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Month: March 2015

Eli Vargas | Buenos Aires, Argentina | Post 1

Eli Vargas | Buenos Aires, Argentina | Post 1

SIT Argentina: Regional Integration, Development, and Social Change

JYA abroad article 1My program’s start date was February 24th. That gave me a little over two months of down time before I had to start using my brain again. At first, I thought this was one of the best things that has ever happened in the history of world. I imagined that I would be sitting with my dog in the backyard just straight chillin’ for about two months. Of course, there would be the occasional doing of things like any normal person, but the main thing would be nothing. After the stress of finals, I was ready to enjoy this much needed relaxation.

For the first month it was awesome. The occasional doing of things included some backpacking trips, whale watching, and visiting family. But then everything changed when extreme boredom attacked. The last month was filled with waiting, as I had already bought my flight to Buenos Aires, and everyone I knew was in school. I was getting antsy to get back into a schedule and start an adventure filled with mate and choripan.

Finally, the fateful day came. I flew out of LAX to Dallas. My flight had been delayed, but luckily my connecting flight to Buenos Aires was held for us. As I rushed into the plane, as it was already occupied, I encountered a buzz of Argentinean Spanish. I was tired from a long day of airport lines and traveling, so it was a bit of a culture shock. I had not been expecting to encounter people addressing me in Spanish, nor me having to spit out the measly Spanish that I could manage. But I was happy to find myself on a new adventure in a new country, with a new language, and in another hemisphere.

I arrived at the airport tired, and with what felt like a ton of bricks in my bags. I bumbled around looking for my group that I was supposed to meet, eventually found a tired group of college students surrounded by bulky travel bags, and felt right at home. Everyone was exhausted, but not to the point where they couldn’t be excited…to take a nap at the orientation hotel.

After orientation and meeting the 18 other people from all over the U.S., we were adopted by our homestay families. I was going to the bathroom, and so happened that I was the last one to come in to the room where we met our families. I guess you could say that I was the last one to be adopted. It’s no biggie though, because my homestay mother is a perfect fit. My program gave a lot of thought into matching up our families to the preference survey that we all filled out. So, I live in a middle-class neighborhood in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It’s just my mom, Maria, who only speaks Spanish, and me in an apartment. She has grandchildren of ages 3 and about 1, who come by to hang out every so often, and I’m sure that the 3 year old can destroy me when it comes to speaking Spanish.

Every morning I wake up, most likely looking like hell, and every morning my homestay mother is there with a huge smile on her face wishing me good luck in classes for the day. Breakfast isn’t much of a thing in Buenos Aires for the most part, but I don’t mind not eating a lot in the morning. I’m given a lunch stipend for in between my classes, and for dinner Maria cooks me typical Argentinean food like choripan and chimichurri. We talk for about an hour at the table about anything and everything in Spanish. It’s a great time to relax and unwind during the day. She’s one of the nicest people, and I’m sure that she likes the company now that her kids have left and have families all of their own. I’ve only been in my homestay for a week, and I’m beginning to think that this will be one of the better parts of my study abroad semester.

I haven’t been able to do as much exploring as I’d like. But, so far I’ve visited El Tigre, which is on the outskirts of the city of Buenos Aires, and is basically like the Venice of Buenos Aires. There are hundreds of little waterways slicing through islands, which have houses on the waterfront. People use boats to reach their houses, and there is even a school-boat to pick up and drop off students. A lesser experience was going to a beliche, which at least the one I went to, was essentially just a club. The name had me fooled for sure. When I stepped through the entrance there were essentially two huge dance floors. One was playing club music in English, and the other was playing Spanish language music. I definitely liked having a choice, because I felt that I got two beliches for the price of one.

On my list of things to do in Buenos Aires is definitely to go to the great and numerous flea markets, or ferrias, that the city has to offer. Every weekend there are usually huge plazas filled with stalls, and each market is different.

Every weekend holds a completely different adventure. Exploring is the highlight of my program so far, but I’m sure once we the learning becomes more experiential based in terms of taking our excursions to Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil, that I will be writing about my experiences in class more so.



Chelsea Carter | Atlanta, Georgia | Post 2

Chelsea Carter | Atlanta, Georgia | Post 2

I would like to address the feedback I received from my last article.

But first, I would like to apologize if what I wrote offended anyone. By all means, that was not my intention.

With that said, I really hope I can better explain what I was trying to convey.

To do so, I want to talk about something that is often ignored or superficially addressed: internalized prejudice/racism.

While I was raised in a multiracial home, I am perceived, and thus have been socialized, as a white woman.

I want to make something clear: I do not subscribe to white supremacist principals, nor do I support any institutionalized forms of racism or oppression.

But I do not want to lie. Because I was socialized the way I was, I grew up subconsciously internalizing the stereotypes I saw in advertisements, movies, and T.V. shows, those supported by my school’s limited and biased textbooks, employment of the tracking system, and segregated student body, and the ones I was taught by my privileged family and friends.

Attending PWI’s all of my life, I have not had the resources, experience, nor education needed to really deconstruct the myths I have grown to subconsciously accept.

This is why I wanted to go to Spelman. I wanted to hear new perspectives and see new realities. I wanted to learn everything I had never been taught and unlearn everything I had.

And the first thing I had to unlearn was my concept of race.

Before attending Spelman, I thought the color of my skin would isolate me from all the other students. And while there have been instances in which the color of my skin has dominated interactions with other students, I have learned something very important: that it is not skin color, but rather culture, that determines commonality. And I believe what contributed most to my previous misconception was witnessing the tokenization of black students.

I am so sorry if it seemed I was suggesting that all black individuals are alike. I know this to be untrue and anyone who believes this has a lot of unlearning to do.

And the reason I wrote what I wrote was because I believe dialogue helps develop universal understanding. I believe it is impossible to live in an inclusive and just society without first acknowledging, and then invalidating, our own internalized prejudices. While I wish I was raised differently, I think it would be more irresponsible to ignore the impact and implications of my problematic upbringing than it would be to acknowledge and address any internalized prejudice/racism I may have.

To unlearn, I believe one needs to be introduced to the realities and histories often left untold. This is not to say one can simply sit about and wait for this process to happen. Rather, I believe it is an individual’s job to actively first acknowledge and then unlearn the problematic teachings of their upbringing.

Once again, I apologize if anything I have said has offended anyone.

Before Spelman, I was under the assumption I had done away with any problematic views or teachings; that I already lived in a deconstructed and race free reality and had already unlearned all that I needed to.

But I have realized that there is much more I need to unlearn. And I hope you understand that acknowledging this has not been easy. No one wants to admit they have work to do. But I know who I want to be and what I want to believe. And before I leave Vassar, I want to be able to honestly say I did everything I could to unlearn the problematic teachings of my past, for I believe I cannot be a true advocate for universal equality without first actively acknowledging the impact of my problematic upbringing.

Everything I have wrote thus far has been from my own personal experience. Please understand the interactions, feelings, and situations I have documented have been recorded to help keep track of my own learning and personal growth. I do not wish to depict others’ realities. I know what I need and have embarked upon my own journey.

With that said, I hope we can open up the floor to others, help them acknowledge any problematic views they may have, and urge them to do whatever they need to do to unlearn the problematic teachings of their past.

Hannah Harp | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 2

Hannah Harp | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 2

Almost two months into my stay in Copenhagen and it feels like home. I suppose that halfway through the semester it should feel like home, but as I’ve said before, I doubted that I would ever feel comfortable so far away from what I have called home.

Finding a routine took a lot of work, but it puts everything into perspective when you do normal activities, such as grocery shopping or the weekly ritual of cinnamon rolls on Wednesdays. A local bakery, St. Peter’s, has cinnamon rolls that will make you forget Pillsbury forever. I have been every chance I get. I rave about them.

On the note of food, the feeling of home is particularly salient today as I have just returned from a week long adventure in Italy! I hope you’re hungry because this is about to get all about food. Well, and traveling in Europe. But mostly food.

My program, DIS, has an amazing amount of travel time built in our semester schedule. I decided my first break was going to be my largest trip and planned seven days in Italy, encountering almost four cities and exploring more history than I could have imagined. After weeks of painstakingly planning the cheapest ways to get around, balancing cheap hostels with location, and budgeting for expenses, the day to fly away finally arrived.

I had my intense anxieties from the very beginning. Will my suitcase fit on this airplane? Did I print and bring everything I need? I think I counted my pairs of socks and underwear more than four times. I’ve never been a relaxed traveler. My anxiety was increased by the independence of the trip, having planned each day without the guiding voice of my parents, who are quite the seasoned travelers. With quadruple-checked packing lists, I boarded the plane. 

Upon arriving in Milan, Italy, I needed to find euros, which are not used in Denmark. This was the first step in independent travel that I had not thought through. When my card was declined, I am pretty sure I physically shook for a couple minutes. The same terror I felt upon arriving in Denmark rolled over me, as I slowly realized I was in Italy, spoke no Italian, and had no money. Although the issue was solved soon after, with a little maneuvering, it was not the way I wished to be welcomed to Italy.

The day continued mostly in that vein, exhausted and hungry, when we arrived at our bed and breakfast in Verona to find the owner unavailable. Independent travel speed bump number two. Again, the issue disappeared as soon as we got in contact with the owner, but phew, that was discouraging. I am convinced this first day was the storm before the calm. Italy wanted us to work for the precious days ahead.

If you have been holding out for the food, we are there. You have made it. I had the best pizza of my entire life that first night in Verona. I am pretty sure I cried. It was half a meter long, covered in fresh cheese, and the closest to the taste of pure happiness you can imagine.

Said pizza. I wish I remembered what it was called, but I forgot as soon as I bit into it.

We had no idea that Verona was going to be our favorite city when we started, but by the end of the trip, we agreed that the small town feel of Verona combined with the Shakespearean legends gives the city a specific feel that we fell in love with. It is impossible not to fall in love with Verona. Juliet’s house is a shrine to love. You cannot ignore it.

Two days later we traveled to Venice, the city of canals. And gondolas! It is a magical city, with water around every turn and endless bridges. We took a tour of the surrounding islands and found tiny wonders on the islands of Burano, Torcello, and Murano; the homes of lace, Venetian history, and glass, respectively. It was in Venice that we ate our first authentic Italian breakfast at a tiny pasticceria with pastries that taste twice as good as they look.

[Second picture: donut and cappuccino. The Italian breakfast of a coffee and pastry. So European.
Donut and cappuccino. The Italian breakfast of a coffee and pastry. So European.
Another two days later, we were boarding a train to Florence! A beautiful city, full of art, decorated with history, and the perfect end to our tour of Italy. We jumped in with art explorations and went straight to see Michaelanglo’s David. Shameless Art 105/106 plug to learn more about how amazing it is to stand in front of this massive beauty.

Michaelanglo’s David, in profile.
Michaelanglo’s David, in profile.

After standing in awe for a long time, we tasted the fanciest version of macaroni and cheese that was not even macaroni and cheese. It was gnocchi with cheese and truffle oil. It was heavenly.

Gnocchi of the gods. No contest.
Gnocchi of the gods. No contest.

I have written too many words, but did not come close to doing the trip justice. It was an experience of a lifetime, with intense ups and downs, to find our way through a new country. I will carry Italy with me for some time, but for now, I am loving being back in Copenhagen, with the familiar feelings of my home away from home. I must say, I already miss the pizza and the wine that is cheaper than water. However, more than any feeling, it is peaceful to have a space that is comfortable and open, even if it is temporary.

[Fifth picture: Me, at peace with Italy, finding a place for the adventure and the comfort of home.
Me, at peace with Italy, finding a place for the adventure and the comfort of home.
Chris Brown | Brighton, England | Post 2

Chris Brown | Brighton, England | Post 2

Wow, where to even begin. I’ve been in the UK for just about half of my time abroad, and things are moving at a really fast pace now. True to my nature, I got involved in A LOT of things, and some major stuff involving those things have been happening the past few weeks, so I’ll try to do a little wrap up blog montage of the past month.

I’ve been able to travel a little bit with the limited amount of funds I have. I took a weekend trip with some friends to Disneyland in Paris. It was a really good time, and it reminded me of all the times I went to Disneyland in Southern California when I was younger. The one downside: no churros. 

I also was privileged enough to participate in a Model United Nations conference at my home university, Sussex. Definitely nice to have a little bit of familiarity in my routine with a twist of new faces and a new set of rules to play by. The same could be said about joining the Sussex show choir team. We just got back from our competition at Royal Holloway University where we competed against other show choirs from across the country. It was the most fun thing I have done since I’ve been here by far, and I thought to myself, “wow, you are actually making some really amazing friends here, when did that happen?” 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different dichotomies that come with being a student at Vassar and a student at Sussex. By the time I left Vassar, I was ready to go spend almost three years away before coming back for my last year. Vassar has this unique ability to make you feel extremely claustrophobic, socially and spatially. The campus is small, the people can start to feel all the same. Granted, there are a lot more things I love about Vassar compared to the things I don’t like about Vassar, but some many things had piled on top of me that being at Vassar any longer without a well-needed break would have pushed me to my emotional and mental limit.

Sussex is kind of the exact opposite of Vassar. There are almost ten times the amount of students here compared to Vassar. The friends you make you almost never see unless you have a class with them, are in a society with them, or actively make plans to see them. It’s such a different lifestyle, and I think that’s why I struggled to make strong connections with people over here very quickly. Every time you step our of your flat and onto campus, you see a whole new set of people. I know there are people in my class at Vassar that I still don’t know, but I can definitely say with certainty that last semester, I didn’t go one day without seeing someone I knew in passing.

I honestly don’t know which I like better. I love having the comfort of knowing people, feeling like you can hang out with someone at the drop of a hat, because I’m not about planning whatsoever. But it can be so constricting to have such a small group of people you see everyday. Here at Sussex, it can get lonely not seeing anyone you know for two or three days, but it gives you so much more of an opportunity to meet new people. I’m sure if I had better people skills and less social anxieties, I would be doing great over here, but as things have settled down, I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in the Sussex lifestyle.

I’ve been able to do a lot of (cue the cheese) soul searching with all the alone time over here, and it has been very cleansing. I want to say that I will come back to Vassar next year ready to go, but I really can’t say that, not just yet. I need a little more time over here to figure out where I’m going, why I want the things I want, and just think about why stuff happens the way it happens. This blog got way too real, so I’ll end with a funny story. Apparently I didn’t take into consideration the different amount of wattage that comes in US versus UK electrical outlets. Because of that, after about two months, my laptop charger literally burst into flames and would not function. Now I have a swanky new UK laptop charger.