May 2011 Archives

the search for balance

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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...     

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Voyage Across the Continents (to Morocco)

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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

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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!

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               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

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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

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Second hand items in Tetuan

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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!!


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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!

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

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             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.

 

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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! :D

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The University/College of London

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My Flat! :D Room and Living Room/Kitchen!

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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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Reevaluation of Priorities

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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.

Paris and Doors

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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!

Walk Down Memory Lane (now with photos!)

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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!

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A wooden model of the Forbidden City in a museum in Beijing.  Cool!

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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)

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

Tour of Paris

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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.
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Dunedin and Queenstown

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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

 

 

Arrivederci Roma, Ciao Todi!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Ciao!

Last 2 weeks in Pareeeee

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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 café. 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.

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Pre-Trip

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Hello to all!

First I wanted to thank you guys for taking the time to follow me on this adventure. I leave in about 30 days and there is still so much to be done! I am trying to figure out what to pack, my courses, my living arrangements, and travel goals. Its alot more planning than I thought, haha! Those who know me well also know I am not a light packer, so the packing in itself should be interesting! Since the climate is almost opposite i'll have to take into consideration i'll be entering winter in NZ. (NZ has a rather mild climate, it never gets below 45 degrees, or higher than 75 degrees)

I will be living in Wellington, New Zealand, which is the capital! There are many awesome YouTube videos you can find which have great video clips of the city and all it holds, so definitely look those up! The unviersity I will be attending is University of Victoria, which is home to four campuses and about 35,000 students. As I was looking on the school website they have all kinds of things for students. Theres over 30 sports teams and 60 clubs, so there's no shortage of ways I can get involved and meet new people. Also as I was reading up on other PSU students who are currently abroad in Wellington its getting me so excited to see how gorgeous the city is! Travel Travel Travel!! Apparently every weekend i'll be able to find a huge fresh fruit open market and along the harbor which is like a five minute walk from my flat, there is a large fish market where you can buy freshly caught whole fish (I believe they sell about twenty different types). Already im pumped!

There is truly so much I want to accomplish by taking this trip. I've wanted to study abroad for quite some time but I never felt like I was ready to do it, but nowI am truly ready to take on this adventure. I am so thankful to my parents for financially making these dreams happen and I am so eager to learn how God is going to mold me for the better through this tripl I hope to grow more independence for starters. Going to a foreign country alone and allowing myself to be open and immersed in a new culture is surely going to be life changing. I just want to try new things! Sometimes I feel like I get to used to my little "life bubble" that I dont take enough time to venture into areas of life which are out of my comfort zone. I truly feel this area of my life is going to be changed greatly for the better and I cannot wait!

I hope to blog about three times a week and add lots of pictures, videos, links, etc. I can't wait to tell you all about my trip as I near closer and I hope you will all enjoy reading! I hope to be as reflective as I can being that this is a memory I hope to be able to read back upon. Thanks for your support!

Love you all!!

Erin Sterner

August 23rd Can't Come Soon Enough!

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Hello All!

My name is Alison Pavilonis and I will be a fourth year architecture student in the Fall semester traveling to Italy to live and study in Rome!!  In only 12 weeks, 5 days, and 10.5 hours!! (Can you tell I'm counting down?)  Right now I am living at home in New Kensington, PA (near Pittsburgh) and saving up money so that I can live somewhat extravagantly while abroad (by a college student's standards.)

I think it is finally starting to sink in that I will be in Europe for the next semester because today I booked my hostel for my trip to Oktoberfest in Munich!!  (They do their dates backwards.)

oktoberfestMuch to my surprise, it is actually not in October but begins in the middle of September!  I will be traveling there September 16 and believe it or not I still had a hard time booking a hostel this far in advance!  Although I'm planning to stay for the entire weekend, I could only find a room for Friday night! I'm wondering if this is going to be a hint as to how traveling will be on a budget.  It should be an interesting experience to say the least! I'm sure that there will be more to come on this particular adventure.

Until August 23rd when I fly out I will be making lists upon lists of what to pack (yes, I'm one of those people) and getting more and more excited!! On a final note...


Weekend at Xitou

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This past weekend, I went with my aunt on her company vacation. Every year, Taiwanese employers give the company a certain sum of money that the company must use on their employees. Most companies use the money for company vacation in which most or all of the expenses of the employees are already paid for. My aunt's company decided to go to 溪頭 [xi tou]. We left early Saturday morning and took a small rented tour bus down. There was karaoke and movies on the bus. I was surprised because we watched Thor. That movie recently just came out in Taiwan so I didn't think it would be out so soon. I think the tour guide PPS-ed it. Hahahahahaha!


We stopped by 紫南宮 on the way to 溪頭. It's a temple that's famous for bringing wealth to the people who go there. Those who go can borrow money, around 600 NT (around $18-ish), from the 土地公 to invest in some kind of money making business or investment. When a profit is made with that money, borrowers will repay the sum along with a little offering. Generally, the rule is whether you make a profit or not, you should repay the money within a year. When my aunt's co-worker went to borrow some money though, she found out that she didn't repay her debt from about 10 years ago. So she had to repay that debt before taking out another loan.  While we were there, we saw a man who would take sticks and knives and beat himself, drawing blood out. Where his blood fell on the ground, people would spread paper money which would later be burned. I forget what you call the people who do this but basically, they believe that while they're doing this, they aren't completely themselves, there's a spirit or someone else that's within them so when they get beaten and cut, they aren't really hurting themselves. It was a little hard to understand but it was something like that.

 The temple

The place where you can borrow money from the 土地公


After the temple, we visited the 5 Star Restrooms of the area. The building was built to look like bamboo shoots because the area is famous for the bamboo and sweet potatoes. I didn't think there was anything particularly special about the bathroom besides the architecture and design of the building...and that it was cleaner than most restrooms in Taiwan.



Later that day we went to 竹山天梯. We had to climb a million stairs and climb a billion hills to finally get to the 天梯 which was basically a suspended bridge. It started to rain when we were halfway to the bridge. Though very uncomfortable, the whole trip was an adventure and I like adventures. The view was also a sight to behold. I was unable to capture the beauty of it all on camera but these things are usually best experienced in person anyways. I almost died on the bridge though. It was amazingly slippery on the bridge so I almost fell twice. I'm surprised people were still allowed to go out with such bad weather but I'm glad I did.






That night we stayed at 米提大飯店, a 5 star hotel in Taiwan. The moment we pulled up in front of it, it felt so familiar to me though I was sure that I never stayed there before. It looked a lot like the hotel in a drama I recently watched called "幸福最晴天." I wasn't sure the whole time I stayed there even though the feeling kept getting stronger and stronger. I finally confirmed it when I came home Sunday and checked online. So if you ever watch the drama, well, I was there. :)





3....2....1....Take-off? not quite :D

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I'm horrible with letters... I feel like that is something I should tell everyone right now. I do love telling stories though. And this is a story about a girl named Megan (That would be me :D) and her chance to explore the world (London to be more specific)...

 

Before i get any further I'm going to apologize, yes i love telling stories - but i kinda suck at it... *shrugs* that's life for ya.

 

But yeah, I've been honored with the chance to go to another country; more specifically another continent (for the first time in my life) and I couldn't be happier! On the other hand, I couldn't be more nervous! I'm starting to worry that I'll gain more gray hairs then my gram before I even leave for Boston tomorrow...KIDDING...I'm a little too young for that :P . But seriously, this is a chance in a life time for me, and the fact that I get to express it lyrically (...okay maybe not so much lyrically but a girl can dream right? haha ;]) what I experience; well honestly, it blows my mind.  The Fact that I get to study Theatre and British Literature while I'm there? -Well if I knew what came after "it blows my mind" that'd be what's going on right about here. So bastically, It's a dream come true!

Now, not that any of you needed to know, but I still have to pack and I only have minus-24-hours to do so before I leave for BOS; so I wish all the best to everyone everywhere; and to the rest of the GeoBlogers from PSU (and to any person studying abroad) I hope you see everything to wish to see, taste every unique dish that is placed in front of you, embrace the differences, and that you learn, and live, and BE everything you've ever wanted while there.... And most importantly, I hope that you achieve everything you set out to achieve.

Nähdään pian Lontooseen! (See you soon London!) :D

Puerto Rico: Isla del Encanto (Island of Enchantment)

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I cannot believe that an entire week has passed since we arrived in Puerto Rico.  At the same time, I have no idea how we fit our entire agenda of outings and day trips into seven days.  The first couple days we explored our local small town of Rio Piedras and the campus of the University of Puerto Rico.  We also began our classes on Thursday and Friday of last week.  However, the weekend was completely academic-free as we visited Old San Juan and El Yunque Rainforest.  Our first stop was a historic fort called "El Morro" which means "the hill" in Spanish. 
IMG_1797.jpgThe construction of the fort started in 1539 and was authorized by King Charles V of Spain to protect Puerto Rico from any competing nations.  The island was very strategically placed due to being at the entryway to the Caribbean.  Although the fort was attacked multiple times by British ships, Spain miraculously maintained control of the island for hundreds of years until eventually selling it to the United States.
IMG_1809.jpgIMG_1832.jpg After the fort, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a local restaurant.  We have already noticed that in Puerto Rico, you must be prepared to have rice and beans as a side dish!  We then walked around Old San Juan and saw local houses, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (where the remains of Juan Ponce de Leon are buried), and the Capital Building.
IMG_1848.jpgIMG_1857.jpgThe Ben and Jerry's of Old San Juan. =)
IMG_1945.jpgI have so many more pictures on my facebook page of Old San Juan and the fort.  If you would like to see them, add me as a friend "Kathryn Elizabeth Clark" and include in the message something about the geoblog. 

On Sunday, we went to El Yunque Rainforest, and we definitely experienced some rain!  We took a two hour hike to the top of the main mountain and then explored an area with a large waterfall.  We were actually able to swim at the bottom, which was such a neat experience!  Pictured below is our group at the Waterfall at El Yunque.  There will be much more information to come as I have the time!
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Shopping and Laundry

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Is it sad that my happiest moment so far in Spain was shopping in a store that looked like H&M and smelled of Abercrombie? Today I FINALLY went shopping and it was amazing! The first store we went to was a Spanish one called Stradivarius and I absolutely loved it. The clothes were all so cute, seemed to be of great quality, and weren't too expensive! I was so happy as I browsed the store and I felt SO at home with the cute clothes, American music, and potent Abercrombie-esque perfume. I know that I'm supposed to be experiencing very Spanish things, but I really needed that retail therapy and realized how much I missed shopping. I was really good though! I only bought 3 things all afternoon and only spent 38 euros. I was pretty proud of myself because Ginny spent almost 150. I cannot wait to get more Spanish clothes. Before I left, I told myself that I would be spending my money on experiences like food and travel rather than commodities... but I think I'm going to buy lots of clothes anyway and just not shop for literally a year once I get back to the States! It's pretty easy to not shop in State College anyways; I have barely bought any clothes for the past 9 months.

I also did laundry for the first time here. In Spain, we don't really have dryers. We hang our clothes on clotheslines (often on the roofs of apartment buildings) and I actually had fun because I was singing in the privacy of a rooftop courtyard while securing my clothes to metal lines with clothespins. Since the sun is so strong, my clothes didn't take long at all to dry, but they did come out a little stiff. I think the stiffness was caused by sunlight (no idea how) because I dried one shirt in my room and it was still soft after it dried.


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Mission Complete

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Immediately following my experiences in China, I've spent 21 days in the motherland of South Korea.  I spent most of my time staying with different relatives and eating delicious Korean foods, but did some interesting things like going to Jejudo, the Korean version of Hawaii, and Lotteworld, the Korean version of Disney World. 

So this is my last official day abroad.  I wish I had more to talk about on such an important day, but I kind of don't.  Its bittersweet to say the least, but in truth I'm all Asia-ed out at this point.  I miss green money, relatively low population density, and the abundance of cheese.   

Cultural similarities between China and Korea is great.  I think this is because a lot of Korean culture is derived from the Confucian notion of respect and lifestyle.  There are things like respecting the elders, gender roles of men as workers and of women as house people and the like.  However, Korea is also very westernized too.  I would describe it as almost fully modernized with lots of flourishing industries with some trickles of Confucian culture remaining in everyday interactions.  I think it was a good transition between China and going back to the United States.

After successfully enduring 4 straight months of super intense Chinese, I thought Korean would be a piece of cake to catch up on during my 3 weeks here.  I was mistaken.  Korean is pretty hard too.  The alphabet system is a lot more straightforward than the Chinese character system, but everything sounds the same and all the letters look the same.  I've found I had a hard time memorize new words at the speed at which I was able to memorize Chinese words.  But maybe this is because in Korea I was just chilling and in China I studied the hardest I've ever studied in all my life.  In any case, I bought a bootlegged copy of a Korean drama called Secret Garden in China with Chinese subtitles, so maybe I'll be able to practice my Korean listening and Chinese reading simultaneously. 

I hate the prices here.  It's so similar to American prices, it's almost disheartening.  I hate currency rates and their constant fluctuations that makes me regret not exchanging all my foreign cash earlier (and possible saving $30!!).  But travelling is good for the mind.  I feel like I understand the world more and would like to embrace the culture differences rather than squirm at it idea.  Cup successfully emptied and refilled.  

Labyrinths y La Catedral

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          I am. So. EXHAUSTED!! I left at 9:30 this morning to go to class and was out all day till just now (6:45pm), and I have to leave again in 15 minutes. Since we walk everywhere, it takes a long time to go everywhere and on my way home, my feet are always killing me! It doesn't help either that the sidewalks are not paved. I love Sevilla though, I'm already starting to get a sense of the city, and sometimes I can go home without getting lost!! Haha, it sounds bad, but that's actually kind of impressive. This city is just so crazy because there are no straight streets and clear-cut intersections. You can't really say "take the second left and then the first right" because there are probably 3 lefts and 2 rights spread out over a plaza. Also, their street signs are written on buildings rather than on posts at intersections like ours; they are typically at the ends of streets so if your intersection hits the middle of a street, sometimes you can't even tell what street it is. Before I came here, I thought I had a good sense of direction, but boy is this place hard to navigate.


           We had a tour of the Catedral and Giralda today and the view of Sevilla was so beautiful from La Giralda (the famous tower of the cathedral). The Catedral in Sevilla is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world and it took 400 years to build so there are all sorts of architectural styles inside, it's really cool. From the top of the tower, you can see the whole city. The main part of Sevilla (El Centro) really isn't that big, you can probably walk from one side to the other within 45 minutes. Last summer, I thought that I walked a lot in Tokyo, but we also took the the train a lot to different parts of the city. Here however, we literally walk everywhere.


          After the Catedral, Ginny and I went to the Universidad de Sevilla to interview some Spanish students for our Spanish class and it was so much fun! I was apprehensive at first, but all the students were really friendly and I loved talking to them! I was also really impressed with myself that I could actually understand most of what they were saying! Then on the way home Ginny and I talked completely in Spanish. I have improved so immensely in just the past few days, it's amazing. I really hope that I can become almost fluent by the time I go home! And it's SO much fun to talk in Spanish!


La Giralda

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Inside La Catedral

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View from the tower

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Catedral from the outside

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Classes started already!

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Hey everyone! I'm really excited for my classes this semester so I wanted to share them with everyone already.  I'll also be traveling to Rome and Cinque Terre this weekend so I won't have a chance to update.  I am studying Architecture: Villas and Gardens, and Cross-cultural Psychology at Palazzo Rucellai. The school is amazing!  This is one of my classrooms.

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In my architecture class we have on-site lessons every day!  Most sight visits are within Florence and walking distance from the school such as to Palazzo Medici, Palazzo Davanzati, and more.  We also have trips taht we have to take busses to that are outside the city suc has the Medici Villas, and Fiesole.  On the first day of class we had a course introduction and then went to tour Palazzo Rucellai and Palazzo Strozzi.  The following picture is from the courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi and is absolutely breathtaking in person.italia 024.JPG
The picture doesn't do it justice, and I imagine I'll be experiencing this a lot this semester!  In my cross-cultural psychology class, we did many interactive excercises to get to know each other and compare the Italian and American cultures.  My professor is Austrian and slightly difficult to understand but he has a great humor and I imagine he'll make the topics very interesting!  Don't take this post wrong though.  My classes will be very interesting but I think they will also be very difficult.
I also have gotten a lot more sight seeing in.  Here are some pictures of Florence.
The Piazza Della Republicca:firstfriday 009.JPGSant'Ambriogio Market: an open air market that is definitely your best bet for groceries and more! It's cheap and fun to immerse yourself into the Italian culture.  Many locals go here so it is easy to pick up on the language and cultural cues.
228308_10150198017186169_722081168_7036681_1106115_n.jpgPiazza San Croce:
229115_2084599396149_1280041462_32571693_7567512_n.jpgPicture of the shops of Ponte Vecchio: These shops are beautiful and festive.  They are mostly shops filled with fine gold jewelry and other valuables.  In the center of Ponte Vecchio you have a beautiful photo opportunity where the shops split and while you're at it you can fill up your drink bottles at the fresh spring!
italia 018.JPGI have to get going so I'll put up an update of my weekend traveling as soon as possible!
Ciao a tutti!

Welcome to Mexico!

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Thumbnail image for puebla1Wow. So, my first weekend+ has come and gone in Puebla, and I feel like I've been here forever! Thursday's travels went smoothly, but to get from Bethlehem to Puebla seemed to take ages. At this point, I don't even know where to begin, so I'm just going to roll with a quick overview of a few of the most notable/ my favorite things so far.

 

Thumbnail image for puebla2The city itself. Yeah. I'm a bit of a history nerd, so, while I don't know too much about the history of Puebla yet (and my Spanish and memory capacity aren't too grand either), I absolutely LOVE the buildings. The old, the new, the colors, the styles. This city reminds me aesthetically of Spain, but it has a whole different feel to it. I love it. This is not the palm-lined, beachy Mexico of the movies or tourist trade; it's not the violent, gritty Mexico that the news so loves. It's just a real place with real personality.

 

Thumbnail image for puebla3My family/ house. I feel so spoiled here. I've got my own room, a bathroom to myself, and there's Wi-Fi! I've gotten to spend a lot of time with them, and this weekend they took me to see a lot of the sights of Puebla! My Mom is so doting and caring; she's constantly trying to feed me delicious food, which can be a catch-22 because the more I eat, the fuller I feel, and therefore the less I can eat. My Dad is very funny. He's always trying to sneak English into the conversation so he can practice, too, and I love listening to him talk about the history of Mexico. My brother and sister are both great; they're both very witty but also both very friendly and patient. Oh- and Benny the Chihuahua? Adorable!

 

Thumbnail image for IMG_2527.JPGpuebla6I also enjoy (sort of) the fact that I am terrible at conversing in Spanish but it's okay! Most of the time I just sit and listen to my family as they talk to one another, and I feel like I have a general idea of what's going on. But then, of course, they'll ask me something, and I'll sit there like a complete idiot, trying to stammer out something- anything- that makes sense. I have the vocabulary of a four-year-old right now, but I feel like things are starting to register a lot more quickly even after just 4 days. I'm sure it will improve, but I wish it would improve faster.

 

puebla5We had Orientation at La Universidad Iberoamericana de Puebla today; it's a lovely campus! A LOT smaller than Penn State, but it has plenty of lovely places to relax or study and lots to offer. I'll be sure to take some photos and talk about it more soon; even though we had homework tonight, classes officially start tomorrow. I keep forgetting that I actually have to do work, but I'm sure with my lineup of classes, it will be interesting to keep up with!

 

Nos vemos! (PS: Photos, in order, are of: a street in downtown Puebla, The Cathedral of Puebla, another church-- the name escapes mem sorry-- next to the hotel we stayed at (and whose roof I was on), a view of Puebla from the highest point in the city, a Mejica dance in a park, a market close to the Bario de Artistas downtown)   

Let's Play Catch Up!

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Oh my gosh, although it has only been a few days, I feel like a worlds have passed since the last time I wrote!

Our first night in Sevilla, we had dinner with our Orientation groups (Grupo 6 for me!), and since then, we basically spent our entire 2.5 days of orientation with our groups and really became close with each other. I was surprised at how quickly we went from all trying to meet each other to forming cliques and groups of some sorts. Our orientation groups were split by the amount of time we were staying, which is awesome because now my good friends are all staying here for 9 weeks. This experience really reminded me of how people become closest with their hall mates from freshman year. Since we were always together, we just naturally got to know each other better and formed our friend groups that way. Other than that, we also started to get to know people in our living areas since we walk everywhere together.

Our orientation group leader was Roberto (aka RUCHI) and he is absolutely awesome. He's so sweet and funny though and our entire group just adores him. It's so cute when he speaks English and he also jokes around with us a lot. We call him Ruchi because when Steve affectionately tried to call him Bobby, he told us that his real nickname was Ruchi. During those first days, he took us all around the city, to CIEE info sessions, and out for all our meals. We went out for tapas a bunch and they were soooo good. But if I ate like that everyday, I would blow up like a pig. In the beginning, we didn't understand anything on the menu so we just asked Ruchi to order for us, but everything was so delicious.


Ruchi (in blue) y Grupo Seis!

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On Friday we were picked up by our host families--I was so nervous as to how everything would be and I felt completely overwhelmed. My host father is named Antonio and although I was nervous and a tad quiet at first, we get along SO well now. He's absolutely hilarious and he always jokes around. My first afternoon here was really rough. I hadn't really spoken that much Spanish since I got here and that was the first time where I really entered an immersion environment. I was so rusty (it's been two years since my last Spanish class) and they said so many things that I just could not understand. I felt so overwhelmed and I literally just NEEDED to get out of the house and talk in English to regain my sanity. I was so relieved when Emily asked me to go shopping with her. Since I didn't really know where I was going, Antonio dropped me off at OpenCor (something like CVS for us) on his motorcycle which was super cool! So many people ride motorcycles here!

I had never really noticed my race as a huge factor before because I've always been in places where it's normal to see Asians, but I literally did not see any Asians around that day and I just felt so foreign and out of place. I thought I would adjust really well to life in another country and homestay since I've already done it twice in Japan, but I didn't realize how much being Asian actually helped me in Japan.  After talking to Emily and shopping though, I felt a lot more comfortable, and now I feel pretty much normal. I've seen a couple Asians around--one in a school uniform today and others in little convenience stores. In fact, you'll see little Tiendas Chinas (chinese stores) everywhere--the stereotype for Chinese people here is that they all own convenience stores.


New phones for Jason, Whitney, Andrew and me!

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On Saturday we went to Cadiz (the oldest city in Europe) and it was so beautiful. In the morning we did a walking tour (my feet were dying already due to how much we've been walking) and ascended this cathedral tower from which we could see the whole city. It was so awesome-- the buildings were all white, which I loved because it reminded me of Santorini. In the afternoon we just chilled on the beach and it was so relaxing. The waters were so beautiful and blue, but the beach area was kind of dirty and rocky. 


La Playa de Caleta en Cadiz con Olivia y Ashley

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Entrance to the Castillo de Santa Catalina

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View from la Catedral en Cadiz

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Beachfront street in Cadiz

IMG_4036.jpg             Yesterday (Sunday) we took a hiking trip to Valdelarco in Huelva. Almost everyone signed up but less than two thirds actually showed up. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be, but so worth it. I initially thought it would be a leisurely walk through nature on paths, and all of us wore shorts, but the morning walk was pretty rough. Save for a couple big steep hills, it wasn't actually that difficult physically. The sucky part was that we had to walk through plants and we didn't know to wear pants so a few of us got really scratched up. I got a couple scratches around my left ankle and they were bleeding. Then we had our bocadillos (sandwiches) atop this overlook of the mountains and it was so beautiful. The afternoon walk was also much more beautiful and scenic and looked more like the Spanish countryside that I had envisioned. I loved it. I got home around 5:30 and then literally just sat on the couch with my family until bedtime. I love spending time with them; they are all so nice and welcoming and I just really like being in such a warm family atmosphere.


Hiking in Huelva

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Today (Monday) was the first day of classes and it was fun! Although class lasts for 3 hours every morning, I enjoyed it because my teacher is so animated and we have a small class (6 people) so it's really interactive. I'm taking Intermediate Spanish right now.

In the afternoon, we came back to CIEE to meet with some representatives from travel agencies and I decided that I really really really want to go to Morocco this weekend. The two places that I wanted to visit the most since before I came here are Portugal and Morocco, but unfortunately most of my friends here have no interest in Morocco so I kind of gave that up. But then I realized that I need to stay true to myself and not submit to peer pressure so much. Sometimes I feel like I need to constantly do what everyone else is doing because I want to be "in the group", but I hate having to try so hard. I like many of the people here and they're all really nice, but I realized that I'm not always like everyone else. Many of my classmates here all want to go party all the time, and I was really excited about that at first, but then I realized that that's not what's most important to me. I've definitely grown since my last summer abroad in Tokyo, where I just wanted to always go out with my American friends. Now, I really want to get to know Spaniards and embrace new ideas and cultures.


Fall 2011 Destination: Atenas, Costa Rica

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Hola! That's how you say hello in Spanish, right?

Just kidding. It just goes to show how NERVOUS I am too be learning tons of Spanish when I travel to Atenas, Costa Rica for the Fall 2011 semester though. I just got home from finishing up my junior year at Penn State and I am disappointed I won't be seeing Happy Valley until 2012. But I am excited to be doing research and taking classes with The School for Field Studies this Fall as part of their Sustainable Development Program.

As I am reaching the end of my Penn State years, it is crazy to think how much I have grown from Freshman year to now. I have changed my major, moraled for THON and become very passionate about sustainability.

However, as I look past the summer, after my second internship has come to an end, I guess I couldn't help but notice that with my plans for senior year, I am probably going to grow a lot more before I graduate.

Through this study abroad program, I will be taking a cultural class, a resource management class, an ecology class and also participating in research. It is not a typical study abroad program. I will have classes six days a week but the classes take place outdoors. The program is also based on a small coffee bean farm and there are 25 to 40 students who will be there with me.

I am so excited to meet new people and professors that go on the program and also meet community members. I know I am going to learn so much which could lead my career path in a totally different direction so I am taking this last year day by day.

I hope that I can be healthy while I am down in Costa Rica and face this trip head on so I can get as much out of it as I can. Sometimes when I move to school or come home, I get sick during the transition and I am nervous this could happen at the beginning of my trip. I can't imagine being sick the first few weeks I am out of the country!

When I study abroad, I am looking forward to not having a lot of stuff and not having a cell phone. I think this will be an interesting experience to really shape how I live when I come back to the U.S. If I can survive out of a suit case for six months, I can probably live with less stuff than I have now.

As it has been raining for the last two weeks, I am seriously looking forward to warm, sunny weather in Costa Rica! I have booked my flight for September 5th and will arriving in San Jose around 2 p.m.

Until then, I have to get one more vaccine, pack and look into calling cards so I can call back home! But right now, I am just going to enjoy summer vacation! Adios!

Benvenuto in Italia!

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Ciao! My name is Brianna Paterniani and I am studying in Florence, Italy for the summer.  After just finishing my sophomore year as a Neuropsychology major, and Biology minor, at University Park, I quickly became nervous about my trip this summer.  Now, I am currently sitting in my apartment on Via Ricasoli in Florence getting nervous about starting my classes tomorrow.  As I sit here and realize that this is only the fourth day of my stay in Italy, it has not hit me that I'll be here for six whole weeks.  During these six weeks, I hope to gain greater cultural understanding, learn Italian a little better, become more outgoing, travel, make new friends, and get more credits to my undergraduate degree.  One of the biggest parts of this trip will be new experiences. 
It may not seem like much but I'll give you a recap of my first few days here in Florence.  It started off a little rough but then quickly turned into the most amazing few days of my life.  On Tuesday, two of my roommates and I left for Italy.  The flight from Philadelphia to London was surprisingly good taking into account my dislike for flying.  The only thing that was terrible was that I literally only slept for about 15 minutes.  In London Heathrow, we were meeting another one of our roommates and we had an airport switch.  When we got to the airport our other roommate was nowhere to be found and one of the girls luggage never got on the plane from Philadelphia.  So while we looked for our roommate, and solved the luggage problem, we were stressing about getting to the bus station in time for our shuttle to the other airport.  Once we got to London Gatwick airport, we had a very long layover and ran into a lot of trouble with luggage limits because this plane was smaller.  We arrived in Florence around 11 pm and got into a very sketchy taxi who dropped us off at our hotel.  When we went to open the door to the hotel it was locked. Since none of us had phones, we had to walk a few blocks to another hotel (remember we have all of our luggage) and ask for help.  We found a man who was nice enough to call the emergency number listed.  We didn't get settled in to our hotel until around 3 am.  In the morning we left as early as we could, eager to see our new apartment!
When we walked into our apartment it all seemed worth it.  At the time I had been somewhat bitter about the trip and this bitterness quickly disappeared.  Our apartment is fantastic


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From my bedroom window you can even see The Duomo!

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After settling into our apartment, we all went out to eat with some other students that we met earlier that day.  If you ever make it to Florence, I highly suggest you go to Il Gatto e Il Vulpe.  It is all you can eat, all you can drink for only 15 euros! 
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Since Thursday, I have had Gelato at least once a day! Things to notice at Florence 1) sometimes cafes and restaurants charge you for sitting down and/or have a service fee 2) apparently you aren't supposed to tip anyone 3) men are usually way to friendly and the best thing for you to do is not even acknowledge their existence 4) Italians are very aware of electicity and wasting things 5) Theyre absolutely crazy drivers and 6) they NEVER wear shorts! Even in 90 degree weather like today, it was hard for me to even find them in capris!  I'm sure I'll have many more of these tips to post throughout this trip!

On friday morning we had a very long and extensive orientation about Florence and the program.  On Saturday we picked up our schedules and books.  Palazzo Rucellai is absolutely gorgeous.  Apparently students have never been able to use the front entrance until this year.  We are the first group of students allowed to enter through the front door.

Throughout the days we have been wandering the streets trying to figure out the layout of Florence but I don't think I'll ever truly understand it!
The Duomo:

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Ponte Vecchio:
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I'll update soon about classes and travel plans with hopefully more pictures! I'm sure this week is going to be extremely busy though.

Hola de Sevilla!

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Hola everyone! My name is Steph Brunner and I am writing to you from beautiful Sevilla, Espana!  I am involved in the Seville Summer Language and Culture program through CIEE.  This program operates as three 3-week sessions, and I am staying for all nine weeks!

I just finished my junior year as a psychology major with minors in Spanish and HDFS.  At Penn State, I am a football cheerleader, a research assistant in a developmental psychology lab, the secretary of the Penn State Concert Choir, and a THON volunteer.  Needless to say, I am very busy!  I have known since high school that I wanted to study abroad, and I am so glad that I found the time in my jam-packed schedule to fit this experience into my undergraduate career!

I arrived in Sevilla on Wednesday May 18th.  We stayed in the Hotel Melia-Sol until Friday afternoon when our host families picked us up.  Here is a picture of the hotel!

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Throughout these nine weeks, I will be writing about my goals, my experiences, and my (hopefully) changing perspectives.  My main reason for studying abroad is to completely immerse myself in a new culture, thereby enabling myself to learn about customs and norms, to improve my Spanish skills, and to become a more globally-knowledgeable citizen.  I hope you enjoy reading about my journey this summer! Hasta luego!

Eres la vida que me falta

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"yo soy la vida que ya tengo, tu eres la vida que me falta"
Calle 13

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Qué locura eres, Venezuela, y como te extraño...

Favorite Moments (that could be captured on film, haha)
Momentos favoritos (que puedo mostrar por fotos)....

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adventures with friends in the rain to see the view of merida from the mountain tops...

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walking and taking note of all the various colors of the city...

 

 

 

 I just love latin america for this reasonIMG_0696.JPG.

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streets burgers after 2am!DSC03625.JPG 

 

 

a piercing, a tattoo and a handsome boy, all in the same night. hahaha.locos.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

Chicos locos y playas hermosas...

 

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Dangerous things...
(hahaha) like:

 

attractive boys and no helments...

 

 

 

 

...waterfalls and sharp rocks...

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...fast horses and wide open plains.IMG_1426.JPG

 

 

LAS COCADAS!anteater.JPG

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for IMG_1157.JPGAnacondas, german urologists, and cuddling with anteaters...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Impromtu craving trips (La Nota has HOW MANY sauces?!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 BAILAR! (Dancing)

 

 

 

Thumbnail image for DSC03427.JPGtaxi cab confessions...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga on the plains...

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Lasting relationships...pocoloco.jpg 

 

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Hermanas <3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, of course, there's all those other memories that will only ever be just that.

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Yo, check out these videos of our awesome night at the CALLE 13 CONCERT!

 

 

 

ARRIVED!

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I am currently at my aunt's apartment writing this entry.

But oh boy, the amount of time travelling and waiting was too much to bear..

-2 hour bus ride from Philadelphia to JFK airport in NY
-3 hour wait in the resting area for the plane
-14 hour airplane trip
-1 hour from the airport to aunt's apartment

I don't know quite how I managed to endure the (endless) journey, so don't ask. lol

This was my first time going through the airport process for travelling internationally so I was a bit nervous.
I didn't want to mess up and cause any complications. I was nervous enough that I'd miss the bus or plane and have to deal with that!

I did like Korean Airlines though. The stewardess were very polite, the food was more than decent, and the entertainment system had a good selection of movies.

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Airline ticket included headphones, pillow, blanket, toothbrush/paste, disposable slippers.

What I found myself mainly looking at was its channel for pinpointing the airplane on a map at all times.
The option showed you information like altitude, how many more miles until Incheon, how much more time, etc.
Constantly viewing that, I found that time went a lot slower. But as soon as I flipped the monitor to something else, I felt this urge to go back and check.
Sigh.. that's how I spent the majority of the trip (besides sleeping and watching "Little Fockers").

But yeah, I'm pretty anxious and excited to check out Seoul.
It should, though, take me a while to get used to everything NOT being in English!

It's raining (booo!) so I might not be able to do much today but it's alright.

In the next few days, I should have located some kind of housing for me that's closer to Sogang University.

So yeah, until then.. cyaa!

The Precipice of the Next Great Adventure

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Hallo everyone! My name is Michael Frieber, I'm an International Politics major, a rising Junior and a fantastic American. And, in just under one month's time, I'm gonna be on my way to study abroad at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.


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As someone incredibly interested in exploring the world outside of what I know, I jumped at the opportunity to go on an adventure in a distant country before my junior year of college. I had no idea, however, that I would discover a program so reflective of my goals as a student, and of my interests as an individual.

There are two halves to the "Maastricht, Netherlands: The Politics of European Integration" program. On the first half of the trip, I will be going, along with other Penn State students, on a ten-day study trip, visiting important international institutions in Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Paris, and Brussels. Some examples of these are NATO, the Council of Europe, and European Parliament. 

Once the study trip is over, we will begin phase two of the trip, on which I will be taking a class called "Political Aspects of European Integration" taught by a professor Alexander Hoogenboom. The basic goal of this class, and of the study trip, is for us students to examine how European governments are negotiating with one another via these institutions, oftentimes sacrificing degrees of their own autonomy, in the interest of reaching higher levels of efficacy, security and prosperity. And examine we shall!


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But don't worry folks, these blog entries aren't going to be centered around European politics. No one wants to read that. Not even European politicians. Rather, I plan to tell the story of a young man (ME) traveling halfway across the world and losing himself in the adrenaline rush of wandering through the streets of the old world. We're gonna have a ton of fun.

Unless that guy in Irving's exaggerated. See, on the last week of classes, I was in the basement of a bagel shop back at school eating some breakfast, and I saw a student wearing a Maastricht University t-shirt. I called out to him and explained that I was going on a study abroad trip there this summer. As it turns out, he took the same trip last summer. I was left with his words echoing in my head: It was the best six weeks of my life.

That could be a critique of his life just as well as it could be of this trip, but I'm just about completely positive this is going to be one of the most exciting, important things I've done in my life thus far. Whatever it is, a statement like that can make these next four weeks until June 19th seem like four months. So, for now I'll continue to bide my time at my home in New Jersey, living on the precipice of the next great adventure: Maastricht.

Zaijian Beijing (Goodbye Beijing)

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Here I am in Kimpo, South Korea, a few weeks after that fated day, the day when I last saw Beijing.  I'm still dazed and confused, utterly blindsided by what just happened to me these past few months.  Indeed, what just happened? 

I woke up at 7 that morning, but went to sleep at 3.  Last day celebration extravaganza at Wudaokou, Beijing's foreigner/bar district.   Wasn't too tired that morning.  It was more of a wispy "dude, I can't believe I'm leaving this place, this place I've called home for the last 4 months" kind of feeling.  I packed up my stuff.  Ended up buying so many souvenirs that I had to buy a second luggage case.  For some reason my judgment lapsed during that purchased and I convinced myself that 300 RMB wasn't bad for a luggage case.  I completely failed to factor in the Chinese's continual dedication to craftsmanship and quality (insert sarcasm).  But hey, you get what you pay for.

My friends all gathered to my dorm room door at around 10:30 in the morning.  They wanted to catch lunch with me before I headed off, as I was the first to leave out of our group.  With some degree of poetic irony, I chose the shoujuabing stand.   As Gob Bluth once said: Return from whence you came.  I slapped Nick on the back and asked him if he remembered  our first time there and the buttload of troubles we had just trying or order something, anything.  We didn't know the menu, any of the Chinese characters on the menu, or what we were supposed to say.  So I resourcefully said "I want the same" after the guy in front of us ordered.  It turned out to be the first of many times I ate a delicious shoujuabing, but that day was to be my last.  With a much greater degree of fluency, I ordered the works, something I've been too stingy (or maybe scared?) to try before.  One crispy flour pancake wrapping around cheese, egg, lettuce, a variety of sauces, and not one but two pieces of bacon.  It was to die for and the most fitting of last meals. 

So we all grabbed our meals and a drink and sat outside the tables just outside the Red Umbrella convenience store, thusly named for the red umbrellas it puts out during the summer.  I've yet to see these umbrellas and probably never will.  We chatted, reminisced about our adventures in China and our plans for the summer.  Then I said my goodbye.  Many of my friends planned on staying for the summer in order to better solidify their Chinese, so they urged me to stay as well.  Perhaps if I didn't already have plans this summer, I would've obliged.  But alas, I have Korea and an internship waiting for me in the States. 

So is this goodbye?  This may be copying a little too directly from Will Fienberg's IES Beijing commencement ceremony speech, but whatever.  Zaijian translates to "goodbye", but more literally, it means "See you again".  In that sense, maybe I will see this country again: a place where explosive growth is happening, a place of extremely deep and profound culture, a place that boasts one of the most difficult languages to learn...  A place I've once called home.  I'll see you again someday.  As for my friends, I'll see you guys again someday too.  Till then, zaijian.  

7 days and counting

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My name is Amanda Flick. I am a life science major with a minor in French and psychology. I just finished my junior year at University Park, and I am study abroad in Besancon, France. I just received my first email from my host family. I cannot wait to meet them.france-besancon.jpg

I am nervous that, when I get off the airplane, I will be completely lost. I am afraid that I will not be able to communicate enough to get where I need to go. I am sure this is normal and as long as I do not think about it, I'm fine. I am arriving in Paris a day before I meet up with others traveling to Besancon so hopefully I will get over most of my nervousness by then.

I hope this trip will make me more outgoing and social. I want to learn the language and travel to surround countries. I want to explore and experience new things. I want to make new friends and enjoy everything the program has to offer.

I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane

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Well, it's official, I'm leaving for Italy in matter of hours! I'm a mixture of happy/sad/excited/nervous/anxious all bottled up into one. My suitcases and carry-ons are packed, and hopefully I didn't forget anything. I said all of my goodbyes to my best friends from home the past few days, and it feels so weird - this is the first summer I won't be spending with them practically every day. I know that I'll still be able to talk with them semi-frequently over the summer, so it's not necessarily bad, just different. I also am saying goodbye to my parents today, and it just dawned on me that I think this will be the longest I will have ever gone without seeing my family or friends... weird. In a good way, but still weird.

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my family last weekend at a phillies game.


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my best friends from home, circa 2009.


I must admit though, that my biggest concern right now is that I'm going to end up on the plane either a) next to a crying baby; b) next to someone who won't stop snoring; c) someone who talks to me the entire flight (don't get me wrong, I love to make friends on airplanes... but I'd like to be able to catch some z's on the red-eye tonight); d) next to an anxious flier, who jumps or yelps at every patch of turbulence; or e) next to someone who smells terribly. Now obviously these are all worst case scenarios, and I have yet to really encounter any of the above - knock on wood - for long periods of time, & there's a first time for everything... ha. But really....

So I will spend the next couple hours doing last minute things (IE: making ipod playlists, making sure I have food for the plane, charging my phone... you know, obviously the most important things), and then I'll be on my merry way to Philadelphia to board British Airways Flight 66 to London, then to Rome. Meaning this will be my last post from the United States! Ahh. I still can't believe that I'll be in Italy tomorrow... totally unreal!

First Thoughts

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Wow. It has been less than 12 hours that I've been in Sevilla, but I already feel like I've known the students on my program so much longer. It's amazing how close people bond together when they are in a new and unfamiliar place.

My flight was delayed in Dulles by 2 hours so I had to seriously book it in the Madrid Airport to transfer to my next flight. At the baggage claim, I swear I almost had a heart attack because I'd been waiting there for a good half hour and still hadn't seen my suitcase! Turns out it was coming out on the wrong belt and by some stroke of luck, I happened to glance over just in time and saw it. Once I picked up my bag, I raced through the crowd, weaving in and out with my little baggage cart--it was intense. And to my surprise, I got through check-in and security quickly and even arrived early at my next gate. As I was walking over, I heard someone call my name and saw my friend Ali! She was with Steve, a guy from Penn State whom I hadn't met till today, and as the 3 of us were talking, gradually we gained more and more CIEE people who overheard us. It turns out that there were about 15 of us flying on that same flight from Madrid to Sevilla, many of us Penn State students.

My first sight of Sevilla wasn't actually as pleasing as I was expecting it to be. Apparently it was beautiful from the aerial view, but I was sleeping like a rock on the plane and saw nothing. My first view of the city was of the airport area, which obviously is in a more open, desolate area. It actually looked a lot like the airport area of Puerto Vallarta, so for the first few hours I kept feeling like I was in Mexico. But it didn't take long for Spain to kick in. We are staying in the Hotel Del Sol Melia, which is right next to Plaza de España-- an absolutely stunning edifice complete with a vast courtyard and fountain. After a short nap, a group of us went for a walk through the Plaza, Parque Maria Luisa, and then got Sangria!

I cannot wait to get to know the area better and I'm so excited just for this whole experience!!


IMG_3936.JPGPlaza de España with Jaclyn and Emily

Ready for Take-Off!!

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Hola!  My name is Kathryn Clark and I will be leaving tomorrow for a month-long study abroad trip to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.  I am an upcoming Senior at Penn State majoring in Hotel Management.  A group of about ten of us in all (a mixture of Hospitality and Spanish majors) are making the voyage together.  We will be studying at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, San Juan.  Of course as I've heard many times, "how much studying will we actually be doing...???"   I am quite certain that the city, walking-distance historical sites, and beach will be quite the distraction.  After all, it IS summer, right?
unidepr.gif          All joking aside, (ah-hem), besides the schoolwork, we'll be taking a variety of trips throughout our time there.  For example, we'll be visiting a "Bio bay" filled with tiny microorganisms that actually light up as their defense mechanism.  I've been told it feels as though you're swimming in a pool of glitter.  We'll also be exploring both the newer sections of San Juan and the historical areas including old forts.  In addition, a trip to the El Yunque Rainforest is in the cards.  Due to my obsession with resorts, and I guess the fact that one of my classes is about them there...., I will be sure to visit many while in Puerto Rico.  If you've been to the island or have heard of something interesting there, please comment as to where we should visit.  I would love any input and will be taking plenty of pictures along the way!
       So at this point, I have finally got allmosta good deal of my packing done.  As you can see a major item on my to-do list is having to tell the pup he's not allowed to accompany me...shadowglasses.jpg

To Mexico Tomorrow!

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Oh my!

 

Tomorrow morning, I will be waking up bright and early at 3:30 AM to start my day and journey to Puebla! I cannot believe that it is finally here. I suppose it didn't help that I put off packing until today, either. I can just hear John Denver singing in the background...

 

 

35691.jpgSo, I have successfully managed to fill my suitcase and carry-on to zip-able levels, but I leave behind in my wake a masterful disaster of clothes, books, and other belongings that sadly did not make the cut.

 

I would be lying if I wrote that I wasn't nervous at the moment. The cool and calm thoughts of last week have currently flown the nest. I've been fortunate enough to travel enough times that it's not the flights or airports or buses that's doing it, but it's rather just the big idea that I am going out there. More on my own than I've ever been. I mean, I am looking forward to so many things, but I can't kick these jitters. To summarize-- and quote Zac Efron-- I suppose I am nervous but excited.

 

I've been reading a few books in Spanish (tending to stick with a few familiars, like Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal, for instance) and reviewing my vocab, so hopefully I'll be able to speak it well enough to converse and get by. I can't wait to get to Puebla, mi ciudad nueva!

Ciao!

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Hi! My name is Danielle, and I will be a Junior in the fall, studying Sociology and Crime, Law and Justice with a minor in History. I will be studying in Todi, Italy this summer, and cannot be more excited. Todi seem like an idyllic, smaller Italian town, which I think will be perfect to be spending my summer in. I have never been to Italy, but have wanted to go for as long as I can remember, so I think this will definitely be a fantastic experience.

Through studying abroad, I really want to not only improve my Italian language skills, but also become more knowledgeable about other cultures as well. I have never really heard anything bad about Italy, so I am unbelievably excited to be leaving for this trip of a lifetime. We are starting out with a week in Rome, then heading to Todi, where we will all be living with host families. We will also be traveling to Florence and Venice, and hopefully many other places. I will be ending my trip with a week long stay in Andreis, a very small town about 45 minutes northwest of Venice, where my grandmother's family still lives today.

I fly from Philadelphia to Rome tomorrow night - it's crazy to think that in less than 24 hours, I will be on a plane to Europe! In between now and then though, there is still a lot of packing to finish up, as well as just getting any last minute things I may have forgotten.

I have never blogged before, so I hope you continue to check back for new entries about life in Todi!

Arrival!

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I'm here! I flew out of JFK with about nine other people who will be in the program with me. We left on a Friday night and arrived on a Saturday afternoon (the time change is really confusing). We landed in Frankfurt, and we had to take trains to Pforzheim. They offered us a group deal, nine euros for three train changes. Naturally, we took it, and after six hours and getting lost twice, we arrived in Pforzheim. As we were trying to follow the map to the hostel, our tutor, Sarah found us. She took us to the hostel and out to eat at an Italian restaurant. The hostel seems nice. It's probably cleaner than the dorms at PSU. My roommate arrived while we were out at dinner, and she seems really cool. I think flying at night was smart because after dinner, we were all so tired that we just passed out. I think we have successfully evaded jet lag.
    The next night, we ate dinner with our international buddies (German students studying international business) and the professors in charge of the program (Prof. Wentzel, Sabine Schnabel, and a grad student from Croatia) and Prof. Wentzel's children. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. After dinner, the buddies took us out to the Irish Pub.
    We started classes the next day, and they were really interesting. We had European Economics and Integration and German class. The first one was really interesting to me. The second one was really difficult to understand. After class, we went a little past Pforzheim University into the Black Forest where we did a really intense ropes course. It was so much fun though! It even incorporated rock climbing and there was this really long, awesome zip line. Around the course, there was something similar to a small zoo. 
    Anyway, we have class for the rest of the week, but we are going to Munich this weekend! I can't wait! Ciao! (yes, I know that's Italian but a lot of people use it so say goodbye here)

Departure to Sevilla

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Summer goes by so quickly... And with that, my plane slowly glides into the gate. I still don't really think it has hit me yet that I'm actually going to Spain today. I am the airport about to board the plane, but mentally, I feel very much still at home. I suppose that may be because I am still at home though. Once I land in DC it will feel more real. I'm also starting to feel a little homesick; it was hard leaving my house today and saying goodbye to my Mom. But that's strange to me because this is my 5th consecutive summer abroad (minus one year that I went to Pittsburgh for the summer). You'd think that I'm used to leaving home by now. Regardless, I am truly looking forward to my trip and I'm so excited to just see Sevilla in person. All I've seen so far are the beautiful cathedrals from Google images searches, and I can't even imagine what the real place will be like!

This trip will be a big change for me. It's been over 6 years since the last time I went to Europe, and I've never been to Spain. Usually, my international travel is focused in China and Japan, so I have a feeling that the atmosphere of this trip will be very different. For one, Seville has a semi-arid climate, which is quite a welcome change from the sticky, humid weather in Asia. Also, for the first time in a long time, I won't be able to look like a native person no matter how hard I try. In Asia, it's easy for me to blend into a crowd because I am ethnically Chinese and I also try to dress like the locals. When I was in Tokyo last summer, I doubled my traveling wardrobe and got a Japanese haircut. Likewise, I researched for hours online about Spanish clothing, but then I realized that it won't even matter that much because there probably aren't too many Asians living in Spain. Also, I can't roll my r's for the life of me.


Well, they just started boarding for my plane. I'm off to Destination España!! (I'm not going to the circle though, Sevilla is on the west side of Spain)


mapofspain.jpg

They Made Me an Offer I Couldn't Refuse

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Realizing that my time in London is starting to come to an end is really depressing. But I've started to take more advantage of living so close to Europe (apparently Brits don't count themselves as European) by spending the last couple of days in Pamplona with my favorite Godsister Maria. With a flight out of London Luton at 6 in the morning, I decided not to sleep the night before so I could walk to Victoria Coach Station to get the 3 AM bus to the airport, where the display book of the week was... Stardust. I kid you not. Naturally I bought it and read it before landing in Madrid. If you want to read it I warn you that it is not anything like the movie.

Pamplona was a glorious 30+ Celsius when I met Maria, who caught me up with all the Navarra gossip, before seeing my wonderful Godfather Emilio, Maria Jesus, Maria's Abuela and Suna! In the five minutes of arriving, I quickly changed into Maria's clothes, because they are better than mine, and went to watch Maria and her radio friends do a broadcast.

That night Maria and I played dress up, and went out to a long, nice dinner with 30 people who work with her, and had a several hour meal. After each course I kept thinking how proud my Daddy would've been, especially as I ate jamon! As Maria tells me, I'm not a vegetarian in Spain. For some reason that girl can make me do anything.

"MariJok"After trying desperately to understand Spanish for the better part of three hours, and trying really hard not to fall asleep after being awake for 40, the group went out dancing, which fortunately I can do on autopilot. Around 4 in the morning some of Maria's friends that I knew from spending last summer in Pamplona came out, and we had a massive jumping reunion, and decided that they should probably soon call my Dad to plant the idea of taking me back to San Fermin this year. But the night did not go entirely smoothly, as between 5:17 and 5:30 my US phone was taken. I immediately went looking for it, and called it with my London phone, where someone answered and told me they had no intention of letting me have it back. But we got back to Maria's house at 6:30 in a thunderstorm when my US phone called Maria, and later Jokin, Ali, Hilary, Kristen and God only knows who else.

Can't live with this

Later that day, after sleeping for about 3 hours I returned to my running route around Pamplona, back to exploring the ruins of the fortress and already missing it knowing that I would have to leave soon. We meet one of Maria's friends for a drink at an English pub, and then went out with some of her school friends for an awesome nachos dinner.

The next morning we woke up at 9 which seems ungodly early there, and set out for Huesca where we would get to visit Jokin! The drive was absolutely breathtaking, and I wanted to stop every five minutes to hike and explore. But as we were wearing heels and dresses and Maria isn't the number one hiker this hardly seemed like the best idea. Jokin's apartment is absolutely amazing and palatial, and it smelled like the incredible roast chicken that inexplicably had a can of beer stuffed inside of it. Maria made a squid paella (in it's own ink!) and we had a great lunch before Jokin had to leave for his game. Maria and I went an hour later (after having an adventure hiking across a field) to our special players

section seats, practically on the field. The game was really good and ended a tie, even though a goal was disallowed that would have won it for Huesca. After the game Maria had to do a phone interview broadcast, and we had a magical WAG moment when we sped away from the field in Jokin's car.

That night we watched the Osasuna game from the radio station and it was incredible to see. I have a completely new respect for sports broadcasters. Not that I could understand anything, they were talking so quickly my head was spinning. Since I had to leave early in the morning, and Maria had an exam the next day, we went back to her house and had a late dinner celebrating the last time I'd eat meat until I go back to Spain.

I was sad not to have been able to see my other wonderful Godfather Eduardo and Ana, and their grandson Javier, clearly I'll have to go back soon and make amends.

Welp, I have to finish my last essay before leaving for Paris tomorrow with Caitlin, so I'm theoretically going to stop listening to my new favorite Spanish music and get back to work. I'll leave you with some of the songs though, and you can have your own dance parties. Just imagine I'm there too please.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zp1TbLFPp8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS22HZ21uKM

"A mini break means true love." -BJD

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I've begun to realize that my time abroad is coming to an end although it's been so long since I've had a class that just seems wrong. In other things that seem wrong, the days off the UK gives for just about anything, (although I'm not in any place to complain as my only work is studying).

Last weekend we had off Good Friday and Easter Monday. I understand Friday, but I'm convinced Easter Monday is just a made-up thing. This past weekend the nation was given off Friday for the Royal Wedding. That one is a stretch, but I understood after millions of people flocked into the city, basically shutting down massive areas of London. What I do not understand is getting off the following Monday to continue the celebrations. But it did mean that I got to spend another weekend as The Three Best Friends That Anyone Could Have. By which I mean myself, Matt and Mo. We went to Devon Friday afternoon to stay with Matt's sister Bec, his brother Rob, and his favorite 4-legged family member Diesel.

After getting in, we quickly changed into dress-up clothes and went to some sort of charity/opening/royal party event, complete with harpists and several piece orchestras and heralds that gave us royal titles. I became Claire Princess of Pennsylvania; I'll allow you all the opportunity to bow down to me later.  We had a wonderful time and closed several lounges before making a late return to Bec's.

We spent the next morning lying on the beach and recovering, and Momo and I swam in the ocean, regardless of the freezing water without wet suits like everyone else. Several people commented on our 'braveness' which I take is BritCode for stupidity, and assured of after Momo had turned gray.

After the beach everyone was ready to have a barbecue, only to realize that there was no grill. While this would have ended all of my hopes of eating except possibly microwaved porridge, the Smiths were genius enough to put together a grill by playing the game 'grill made out of things in the shed'. As Momo pointed out, the Smith family and anyone connected to them are capable of making anything, only to point out that we were clearly the exception.

The next afternoon we went to the village Clovelly, which was on at least a 45 degree angle to the water's edge. I tried my first real Cornish pasty, and have since developed a taste for potato, cheese and onion filled pastry. Afterwards, two of the Bec's friends from Wolverhampton came with their one-year-old son, who seemed incapable of being unhappy. We went out for Cream Tea (which is actually tea and scones with cream), although for the second time in a week Momo and I committed a faux pas and drank coffee instead of tea at tea time. I learned to differentiate 'going for tea' and 'having tea'... No, wait, no I didn't. Only that one means dinner and the other means proper tea.

The next morning while Momo and I were making ourselves breakfast we heard the unmistakable sounds of a certain soundtrack coming from the living room only to find that Rob was kind enough to put on Stardust (obligatory mention), as we had talked about it non-stop since the mini-orchestra had played the theme, and we'd insisted on reenacting the gatekeeper scene at every stone wall. We then went back to the beach to teach Harry to like sand and picnics before packing up and heading back to London. Our way back was lousy with traffic, and what had been a three-hour ride down was nearly doubled on the way back. The pluses were our impromptu dance party on the side of the motorway and a slow-moving view of Stonehenge, which I can now cross off my list!

Spring Fever

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It all started with the London Marathon. Since it happened two weekends ago it's been hard to make excuses to stay inside, and with finals looming it has not been easy to crack into stacks of books. Fortunately for me today is positively depressing, what with the sky being partly cloudy and the temperature in the low 60s, I don't feel obliged to be out subjecting myself to this miserable weather. Just kidding. But really, all of this niceness is beyond ridiculous.

As it is, between no real obligations and the country going crazy over the royal wedding (which I watch preparations of from my window), I find myself enjoying these extra British holiday day relaxing, exploring and running, in the hope that next year I too will be running the London Marathon in some ridiculous costume that gets me into Guinness. In the meantime, I'll just keep running past Westminster while the Royals have last rehearsals. Oh wait, that was yesterday morning's run.

This past weekend I spent Easter with Momo, Matt and his family up in Wolverhampton where we had a wonderful time hiking in the beautiful English countryside, an awkward playing of British Cranium, and enjoying the 80 degree days. Along with trying to recreate every scene in Stardust. We even had, as Momo aptly put it, an Easter miracle when the goldfish in the Smith's pond 'rose from the dead' after we assumed they'd been eaten by a heron.  John got us tickets to the Wolves/Fulham game, where I made initial contact with Stephen Kelly, and practically proposed to him in my quest to become a WAG. I imagine it's only a matter of time until I hear back... Probably from his lawyer... with a restraining order. On Easter Sunday, Jen made Momo and me each the most adorable Easter bags, filled with giant chocolate chicks. The wholeweekend was so nice, and one of the first times that I have eaten successive home-cooked meals since leaving, well, home.

Finally, after originally deleting my Facebook account only to reactivate, I have once again deleted it until I finish my last paper. I realize I've used that one for a while, but I have been hit by serious Writers Block that I think will only ease up when the deadline looms. At least I have about six outlines for when that time comes.

Well, Happy Wedding to you all, I will be wearing a large hat, and probably a white dress to steal attention away from the bride. I am off to Devon with Momo and Matt for another installment of The Three Best Friends That Anyone Could Have.

Seventy and Sunny... Again

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Every novel I've ever read that mentions a trip to England refers to weak and/or watery British sunshine, the overcast sky and massive downpours. I am here today to tell you that there must be some serious reverse advertising campaign against London tourism because that absolutely cannot be true. Maybe it's the whole global warming hoax or some cruel practical joke by the universe, because I am one of the few people who genuine loves overcast, cool and sun-free days. Don't get me wrong, I've been having a wonderful time in all of this warmth and whatnot, between long hikes with Momo, picnics everyday, and sunsets on Primrose Hill, but we're now going on about 10 days in a row of blue skies and sunshine. I'm officially tan. And that doesn't happen easily. Now part of this is to make everyone at home a tad bit jealous (is it working?), but it also segues into how I spend every day.

With no more class and a month-long spring break before exams I find myself with a lot of time. So to occupy it I wander around London and visit places I haven't been before. But not before walking onto campus almost every day, so I will now take you on a virtual tour of my walk to school.


When I first get out of my dorm, I make a left and face the stunning Imperial War museum, before making a quick left and getting coffee from the wonderful people of Costa.  Coffee in hand I march along to Westminster Bridge where I outwardly scowl at tourist taking pictures of Parliament and the London Eye, while inwardly doing my best to look Vogue in the background of every single shot (Alexis, I hope you'd be proud of how much my hand is in my face).

I then admire Westminster Abbey briefly, make a right at the end of the bridge, walk on to Trafalgar Square and turn left at Nelson's Column, once again getting in every picture of the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery. I stay on Cockspur (Mom) Lane, before getting to Piccadilly Circus, where I practice my frogger skills as I try to avoid death by buses, cars, vespas and most dangerously, bikers, as I cross the road. 

That's until I get to Regent Street, which is a little bit of Heaven as every store now has nautical themed outfits on display. It's seriously become blue/white/red stripe overload, and I'm thankful I usually get there before the shops open. I try to blend in with the other people who are clearly annoyed at the hordes of slow walkers,  by pretending it's a home football game and walking in the street to avoid people.

I then get to my school just as I'm out of coffee, get a free refill from the magic room upstairs and frown at my newfound tan-ness. I'm starting to forget why I like rain so much, but we're supposed to get a shower sometime in about a week, so hopefully I'll remember then.

 

I have to apologize for the picture/word formatting. I'm sure I can control it, but it's about to stop being bright outside, so I'll try to fix it later.

Jedi Badminton

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Quote of the Day-If you have an Ainsley you need to
set it free, and if it comes back to you it loves you too.
~Ali, for no apparent reason

I just found out that it was April 4th, meaning I completely missed April Fool's Day in the extreme rush of the last two weeks.

Two Fridays ago Lassie came into London to visit her fairy goddaughter (me) and treat me to some wonderful eating and drinking and fun. As with all great adventures, we ended up in the middle of a peaceful riot, which became violent after we left. I'd imagine that's why it became violent, but it's hard to say with any certainty. Lassie stayed right across the street from me, and in true horror film tradition she was able to see directly into my window from her hotel. This lead me to think that I should probably start to shut my blinds at the very least when I am crumping in my room to ABBA's Dancing Queen. We also had Lassie playing the role of matchmaker at Leadenhall Market where we decided that she should be in charge of picking all the best boys based entirely on looks, facial hair and the color of one's suit. I also have now tried just about every ethnic restaurant in Lambeth, and can choose a favorite appetizer, main dish and dessert without hesitation.

The day that Lassie left was 20 hours before my mother arrived with Patty and Vicka. That gave me 20 hours to spend in the library in write two 2000 word dissertations. The amazing thing is they both are now finished and turned in, one even two days early. While Mother was in town we managed to do Leadenhall, the OXO Tower, curry, a fantastically bizarre play starring Jack from Lost, a girl's night, two runs and a big celebratory Momo dinner among other things. Unfortunately, I'd been sickish since Lassie left and rushing to finish my bibliographies, so I had to miss out on some of the fun.

But now that I have a month long spring break before my three exams thrown haphazardly in May, I plan on having very exciting Lizzie McGuire-esque adventures and dancing like Edie Sedgewick wearing A-line dresses and lots of eyeliner. I've also taken to riding the bus around until I find somewhere I like, getting off and drawing strangers or ducks. It's incredible how nosy people are though, and an astonishing number of people watch me sketch. I mean I understand I cannot draw, but when people come up and stare at my doodles I want to hit them. I don't follow them around and look at their photos and tell them they're atrocious photographers. I just think it behind their back like a decent person.

But I'm officially beyond excited for traveling (with two l(s)) with Ms Caitlin! She's actually my planning and executing savior, as if I were in charge we'd be sitting in St. Pancras for 10 days.

Finally-for anyone who wants to petition the Olympic Committee on mine and Ainsley's behalf, I found a sport that I think we could take Gold in.

http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/blogs/world-of-sport/article/42061/

Catching Up--Happy Valley

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I've been having some blog problems lately, so these next couple of posts are coming one after another, although they all happened over the last two months.


"Here the sons and daughters of Abyssinia lived only to know the soft vicissitudes of pleasure and repose... Every art was practised to make them pleased with their own condition. The sages who instructed them told them of nothing but the miseries of public life, and described all beyond the mountains as regions of calamity, where discord was always racing, and where man preyed upon man. To heighten their opinion of their own felicity, they were daily entertained with songs, the subject of which was the Happy Valley. Their appetites were excited by frequent enumerations of different enjoyments, and revelry and merriment were the business of every hour, from the dawn of morning to the close of the evening."
~Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia

Alright, so I stole that from Samuel Johnson, but if you've read Rasselas, you know that he comes from a 'Happy Valley' where there is no suffering, everyone lives in happiness, and it's basically a happy bubble somewhere in present day Ethiopia. We had to discuss this book on Friday morning, and my silly manteacher impressed upon us that such a place could not exist. Throughout the class, it was difficult to hold in my frustration to explain that not onlycould such a place exist, but it does, and that funnily enough, it too is called Happy Valley, only instead of being in Abyssinia, it was actually in Central Pennsylvania.

Since seeing my friends and having such lovely weather, I have been a little homesick for the things that I'd gotten so used to having on a daily basis. Like the farm, my pony, the Focus and going for a run without swerving into traffic to avoid the masses of people. Don't get me wrong, I am having an absolutely wonderful time and I'm still loving every day that I'm here, but every once in a while, there are little things that make me miss State College.

On Thursday, after going out with a bunch of the kids from my dorm to celebrate the end of a painful week, we decided to grab something at McDonald's for our bus ride back to Lambeth. I was devastated when I got to the front of the line to order my Shamrock Shake and french fries, only to find that England doesn't do Shamrock Shakes. Do you know what sort of bomb that is to drop on me on Saint Patrick's Day? I mean, I suppose I got over it quickly enough, but until I get home, I'll be praying that the McDonald's in Lamar doesn't run out of green food coloring until my next drive out to the farm, in the Focus, where I can run on back roads with the only traffic coming from horse and buggies.


Miramar Entertainment Park

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This past weekend I went to 美麗華百樂園 (Miramar Entertainment Park). It's a mall in in Taipei that has a ferris wheel on the roof. I believe it was a film site for "Why Why Love" among some other Asian dramas. Call me a nerd but I actually was super psyched to see this place. It was cool for me to walk around and be like, "Oh yeah, I remember seeing this in this scene." And why wouldn't I be excited to see a giant ferris wheel attached to a shopping mall? The ride on the ferris wheel was kind of pricey, 150 NT for a 20 minute or so ride but I really enjoyed it. I felt really content that day even though I got attacked by an army of mosquitoes while sitting outside Starbucks that evening.







It's been raining for the past couple days now. Yesterday after class, the rain got steadily harder and harder as I walked down the hill toward the girls' dorms When you mix heavy rain with wind, the umbrella becomes almost useless...at least your head still stays relatively dry. I met a little friend on the way...




I hope to make a "Day in the Life of Melody in Taiwan" soon, complete with pictures and hopefully videos soon. I've been meaning to do it for a while now but I keep forgetting to utilize the camera. 

Day 6 -- Ephesus

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Today in Ephesus we traveled to the House of the Virgin Mary, The ancient city of Ephesus and its Museum, a weaving center for rugs, a leather store, a traditional Turkish delicacies store, the Tiles store, and the Temple of Artemis.

The House of the Virgin Mary (Mereymana) holds a special place in my heart because it was my research topic for this trip. Though I do not identify as a Christian, I do believe that Mary was a very important figure in this religion and that she deserves more praise than she gets. The birth of her son is just as mysterious as her own death, and I wanted everyone to know that this house meant a great deal to people all around the world. My speech was not as clear as I had planned it to be, but I went over the points I wanted to go over, so I feel very good about it. No one will ever know with absolute certainty where the Virgin Mary is buried, if she were alive at all, but for me every fact has a trace of the truth in it, so the mind should always be open to possibilities. Regardless, the House was very simple and beautiful, just as the pictures I saw made it look. We all got a taste of the holy water that runs from underneath her house to a few fountains at the bottom of a hill nearby before heading to the shops nearby. I wish I had been in it longer, but her altar was well adorned and the house well taken care of by the Lazarist Priests and the nuns that lived there. I liked being able to make a wish not only with candles but in paper, as well as the calm and serene atmosphere of the area the House sat in. If the Virgin Mary did indeed live the rest of her life here, I can understand why.

This site is an official pilgrimage site for Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Muslims, and every August 15th, her feast day is celebrated with a triple religious ceremony. She is said to have come to Ephesus with the Apostle John after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, some time around 40 CE/AD and lived to be 63 years old. She was buried in the house that she died in, and her house was not rediscovered until 1891 after a nun in Germany, Ann Catherine Emmerich, had a vision of the house and had a book written about it.


The House of theVirgin Mary.JPG

Water at the House of the Virgin Mary.JPG

Wish Wall.JPG

The site of the city of Ephesus was very stunning. The area around the Odeon, which served as a parliament and entertainment center, was shabby, but I loved the columns near it because I was able to test my knowledge of the column tops. The Odeon itself was an interesting touch of the old materials versus the new, and I liked only for the simple fact that we got to see how it looked both ways. I am not one to know how to mentally visualize stone on architecture, so it was nice to see how the look changed with the passing of the site from the Greeks to the Romans.


Odeon at Ephesus.JPG


The road leading us from the Odeon to the main part of the city was a mixture of good and bad from me. I liked how it was explained that we would not be walking on this road in ancient times but on a walkway, which we saw later on down the road, but I did not like the marble stone used for the walkway. I am not the most balanced girl to begin with, and that marble was slippery and uneven in some spots to the point where it was unnerving to walk upon. The marble steps leading us down to the library were also uneven and broken off in huge sections, and I wondered how the older people managed to not hurt themselves at this site. However, I loved the 10 square meter shops, their marble signs, and the Roman backgammon boards we kept finding near the entrances as we traveled down. The walkway next to it was beautifully crafted, and the ever present cats there added a tone of humor to our visit as we all cooed over them. 


Colonnaded Way.JPG


Colonnaded Way Mosaic.JPG


Cats on the Colonnade.JPG

The Fountain of Trianus must have been huge if its image kept people in control at least on the surface. The walls were large and the fountain was deep, so it must have been quite a sight back in Roman times. The holes to the sewer I had an insane desire to open and explore below the site. One of my biggest dreams is to visit a necropolis under a city, preferably Paris or Rome, so every time I see an above ground necropolis I just want to go run around it and look into everything there is to know about the sarcophagi. 


Trianus Fountain.JPG


The marble piece with the cudushos symbol was a great way to connect the past to the present, as few people know where the current American medical symbol comes from. 


Caduskos.JPG


The Latrina was educational as well as funny - educational because I did not realize that women had their own private restroom, and funny because of all the guys in our group that sat down to test it out.


Male Roman Toilet.JPG


The roof to Terrace House 2 needs to be segregated more into the landscape of Ephesus. It stuck out like a sore thumb right in the middle of the landscape, so maybe painting it or planting trees around it will help. However, Terrace House 2 itself was absolutely brilliant. I loved looking through the glass walkway as we went along the 6 houses, and a lot of the metal staircases lined up almost perfectly with the stairs underneath, giving me the effect that I was walking through the houses themselves. The preservation of this part of the site was very advanced and refined, and I would love to come back in 10 years to see how much more of the marble wall tiles have been rearranged and put back in their original spots.


Terrace Roof.JPG


First View of Terraced Houses.JPG


God and Goddess Mosaic.JPG

The Selsus library was a grand building, especially because it had 85% of its original façade, but I thought it was a lot smaller than it should be for the 3rd greatest library of the ancient world. If it was only 1 story and had such a small interior, how did they fit 20,000 scrolls there? I did like how the entrances to the agora were named after freed slaves and that they were very respected in Roman society. I did not know that they learned so much and had so many connections, but that may be because of the stigmas I have grown up with about slavery in general.


Selsus Library.JPG

Entrances Named after Slaves.JPG


Me at the Library.JPG


Ephesus Theatre was epic in all proportions. I can only imagine what it must have been like to sit with 10% of the population, 25,000 people, to watch gladiators fight for their lives or to hear Saint Paul and his disciple Timothy preach the thoughts and ideas of early Christianity. I wish we could have watched them rebuilding the one wall with a crane, but it makes sense to do it after hours and to shut down the main walkway towards the Theatre. I was actually excited to hear that it was the largest theatre in Asia Minor and that we would see more of them, as I find theatres and amphitheatres  (though isn't this one an amphitheatre?) to  be some of the greatest buildings in the world.


Ephesus Theatre.JPG

Reconstruction Crane.JPG

Ephesus Museum was no talk and all marble, pottery, artifacts, and other items recovered from Ephesus. The statue of Artemis shows the blending of the mother goddess religion (with her large amount of breasts) with the Greek Artemis (protector of women and young girls, goddess of the hunt).


Me with the Artemis Statue.JPG


The weaving center showed us a site that few people get to see in their lives - the manufacture of carpets. I do not regret my wool-cotton $280 carpet because of all the time and effort those women put in to making each and every one of those carpets. The silk ones are beautiful, but to me not as soft as the wool carpets. The colors of the nomadic signs I felt were too bright and random for my tastes, so that is why I went for the undyed carpet colors.


My feet on a rug.JPG


The leather store was a bit of a tourist trap, being near the road and having a fashion show, but I filmed it for my Geoblog and found it very insightful about Turkish culture. The women were stereotypically beautiful Turkish women, but the blond guy did not match that stereotype with the other tall, dark, and handsome male model. I found the reversible jacket part of the show to be very heterosexist, with the man helping the woman with her jacket, but maybe that is just my LGBT Ally coming out. Everything in that store was gorgeous, but my burgundy jacket caught my eye as soon as I got in there. I have never had the money or chances to get good quality leather like the ones found here, and since I rarely buy anything for myself, I figured that this $400 jacket was worth the money I had saved up for this trip.

Turkish Leather Fashion Show

I found the delicacies store to also be very tourist trap-like, especially with the other tour group in there before us. The man in the silver suit was very entertaining and informational about all of the different foods in there, but I went for pistachio Turkish delight and a box of apple tea with an herb cup and an evil eye pendant. Cameron, Amanda and I pooled out money and items so that we could get the "Buy 5, Get 1 Free Deal," which I found to be very generous of silver-suited man to offer all of his customers. I would have loved to get a traditional Turkish tea set, but I am afraid it will break.

I have always loved watching clay being shaped and made into ceramics and pottery, so this stop was unique to me. Jo was a pro at learning pottery forming, and I could not believe how beautiful the designs were on the baptismal candleholders as I watched the head craftsman paint them. Everything in that store was very expensive for me, so I bought a simple blue and white ceramic cup holster instead of the bell with the Turkish flag on it that I really wanted. 

Jo Making a Pot


Jo's Pot.JPG


The Temple of Artemis was a very sad site. I had a lot of empathy for the gypsies trying to make a living there, and I felt a bit that Nazim was being racist when he told us to watch out for them, but I believe that it comes with his culture, especially since gypsies are rarely accepting in most cultures anyway. 

The Onder Grand Hotel of Kusdasi is great except for the fact that I cannot figure out how to connect to the internet. Several of us have gone down to tell them the internet is not working, but the language barrier leaves us very frustrated.

T- Minus 39 days until England!

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Hey everyone! My name is Anita Anim. I am a senior at Penn State majoring in Nutritional Sciences with a minor in Kinesiology. I am originally from Northeast Philadelphia, and I will be studying abroad in Brighton, UK for summer 2011. I will be taking Childhood Development at the University of Sussex and I'm so excited. So far the plan is I'm headed to England on June 24rd, before the actual program date which is July 4th. My roommate Terry is also coming with me and we plan on staying with my aunt. At that time we were thinking about traveling to Rome and staying in a hostel for a couple nights. One of our other friends will be in Italy (Florence) at the same time, so hopefully we can visit her as well.

I have heard a lot of great things about Brighton, from stalking random websites and from a friend who has studied abroad there. Not only can't I wait to discover all that Brighton has to offer, but to travel to other surrounding places such as London, Paris, and hopefully Barcelona! Also, maybe some other spur of the moment trips, once I start traveling I might not be able to stop.

I am so excited to experience something new and have the time of my life. I hope to make many new friends, learn a lot in my class, have a new perspective on life, and become more culturally rounded.  I plan to buy lots of new stuff, try the craziest foods possible, volunteer, and hopefully not come back with a negative balance in my bank account. Fingers Crossed.

Day 5 -- Pergamum

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The day was filled with good and bad. The good was that we got to see a ton of ancient sites filled with great history and architecture. The bad was that my battery charger blew and did not work, so I had no batteries until we got to our last sight, where I bought 2 batteries for 10 lira (~$7) from a tourist trap area. We went there again after the Asklepion, and I also bought a beautiful purple scarf, my second purchase of the trip. My first purchase was at the site where a couple was selling flower (çiçek) raw honey and pine (çam) honey. The honey reminded me of a friend back in the States who raises honey bees, and this honey tasted different from what I have tasted before. There are a lot of these little tourist traps all throughout Turkey, so we try to avoid them and shop in towns with markets, but the prices here were good according to Nazim. The little markets were a lot like farmer's markets back where I live in PA, and it felt a lot like home.


The ancient city of Pergamum is situated on a hill now near a dam and the town of Bergamon. The Caycos River is now damned up for water control, and while it did not prove to be an eyesore, the gondola up did. I would not have minded climbing the sacred path all the way up to it, and while the ride was relaxing and a great overhead view of the site, it does not go with it.


Damed Up Caycos River.JPG


View of Pergamon From Gondola.JPG


The Romans gained control in 133 BCE when Eminos II gave it to them, so it was able to do whatever they wished to with the backing of Rome. It is the site of 1 of the 7 churches of Revelations and it has 1 Roman building, the Temple to Trajan and Hadrian.

Roman Cult Temple via Jo.JPG


The Temple to Dionysus was built near the theatre, and the skene (stage )of the theatre was removable so that it would not block pilgrims going to there.


Temple to Dionysus via Jo.JPG


Theatre Near Dionysus' Temple.JPG


Above it was the Temple to Athena and the Library dedicated to her, the 2nd largest in the ancient world after Alexandria. The 3 archways that hold up the theatre were used for storage by the Romans.


Archs under Temple via Jo.JPG


The Altar of Zeus is in Berlin but has a tree planted in its place to commemorate it. This was probably the saddest part of the visit just because there was nothing left of such a grand victory temple.


Altar of Zeus via Jo.JPG


The Red Basilica is a secular building that went from being a temple to Isis and then to Athena in the 5th Century BCE, to 1 of the 7 churches of Revelation in the 1st Century AD, to a mosque in the 12 Century CE. . Despite St. Paul's preaching, the Roman Cult was strong here and did not completely die out even after 300 AD. The marble bases are from Athena's temple. The baptismal pool pointed to the east, suggesting pagan origins. While there we heard the call to prayer, which is done 5 times a day in Islam and 30 minutes before the actual prayer is to be done.


Red Basilica via Jo.JPG


Cyndi then presented to us the Asklepion Healing Center founded by Archeus in the 4th Century BC for all semi-ill people except for the dying and pregnant. We saw the monument with the 2 intertwined snakes, now the symbol for the medical profession. There was hydrohealing, psychological healing, and musical healing done at the site depending on the illness, though most were more mental than physical, and if any surgery was performed it was for the removal of foreign objects.  Terracota body part offerings were left in thanks. It could 250 people but the stadium held 3,500 in order get donations. This was another gorgeous site, especially the tunnels where water could be heard falling.


Cyndi and Nasim at Aesclipos.JPG


Me on Doric Capital.JPG



Aesclipos Symbol.JPG


In the Hydro Tunnel.JPG


View of Aeslipos Landscape from Altar Area.JPG

Trastevere, my new Neighborhood

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Living in Rome is quite the experience. Our dormitory/apartment complex is located in the section of the city known as Trastevere. Its a pretty bustling are south of the city center. Its location is very perfect for our classes. Its about a 20 minute walk to the Pantheon, where our classroom is.

Trastevere is full of narrow cobble stone roads that lead to small piazzas, with small restaurants everywhere.

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The Tiber river also runs on the north side of the area, and our building offers a spectacular view. In one part of the river, a small island stands between the two riverbanks, and a bridge connects it to either side. It is called Tiber Island, or in Italian Insula Tiberina, This island has on it a hospital. Ever since the 3rd century BC, it has been a place of healing when a temple to Aesculapius was erected. Check it out below...

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On the first day, we ate a spectacular restaurant called Ponentino. Right off the plane, and just after settling in our new home, myself and a small group wandered into the Trastevere roads, and ended up here.

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A friendly waiter served us our first meal in Italy. Pizza. It was great. Check it out.

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Long Ways Away

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Hello,

My Name is Alex Baukus, and I am in Rome, Italy. I'm participating in the International Program in Nutrition (IPN), of the College of Health and Human Development. My major is Biobehavioral Health (BB H), and I will be a senior next year.

My trip took me from State College, PA to New York, NY via the megabus. After spending the night in the city at a friend's place, I took the MTA subway to JFK airport. From JFK, I grabbed an overnight flight to Berlin, Germany. After a brief lay over, I boarded another plane to Rome, Italy.

Flying over the Austrian and Swiss Alps was a sight to behold. The turbulence generated by the updrafts was quite bouncy. Included here is a shot of them from the plane.
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Here in Rome, myself and 15 others in my program are living in a old Convent called Santa Maria Capella, located along the Tiber River in the neighborhood of Travestre.  IMG_0941_WEB.jpg






   
















This following photo here is a shot out my bedroom window, looking down the Tiber River as it flows south.

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As a group, all 16 of us have the same classes, Nutrition 499, Nutrition 399, and Architecture 297A. These courses meet during the week in a classroom near the famous Pantheon.  Out the window of the classroom is this spectacular view.

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More entries and pictures to follow soon!




Day 4 -- Assos

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We are staying for 2 days in this beautiful village that is near the harbor of the ancient city of Assos. We stayed in a hotel by the sea and were surrounded by little shops and restaurants that I hope to explore tomorrow. On the mountain above the harbor was the ancient city of Assos, and we explored this city and the surrounding area today.


Shops Outside Hotel.JPG

Our first stop of the day was at the Sminthian Apollo Temple near Assos. It was built around the 1st Century BCE, and is connected to Chrseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo who was captured by Agamemnon during the Trojan War. The priest asked Apollo to make the Ionians suffer, and he showered a plague upon them until Agamemnon gave her back, taking Achilles' Briseis in her place and causing one of the great arguments known to man. Temples served as houses to the gods, so the average person did not get to go in to the temple for prayer and sacrifice as is seen in movies. To our left of the entrance the stairs were new, reconstructed stairs of marble. However, most of the temple would have been made of the local andaza granite, including the podiums and underneath. Marble from around Asia Minor was used for upperlevel facing. The columns were also reconstructed, and a bird's nest sat on top of it with several bird families in it. The site stretched for a large amount of land, with walls and an arch seen.

Overview of Temple of Sminthion Apollo.JPG


Me at the Columns of Smintheus Apollo Temple.JPG

We next went to an old granite quarry with several unfinished columns lying around. The sight from some of those tops of rock was gorgeous and break-taking, seeing houses and towns small as bugs in the distance. It was nice to see a bit of what the workers would have seen and to look at where they dug and what they worked on. It would have been a heck of a trip to move it to the harbor at Alexandria Trois.


More Columns at the Quarry.JPG


Me on a Column in the Quarry.JPG


Alexandria Troas was built by Alexander the Great and later his general Antigonos. It stretched for acres and acres to the coast, and had baths and 1 full arch seen at our first stop. Granite was moved from quarries, often worked into columns. Those that did not survive were left where they lay, including some at the harbor we later went to.  Every classical city had a bath, as it was a part of the plan drawn out by Roman architects. The city also would have had an amphitheatre or theatre. The amphitheatre was round or oval for sports and gladiators competitions like the Coliseum. A theatre is half of a circle where music is played and plays acted out.


Overview of Arch at Baths.JPG


The Stadium is now a huge field that stretches for 130 meters with seats on the left and right that are now covered with trees. There was once a spina (line down the stadium) and an obelisk in the middle of the stadium. How sites are slowly retaken by nature has always fascinated me - humans like to believe that we are the ultimate species that will never be forgotten due to our large buildings and massive creations, but the Romans who built that theatre also thought the same thing, and look at it now. We are so small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and yet we also have the ability to create and destroy this world.

Seats of Theatre.JPG


An odeon served as a parliamentary building on the weekdays and as a theatre on weekends in the Roman world. The Odeon's 5 entrances go from west to east. It was a very well preserved site covered in poppies, and I loved the tunnel we got to go into and where our guide found a bit of jawbone in the rocks.


Overview of Odion.JPG


The old Harbor of Alexandria Troas was a salt lake that was manually connected to the sea to become a breakwater, but it has silted up again in the past 1,400 years. This is where the granite columns from the area were shipped out, with some left along the way there and at the harbor if they broke. It was small but beautiful in my opinion, and I loved being able to comb these beaches nearby and watch it break on the shore, imagining what it must have been like to sail out of the harbor into it hundreds of years ago.


Full View of Harbor.JPG



Column  at the Harbor of Alexandria Troas.JPG


The ancient part of Assos is high above where we stayed while there. It has a replica of its temple to Athena, which was a mix of Doric and Ionic, which I found to be very unique because it showed how connected and yet independent each Greek city-state was to each other. The different buildings on the site would have been great to go in, but I don't know about the structural integrity of each, so climbing into them may have been a bad thing to do anyway. The view up there as we wandered around the different ruins of the city was spectacular. I have never seen so blue of a sea, but the wind up there almost took my hat, so I was glad to climb back down. The climb down was not very long and rather calming. It must have been something to climb down that hill to the harbor every day in order to fish or to set sail to trade, and knowing that we were looking at Lesbos was a deep connection to me because I am an Ally to the LGBT community at Penn State.


Sea outside Assos.JPG

Fact of the Day:
There are three different types of columns used by the Greeks for buildings:
Ionic (scroll at the end);
Doric (simple, wide, no base);
and Corinthian (floral, later in history, loved by the Romans).

Coming back to China (?)[!]... ><

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A few weeks ago we had a discussion panel with former IES alums.  Their goal was to share their experiences as expats and how to navigate through the interesting world of post graduation China life.  It was exhilarating. 

All four alums were now well into their young adult lives, making a decisive choice to come back to China in order to start a new life.  One was an "IT" guy for the IES program, another worked with the US Department of Energy, another worked on micro financing in China, and the last was an manager for the China's Groupon.  (For those of you who don't know what Groupon is, put those well developed googling skills to work and start saving moneys!)

They discussed their difficulties.  When they returned to America after their initial study abroad experience, a lot of them had a tough time.  Reverse culture shock, so to speak.  People would label them as "the guy who went to China", but this wasn't the worst of it.  I am to expect the same exact questions of "Oh, how was China", which I imagine to get old.  But as I proceed to explain all the cool and exciting things that I did or that happened while I was in a completely different country, I am also to expect their eyes to glaze over within the first twenty seconds... because in the end all they are looking for is, "Yeah, it was cool". 

A lot of ties and connections will be lost.  As Marc, an RA here explained, living in China for a half a year will pretty much knock all my friends down a tier in our friendship.  Besides maybe family and the best of friends, the people who I stop and chat with on campus may become people I just give the old head nod to instead.  The people I give the old head nod to may become total strangers.  But for these young professionals, that's a way of life.  As one put it, "That's them now, this is me.  And I may not be able to make it to their weddings or the birth of their first child, but it's a path I chose". 

Everything is possible in China but nothing is easy.  We entered a discussion about visas and the headaches that they often cause, switching from student to tourist to business to government services.  How often you must renew the passport (usually every 6-12 months) and whether it is single entry or multiple-entry are all factors to consider.  The terms and processes and even the fees for the visas change almost biweekly, and unless the company you work for has special connections, it might be fairly troublesome.   Having electricity may be easy in America, but perhaps not in China.  I hear you can buy a driver's license here without going through the arduous process if you're willing to pay enough for it.

But in the end, if opportunities are what I seek, China has a wealth of it.  We can also make a living teaching English.  We can spam our resumes to the expat community.  Fulbright Scholarships and post-back programs galore!  Everyone who is anyone wants a piece of that China pie, but I feel lucky that I have a step up over everyone else that I have taken the initiative to be here in person and see the excitement and growth myself.  I cannot help but imagine a garden flower.  The "United States" part of that garden has many beautiful flowers.  But competition is fierce for them; people crowd over the garden.  The "China" part of the garden has several times the area of the United States one, yet no one is there.  Why?  The flowers are still buds.  But very soon (and the whole world knows this), they will blossom.   

Day 3 in Turkey -- Troy

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Before heading over to the Asian part of Turkey, we visited the Gallipoli National Park. Here, in 1915, the British tried to seize this land so that the Ottoman Empire could be captured through the Dardanelles that lead up in the Marmara Sea and into the rest of Turkey. They sent an Austalian and New Zealand company onto land to capture the point. For 8 months the Ottomans and British Empire troops fought each other for the highest point on the plain, Chunuk Bair, killing over 50,000 British Empire troops and 20,000 Ottoman troops. The summit was briefly taken by the New Zealand Wellington Battalion before the Turks permanently retook the summit. It is a point of great pride for both Turks and New Zealanders, and it was where I once again saw the Turkish Flag flying high and statues of Ataturk. 


Ataturk and Flag.JPG


That is something that I have noticed 3 days into this trip: You look at the sites and in almost every shop, on every street, atop every high point, is the Flag of the Turkish Republic. In nooks and crannies you will also find busts or statues or even posters of Ataturk, the founder of the current Republic of Turkey. The Turkish people talk about their history and do not hide from their past. That struck me so much walking through the everything-but-political-capital of Turkey, and I am sure I will see more of it as I venture on into the rest of Turkey.


Today we went to the city where the face that launched a thousand ships watched as men died for her - Troy. There are four reasons why most scholars believe that this is THE site of Troy: The location would have made money from sailors trying to sail the Dardanelles to the Marmara Sea, a 60 km trip that would have taken an entire day if the conditions were just right; at the northern end of Troy is a part of the Royal Road that connects cities such as Ephesus and Smyrna that ends there; Troy had its own unique pottery typology (style, age, regional, etc.); and ancient people up to the people of modern times have always connected this site with Troy, including Alexander the Great and the Romans.  


Troy VI Pots.JPG


Kristin told us that Troy - so far - has 10 levels or strata, numbered 0-9, with several other levels possibly underneath it. Troy is now landlocked thanks to silting, which has created fertile farming land. Farmers next to Troy dig up pottery every year, and farmers are hesitant to give up their land because agriculture is the only source of income they have. Also found on the land is architecture and other artifacts, some of which are kept in the small, minimal, confusing, outdated Interpretive Center.


Some of Us in the Horse.JPG


Scholars argue about which layer is Troy:  II dates from around 2500 BCE but has a huge ramp and citadel;


Troy II Ramp.JPG


Troy VI has definite signs of war: Buildings falling in a jumbled pattern and fire damage. Earthquake ruins fall in a line, but the area around Troy is so dry that a fire could easily start anywhere. The walls before Troy VI were ingeniously designed: the ground rose towards the wall at an angle where a rider on horse charging up it would not see the pit in front of him until he was already in it, horse hurt, himself hurt, and arrows reigning down on him. The actual wall rose straight above him and was covered in plaster, so escape was nearly impossible. Half of a horse and half of human were found at the bottom of one of those pits, but evidence has not yet shown if they are from 14th-13th century BCE, the agreed upon time of the Trojan War. VI has great defensive architecture - a slated, battered wall -- that would have made a 10 year siege possible, but is relatively small compared to how Homer describes Troy;


Super Close-up of Troy VI Wall.JPG


VII is a larger site but has poorer defenses, and is seen as the population remnants of VI.


There are several reconstruction areas, one where new bricks were put on top of old to show what the wall would have looked like. However, exposure has introduced centipedes to 5,000+ year old straw, which they love and refuse to eat fresher straw, causing damage to the original and wasting time, effort, and money.


The Centipede Wall.JPG


Another reconstruction area was near the Troy VI wall, where they tried to fashion a bit of it as it would have looked around 1400 or 1300 BCE. It is rougher and more formed, but it also confuses guests and makes the site look bad in many people's opinions, including my own.


Recon Wall.JPG


Each new Troy has used bits and pieces of previous Troys as well as damaging it all together. When New Illium was created, part of Troy was leveled off for their Temple to Athena. Troy also shows evidence of occupation at II, VI, VIII, and XI.


The Layers of Troy.JPG


Like Kristin said, Troy is a mess. Maybe it was the poppies all over the site, or maybe it was the spectacular views from several areas, but I thought Troy had grandeur to it. As a CAMS minor, I love reading the Iliad and hearing all of the myths and legends of Turkey. Just like whom the founders of cities were, history is very skewed and uncertain at times. Myths and legends help fill in those gaps and entertain generations to come. There is a grain of truth somewhere in all stories, so maybe the Troy named is indeed the Troy of Homer; maybe Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world at that time and she ran off with a younger man in a fit of lust and desire, causing a war where her husband's people fought against her lover's people for her; and maybe it was something more than intuition and ingenuity that inspired Odysseus to plan and build the Trojan Horse. We will never know for certain, but for now we can inspire more archaeologists to want to dig at Troy to uncover whatever history it can tell us.


Troy with Poppies.JPG


I wish Troy were much more open to tourism than it actually is. The walkways were a little crooked and trippy; the Info Center was very sparse, and what was there was confusing; if we had not had our course assistant Kristen, who had dug for a season at Troy, there with us, none of us would have known what anything was except for Schliemann's Trench.

Schlimann's Trench.JPGUnfortunately, most visitors take pictures at the Horse and leave, making Troy a very unpopular tourist attraction. It is also very confusing, with it's 10+ layers that were decimated by civilizations and archaeologists past and few signs explaining each area.  But this is where I will be doing my 25 page paper on -- whether or not the Trojan War actually occurred. Maybe I'm just a romantic nerd who is in the right major, but I love it there. So much of the history of our later sites is linked to Troy, and it is a story that has endured the millennium, so the Turks are proud of it, but they do not know what to make of it. Time will tell what to make of it, hopefully, but for now it is just a hopeless romantic's site to dream at.
Me at Troy.JPG


Thank you and the End of the World

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The culture here still blows my mind sometimes. I mentioned before that it is culturally ok for people to take your laundry out when the washing machine stops so that they can wash their clothes. It would actually be rude of you to not leave your laundry basket there for them to take your clothes out for you if you're not there in time to do it yourself. Last week when I had to do laundry, I had to take a girl's laundry out since there were no other washing machines available. I waited a minute or so before starting to take the clothes out. In the middle of doing that, she came in and actually apologized to me while I was apologizing to her. It was crazy for me. This kind of behavior doesn't stop there, whenever I get on the school buses, the bus drivers will always say thank you to each person as they are getting off the bus as if you did them a special favor or something by riding on the bus they drove. When I take my trash out whenever the garbage truck comes, the workers say thank you. I guess it kind of makes sense somewhat because you're supporting their business but this kind of people treatment isn't what I see and am used to in the US. It makes me wonder how the world would be different if we were more polite to one another and in tune to the different cultures around the world. 

A tornado hit a part of the city yesterday. From what I've been hearing, that never happens. The news had reported that a man prophesied that the end of the world was upon us and that 5/11/2011 was going to be the start of it all and that Taiwan was going to suffer a huge natural tragedy that would claim the lives of millions of people. 5/11/2011 came and went and nothing happened. The tornado that hit 5/12 was an odd occurrence but no lives were harmed. The prophesy did lead an older man who was suffering from depression to commit suicide by jumping off his balcony out of fear. It's such a shame that anything like this should happen. 

My time here is coming to a close. Just a couple more weeks before the end of the semester and a few more weeks before I step onto American soil again. It's a little unreal and my heart feels heavy just thinking about it. 

Una Semana: One Week Until Puebla!

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Hola! I'm Kelsey, an English/Spanish major here at Penn State, and I cannot believe that in one week I will be in Puebla, Mexico! It is so surreal. I mean, I've been intending on studying abroad during college since high school, but it still hasn't really sunken in yet.

 

Puebla skyline

Skyline of Puebla, Mexico! Photo courtesy of Picture Ninja

 

I'm really looking forward to a lot of things on this trip, though! For one, I can't wait to majorly improve my Spanish conversation skills! It will be an incredibly valuable skill to have, both academically and practically.

 

Admittedly, I am a little nervous about getting homesick. It's going to be a long seven weeks without my friends, family, or the comforts of home, but I'm sure I'll be able to beat any homesickness that may surface and become a more independent person for it. Plus, I'm excited to gain new friends and meet new people. For one, I can't wait to meet my Mexican family! My host sister contacted me on Facebook a little while back, and she seems really sweet! I have host parents, my host sister and her older brother, and even a Chihuahua named Benny!

 

Also, is it strange that the one thing I'm really not that worried about is safety? When most people hear I'm studying abroad in Mexico, the first thing they tell me is to be really, really careful. However, I've been told multiple times that Puebla is a safe and beautiful place, and I truly believe that it will be.

 

I guess I'm simply too excited to immerse myself in Mexican culture and learn about its history. The sites we're planning to visit seem fantastic, and I am simply cannot wait for that authentic Mexican cuisine! It's going to be interesting to learn about the Mexican lifestyle. I think it's important to get outside of the "American bubble", and I can't wait to gain knowledge about our southerly neighbor.

 

Well, that's about it for now. Hopefully I'll be able to update frequently about my travels and experiences in Mexico! It's going to be an amazing journey for sure!

 

-Kelsey

First Time Abroad

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Hello Everyone!!!! My name is Courtney, and I am studying abroad this summer in Turkey for two weeks. The classes I am taking are ANTH/CAMS/HIST 499A and 499B with Dr. Ann Killebrew as well as two grad students, Kristin and Shane, and 11 other undergrads, 2 of whom are from Pitt and Yale.

A little bit about myself ---- I am an Archaeological Science major with minors in Classics and Mediterranean Studies (CAMS) and History. My 2 classes here in Turkey cover my major and minors, and this is one of the reasons I chose to study abroad with this particular program. I am from Woodward, PA, which is roughly a 40 minute drive from State College and Penn State. I grew up in Pennsylvania and have never left the East Coast until Monday, May 9, when I flew out of JFK.

I was scared to fly because I have never even flown across the U.S.A., but after the initial liftoff I was completely fine. I arrived at JFK 3 hours early and met up with Nick, a classmate from my CAMS 250U class this past Spring Semester, as well as 2 of our fellow Turkey classmates, Jo and Michelle. We got through security and baggage check in about 20 minutes, so we sat by our gate and slowly met fellow classmates before our flight boarded. The 9+ hour flight was very smooth, with little to no turbulence, great food, and a few babies that whined but remained relatively calm during our flight. They had TVs in the headrests that we could watch movies (though I did not figure out how to change the listening language to English until the end of the flight), play games, and listen to music on. I spent most of my time looking out the window, listening to my iPod, and playing Bejeweled! on the headrest.
 
We landed at around 9am Tuesday, May 10, at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. We got our visas and went through passport security before claiming our bags and heading out of the airport. We met up with Dr. Killebrew, Shane, our tour guide Nazim Uzun, our classmate Ryan from Yale, and then boarded the bus to begin touring Istanbul.

We first went by the Marmara Sea, which separates European Istanbul from Asian Istanbul, and the Constantine Walls, walls built to fortify Constantinople during Constantine I's reign in the 3rd Century CE (AD).

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Constantinople Wall Close-up

Nazim lead us to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, which consists of the Ancient Orient Building, the Main Building, and the Tile Museum. It has one of the hugest collections of antiques in the world, and it would take several visits to see everything in this museum. The three things highlighted upon were the Alexander Sarcophogus (Which did NOT hold Alexander the Great's body but one of his generals), the Kadesh Peace Treat between the Hittites and Egyptians in 1274 BCE, and the Troy exhibit, with the map of the layers of the site (10 so far, numbered 0-9), pottery, ceramics, jewelry, and metallurgy.

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For our class, we have to write about "Our Favorite Artifact," and mine is a blue tile mosque lamp from the 16th Century CE/AD.

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Our lunch was at a nearby restaurant Nazim suggested, which served us sausage-looking meatballs that were absolutely delicious.

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Our "otel" the Taslik Hotel was not what we were expecting as a hotel. It had a very nice exterior, but the rooms were small, poorly lite, and smelled heavily of cigarettes, which seem to be a common habit among Turkish people, and we had to pay for internet 6 lira ($4) each. Our food there was also meatballs, but with French fries and salad.

Overall, my first day in Turkey was amazing. The people are friendly, the food well prepared, and my group members all friendly and open to conversation. I look forward to learning the language, culture, respectful gestures, the history of the country, and the archaeology at each site. I hope through this blog to help show other travelers to Turkey the basics of what they need to learn before they come here, to blog my personal growth, and to show how the cultures of Europe and Asia mix to create Turkey.

Byron Bay and Brisbane

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byron.bmpOur hostel in Byron Bay was awesome and by far my favourite that we stayed in. It was called the Arts Factory and had been renovated into a hostel from the actual arts factory it was in the 70's and the rock and roll venue of the 80's. It was completely open air with a pool, hot tub and hugee tee-pees instead of rooms. It even had a didgeridoo pit where you could take a lesson.

 

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teepeeeee.jpgThis was ours! ^

We dropped our stuff and then joined in on the free yoga being offered a little Japanese guy who looked a little like Yoda. We hadn't known before, but we had stumbled on Blues Fest eve and the whole place was buzzing with hippies who had traveled from far and wide to attend the 5 day music festival. Everyone seemed to have dreads, guitars or both. The entire hostel was full of smoke  and being there on 4/20 probably didn't help the matter...no one seemed to mind much despite the hostel's posters discouraging  it and telling us it was still illegal. They even offered an "alternative" tour of the nearby town, Nimbin, which is apparently known for it.

We headed down to the beach as the clouds rolled in. I rented my surfboard and wetsuit for three days and was told, when I asked about the likelihood of being eaten by a shark, that I "would see two metre tiger sharks, but probably not a great white". Comforting.  

The weather grew steadily worse but the water was still really warm so I stayed at the beach for a while Meg and Morgan headed for shelter.  That night the rain hadn't eased up so we just hung out at the local bar watching live music and then followed a couple new friends from our tee-pee to a campsite party. One of our new friends had thought ahead and had Krispy Kremes, "for bartering purposes" as he said. We were strangely divided into a table of Canadians and Americans and another table of purely Eastern Europeans. It was cool to hear everyone's stories of how they ended up in Byron.

 

campsite party.bmpThe hut area we had our campsite party in ^

I got up really early the next morning which dawned hot with blue skies and headed to another smaller surf beach called Tallows with a Canadian surfer I'd met. It was absolutely worth getting up early. The waves were great and the beach was completely untouched white sand, strewn with coconuts. Whenever I stood up on my board, I could see shoals of fish swimming beneath me in the crystal water. Amazing.

 

Sunset over tallows.bmpSunset over Tallows later that day ^

We spent the rest of the day lying on the beach and Meg and I decided to go sea kayaking. Getting out onto the calmer water was the majority of the challenge as you had to keep paddling as hard as you could towards the breaking waves when you really wanted to throw up your arms and shield your face. We were one of the few kayaks who made it out without flipping over! Once out there, we saw a couple dolphins swimming around while our guides pointed out the other wildlife. We weren't so lucky when we tried to being our kayak in. Our guides told us that the only thing to remember was "lean into the wave". We were paddling really hard towards the shore when we caught a wave and began to surf. I was really excited and keep paddling while Meg screamed "LEAN BACK". We flipped pretty hard in front of everyone who had already landed. Whoops.

That evening we went out to a club called the Cheeky Monkey which was...interesting...but definitely a good time. There didn't seem to be a single local there, mostly Brits. We would have stayed out longer but all bars were charging a five dollar cover and we decided we'd rather have milkshakes because we're old and would rather drink milk than alcohol. No luck on the milkshakes since the hostel's café (with the best shakes ever) had long since closed and the pizza place we walked into was not a likely bet. We ended up with ice cream/chocolate milk and chatted to some British guys on the street who had been living in Byron for a few months looking for work.

Sadly the next day was our bus to Brisbane. Meg and I headed to the beach really early again to surf and got some good pictures.

surfing early.bmp6:45am ^ 

We were sad to leave right when Blues Fest was just gearing up, but that'll have to be saved for another time. Two hours on the road and we arrived at Chill Backpackers in Brisbane city. Definitely one of the nicer hostels we stayed in but not as funky as Arts Factory. We still needed to see the Australian wildlife so it was off to Lone Pine Koala sanctuary. We were able to cuddle and stroke the koalas and they were SO CUTE but had really sharp claws so you had to stand really still like a tree. Apparently koala cuddling is banned in New South Wales which is where Sydney is, but since we were just over the border in Queensland when we were in Brisbane, we were able to hold them. Win!

 

feeding the kangaroo.jpg We also were let loose in a field of hundreds of kangaroos. Most were completely unfased by all the tourists trying the feed them and just sat around being lazy, but it was really funny when one did start bouncing around. We also saw wombats and dingos which looked just like regular dogs! Later that night we wandered around the city centre which was full of life and ate a really strange but delicious meal. We shared a pizza, shrimp pasta and Thai egg noodles which didn't really go together but we were so hungry we didn't care. Back at the hostel we played pool with some more Brits, rugby players this time, before getting an early night. We said goodbye to Aussie the next morning as we boarded our plane back to New Zealand.

Day 2 in Turkey -- Istanbul ( NOT Constantinople ;) )

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Please listen to this song as you read my blog:

Istanbul Not Constantinople by The Four Lads

The first thing Nazim discussed on the bus was the prophecy of a "fortune teller" to the future king of what is now Istanbul, Byzas. The Oracle of Delphi told him to build a city where there were "blind people," and Byzas thought it meant a physical condition until he saw where the Marmara Sea meets the Golden Horn as well as the Bosphorus and realized that the people there did not see the potential of the land they had settled on for power in 633 BCE. The city of Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, and that is when the Topkapi Palace was built by Sultan Mehmed II.

We then traveled to Topkapi Palace where we saw the Gülhane Park, or the public gardens in the Palace. It was first constructed in 1883 and then again in 1905. The entrance into it is the Imperial Gate/Gate of the Sultan (Bâb-ı Hümâyûn or Porta Augusta/ Saltanat Kapısı).

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After entering the First Courtyard (I. Avlu/Alay Meydani) through the Gate of Salutation (Bâb-üs Selâm or Orta Kapı, we were covered from the sun by many trees growing there. To our left was the Hagia Irene/Eirene, a former Byzantine church and Ottoman arsenal that now serves as a concert hall. It was the first church built by Constantine in the 4th Century CE/AD, but was rebuilt 548 CE by Justinian I after a Nike raid. The Hagia Irene was finished in 537 CE, but had repairs done on it due to earthquakes in the 8th Century.  It requires special permission for entrance, but is usually open to the public during concerts. 

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Our second site was the Fountain of the Executioner (Cellat Çeşmesi). According to lore, it was where the executioner would wash off his bloody blade after an execution in the fountain, giving the site its name and scaring any rebellious people to obey the Ottomans.

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The Second Courtyard (II. Avlu) or Divan Square (Divan Meydani) holds the Tower of Justice, the Imperial Treasury, the entrance to the Byzantine cistern, and the Palace Kitchens, to name a few things we saw. 

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We then entered the police-guarded entrance in order to gain access to the Third Courtyard (III. Avlu). To the left was the kitchen for the 1,000 public officials and the food house for the 3,500 poor who showed up for alms. With the population of servants, eunuchs, and the harem, the total population of the Palace was around 5,000.

The Third Courtyard houses the Saray Cedide, or New Palace. Istanbul University is on the site of the Old Palace, but the new one was built in the 1460s by Sultan Mehmed II. The left passage was for the Harem, which housed the many concubines and wives of the sultan. Access was restricted to all men but eunuchs and the sultan. The head of the harem was the Valide Padisha, or the Old Lady, who was the mother of the current sultan as well as the true ruler of the palace. She controlled who married her son and ran much of the palace's inner workings. The harem women were usually gifts to the sultan from lands such as Italy, Poland, and Russia. They were 6-12 years old and had to change everything about themselves - religion, language, habits, etc. - and learn how to make coffee, how to dance, how to bath according to the Koran, how to read the Koran and the Ottoman language (a mixture of Turkish, Arabic, and Farsi) in order to have any hope of marrying the sultan. The chosen woman would go through a ceremony of bathing, anointed with perfumes and oils, and would be dressed in silks before being presented to the sultan. The sultan picked the women he wanted to have sexual relations with as well as marry (all with permission from his mother). If the woman had a boy child - the chezade-- her position upgraded to the "godet" or terrace position. If she had 2 or 3 of the sultan's children, she became his wife. 

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The Chamber of Petitions was the meeting room for the sultan and his advisors and ambassadors. Near here was the sultan's view over the Golden Horn as well as the Bosporus and Marmara.

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After the palace we visited the Hagia Sophia ("Holy Wisdom"). We learned that it was a pagan site and then a Christian Church built in 420 CE from parts of the pagan site, and was reformed into a mosque in 1453 by Muhmed II until being turned into a museum by Ataturk in 1935. It is 1 building that houses 2 religions, with the first floor used for practicing and the second as an art gallery. Jo told us about the 4 main mosaics that were put up during the Christian period that Muhmed II had covered up with Islamic images. The sultan had his own balcony to pray at.

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At the Hippodrom/ Sultanment Square, we learned that sports were once played out here. The coliseum was from Byzantine times;, with the seats where the outer walls of the Blue Mosque are now the fountain with 10 surrounding fountains on it was a gift from the Germans; the Egyptian Obelisk taken from Carnak in the 3rd Century AD; the serpanter that celebrates a victory of the Greeks over the Persians; and the Byzantine silver obelisk whose silver was melted down by Latins (Crusaders).

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At the Blue Mosque, Kelly told us that it was built from 1609-1616 by Sultan Ahmed I as an apology to the people for all of his lousy wars even though he was using the money of the people to pay for it. It was created by Muhmet Aga and is considered a national treasure with 6 minarets and 10 balconies on each, not gold minarets as he wanted. It was a complex that supported all forms of daily life from shopping to alms.

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If today was a definition of what the rest of the trip is to bring, then bring it on. :)

After we came home from Jeju, we had midterms.  Unfortunately while I was trying to study for midterms, I was really sick. So sick I had to go to the hospital.  After doing chest x-rays and ruling out tuberculosis (huge relief) they told me I had pneumonia.  I got some antibiotics and the doctor told me to sleep as much as possible.  So after spending 10 days mostly in the dorms sleeping and trying to get better, I finally ventured out again last weekend!

While I was still taking my medicine, I felt okay enough to go back to the zoo with my friends.  We had a pretty interesting ride there, people not feeling well and going home, getting on the wrong trains and off at the wrong subway stations, but eventually we made it there! 

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We were supposed to go on a ferry ride along the Han River at night, but we took too long getting there, so we just took a walk instead. Not exactly the most successful night, but it was still fun.  

After classes last week, a few friends and I went hiking in Seoraksan National Park.  Its about 3 hours away from Seoul, and its soooo nice.  It was just four of us, but anymore would have been hard to coordinate.  We left the dorms at about 6:00 am, and took the bus to the East coast of Korea, got on a city bus, then ended up in the park at about 10:30.  When we first got there, we took a cable car to the top of the mountain, unfortunately it was so foggy at the top that we couldn't see anything.  But the background being completely white makes it a little scary I guess.

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With the Korean flag at the summit! There was a small gift shop at the top of the mountain and the guy kept trying to get us to buy some kind of gold piece to prove we had been to the top, but instead we just had him take our picture to prove it.  After we took the cable car back down, we visited the giant Buddha statue at the park in honor of Buddha's Birthday (which was May 10).  Lots of people were praying and buying prayer candles, so we decided to do it too.  We bought a candle and simply asked that we'd be able to meet each other again someday.  We all signed it, wrote the date and then lit it in the glass case they display the candles in.  I'm not sure what word I'm looking for, but it was something I'll remember for a long time. 
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Just so you can get an idea of how tall it really is the glass cases where the candles are is taller than I am! It stands taller than most of the trees there! We followed a path that was supposed to take us to a cave.  We were a little disappointed at first, because we were just walking on flat ground for about 2 kilometers, but we finally got to an area that was so pretty. The water was so clear, and the rocks were massive.  It was a really breathtaking place.

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Most places asked us to stay off the rocks, but we climbed around on the few places that didn't have any signs asking us not to. It was just so pretty it was hard to stay away.  Still a little disappointed that we were walking on a flat path, we walked on the rocks a little more then kept going on the path. Finally we started having to actually hike. When we got to the top of section we used stairs to climb, we got to see the whole valley, which was incredible.

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The last .4 km or whatever it was was brutal.  It was a direct climb up, and I thought I was going to die a few times, but it was a good hike.  The "cave" they were talking about was really just a tiny hole in the side of the mountain where they had 3 more small Buddha statues where people can pray.  After such a hard hike up, it was a little bit of a let down, but it was still nice to see. We had planned on camping at the park, but it was raining and all the tents and sleeping bags had been rented out, so instead we came back to Seoul at about 1:00am. It was a long day.

The rest of the weekend we just relaxed and enjoyed our time together. My time here is coming to an end quickly! A little over 5 weeks left until I'm back in State College! Its gonna go fast.  

Hold on, I'm back in the States?

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Wow, has time gone by fast. I truly feel like I just went through all of the hustle of packing and traveling to England, and now I've done it to go back to America... over a week ago. I know it may sound silly, but I hired a car to take me to the airport for the morning of my flight. I remembered the problems I went through to get to the hostel and then to my dorms when I arrived in London and I figured that since I've gone through it once, I'd be stupid to do it again.

BUT if any study abroad students are reading this from London, go to batransfers.com and hire a car. It's only 30 pounds to get to Heathrow and it'll save you a lot of mental and physical exhaustion on the way to the airport.

Anyway, the ride to the airport gave me time to think about this past semester (something I didn't want to do because that means it's really over). I truly can't put into words how thankful I am that I took the opportunity to study abroad. These last 4 months have been the best and most exciting months of my entire life. I have had the opportunity to see so many places and learn so many lessons; I didn't know anything like this was ever possible. I have become so attached to London - this was one of the hardest departures I've ever had.

Thankfully, my ride to the airport went smoothly and I was able to check my bags without going overweight (something I find to be somewhat of a miracle)! I know that I'll be back someday, hopefully soon. Keeping this in mind is the only way I was able to step foot on the plane back to reality...

 

I know this may be somewhat out of sequence now, but to get back on track I have to go back to March 15th - I've become rather side tracked these last 2 months! My apologies!

One Week

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So so so so so sorry I have not been writing/photo-updating!  Finals are crazy!

So, I'm just going to write about Italy and not photoblog about it, because I don't have time to photoblog right now.

We flew into Milan and slept in the airport night #1 in order to save money, because hostels in Milan are CRAZY EXPENSIVE.  Just like the rest of the city.  Everything was very elegant and there were just dozens of designer stores everywhere.  We explored a bit, got some solid gelato, and wandered around a big flea market.  There really isn't too much to do except shop in Milan, so we headed to our hostel in Genova a bit earlier than expected.  HELPFUL HINT:  We had a ton of luggage for our trip, and we didn't want to lug it around Milan all day.  SO we ended up storing it at the train station for very cheap.  I highly suggest doing that if you aren't checking into your hostel right away when you are traveling.  That was awesome.

Anyway, Genova was sweet.  It was SO HIGH UP.  The roads are very narrow and windy.  Seriously the craziest bus rides ever.  But the view from our hostel was spectacular.  And we went out to dinner and got some delicious pizzas (the first of many we would get on this trip).  We left Genova early in the morning to get our train to Monterosso in Cinque Terre.  We arrived and it was BEAUTIFUL.  We stayed in an apartment than an American girl and her Italian boyfriend owned.  It was awesome.  There were 6 of us total, so it was a little tight, but our view was spectacular and we had a grape vine and a lemon tree (AWESOME).  It was also very close to everything (though the towns are very small, so unless you are halfway up the mountain, everything is rather close).  We were beach bums most of the time.  On my 21st birthday, I decided to do a 3 hour hike into the next town with my friend Brittany. HELL OF A HIKE.  Holy hiking, seriously.  It was the scenic route since all of the coastal trails were closed due to rock slides and such in the winter.  And it was HARD.  But we made it to the other town, and saw some incredible views.  We also went out for a full 3 course Italian meal on my birthday.  SO GOOD.  Then we passed out (hell of a birthday, huh? haha).  The rest of the week we explored more of the towns, hiked some more, and laid on the beach.  Our town was by far the best town out of the 5...mostly because we had a huge beach and they didn't have any.  I don't know what you would do there without a beach, really.

So. Came home from Italy on Easter.  Started to prep for finals.  Have had my Irish Music and Dance, Geoscience, and Irish Folklore exams so far.  I only have one left, and it is for my Psychology course...and it is on a Saturday (really?! Saturday exams? That sucks). 

I am also very torn about coming home.  I want to see all of my friends from home. A lot. I miss them so so so so so so so so much.  But I don't want to leave my housemates and friends here.  But I am INCREDIBLY sick of the immaturity level of Irish people.  The series of events that have led me to hate Irish people:

1.  These kids were in my house one night and threw my shoes out of my house.  MY NICE RUNNING SHOES.  And I found one in the neighbors bush the next morning. But the other is nowhere to be found. Thanks for that.
2.  That same night, my friend Katie and I were getting kebabs before going to the pub.  Katie gets hers and pays for it, and this Irish guy literally takes it right out of her hands and runs away with it. Her response, "MY KEBABBBBBBBB!!"  But...really? REALLY? It's 5 euro. You can't get your own damn kebab?
3. Someone stole my housemate's student ID card.  They checked out a book at the library then returned the card. So now she's receiving all of these emails saying she owes money for this book she didn't check out (late fees). And she's going to end up paying for the damn book.
4. Someone broke into my friend's house one night while we were all hanging out and broke the "break in case of fire" box.  250 euro fine.  STUPID.
5.  Eggs. People throw eggs everywhere. DISGUSTING. GROW UP.
6.  I was walking home happy to be back in Ireland after a trip, and these guys drive by in an SUV and pull out a giant super-soaker...and I get soaked (good thing the name rings true to its outcome, huh?). 

I am so lucky to have awesome housemates and friends, cause if I was stuck purely with college-aged Irish kids, I would be pissed off.  My best Irish friend here is 28 years old. Go figure.

So. Yeah. One week til I go back to the states. The first thing I am going to do is go to several doctor's appointments, because Ireland has destroyed my immune system.  Then I am going to go to Fatheads in Pittsburgh, order a bangin' sandwich with their homemade french fries and ask for a vat of ranch dressing.  Seriously. Why don't they have ranch in Europe?!

Might do one more entry before I leave, depending on my time constraints.  Packing is NOT going to be fun.

Cheers,
Melanie

Oh, PS. I also won a photo competition at UL for my photos in Ireland.  Won a hoodie and 40 euro (could have taken 80 euro, but the hoodie is pretty cool. haha). SO YAY!

Leaving soon.

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Hi. My name is Sam Kim.
I will be studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea (Sogang Univ) during the summer and fall semesters.
I'm South Korea but have never been to my "homeland" before, so I'm sure many things will seem very foreign to me.
I'm pretty excited but also nervous because I know I'll be learning a lot on my own.
My overall goals are to learn and dive into the Korean culture as well as learning as much as I can the language.

I sound too robotic right now, don't I?
Hopefully that'll change as I write more!

Cyaaaaaaa :)

P.S. I'll be leaving the States on May 20th w/ Korean Air!

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We're done!

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DSC_0010.jpgTanzania and Kenya 013.JPG

About two or three weeks ago, I was very homesick and ready to come home but something has changed. I think it was Tsavo that did it. The beauty and magnificence of the volcanic hills at Tsavo awakened a whole new appreciation for Kenya and Africa. I don't think I'll ever live in or visit a place as wonderful as this again. I'm still the same person but my experiences here have humbled and matured me in a way that I don't think would be possible in the United States. Maybe it's just living in another country away from all familiarity, or just being another year older, but Africa has given me a confidence and respect for life that I wish I found a long time ago.

I have a newfound appreciation for life and all of the surprises and wonders it holds. TIA (this is Africa) is the motto of our lives here. The lack of discipline, disregard for time and seeming carelessness frustrated me at first but I soon realized that these were simply a result of people taking their time, appreciating the moment they live in and accepting circumstances they really can't control. Too often, I find myself worrying about things that I cannot change and sweating the small stuff. There are too many other life threatening and important things to worry about here, like surviving. Worries such as what to do on the weekends or which restaurant to go to are suddenly extremely trivial and insignificant. My wish is that everyone could experience something like this in his or her lifetime. I wish everyone could step out of his or her comfort zone, travel the world and experience it's wonders. But this is not always possible so I hope my words and experiences are a suitable alternative. It has been very hard work and I do miss home a lot but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world and hope that anyone who reads this is compelled to appreciate the privileges and experiences they have had.

Yesterday was the last day of academic work and therefore my first day as a college junior. When I think back to who I was coming into Penn State 2 years ago, I can't believe that the girl sitting here, typing on a laptop in Kenya is the same girl who was terrified to be a college student. All of the amazing opportunities and experiences I have had over the past 2 years have turned me into a confident and adventurous young women ready to take on the world. I never would have thought that in a few short years, I would be living in Africa, conducting research and sharing our results with the community in an attempt to improve their lives. The research and data collection was hard work. We spent countless hours in the hot sun, walking for miles hoping to see some sign of wildlife. We spent many more hours staring at our computer screens trying to come up with the best ways to analyze and present our data and then compile it into a comprehensive research report. The culmination of our work finally came in the form of community presentations. We spent 5 hours on a Saturday afternoon sharing all of our research with the community and government officials. They had the opportunity to ask us questions and make sure they understood our recommendations so they could improve their lives and those of the local wildlife. The past 3 months have been stressful and a lot of work but also a lot of fun. Everything we did was completely worth it and probably helped to improve the livelihoods of those who live around us. I'm so grateful to have had such an experience here in East Africa. I'm nervous and excited to go home because I think it will be a huge adjustment but I know I will never forget what I learned and the people I met here.


Sydney

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We flew from Melbourne to Sydney with Tiger Airways which was extremely sketchy. They didn't check any ID and had such strict weight restrictions on carry-ons that everyone was basically wearing everything they owned as they went through security. Morgan had her jeans wrapped around her waist under her sweater and I saw a girl pulling straighteners and all sorts of electronics out of her pockets when we'd gone through. Our flight was rough, and it was pouring when we got to Sydney but luckily only a short subway ride and walk to our hostel. We managed to do a turnaround from soaked and with plane hair, to ready to go out in about an hour which is a record. The hostel had a van that picked everyone up and took us to a bar called the Gaff. We weren't really sure where we were even going but apparently there were coups to be had and we like free stuff. They gave us free fish and chips and 3 free drinks if we bought one drink! Love it. We texted our friend Alex, who we met in Tongariro National Park back in New Zealand and he told us to meet him and his friends out in Bondi Beach. We grabbed a cab and were out there by midnight. Great decision as it turned into one of the best nights of the trips. We started at a bar called Beach Road Hotel and then had a run in with the "fun police". It's ok, that's what they called themselves and tried to get all of us into one cab when clearly that is illegal. We eventually ended up at a bar called the Sugar Mill in The Cross and danced until 4:30am.

 

bondi beach night.jpgMorgan, Me, Alex and Meg^

 

the fun police.bmpPutting on our "serious police faces" for the fun police ^

On leaving, Morgan kept insisting that we walk home and "explore the city" which was hilarious in the morning seeing as we had no idea where we were. We eventually took a cab back and were so excited to sleep. However, when we got back to out 36(!) person room in the hostel, it was deserted. Something wasn't right. After talking to reception, we found out that someone had fire extiquished the entire room, leaving a thick layer of disgusting foamy, powdery stuff. They told us to "find the beds with the least crap on them" which wasn't want we wanted to hear at 5:30am. They moved Meg eventually but I was so tired I didn't want to move all my stuff so I just slept in a fire extinguishy bed. I haven't died yet so it probably wasn't too toxic.

 

church dorm.jpgOutside our hostel, wish we'd actually been able to experience the Church dorm ^

The next day we got up and went to explore SYDNEY!! We got amazing smoothies and walked to the harbor to see the bridge and the opera house before getting on the ferry to Manley.

 

opera house.jpg Manley was so pretty with tons of little shops and a really beautiful surf beach at the end of town. We stayed on the beach for a while with our feet in the water before heading back to the city.

 

manley beach.bmpManley ^

We decided not to really go out that night and instead went for a delicious Malaysian meal in Darling harbor. Sydney felt surprisingly American and I kept forgetting I was in Australia and thought it could have been San Francisco or maybe a (much nicer) Baltimore inner harbor. Meg and Morgan went back to the hostel after dinner but I really wanted to see the opera house lit up so I trekked back to the harbor. An opera was just letting out and it was nice to just stroll around the steps and look at city lights.

out to dinner.jpgOut to dinner ^

We didn't have much time the next morning since our overnight train to Byron Bay left at 4pm, but we really wanted to get out to Bondi again and actually see the beach.  After a bus ride and a super long walk we made it with a picnic with us, and headed down to the cliffs overlooking the beach to eat. It was so warm and everyone was out surfing and sunbathing and generally living up to the Aussie stereotype.

 

bondi beach day.jpgBondi beach ^

The rest of the day consisted of getting on our train and beginning the 13 or so hour overnight trip up the coast to Byron Bay, again we didn't realize how big Australia is... Once I fell asleep the train ride wasn't too bad, except for when we switched to a coach at 4am for the last two hours. We arrived, exhausted, in a pretty empty Byron Bay around 6am and found a coffee shop to sit in for a while. I was super tired and drained my coffee in about 60 second and proceeded to eat the sugar packets. I think that woke me up a bit.

 

sugar eating.jpgSugar is goooood ^

Summary: Sydney is baller.

Melbourne

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I've been slacking on my blog recently because of the 19 day epic trip I took with my friends Meg and Morgan. We had decided early on in the semester to go to Australia and the two week "teaching recess" seemed the perfect time. We booked our flights into Melbourne and out of Brisbane, slightly unaware of how big Australia actually is. However, I think this actually ended up being a blessing because we packed in so much more than I thought possible.

On Wednesday 13th of April, we headed up to Auckland and were met by Michelle, a friend of a friend from back a PSU. What a small world! Had a great Japanese dinner before heading to the airport to sleep before catching our 6:30am flight to Melbourne.  Michelle was so gracious and drove us to save us $80 in a cab fee!

Sleeping at the airport was not fun and even though we managed to snag some benches to lie down on, I only slept for about an hour the whole night. We also had some trouble going through security since we'd decided to take carry on only to avoid checked bag fees and all of our bags were overweight, a problem that plagued us throughout the trip. Due to sheer luck, Morgan and I managed to get through, although they made Meg check hers.

We landed in Melbourne to clear weather even though the forecast called for rain which boded well. We checked into our hostel and put our bags in the luggage room using a stuffed kangaroo as the key! First sign that we were actually in AUSTRALIA! Next to the hostel was a huge outdoor market, Victoria Street Market, which we obviously had to visit. Three hours later we had seem boomerangs, wigs, some (slightly creepy) actors putting on a tea-party from Alice in Wonderland and bought heaps of food for dinner, including a kilo of mushrooms. The mushroom guy told us that we could have mushrooms for $2 but only if we bought a kilo.

 

market.jpg Meg and I decided to go to the aquarium that afternoon and Morgan explored the city. We saw an enclosure with emperor penguins which were so adorable but I felt bad that they couldn't actually live in real snow. They must have been so hot.

 

aquarium.jpgWe were also suckered into becoming members at Crown Casino and they gave us five dollars which I promptly lost to the penny slots. It was a shock to us just how expensive everything was. It probably wasn't as bad for Australians being paid in Aussie dollars, but our Kiwi dollars didn't go far AT ALL. We would pay $8 kiwi dollars for a coffee and cake in New Zealand and $8 Aussie dollars for the same thing in Australia. With the exchange rate, that's almost $11 New Zealand dollars! Robbery.

 That night we went out looking for nightlife and ended up joining with an underground bar tour group who took us to a couple of small eccentric bars down back alleys that we never would have found on our own. The guy who suggested we join them was from "Tazzie" or Tasmania which was surprising because I didn't think people actually lived there. Apparently they do.

Obviously, we wanted McDonalds fries after the excitement of the night and when Meg came to sit down, she said that the guys standing by the counter said that you get free refills on your fries in Australia. I went up to the counter, a little skeptical, and inquired. It's NOT true and the guys laughed at us, but I guess it was worth a try!

The next day, we went back to the market and picked up food for a picnic. SO much good stuff! Buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, avocado and Turkish bread. After an hour of getting lost in the city, we managed to find the right tram and headed out to St.Kilda, a cute artsy town by the beach and ate our picnic and looked round the shops. They had some amazing little cake shops all in a row.

 

cake shops.jpgGraffiti by the rows of cake shops ^

When we headed back to town, we met up with Meg's friend Sam who lives just outside Melbourne. We had tickets to a footy match which is sort of like rugby but you can kick and bounce the ball too. Really anything goes and it was really fun to get involved. Meg and I decided to root for Richmond, the underdogs, while Morgan supported Collingwood. For a few moments in the third quarter it looked like Richmond might make a spectacular comeback, but no such luck. Collingwood crushed them.  

 

footy.jpgFOOTY! ^

After the match we went out to a couple of bars and had some of the best mojitos I've ever tasted. The next day there was a comedy festival on, so we sat down and watched some of an act. The performers were doing all kinds of outrageous things, including dragging guys out of the audience. Surprisingly the guys went along with it instead of being embarrassed. There was also a Disney exhibition on at a museum so we went to that and learned all about the history of film and Walt Disney. Really cool! Sadly it was then time to head to the airport for out flight to Sydney. I really enjoyed  Melbourne, it wasn't touristy but it seemed really cultured and had tons of information about bands and art exhibitions plastered around the streets. I wish we could have visited the Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles (or "stacky-rocky-things" I tried calling them at first) but there just wasn't enough time.

 

Our Hostel >  HOstel.jpg

 

Exmouth Trip Part II

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Thursday

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After breakfast we arrived at Monkey Mia around 7:30 to meet Bottle Nose Dolphins.  These dolphins come very close to shore and some people are allowed to feed them.  It was very touristy as about 400 people were gathered on shore with their cameras to watch these dolphins.  After this we drove for about 3 hours until reaching Eagle Bluff.  We did see one shark out in the distance from this panoramic.  We entered an area called Big Sky country and is home to longest straight road in Australia, that stretches for 100 miles without any turns.  Tonight was an interesting sleeping accommodation, as we stayed in Outback Sheep Station.  We arrived around 4:30 pm and were taken down to a private beach.  The water was quite warm probably about 85 degrees, and the beach was pristine since it was private and our small group was using it.  That evening we had a delicious dinner of chicken, corn, potatoes, and peas cooked by Darren.  After dinner we sat around a campfire and toasted marshmallows.  The cabins were twin share and very rustic, although they did have electricity. 

 

Friday

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We finally made it to the much anticipated Ninagloo Reef.  We passed the Tropic of Capricorn on the way before we made it to Coral Bay.  The Ningaloo reef is just feet away from the white sandy beach.  You could go out for 200 feet and the water was only up to your knees.  We went out on the reef on a glass bottom boat, which we able to snorkel on the reef.  The reef is quite colorful, however the waves were quite choppy and it made snorkeling a bit difficult.  After lunch on shore we decided to sit on the beautiful beach for the rest of the afternoon.  Around 3:30 we got back on the bus to head up the Northwest Cape to Exmouth, our destination.  We arrived in Exmouth around 6:00 pm at the Potshot Resort.

 

Saturday

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Today was a later start, 8:00 as Darren took us to the Cape Range and Turquoise Bay.   Some people snorkeled at Turquoise Bay but I just swam in the water which was quite clear.  You could go out 2 or 3 feet and see some small fish swim in the water around your feet.  The beach had a very strong current which meant you didn't really have to swim the water would just take you down stream.   We ate lunch at the visitor's center.  We looked at the view from a lookout point where a lighthouse was placed.   From here we drove about 30 minutes to Cape Range.  The view from these mountains was spectacular.  The road going to them was quite steep.  From here we headed back to the Potshot Resort.  Tonight we went out for dinner to a local pizzeria, I split a Hawaiian Pizza with someone else.

 

Sunday

Early on the road, we drove for 10 hours stopping every 2 hours for a break to Northampton where we stayed in an Old Convent.  Northampton is a small town and we explored around.  Tonight Darren bought us fish and chips for dinner. 

 

Monday

Another 6 hour drive back to Perth, we arrived back around 1:30 PM. 

Exmouth Trip Part I

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Monday

The day started out early on Monday at 7:30 where we got picked up by Darren and the Red Earth Safari bus.  In the morning we drove down the famous Western Australia Coastal Beaches on what is called the Sunset Tourist Drive.  

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We stopped at at Yanchep National Park where we went down in a cave for a guided tour that lasted about an hour.  From there we went to the Greenough Wildlife and Bird Park to see koalas and kangaroo's.  I got to hold a baby kangaroo!  About an hour late we had lunch, sandwiches and drove about 2 more hours to Cervantes where we stayed overnight in a backpackers.  We got to Cervantes about 3:30 and the beach was only about a 5 minute walk away.  We came back around 5:00 and headed off to the Nambung National Park to see the world famous Pinnacles at Sunset.  The Pinnacles were formed when the area became flooded and water mixed with minerals to form these unique shapes.  After that we headed back to the backpackers where we had a lasagna and salad dinner.  Early to bed.

 

Tuesday

The next day breakfast was at 6:30 and we back on the road by 7:00 AM.  We passed some unique horizontal trees before arriving at the Hutt River Province, a small breakaway country and the second largest on this continent.  

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There we met Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley and hear about their passion for their own country.  In 1970 they found a loophole in the Australian constitution and now are their own country and don't have to pay any tax.  We traveled a few more hours having lunch along the way.  We stopped at Kalbarri National Park where we saw the coastal gorges and saw a whale.  We stayed in the town of Kalbarri, in a backpackers and had a delicious aussie bbq.

 



Wednesday

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This morning after an early breakfast where we travelled deep into Kalbarri National Park.  Here we travelled deep into the Z Bend gorge.  The path into the gorge was very hot and in the summer temperatures can get as high as 122 in the gorge.  Today it wasn't too hot as we climbed down into the gorge.  The water flowing in the gorge was very warm and some people went swimming.  We drove for a few hours to the World Heritage Area of Shark Bay.  We stopped at a beach that is made up entirely of shells and took a swim in the water, which was quite warm.  We stayed at the Nanga Bay Resort tonight, where we had another good dinner.

The Art of Filling

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This was an article I wrote for the newsletter create for the end of the semester.  This one is about the "fudao" or tutors that IES prepares for us.  We are allotted up to 4 hours a week to meet with them, with the fees covered through our IES tuition.  I must say, I really did enjoy having a fudao, particularly my own.  Here's a short, somewhat snarky article about what its like.

Imagine a large jar, and surrounding the jar are large rocks.  One by one you place the large rocks into the jar until you cannot fit anymore.  Is the jar full?  It is not.  You can take the smaller gravel pieces around the large stones to fill in the holes.  So you do that.  Is the jar full now?  You see that the large stones and small gravel are just specs in an ocean of sand on which it lies.  You pour sand into the jar, and watch it trickle down and fill the gaps that the large and small stones fail to occupy.  Finally, it must be full you say.  Not so!  Even between the sand particles are spaces that not even the smallest sand particle can fill.  So you add water.  

The point of this illustration is to show how difficult it is to learn a language, and how incomplete it would be to sit in a classroom and hope to absorb the characters, pinyin, definition, grammar that we learn four days a week.  Nosiree, as large as those rocks are, they simply will not fill.  That's why we have Chinese roommates or homestay families, (are forced to) speak in Chinese 24/7, and meet with tutors.  All these outside-the-classroom activities work together to perpetuate our learning after 12:15, solidifying the lessons through repetition and appropriate contextualized use.  However, I am especially appreciative of the fudao that IES has arrange for me, and all the ways that she is able to tailor to my needs to help me have a more complete Chinese learning experience. 

I meet with my fudao four times a week, usually at the IES building.  Our tradition is always the same: we greet, we sit down, and we get to business.  In an hour's time, I am usually able to get familiar with the grammar points, read through the passage, and complete the next day's homework.  However, what is interesting to note is the magic that occurs when we're not on task.  We chat about our day and what we did that day.  I pause to ask my fudao what her opinion is on the day's topic such as the one child policy, bicycle maintenance,  or George W. Bush's visit to China (notably outdated, I know).  I ask her how 特别,特色,特殊 are different, even though my book says they all mean "special".  I ask her to help me create crazy, nonsensical (but grammatically correct) sentences for my homework.  It's like having a second teacher that is more willing to keep up with my Chinese learning antics. 

But it's not always rainbows and butterflies.  Some say that their fudao experience is quite bad.  They complain that their fudao seem unresponsive or disinterested during the meeting.  Or perhaps that their fudaos reschedule too often or are unwilling to trek to the IES building to meet with them.  To those individuals I can do nothing but offer my condolences.   But as for me,  I can honestly say, without any degree of exaggeration, that my life has become fundamentally and holistically better because of my fudao.  She is the water that fills my jar; my cup overfloweth.  

The reality of the past tense.

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Okay, so this update is going to be a quick one because I still have all of my pack to do and we leave tonight!

First of all, just thinking about leaving all of the wonderful relationships I've made here makes me want to cry.  These past two weeks have been una locura (like everything else in Venezuela), and I wouldn't have it any other way! I havent updated lately is because I've just been trying to live in the moment and soak up all of my final experiences here.  If I could stay longer, I would.  But in the same breath, I also feel my obligations and passions that I have at home calling my name.  I can't believe next semester I'm going to be a senior, and then, after that, I'll be on my way to living out my life's passion--teaching in a prison or detention center!  I hope that one day I'll be able to return here, but, if not, the memories I have are enough to satisfy me for my entire life.  What an intense, adventurous, sad, crazy, beautiful, profound experience...

I'm coming away from this knowing more about myself and the world around me.  Sadly, some of that learning has taken a toll on my heart, but it is in those times of pain and sorrow where we learn the most, no?  This I believe wholeheartedly.

Venezuela,
we've cried and laughed together and had some pretty crazy nights (and days, for that matter).  Even after three months, I still can't believe that I am actually here.  And even more mind blowing to me is the fact that, after today, instead of saying "I am going to be in Venezuela for three months" or "I am in Venezuela RIGHT NOW!"...  I will have to say "I was in Venezuela..." or "Yeah, I've been there."  Man, that past tense is a difficult reality to face...

Chao, Venezuela! Encantada!

 

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Merida, Venezuela and I. :)  Ojala que pueda volver... 

Tango for Two!

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This past week during Semana Santa I came to realize just how expensive Brazil is with a little trip down to Buenos Aires. There, where my one dollar gets me four pesos, I was in shopping heaven. It is soooo much cheaper than São Paulo. For example, a metro ride cost me about 1.20 pesos, which equals about 30 cents in the U.S. Here in São Paulo, a metro ride cost me 2.90 reais, equivalent to about US$1.90. It was a large relief of the high cost of living here in São Paulo.

                Unfortunately, the four other students that made up our group and I did not get to thoroughly enjoy this financial bliss for long. Even before I went to the Buenos Aires trip, my purse, which contained my credit/debit cards were robbed and I was relying on a friend for cash until my new card arrived. This happened 4 days before I left for Argentina. Once we got to Argentina, my friend was pick pocketed out of her wallet, which had her card. 3 days later, our other friend was pick pocketed out of her belongings as well. 3 girls, no cards to get cash. Needless to say we were not in a good financial state. What saved us in the end was Western Union. Our parents wired us money and by the second time we went there, the staff knew us well as the two Americans and the one French who went there almost every day.

                Apart from that problem, I had a BLAST in Buenos Aires. I loved walking through the city with its European atmosphere and large markets on the weekend such as the one in Recoleta. The nightlife was fantastic as well with the music that deviated from the usual electronic that most clubs have in São Paulo. It was awesome!!! One huge downside to the clubs in Buenos Aires, though, was the smoking. No law has been passed yet about smoking inside buildings I'm assuming, therefore you not only smell of sweat, but of smoke as well. I'm pretty sure I've never smelled that bad in my life.   

                I also had the experience of going to a tango show, complete with a lesson and dinner. The lesson was pretty weak to tell you the truth and very touristy, but the dinner and show more than made up for it. The tango show was spectacular with very talented dancers and singers giving an intimate yet powerful and entertaining show. It was definitely worth paying the 50 dollars it cost for lesson, show and dinner. The dinner was also amazing, with an appetizer, main entrée and dessert. I highly recommend it for those who make the trip to Buenos Aires.

                Despite the fun times I had in this city, I still feel like I made the right choice studying in Brazil. I feel like the people of Brazil are nicer. Don't get me wrong. I met some VERY nice people in Argentina, but I guess I'm more familiar with the embracing Brazilian ways. Plus, in Argentina almost everywhere I went people asked me if I was Brazilian despite speaking the language perfectly well which made me laugh. I also like how São Paulo is not a touristy city than Buenos Aires. Hardly any tourists go to São Paulo and I like it in that way. Buenos Aires is the perfect place to party, shop and live for some time, but I'm glad I chose Brazil for my study abroad experience. 

 

This first picture is of the group I traveled with to Buenos Aires. 3 of us (including me) are American. 2 are Canadian and the girl in the middle is French. Pretty cool crew.

The second picture is of the tango show we attended. It was pretty awesome. Very intimate show and our minds were blown from the talent those dancers had.

The third picture is of the Recoleta neighborhood on a Saturday when there is an artesian market. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I LOVE outdoor markets such as these. It was heaven for me.

The last picture is of Calle Florida. It's shopping heaven basically (As you can probably notice, I have a thing for shopping).

The group in Buenos AiresTangoRecoleta

calle florida

Easter Weekend

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Last weekend, April 22 and 23, I went to Normandy for two days to see the D-day beaches from WWII. Once again, a travel story...

I talked to the people at the hotel that I was staying at and told them that since I had class on Thursday until 6 I would be taking the 8:30 train and wouldn't get to the hotel until around 11. This time I made it on to the train without a problem, yet for some reason we had to stop about an hour into the trip and wait for 30 min. So I had to call the people at the hotel and tell them that I was running half an hour late. Then when I finally got to the train station I had to call a taxi cause Bayeux, the Normandy town I stayed in, was not very big. I ended up getting to my hotel around 11:45.

 The room was cozy.  I had a bed, a sink, and a shower. Since the owner didn't speak any English I finally got a chance to use all my French skills. The only time they failed me the whole weekend was when she said I could have a en-suite bathroom for an extra 10 euro a night. I found out that in French, not my translation to English, this means you have your own shower and sink but not your own toilet. I managed though. The hotel was more of the type of inn you read about in medieval novels. The bottom of the hotel was a bar/café and you walked up the stairs in the back to get to the rooms. This was how all of the hotels seemed to be this way in Bayeux, it was very cute.

cozy b.JPGIn the momuseum b 2.JPGrning I woke up early and went to go see the Cathedral in Bayeux and then headed over to the tapestry museum to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry that tells the story of William the Conqueror. Then I got a sandwich and chips and sat by the river and ate lunch. Next, I headed to the train station to catch my tour to the d-day beaches.

 

 

I saw Point du Hoc,

point d hoc.JPGpoint d hoc 2.JPG Omaha Beach,

 

 

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the American Cemetery,

 

 

cemerety.JPGcemetery 2.JPGand the site of old German machine guns that were never used or destroyed.

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That night I had dinner by the cathedral then I got ice cream and walked up the river towards the north.

 

 

The next morning I woke up and went to see the Normandy WWII museum,

 

battle museum.JPG the British cemetery,

british cemetery.JPG and the journalists memorial walk.

memorial walk b.JPGThen I went to a late lunch at a little place on the river and waited to catch my train back to Paris.

cute restaurant b.JPGriver b.JPG

 

On Sunday I went to my friend Meline's boyfriend's house and him nad his friends had a bar-b-que for Easter. Even though my French isn't very good and they didn't really speak English at all I had a great day and I met some Parisians who I actually enjoy spending time with. We ate hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken fries.

Mini-road trip

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Today, right after class, one of my friends and I went to 羅東, a city close to 台北. I didn't know what to expect at all and just trusted completely in my friend to take me wherever. It was after we got to the bus station that I realized she didn't really have a plan either and wasn't TOTALLY sure how to get to the destination as well. Hearing that made me nervous but she said that she liked this kind of vacation, not really knowing what to expect and just go with the flow. It kind of intrigued me since I usually like to have plans. Anyways, we boarded the 客運, which is sort of like the greyhound but nicer, as pictured. I fell in and out of sleep during the hour there. Finally when we got to 羅東 and got off the bus, we saw this:

That was pretty much it, with a train station to our right. I thought it was so funny because we both didn't know what to do. We decided to check for info at the train station and blah blah blah...decided to go to the National Center for Traditional Arts. Our bus driver was so nice to us and kept telling us to remember to not miss the last bus or else we're screwed and pointing out the river and scenery. He called us 妹妹s which was kinda weird. Anyways, this was what we saw going in through the gates. There were little shops on both sides that sold traditional clothes, snacks, and souvenirs. Everything was so interesting to look at.

 We also had this really really good 蔥油餅 (green onion pancakes) there. It was kind of expensive but it was the best that I've eaten in my life. Sooooooo good. It was slightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside and there was egg on it to top it off. Ahhhhhhhhhhh! So good.


Blah blah blah...we ended the day by going to 羅東夜市. It was ok, like most of the 夜市s up here in the north. Overall...I think it was a good day...interesting but good. I can't wait for 台南 this weekend. Yay!


Oh! And last night I finally felt my first earthquake! I never felt the ones that happened before. It was certainly something to experience.

2 Weeks in a Nutshell

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Last weekend I was able to go to 天母 [tianmu] which is a district in Taipei where the more wealthy people live. I visited the traditional market there as well as another traditional market where the richer people visit. You can really tell the difference between these markets and the regular traditional markets. The ones that richer people go to are so much cleaner, you don't have to watch where you step, and vendors actually sell make up brands like Dior or Burberry perfume, etc. There were also a lot more nice nice cars parked around waiting to pick people up.


I finally found a night market that I love in Taipei. It's called 饒河夜市 [Raohe Night Market]. I kinda bought a lot of stuff...and they had amazing amazing food though I didn't eat a whole since I was really full from going to Mr. Onion Steakhouse with my cousin and her aunt for dinner. I was able to eat my favorite 雞蛋糕 which are these little cake things made into shapes. The one's my cousin and I ate were superhero shapes. Alas, a tragedy occurred. While I was about to eat one of the superheroes called 麵包超人 [Super Breadman] my clumsiness got the better of me and dropped it on the ground. It was so sad. At that moment, my cousin and I were eating 剉冰 [shaved ice] so as we ate, we had to watch 麵包超人 being kicked further and further away from us and smooshed by feet and wheels.


Fast forward to this past weekend. My cousin had to work for another McDonald's event again this past Saturday so I spent much of the day in the area around Taipei 101, a place with many many department stores. I felt kinda uncomfortable walking through the near empty halls of one of the department stores with GUCCI and FENDI glittering all over the place. I think it was more the emptiness and the quiet that was uncomfortable rather than brands. It was really weird. Not busy and loud like a normal mall. And it was too clean.


Bellavita - Department Store for the Queens of Taiwan


On Sunday, my cousin took me to 剝皮寮. It was in one of the oldest developed areas of Taipei and there they had some of the old buildings restored and rebuilt so you could see how people lived in the earlier years. That area was close to 龍山寺 [long shan si], a famous temple where many people go, but there were also a lot of homeless people who gather there. The atmosphere was stifling for me and I can't say that enjoyed it much though I can't really explain why...I guess I felt uncomfortable with the dirtiness of the streets and it was heartbreaking to see people still living on the streets in filth. The homeless population was made up mostly of old and disabled people. It was hard for me to see that after seeing the glitzy and glamorous part of Taipei just one day earlier. My mood was pretty down the rest of the afternoon and into the night. I didn't even feel like shopping and looking around when we went to 西門町.





That night, we met up with another cousin of mine for dinner and he took us to a cool pizza place in  西門町. They had eccentric flavors. The 3 that we got were 1) Ginger and salty duck egg 2) Apple cinnamon 3) Mushroom with Pesto sauce. And we drank their honey vinegar drink. It was pretty good though I wasn't to fond of the ginger on the pizza.

 Ginger with Salty Duck Egg

 Mushroom with Pesto Sauce

 Apple Cinnamon

Honey Vinegar

My Best Week Abroad

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When my parents left on Sunday I was going to leave and go to MARBELLA for Spring Break. However, as it goes here in Europe I seem to have a bit of a problem with transportation. I have also always had a bit of an issue with waking up early. My flight was at 6:30 so I had to get to the airport at about 5 and it is an hour cab ride to CDG from my airport. I woke up at 5 and then called my Dad and Andrew freaking out and had both of them looking for flights to get me to Marbella on that day. Thankfully after an hour of searching I found a flight that went from Paris to Barcelona and Barcelona to Malaga. Then when I finally got there and had to take a cab to our apartment. Luckily Kate, Daniella, Olivia, and Kelsey were already there. Even then it took me and BOB (not sure his real name he didn't speak any English) a good extra 30 min to find the place. We had to go to the Marriot and ask the guy at the front gate how to get to the apartment and then he had to talk to Kate on the phone. But we made it there. So I just lost a few hundred euros and a day at the beach. I was a little more upset about the latter.

Our apartment was amazing!!!!

 

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living room.JPGMy first day in Marbella was a little over cast but still nice. Kate and I walked the million miles to the grocery store across the highway and all. But when we got back we went to the port and had lunch at TGI Friday's. Then we walked along the marina and went window shopping. That night we went to a nice little dinner at a restaurant a short walk from our apartment.

 

marbella2.bmpOn the second day I laid out by the pool all day and then went for a walk on the beach. We went to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant and then Kate and I went to a little lounge called Cocamo with white couches outside.

 

pool m.JPGbeach m.JPGThe next day was our last day in the apartment. Kelsey, Olivia, and Daniella went to Sevilla and Kate and I moved to our hotel/apartment. With a great view. On the way there we stopped at the Hard Rock Café and got the usual margaritas and nachos. Then we walked along the beach and stopped in a little café and watched the sunset.. very romantic. We went to a little Italian place on the water for dinner. Then we went to a casino/ arcade and played games until around midnight.

 

balcony.jpgThe next day was Kate's last day. We walked around the old town part of Marbella in the morning and then when Kate left to go catch her plane I went to the beach for the rest of the day. I got a pretty sweet tan. Then for dinner I went to a little restaurant right on the beach it was absolutely gorgeous.

 

restaurant.JPGOn Friday I went for my birthday massage and facial at the spa. Then I spent the rest of the day lying on the beach. I went to another restaurant on the beach and tried paella for the first time. It was huge but really delicious.

 

 

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Saturday was my last day so I checked out and had the hotel hold my bags and went to walk around and buy souvenirs. Then I took a taxi to the bus station and a bus to the airport and this time I made it everywhere on time. I had a wonderful Spring Break I didn't really want to come back to Paris.

 

 

twilight.JPG

 

When I heard that we would be getting four weeks of student teaching practice in Sweden, I didn't expect that we would really be doing anything other than observing, and possibly not understanding a thing as the schools are entirely Swedish speaking. Well, I was wrong in both cases. 

First of all, myself and my friend Kaila were placed in the same school we observed in February, Torpaskolan, only three blocks from the university. Secondly, we were placed with the same teacher, Lasse, who is an extremely talented teacher. Thirdly, we taught on the SECOND DAY! The first day of school was a "football" (soccer) tournament, so we spent most of the day basking in the sun, watching the kids play soccer, and checking out the cute professional soccer players who came in to help :). The second day, however, began our teaching practice. We are in a fifth grade class with 19 students, all of whom are extremely anxious to learn and just fantastic kids. We taught the english lesson on Tuesday, and ended up having an extremely successful day! The next few days we were able to teach more, bond with the kids, and experience some amazing Swedish schooling! I am completely in love with my school, and this experience in making me want my own classroom more and more!

To add to all of the excellent teaching, I also found out that I passed my Swedish exam, and am able to understand most if not all of the lessons taught in Swedish! It truly has been incredible!

Things to look forward to in teaching practice: An overnight camping trip with the kids next week, a talent show, open-school day for parents to come in, and more teaching practice! 

Until next time, peace love and TORPASKOLAN!

(PS: we even taught the kids: WE ARE... TOR-PA!... THEY LOVE IT!) 

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