Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 5

I’m writing this as I sit in the Budapest airport on my way back from my last overnight trip this semester (if you go abroad to Europe, go there. It’s cheap and beautiful and there are thermal baths. #dreams), almost a week after finishing all of my finals (the last one was May 11, lol @ VC finals week). My studying time for my last two finals was interrupted by my parents visiting and my spending five days in Lago Maggiore, so it was great that these tests were informal and much more relaxed than I thought they would be. When my parents were here we went on a food tour of Bologna, which included visiting the oldest chocolate factory in Italy (or something like that—I was a little distracted eating chocolate, so didn’t listen to our tour guide that much) and eating huge bowls of tortellini, a.k.a. my natural state now. The following weekend I visited my cousin in the north and dragged her to Lago Maggiore, which is one of the three biggest lakes in Italy and very close to the Alps. Even though it was raining the whole weekend, I was still a tourist and visited the three Borromean islands, went to a rooftop bar in Stresa (the most touristy city in the area, which, thank God we didn’t stay in because I literally hate tourists so much even though I am one…this logic isn’t flawed), and bought a ton of souvenirs in the islands and the vintage market in the town we were staying in. Bologna has very little green space in the center so it was quite a welcome change to be surrounded by mountains and the lake.

View of Budapest from the Danube

View of Budapest from the Danube

Isola Superiore de' Pescatori (Fisherman's Island) in Lago Maggiore

Isola Superiore de’ Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island) in Lago Maggiore

Before seeing my family for these weekends, I was a tourist on my own by climbing the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna, going up the Apennines to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, and visiting San Marino for a day. Climbing the tower is rather controversial because there is a curse that says that whoever climbs the tower won’t graduate from the University of Bologna, but apparently going to San Luca cancels this out so I did that first. The tower is basically a thousand years old, so it was probably a miracle that I made it up there without the thing falling over or crumbling with every step I took. The view from the tower looks onto the hills, Bologna’s center, and, on a clear day, the Adriatic Sea. The view from San Luca was quite different, as it is a huge church on a hill looking over the city of Bologna reachable via the longest free-standing portico in the world. When you (finally, maybe, should’ve probably used my inhaler a couple times during that walk) get up there, the view is just of the hills and feels very far away from the city center. Somehow it didn’t make my allergies act up, but I was already pretty out of breath after climbing up a hill while being lapped by old Italian ladies who probably make this trip at least once a week.

View of Piazza Maggiore from the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna

View of Piazza Maggiore from the Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna

Santuario della Madonna di San Luca in the Bolognesi hills

Santuario della Madonna di San Luca in the Bolognesi hills

 

San Marino is also another lookout point since it’s really just a mountain (like actually a mountain—no more baby Apennines here), but it’s also an independent nation, so technically this was an international trip even though it sits on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche. Getting to San Marino was quite the process, as we had to take a train to Rimini that was delayed by 30 minutes (I love Trenitalia) and then a bus from Rimini up the mountain to the historic center. It was much more touristy than I thought, but this makes sense given that from pretty much any point looking over the edge of the mountain one can see the rest of the Apennines, the Adriatic Sea, and the entire eastern coast of Italy. There are three towers/forts in San Marino that people usually climb up for these views, but my friend and I stumbled upon yet another panoramic terrace that gave us basically the same view for free.

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La Rocca in San Marino

 

With the last week that I have in Bologna, I will be going to Florence, climbing up hills to see Napoleon’s villa, going up the tower again, and probably going to the panoramic terrace on the basilica for the fifth time. Most importantly, I will also be eating all the Bologna food that I won’t get in America so that it’s all out of my system and I can go back to being a healthy person who doesn’t only eat tortellini, ragu, and giant plates of meat and cheese. I think I’ll miss being in Italy and the more relaxed schedule here, but it is definitely time to get back to the 617. Mainly for the oysters. I know I won’t miss the extremely obvious racism and sexism or all the lactose nausea from eating cheese that is so tempting and hard to avoid here. However, I will miss the abundance of tortellini and Aperol spritzes, walking under the portici at all times but especially during the rain, people thinking that I’m Italian when I’m not speaking English, buying blood oranges for one euro per kilo and Lambrusco for four euro, and being in a city where having a giant plate of meat and cheese is a socially acceptable meal. I almost think my return home isn’t actually going to happen even though it’s less than a week away, and I feel like it will take me a long time to readjust to life in America. But, of course that’s all going to happen, and besides subconsciously using Italian words when I speak because I can’t remember the English ones or asking for spritzes in a bar and getting a blank stare back from the bartender, it’ll be like I never left. It sounds super cheesy to say this (too much #lactose if ya feel me/Has anyone even understood my jokes this entire semester?) but going abroad really was an unforgettable experience and, despite all the things I’ve missed about home and the things that annoy me about leaving in Italy, I will really miss Bologna. Mostly the tortellini.

Goodbye tortellini!

Goodbye tortellini!

 

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 5

It is with a heavy but optimistic heart that I write this, my final blog post abroad. Time certainly flies when you’re trying desperately to assimilate into a culture that is not your own, as evidenced by the last five months that are more of a blur than a memory. But that’s not to say that my stretch in Exeter has not lived up to every expectation: I’ve made new friends, learned new things, had new experiences, and explored new places. And while I regret that my period here has come to a rather abrupt end, another part of me is glad. I believe to stay any longer would somehow diminish the gravity of those moments that I do hold dear. Additionally, the seductive call of Senior Year beckons me ever homeward.

Determined, however, to go out with a bang, I had the chance to spend the last ten days traveling across the whole of Ireland. After boarding a small turboprop plane at Exeter International, I made the hour-long flight to Dublin. From there, I and my party rented a car and headed south, following the coast clockwise around the island. Moving from town to town and staying in bed-and-breakfasts along the way, we trekked from one stunning vista to the next. The rolling green hills of the south and the towering, rocky mountains and cliffs of the north were breathtaking at every leg of the journey, and we found ourselves frequently stopping on the side of the road to take yet more pictures of another stunning view.

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In terms of culture, Ireland had a heavier emphasis on tourism than I would have expected, with most towns sporting tchotchke-emporiums and knick-knack factories. But after making a good effort to avoid such pitfalls, we were able to get down to the heart of the small-town vibe and experience the true culture. A country riddled with homey pubs, inns, and more B&B’s than you could shake a stick at, there was a tangible sense of community around every corner. Despite being American, rarely did we feel out of place, and most people welcomed us with open arms. Also engaging was the widespread live music scene that graced most drinking establishments nightly. As a result, I’ve brought home with me (almost against my will) over a dozen traditional Irish folk songs that are as culturally inextricable as apple pie is to America. I will surely have at least one of them playing in my head at all times until I die.

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The facet of our journey that spoke most to my sensibilities was the cuisine. Because we visited almost exclusively port towns and cities, I was able to indulge in the freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten. Fish and chips, seafood pie, and several other fishy creations were all made with love and local ingredients. Paired with locally-brewed ales and the more-than-occasional pint of Guinness, it was enough to make any foodie jealous. And not only were our dinners to die for, but the breakfast half of B&B was never disappointing as well, with our tables being graced by full Irish breakfasts, homemade soda bread, and fresh Irish butter daily: a true gastronomic delight.

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Spending our last day in Dublin itself, we were able to take in the big-city experience, which was much different than our back-road, cow-pasture, sandy-beach wanderings of earlier. We visited Christchurch Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and the campus of Trinity College, all of which were beautiful and imposing, seemingly dropped from the skies amongst the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Greenwich Village-esque city. Poking out over the rows of restaurants and apartment buildings, one could see the high steeples of the cathedrals. Dublin Castle itself seemed to protrude from the surrounding modern architecture. Unlike the American tradition of demolition over preservation, rather than mow down historical sites for the sake of progress, the worn down structures are instead incorporated into the cityscape, resulting in an odd mixture of new and old.

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For this whole experience, I believe myself to have grown as an individual. I’ve been put so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve had to consider dual citizenship. And yet here I am: triumphant, with a slew of once-in-a-lifetime encounters under my belt. Sure, there have been days of doubt—but then again, when are there not? If my time abroad has taught me anything, it’s this: just go for it. While this may not apply to skydiving without a parachute, or robbing a bank with a herring, this trip has shown me that life is too short to be spent watching other people live it. Eat something that looks strange; go talk to that person; hop on a plane going anywhere; and most importantly: don’t forget to take lots of pictures.

Jessica Roden | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 5

I have enjoyed my time here in Copenhagen with DIS because of the structure that allows freedom to travel. Typically after two weeks of classes we have one week of break, and we have every Wednesday off for field trips. This schedule has allowed me to explore Europe and go to many more countries than I would have been able to if DIS were more traditionally structured. I visited some incredible places that will stay with me forever. The one thing I don’t like about DIS is my classes. I am taking five classes, and while most of them sounded quite interesting on paper, it turned out that none of them were. They were all both too easy and too boring. Good thing I was able to learn so much more than what was in my books.

I really enjoyed traveling with my friends, but I also had opportunities to travel by myself, which was much better than I thought it would be. I went to Budapest and Prague for a total of six days, and I took a weekend trip to Norway, both solo. These were all places that I really wanted to visit, but I couldn’t find friends who wanted to go at the same time that I was able to go. So, I went by myself. I was a little anxious about it beforehand, but I was confident in my ability to navigate and stay safe. And I ended up loving it. I appreciated the moments when I could forget about the tourist things I was supposed to be doing and instead sit and read and relax. I enjoyed listening to music and exploring a new place on my own terms. The one thing I didn’t like was eating. I ate most of my meals in outdoor markets, escaping the pressure of restaurant solidarity. But when these weren’t available, and especially for dinner, I kept walking and walking looking for a place where I could find a quick meal without being alone with a swarm of restaurant goers. I wouldn’t have been able to sustain solo traveling for a longer period of time, but I am proud that I was successfully able to do it for six days in Budapest and Prague.
A view of the Parliament building in Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion

A view of the Parliament building in Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion

The Szechenyi thermal baths of Budapest

The Szechenyi thermal baths of Budapest

The scenic streets of Prague

The scenic streets of Prague

In Norway, being by myself was even more appropriate because I was able to hike up a mountain at my own pace and witness some of the most incredible views I have ever seen. I already knew that I was a competent traveler, but going on my own really allowed me to see my own strengths and individuality, and I am proud of the person whom I’ve become.

Waiting for my fjord tour from Gudvangen to Flåm in Norway

Waiting for a fjord tour from Gudvangen to Flåm in Norway

The top of Jessica's hike in Bergen, Norway

The top of Jessica’s hike in Bergen, Norway

I do like to think that I have learned more about the world and my place in it, both from discussions with friends and in visiting many new places. I have definitely become a lot more critical of probably everything, from American politics to Danish “equality.” One thing in particular that I noticed is that, when traveling somewhere, I wanted to speak in broken English–to pretend that English wasn’t my native language–to hide my embarrassment of English hegemony, of automatically speaking English and assuming everyone will accommodate to my tongue. Everyone I encountered did speak English because I stayed in touristy areas, but I wish that I would have been forced to learn basic Dutch or Hungarian or Czech so I could learn more about the culture and the people. One Swede I met on a tour commented that in his country they speak English so readily that sojourners aren’t pressured into learning the language. It is the same with Denmark, and while I appreciate the ease to which I was able to convey myself to others, I also wish that I would have been more motivated to learn the language.
Now that my semester is almost over, I have come to the realization that I will soon never see any of these great new people, or Denmark, for a long time. I went out to the big worker’s day festival last week on one of the only sunny days this month. It was like Vassar’s Founder’s Day but with way more people, political speeches and open drinking on the grass. Having been shut up in my room to avoid the cold and rain, I appreciated so much more the glimmer of hope that the sun provided me and all the other Danes. It was a wonderful break and a great way to relax before finals, and the end of my adventure here really hit me. I have had such a wonderful time with my roommates and housemates, and I have made memories I will not soon forget. I will miss singing as loudly as possible in our kitchen to old favorite songs until our RA tells us for the fourth time to quiet down. I will miss having large dinner festivities every Thursday in our small kitchen with fifteen people, both other students and Danes, laughing our way into the night. I will miss spending time with my Social Justice LLC and having to create a political poem in twenty minutes or having to put on an impromptu performing arts piece. I will miss my roommates’ cooking, even with all the spice they add. Saying goodbye won’t be easy.
Jessica with her core course class in Berlin

Jessica with her core course class in Berlin

Jessica with her core course class in Berlin

Jessica with her core course class in Berlin

Jessica and friends in Bruges

Jessica and friends in Bruges

A typical Thursday night dinner feast

A typical Thursday night dinner feast

"The best roommates and the best people."

“The best roommates and the best people.”

I haven’t had too much time to reflect on my experiences here because I have been bouncing from place to place and now have final papers to write, but I can already tell that studying abroad in Denmark will be one of the best experiences of my life.

 

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 5

As I sit down to write this last blog post, I find myself reluctant to get started. As of a few hours ago, I have less than one week left in Paris before I hop on a plane back to the States. I’ve often felt throughout this semester that when I left I would be sad but nevertheless ready to leave, but I underestimated how quickly this semester would fly by. I feel like I just got here, but at the same time that feels so long ago because of how much has changed these past four months. My French language and communication skills have obviously improved a lot, but there are a lot of other changes that have happened that are less tangible/harder to measure. I learned how to be (mostly) self-sufficient for the first time, I encountered city life for the first time, I embraced traveling solo across Europe, and I even found the confidence to make restaurant reservations and argue my phone bill over the phone in French—two things that I would have been reluctant to do even in English before. Overall this semester has taught me how to embrace and enjoy being on my own sometimes—which is something that is difficult to do at a place like Vassar where all your friends are only a five minute or less walk across the Quad. I have a newfound confidence in myself and in my ability to navigate the constant and unexpected twists and turns of everyday life. If I can handle it in French, something tells me that I’ll be okay when everything is back in English again.

I wonder if I’ll end up back here or elsewhere abroad after I graduate. I have no idea if that’s something that I would actually want to do, but what I do know is that I could do it if I decided to. Knowing that in itself is really exciting and empowering. It’s corny to say, but the possibilities that await me in the future are pretty endless; going abroad and living in an entirely new place with a language that is not your own really makes you feel like you can take on all sorts of challenges. Maybe I feel this way because I’m leaving soon and feeling nostalgic, or maybe it’s because the sun has finally decided to make an extended appearance in Paris so there’s suddenly lots of serotonin coursing through my body and making me feel especially positive. When I’m applying for jobs next year I might start feeling differently and less confident in the opportunities that await me (I don’t even want to think about that yet), but for the moment I’m feeling pretty good about whatever my future holds.

Enough sentimental musings! I still have one week left before I need to say goodbye to Paris, and I plan on making the most of every second of it. Since my last post, I went to a rooftop bar on the Seine, frequented several museums including the Musee d’Orsay (post-Impressionism is the best) and the Musee du Quai Branly, climbed to the top of the ruins of an old chateau in Nice (in the south of France), wandered through an ancient Roman amphitheater in Lyon (also in France but not really in the south), met up with an old friend from Vassar in Berlin and went to a techno club there (which was fun but mostly terrifying. Vassar parties have nothing on Berliners, let me tell you), and have wandered through more Parisian parks than I can count now that the sun is finally out.

All of the sun in Nice, France made it easy for Nicole to feel positive, even as her semester comes to a close.

All of the sun in Nice, France made it easy for Nicole to feel positive, even as her semester comes to a close.

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 4

Of all the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, polaroid-camera-toting, fanny-pack-strapping experiences I’ve had since being in England, my most touristy encounter thus far has come only recently, when I had the chance to visit the enigmatic Stonehenge. After arriving by train to Salisbury, I waited patiently at the nearby bus stop, the crowd around me growing steadily. In my hand I held my official all-access pass for a tour of Salisbury and the surrounding area, including Stonehenge. I hoped deep down inside that the two-hour train ride would be worth it.

As the gaudily-decaled double-decker tour bus pulled to a halt in front of the eager mass, we filed on faithfully. I found a seat on the top deck, and we zipped away into the city of Salisbury, a bustling center of culture and history. As we snaked our way through the narrow streets, our guide gave to us, via the small speakers dotting the inside of the vehicle, a full rundown of the highlights of the city as we passed them. Grand arches, timeworn taverns, and historical landmarks littered the busy thoroughfares. Above us, casting long shadows the morning sun, towered the mighty steeple of Salisbury Cathedral, the tallest in Britain. Our guide informed us that we would be able to visit the massive spire later on our tour.

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Leaving the city limits behind, we made our way the ten-or-so miles to the town of Amesbury, which is the location of Stonehenge. After being dropped off at the Stonehenge visitor center I boarded another bus which drove another few miles to the actual site. There, situated in a field surrounded by unobtrusive farmland, stood the mighty stones themselves, raised over five thousand years ago. While I had been, admittedly, somewhat skeptical on the outset of my journey as to the importance of what I thought amounted to be nothing more than a few large rocks stacked on one another, I couldn’t help but be affected by the awe-inspiring nature of the monument that had drawn so many before me. Certainly raising more questions than it answered, the lithic fixture was surrounded by an air of mystery.

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Bathed in the sunlight given off by the remarkably clear weather, the stones were sublimely artistic in their simplicity, and there was something utterly cathartic about gazing on such a tangible artifact of a lost time. Poetic, however, in its juxtaposition to the unchanging nature of the stones before me, the fickle English weather had decided to end its period of leniency, and the heavens opened in force. I, and dozens of other now-soaked tourists, rushed back to the bus, and we were deposited back at the visitor center. After a regrettably mandatory stroll through the gift shop, I again boarded the double decker tour bus, and was driven back toward Salisbury.

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After disembarking in the city, I walked toward the cathedral, taking in the sights along the way. In full swing was the weekly hybrid flea/farmers market; produce and knick-knacks were replete. I dutifully restrained myself from succumbing to the siren call of several impulse buys, and after some meandering, eventually found myself at the feet of the massive church. Small steeples dotted the perimeter of the structure, but were ultimately dwarfed by the gargantuan spire stretching over four hundred feet into the air. Equally impressive were the hundreds of gargoyle-like figures carved into every inch of the pale stone exterior, each telling its own unique story. I wandered into the sanctuary, and was awed by the serenity of the scene. Still bedecked with flowers leftover from Easter, a sweet smell filled the air, and streams of dazzlingly colorful light poured through the numerous towering and intricate stained glass windows. The calmness of the scene was broken only by the soft patter of water spilling from the fountain situated near the rear of the room, and by the angelic strains of the choir which was practicing toward the front. The experience as a whole was one of total reverence.

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Leaving the sanctuary, and making my way around the building and into the cloisters, I came to a room housing a precious artifact: one of the four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta, from when it was drafted in 1215. A similar feeling overcame me in the presence of this foundational document as did when I viewed the Exeter Book several weeks ago—one of grandeur emanating from history in its purest form. Although pictures were forbidden for fear of damaging the artifact, my few minutes spent viewing it were enough to ingrain the image in my mind.

As I wrote after my afternoon spent with the Exeter Book, my time abroad has allowed me a unique opportunity: to study, to learn, and to experience culture thousands of years old in a first-hand way. Classes and courses aside, the history inherent to the very stones themselves provides a perspective all its own.

Ian Snyder | Oxford, England | Post 3

My study abroad experience has turned into much more abroad and a lot less study. I have completed my first Hilary term tutorials in genetics and immunology and am currently on my six-week break between terms.
Immediately following the completion of my tutorials, I traveled to Madrid, where I stayed with my friend Gabi Mintz ’17 and also hung out with Bian Zheng ’17. We traveled extensively around the city, went to a dance class, took a sky tour over the city and had a fancy night of drinks and food with the Madrid study abroad program.
After returning to the UK, I spent a week between London and Oxford, hanging out with Gelsey White ’19, who was visiting from the US, and Michael Woods ’17. We saw the musical Kinky Boots in London, had high afternoon tea, walked through Hyde Park, went into the Tower of London, rode the Eye and saw “A Winter’s Tale” in Shakespeare’s Globe. In Oxford, we spent time visiting many of the Harry Potter, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis monuments.
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Afterwards, I departed from the UK to meet up with other Oxford Visiting Students in Budapest, Hungary, where we stayed in an AirBnB house. We visited the Buda Castle, swam in the famous medicinal baths, walked along the Fisherman’s Bastion overlooking the city, walked by the massive Hungarian Parliament Building, and even went to the largest pinball machine museum in the world.
Budapest

Budapest

Budapest

Budapest

Budapest

Budapest

Following Budapest, we flew to Athens and went to our next AirBnB. We visited the Acropolis and the Parthenon, of course, and also the ancient Roman Agora that was excavated recently. The best part is when we took a ferry to the Greek Island of Aegina and rented mopeds and ATVs that we rode around the winding and steep roads of the island for the entire day, ending with a short dip in the Mediterranean Sea at sunset.
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Athens

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Athens

After Greece, the group flew to Rome. This was by far the biggest and most touristy city yet. We wandered the cobblestone streets and ate quality Italian food. We visited the Pantheon and went on a Basilica crawl where we visited many of the major basilicas in the city. We went to the Vatican City and spent hours gazing in awe upon the spectacular frescoes in the Vatican Museum, ending in the magnificent Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Later, we visited the Colosseum like any other tourist would. In my last night in Rome, we were walking on Via de Pigneta when I was suddenly assaulted and mugged by two guys who came up behind me. Without me even noticing, the assailants removed a special necklace from my neck and then backed off before we fought back. It was already way too late by the time I realized it was fine. This is just a cautionary tale for other students going currently abroad or considering going abroad: never get lazy and never assume you are not a target for these opportunistic thieves throughout these European cities.
Rome' Colosseum

The Colosseum Rome

After Rome, we took a train to Florence, a much smaller but equally busy city. I visited the Florence Cathedral, with its unbelievably large brick dome and frescos, and climbed to the top of it to get a view of the entire city. I went to the Ufizi Gallery, where I saw original works of art by masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael.  I also spent an evening in the Palazzo Vecchio, a 13th-century palace and town hall for Florence, which overlooks he Piazza Della Signoria and its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue and contains many magnificent works of art by Vasari.
Florence

Florence

Finally, I am now in Barcelona, where I’ve already spent a day on the beach, took a walking tour about the famous, genius or madman architect Antoni Gaudí, who built such famous works as the still incomplete Sagrada Familia, Casa Milá, and Casa Batilló. The Sagrada Familia is an especially astounding piece of organic and modern architecture. I ended the day by walking around Park Guell, which is a park with many of Gaudi’s sculptural buildings, and climbing Montjuic, which gave me a panoramic view of all of Barcelona and the surrounding areas. Can’t wait to see what adventure awaits in my final destination of Morocco! Wish me safe travels.
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 4

I have basically a month left in Bologna, which means that I’m almost at the end of classes, and I’ve even started taking some finals. The only one I’ve taken so far was for my Unibo course, which was an oral exam that counted for my whole grade. This test, as described by the professor, seemed like it was going to be pretty chill, but during the actual test the professor asked me the most random questions that were literally the opposite of what he told us to focus on in class. I wholly credit my advanced conversational Italian, my BS-ing skills, and my milking the pity vote as a dumb American as much as possible for getting an A (or rather a 30, the Italian equivalent). As one does, after this exam I got a gelato with one of my friends from the course who is taking the exam in May. She told me multiple times how much she loves my vaguely-Boston accent when I speak English and how she wishes she had it when she speaks English, so now I know what it’s like to be British or Australian basically.

The weekend before my exam, my program organized a trip to Trento, which is a small city in Northern Italy surrounded by the Dolomites and along the Adige river. After checking into our hotel where I stole all the soap, we went to Rovereto to go to a modern art museum. This was for a class offered by my program that I’m not taking, so whenever the professor was saying something about art I was studying for my exam. The following day, before returning to my studies, I went for a walk along the banks of the Adige where I mastered the downhill crabwalk to get closer to the river without falling on my ass or getting dirt on my pants. Overall a successful day.

View from the loggia of the Castello di Buonconsiglio in Trento

View from the loggia of the Castello di Buonconsiglio in Trento

Modern art sculpture from the MART museum in Rovereto

Modern art sculpture from the MART museum in Rovereto

Piazza del Duomo in Trento with the Dolomites in the background

Piazza del Duomo in Trento with the Dolomites in the background

Trento used to be part of Austria/Germany, which means that all of the food had a ton of butter and milk and is best enjoyed with a giant beer. As someone who is #lactoseintolerant, I was very happy to find that there was a street fair going on that weekend with food from all the different regions of Italy and from all over the world that I could eat without feeling nauseous. It was pretty funny when, during a lunch of traditional Trento food, my waitress was terrified that she had straight up killed me because I was eating apple strudel instead of the fruit salad she brought me (But like, come on, how am I gonna eat a bowl of honeydew over apple strudel? I’m still human.).

A happy, lactose-intolerant Shereen's hand holding mango and strawberry sorbetto in Trento

A happy, lactose-intolerant Shereen’s hand holding mango and strawberry sorbetto in Trento

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Spice vendor from the street market in Trento

 

Aside from this weekend trip, since my last post I haven’t left Bologna, mainly because of that exam. I was even here for the week off that we had for Easter, because even though Unibo is a public university, this is still Italy so the Catholics always win. My friends and I did a lazy version of an Italian Easter meal, which means that we made asparagus risotto and salad and ate a Columba, the Easter equivalent of Panettone. We also saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” keeping with the theme of embracing Italian culture. I’ve also had a chance to get to know my roommates a bit better, which has led to some new insights on Italian culture. My direct roommate is from Le Marche, the region immediately south of Emilia Romagna, and she is super nice and cute and very Italian (eats cookies and Nutella for breakfast Italian). She had her finals from fall semester up until the end of February, so the first time I hung out with her and her friends was after this when I went with her to eat all of the Sardinian food her best friend brought from home. All of her friends were really nice and welcoming and always say hello whenever I see them. However, they are slightly racist (they use terms like “the Pakistanis” and “the Chinese”), especially towards the many African immigrants that live in our building and have an extremely different cultural background. My other two roommates are from Cameroon, and they are also both really nice. One of them constantly makes cakes and huge pots of Cameroonian food, and she usually offers me some to taste when I’m in the kitchen and it’s always been very good. The Italians usually get confused by the food that the Cameroonian girls make, and they also get grossed out when they thaw their meat on the kitchen counter or leave their pots on the stove with the food still inside (but they have yet to be sick from this, so it seems ok to me).

I met some of my Cameroonian roommate’s friends on her birthday when she had people over for dinner, and, even though they were all really nice and clearly affected by the racism they’ve encountered in Italy and receptive to my experiences with it, they were all super conservative in a rather judgmental way. For example, they seemed scandalized when I told them that I wasn’t religious, and even more so when I told them I didn’t have a boyfriend because I’m tbh too strong and independent to deal with another person’s feelings and shit #girlpower #foreveralone. They were speechless when I told them that I didn’t go abroad with a boyfriend or have a boyfriend at home and that this wasn’t something that concerned me in the slightest. From what I’ve heard from my friends with immigrant roommates, most of them share these same beliefs. So while xenophobia is still definitely an issue for Italy, the country’s conservative nature is mirrored in its immigrant groups. I’m not sure what it means for the political and social progress of Italy that the younger generation of Italians continues to be xenophobic and that the immigrants are, for the most part, extremely conservative and judgmental in a country that already is so, but it has definitely given me some insight on aspects of Italian culture that I didn’t even know existed.

Alexa Jordan | London, England | Post 5

As I write this final entry, the day after my program ended,  I’m curled up on a couch in a lounge at London Heathrow Airport—my new favorite airport—trying to wrap my head around how quickly these last three months flew by. 

So let me fill you in on the happenings of my final weeks here before I talk about all my musings and feelings and lessons I’ve learned and things I wish I’d known, etc.

In my last few weeks here, I:

  • Went into full-time rehearsal mode for our final shows. My group did Troilus and Cressida. We rehearsed from 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. every day.

    Patroclus and Aeneas, the two characters Alexa played. A lover and a soldier. A Greek and a Troyan. Quick changes galore and so much fun for Alexa to explore playing these two men.

    Patroclus and Aeneas, the two characters Alexa played. A lover and a soldier. A Greek and a Troyan. Quick changes galore and so much fun for Alexa to explore playing these two men.

  • Went into tech mode for two days, which involved rehearsing from 9:30 or 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. for two days before the show Wednesday.
  • Performed our show!
  • Had tutorials with all of our teachers to talk about progress and future goals.
    Alexa's voice teacher, Stevie. "I already miss the vowel chain and all our tongue twisters. 'We'll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.'"

    Alexa’s voice teacher, Stevie. “I already miss the vowel chain and all our tongue twisters. ‘We’ll weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.'”

    Alexa with her fabulous historical dance teacher, Diana.

    Alexa with her historical dance teacher, Diana.

  • Had goodbye drinks with our head tutor, the fabulous Debbie Seymour.
  • Performed our final movement pieces. Each group chose an action movie to act out in “the box” which is a small (maybe 4 by 2?) rectangle laid out on the floor in tape. My group did Spiderman!
  • Graduated!! We got our diplomas, there were some great, moving speeches that made more than a few people cry and then we (classmates and teachers) just hung out in the common room together one last time, taking pictures and reminiscing.
    Alexa's LAMDA diploma

    Alexa’s LAMDA diploma

    Alexa and her friend Wala at the graduation party on the last day!

    Alexa and her friend Wala at the graduation party on the last day.

  • Had my last ‘tortilla’ burrito— a very important, very hard goodbye.
  • Had a party at the residence building where a lot of us stayed—Chapter Portabello! One of our teachers, Stevie, even came for a bit! It was also my friend Erin’s birthday. :)

I’ve been so excited about going home for so long—since I’ve never been away from home for this long—that I was completely blindsided by my feelings when our last day finally came around. I didn’t realize how at home I felt in London until I was walking out of my room for the last time, about to hand in my key. I’ve appreciated and loved my friends here all along, but I still didn’t realize just how how hard it would be to say “goodbye” in place of “see you tomorrow.” I didn’t realize how much I had changed throughout my time here until I started to really reflect on these last few months and all that I’ve learned and experienced.

"3 girls who I love and miss so much already. #morningtubecommuteforlife"

“3 girls who I love and miss so much already. #morningtubecommuteforlife”

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Thersites and Patroclus don’t get along in “Troilus and Cressida”, but Emma and Alexa do in real life!

So, to reiterate something I said in my first blog post—which feels like AGES ago—I’m not a sage or a saint. I hold no authority. My advice is purely subjective because everyone is different and everyone’s experiences will be different. But here are some things that really affected my experience and some last tidbits.

  • Stay grateful. Always. I started a gratitude journal on day three here, and it’s honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. (I’m definitely going to keep writing in it when I get home.) I simply write one thing I’m grateful for before I walk out the door in the morning, and one before I go to bed. It can be as big as “excited for my show!’ or as small as “I really loved that bowl of cereal this morning.” I’m dead serious. No matter how stressed out or tired or frustrated I was, I made myself write something down to remind myself that there is always, always something to be grateful for. It really lifted my mood, and has made me a much more positive person.
  • Say yes to saying yes. If you haven’t already read “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes, get yourself a copy ASAP. The very simple premise of this amazing book is that Shonda Rhimes decided to say “yes” for a year and document the life-changing experience. Yes to the things that scared her, yes to things she wouldn’t have let herself do before, and even yes to saying no. I tried to apply this approach to my semester abroad by making myself go out with my friends sometimes when I just wanted to stay in and watch Netflix. I also applied this approach by saying yes to saying no, when I really truly knew that I needed rest or just wanted some downtime or just didn’t want to do something. This one’s a little complicated, I know—but overall it’s simple. Sometimes you should push yourself to try new experiences while you’re abroad having new adventures, and sometimes you have to do exactly what YOU want to do. If everyone’s going out for Chinese food and you hate Chinese food, that might be a saying yes to saying no moment. But if someone invites you to go try some new activity—like roller disco, for example—and you just don’t know anything about and aren’t sure if you’d like it, maybe give it a try. You might just surprise yourself.
  • Take care of yourself. Drink water and tea, get sleep, use hand sanitizer, bundle up, etc. It is NOT fun being sick and missing out on things. From class to museum trips to exploring neighborhoods—just stay healthy so you’ll have the option to make the decision whether to do something or not.
  • Stay in touch, but don’t stay obsessed with your life at home. Because you’re not there, as much as you sometimes would like to be. Instead, you’re in this amazing new place with the unique opportunity to create a new little life for a couple of months. It’s okay to get homesick, but don’t spend the whole time actually wishing you were home.
  • Take pictures even when you think it’s cliche and stupid. I promise, you’ll want the memories later!
  • Commit to some form of journaling whether it be through photos, blogging (!), a gratitude journal, a conventional journal, etc.
Bye, LAMDA!

Bye, LAMDA!

Best of luck to those going abroad next year! Feel free to reach out if you ever have any questions! I really mean that for everyone—but especially reach out if you’re a drama major/thinking about going to London. I can’t recommend LAMDA enough.

Signing off for the last time,

-Alexa

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 4

As of April 8th, I have exactly one month left before I leave Paris and return to the States. I say this in every blog post that I’ve written so far, but the time is flying by so fast that I can hardly process it. I know that I will be so happy to be back at home with my friends and family, but the thought of already having to say goodbye to Paris is a sad one that I’m not quite ready to reckon with yet.

Speaking of friends and family, I’ve been lucky enough to see some of them these past few weeks! Two of my friends from Vassar came to Paris with their families during their spring break, and I got to catch up and spend time with them. The highlight of their visit was definitely when I took them on a pastry shop/bakery tour and hit up most of the places I’ve already talked about in other blog posts! Food is a really important part of my study abroad experience (maybe a little bit too important), so it was really wonderful to get to share that with people I care about! Highlights were the financier praliné at Hugo & Victor, and the tarte au citron at Des Gâteaux et du Pain. I don’t have a picture of either of them to share with you, but trust me when I say they were really, really good.

Nicole and some friends from Vassar outside the Musée de l’Orangerie

Nicole and some friends from Vassar outside the Musée de l’Orangerie

My family came to visit me last week, and even though I was in class some of the time, the rest of my time was spent showing them around the city! Having my family come was also great because I finally got around to seeing some of the “touristy” things that I hadn’t seen yet—the big two being the Palace of Versailles and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Versailles was beautiful (especially the Hall of Mirrors), but by the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted, and while Notre Dame may be one of the most famous sites in Paris, it doesn’t make my list of favorites. What does make my list of favorites is the tiny, lesser-known Sainte-Chapelle, located just behind Notre Dame. It’s a Gothic-style chapel that is unassuming from the outside but filled with the most spectacular stained-glass windows I have ever seen. After climbing up the cramped stone staircase entry, seeing this magnificent architectural masterpiece was one of the most striking experiences I have had since coming to Paris. I could have sat in that chapel all day, staring at the windows as their colors changed each time the sun outside weaved in and out of the clouds. Unfortunately, my family was visiting for a short time so we had to move on rather quickly to other places and things, but something tells me that despite the limited time I have left here, I’l definitely be stopping by Sainte-Chapelle again before I leave.

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

Acting as tour guide and translator for my family was both fun and exhausting, and it was also a moment of affirmation that I’ve been really benefiting from my time here. At the beginning of the semester, I was nervous even walking into a restaurant to ask for a table. Now, I’m calling restaurants on the phone to make reservations (something I don’t like doing in English, let alone in a foreign language), arguing with taxi drivers who won’t give us a price-estimate for the ride, navigating on the Metro and RER like a pro, going up to French strangers on the street to ask for directions when I’m not navigating like a pro, and so on. I’m not sure when this sudden rise in comfort level happened, but recently I’ve noticed that I’m feeling more and more like I belong here. This semester has been full of more independence than I’ve ever had before, and I feel empowered by the fact that I’ve embraced and grown from it. I think this is what will make leaving Paris so hard next month; I’m finally really starting to feel comfortable living here, so it’s unfortunate that I’m running out of time.

That being said, I still have a month left and plan to make the most out of it that I possibly can. I’m planning on doing some traveling inside France but outside of Paris, and now that the weather is starting to be really beautiful I hope to do a little more exploring of the city. Even today, I went to do my homework in the park, and while wandering back to my apartment, I came across the beautiful Basilique de Sainte-Clotilde . Apparently it’s been around the corner from my apartment this whole time, but somehow it took me three months to stumble across it. Not to sound like a hopeless Parisian romantic (Paris is after all a city and not a movie set), but moments like these are what remind me of what a special place Paris is, and how lucky I am to be here, and to appreciate the time I have left here (even if it’s not nearly long enough).

The Sainte Clotilde basilica

The Sainte Clotilde basilica

The Sainte Clotilde basilica

The Sainte Clotilde basilica

Jessica Roden | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 4

The recent bombings in Brussels have jolted me from my carefree study abroad experience and into the world of terror. I know that I am hypocritical for mentioning this attack and not the countless others occurring around the globe, and I hate the media and our society’s priorities for the unequal coverage of each attack, but I am going to talk about Brussels because it is more personal to my experience here.
A little over a week before the bombs exploded, I visited Brussels for a weekend trip. My friends and I took a day trip to Bruges on Saturday, and on Sunday we explored different churches and museums in Brussels. We ate our way through the country’s supply of waffles and fries, and I had a fun time freely exploring the city. A few people mentioned to me that they felt tension when they traveled to Brussels, but I didn’t.
The canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges

The historic center of Brussels

The historic center of Brussels

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Fries in Belgium

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A true Belgian waffle

I heard of the attack in one of my classes when a classmate blurted out the news right before a test. I checked the news the first chance I had and soon after began to feel physically sick. My feeling of safety in Western Europe was quickly crumbling. I still have a vision of Copenhagen as different from the rest of Europe because it is part of nice, safe Scandinavia, but that could of course change in a second, especially with Denmark’s recent trend toward treating refugees so poorly.
My saga with Brussels did not stop there, though. We had a travel break for Easter, and I was planning to go to Amsterdam and Paris with my friends. Thrifty as we were, we decided to find what we thought would be the cheapest way to get to Amsterdam and to come back from Paris. And where does RyanAir travel to that is near both of these cities? Brussels. The itinerary for my trip was to leave Copenhagen on Thursday (two days after bombing) to fly into Charleroi airport, take a one-hour bus into Brussels Midi station, take a taxi to Brussels North station, and take a two-and-a-half-hour bus into Amsterdam. On Saturday, we would take a train from Amsterdam to Paris, passing right through the heart of Brussels. On Monday, we were to leave Paris via a four hour bus back to Brussels Midi station, take a one hour shuttle to Charleroi airport, and fly back to Copenhagen. Great trip planning.
I was anxious about my vacation and the possibility of long delays, but I did not think another attack would happen, especially in Brussels considering their increased security. I only became scared after reading emails from DIS and Vassar encouraging students to avoid Brussels. I only became fearful when I Skyped my parents and saw my mom about to break into tears. But they say that you shouldn’t hide away and let the terrorists win. So on Thursday morning, I left for my vacation.
And everything was fine. With all of our modes of transportation to Amsterdam, we definitely paid more than a direct flight would have been, but we didn’t know any better, and now we do. The atmosphere at Brussels Midi station was the worst of it: the building was roped off except for one entrance guarded by soldiers checking the bags of the hundred people waiting in line to enter. There were large military vehicles and soldiers around the entire building. With all of this security, we were clearly safe, but the presence of the military was unsettling, and we left as quickly as possible.
There wasn’t that much police presence in Amsterdam, and only a little more than normal at the Netherlands versus France soccer game I attended.  The game was amazing, and I had so much fun, but every time someone threw a paper plane into the sky, which happened often, my body became rigid and I had a moment of panic. Paris had more security, especially on Easter outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral, where soldiers were keeping us away from the building and checking the bags of those who entered. Upon returning to Charleroi airport for our flight out, we had our passport and ticket checked by soldiers at two different points before even entering the airport.
The Netherlands versus France soccer game

The Netherlands versus France soccer game

 Notre-Dame Cathedral on Easter

Notre-Dame Cathedral on Easter

The Eiffel Tower lit up in the colors of the Belgian flag

The Eiffel Tower lit up in the colors of the Belgian flag

I have never experienced a country on high alert before, and I don’t think I want to ever again. Because of the military presence I never once felt truly in danger, but their presence was also ominous and a sad reminder of all the lives lost. I am happy that I was able to still take this vacation and enjoy my time there, but I am also sad for all the worrying and anxiety I caused my family.
Maybe I am just too young to remember, but were there always terrorist attacks of this large of a scale this often? These bombings seem to be the norm now, and they are creating an environment where everyone could be in danger. The Department of State actually said last year that extremists target, and therefore you should use caution or avoid going to, “sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations.” Staying inside just isn’t an option, though, and it is not the way I want to live the rest of my life.