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Month: November 2014

Emily Mitamura | Prague, Czech Republic | Post 3

Emily Mitamura | Prague, Czech Republic | Post 3

A warning in advance to the faint of stomach, those wise and jaded souls who have had their fill of romantic comedies – you who see couples bundled up for the winter, holding mittened hands on the street and can only think one thought (namely, “Ew. Go be happy somewhere else.”), this is a love letter. Apologies for my non-apologies, but I’ve lost my heart you see, played right into the most cliched of comedies.

ACT I: girl meets public transportation system.

It’s true, I’ve loved before. The New York subways are just as lovable as they are unsanitary. The ability to read a metro map (in secret because real New Yorkers don’t need them) is a life accomplishment. The carefully cultivated attitude of apathy and mild distain for your fellow passengers is something to be proud of, yes, definitely. But (I say of my own free will and in a state of supposed full sanity) there’s nothing quite like a night tram in Prague. There’s nothing that matches the dramatic interlude of a ride home through the dusky, winding streets of the strangest city I’ve ever been in. Let me explain:
Rides begin with the passion and emotional energy invested in reading the maps and timetables to discern beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re stepping on the right one, followed by hesitation as you check the map on the inside, and finally the whole body sigh of deepest relief. Your figure slumps comfortably in your wooden seat and suddenly it fits the shape of your spine perfectly. You smile sleepily at the man in the plaid wool coat sitting next to you. He looks away quickly because he thinks you are insane, but you don’t mind! You’re homeward bound after a long night of strenuous merry making. You deserve this.
So you let your eyes blur, alternate between staring out at the city that stretches around you through the smudgy glass and at the people with whom you share this warm interior moment (thankfully the man next to you has left so you don’t freak him out anymore). Everything is perfect as the skyline fills with spires and city lights, and the couples going home say secret things to each other (secret mostly because you still don’t speak Czech after four months of Czech classes, but still). All is well. All is lovely. So you think.
ACT II: girl loses (herself in) public transportation system.
You’re dumb. Yup, you did, you fell asleep and you’re alone in the car in an unknown location in the deepest, most random suburbs of Prague and the driver is telling you to get off. It’s the end of the line! It’s the end of the line and you have no idea where you are and you’re dumb. You frantically check your purse and pockets and thankfully, against all odds, you’re still in possession of your wallet and phone, but how in the name of all things holy did you get to be this dumb? You don’t remember hitting your head and watching all your smarts or marbles or whatever fall out, so how?
But there’s no time to answer the question, only to collect your little remaining dignity and put all you’ve got into a small pitiful almost-wave to the tram driver (a round faced woman who could not look more bored of your state of idiocy) as you step out into the night. Why have the trams forsaken you? What have you ever done but love them? You ask as you shake your fists at the sky and wallow in your own flair for melodrama. It’s quite fun actually, to be so dramatic. You consider sinking down to your knees and letting out a little howl. No ones watching, you could totally howl, express your despair and hate of this moment. Why not howl?
But instead you think of all the things that you love about Prague – how all your favorite moments abroad have been ones where you’ve been lost, wandered into a potion shop or asked directions from a monk. The trams have done a lot for you, taken you to the castle, to the famously hated tv tower covered in statues of babies with barcodes for faces, to ikea.
So you find you have it in your heart to forgive after all. And ACT III, where girl gets public transportation system back, can begin. So you look at the map, get on the next tram and go home. The man sitting next to you was right. You are pretty crazy. Prague has made you pretty crazy (crazy busy and crazy thrilled and crazy in love). It’s a nice kind of insane. Still, no one has to know unless you’re crazy enough to tell them on the internet or something. But who would do that?
Michael Gambardella | Madrid, Spain | Post 4

Michael Gambardella | Madrid, Spain | Post 4

Now that the end of my time abroad is just around the corner, I’ve decided to reflect on experience in Spain and create a list of advice that I wish someone had told me when I first got here.

 

Experiment with different ways of getting around early on. You may think you have found the most efficient way to get to school or your favorite cafe, but there are usually other alternative routes or methods that are easier, quicker, or just less stressful. Give the train, alternative metro routes, the bus, and good old-fashioned walking a try as well.

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Speak the language: Make an effort to speak Spanish as much as possible while in Madrid. Set aside one day a week where you will only speak the local language–tell your friends, they’ll understand why you’re doing it and might even join in with you.

Don’t be afraid to get close to your host family: Moving in with a family of strangers can be daunting. You not only have to forfeit some of your independence while living under their roof, but you are also naturally going to struggle a bit at first with the language barrier. However, it’s important to not let this initial awkwardness or difficulty get in the way of you trying to foster a real relationship with them, nor do you want to let it set the tone for the rest of the semester. Eat at home with them, ask them questions about the culture and the language, ask about their days, and most of all, don’t be afraid to just give them a hug, because sometimes a tight squeeze does a better job communicating how much they mean to you than bumbling over linguistic uncertainties and cultural differences.

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Plan all your travel early on and spread it out evenly throughout the semester: I made the mistake of scheduling almost all of my travel for the last month and a half of JYA because that’s when the flights were cheapest. Now that the end of my time in Spain is almost in sight and talk of finals is beginning to surface, I wish I had more time during the coming weekends to catchup on school work and group projects.

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TAKE A 9 AM CLASS!!!

It does not matter if you think it’s more interesting or if you think it’ll be easier, it simply will not be worth it. Getafe, the small city outside of Madrid where we take classes, is on average 1:20 to 45 minutes from the home stays in Madrid that the Vassar-Wesleyan program uses. That means you’re going to have to wake up anywhere between 6:45 to 7:30 and drag yourself out of bed to travel an hour on busy public transportation, oftentimes while it is still dark out. Moreover, taking classes later in the day leaves more time for experiencing the city while it’s still light out during the school week, because by the time you get home and unwind after school, it’s too late to go out and do anything for more than an hour and a half before it’s time to come back for dinner.

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School work counts, so apply yourself diligently to your homework, but don’t take it too seriously: Remember, the program is going to take into account that you are taking college-level classes in a foreign language; they’ll be pretty forgiving. Moreover, you’re only abroad for a semester or two, so you should take the time to experience the city rather than worrying yourself too much about the little things.

Write to your family and friends back home: They miss you and are bound to worry about you from time to time and wonder what you’re doing on the other side of the ocean.

Do your research: Sites like Time Out and Trip Advisor can be amazingly useful tools for finding the best restaurants, museums, parks, and local attractions. Make plans to seek out fun stuff too do in the city before it becomes too late and it’s time to go back home.

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Don’t compare America to your host country in the beginning: Even though it’s only natural to compare what you’re used to to the culture that you’ve been dropped into, it’s not always the best way to go about experiencing a new culture and can often just make you more homesick. There will be big differences, some of which you may love and some of which you may not be too fond of—the sooner you accept this as a fact of life, the sooner you will stop getting hung up on the not so great parts of this new and foreign culture and the sooner you will start enjoying the awesome parts.

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Carrie Plover | Paris, France | Post 4

Carrie Plover | Paris, France | Post 4

It’s with melancholy that I acknowledge that this will be my last “Far and Away” post for the Miscellany News. It’s almost as if my time abroad is nearly over.

Wait! It is. Yesterday, as we sat in a shamelessly hipster coffee shop (the tip jar toted a sign that implored patrons as to whether or not they were “feeling tipsy”), a friend informed me that we have only five weekends left in Paris. I nearly spit a bite of my Speculoos cupcake in her face.

It’s not as if I’m incapable of keeping track of time: I tend to a meticulous iCal that reminds me of the due dates of important assignments as well as the release dates of new series on Netflix (all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls now available – hallelujah). Nonetheless, there’s something difficult about admitting that my stay is concluding.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’ve been anticipating this experience since early adolescence: I decided at thirteen that I would find a way to live in Paris one day. To acknowledge that I did so is to acknowledge that I’m growing up. My next major milestone, I guess, will be graduating from Vassar and getting a job or grad school acceptance letter. (If you’re anything like me – an anxiety-prone liberal arts student – these thoughts are less than comforting).

I’m not there yet, though. At the moment, I’m sitting in Starbucks writing this draft – and that’s something I can take comfort in. Speaking of Starbucks…

On Patronizing American Companies Whilst Abroad

Before I came to Paris, I imagined visiting Starbucks or Chipotle while abroad as about as distasteful as blending a caramel Frappuccino and burrito together for lunch. As you might guess, though, I’ve since changed my mind (as I have a tendency to do). Living in a foreign country – even one with most of the amenities I enjoy access to in America – proves an often alienating experience. Most of those near and dear to my heart are thousands of miles away, and something as mundane as going to the pharmacy for cold medicine can turn into an hour-long ordeal. To mediate feelings of isolation, I find comfort in incorporating aspects of my routine at home into my one here. That means that I harbor no shame for visiting a Parisian Starbucks. In fact, I relish in the experience. I will admit that recently visiting Chipotle accompanied by a Gingerbread latte proved a little much, though. My stomach concurred.

On Weekend Excursions

My love affair with fast food apparently isn’t limited to France.

The Vassar-Wesleyan Paris Program gives its students a weeklong vacation in October, which coincides with La Toussaint, a Catholic holiday falling on November 1st. Two days before the break I had been looking forward to with feverish anticipation, I got a fever. I nevertheless decided to visit Madrid that weekend as scheduled. At 4 AM on Friday morning, I left for the airport optimistic, armed with six packets of tissues and enough cough syrup to sedate a small village.

By Friday afternoon, I lost my voice completely. My laryngitis and wracking cough provoked my travel companions to observe a barrier of several feet between us whenever we interacted. Happily, I was able to enjoy Spanish tapas – once. I spent the rest of the weekend taking pitiful snapchats of my swollen face and venturing to a nearby McDonald’s for nourishment – the only place nearby with an electronic menu through which I could order without speaking.

On Being a (Good?) Host

Luckily for me (and maybe unluckily for those forced to spend time with me), my voice came back. I spent the rest of my break in Paris recovering, and I got to know the city much better as a result. In fact, by the end of this week, I’ll have served as a tour guide twice for visiting friends.

On the one hand, I dread hosting; I’m not sure I ever learned how to do so properly. When I had friends over as a kid, my mom’s idea of being a good host was offering them pizza or brownies even if they had eaten, and subsequently leaving us to our own devices. I’ve also never shown my city to anyone before. I’m from Poughkeepsie, which most of my Vassar friends don’t have an interest in getting to know outside the occasional Acrop visit.

In spite of having lived and hosted here, I wouldn’t call Paris “my city” yet. Having the ability to identify good bars and restaurants and to navigate the metro with ease (except for the time I broke my glasses at Pitchfork Paris – but that’s another story) has nonetheless instilled in me a sense of ownership over my experience here.

On Birthdays

Speaking of friends, I was happy to celebrate my recent birthday with ones I’ve made here so far. Birthdays are fraught for me: while I feel compelled to commemorate my own out of social pressure and respect for tradition, I’m usually uncomfortable doing so. I’ve never liked being the center of attention, so experiencing an entire day during which I’m on a pedestal proves stressful… I usually cry at least once.

Happily, my 20th was an enjoyable (and tearless) day. It fell on a Monday, the fourth day of my Parisian weekend (I have class only Tuesday-Thursday). I commemorated it by spending time with friends, visiting le Musée de l’Orangerie, and eating too much sushi. There’s a lyric from a Francoise Hardy song I like that translates in my understanding to, “At twenty, one feels like the king of the world.” I’d have to agree.

On… Wrapping Up This Post

I’m not sure I’m ready to leave Paris, but unfortunately, I don’t have much say one way or another. I can say definitively that I look forward to returning to Vassar. I’m excited to a) take classes again that challenge and inspire me, b) be surrounded by friends and faculty who take a genuine interest in my well being, and c) eat copious amounts of Babycakes red velvet cupcakes. At this point, it’s only a matter of time.

A weekend excursion: Versailles.
A weekend excursion: Versailles.
Birthday with my host family
Birthday with my host family.
Clivia Wang | Paris, France | Post 4

Clivia Wang | Paris, France | Post 4

And here we are, the last post of the semester. I’ve come a long way. Today, during dinner, the oldest son of my host family came back from Germany — he’s an engineer, working in Munich. My host mom says he talks like a machine gun, but to my surprise, I started following his conversations rather effortlessly: he talked about his work in a job about “simulation,” about his co-worker who made a very bad Power Point, and about his political views on Holland. I understood almost everything. And I couldn’t stop the smile on my face.

Arriving at this stage was not easy. In the first two weeks of my internship I was first extremely intimidated by my boss, because in addition to being Polish, she also speaks French. My listening skills were constrained to being able to only understand colloquial how-are-yous, therefore not at all suitable for actual working environment. Not only unsuitable, as I imagined, but hazardous, too, because there’s a great possibility that I wouldn’t understand what anyone was really talking about. So there I was, standing awkwardly in her office, taking an average of about 2.64 seconds to respond, until she finally broke out and said in French, “Clivia, I don’t think you really understand what I am saying.” I was a million degrees. I murmured, si, so faintly I kind of hope she didn’t hear me, although I was furious inside. She then told me to “go to that room and show me.” I felt myself burning with fire to prove that I am not that useless, although on my way out of her office, I really had no idea what she had said. God blessed me because I had the right booklet in my hand when I re-entered her office, and she looked and me, and looked at the booklet, and said okay.

Our relationship has gone from that encounter, to a lazy Tuesday afternoon when she sat next to me and said, Clivia can you look at my English for me? (I guess she thought I was a native.) I nodded, thinking that I’ve been working for her for over two months and she finally put some form of responsibility on me. I read, I corrected, and sent it back to her, almost like sending my own work up to someone for grading.

She said très bien.

So I guess that’s that. Before coming I’ve always had the imaginary gif playing in my head, of me, and a cute French waiter, chatting off in a restaurant as I’m ordering a favorite dish. I guess right now, as I am writing this last post, might be the moment that I admit that, THAT, might never happen. My French would never be that good. Cute French waiters would never hit on me. I would never have enough money for a decent French meal. I would never pass as “French,” and that’s already determined when people look at my yellow skin.

Still one month to go, and yet already the last post. Today I also received an evaluation form of my host family, asking questions such as, “how was your living experience,” and I realized that in my response I automatically used “was,” not “is,” not even maybe “will be.” It seems like everyone is already accepting the fact that this experience is coming to an end.

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Also, Ngheim came to visit. Hi Ngheim.

 

 

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The debate on whether love exists on a wall in the Marais.

 

 

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In the infamous Shakespeare & Co.

 

 

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Baguette.
Mija Lieberman | Madrid, Spain | Post 4

Mija Lieberman | Madrid, Spain | Post 4

I would say it’s officially fall in Madrid, as of a few weeks ago. It’s not as cold as Poughkeepsie, but I have to bundle up in a jacket and scarf and closed-toed shoes with socks. But Spaniards are already bundled up in winter coats, hats, and gloves like it’s winter. It’s no longer warm enough to casually go for a stroll in retiro park, but it’s the perfect excuse to get a hot coffee almost every morning. Luckily, for the past two weekends, I went to warmer places. But in the weeks to come I will be taking my winter coat with me when I go to Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, and finally London, as well as warmer Granada in the south of Spain. This coming weekend I’m super excited to be going to Berlin and staying with a friend from high school. I don’t really have a free weekend in Madrid left because of all the traveling and final exams, but it’s totally worth it to take full advantage of my final time in Europe.

The first weekend of November, our whole program went on a group excursion to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands off the coast of northern Africa. It’s still part of Spain, though it’s much warmer and has very different vegetation, including palm trees and cacti. We flew early on Friday morning and went on a guided tour through different areas of the city of Santa Cruz. We ate a delicious lunch with fresh cod and a spicy sauce called “mojo” that goes well with potatoes and bread. After an exhausting day, we arrived at a beautiful hotel that had a pool and an excellent buffet breakfast. The next day we climbed up volcano Teidi, the tallest point in Spain, which is situated in a national park. We took a cable car up toward the top and then climbed around to see a giant crater. Despite the high altitude, it wasn’t as cold as we expected and turned out to be quite nice. The next day we had completely free, so most of us went to the beach in the morning before we had to check out of the hotel. The sand was black from volcanic ash, and the waves were very strong when they crashed against the rocks. We arrived home very late at night on Sunday, but it was great to see everyone from Vassar and Wesleyan one last time, as well as the monitores.

This past weekend I went to Marrakech, Morocco with three other girls. We stayed in a beautiful riad, which is a traditional Moroccan house with a courtyard inside. It came with breakfast every morning that included coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, bread, an egg, and various other things. The owner was very hospitable and drove us to and from the airport. We visited the large market called Jemaa el-Fnaa several times in the medina, the old part of the city. There were stands that stretched in every direction selling everything from pashminas to jewelry to spices to lamps to live animals. None of us know French or Arabic, so it was a little challenging to get around sometimes. We went to the Bahia and the Badi Palaces, the Saadian Tombs, Majorelle Garden, and the Marrakech Museum, and the Ben Youssef Madrasa, which used to be an Islamic college. We actually ran into another American who we knew who happened to be in Marrakech that same weekend. We all got couscous for one meal and for another tried tajine, named after the pyramid-shaped pot it’s cooked in. Those of us who weren’t vegetarians also tried pastilla, which is kind of like a meat pie pastry. One evening we went to a hammam, or Turkish bath, where we had some sort of skin exfoliating treatment. Though we heard sexist and racist comments multiple times a day, overall it was a great weekend and it was cool being in another continent.

All of my work is now starting to pile up as the end of the semester draws near. There aren’t many small assignments, but I’m slightly worried about my grades because most of my finals are worth about 70% of my grade, which is just how the Spanish grading system works, I guess. But I’m now NRO-ing one of my classes, and I did better on my first half-semester course than I thought, so hopefully the same happens in the rest of my classes. I’m trying my best not to get sick because I really can’t afford to with traveling and work. I’m also trying to do all of the final things I haven’t gotten to do yet in Madrid. I can’t wait to be back home in a little over a month, though I know I’ll miss Spain.

Taylor Thewes | Prague, Czech Republic | Post 3

Taylor Thewes | Prague, Czech Republic | Post 3

I continually wonder how I will look back on my semester abroad and how the semester will affect me after it’s over. To start, I must say that for me, studying abroad has not been quite what everyone made it out to be — or at the very least, what I thought it would be. There were many exaggerated adjectives said about going abroad. Most of those adjectives centered around the phrase “life-changing.”

First, I must say that my time in Prague has been absolutely wonderful, and I am so glad and fortunate to have the opportunity of studying here. I am sure that for some, or maybe many, life-changing is the correct word to describe their experience studying abroad. I really have no specific reason why I cannot use that description for my time. I have lived in seven different states at this point in my life. Maybe, the act of moving to a different location no longer seems drastic to me. Maybe, Prague is tamer than London, Paris, or wherever else Vassar juniors are running amok. I really do not know.

What I do not know, exactly, is what studying abroad has been. I think I will only be able to really know once I am removed from the situation, back home, reflecting on the trip. This is where I wonder how Prague will have affected me. The thing I hope I take from this trip the most, above all other things, is a maturation process. There are so many different situations and responsibilities that have led to my maturing, but I think the event that truly exemplifies it the most is my recent trip to Krakow.

Nobody in my program was interested in going to Poland. Being half Polish, I had a desire, and I thought that one trip alone could prove to be adventurous and simultaneously relaxing. Luckily, it turned out to be both. From the moment I arrived, everything felt incredibly peaceful. There was such an ease about the trip. I meandered through the city and stumbled upon whatever came my way. What I came to discover was a luscious, beautifully conserved old downtown. I made new Australian friends. I had some spectacular Polish beer and food that reminded me of my mom’s home cooked meals. While all of the things I did and consumed were the usual experiences of visiting a European city, what was on my mind was not. I do not know if I can properly tie what was on my mind back to my original point of maturing, but I can try.

Being alone, I basically had the whole trip to myself and my thoughts. All I could think about was how fortunate I was to not only be experiencing this great city but to have experienced everything else in my life. I think some of the sentimentality of being in my home country somehow conjured up these thoughts. I thought about how I got there, and everything people — family, friends, and peers — have done for me. Because of this, I just became calm. I wanted to take myself more seriously than I had before. I wanted to do things that felt purposeful.

I was rambling there, and I am confident that it all does not make complete sense. It is just extremely difficult to translate the feeling, the thought. I am sure a better writer could do a more justified job. Everything about being abroad adds up to just one more step in growing up, and to sum things up, the Krakow trip serves as the prime example of wrapping everything up into one weekend. It was in Krakow where I really had time to think of everything, and I guess discover what type of person I wanted to be going forward, when I get back to my family, Vassar, and the States. I realized how I wanted to approach things. I know what I want to work on and what I need to change. I am sure I write a bunch of vague ideas about what abroad and the Krakow trip did for me, but I will leave it at that.

The last thing I just wanted to quickly write about was that on my last day in Krakow, I made the trip out to the Auschwitz concentration camp. With many famous places or landmarks, you hear about them so much, and then you are finally there and the experience is surreal. With Auschwitz, it was different. The only word I can use to describe the situation is humbling. Never have I ever felt so put in my place. It was the ultimate reminder of the terrible things that happened there. I do not know how to properly talk about the subject as it is extremely important and meaningful to many people. With that, I must say that I was humbled in every way you can expect from it. I am very thankful that I was there. It was necessary and served a purpose that many other landmarks or sightseeing cannot. I would encourage anyone to make it out to Auschwitz if they can.

 

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Met up with Kylee in Berlin.

 

 

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The boys in Cesky Krumlov.
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Frisbee in Wenceslas Square.
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Bagel in Poland.
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Halloween as Wilson the volleyball.
Lily Elbaum | Edinburgh, Scotland | Post 3

Lily Elbaum | Edinburgh, Scotland | Post 3

There are things to be said for living in the north — winter, snow, getting to enjoy the seasons, etc. — but one of the perks is not the sun playing hard to get. Fall came and went here in about two weeks, leaving the barren month that is November. No longer autumn, not yet winter and not much to look forward to, except Thanksgiving, which is always to be looked forward to. But the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving feels like an eternity. And here, Thanksgiving isn’t even celebrated, so I’m not sure how the Scots survive the long emptiness of November. Probably whisky — Scotch, that is — although, Jack Daniels, lovingly called JD, is also very weirdly popular here.

It’s been a busy month here in the Athens of the North. Papers and presentations galore, plus the joys of Halloween. It’s a big deal among the university crowd, which envelopes the whole city. There are deals and events and parties the whole week before and the two weekends on either side of Halloween. Walking around on the night itself, you’d have thought it was a different planet. I couldn’t help but wonder what an alien would think if they happened to land on Earth on that very night. They’d probably declare it a lost cause of insanity and pack up and head home. Either way, it’s a good time. Here in Scotland they celebrate something called Samhuinn which is a Fire Festival on the night of Halloween. Basically, a bunch of people playing with fire and dressed up with blue paint on their faces walk down the High Street trying not to catch spectators on fire. It’s a good time and is always exciting.

What’s even better is Guy Fawkes Day, which is one of the biggest holidays in the UK, or at least Scotland. Fireworks went off for hours all over the city, effigies were set on fire, bonfires were lit in the Meadows, and it was general chaos. I’m not sure if the government officially condones the merriment, but the definitely don’t try to stop it. I think the Scots just really like their fire.

Experiencing new holidays, and old holidays in new ways, is something that I think slips under the radar most of the time when people are telling you about how your study abroad experience will be. Sometimes they’ll mention Christmas, but since most JYA experiences don’t include Christmas, the other holidays just fall by the wayside. But holidays are important cultural experiences, and they’re a lot of fun too. Some, like Halloween, have become very Americanized, but they still have the things that make them unique to the place you are, like the Fire Festival here in Edinburgh. And soon Christmas markets will be opening all over Europe, and they are definitely a tradition that the United States should adopt. Wandering around an open-air market with snow falling, drinking hot chocolate? Oh yeah, there’s something to be said for that. (On the other hand, November feels way too early for anything to do with Christmas. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!)

But I think the most transcendent experience that really teaches you about the culture is going grocery shopping. When I first got here, I was not thrilled with the idea of going out into the cold at least once a week to feed myself. And I still occasionally indulge in the pastime of staring into the refrigerator hoping that food will magically appear. It never does, but I haven’t given up hope yet. I’m still not thrilled about the going out into the cold part, especially now that it is actually cold outside and I have to bundle up in order to walk the roughly one hundred meters to the store, but I’ve realized how much “fun” grocery shopping can be.

First off, I can choose what to feed myself. This is a vast improvement over the repetitive options of the Deece. But it’s also interesting to see all the different foods that are available in Scottish grocery stores. You can buy haggis, for instance. If you’re into that sort of thing. But the tea section takes up half an aisle shelf, and there’s also a special section for pre-made fresh lunches (think sandwiches and fruit cups). If you’re into fish, that’s not problem. You can find curry pretty easily too, even though it’s more common in England. The Scots prefer their food a little plainer. Mashed potatoes and turnips everywhere! And fish and chips shops, obviously. Scots will never turn up their nose at fried food.

It’s feels good to finally feel settled, and now that classes are calming down until finals, it seems easier to appreciate the fact that I’m actually living abroad. Sometimes I almost forget because I’m so used to my routine of classes by now, but then it’ll hit me as I’m walking by a cool building, or as I go through one of the small side streets in Old Town. Or even as I take a bus through the highlands and soak in the amazing colors of fall in the mountains. It’s easy to forget, but it’s even easier to remember.

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A street performer in front of St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile.

 

 

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Loch Shiel, showing off the bright oranges of autumn in the Highlands.

 

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On the shores of Loch Ness, as our tour guide attempts to teach a bunch of students a “Highland haka” to call Nessie. Sadly, it didn’t work.

 

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Meeting my first Highland Cow – she was not impressed but I was ecstatic, because there is nothing better than a fluffy cow.

 

 

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“I can’t believe Mom is grooming me in front of all these people. It’s okay, I know how adorable I am.”
Clivia Wang | Paris, France | Post 3

Clivia Wang | Paris, France | Post 3

Oh, Paris. The fact that I’ve been bumming my brains out at one o’clock in the morning trying to sum up Paris is the real evidence that Paris refuses to be logically examined. The City of Love. Once the capital of the world. The city of magic, according to Woody Allen. The city of elegantly bitchy girls. The city of stuffy and smelly metros (but really though, it’s good enough compared to New York). All in all, THE CITY.

In fact, I feel a little ashamed to admit that I’ve been re-watching Sex and the City, here in Paris. Okay, it’s bad – in the City of Love I should be going out every night trying to find my great love instead of eating cheese sticks in front of a poorly filmed ’90s chick flick. I keep imagining myself to be someone in the series, like how Carrie Plover wrote how she would be Carrie (everyone, if you are reading this post right now, please stop and just read Carrie’s post cause it’s perfect). I realized I am, like everyone else probably is, a mix of the four: Carrie, the writer who is such a perfectionist and believes so much in the heated, consuming, “big” love the biggest love. + Miranda, the realist who is successful, strong, and in the end chose someone who earns so much less but loves her no matter how many times she tries to escape. +Charlotte, the advocate for pure love, the beautiful but timid and traditional kind, the one that tries to find the perfect love by matching backgrounds realizing in the end that when she finds the right person nothing would matter. + finally Samantha, the extremely sédusante, the one who believes in sex and never love, in the end finding someone she might trust more than she would want to admit.

And then I met someone. And then I lost him. And then I did it again. And then he came back.

In the City of Love, where do I place myself amongst all the lovey couples making out on the street? If there was a big speaker in Paris, I would scream into it so loud that it would damage the hearing of my great love so he would wake up.

Okay that was a lie. But hey, in the past week I’ve met and re-met people. Who’s to say what will happen in the future?

Let’s see what’s to come.

 

everyone
All of us in Barcelona.

 

Paris at its true colors.
Paris’ true colors.

 

This crepe saved my day of confusion.
This crepe saved my day of confusion.

 

The perfect fall day.
The perfect fall day.

 

Basically, yeah.
Basically, yeah.

 

Good old days of smoking and playing in the Parisian sun.

 

Wish I could be like her when I’m at her age.
Wish I could be like her when I’m at her age.

 

Instantly famous on Instagram.
Instantly famous on Instagram.

 

White on white in white night (Nuit Blanche).
White on white in white night (Nuit Blanche).
Zach Rippe | London, England | Post 3

Zach Rippe | London, England | Post 3

Oh how the days go by. London feels like home now, and the urge to absorb the city as much as possible on a daily basis is slowly starting to fade. I wake up, go to class, go grocery shopping, do work, hang out at night, etc. Things are starting to blend together here. It’s hard to believe it’s already November. Things like the tube are second nature at this point, the only problem being that I eventually run out of money on my card… and in general. In case I haven’t mentioned it, London is extremely expensive, even when you’re not going out every night for four pound pints. Still, I am adjusted.

rippe1

Classes, too, are moving right along. My Media Law & Ethics class has proved both overwhelming and underwhelming. While there is a vast amount of information to be explored, it seems as if we are glossing over the intricacies of law and focusing on ethical dilemmas (most of which are fairly trivial). I will figure out what to write my paper on…eventually. My other Goldsmiths’ class is going quite well and I hope to write a tremendously sophisticated paper focusing on the intricacies of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job and how it sheds light on the “truth” of subjectivity within a society.

rippe2

Class with Professor DeMaria has also been quite incredible. We were able to go to St. Brides to print our own work. We listened to Professor DeMaria’s friend, Rick, discuss strong opinions about the world of books and knowledge, and about the struggles and strengths of being a Man-Booker prize judge, and we toured the British Library to see treasures like the Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bible, and Shakespeare’s First Folio, all of which were incredible in their own ways. But enough about classes.

rippe3

My independent project has finally gotten off the ground.  I have attended two comedy shows thus far and both were quite unique. The first, located in Stockwell, was quite the experience. Knowing nothing about the area beside the tagline on the pub hosting the show’s website that stated: “and some people say nothing happens in Stockwell…” I was expecting the area to be fairly quiet. What I got was a fifteen-minute walk from the nearest tube stop through eerily silent residential districts. When we finally arrived at the pub, there was no one outside and no one in the pub itself.  Even the bartender was in the kitchen. I guess that’s what you get for being ten minutes late to the show. Inside the performance room, however, things were extremely lively. There were no more seats so we planted ourselves against a wall and proceeded to sweat profusely while twenty amateur comics each performed their own five-minute sets. The acts were overall quite funny, with mostly self-deprecating humor and jokes about the struggles of adjusting to life as a young adult.

The next week’s show took place in Islington in a place called The Camden Head Pub. The act was a bit more legitimate in a strange, strange man named Al Lubel. Lubel’s act was billed as a “one man show” rather than a comedy set and he did not disappoint. Lubel played the role of the narcissist as he sang his name repeatedly, talked about how he was the best and going to be up in lights, and culminating in a slow, oddly amusing strip routine.

rippe4

When I wasn’t seeing some truly unique stand-up, I decided to continue to venture into London alone. Some trips, like the one to Trafalgar Square, proved less than exhilarating, as the National Gallery wasn’t really my speed, the square itself was nothing more than a center for tourists, and it started to rain midway through (not surprised). But others, like my venture to Foyles book store and a walk to Regent’s Park proved much better because Foyles, the largest book store in London, was not only large but really wonderful inside, and the walk through Soho to Regent’s helped me explore a really cool, beautiful part of the city for the first time. Unfortunately I was hampered by what I thought at the time was a swollen ankle from basketball. In reality, one of my cuts had gotten infected and I developed a deep tissue infection that spread down from my heel to my foot and ankle, swelling things and making it quite hard to walk. Still, my experience with medical care was extremely efficient, cheap, and successful.

rippe5

We now have a weeklong break, so I hopped on a plane to Amsterdam for the weekend. Armed with nothing more than a backpack full of clothes and my passport, I ventured through the city, staying with my mom’s friend from college (who runs a wonderful B&B) and meeting up with friends. I even got to attend Museumnacht, a yearly event where all of the city’s museums are open till 2 am with free transportation between them, live music/DJs, and free food and drink. The city is surreal, meshing beautiful architecture, people, and infrastructure with immense debauchery in a hauntingly seamless way. The inherent complexity of the city and its transportation was extremely captivating as everything seemed to just flow, as if everything could coexist like this everywhere, even though you know it probably wouldn’t. There is something about the city that is simultaneously drawing you in and pushing you away. Still, I feel comfortable here, in London. Whenever the train pulls into New Cross Gate, I feel a sense of relief, as I’ve finally arrived home.

rippe6 rippe7 rippe8

Camille Delgado | Rome, Italy | Post 3

Camille Delgado | Rome, Italy | Post 3

Magna Graecia

First off, I just want to impose, upon everybody, the national symbol of Sicily.

trinacria

This is the Sicilian Triskelion, or the trinacria. Anyone who has been to Sicily is already familiar with this, but for someone who had never been there before, it was rather unnerving to see that ridiculously creepy thing everywhere the first day or two. It grows on you though; now I have an obnoxious red hat with the symbol stitched on the front.

My program, Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, has an 8-day trip to Sicily built into the curriculum (as well as one to Campania later in the semester). Basically, they shove all 35 students, 4 professors, the director, and my main man Gianni (our bus driver) into a coach bus, then drive down the coast of Italy, hotel hoppin’ every night with full-day historical lectures in between.

We went to at least 13 different cities (Paestum, Reggio Calabria, Taormina, Syracusa, Ortigia Island, Enna, Morgantina, Agrigento, Selinunte, Motya, Segesta, Palermo, Monreale), and definitely more, but I can’t remember all of them.

First, I’m going to start with one word: temples. Here’s a little (non-exhaustive) collage. Each picture is a different temple (except top right) and these don’t include the temples that are currently functioning as churches. I wish I were kidding.

temples

Day 1: Paestum (3 temples)

diverNot much to say really. I’m sure the city is very nice, but we spent the whole time in the ancient ruins. Classic(s). They also have that famous piece called the “Tomb of the Diver.” Anyway, it’s one of a kind in the Greek world and I think I’ve found a new interpretation (see image). That man is actually supposed to be flying. That’s how the dead guy would see it anyway – if he weren’t dead and there was like, some light in his tomb. If this program hadn’t convinced me that I do not want to be a classicist, I would probably devote my career to discovering ancient depictions of flying, voodoo magic. For kicks.

 

Day 2: Foce del Selle/Interior of Bus (1 “temple”)

This was probably the day I decided that the field of classics was not for me.

Today we drove about 4 hours north of Paestum (as in, away from Sicily) to visit this important, ancient, sacred site from the 5th century B.C.E. It used to house a great temple and lots of people and all that jazz. This is what it looks like now:

fieldwrock

We literally took a 4-hour detour to check out a field with a rock in the middle of it.

Oh yeah, and we found this in our hotel giveaways that night:

intimatehygene #Italy

Day 3: Taormina, Sicily (no temple, but 1 castle!)

Oh yeah, we didn’t actually get to Sicily until today. But it was definitely a great welcoming. Taormina is gorgeous and hosts a beautiful hybrid Graeco-Roman temple with an amazing view of the sea.

taormina

I don’t recommend the gelato in town, the stracciatella was particularly unpleasant. The granite on this island is superb, however. That’s “gra-nee-teh” or “gra-nee-tah”. Not “gra-nite”- Italians don’t eat granite. Granite is this semi-frozen flavoured thing. I know I make it sound ridiculously appealing, but trust me, it’s delicious.

We also climbed around the Castel Euryalus. It was cooler than my pictures make it seem.

castle   castle1

Day 4: Ortigia Island (1 temple)

I can’t really say anything about this place other than: it is beautiful. The piazza houses a magnificent Christian basilica that started its life as a pagan temple, but is now part of a glowing area of town. Seriously. That marble/limestone is damn reflective. I think I’m tanner here in Italy than I’ve ever been on a normal day in the Philippines, which does say something.

ortigia ortigia1 ortigia2

We also spent a good amount of time singing in the ancient quarries. I believe there was a trained opera singer in our group of tourists. It was quite lovely, actually.

Day 5: Morgantina (used to have temples)

morgantina

Today we played Frisbee in the Agora at Morgantina and the director of the dig site stopped us so she could take some pictures for the website. Pretty cool alternative to getting kicked out in front of our professors and getting docked participation points. We also learned about more old stuff, then went to the beach in Agrigento.

day5 day5a

Day 6: Valley of the Temples (like…7 or 8 temples. At least. Maybe 10-13 in passing)

Again with the reminders of why I don’t want to be a Classicist. Being told to look at a pile of rocks and map out a plan of a temple is just entirely unappealing when the pile of rocks looks like this.

rocksYeah sure, just let me get out my pen and jot down the dimensions.

 

On the bright side, our professors let us loose on one of the monuments (different pile of rocks), so we climbed around like monkeys on this playground for giants.

 

 

temple   atoprock

Day 7: Motya/Selinunte

Today I saw piles of salt. Oh! And I was an extra for a German experimental film. Don’t worry, it wasn’t porn.

filmDumb film crew blocking the view.

Day 8: Palermo

roadThis is the point en route to Palermo where Giovanni Falcone was murdered by the mafia with a car bomb along with his wife and accompanying police officers.

 

 

 

 

Today was focused mostly on churches filled with enough gold to provide scholarships to every student in Vassar. And bring in some mainstream musical act all the universities get. Probably. This image only shows one corner of one church- you can judge for yourself.

 

goldchurch

Then we hopped on an overnight ferry to Naples and realized that starving is a viable alternative to 20-25 euros for shitty cafeteria food. I have to say, it must’ve been the first time I’ve legitimately missed the Deece since I bid it arrivederci in May.

In sum:

✓ Sicily

✓ Temples

✓ Temples

✓ Rocks

✓ Temples

✓ I’m broke

✓ West Coastal Italia

✓ Good times