One thing I was looking forward to during study abroad aside from a new academic environment, was getting to know and even getting involved in the community. Mendoza may be a smaller city, but cultural events are not only important, but varied, frequent and often free or of little charge. Several areas in the city are known for screening movies weekly, often for free. You can find older and modern movies and movies from Argentina, the US and many other countries (of course with subtitles). Live plays happen all the time too so if you’re Spanish is good enough to follow them (mine is not) they are also a cool thing to check out. There are not only formal concerts like celebrations of classic rock and Argentina’s take on jazz and the blues as well as classical music events, but you can often happen upon informal mini concerts in the parks and plazas. Some even involve dancing. Personally, I really enjoy going to events that involve dancing. Not boliche-type dancing (I can’t dance at all) that happens late into the night at clubs, a young person’s typical pastime here, but actually watching the small dancing events put together by the city or other groups. Sure you’ll see much more tango in Buenos Aires, even in the streets, but I have been lucky enough to attend events involving the tango, mamba, samba, milonga and baile folklorico (which is more traditional). They all have different histories, dress and meanings and derive from around South America, but I can saying that I’ve been impressed by all that I’ve seen. Last week there was even an event in the one of the largest theatres in the city where you could watch a world famous traveling dance troupe. Tickets were only about $3.50 USD plus a donation of milk powder to the local food bank. Of course I was too late and the tickets sold out, but this just speaks to one of the great opportunities I’ve seen in the past few days. There’s a lot to discover if you look for it and luckily IFSA sends you updates of upcoming events too! As much as I like to watch dancing, I refuse to actually learn it it seems. However, if you are interested, not only can you take dancing classes at a local institute and possibly get some credits for it, depending on your university, but there are free dancing classes at the park too (as well as low-cost painting, photography, and other skill classes). Mendoza is a city that truly celebrates culture and has a wealth of events for those interested!
Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler
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.
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 »
I am a singer. I’ve been singing my entire life and I consider it to be a major part of my identity. However, in the context of school, I am a science major. Back home, I am a member of an a cappella group and I participate in student-run theater. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get involved in music while abroad, but–luckily–I was wrong. All semester, I’ve been involved in a paper called “Musical Theater Voice.” Class each week involves taking voice lessons, choosing songs, and singing them. My final examination is a concert, in which I will perform four songs (yes, THIS IS FOR CREDIT). The paper also involves a weekly GROUP class, in which a large group of us learn, sing, and (sometimes) dance to full-cast numbers from musicals.
I think this paper has been very enriching for me, both as a course and as a cultural immersion. I am the only international student in the group, and it’s been so special for me to intimately get to know a group of kiwi students. I feel as though the American abroad experience can be somewhat limiting in who you get to know, as international students tend to mainly interact with each other. This course has made it possible for me to truly befriend a group of Kiwi students and they are absolutely wonderful.Fiora (left), Sam (right), and me before our lunchtime concert
We had a performance a week ago, in which we performed a handful of group and solo numbers. My small group performed a song called “A New World.” The six of us had worked on our harmonies and blending for weeks prior to the concert, so it sounded incredible the day of. The large group numbers came together nicely–practically everyone remembered the choreography! I could feel the support of the group around me, and it filled me with warmth. It just proves that music can bring anyone together, no matter where you come from.The final pose from “I Got You,” one of the major group numbers
After the concert, we all met up at Eureka, a cafe/bar right next to campus. We sat and ate chips (fries) and wedges (wedges) and the most delicious brownies. The conversation centered around the weird little differences between America and New Zealand. For instance, our desserts at home are served with whipped cream or ice cream, as opposed to whipped cream or yogurt. Along with that, an “iced coffee” at home would be cold coffee with ice in it. In New Zealand, it is a blended drink made up of coffee, ice cream, whipped cream, etc. No wonder it costs so much more!!The most delicious brownie ever (and yogurt) at Eureka
If I appreciate anything from this experience, it will be the people I’ve met and the things they have taught me. Living in another country is only half the battle–to really immerse yourself in the New Zealand lifestyle, you must befriend the people.
Homesickness has surprisingly been a nonissue. I think this is mainly because Argentine society isn’t drastically different from any Western society, so I haven’t really experienced a strong culture shock. Aside from being in a city, my daily life has become more structured, similar to if I was back at Bates, with less time to think about home. Plus with social media, I’m easily able to keep up with friends, and with my parents every Sunday through Skype. Occasionally though, there are cracks in my contentment; like once when I was entering my Subte station, I was startled to hear a familiar sound from the Sony store nearby:
“But you don’t wanna be high like me, never really knowing why like me, you don’t ever wanna step off that rollercoaster, all alone…”
For me, music has always been a kind of diary, with certain songs able to bring back memories from a particular time. So hearing that Mike Posner song immediately triggered flashbacks to the months before I left for Argentina; back to dorm room parties, the radio show my friend and I had last semester, and other people back at Bates, making me feel a tinge of sadness. Read More »
Geez, I’ve certainly been traveling up a storm recently! When we last left off, I had just returned from the Argentine Patagonia (check my story out HERE), and I barely had time to catch my breath in Buenos Aires before gearing up for my next trip, which was to the city of Salta in the extreme Northwest tip of Argentina. My friends and I scored a sweet deal on the travel and accommodations with the same travel agency that took us to Calafate, and after kissing my host family goodbye (it seems as though I had just said hello to them), I was on a plane to the high-altitude deserts and rugged Andes Mountains of the north.
Before I had left, my host Dad took me aside and advised me that Salta was famous (food-wise) for its empanadas, tamales, and wine; and he urged me to try all three. So, after landing, dropping our stuff off at the hostel (and saying hi to the kitten that lived there), we set off in search of delicious and authentic Salteñan food and drink. Our trusty Lonely Planet app steered us towards a restaurant called Doña Salta, which, while kitschy (the waiters dressed up like Gauchos), had extraordinary food and wine. I sampled the empanadas (which are more like empanaditas; they’re pretty small in the Salteñan style) with delicious dried meat only found in Salta, and enjoyed my first bites in a long time of tamales (yum!). I also had Locro, which is a lamb stew popular in the Northern regions of Argentina. The food was all rich and hearty, which proved to be a theme for all the food that we ate that weekend. It seemed appropriate for chilly and mountainous region in which we found ourselves, and my tummy certainly didn’t mind. We told ourselves we would crash early that night since we had a tour planned at 7 the next morning, but since we are silly college students who were stoked to be in a new city, we naturally didn’t sleep much that night (note: this is a very consistent theme for this trip, and I probably averaged only four hours of sleep a night #restandrelaxation?).
The next morning found us excited if a little exhausted, and we had barely shook the sleep from our groggy eyes before we had hopped onto a combi (a giant van-type vehicle for carrying larger groups of people) and began our photo adventure to Cafayate, which is a wine town tucked into the nape of the Andes. We had a van photo/food/informational tour planned for each day, and each tour that we took had a different mood depending on who our fellow riders were. Today, the mood was ENERGY. We were with a crew of middle-aged women from Mar del Plata (shoutout to the first city that I ever traveled to in BsAs) who liked to have fun! That day was the birthday of one of their members (Ramira), and I lost track of how many times we sang “Cumpleaños Felíz” during that drive. We also saw amazing vistas, drank yummy pink wine, enjoyed some llama empanadas, and I bought an alpaca sweater. The women were wonderful company, they were tickled pink that we were American but spoke comfortable Spanish. We ended that day with quick stroll into a canyon for our last photo stop, and while we were there a ukelele player took full advantage of the acoustics of the canyon with a few tunes, which inspired our new friends to dance wildly and sing along. Then, the ladies from the sea gathered us all into a circle and we prayed for Paz Mundial. #blessed. What an amazing day.
Day two (Saturday), however, was the one we were all waiting for, the (longggg) day trip to the Salt Flats of Jujuy. After staying up way too late the night before (again) with our new friends from the hostel, we crowded into a new van with a new crew and hit the road for the Salt Flats. If yesterday’s theme was energy, then today’s was absolutely adversity. The day started auspiciously enough; we met some cool new friends who were staying in Tucumán and took some enthusiastic photos with us next to the Train to the Sky. However, after one of our first photo stops, our guide couldn’t get the car in gear (basically every vehicle is stick-shift here), and he turned to us and explained that without the ability to shift gears, our car wouldn’t be able to drive. We had no radio, no cell service, and no idea what to do. Our guide, fortunately, happened to be a mechanic, but after taking apart the whole front panel of the The mood of the group rapidly began to sour until another combi trundled along and we were able to flag it down. After about an hour (from when the car broke down to the end of the tinkering), our driver had jury-rigged the gearbox cables together with a piece of wire from the toolkit that the other combi had. And that jury-rigged system lasted the ENTIRE 12 hour day, including some really rough driving. Color me impressed. But broken-down autos aside, that Saturday was also obscenely windy, and the towns that we visited were all out in the open and duuusty. By the time we finally pulled up to the salt flats, most of us were tired and ready for the attraction that we had traveled so long (about a 5.5 hour drive thus far) to reach. However, the flats were absolutely worth it. We braved the wind and took a ton of goofy photos, and afterwards we hopped in the car and passed around some mate. Between the excitement of the salt flat and the mateína, the mood and morale definitely improved. Still, we were a ways away from Salta when we were at the Salinas, and it was a long haul back home. When we finally made it back to our lodgings, darkness had long since fallen, and hostel food had never tasted so good.
Finally, for our last day, our van tour promised us a trip to Cachi, which is another tiny mountain town that is known for both its goat and having spawned a former Argentine president. To get there, we drove up a winding mountain road that offered spectacular views of a cloud-cloaked Salta. The were cacti everywhere, and between the hardy desert plants and the color of the soil, I felt like I was in Tucson, Arizona (a town I know and love). On the drive up, our affable (my personal favorite) guide introduced us to the mountain tradition of coqueando, which means the process of chewing coca leaves. While each leaf contains a minute amount of cocaína (yes, the stuff in cocaine, but it’s more like caffeine than anything else in the leaf form), our guide assured us that people chewed these leaves the “help with the digestion”, before opening his mouth and cramming about 500 leaves into it. Oh well. However, our guide also asked if anyone in the car (which was populated today by a bunch of retired Argentines. We, like every other day in Salta, were the only Americans in the car) if they wanted to perform music with him at the restaurant in Cachi. Someone volunteered me (granted, I would have volunteered myself if given the chance), and before I knew up I was perched in front of a crowd of elderly Argentines singing Creedence Clearwater Revival (I forgot a verse but just made up the words in English and they were none the wiser). I also ate goat for the first time. Fantastic day.
And then, a god-awfully early morning flight later, I was back in Buenos Aires with some fantastic memories (and a lot of homework that needed doing) under my belt. Once again, I felt incredibly lucky to travel, and I had spent the weekend with some of my favorite gringos that I have met during this program. Plus, we were all photogenic and avid photographers, so between the 6 of us we probably took about 1000 photos. I assure you that I made sizable cuts to get to the 88 photos that I’m posted here. What a fantastic weekend.
Now, I’m in Buenos Aires and World Cup fever is in full swing. I’m writing this while watching Colombia beat Greece and doing my best to balance academics with soccer (soccer might be winning). It’s hitting me a little harder each day that I only have 3 weeks left in this fantastic country. Definitely not ready to leave. Not yet. I no doubt will write some overwrought and unnecessarily verbose reflection when I end my days here, but until then, I’ve still got some more adventures. Mendoza this weekend! See you on the other side! Dale, vamos!
Hi all, and pardon the tardiness of this post. I just couldn’t be bothered to write a blog last Friday, and then I felt guilty about it so hashed one out over the weekend, but I didn’t want to post it until the next week, so I could at least stay somewhat consistent with my schedule. Anyway, I miss you all, thanks for reading, blah blah blah, etc.
Where we last left off, I was just about to head to El Calafate, which is a tiny, quirky little tourist town in the Patagonia region of Southern Argentina. I was only there for a few days, and it was one of the shortest out-of-town trips that I had taken while in Argentina. However, it was probably my favorite. Patagonia is a landscape unlike any I had ever seen before in my life. It defies description: it is both a high-altitude steppe, a glacial valley, a striking mountain range. As Walt Whitman might say, “It contains multitudes.” It is stillness, it is chaos, it is majesty. As I flew in, I was glued to the plane window with my new Mexican friend/flightmate, unable to take my eyes off the colors, the contours, the vastness. There’s a reason why people creating unceasing poetry, music, and art about this place. There’s a reason it has inspired countless hikes, adventures, and an internationally famous clothing brand. Patagonia isn’t really like anywhere else. It is an untainted, unpretentious place. It doesn’t need to be told how striking it is. Patagonia is a kind of beauty that deserves to remain unbothered.
So, naturally, I came barging in, dragging with me a crew of international students (Americans, Germans, Mexicans, Italians, and a Spanish girl). Like everything beautiful and perfect left in the world, the tourists flock there. El Calafate, despite receiving a pretty hefty crowd of people each yeah, manages to still seem undisturbed and tranquil. And boy, was that a blessing after Buenos Aires. Now don’t get me wrong, I still adore my beloved BsAs, but after so much time spent in a city this semester, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to get away from the bustle. When I stepped off the plane on the Patagonia runway, the air was clean, crisp, and quiet. Buenos Aires isn’t a terribly smoggy city, but I forgotten how lovely cool mountain air was, especially after so much time spent in smoke-choked alleyways. It reminded me of home, of my mountains, of my favorites places in Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington.
Just that in itself would’ve made my trip down South Worth it, but the fun hadn’t even begun yet. Our hodgepodge crew of international students and our travel agents checked into our hostel around 3 in the afternoon, and then we spent the rest of the day exploring before our big glacial hike the next day. Some IFSA friends and I went down to the nature reserve (which had been recommended heartily by my folks), and we spent the afternoon wandering around the beautiful and well-kept reserve. We snapped photos, bird-watched, got spooked by some wild horses, and skipped stones on the glassy face of Lake Argentino. For a landscape oft-soured by contentious weather, our still and peaceful afternoon was a cool massage from the chaos of Buenos Aires. Later, we dined on Patagonian Cordero and some spectacular Malbec, and after dinner some friends and I wandered around the streets of the town and looked at the stars. As Crosby, Stills & Nash would have us remember, “When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand why you know came this way.” After so much light pollution in Buenos Aires, the Southern sky was particularly spectacular. However, we had a massive and exciting day planned for the following day, so crashed early in preparation for that.
The next day was simply spectacular. I really don’t even feel as though words can describe it. Or pictures, for that matter; and even though I’m including some of my favorites for y’all to get a glimpse of what I saw, I don’t really know if I can adequately express what made my day in El Parque Nacional de los Glaciares such a magical experience. Perhaps it was the hoarfrost that lay just so on the trees, rocks, and grasses that zipped past us on our bus ride into the park. Perhaps it was the event staff playing “Thus Spake Zarathustra” as we first glimpsed Perito Moreno, the 3rd-largest and fastest-growing glacier in the world. Maybe it was colorful scars in the mountain that the glacier had carved out during its recession post-Ice Age, or perhaps it was the blueness of the massive wall of ice that loomed out between the peaks and the forest. From the wind-kissed boat ride to the crampon-laden glacial hike to the Andean condors that kept us company to the whiskey with glacier ice, it was the kinda day that I hope to remember forever. I felt grateful, alive, vigorous. To anyone reading this that was involved, in any part, in getting me to Argentina, to Patagonia, to this glacier, I thank you so deeply.
And now, I’m back in the city. Have been for a little while actually. It’s honestly grown on me so much, and each day I’m here I feel exponentially more comfortable. My Castellano is improving so much, I spend more quality time with my host family every day, I’m meeting cool and new Argentine friends, and it seems like every time I leave the house I run into a new and fun experience. From watching the final of the Champions league in a crazy pub in San Telmo to discussing the finer points of Argentine modernist cinema over a cup of coffee, this place keeps both my intellect and my enthusiasm sated. Yes, school is amping up as all my friends gallivant into summer vacation, and I was super bummed to miss my friends graduate, but I’m happy here. I love it here. And I don’t wanna go back, at least not yet.
One thing I’ll recommend to anyone going to a new place to live for a time is to go to a church. Even if you’re not religious, I can guarantee you that you’ll find at least one new friend! And some instant coffee and homemade cookies And maybe you’ll find something more, too.
Besides the amazing family I’ve found at my church here, I found a free organ concert thanks to my friend, Shane! We took a break from studying for midterms a few weeks back to go check it out. It was part of Sydney Town Hall’s FREE lunchtime concert series. Inside the town hall is a magnificent pipe organ, whose sound reverberated through the benches and made us FEEL the music the organist was playing. It was incredible!
The concert was performed by just one organist – Robert Ampt. You can read a little bit more about him here, but I can sum it up pretty quick: he is a darn good organist. It was a very dramatic set up as well – there were lots of large steps surrounding the organ bench, where you could imagine a large choir standing, but of course there was no choir. So it was just a giant decorated organ towering over a single man, who was certainly getting his work-out for the day with all the keys he had to simultaneously press with his fingers and feet and different switches he’d flip up and down. It was really impressive to watch (and obviously really impressive to listen to).
The program included six different pieces, two of which had multiple movements. That made for about an hour long concert, which was a perfect break from studying. My favorite one was the second movement of a piece that Ampt composed himself, called O Sacred Head, Dance – Moto Perpetuoso. It was probably the happiest sounding song I’ve ever hear played on an organ. Of course all the minor key eerie stuff was awesome as well
Sitting in the town hall was like being transported back in time, taking a break from the present. That organ was constructed in 1890! When we emerged from the town hall out into the sunlight and crowded streets, it was a surprise to see iPhones and cars instead of hats and horses. But, for that hour, it was very refreshing to take a break from the present. Although in that world I wouldn’t have been able to type this up and send it out for you all to read! So I had to come back
Your turn to dive into history! Just come back to tell us about it! We could all use a little inspiration
Hola hola a todos, y gracias para leyendo. Welcome to part two of this week’s Megapost (check HERE for part one), and I look forward to expounding more on this week’s adventures. When I last left you, we had just finished a lovely adventure through the streets of Buenos Aires for St. Patrick’s day. I had been in Buenos Aires for about 3 weeks, and have absolutely fallen for the place. I love speaking Spanish, and I can feel my confidence with the language growing. I love the city, and how there is always something to do and good people to do it with. I love the people, and the kindness they show to strangers. And I have been blessed with some pretty excellent experiences in Argentina so far; I’ve been to oceans, rivers, and some of the most spectacular places that Buenos Aires has to offer.
But, like all things, the utter revelry that I’ve been experiencing for here has come to an end, and in the words of Sam Cooke, A Change Is Gonna Come. School has officially started! Last week, I had my first classes at the Fundacion Universidad del Cine (lovingly dubbed the FUC (pronounced “Fook”)), and I am welcome this next step into life in Buenos Aires. The FUC is a small school; only about 1,000 students (including grad students) attend, and it only occupies 4 buildings on a street in San Telmo. I almost walked past it the on my first day of class. I dig the small school vibe, though. It reminds me of Whitman in the sense that you have the opportunity to make really meaningful connections with your professors, and I’m definitely to take advantage of that here. Out of the four classes that I’m taking (History of Argentine Cinema, Advanced Castellano, Filmmaking and Production, and Sound Design and Orchestration), three of them have only 3 students. I’m in heaven.
Now, some of y’all who know me might be thinking, “But hold up Dylan. You’re a physics major. You like math and natural science and computer science. Why on earth are you taking an about-face into the realm of Film Studies? Do you even know what that major is?” The short answer is: I have no real idea what I’m doing. But that’s kinda the point. I didn’t come to Argentina to keep doing what I’m used to, I came here seeking change, and that’s hopefully what I’m about to experience. I’m fortunate enough to not have to fulfill any major requirements for Whitman while I’m in Buenos Aires, and so the only thing I need to knock out while I’m here are classes in the humanities realm. Not only do Film Studies classes do that for me, but they’re fun! My professors are awesome and knowledgable and super cool (my filmmaking Prof has already invited me to play tennis and go climbing with him), and I’m sure that I’m gonna learn a bunch. Plus, now I get to hang out with artsy film kids who dress cooler than me and have educated opinions on the meaning of life. And my school has really hip decor. This is gonna be awesome. [Gallery not found]
And as if it wasn’t enough to have started school such an awesome program (the film studies concentration people here have already taken me out to 2 different meals as part of the “orientation”), IFSA upped the game by taking all the students in the film/literature concentrations (the “Artsy” kids) to an extraordinary concert by the Orquestra Típica Fernández Fierro (Heretofore referred as the “OTFF”, because I don’t wanna type that out every time). It was so so so fun. The show was in this dive bar in this little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that opened into a soundstage. The program paid for the tickets AND our food and drinks, so I split an excellent bottle of wine with some of my new UW-Madison friends and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Now, it’s really tough to describe a show by the OTFF, but I’ll do my best (check out the video I linked to really understand). Essentially, this group plays traditional Argentine tango music, but all the musicians are young and cool and play with unbelievable passion and energy. It’s like “Apocalyptica” meets tango. I was in a wonderful musical trance the whole time, and while I watched I reflected on how lucky I was to have had the opportunity to experience so many cool things in such a short amount of time here.
BUT THE FUN DOESN’T STOP THERE OH NO. I finished classes for the week on Thursday (woo I have a four-day weekend every week woo), so naturally some good, clean fun was in order. The weekend before, I had met a few other international students from Mexico, and they had mentioned that they live in an apartment near Recoleta and that I should come over sometime. Well, that “sometime” was this weekend, apparently, as my dear friend Stephanie (yes, this is your shoutout Be stoked) invited myself and some other pals over to this new friend’s apartment for some good old-fashioned shenanigans. As this is a public blog viewed by both my Grandmothers, I won’t entail precisely what went down, but what I did love about that night was how fun it was to be hanging out with other international students (Mexico, USA, Paraguay) all the while speaking Spanish and swapping stories. And I was in Argentina! And it was 5 AM on a Thursday night (Friday morning?) How cultured can I guy get!? (Well, much more, I’m sure, but I felt pretty darn awesome.)
So now, here I am, the the cusp of another weekend in which I am headed to Uruguay with the whole program (and you can be sure that I’m gonna write about that in a future post), and I’m feeling happy and full of life. This place is incredible, and while I’m starting to feel the vague hints of cultural separation from the US (mainly I’m just tired of people looking down my nose at me once they realize I’m from the states. My Spanish is good, okay!), I’m too busy enjoying life here to mind. Buenos Aires, stay magical. And to everyone reading this, thanks for making it this far. We’ll stay in touch. ALSO, be sure to check out part one of my Megapost here.
Nov. 15, 2013
Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane to Miami, and from there, to Newark, N.J.
And that’s that. That will be the end of my 4-month life in Costa Rica. No more Spanish, no more amazing mountains, jungles and beaches, no more delicious tico food.
No more hometown. No more host family.
No more study abroad.
It’s all a memory. And I’m OK with that.
“Never say Goodbye, because Goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting…” – J.M. Barrie
Well this is it.
And I feel completely unprepared for it.
I feel like there are so many things I didn’t get to see or do or enjoy enough. But then I also think even if I were here for a few years it wouldn’t be enough time. But 4 months is definitely not enough time; that I know.
I don’t think I can adequately express how much I have loved the past 4 months of my life. All of the amazing people that I have met and who I know will be my friends for the rest of my life. All of the breathtaking sites I have seen. Every note of music I’ve heard. Every interesting taste or smell that I know I won’t find at home. Even little things like just walking through town or experiencing the disorganization of a Ryanair flight. Hearing different types of Irish accents around me at any given time, or hearing people speak Irish at the Tesco down the road. Digestive biscuits, fresh doughnuts (emphasis on the dough), mulled wine, pints of Guinness, street performers, the Citylink bus to Dublin I took more times than I care to admit, crappy instant coffee, the 20 minute walk into town, all of the construction on campus, tiny showers/toilets, paying for public toilets, train rides through foreign countries, getting lost in foreign cities and discovering beautiful gardens and buildings. I’ll miss it all.
Yea, some of those don’t sound so great and I’ll probably miss some things more than others, but with the ever-growing-closer date of departure looming a mere day ahead of me, I feel nostalgic for it all already. I went Christmas shopping today on Shop Street and looking at all of the Christmas decorations, which in DC makes me a little homesick for my family, made me incredibly sad to think that I wouldn’t be spending Christmas here, in Galway, in Ireland, in Europe.
I am, of course, beyond happy when I think of seeing my family, my friends, my house, my own room, my dog. I will soon be able to go to the grocery store and recognize every brand, I will spend money without doing conversions in my head all of the time, I will drive a car, I won’t have to walk to the store, I will eat some of my favorite foods and get delicious home cooked meals. I will celebrate Christmas with my loved ones, as well as my 21st birthday and New Year’s. Even with all of that though, and even with one last daunting final to complete, I really, really, REALLY don’t want to leave what has come to be my home, Galway.
Over four months ago, when a bunch of us (abroad students) met in Sydney during the IFSA-Butler orientation, one of my (now) friends (Andrew) mentioned that Mumford & Sons was touring Australia and he wanted to see them. The second I heard that, I wanted to see them as well (I could not believe that one of my favorite bands was touring right in Australia while I was abroad). Conveniently, they had stopovers in both the town my college was in and the town his college was in. Needless to say, a month later, my two roommates and I decided to road trip it from Cairns to Townsville in October to meet up with a few of our orientation friends and see Mumford & Sons. And, before we knew it, the weekend finally came!
We left on a Saturday morning to pick up our rental car in Cairns. It was a cozy little car- perfect for our first road trip! My one roommate Anna told us she would drive (it was on her bucket list of things to do in Australia). The idea of driving semi terrified me, but I was also nervous to actually ride in a car with someone who had only driven in the US before. But everything went super smoothly! The road to Townsville wasn’t bad (except for the numerous stops we had to make due to highway construction). But there were gorgeous sites, cute little towns, and even some really cool fruit stands along the way (with GIANT avocados)! The road trip was the perfect excuse to get away and enjoy pleasures as simple as riding in a car with the windows down, blasting music, and spending invaluable time with friends.
We arrived in Townsville early Saturday evening. Townsville was a lot different than I expected. It’s a huge army base, but for some reason I still expected it to have a small town feel to it. I was completely wrong. It was HUGE! There were malls and buildings everywhere (although a number of the smaller shops were closed down/ abandoned). It was still very charming! However, the James Cook University at Townsville was A LOT different than the James Cook University in Cairns. The entire university was made up of a bunch of different schools (based on majors), and was completely and entirely different than James Cook University in Cairns. There were a variety of living situations (single rooms in suites, single rooms in dorms, shared rooms, etc.), campus was a bit more tricky to navigate and large (making it a long walk to go just about anywhere), the food was better (more variety was offered), it was not within any walking or biking distance of a beach (although a river was nearby to swim in), and there was definitely more of a university life (in terms of having a club on campus, more sports teams, etc.). JCU at Cairns is much smaller, way more remote, and does not have a large campus life. But, after visiting JCU in Townsville, I can honestly say that I made the right decision for myself to come to JCU in Cairns. I love smaller schools, the proximity to a lot of beaches, and I wouldn’t trade the close-knit family I have made at the Cairns Student Lodge for anything else.
On our first day in Townsville, we went into town and saw the strand. This is the main beach in Townsville, and has a lot of community life surrounding it. We participated in a full-moon drum circle, got some amazing Indian food and gelato, then took a drive up to see some of the planned burning that was going on in the mountains. We even spotted a kangaroo among the flames- which is very rare to see! And, they are A LOT larger than I expected to be in the wild. The next day was pretty relaxing as well- we celebrated a friend of a friend’s birthday by tubing on the river and then by eating a wonderful homemade dinner.
Then it was Monday- Mumford and Sons concert time! We had be anticipating this concert for MONTHS and it was finally here! During the afternoon, we drove up to Castle Hill- which was INCREDIBLE! We hiked five tracks at the top, and we could see panoramic views of Townsville. It was a gorgeous day and we got some really amazing pictures. I am going to miss this bright blue Australian sky and beating sun like nothing else when I have to go home for the winter!
That evening, we headed into the convention center for the concert an hour before it was supposed to start. We were getting a little nervous, since we were expecting massive crowds and a ton of traffic (just like the US). However, we arrived there, and literally got a parking spot five steps away from the convention center. People were lounging around and having picnics on the grass- you wouldn’t even be able to tell that Mumford & Sons were about to perform in an hour. However, literally five minutes before the concert, people suddenly poured in. The general admission and seating areas were PACKED. The concert was INCREDIBLE (Mumford & Sons sounded so much better live than on their cd). We were all awe struck when we left- it was SO good! I am so grateful that I was able to see one of my favorite bands perform live while I was abroad- it was completely surreal.
The next morning, we packed up to head home to Cairns. Unfortunately, we had finals to start studying for. It was weird saying goodbye to our friends, because we realized that this was actually a final goodbye in a sense. Like, we may never see these people again because we live in totally different states in the US. That’s when we started dreading the goodbyes we would have to make with our friends at the lodge in a few weeks. It is amazing how close you can become with people in such a short period of time. So, we came home to our beloved Cairns, and buried ourselves in hours upon hours of studying. My first exam is in a few days (thank goodness I only have two). But, a week from now, I will be headed home to the USA. I’m excited for everything to come, but I am nervous about all of the great things I am leaving behind. All of a sudden, I find myself searching for internships, registering for classes, looking at careers, filling out applications for positions in clubs at home- and I realize that I am going back to A LOT of work that I have temporarily been relieved of here. But, like always, I am pumped for the next step. Oh, and may I mention- I spent Halloween on the beach in 80 degree weather- I can assure you there is probably no other time in my life I will be able to do that! And, I got to dress up as a koala!
I have had the time of my life in Australia, and I feel so blessed that I was able to experience this great adventure at such a young age. I still remember as a little kid being glued to the TV during the Olympics in Sydney. That’s when I said to my Dad, “I want to go to Australia.” And that’s when he laughed and said, “Maybe when you’re older, you can take yourself there.” And I remember watching “Holiday in the Sun” with Mary Kate and Ashley and their trip to Australia. Then, when I was in 9th grade, I had a sketchbook assignment to draw my dream trip. I drew a picture of Australia. Never thought I would actually have the opportunity to come here in college. I’m only 20, and I feel like I already accomplished one of my biggest life goals. But, I know I’ll get back here some day. I have a ton of things I want to see and do that I haven’t had the opportunity to yet.
And this is where I would like to quote one of my favorite lines from the Mumford & Sons’ song “Awake My Soul:” “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” I think that statement is true with everything and anything one does in life- whether in be the relationships one has with others, the career one pursues, where one travels- when one does things one loves or has things one loves, one will invest one’s life into them. And that, in my opinion, is what makes one’s life worthwhile when one looks back on it. I have loved every moment of being abroad in Australia, and I can truly say that I have invested my whole life into this experience. And, I can wholeheartedly say that I have gotten the most out of the experience I have had while I was here. It’s invaluable and I will never forget it. It was truly life changing.
ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] – noun
1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.
2. good fortune; luck.
There has been a change of plans.
All of us, sooner or later, recognize that everything is not under our control. Some of us chalk this up to God, some to fortune or luck. But me, I give credit to Columbia University’s Office of Financial Aid.
The university reduced my grants this semester because it costs less to live in Peru. It makes sense, but I was told that while studying abroad my financial aid wouldn’t change. That students in Paris and students in Peru receive the same amount of money and are expected to get by. I’ve done what I can do, but without written proof of what I was told, I don’t have a strong case to push with the University.
All of which is to say that I will not be traveling in Colombia and Ecuador this winter.
But two weeks ago I met Claudia’s uncle, a high-ranking member of the International Labor Organization and resident of Lima. We had the cocktail-version of an intellectual conversation (the conversations a liberal arts degree most prepares one for), and it went well enough that by the end of the night my new uncle invited me to stay at his house. I’ve purchased my tickets, and I will arrive in Lima by way of Bogotá on February 17, 11 days before my program begins. Because I won’t be spending money on hotels/hostels, I should have enough to explore Lima and the surrounding areas before the program begins. ¿Cheverísimo, no?
And the news gets better. I never thought I would have the opportunity to see more of Venezuela than Caracas, but at the beginning of February I’ll be traveling with Claudia’s mother and grandparents to Maracaibo, a port city in western Venezuela. I’ve been told two things about Maracaibo: it’s hot, and they make really good cheese. So hopefully I’ll have a couple dispatches for you all from the hot cheesy port city in a few weeks.
It’s amazing the kind of things life throws at you if you’re willing to play ball. My travels, if nothing else, are teaching me to take advantage of opportunities that come my way while I’m going with the flow. I may not be doing what I planned to do, but I don’t think I could’ve planned anything this incredible anyways.
One final example: last night, I was invited to a birthday party of a friend of mine. There was no question in my mind about going – not only would we get to celebrate his birthday, but I would get to talk to new people, work on my Spanish, and hear Venezuelan music.
Forty people squeezed into the living room of an apartment. Thirty-six were musicians, including some of the most famous in Venezuela, like Aquiles Baez and the singer from a band called Mayonesa Guayanesa. Whoever didn’t have a guitar, cuatro, mandolin, cello, maracas, etc. in hand was singing along to traditional Venezuelan music, Argentine tangos, and even songs in Portuguese. The music filled the room, poured out the door, and spilled out of the window onto the street. People were laughing at the traditional contrapunteo, in which a man and a woman alternate improvising song lines directed at one another. They cried when a woman sang a love song she wrote, and they erupted in laughter again when a late arrival performed his musical stand-up routine, a multi-pronged assault on the slang of Venezuela.
Life became surreal as the significance of what I was seeing and hearing grew on me. I chuckled to myself, wondering, how did I get here? I didn’t know the answer, but I was glad to be along for the ride.
January 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Jon by
Here is a video of Jon singing. I’m sorry for the poor quality I had to reduce it pretty severely to successfully upload it. In any case he brought this guitar with him everywhere. It was lovely. Any place Jon was there could be live music. When he traveled to Greece with James Blond he brought his guitar and a change of clothes and nothing else.
After reading over my last blog post I have one clarification. I am not in Istanbul.
Sorry for the long delay between posts. We made it to Alexandria safely after a long bus ride. The city itself feels different from Cairo in several ways. Traffic doesn’t feel as bad. At night busy streets are easier to cross. Of course Egypt never really sleeps so they never are totally safe. But in the morning it takes a half hour or so to drive to school. At night it takes maybe 10 minutes. The air feels better. Cairo’s air is absolutely filthy and you can feel it in your lungs. It smells more fresh here too – especially along the coast. The architecture is subtly different. There is still trash everywhere, but less trash. There are abandoned buildings and half-complete structures everywhere too. On my way to the grocery store i walk down a busy street. To the right is a typical street front full of banks and shops and paraphernalia. To the left is a row of half finished concrete skeletons and no signs of construction work. There is still rubble in random places. Near Rahmal Station, which is the end of the line for the tram and a little shopping district, are huge piles of broken concrete slabs and debris. I hesitate to call the city beautiful. But it does have an endearingly shabby charm to it. There are certainly lovely aspects of the city. There is a beautiful park in the center of the city and nothing quite compares to staring out at the Mediterranean after midnight. On the right the city glows like thousands of little fireflies and on the left the Citadel of Quitbay stands ready against long forgotten enemies, and the waves of the med roll in from the dark abyss and crash against the shore. I can’t help but imagine what it must have looked like a thousand years ago with the Great Lighthouse standing watch and the harbor full of sails from the trade ships.
That might have been a little dramatic but for me nothing I have seen in Egypt compares to the Mediterranean at night. I could sit on the Korniche and stare off into the darkness forever.
Anyway. The dorms are typically Egyptian in that they are functionally shabby. The rooms are small. But ideally you don’t spend time in your bedroom. You’re in Egypt you should be out doing cool things! Not rotting in your room (I say this as I sip a glass of tea in my bedroom…). The international students have air conditioning, but it gave me a cold. So it’s a mixed blessing. By now it’s early October and while the days are warm the nights are wonderfully cool. So I haven’t needed my air conditioning in some time. Our sleeping arrangement is adequate. Although it varies from person to person. My mattress is fine except for the huge depression right in the middle of it from 30 years of people sitting and sleeping on it. There are wooden slats (literally just 2×4’s) providing extra support but they don’t help much. Trevor has fewer boards than I do so he’s fallen through a couple times. I’ve gotten pretty good at sleeping around the dentI. The girls have had worse luck with their beds though. So your mileage may vary. I did buy a new pillow but I almost don’t need it. I haven’t used my comforter. It’s scratchy and I’m not sure when it was last washed. But I have another blanket that smells cleaner and really that’s all I need. Trevor’s blanket was seriously funky but when he mentioned it to someone they got him a clean one.
That seems to be the case in Egypt though. People don’t notice problems until you mention that there are problems.
The bathrooms are there own breed of special. The toilets dont flush particularly well. You literally turn a valve and water runs until the waste is carried away. One of them mostly just floods (clean water, fortunately). They clean it every night but I’m not sure they use chemicals. By evening there is the distinct smell of old urine. The showers are an adventure. They all work and as long as you brought flip-flops with you they’re clean enough. But some work better than others. Some take a while to get hot. Some only blast scalding water. Some have strong spray and some are light mist. One shoots a lazer-beam of water directly down at you. But once you figure out how to adjust the temperature of the water they work just fine. In Egypt all the toilets have a biday. But I caution the adventurous traveler. We have learned that Americans and bidays do not mix and in general they cause more problems than they solve.
Part of the reason for the lack of updates was the serious problem with our internet. It worked some days and others not at all, or just barely. Then one day it was just gone. Then another day it was back – they had brought us a new repeater. So it is more stable now. Video uploads might not go as smoothly as IFSA would like, unfortunately. (I am supposed to be a video blogger). It’s taken a half hour to upload one 65mb video and I have about 20 of them.
Robert and Trevor and I live about 45 minutes from TAFL by foot. So we have to take a cab. This is how you hail a cab in Alexandria:
- Stand by the road and flag down cabs with the number of open seats you need. Occupied cabs will stop for you.
- Tell them where you want to go (Smooha, Coleyiat Adab, Mahata Raml, etc).
- Watch, vaguely irritated, as he drives off.
- Repeat steps 1-3 until someone decides to go where you want.
- Go there.
- GET OUT OF THE CAB.
- Pay the cabby how much the ride is worth.
- Walk away.
I have decided that as a non-speaker, if you know about how much it should cost to go somewhere, it is safer not to ask them how much it costs. A trip to down town should cost between 10 and 15 pounds. A trip to school and back should cost about 5. If you ask them how much you want they will likely ask you for too much. Your situation may vary and I’m sure at some point this system will cause me problems. But so far it has worked out.
The cabs are fun though. Some are rank with the smell of gasoline. Others play bumpin music. One cabby was rocking out to Lady Gaga. Some listen to Koran. Others will try to talk to you no matter how much you can’t understand them. Some are conservative drivers and others are eager to get hit by a bus. On one trip the cabby almost ran down old women on multiple occasions. Another cut off an ambulance (traffic does not get out of the way of emergency vehicles). Another cab driver was pushing his car despite the obvious fact to even mechanical idiots like myself that his transmission was one bad day away from exploding. Some are pimped out with all kinds of lights and bumper stickers and shag carpet and chrome. Others are just plain old cars. Most trips are fine. This is not as big a worry as they make it out to be.
The first video is a brief introduction to a band that played for us at orientation. To keep this post from becoming a massive wall of text I’ll start a new post with each successfully uploaded video.
Find more videos like this on Institute for Study Abroad – Butler University
Another video. This is of the band.