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Returning in time for the time crunch

Time April 27th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

I’ll be brief. Possibly. Don’t hold me to it.

I’m back from Edinburgh! Seeing my parents again after so long was lovely, as was having the stress of living and stuff taken off my shoulders for a bit. Admittedly I’m a rubbish cook and spend most of my time going to food courts instead of cooking, but still. Nice to have home-cooked food again, at least. Travel, as always, is both fun and exhausting. There’s something to be said for doing a whirlwind trip up the U.K., but the drain that puts on you from having to sleep somewhere new every night isn’t nothing. It’s worth it, though, and I think that’s what matters most.

So. I got back on Saturday night and had a prior engagement (read: Dungeons & Dragons, because I am a Nerd), which meant that Sunday was more properly the time I was back. And Sunday is a lovely day to come home on and all, it really is, but there was a slight hiccup in that I had an essay due. On Tuesday. Not a small essay either. There was some fretting, a lot of time spent in the library, and more coffee than either I or my stomach can comfortably think about. It got done, mind you, but it probably wasn’t the prettiest thing I’ve written. I wonder if I should regret that, that my work suffered a bit, but I find that I don’t. Traveling abroad entails a little bit of putting the experience of travel in front of the experience of schooling, I think. I’m broadening my horizons in a deliciously literal sense, and if the grade I’m getting in a class that is only pass/fail suffers a bit for it, then I suppose that’s a price I can live with. That’s not carte blanche advice to flip school the bird and go off into the sunset, mind, but the scales needn’t be as exactingly even as you might have them be at other times. To each their own.

I’m still daydreaming about Vindolanda. Emperor Hadrian almost certainly stayed there while supervising the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, did you know? They found evidence of a really high-quality home under the stones recently; they think that’s probably where he lived. For buildings that no longer stand, the stones at Vindolanda still house a lot of amazing stories. I’ll tell you more about all that later, though. For now: more essays. And travel considerations. You know the drill.

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The Argentine Classroom

Time April 27th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Despite classes starting relatively late in my time here, I have undoubtedly learned plenty both in and outside the classroom. Class registration was last Monday and I finally decided on my schedule; the mandatory IFSA Spanish class, Advanced Spanish and Argentine Culture, another IFSA class, Regional Development (which I love), History of International Relations and Introduction to Sociology (something I’ve always wanted to take in the US) with an environmental focus. Together, I feel like these classes are not only providing me an exciting interdisciplinary semester, but are introducing me to new ideas about Argentina, human rights, international relations, interpersonal relations, a less Westernized view of world history and basically a new perspective on a lot of things I have learned or read about before. Without a doubt, Argentines have a very different worldview (which is pretty varied in itself) than what I have confronted in the US as well as in my home university. With a focus on international studies in college, I find these differences fascinating and it’s really opened the door to perspectives from a country often considered between “developed” and “developing.” In fact one of my History of International Relations classes ended up focusing on the United States’ involvement in global affairs and it was NOTHING like I ever hear in the US. While I agreed with a lot of it, there was also a lot I didn’t agree with or that made me question what I had been thinking my entire life. This led to some fruitful conversation between my Argentine and American classmates (in both Spanish and a little English they were practicing) after class since the Argentine students sought out our opinion. It’s moments like that that really excite me about being able to learn in a culture so different from my own. It’s also perspectives that I am thankful to hear as I continue my studies in international relations where intercultural dialogue and understanding are imperative to efficacy.

Since a lot of you may be wondering what it’s like going to class in Argentine universities, I think I finally have enough experience to share some of my observations. If you choose the Mendoza program, you can choose classes between Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, a giant, beautiful , public renowned college campus located in El Parque General San Martin and Universidad de Congreso, a much smaller private college located in the center of the city. In Argentina, public universities are usually more acclaimed and tuition is free. Most of the IFSA students here take classes in both and there are definitely classes to fit everyone’s interests and needs here. There are even dancing and music classes offered by a smaller offshoot of Universidad de Congreso. I recommend looking at their websites to get a genera idea of what classes are offered. Read More »

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A Guide to My Favorite Places in BA

Time April 26th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Now that I’ve had more time to explore Buenos Aires and my neighborhood of Palermo, I’ve found quite a few fun spots. Some of them are parks, others are music spots, and a lot of them are bookstores. Here is a run down of a few of my favorite locals.

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Family/Familia

Time April 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

 

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You are lucky in life to have one loving, kind, and supportive family. I am fortunate enough to have three such incredible families: my biological family, my Spanish family, and my Chilean family. It was so wonderful introducing my original family to my adoptive family here abroad. My parents speak no Spanish and my Chilean mom speaks no English, but (with the help of me and my Chilean siblings translating) we were all able to connect and relate. It was so much fun sharing the people, places, food, and adventures abroad with my family from home. And much of what has made my abroad experience here in Valpo/Vina so great is my host family. I am so grateful for the relationships I have formed here and for the beautiful home and outdoor environment that I get to live in. While I certainly miss my home in the States, I feel perfectly in place here in Chile, in large part to my Chilean family. I have loved expanding my global family and am so lucky to have so many different places to call home.

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En la vida, tienes mucha suerte la tiene una familia cariñosa, simpática, y comprensiva. Yo soy tan afortunada de tener tres familias así: mi familia biológica, mi familia española, y mi familia chilena. Fue tan lindo introducir mi familia original a mi familia adaptiva acá in Chile. Mis padres no hablan nada de español y mi mama chilena no habla nada de inglés, pero (del ayuda de yo y mis hermanos chilenos traduciendo) todos conectaron y hicieron una relación.  Fue tan divertido compartir la gente, los lugares, el comido, y mis aventuras en Chile con my familia de los EEUU. Y mucho de lo que ha hecho mi experiencia acá en Valpo/Viña tan buena es mi familia anfitriona. Estoy tan agradecida por las relaciones que he formada aca y por la lindo ambiente y hogar en que tengo la oportunidad de vivir. Aunque me extraña mi casa en los EEUU, siento muy cómoda y contenta en Chile, y mucho de eso es por mi familia chilena. Me encanta expandir mi familia global y soy muy, muy afortunada tener tantos lugares para llamar “mi casa.”

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The Art of Relaxation

Time April 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This is a photo of something I painted while on a field trip with IFSA to the city of Sarchi. While we were there we visited the Lankester Garden where we took an art class. At first, everyone was stressed out about staying within the lines and not making any mistakes. As the teacher told us that we should simply relax and enjoy our time, someone joked, “We’re Americans, we don’t know how to relax.” In a way I think that’s true, but after about fifteen minutes of painting with birds chirping in the background and a gentle breeze surrrounding us, we did all learn to relax. It was the most gorgeous garden I’ve ever been to and a beautiful place to learn such an important lesson.

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Travel Fun

Time April 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

Greetings from Edinburgh and a cozy hobbit-hole home that’s outfitted like a mansion. The next few posts might be a bit out of order in terms of temporal progression; I’ve been doing a bit of travel, and things tend to get mixed up along the way. That’s a good sign. It means I’ve been having fun.

Now, it was last Friday that my parents came to visit. I’d been expecting the visit and looking forward to it, for the simple reason that I am a very, very tactile creature and there is a necessary adaptation period before you can hug your new friends without it being awkward. No such barrier exists among family; my parents have gotten many, many hugs over the last few days. It’s been very nice traveling across the U.K. with them in a car (the first time I’ve been in a car in three months, in fact), staying at places that range from a ridiculously massive and swanky hotel by the Thames in London to a tiny little inn out in Partney, Nowhere. All of the experiences have been great, especially since I’m not the one paying. Of course, not every piece of traveling with parents is ideal. After three months of setting my own schedule and not having to rely on or wait on anyone else for my plans, being just along for the ride is a bit jarring. Getting told what to do after a time of essentially making your way in life alone takes some getting used to. I imagine this is one of these things that’s more or less tolerable depending on the sort of person you are, and the sort of relationship you have with your family. I’m lucky – as long as I have a book, I don’t really mind what it is we’re up to. And the things we’ve gotten up to while traveling are well worth any small frustrating. Read More »

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Irish Everyone Would Visit Ireland

Time April 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

When choosing a place to study abroad, I didn’t look in depth. I looked for English speaking and in Europe, and when London and Ireland were my top two, I chose Ireland because of family history. Little did I know the experience I would get from being in Ireland.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland combined are about the size of Indiana!!! Shocked? I was too. But little did I know I could travel all around Ireland and love every city more than the next. Impartial, Galway is my favorite, but here are some of the great cities I visited this semester, whether for a day or weekend, each adventure was amazing. Read More »

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UK Travels

Time April 19th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

During the month of April I went to England and Northern Ireland. My first stop was London, England. I was meeting a friend who’s also studying abroad this semester; the same friend that I traveled to Amsterdam with! London is a very busy city with a lot of people in it! At times it was a little overwhelming. It was nice that the public transportation was so easy though. It was also nice that it runs 24/7! That can be something frustrating about Scotland’s public transportation. Although the public transportation was pretty intense in London, it was relatively easy to navigate! Of course I was with somebody who knew where they were but I think it would have been fine if I wasn’t. On the first night we went to a play! It was called “A Comedy about a Bank Robbery”. It was pretty funny and was about exactly what the title says! The humor was just silly and didn’t require much thought! It was nice to just relax and watch a play for pure entertainment.

The next day we went to Westminster, which is the main tourist site! It was interesting because I had been there about 11 years ago and once I walked off the tube I had this overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I was transported back to my 9 year old self. It was such a wonderful and exciting feeling! I’ve never experienced something like that before. The power of nostalgia was so strong! At this moment I captured a picture of Big Ben, which I’m really proud of! I feel like it came out so well! Read More »

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Argyll Blog

Time April 17th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

The flatmates and I eat chicken, discuss our Argyll adventure weekend experiences, and uncover the mystery of “quince.”

 

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Bonsoir and Happy Days

Time April 11th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

After a jam packed month filled with many weekends away, I concluded my March trips with a quick stop in Paris where I met up with my sister Hailey and my cousin Erin as they were passing through on their travels. Writing that sounds crazy, that we just “met up in Paris for the weekend,” because how often does that happen? Life is pretty cool.

Throughout the weekend we did the typical Parisian tourist activities; we walked through the Notre Dame, strolled down the Champs-Élysées, ate crepes and macaroons and drank good wine, and we saw the Eiffel tower. But I think my favorite part was just being with family. At night in our AirBnB we would play cards and chat just like we would any other time back at home, and after a few months away from home those moments meant so much.

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And as for the city and Parisians, they’re a lot nicer than the stereotype suggests. We shopped at a French market one morning and all of the vendors were so kind to us. The city is dirty, as they say, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. To be honest, Cardiff is a dirtier city than Paris. Regardless, I recommend spending some time in Paris if you get the chance. There is literally nothing happier than eating a banana and nutella crepe while strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens. Although as hard as it was to say “au revoir” to the city, it was even harder to say goodbye to Hailey and Erin

Another glimpse of home I got recently was a visit from Joe—something I had been counting down the days for. On Wednesday at 2 AM I left my flat for the early bus to London, where I took a second bus to Gatwick airport. After waiting the longest 30 minutes I think I’ve ever waited, I saw Joe coming out of Arrivals and we got our movie like airport reunion. Okay that may be a little dramatic but it was so nice to see him after so long. We took a bus into the city and spent the afternoon in London. Read More »

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Searching for Nature

Time April 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

One of the things I miss most about home is nature. There are plenty of wonderful parks here in Buenos Aires. They’re open with lots of places to lay down and relax or trails to bike and walk on. It’s easy to get to them and they are enjoyable, but they are city parks. The nature in them was designed and landscaped to create a perfect urban resting place. While they work great for chatting with friends or doing homework, they don’t fulfill my need to be outside enjoying nature.

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Excursion to Kilkenny

Time April 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

With the semester halfway through, I am getting less and less excited to go back home. One of those reasons? The friends I have made here. I am a mid-west girl already planning my travels to the New England area to see my friends once we’re back in the States. Luckily, IFSA Butler provided us with an excursion as part of IFSA Ireland. And although not all of the Galway Gang could make it, the group of Galway Girls were great to hang out with and get to know better. A girls weekend down in the books! Here are some of my favorite moments from the three day weekend in Kilkenny! Read More »

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Finally hit by “Everyday Life”

Time April 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Coming from a university where all students study abroad, perhaps I am not as surprised with some of the “unexpected” phases of living in another country most students go through. I was well aware that the initial few weeks of excitement eventually give way to a more patterned, less-exciting daily life. While it usually takes students about 2-3 weeks to get to this point, I think mine came in my 4th week when one day I woke up knowing exactly my weekly schedule (organized around my classes),  knowing how to get everywhere I needed to get and knowing fairly well what I needed to prepare for money-wise, food-wise and timing-wise. Of course, having more structure in my life is what I was craving the initial weeks of confusion and new experiences. I was often tired from running around the city all day, every day, getting used to speaking Spanish all the time, and adjusting to the lack of order in Argentina compared to my home of New England. It’s nice to finally be more organized and used to things and honestly, I’m perfectly fine with life slowing down a bit, at least for now. Looking back just a month ago, I am actually quite surprised how nervous I was about walking around the new city alone. Yesterday I passed a place I had passed once when I was lost and realized I was only actually 7 minutes from my house, yet I ended up taking a really long windy way home. I thought finding my way around would take maybe two months…it probably ended up taking a week and a half until I was pretty comfortable and confident getting around without a map or anyone to help. That is definitely one of my biggest accomplishments so far, given my tendency to just rely on my friends’ sense of direction everywhere I’ve gone over the years. Then again, Mendoza is organized in a very easily understood way(basically a grid in the center of town) but still it’s a start for me! Read More »

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Visita con los Mapuches (visit with the Mapuche)

Time April 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

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The Mapuche are the indigenous people of Chile and I had the incredible opportunity to spend a few days with them with my IFSA-Butler group here in Chile. We left early Thursday morning to head to Lago Budi–the largest saltwater lake in South America–where we spent two days living with a group of Mapuche people. We stayed in “rukas” the old cultural houses of the Mapuche and that evening had a discussion about Mapuche ideology and traditions as well as a demonstration of traditional Mapuche musical instruments. The next morning we went kayaking on the lake and our lovely guide Carlos told us about the history and ecology of the area. From there we traveled four hours from the coast to the border of Argentina where we stayed in Curarrehue with another group of Mapuche. We went on a hike and explored the beautiful natural environment that the South of Chile has to offer. Following this trend, on our last day we visited Concon where we went zip-lining and rafting to complete our Southern adventure.

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Debajo de tu piel vive la luna

Time April 4th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 3 Comments by

How to describe Valparaiso? Well, the golden-tongued prodigy, Pablo Neruda, lived here for most of his life and even he was at a loss for words at times so I am not sure that I can. All I can say is that I have absolutely, irrevocably fallen in love with this place and the surge of excitement that it gives me every time I look around. And how easy it must be to fall in love living by the sea, to fall in love with yourself, with others, with the electric motion of the ocean’s waves. Everything feels so galvanized, so full of sights and sounds that intoxicate the soul. Somehow, I feel infinitely more alive than I ever did in the U.S. Every part of me, every molecule, vibrates with delicious energy; every simple thought and feeling consumes me. Perhaps it is just the enormous potential for growth that living in a new place has presented, or perhaps there really is something magical about living by the sea.

Probably the only real worry that I had about coming to live here was that I would not be able to develop my Spanish well enough to make friends that wanted to spend time with me, not just in an effort to include the white girl, but because they genuinely enjoyed my company. I know this may seem like a silly thing to be worried about and I am confident in my ability to communicate in Spanish, but there is an added difficulty when it comes to expressing yourself well enough to foster relationships with people across language barriers. This requires so much more than simply translating words in your head. It requires enough depth of emotion and understanding to form memories and bonds which is hard enough to accomplish in your own language, much less someone else’s.

I was nervous that I would not be able to keep up in conversations between native speakers and that, because of this, they would feel burdened by my presence to speak slowly or simply. I was also worried that my somewhat limited vocabulary would make me seem dull or uninteresting because, as funny as I am (not) in English, it is exponentially harder to be funny in Spanish as my bad jokes and sarcasm don’t always translate well.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make friends compared to what I had built up to be in my head. At first I often became frustrated with myself when I would have trouble explaining something to one of my Chilean friends, but their graciousness and patience have taught me how to be more patient with myself. I feel very fortunate to have found such caring friends so far who also keep me from failing all of my classes.

Last weekend, some of the kids from the IFSA-Butler group and I decided to go hiking for a long weekend in a national park called Siete Tazas, about a five hour journey from Valparaiso. We camped in the park for two nights and three days and spent the entire time climbing around astonishing rock formations, jumping into exhilaratingly frigid natural pools and admiring the most breathtaking view of the stars I think I have ever seen. On the last day, one of the park rangers helped us crawl through a barbed wire fence to get to a part of the park with another chain of crystal-clear pools that is normally off limits to hikers. After finding it and jumping in, a few of us decided to swim farther down the stream where the water deepened and traveled through a massive cave-like overhang of rock. Our excitement quickly turned to fear as we swam through near pitch black waters and began to consider the potential creatures that could have been swimming along with us. Thankfully, by the time we started panicking we had reached the other end of the overhang and climbed out of the water onto the jagged rocks and into the sun.

We took a few minutes to bask in the glow of our adventurous accomplishment and, after being warmed up by the sun, we weren’t too keen on jumping into the freezing water again to swim back to our group. So we decided to try to climb over the rocks to get back through the cave instead of swimming the entire way with our unknown freshwater friends. As we were climbing over the slick rocks, half of the time on all-fours just to keep our balance, I heard my friend shriek and looked down to see that my outstretched hand was about two feet away from a massive tarantula. Yep, you heard me. A tarantula. Not behind glass at the wildlife center where they should be…on the ground. Right in front of me.

My friend’s shriek passed down the line of us like a game of telephone until it reached my friend, Colin, who screamed and then asked why we were screaming. After we had evacuated the area we pointed out the tarantula to him and I immediately started to hyperventilate as the reality of the situation set in. If there was one tarantula, then that meant the possible existence of more tarantulas. That meant that I was currently in a location where tarantulas existed in real life, outside of glass aquariums. Suddenly, the icy stream water and its mysterious inhabitants didn’t seem so unappealing. We all immediately jumped in and swam back to find our friends. When we found them a few minutes later, panting and wild with adrenaline, we eagerly told them the story of what we had done. While all of the other exchange students were equally as astonished by our bravery, the one Chilean in our group just laughed and said the tarantulas in the area were harmless and that she used to play with them as a kid. Feeling a bit deflated by her lack of appreciation for the near-death experience that we had just narrowly survived, I politely informed her that playing with tarantulas was one cultural difference that I was never going to assimilate to.

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Halfway Point

Time April 3rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

The middle of March was the halfway point of my program and my time abroad! It’s a bitter sweet moment. I think about how I’ve had such a great time here and how I’ve made such wonderful friends but, I do miss things about home.

So far I’ve experienced wonderful things in Scotland! I’m so happy that I chose the University of Stirling for so many reasons. The campus is really great and the scenery is beautiful! My favorite thing about Stirling is how the campus is removed from the city. I like that it feels secluded. The campus really is it’s own little town in a way! My home university is a commuter campus and I live at home, so being able to live on campus has been a great new experience for me. I enjoy being able to cook for myself and having freedom to have my own schedule! I’ve been able to grow in ways that I can’t describe. Having independence abroad has made me feel more like an adult. Before I left, I felt like I was in between an adult and a teenager but, coming to Scotland has made me feel like a capable adult! Read More »

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Getting Around By Bus

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | No Comments by

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I’ve never been more pleased with public transportation than I have been with the bus system in Costa Rica. Instead of a thirty minute walk to class, for fifty cents I can get there in seven. I’ve seen drivers pull over to pick up people standing with their arm out on the side of the road where there wasn’t a designated stop. I’ve been able to go to San Jose, a national forest, and a beautiful waterfall, all through this system. And when someone holding a baby, an elderly person, or a pregnant woman steps on, the handicap seats become instantly available. Not to mention the gorgeous view of the country you get to see along the ride and the support for the national soccer teams on some of the drivers’ dashboards, as pictured here.

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A Break in Uruguay

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

The weekend before classes really started everyone in the Buenos Aires program was swept away for a short vacation in Uruguay. The first few weeks had been intense, with us trying to get a grip on a new country, getting used to living 24/7 in Spanish, and working with a completely different university system. Uruguay was a chance for a break before we had to buckle down.

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Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | 1 Comment by

Spring has sprung! And Cardiff is filled with blooming daffodils that are literally everywhere. Each day that I run through Bute Park (gotta counteract all of those Welsh cakes) brings more and more of the bright yellow flowers that are sprouting up everywhere. I’m pretty convinced that by the end of the month I won’t be able to see grass anymore, just daffodils. Speaking of the end of the month, it’s March. Who would have though I’d have made it this far?

Anyways; it’s March, my hair has gotten longer, I’ve turned in three essays, I’ve learned how to make a proper meal, and I’ve gotten to season six of Gilmore Girls. And if you have any intentions of watching Gilmore Girls sans spoilers I suggest that you stop reading this now because I am about to spoil the ending of season five, and I’m deeply sorry for any pain this may cause. Rory is leaving Yale. She’s dropping out. She’s having an existential crisis, doesn’t know what she wants out of life, and is making rash decisions that will have pretty big repercussions in her life.

So you’re probably thinking, Alex, why are you writing about Gilmore Girls? Well I’ll tell you: watching her make these big, monumental decisions made me feel some sort of solidarity with her. Not that I’m dropping out of Drake, or Cardiff, or moving into my grandparents’ pool house, but I’m reaching the point in my semester where I’m questioning what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. I’ve blinked and suddenly I’m halfway done with my time here. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m realizing one distinct fact: four months is not enough time abroad.

I remember my first week here—I was so sick, which made me homesick, which made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. I remember talking to my mom about how many of my friends who went abroad for j-term were just getting home and getting ready to go back to Drake for the semester. I asked her, “Should I have just done that?” She told me no, I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t have a whole semester.

Mom, I know you’re reading this and so I’m just going to encourage you to refrain from jumping up and down with glee as I write these three words: you were right. A j-term simply wouldn’t have been enough time. It wouldn’t have given me a chance to get homesick every now and again, to struggle through the tough days where everything seems unfamiliar, and to learn how to be on my own. All of which aren’t always pleasant experiences, but what self-growth comes from easy days and familiarity? A j-term also wouldn’t have been enough time to travel everywhere I want, to see all of the sights that are on my bucket list (which seems to get longer and longer every time I go to cross something off), and to make the friendships that I’m finding myself surrounded by. I’m not even sure four months is enough for all of those things even with every weekend jam-packed with travelling like mine have been, which I will now segue into describing.

The other weekend I left my cozy room in Cardiff to head to the lovely town of Lucerne, Switzerland—a place I fell in love with completely. It was one of those places that make you say “I have to come back here someday.” It had all of my favorite things—mountains, a lake, and really great cheese. The weekend was magical for many reasons, but there are two things in particular that I will probably always think back on with a smile when I reminisce on my trip to Switz: Fasnacht and Mount Rigi.

Fasnacht taught me something about the Swiss people—they are doing something right. It’s a carnival that runs from Thursday to Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday that’s dedicated to eating, drinking, and dressing up in elaborate costumes that put my 20 years of Halloween outfits to shame. Confetti covers the streets where marching bands parade up and down playing music all throughout the night (and at 5:30 on Monday morning because apparently that’s part of the tradition too). Food trucks are everywhere with grilled sausages, raclette cheese, and warm wine. There were people of all ages, all adorned in costumes, and all seemingly having a wonderful time. It was amazing. It was filled with joy, and I consider myself to be so incredibly lucky that my one weekend in Switzerland fell over this carnival.

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But it gets better. Ever heard of the Swiss Alps? That was a joke I’m sure you have. Have you ever seen them from across a sparkling lake on a sunny day? I’m bragging now but Katie, Annelise, and I hiked up Mount Rigi and had lunch on a grassy hill with a view that can only be described as a glimpse of heaven. I’m pretty sure I heard the hallelujah chorus to Handel’s “Messiah” as I took a bite out of my prosciutto sandwich.

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My final note on Switzerland is the inspiration for this blogs title “Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM.” I’ve decided that when I’m old and rich and much less spry I am always going to get the most direct mode of transportation everywhere I go. And I say this because Katie and I left our flats at 2 AM to catch our first bus, which took us to London. After, we took a second bus to get us to the airport. We flew. We landed in Zurich, late, and had to find our way through a Swiss train station and figure out how on earth to get to Lucerne. Our trip took 15 hours. That’s all that needs to be said on that.

Another trip that took half a day (literally 12 hours on a bus) was my journey to Scotland. Riley and I left our flat at 6:30 AM and were on a bus for pretty much the rest of the day. We ate dinner that night at a place called “The Boozy Cow” and were so hungry I think we both finished our burgers in under four minutes. On Saturday we went on an all day tour through the highlands, saw loch ness (the lake not the monster), and met a few other girls who were also travelling. We went out with them that night and on a walking tour through Edinburgh with them the following day. Then it was back on a bus for 12 hours, but Scotland was beautiful and the trip was so worth it.

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In between Scotland and Switzerland was a weekend trip to Lake District, England planned by IFSA-Butler. The food was delicious, there were mountains abound, we went Ghyll Scrambling, and most of all: it was a trip that I didn’t have to plan a single thing for. I was told when and where to be places and all I had to do was show up and enjoy the weekend, which feels like paradise after a weekend of navigating a 15-hour long puzzle of transportation.

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So I’m at this point in the semester where I’m halfway through and I’m wondering what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. And here’s the answer: I don’t know what I want out of it anymore, but I’m getting something. When I first signed up to come abroad I thought it was going to be all adventures and wild stories but I’m finding it to be more of an educational experience than anything. I’m learning how to travel, how to interact with people who have had completely different upbringings than myself, and I’m learning what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve learned how to travel independently, how to cook a meal, and, thanks to my flat mate Katie, how to say the longest Welsh city, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

So you stuck with me through this odyssey of a post and another small glimpse of my time abroad. Enough realizations about life and such for now—I’m off to go eat more Welsh cakes.
Cheers,

Alex

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A week’s worth of “firsts”

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | Comments Off on A week’s worth of “firsts” by

As expected with study abroad, I knew I was going to be put into a lot of new situations and try a lot of new things. In fact, it began that way; flying here less than a month ago was my first time flying to another country without a single person I know with me. There’s been plenty of “firsts” since I arrived, but the last week and half was particularly packed with new experiences.

For our first weekend in Mendoza, IFSA took us on a weekend-long excursion to Cacheuta, a high altitude area known for its thermal springs. Prior to choosing Mendoza as my study abroad location, I was a bit nervous about this field trip in particular. When I was reading about the Mendoza program, I remember it said it was great for people who enjoy the outdoors more so than a big city. That is definitely true for me, but I like the outdoors for hiking, taking walks and taking photos; I had never tried or even considered anything as adventurous as rafting and horseback riding. Still, I went ahead and chose it.

Heading into the trip, I was still a bit nervous. First on the schedule was a hike through the mountains (something I love!) which ironically ended up being my least successful experience of the trip. While I normally hike much longer and can handle it pretty well, I was so out of shape and perhaps the high altitude was getting to me, that I had to stop and never got to the top. Still, I did get to sit in possibly one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever been – alone on a mountain with a lovely view, with only the chirps of birds to break the silence and the flitting of butterflies to distract me from an endless view of the mountains.  This lasted a lovely 40 or so minutes before some other students joined me on the way down.

After a delicious lunch, we headed to a rafting site. Since I can’t swim, I was a bit nervous but the life jackets and surprising shallowness of the river calmed any worries I had. Unfortunately, I did not want to risk getting my camera wet to take photos, but it was a great experience and was surprisingly easy to paddle and make our way down the river. Again, the views on both side of the river were lovely, further convincing me that I made the right choice by selecting a location where I could see much different landscapes than I can at home. I had a great time and would definitely do it again, given the chance.

The next day, it was time for horseback riding. This too was nothing like anything I had ever done. Lucky for me, they gave me the calmest, cutest and probably the slowest horse, named “Nino.” To my surprise, we were not riding the horses in a field or anything normal like that – we were riding them into the mountains of course!  While I did get a little scared the few times the horse started running, I enjoyed every minute! There is something majestic about riding a horse through mountains, streams and tiny waterfalls while never failing to see a beautiful view before, beside and behind you. Despite being so high up and putting my trust into another living being as it trotted, tripped a few times and distractedly walked off the path to eat once in a while, my first time riding a horse went really well and will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Argentina!

Aside from being a good program for those who love nature, Mendoza itself is world famous for its wine. Meanwhile, I actually had not even tried wine before coming here and just generally don’t drink. Nonetheless, this did not stop me for joining some of the other students in a tourist favorite around here – biking through the bodegas accompanied by wine tastings. For some reason, I thought the biking would only take place in the orchards…but actually it was bodega to bodega. Perhaps it’s somewhat normal, but biking through the streets, across streets and at one time along a highway was scary!!!! However, as with the other “firsts” I had just endured and enjoyed in the past week, I did not want to let fear of something new stop me. It was great being back on a bike after so long and I learned a lot not only about the wine industry and its history in Mendoza, but also olive and olive oil production. This was accompanied by tasting the best olive oil and olives I’ve ever had and some okay-wine (maybe it has to grow on me…). Overall, this had to be one of my favorite days in Argentina so far.

My most recent “first” was attending my first class at an Argentine university. As expected, it was pretty intimidating knowing all the other students could speak and understand Castellano fluently and without issue. Trying to focus is difficult enough in 4-hour classes in English, so it was pretty difficult in a 4-hour class in Argentina which started at 6pm at night (thanks to Siesta). I left feeling a little unsure how I would be able to manage Argentine classes, but some encouragement from a professor and some of my fellow students made me feel a little better. I am still in the process of choosing classes so hopefully by the next time I write, I will have a better idea of what exactly I am taking on this semester!

Overall, while these weeks have been fun and exciting, I have also proven to myself that it was worth not letting my doubts and worries get in the way. If I had worried too much about rafting, horseback riding, going to one of the wine capitals of the world, riding a bike through town or thought I could never handle an Argentine university class, I would have missed out on all these great experiences I’ve already had (and will hopefully have as I continue with classes). In fact, I may not have even chosen Mendoza at all over worries that now seem so small and unwarranted. I have no regrets and have already made some incredible memories in these few short weeks. I hope I will keep this in mind as I am undoubtedly faced with numerous more new situations over the next few months.

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Losing signal and finding connections

Time March 22nd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

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The rest of our travels passed in a blur of long bus rides, new experiences and adrenaline. We often went without wifi or service for days at a time and when we did have internet connection, it was not strong enough to work on my computer. Although this made it difficult to blog, it allowed me to take a step back from the comfort and personal value that I had been conditioned to place in my phone as a means to connect with the people around me. Not having access to internet reminded me that the way to truly connect with the world and with others expands far beyond a two by five-inch screen. This, it seems to me, is perhaps the most widely acknowledged yet rarely practiced idea relating to our relationship with technology today. We all make jokes about walking around like zombies with our heads bent into our phones and as soon as the laughter stops we go right back to refreshing our Instagram pages every ten minutes looking for posts and connections to people that we barely even know beyond the realm of social media. And why? Because it has become a social construct that is engrained so deeply within us that it’s difficult to truly understand it as a type of addiction until we are forced from it by one thing or the other. For me, I was amazed by how many times I would be traveling through rural Paraguay or Bolivia and I would unlock my iPhone and stare at the screen or start to open Facebook, knowing full well that I didn’t have service or internet connection. My hands moved automatically out of habit and it took a frustratingly long time to decondition myself but, once I was able to, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and simplicity in being able to enjoy each moment without distractions. Read More »

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Scheduling, Train fun, and York

Time March 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

This isn’t a process unique to traveling abroad, but it’s rather more applicable now than it is when I’m at home. University is going well; I’m enjoying two of my classes, and surviving my third, which in a pass/fail environment is just fine. I’m enjoying my free time on campus immensely, but a lot of the time I want to travel. Sometimes to London, and sometimes somewhere else. The challenge is finding the time, when weekends are often booked with closer-to-home activities. Thankfully, the trains here run like clockwork, and my schedule has an open Wednesday. Enter York: a one night, one-day trip with a loooooot of train time at both ends. When your weekends are for travel and manuscript editing, creativity, booking in advance, and bringing a good book for the train are your best friends.

York is only about four hour’s travel from Norwich by train. Not awful, but not great either. I picked it because I wanted to meet my friend Conor, who’s currently studying at St. Andrews up in Scotland, somewhere roughly halfway between us. York was the answer we came up, more than slightly influenced by the absolutely gorgeous architecture and historic sites the city is known for. I booked the train tickets and the student hostel we spent the night at a couple weeks in advance to save money, and so the journey was set. We both left Tuesday afternoon, and arrived just in time for a late dinner in the city. We were tempted to stop at the Pizza Express that had taken residence in the fanciest building I’d seen thus far, complete with marble pillars outside and everything. Seriously. I guess that’s what happens when all the buildings in the city center are centuries old: you get to have fun with the space you rent. We spent the following day hitting all the sites York is famous for: York Minster, the cathedral with some of the most stunning stained glass I’ve ever seen and a climb to the top of the tower that almost killed me, Clifford’s Tower (famous for less pleasant reasons, but still a very pretty standing ruin on a hill covered in daffodils), the York Castle Museum, the old Roman bathhouse ruins preserved under a local pub, and of course the walls that still surround the city center. Walking around the city from atop centuries-old walls was probably the best way to start the day that I could have imagined.

And then it was over. We had a great time, and got on our respective trains and back to our respective universities a little after ten o’clock. I don’t know how eager I would’ve been for the trip if I hadn’t spent so much time planning it out in advance, so let me just make that very clear: planning ahead is your friend, especially when you need to get creative about not missing class. Studying abroad has it in two words, and you can’t forsake one entirely for the other. So spend that extra hour making sure everything is good to go a week before it happens, and see if you can’t squeeze in that visit to a centuries-old cathedral between classes.

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Universidad Nacional Vibe: Plants

Time March 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Here are some pictures taken from one of the buildings that I have Spanish class in at the Universidad Nacional. There are other buildings on campus with a similar design. It may be the Environmental Studies major in me, but I love it! So much beautiful greenery from the moment you enter provides such a warm and inviting learning environment. People are always sitting at the tables in the middle eating lunch, working on homework/group projects, or just hanging out. I was speaking with a Tico (Costa Rican) about this today and he told me that it is very common to have this type of design in the universities here. United States, take note!

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The Hidden Riches of Galway

Time March 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

Galway: a quaint city on the west coast of Ireland. This harbor city is home of shops, traditional Irish music and pubs, National University of Ireland, and Ed Sheeran’s new song Galway Girl! But what Wikipedia can’t tell you about Galway are the hidden riches and the beautiful secrets — the reasons why I love every minute of my semester here. Read More »

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Adventure in the Argyll Forest with IFSA Scotland

Time March 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Our first big excursion organized by IFSA was to the Argyll Forest, one of the oldest national parks in Scotland. We left on a Friday afternoon by taking a private bus into the highlands, including a ferry ride over the Holy Loch from the town of Gourock to Dunoon, our destination. According to our driver, we were accompanied by dolphins on the ferry ride back, but none of us could spot them.

Once arriving at our home for the weekend, the Benmore Nature Education Center, we met IFSA students from the other Scottish universities (Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Stirling) for the first time. We spent Friday night exploring the impressive nature surrounding us through an exhilarating night hike through the gardens in the pitch dark with no “torches” (flashlights) to guide us. Read More »

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