah, it’s kina like that. Except, I think about a country (haha, WEIRD).  And, maybe it’s not even the country as much as the people–people that I have already had the pleasure of knowing, and all the people I have left to meet!  Maybe it sounds a little cheesy and saturated with emotion, but it’s true!  And, while I feel that it was necessary for me to come home this time, I have every intention of returning, and I have every hope of possibly going back to live for at least a year.

I don’t know what it is… but there is an energy down there that is beyond description.  I’m not sure if it’s present in any other Latin American country, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is–I think a lot of it has to do with the culture.  It’s not anything I can really put my finger on, but I do know that here is very different.  I mean, it’s not bad here, I love my country and (most of) the things we stand for… but it’s just… different.  Of course, there are things about the good ole’ U.S. of A. that I’ve missed, but nothing really substantial… that is, substantial enough to keep me from leaving again.  

After having gone all sentimental on everyone, I should probably at least mention a few things about the trip home.  First word that comes to mind?  Tears.  and lot’s of ’em.  The whole “going home” experience was quite shocking, to say the least.  I cried when one of my best Venezuelan friends dropped us off the night before we left, and, well, I pretty much didn’t stop from then on.  I cried that whole night until we had to get up at like 3:30am to catch our plane (which obviously means I got way less sleep than I should have, making crying way easier than it already it was). I cried in the airport at El Vigia when I said goodbye to one of my roommates, Lana, who stayed for an extra two months.  I cried watching the coast of Venezuela disappear into the distance as our plane left Caracas. I cried when I saw the lights in Miami when we arrived in the states around midnightish.  I was too tired to cry (after having spent the night in the airport with some other gringos) when I had to say goodbye to my other roommate, Sam, as we all went our separate ways.  I cried when I saw the quilted patterns of the farmland of Pennsylvania when we came in for our landing at Harrisburg.  I cried walking off of the plane.  I sat in the airport and cried for a little before I came out of the gate.  I cried walking into the bathroom to fix my make-up, and then again when I left the bathroom, prompting me to turn around and give the whole make-up thing another go.  Then, I cried when I saw my family and pretty much didn’t stop until, well, the next dayish.  Sometimes, I still cry.

Why?  Well, there are a lot of reasons, but the biggest one, I think, is that, although I will be returning to Venezuela in the future, the experience will never be the same.  And for me, that’s a little sad, because it was a good one.  The up-side, however, is that, while things won’t ever be exactly like they were the first time, new experiences are waiting to be had!   I suppose the easy answer to the question of why I cried so much is a.) I was really tired and b.) there are so many things about Venezuela that I truly do miss.

The first thing I did when I got home was post a video on my facebook telling my Venezuelan friends how much I miss them.  And even though I talk to some of them almost every day through skype or Facebook, I still miss them now just as much, if not more, than I did then.  The amount of fluency that I gained through my interactions with them is invaluable.  I can barely believe that little miss “no entiendo” (I don’t understand) can now have a deep conversation with someone in Spanish that can last (and has lasted) for hours.

Sometimes, I feel weird that I think about them and Venezuela so much…  I really wasn’t exaggerating with that whole 10 minutes thing.  I mean, my goodness, it was just study abroad… I was only there for four months…  but I can tell you now that Venezuela was only the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with Latin American culture and Spanish that I feel as though I waited too long to begin in the first place.

So,  If you’ve been with me and this blog from the very beginning, you may recall that I said in my first post ever  that I imagined that living in Venezuela would be somewhat like free falling, and that, since I’ve already done that, it should be no big deal, right?  Well, let me tell you… while free falling was way more of an accurate comparison to my experiences there than I ever could have ever realized four months ago, Venezuela was still a big deal. In fact, I think it is pretty much the biggest deal of my life thus far.  And because it was such a big deal, sometimes I still allow myself to become really sad at the thought of  having to live here for the foreseeable future.  Part of me also has the fear that as the days turn into months and slowly turn into years, Venezuela and its people will only become a memory of “that crazy time in my twenties.”   I hope it doesn’t happen like that, and yet, I also hope that I can also learn to appreciate more the moment in which I am currently. 
Fact: the balance between letting go and holding on is not something I’ve yet mastered.




Chao, Venezuela…     

Thumbnail image for caracas.jpgmiami.jpg…whaddup, Miami! (yep, I was totally crying like a baby when I took this photo. hahaha)

Location: Lebanon, PA

Voyage Across the Continents (to Morocco)

This weekend marked a monumentous moment in my life: I have traversed into my 4th continent! It’s on my bucket list to go to all 7 continents, and so far, I’ve been to North America, Asia, Europe, and now Africa!! Interestingly, the Spanish do not consider the world to be divided into 7 continents, but rather 5 (Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and America). Apparently, Antarctica is not actually a continent for them. And America is just America. Go figure. By their standards though, I have already hit 4 out of 5 continents! Woot!!

Ever since I found out I was going to Spain, the two other countries I wanted to visit most while I’m here were Morocco and Portugal. I had my doubts once I arrived here though because people were talking about how it’s unsafe to go to Morocco right now due to political unrest in other North African countries. But last Monday we had presentations from various travel agencies and I found out that about 15 other kids on my program also wanted to go to Morocco and we all signed up for a the Fantasy trip through WeLoveSpain travel agency. We left on Friday afternoon by bus and it literally took us all day to get to our hotel in Morocco. We took a bus to Algeciras, Spain, and from there we took a ferry to Ceuta. I loved the ferry ride and spent nearly the whole time on the deck–I loved feeling the ocean wind and just love staring out into the waters. Sometimes, I would put my arms up and with the rocking of the boat and the strength of the wind, I felt like I was floating in a dream. Since Spain and Morocco are so close, we could see land practically the whole time, which was pretty interesting.

View from the ferry!

IMG_4175.JPG             Ceuta is a port on the continent of Africa and practically within Morocco, but it is Spanish territory. All of us were surprised because there was no security and no one checked our passports as we emerged from the ferry station. The border was about 20 minutes from the water and to our dismay, it took over an hour to get all of our passports checked because there was another tour bus in front of us. I was completely ecstatic when we got our passports back with the Morocco stamp. I’ve never cared so much about passport stamps and visas before; to me, my passport was just a booklet that I needed to get places. But now those stamps matter so much to me and I just cannot wait to fill up my pages with the evidence of my journeys across the world.

Kyle and Fleur in Moroccan attire


Before I got to Morocco, I literally was just expecting and anticipating the worst. I barely brought anything because I thought I would get mugged everywhere, and I was expecting to just be in fear of getting robbed or shot the whole time. I also feared food or water poisoning. As you can see, I really didn’t have that much faith in my well being in Morocco; I just really wanted that stamp on my passport. I was still a little afraid during our first night in the hotel in Tetuan. While I was in the shower, I was half expecting some masked man to barge in and kidnap me. At dinner, I was also afraid of eating most things on my salad plate. The next morning, however, I saw Morocco in the daylight and realized that there really wasn’t much to fear.

Leaps in the Blue City!


               Early Saturday morning we went to Chefchaoeun (nicknamed the Blue City) and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I soon realized that Morocco wasn’t all desert and emptiness the way I had envisioned Africa to be. Morocco (and most of North Africa) is a Muslim country so it’s really more like the Middle East. The people also looked like a cross of Spanish and Middle Eastern people. Sub-Saharan Africa is more like what people imagine when they think of Africa. Our tour guide in Chefchaoeun was this little old man named Toto that resembled Yoda from Star Wars in both stature and disposition. He was very stoic, but he said ridiculous things in such a nonchalant way that it was absolutely hilarious. And his voice just boomed from his tiny little body in such a majestic way. My favorite Toto moment was when he stopped a couple girls from taking a picture, explaining to them that soon there would be a “Super Duper” photo op. In both Tetuan and Chefchaouen, there was an urbanized area with large streets and an enclosed area with old edifices and only pedestrians. We toured only the enclosed areas and I suppose that they must be the original towns. In Chefchaouen, the buildings were all blue and white and really reminded me of Santorini in Greece! When we first started walking around, the little town was so peaceful because it was still early so barely anyone was outside. Later in the day, all the little doors opened up to reveal tons and tons of little market-esque stores and we had some free time to go shopping. On the whole, everything looked very pretty and I really wanted to buy something, but nothing stuck out to me in particular.

Toto the Great


In the afternoon, we went to Tetuan for lunch in a cool Moroccan restaurant, but it was filled with tourists. The food was all right, but I really loved the after-meal tea. I think it is a typical Moroccan tea because we had it for dinner too (it’s basically green tea with sugar and mint), and it is honestly the best tea I’ve ever had. All throughout the meal, performers like musicians and acrobats moved all around the rooms, and there was also a Henna lady. I got my name written on my arm with henna, which I later realized was not the best idea because I kept bumping into people and rubbing off the henna. Also, random guys on the street would say my name because it was written right on my arm (more funny than bothersome). Sohayla also taught me how to say Hello friend (Salam, Habibi) in Arabic and I was saying it to everyone! The people there seemed nice, but obviously more impoverished. People would always approach you to try to get you to buy stuff. And the most surprising thing to me was that a lot of the stuff in the outdoor markets was blatantly second-hand clothes, shoes, and electronics. In Tetuan, I bought a cute little leather over-shoulder purse and green tea for my host family.

Market in Chefchaoeun


Second hand items in Tetuan


After Tetuan, we got on the bus again for a nice nap (we pretty much nap whenever we get on a bus) and headed for Tangier, where we visited the Grotte d’Hercules and rode camels! The Grotte (cave) was cool because there was an opening from which you could see the ocean and there were also little market booths. By now I had started to notice that pretty much all the booths (no matter the city) sold certain pieces of jewelry that were exactly the same, but they often asked for different prices. The camel ride was cool, but I definitely hyped it up too much in my mind. I was picturing a 20-minute journey in a camel caravan across the Sahara desert, but it was actually just a two-minute ride off the side of the road by a beach. It wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped, but I still got some pretty sweet pictures and rode a freakin’ camel!!


We spent Saturday night at a hotel in Tangier (the city itself wasn’t very pretty nor interesting and we didn’t even take a tour of it). We had dinner in this really big tent right by the hotel and watched a “Fantasy” dinner show. I was really looking forward to it, but it was kind of awkward and the belly dancer never actually showed up. It was still a really cool experience though, and one of the performers made me go on stage to dance with a candle on my head.  

On Sunday, we took a tour of Ceuta by bus (thankfully, because all of us were tired of walking by then). It was beautiful, and in comparison to Morocco, looked so starkly Spanish and wealthy. Then we took the ferry back to Algeciras and a bunch of us took a tour to Gibraltar. It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized that Gibraltar is actually British territory. We needed our passports to get in and once we crossed the border, everything was suddenly in English! It wasn’t until then that I realized how comforting it was to see English everywhere. We took a bus tour there as well and our driver/guide was British (which made me really want to go to London)! Although Gibraltar had been on my list of top places to go, I didn’t realize that it was actually a city… I just thought it was a rock. It actually has a population of 35,000 though! Halfway up the rock, we stopped at a cliff overlook with a lighthouse and it was a stunning sight. I don’t think I’ve ever been at the edge of a cliff before then. We also went into this huge cave that randomly had an auditorium inside and “played” with the monkeys for a bit. We weren’t actually allowed to touch the monkeys because they bite so we just kind of posed near them for pictures. Gibraltar was really cool, but I was a little disappointed because I couldn’t see Africa. I thought that Gibraltar was famous for being able to see the coast of Africa and that’s the reason I really wanted to go, but it was a little muggy over the waters that day and I just couldn’t see far enough.

Macaque monkey atop the rock of Gibraltar!


Lighthouse in Gibraltar (and take note of henna on arm!)


             All in all, I had an amazing time this trip and I’m so happy that I went. I was glad that I was only there for a weekend though–I couldn’t live there. I loved seeing everything because it was all so new and it opened up my horizons to a continent that I really don’t know much about. It was completely worth my 3 days and $300 and trip to Spain wouldn’t have been complete without this experience.


Location: Chefchaouen, Morocco

Second star to the right, and then straight on till morning!

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I chose that title simply because of the sight I had on the plane over to London. I got to see a beautiful sunset from Boston – Logan International Airport that was full of vibrant maroons, purples, reds and oranges. I then had the most beautiful sight of the stars for the longest time! I can’t even express the sunrise I got either; it had the most beautiful colors! Pale pinks, purples and blues – it was simply amazing!

But I have to declare that I dislike airports, airplanes or any other type of flying object. That being said, it is not far off to state that I dislike the wait to leave airplanes/ports; this includes Boarder Control/Customs.  If anyone is coming into London, or any foreign country, prepare to wait. I had the pleasure of waiting three hours in line (after my flight had landed) to go through Boarder Control/Customs! I’m not surprised by this, but that doesn’t mean I liked it! Haha. On a happier note I got through with no problems!  I’m now officially in the United Kingdom on a Student Visa. It’s Crazy  C:

Heathrow Airport is unique; it does not look at all as big as it actually is! You fly in to the UK, and you fly almost directly over these small cities, and country homes (Pretty sure I saw a Palace or two! :D) and it continues seamlessly until you hit the airport, then it’s a couple of small windowed buildings; it’s mostly just the tar for the runway honestly;  but the moment you step inside you end up turning down so many hallways and going down so many staircases to get to the Baggage reclaim (which is after Boarder Control just so you know!). Once I was past all of the baggage claim and such I past no less than three stores or fast food places before I found the sign for the Underground (A.K.A. the “Tube” better known in America as the Subway). That in itself was about two floors worth of downhill climb. And once you know how to work the system here, it’s really easy. One of the employees helped me pay for my ticket, and then told me how to use it. Which I found incredibly sweet, but it’s not really hard at all; I was just too tired to have figured it out myself! Haha. The Tube is exactly like ours are in the USA, just switched like their driving! 😉 That leads me to a rather interesting story!!

I met my roommate not even two minutes after getting off the tube in Russell Square. I was getting ready to cross the street to get to our flat when I saw this girl just…staring at me. I was about to cross and looked the wrong way (I looked to my left) and a car came at me from the Right, I didn’t get hit but that jet-lag was already getting to me so when I looked up and continued to see this girl just stare I was like “Oh my god! Did I offend someone already?!” . I didn’t obviously, for when I finally crossed the street (safely, no close calls thank god!) I heard her say something to me, having not caught what she said I simply asked “I’m sorry, what?” and she smiled and what like “Are you from the Penn State Group?” and when I said “yes” she smiled even larger and was like “Thank God! ” and then went on to tell me that our apartments weren’t ready for us and that we wouldn’t be able to move in till after Two o’clock. Mind you at this point it was only 10 AM, and I wanted a nap. I’ll let it be known that I didn’t get my nap. K

Alright, enough about my complaining! It’s amazing over here!!

My Roommate and I spent the next couple hours (after I’d dropped my bag off at the Landlords – with their permission of course!) walking around Russell Square and learning where everything was, also going shopping for those last minute things we had forgotten at home. Our placement is amazing, we live really close to the underground, about a twenty minute walk from Kings Cross Station, 30 minute walk from the National Theatre and we’re in between an influx of stores for any type of shopping, be it Groceries, Clothing, or Bookstores (I found one with Four Floors! – I’ll be sure to get a picture next time I go. It’s beautiful and set up where you can see all four floors from the uniquely placed staircases!)  Later we met up with the rest of our group (sans two who hadn’t flown in yet) and went out to lunch and to explore yet again. We also met our third and final roommate.  

I’ll let it be known I flew in on the 28th and haven’t gotten internet till just now. And I’ve forgotten how something’s have happened. But all I know is that this is an Amazing experience.


My Flat and it’s surrounding sights! 😀


The University/College of London

















My Flat! 😀 Room and Living Room/Kitchen!




Where the classes are 🙂



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 (I promise these cars are not touching, they are just parked really REALLY close together! made me giggle!)


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Location: 19 Bedford Place, London

Reevaluation of Priorities

On the way home from Morocco yesterday [will post about trip later], I awoke from my nap to a quiet bus, and as I gazed out the window at the sun setting over beautiful green plains of the Spanish countryside, I felt so peaceful and at home. And as I sat there, I had a revelation: I want to make a life for myself in Spain. Although I’m only here for two months, I want to live as though I’ll be here for 2 years and not treat this experience as though it were a vacation. And this starts largely with detaching myself from an American things and embracing the unfamiliar. In my 12 days here so far, my Spanish has improved a lot and I’ve talked to many Spaniards. I’ve had an amazing time, but I realized that I still don’t really know that much about Spanish culture. I know surface level things like how they have siesta and I learned a bit about college students’ views on society from this survey I did for Spanish class, but there are so so so many more things I don’t understand at all–like how they view Americans, their hopes and dreams, the types of things they do with friends, how much they study, and on and on and on. I’m sure that there are many answers to all these questions and maybe you can’t generalize answers. Or maybe if you do generalize answers, they would end up being similar to young people all around the world. Or maybe they’re not really that different from my friends and I in the US.  All I am certain of is that I can’t answer any of these questions about one single person here.

Coming here with such a large group of American students is comforting and provides a great support system, but I don’t want to rely on them. I’m not here to make American friends–I can do that anywhere in America. I’m here to really throw myself into Spanish society and learn as much as I can about them in a short two months. My plan of action is mainly to venture alone into everyday Spanish life more. I want to meet students not at bars and clubs, but at school, volunteering, and church. I’m going to try to go to the University a couple times a week to do my homework, and when I need help, I’ll ask the Spaniards. This will not only help me learn Spanish, but also provides and excuse to talk to and hopefully befriend Spanish college students. And not going to lie–I wouldn’t mind meeting some cute Spanish guy. Also, since volunteering is such a big part of my life normally, I want to do it here too. I would love to be an English or Chinese tutor (maybe through the University?) or maybe even work at some sort of daycare (or both). And I also really want to attend Church to see what it’s like in Spain (both Catholic and Protestant). This will be a little harder though because I only have 3 Sundays left since I’m traveling many of the weekends. I will also try to read Spanish books, listen mostly to Spanish music, and watch only Spanish TV.

To clarify, while I really want to spend more time with Spanish people, I’m not going to sever ties with my American friends here or anything. I just want to rebalance my priorities and spend less time with Americans. I’ll already see them everyday during class and on weekends during travel so I don’t need to go out with them every night. That’s one more point that I wanted to emphasize: at the beginning of this trip, Emily told me that her sister’s one regret from studying abroad was not going out enough. I realized that that would never be my regret. My regret would only be that I didn’t spend enough time with Spanish people and didn’t learn enough about Spanish culture. And with that, I now know what’s most important to me.

Location: Sevilla, Spain

Paris and Doors

Hi! So I went to Paris last weekend with three of the other girls on the program. It was so beautiful, and it was only three hours by train. We left really early on Saturday morning, but we had to come back Sunday afternoon so we only had about a day. Paris is so amazing though. Our hotel room was on the 24th floor and our windows looked directly out at the Eiffel Tower. It was incredible, especially when the Tower lit up at night. We also did a sightseeing tour on the Seine River. We saw the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Champs d’Elysees, but we didn’t have time to explore anything, which was a little frustrating. However, I’m so glad that we went.
Anyway, back to daily life here in Pforzheim. Every morning we wake up, get ready, and go to class. There are little clothing stores, pharmacies, and bakeries everywhere, so we normally get breakfast from a bakery and eat it while waiting for the bus. The bus is free for students (or its built into our tuition, I’m not sure which). Then we go to class for most of the day and come back to the hostel and sleep, shower, shop, run errands, or study.
For the most part, university life here is very similar to Penn State. The differences that I notice are small. For instance, the doors are strange. While in the U.S. doors that you push to open have a bar or something, here everything has a handle. I’ve looked like an idiot a few times pulling on doors that you have to push. However, most push doors have signs that say push. In German (drucken in case you were wondering). It takes a little while to figure that out. The locks are also different. For many of them, you open the door by turning the key to a certain point and holding it there, not by pushing it all the way around until it clicks. I don’t understand it either.
Germans are also a lot more green than Americans. You can return bottles to the place of purchase and be refunded fifteen or twenty cents for recycling. They have these special machines that collect the bottles that are kind of cool as well.
Another thing that I like here are the dogs. You see so many more people just walking along with their dogs here. Pets are welcome almost anywhere, including trains. Personally, I have to think highly of a culture that values man’s best friend!

Location: Pforzheim

Walk Down Memory Lane (now with photos!)

Hello everyone.  Do to the somewhat slow connection speeds of China’s interwebs, I was not able to upload photos with ease these past few months.  So in a make-up-for-lost-time mindset, as well as a good way to relive some of my memories, I shall start photo blog of sorts with my top fave pics and captions.  Enjoy!

A wooden model of the Forbidden City in a museum in Beijing.  Cool!
A theme park in Jeju, South Korea that featured a 1/100 scale model of the Forbidden City!  Cool!  (Also featuring the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore, and others)

But nothing beats the real thing!  (Panda hat FTW!)

Location: Home, Where the Hear Is

Tour of Paris

Yesterday I met up with the other Penn State students in my group for a walking tour of Paris, France. We met at the Gare de Lyon and took a bus to the Eiffel Tower. It was orginially considered an eye-sore when it was erected for the 1889 Worlds Fair. It now serves as a radio and broadcasting antenna. Many people from around the world come to France to see the Eiffel Tower.

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From there we went on to see Notre Dame, which is probably the most famous Gothic cathedral in France. This was my second time visiting the cathedral and yet it seemed new to me. The stained glass in the windows is my favorite part aside from the intricate carvings on the building itself. Many of the stained glass panes were lost during the World Wars but some still remain.
Notre Dame.JPGStained Glass of Notre Dame.JPG

Location: Paris, France

Dunedin and Queenstown

The second half of our two week break was to be spent in the South Island of New Zealand. We landed in Dunedin, a major city on the east coast, to much colder weather than we had left behind in Brisbane. My Aunt picked Meg and I up at the airport after about a two hour wait in customs. We had arranged to meet our friends Jenna and Michelle at my Aunt and Uncles house so it wasn’t long before the four of us were catching up on each other’s holidays over a few glasses of wine. My Aunt, Katrina, cooked an amazing dinner of vegetarian lasagne and chocolate puddings which were greatly appreciated after ten days of cheap food, much of it peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We briefly discussed going out but since it was Easter weekend and we were all completely exhausted, we opted to fall asleep in front of the TV with the cats.

The next morning we got up really early and drove down to Boulder beach. We staked out a spot in the grassy dunes and watched for the yellow-eyed penguins to make their morning trek from the dunes to the ocean. We ended up seeing about eight or nine in total and they were adorable. We were also lucky enough to see a huge sea lion lounging around on the beach.


family on beach.jpgMe, my Aunt, Cousin and Uncle on the beach ^

After most of the penguins had gone, we drove back along the harbour and tucked into a hearty breakfast of pancakes, raspberries, bacon and sausages. We said goodbye and thanks to my Aunt and Uncle and headed into Dunedin to explore a little. We found Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world and, of course, climbed to the top.


steepest street.jpgAround noon we decided it was time to get on the road to Queenstown, which was about a five hour drive inland, however the weather was great and we stopped many times for pictures, fruit stalls, attempted winery tours, etc. Once in Queenstown and booked into our hostel, another Nomads which was right on the shores of Lake Wakitipu, we made a beeline for the Thai restaurant opposite. Later that night, one of the guys who worked at the hostel was handing out free drink vouchers for The World Bar, which also seemed to be known as the “dirty backpacker bar” so we thought we’d give it a go. We ended up having a great night and one guy insisted on calling me “Taylor Swift” the whole time since I was wearing my hair curly!

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. It’s situated right between the mountain rages with four ski resorts within an hour.


queenstown.jpgShot of Lake Wakitipu with the mountains ^

In keeping with the adventurous spirit, we obviously had to do another bungy jump. With a choice of three in Queenstown, we decided to go big or go home and went with the Nevis, a 143 metre drop from a little cable car strung by wines over a canyon. This one was more than twice the size of the one we had had done in Taupo. Even getting to the Nevis was extreme. They took us on a bus up winding, narrow roads for twenty minutes of so, everyone getting more and more nervous the higher we got. We finally were shuttled over (in an open hanging basket type device) to the cable car and fitted up with our gear. Jenna went first and, like a champ, didn’t hesitate at all.


bungy.jpgJenna jumping! NUTS! ^

The weird thing about this bungy was that it was just too high to pull you into a boat on the river when you were done, like they did in Taupo. They told you that you had to pull a red fabric lever attached to your feet on your second or third bounce so that your feet would be released and they’d be able to pull you back up in a sitting position. Really scary to do in practice since pulling at your gear while dangling headfirst over a really really high ravine doesn’t seem like the best idea. All in all, while the Nevis was awesome, I liked Taupo better because the Nevis was just TOO high. You fell for so long that it wasn’t the same rush as on a smaller bungy.

The remainder of the day was spent eating delicious burgers in the sun on the lake front and walking around the cute, albeit touristy, town. It was really nice to lounge around the hostel, reading and sleeping, after the rush of Australia. We had dinner at a little cosy restaurant called The Cow which was Italian fare but had a picture of Queen Victoria on the menu. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to say that Italians eat a lot of beef or that Queen Victoria was a cow.

That night was not one of the best. I got flu later in the evening and being sick in a twelve person room in a hostel is not very nice. We were also booked in to sky dive early the next morning and that was the only time we could do it, not to mention that I would lose my money (lots of money)if I didn’t go. I didn’t sleep at all, and just prayed that I’d feel better by the morning. The sky diving orientation was rough, as was the drive out to the airstrip. However, once they had me all suited up in my dive gear I felt fine, so I just figured that the cure for flu is sky diving.

The dive was unreal. They crammed everyone and their tandem partners into a tiny airplane with mats on the floor instead of seats. You sat with your legs around the person in front of you and the pilot to your back. As Meg and I had chosen the 12,000ft dive and the other people, a 9,000ft, we were the first into the plane and the last out. The plane ride was about fifteen minutes and it was so cool to see the mountains from the air, that I forgot that we were actually expected to jump out. At 9,000ft, the first tandem instructor leaned over and rolled up the door. Your immediate instinct should be to panic since you really don’t want the side of the plane open at 9,000ft, however it was so surreal, it still didn’t really register. The wind was incredible; you could just hear it howling past the opening as the first team made the move to shuffle to the edge. One by one, the teams were sucked out of the opening, literally sucked, until it was only Meg and I left.  5,000 more feet and it was my turn. My photographer went first and climbed out onto the side of the plane and told me to look up for a picture as I sat with my legs dangling out, clutching my harness that was attached to my instructor. It was less of a jump and more of a “rock until you get sucked out” movement and the next thing I knew,  I was tumbling though the air. My instructor pulled a small guiding chute just to keep us level and within seconds we had reached terminal velocity. All you can do is look around you as you’re falling over the amazing snow-capped mountains. Not until we pulled our chute and I saw my photographer fall away beneath us did I realise how fast we’d actually been falling, roughly 122mph all the signs seemed to say! The next part of the fall was to sit back and enjoy the scenery while doing some, at times, almost horizontal spins.

skydiving one.jpgSlightly terrified ^


skydiving 2.jpg If you only ever do one crazy thing, skydiving should be it, it was an absolutely amazing experience.

More to come on the rest of the South Island!

Karen xx



Location: Dunedin and Queenstown

Arrivederci Roma, Ciao Todi!

To say that the past week has been a whirlwind would be the biggest understatement ever. Although I have only been in Italy for a week, I feel like I have been here for a month. Having spent the first week in Rome, we were constantly been on the go, seeing something new and amazing everyday. Now that we have finally settled into Todi with our respective host families however, I have much more time to write a proper entry about our first week in Italy!

I arrived in Rome last Friday afternoon, and after settling in a bit and taking a short nap, I met up with the rest of the group who had already arrived. We chose to meet at the Colosseum, which is an extraordinarily beautiful part of Roman history. The small group of us then went out to dinner, where we enjoyed delicious pizza, pasta, wine, and even had a couple people playing the accordion for us right next to our dinner table. It was literally the perfect dinner to have on our first night here.


Saturday, we went Ostia for the day, which is a beach town near Rome. We spent the day laying on the hot sand next to the Mediterranean Sea – which was a little cold, but felt great during the hot day. I was surprised to see how clean and calm the water was compared to the Atlantic Ocean I usually swim in back home.

Sunday, we finally met up with everyone else in the program, took a walking tour of some churches and other well-known sites in Rome, and then went to a late lunch. We unfortunately got stuck in a sudden downpour, and were all soaked from head to toe! I think the lack of sleep and jet lag had finally caught up with me, because as soon as we got back to the hotel, I fell right asleep!

Monday was our first day of touring as a group, and we visited the Roman Forum followed by the Colosseum. We then had the afternoon to ourselves, so we grabbed a bite to eat then did some shopping around the Trevi Fountain. Later Monday night, we all found a restaurant, Taverno Flavia, where we were once again treated to delicious food, wine, and live guitar playing. A few of us then wandered around Rome a bit, to get a feel for what was around the hotel area.


Tuesday, we went to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s as well. All of the artwork in the museum was beautiful, and at the end of the tour, we saw the Sistine Chapel… it was absolutely gorgeous. We also climbed all the way to the top of the dome in the Vatican… over 1000 stairs up and back. It was a bit tiring, but so worth it. The views from the top of the church were breathtaking, you could see all of Rome. It. Was. Awesome.



Wednesday, we went to the Borghese Gallery, where we saw a variety of beautiful paintings and sculptures. We had the rest of the afternoon free, so a group of us walked to the Spanish Steps and then grabbed lunch at the McDonald’s nearby… Judge if you want, however this McDonald’s was nicer than many restaurants back home… Tile floors, marble walls, semi-circular booths, and a great decoration style. It was by far the classiest looking fast food restaurant I have ever seen. We then went back to the hotel to rest a bit, and we all went out to dinner at a restaurant we had come across earlier in the week in Rome near the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.

Thursday morning, we left Hotel Montecarlo, and were en route to Todi, where we will be living for the next six weeks. On the way, we stopped at Villa d’Este, which has beautiful gardens and fountains. We then had our first semi-art lesson, and each had to do three different drawings in our sketchbooks, including a close up and architecture.

IMG-20110526-00112.jpgWe arrived in Todi Thursday afternoon, and met our families in town. We all left with our host families, and got all settled in. Pictures of Todi are not yet uploaded to my computer, but will be up soon! I am living with one other student, Serena, kind of a little ways out from town but still beautiful. I’m so excited for all the adventures Todi has in store for us, more to come soon!


Location: Todi, Italy

Last 2 weeks in Pareeeee

Last weekend we had a field study in Gevena, Switzerland with our European Integration and Supranational class on Friday. We went to WIPO (World International Property Organization) and WTO (world Trade Organization). The institutions were really cool. Then we had 5 hours of free time to walk around this city. There wasn’t really a lot to do there. We found a cute little house that had been turned into a caf�. Then we got to go on a tour of old Geneva with our teacher. It was pretty but there wasn’t much to see. The chocolate was good though.

Then on Sunday I took a day trip to see the chateaus of the Loire Valley. I got on a bus at 7:15 in the morning and first we went the Blois chateau. It was interesting because it had parts from all different time periods.

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Thumbnail image for blois 4.JPGThe second chateau we went to was Chenonceau, which is the castle of the women and was beautiful. It had 2 gardens 1 for the queen and 1 for the mistress. Also it had a little farm and donkeys.

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The last chateau we went to was Cheverny which was originally a hunting lodge. And to this day the family lives on the third floor and still has about 80 hunting dogs.


Thumbnail image for cheverney.JPGThumbnail image for cheverney 2.JPGThen I got home around 9 pm.

The rest of the week was dedicated to studying for finals. Where once again I was reminded that this is STUDY abroad. I had one on Thursday, one on Friday, two on the following Monday, and one on Tuesday.

Then Wenesday night for our last night they teachers hosted us on a boat cruise of the Seine. Then we all went our seperate ways with our friends afterwards. I got about 3 hours of sleep that night and still had to wake up and do the dishes and a final clean of the kitchen and bathroom. We will probably get charged for that stuff but the last weeks were to crazy for cleaning.


Location: Paris, France