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Month: October 2015

Chloe Sucato | Bologna, Italy | Post 2

Chloe Sucato | Bologna, Italy | Post 2

I am officially two months into my semester abroad. It seems unreal how quickly my time in Italy is going by. All the program orientations are finally over and I am finally getting truly settled in Bologna. Routines are forming almost as quickly as the weather is changing. Only a month ago, I was basking under the strong Leccesian sun and now I am cozied up in my sweaters and scarves.

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Despite being in Bologna for over a month, I only just recently got settled into my dorm and met my three suitemates. A noteworthy characteristic of nearly every Italian that I have interacted with is that they are extremely welcoming. My suitemates are no exception. I think an important part of any roommate arrangement is compromise. When you are a roommate in a foreign country, however, a higher degree of compromise is required because the difference in living styles tends to be greater. I have kept this in mind as I have adjusted to living among Italian students and it has made the transition relatively seamless.

The most dangerously wonderful thing about studying abroad in Italy is being constantly surrounded by delicious food. There was a three-week stretch where I ate out at cafes and restaurants for nearly every meal because I wanted to sample as much Italian cuisine as possible. The worst thing about this is that your funds get depleted much faster than anticipated. The Vassar program in Bologna provides you with a partial food stipend that is more than enough if you mix an occasional meal out with cooking at home. I have since discovered the joys of cooking, thanks to my kitchen-inclined suitemates and a cooking course offered through the program (I learned how to make homemade pizza and tiramisu!).

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As previously mentioned, I’m studying in Bologna as part of a Vassar, Wellesley and Wesleyan consortium program. This means that, apart from my University of Bologna course, I am taking program-run classes and going on trips with twenty other American students, several of whom were already my friends from my Italian classes at Vassar. Although it is comforting to share the experience with people I am familiar with, it is all too easy to spend time solely with my American companions. It is also the tendency to revert to our native language when we are in a group setting, sadly. Now that I am accustomed to the city, I am expanding my horizons and making a conscious effort to befriend as many Italians as possible. I came to Italy with the intent of becoming fluent in Italian, so I figure the only way I can ensure that that happens is if I use the language as frequently as possible and in diverse situations.

I finally began my much-anticipated university class about two weeks ago. After several meetings with my program advisors about which class is appropriate for my concentrations, I settled on a class centered on human rights and international law in the Political Science department. I had no idea what to expect, besides warnings from the program directors that Italian classes are almost exclusively lecture-based, often with no assignments or exams other than the final oral exam, and have average class sizes of fifty or more students. On the first day of my class, however, I found myself in a room roughly the size of a classroom in Rocky with fifteen other students. While the professor did lecture for the majority of the two-hour class, he encouraged us to ask questions and interrupt him whenever something was unclear. The familiarity of the environment put me at ease enough so that the only thing I had to focus on was understanding the professor!

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The style of classes in Italy requires more self-discipline than what I was accustomed to at Vassar. This is largely because there are no assignments due throughout the course to keep you on track with the readings; there is only the final exam at the end of the semester. It is up to each student to decide how to spend their time and manage their workload, which is mainly just reading books and articles. The thought that my grade is determined by one conversation with my professor is pretty daunting, but I will cross that bridge when I reach it!

Italy is an easy place to explore. Public transportation is fairly cheap, so between buses and trains you can get pretty much anywhere. This past weekend, I took a trip to Verona, the home of Romeo and Juliet, with a few friends. Since it was a particularly overcast and chilly day, I began my day there with a cioccolato caldo, which is the thicker, richer Italian variation of hot chocolate. Verona is a beautiful city, filled with fashionable, designer window displays and interspersed with churches, piazzas and artisan shops. The architecture in Verona has more gothic influence than Bologna and was especially pronounced with the gray skies overhead. The outing would not have been complete without a trip to La casa di Giulietta and an artisanal gelateria.

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Although I am quickly approaching the halfway point of my semester abroad, I am excited for what is to come. I have some exciting trips planned, both in and out of Italy! I will continue to familiarize myself with Italian autumnal cuisine, which uses a healthy amount of pumpkin, and discover the hidden gems of Bologna.

Rainah Umlauf | Vietnam | Post 3

Rainah Umlauf | Vietnam | Post 3

I can picture you reading this back at home, wrapped up in a sweater or scarf, sipping on a cup of hot apple cider, as red and yellow leaves slowly waft down outside the window. Ah, fall in New England!

It’s still hot and humid back here in Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, and I am even sunburned from our weekend trip to Mũi Né. But all is well, and the time is flying by. After our trip in the beginning of October to the University for Rural Development in the Mekong Delta, we traveled north to the central highlands. Đà Lạt is beautiful; it is surrounded by hills and lakes; the air is cool and clean. The small city is known for its agriculture; we visited coffee and flower plantations, spent an afternoon at a cricket farm (crickets are an expensive delicacy), and studied at the only organic farm in Vietnam.

 Women workers tend vegetables in Vietnam's only organic farm. Da Lat, Vietnam
Women workers tend vegetables in Vietnam’s only organic farm. Da Lat, Vietnam

 

After the week, we returned to our homestays. The 19 of us are spread out all over the city, each living with a Vietnamese family, one of whose members speaks at least basic English. There is nothing like having a homestay experience to incentivize language learning. Of course, the tonal language makes for some amusing misunderstandings; I just recently found out that I have been calling my homestay sister “cake” (bán) rather than “friend” (bạn). Similarly, my homestay mother was slightly taken aback when I tried to say ‘you’re welcome’ (không có gì) but instead told her that I didn’t have lice (không có chí).

 

A homestay routine is slowly developing. At ten minutes to seven, my host mother comes in to wake me up, always 5 minutes before my alarm. The bottom bunk where my homestay sister sleeps is empty; she is in her senior year of high school and her school starts around 5:30am. I get ready quickly before heading downstairs for breakfast. On a good day, I can expect a warm French bread sandwich with tuna and boiled tomatoes. On a bad day, there is a large plate of instant noodles (Ramen) and powdered orange juice (Tang). Every day, I have cà phê sữa đá, iced coffee made with sweetened condensed milk.

By 7:30, I am getting onto my host father’s motorbike, which is still an amazingly novel way to get to school. Luckily, he is an excellent driver; I spend the ride watching the busy breakfast carts and enjoying the breeze. With my helmet low and my doctor’s mask up, it is a rare moment of anonymity; I am just one more passenger in the city’s chaos.

A tiny glimpse at the traffic during rush hour. There are hopes that the subway, scheduled to be finished in 2020, will decrease the congestion of motorbikes.
A tiny glimpse at the traffic during rush hour. There are hopes that the subway, scheduled to be finished in 2020, will decrease the congestion of motorbikes.

 

Classes are sometimes spectacular, sometimes terrible, and with a different professor almost every day I can never tell which one to expect. We have one class before lunch, at which time the whole city shuts down. During our break, we wind back into the alleys behind the school, where families sell bowls of soup from huge pots in the middle of the road, people eat huddled under umbrellas sitting in tiny plastic chairs, and little carts carry impossible loads of goods, from shoes to locks to fruit. A favorite lunch dish is Bún Cá, a large bowl of noodles, fish and broth, or bánh xèo, a fried pancake filled with veggies. On the street, both go for around 20,000 VND, less than $1USD. Sometimes, if we are feeling particularly high spirited, we stop for a fried banana or an avocado smoothie; if you chose the fried banana, it is recommended to have plenty of chili salt alongside of it to keep your yin-yang balance stable. If you choose the avocado smoothie, catch him before he adds extra sugar but acquiesce to the sweetened condensed milk.

2. Basket boats in Mui Ne, a coastal fishing village on the East Sea outside of HCMC, are anchored on shore as fishermen sell their catches in the markets.
2. Basket boats in Mui Ne, a coastal fishing village on the East Sea outside of HCMC, are anchored on shore as fishermen sell their catches in the markets.

 

The last six weeks have gone by so fast. I feel like I have lived in Ho Chi Minh City forever, but also like I have not even broken the surface yet. We only have two more weeks here and then we begin to make our way North. Until then, I will be exploring this mystery of a city and trying to make my homestay mother laugh.  

 

Lizzie Bennet | Samoa | Post 4

Lizzie Bennet | Samoa | Post 4

Malo le soifua.

We spent almost a week on Savai’i, the largest island in the Samoan archipelago, both relaxing in beach fales and learning about the island’s natural history. Savai’i is not densely populated at all: the island was only recently formed by volcanic activity, and the lava flows have not had time to break down into a soil that can be used for farming. Thus, there is very little arable land in Savai’i, and many people must move to ‘Upolu in order to make a living. This, however, does not mean that Savai’i is a marginal place in Samoan culture and history. In fact, this island is the setting for many Samoan myths and legends. I could tell that this island was different from the moment the ferry pulled into port. The ferry was massive- one of two that transports people twice a day to and from ‘Upolu. All to our left side, swells battered the black basalt shoreline, and the air was filled with wispy trails of water vapor, the sinuous remains of once-powerful waves.

After we disembarked, we were taken to our beach fales. I stayed with two other people from my program group, including my classmate, Royal Scales ’17! It’s been really cool to have another person from Vassar in the group. It’s weird, given the size of the school, the fact that we’re both social science majors, and the fact that we have a bunch of friends in common, that we hadn’t met before coming on this trip. But now, I have the pleasure of knowing her and sharing these amazing experiences with her.

Anyway, our fale was perched on a ridge of sand piled upon large sandbags. The ocean, made ravenous by climate change, gnaws at the dying beach. In the morning, I bought the first Diet Coke I had drunk in weeks, and walked out to the sea, seemingly asleep in the arms of a barrier reef. The combination of the receded tide, following the dark, endless pull of the restless moon, and the gentle flows of freshwater springs nestled beneath our feet, wrought what to me seemed to be the softest scars on earth. I walked in the bottoms of the rivulets, following them down the slope of the beach to the sea. I ambled in, dragging my feet through the brilliant sand. Later that day, when the evening sky begins its languid drip across the visual spectrum, I laid on my back, ambient sounds muffled in the warm water. All I could see was a great circle of sky, illuminated in all colors, clouds racing away from their mothers, the mountains and out to the unknowable moana. In that moment, I let go of my spatial orientation, wondering if that truest experience of disorientation would teach me what it was like to be built and rent apart by the wills of ocean and sky. I snapped out of this fancy, realizing that I could not let this hubris, this notion that I, as a human, was removed from the struggles of oceans and sky, influence my experiences. Little did I know that this same sort of hubris that would compel me to not wear bug spray and caused me to get Chikungunya.

Do NOT get Chikungunya.

 

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Rivulets in the sand

 

View from the fale, to the North
View from the fale, to the North

 

After a few days of relaxation, we took a tour of the island, focusing on Savai’i’s natural history. We walked over thick flows of hardened lava, and our guide pointed out where locals have broken apart pieces of the surface for building material. On our drive, we saw entire churches, graves (Samoans bury their dead in front of their houses.), and gardens built from the ink-black rock. We went to a village ruined by an eruption that took place in the early 20th century, where the mossy skeleton of a Methodist church stands mired in the ropey rock.

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My favorite place, by far, was a cape at one of the remote ends of the island. It is a place where, according to indigenous beliefs, the souls of the dead entered the afterlife. Our guide refuted the tales I had earlier heard, and earlier told my friends and possibly put into this blog. For the incorrect information, I apologize. However, I like that story much more than the one he told me. What our guide told us was that the souls of the dead walked to this cape, shaped roughly like the number three, and waited on a ridge until sunset.

I scrambled across jagged rocks and ruined coral to get to this ridge. It was a roughly flat outcropping of basalt. I know nothing about souls, so I cannot evaluate how adequate of a resting place it is for them. I stood next to it, unable to climb to the top. I accepted it, leaving the best view to the resting souls. Then, I traced my steps back to the beach and climbed up to the most important rocks of the cape: the rocks from which the souls, split into groups of commoners and groups of chiefs, throw themselves into whirlpools that take them to their underworlds. Even though the sky was clear of storms, the water churned viciously a few meters below us. In some parts, the coral reef that stood between rock and ocean was shaped like a horseshoe. When the waves came in, water filled the void in the middle and was forced onto the shallowly submerged reef, giving the sea the appearance of breathing.

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All the while, I was finishing up some cookies I had brought with me from our picnic lunch. I stood at the apex of the ridge, breathing in time with the sighs of the brilliant Pacific. I was munching on a cookie. When it was time to move on, I broke off half of my cookie and laid it on the ridge, hoping in the back of my mind that a soul should appreciate a last gift from this mortal world. It isn’t often that one eats cookies with the souls of the dead, so why not make the most of it and share with them?

Fa!

 

Christa Ventresca | Glasgow, Scotland | Post 2

Christa Ventresca | Glasgow, Scotland | Post 2

Classes are finally underway at the University of Glasgow. We had a late start compared to Vassar, which was kind of nice because summer lasted longer, but it was also stressful. I had a hard time making my timetable work out, for various reasons, and for about a week I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find enough classes. But it ended up working out, and I was enrolled in all the classes that I wanted, amazingly enough.

One of the more interesting aspects of my semester so far is being able to experience what it’s like in a big European university. It’s really disconcerting for a person who is so used to a small liberal arts college to take a class in a huge lecture hall that is actually filled with people! If you’re in a humanities class, then the discussion time is provided by weekly tutorials, which means that you share your thoughts on the reading for one hour a week as opposed to every class. In general, there is usually less class time, which means more free time to do your homework (or just consider doing it). And as a result, it is really on you to do the readings, since you can probably get by with doing very little work. Similarly, there aren’t many weekly assignments, the vast majority of the grade is the final paper or exam. How much work you do on a regular basis is entirely up to you.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that there are a lot more international students at the University of Glasgow than there are at Vassar. At Vassar, I met quite a few international students coming for their full degree, but I met maybe two students doing the equivalent of a study abroad there. Here, I’ve clearly met many people studying abroad since I’m one of them, but even the Scottish people that I talk to have mentioned other friends from previous years who studied abroad in Glasgow. And there seem to be more international full degree students as well, probably because it’s so easy to travel between European countries. It forces you to realize the limits of spending all four years at Vassar while people in other countries are being exposed to so many different cultures!

In addition to classes starting, clubs are also now up and running. Everything is entirely student run, the sports, dance groups, music groups, everything. Which is a pretty big change for someone like me who is used to taking classes with the dance department or playing in ensembles with the music department. It is surprising to realize that the conductor of the wind band is also in your music class, and pretty cool that the students here take so much initiative. But it also means that there are fewer resources available since they are all being run by broke students.

View of the Princes St. Gardens from the top of the Scott monument. There’s lots of places to view Edinburgh from high up.
View of the Princes St. Gardens from the top of the Scott monument. There’s lots of places to view Edinburgh from high up.

That brings me to the other big difference between societies in Glasgow and in Poughkeepsie. Here if you want to join clubs, you have to pay club dues for most of them. That means that you give the club some money (usually around 5-10 pounds, but it depends on the club) and you can participate in their events. Which I guess is one way of ensuring that I don’t overcommit myself to everything. But I also find it kind of limiting since there are so many interesting clubs here, but the fact that I have to pay for them turns me away. It’s more similar to real life membership fees, I suppose.

As far as travelling goes, I have taken a few days trips around Scotland so far. Loch Ness in particular was amazing! I expected it to be full of tourists all looking for Nessie, but it was just a gorgeous lake in general. It’s also located up in the highlands, so you pass by all of these beautiful views on the way there.

Loch Ness! Hello Nessie!
Loch Ness! Hello Nessie!

And then there’s the highlight of the highlands: the highland cows. I’ve pet a few, and they are very fuzzy, although you do need to watch for the horns. How they see out of all that hair is a mystery to me.

A highland cow licking his nose. Awww.
A highland cow licking his nose. Awww.

I’ve also managed to take a day trip to Edinburgh, which is super easy from Glasgow. Edinburgh, like all other towns I’ve visited in this country, is incredibly cute and picturesque. The Princes St. Gardens are a lovely place for a walk, as well as the Old Town a little ways off. There are also tons of free museums like the National Gallery or the National Museum. The Edinburgh castle is also there, but you have to pay to get in. Edinburgh is where J.K. Rowling lived, so there are several more Harry Potter places you can visit there if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

The National Museum in Edinburgh is so much fun.
The National Museum in Edinburgh is so much fun.

So that’s it from me for now, by my next post I’ll hopefully have visited England a little, and maybe other towns farther north in Scotland. Who knows? It’s an adventure!

 

 

Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 2

Ellen Quist | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 2

I know I’m supposed to be studying in Copenhagen, and writing about Denmark, and being in Denmark, but as I’ve realized this past week, a significant portion of my semester abroad is going to take place outside of Copenhagen, and even outside of Denmark.  The way my program works is that every third week is a travel week of some kind, and every core course (mine is biomedicine) goes on a long study tour somewhere during one of the first two travel weeks.  My program went this past week, so I’ve just returned to Denmark from a week in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It occurred to me when we were leaving last Sunday that this was the first time I’d been out of Denmark since arriving in August.  (And it was the first time I’d been back to Scotland since I was there in summer 2010.)  The inter-Europe travel process is an interesting one.  For one, at the Copenhagen Airport, much of the airline check-in process is more or less automated and is done by each individual passenger at a touchscreen kiosk (including bag check).  The security lines are far more laid back and efficient than those in America – and you don’t even have to take off your shoes!  The only real additional screening measure is for those flying out of the Schengen area; they have to have their passports checked before proceeding to their gates.

Edinburgh population: 1/4 that of Copenhagen.  But the overall size and spread is so much bigger.
Edinburgh population: 1/4 that of Copenhagen. But the overall size and spread is so much bigger.

Denmark is a Schengen country, so when I originally came here after a brief layover in Iceland, I had no passport control or customs forms.  Now that I’m back, to go to almost every other country in Europe, it’s basically like I’m taking a domestic flight in the US (though with much cheaper airfare).  The UK, however, while a member of the European Union, is not a Schengen country.  So when we arrived in Edinburgh, we had to fill out a form and then have our passports stamped before we could leave the airport.  Accordingly, we each got another stamp when we returned to Copenhagen.

To see how much living in Denmark has changed how I think about things, all I really needed to do was leave and spend some time in a country where English is the official language.  I’ve gotten used to saying “tak” when completing a transaction, but in Scotland I had to remind myself to say “thank you” instead.  Having all the signs in English made it easier to navigate and generally function.  And while this isn’t language-related, the British pound is much closer in value to a US dollar than a Danish krone is, so price conversions were much more straightforward.

Temporarily leaving the homogeneity of Denmark also reminded me of the cultural difference that I have begun to wholly take for granted.  The Danes are often quiet, reserved.  They are very particular about how they dress.  There are no open container laws in Denmark, but I only saw one person carrying a can of beer around in Scotland.  And the low-income Danes can regularly be seen searching the streets for empty cans and bottles to recycle for money, which makes beggars on the streets just sitting and asking for change a very uncommon sight.  There are quite a few of them in Edinburgh, though.

 

An incredibly Scottish sunset.  You'd never get a view like this in Copenhagen, though, as this shot was taken from Arthur's Seat, which is higher than the highest point in the entirety of Denmark.  It was nice to be somewhere with hills.
An incredibly Scottish sunset. You’d never get a view like this in Copenhagen, though, as this shot was taken from Arthur’s Seat, which is higher than the highest point in the entirety of Denmark. It was nice to be somewhere with hills.

Beautiful landmarks and buildings aside, Edinburgh was in some ways kind of comforting.  I love Denmark, but perhaps the similarities between Brits and Americans made it easier to feel like I could blend into the crowds in Scotland without really trying.  And the way our tour was set up, being a tourist there was sort of effortless in a way that living Denmark isn’t always.  I’m glad to be home – for right now, Denmark definitely is home – but it was nice to get out for a bit and remember that there’s more to the world.  I’m hoping I’ll feel that way about Vassar, too, when I finally return – that it’s good to be back, but it’s good to know there’s something else beyond the bubble.

James Falino | Vietnam | Post 2

James Falino | Vietnam | Post 2

Life in Vietnam transpires in the streets. Families and shopkeepers enjoy people watching from their stoops, while men and women sell produce or consumer goods from baskets balanced on their heads or makeshift markets laid out on the sidewalk. There appears to be a general disregard for traffic laws, and most people get around by motorbikes that can hold one or two passengers – or an entire family with a child balanced on a parent’s shoulders.  I will be the first to admit to a bit of culture shock during my first days of adjustment, but I have come to see the beauty in this way of life.

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There is an organic flow to crossing the street. Basically, walk at a steady pace and the motorbikes will adjust their speed and weave around you. Don’t run and never step backwards. There are plenty of storefront merchants, coffee shops, and wifi spots but my most memorable experiences have taken place outside of what we may consider a typical establishment in the U.S. In Hanoi, where we spent our first two weeks, there is a three-story market in the Old Quarter where merchants pack goods into stalls and barter with consumers who weave through aisles and excess stocks of products. It closes by nightfall, and on weekend a night market opens up along a few blocks downtown selling a variety of products and street food.

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In Hanoi, our lectures were about Vietnamese history, the rise of civil society, the role of non-profit and environmental advocacy organizations, and a breakdown of the structure of the government. Vietnam is a Socialist Republic ruled by a single Communist Party. Citizens vote for representatives in the National Assembly, but much of the upper administration is chosen from within the National Assembly and Party leadership. The government controls the press, who run daily news reports from loudspeakers early in morning. Much of what we learned has been pro-development and emphasizes both the country’s steady rise out of poverty after the Vietnam War and conflicting interests between aligning in trade agreements with China or a push for Westernization with the United States. I have been challenged about my perception of Socialism and Communism from high school and even college, but I’ve got a lot to learn.

 

After Hanoi, we took a short flight south to Cần Thơ in the Mekong Delta. This region is the southern tip, and the major agricultural region of Vietnam. It produces about 50% of all food, close to 65% of fruit, and about 20% of the country’s GDP while supporting a population of 18 million. With clear ties to my program’s focus on food, Vietnam is listed as one of the top five countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Mekong Delta is on average about 1.5m above sea level, posing a major threat to agricultural production with rising sea levels and more intense floods and droughts. A complex system of dams harnesses hydropower along the Mekong River stretching to the north, but has disrupted fish migration and sediment flow, causing the Delta to sink at a faster rate which threatens its longevity. My independent research project will compare the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California with the Mekong River Delta – looking at the threats of climate change and the measures that the governments plan to implement in order to safeguard these crucial regions.

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I am living in a homestay in Cần Thơ in a family of two professors in the School of Agriculture at Cần Thơ University. This is my first homestay experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the culture and especially the home cooked meals. Both of my parents speak English very well, and are knowledgeable about Vietnamese history. They got their PhD’s in Sweden and have traveled to many countries, so our dinner conversations tend to shift quickly from how our days were to political economy, international politics, and democracy.

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The past few days we have traveled to Cà Mau and Bạc Liêu, two provinces in the southernmost tip of the country. There, we visited two national parks, a biogas plant at the largest pig farm in Vietnam, and a wind farm. Standing below a wind turbine and touching its base was a surprisingly spiritual experience for a self-proclaimed tree-hugging environmentalist like myself. Placed in shallow wetlands without much environmental degradation, it was a contrast to our visit to the Soviet-era Hòa Bình Dam in the north with 1920MW energy production that flooded over 20 towns and displaced their populations.

In between lectures, site visits, and bumpy, hours-long bus rides, we’ve made time for fun and memorable experiences. During the first week of lectures, a local Vietnamese news station interviewed me after class about the lecture and our research on climate change. After class in Cần Thơ, a few classmates and I began playing a game called đá cầu. It is most analogous to hacky sack, but the toy is plastic shuttlecock attached to a feather. We stood in a circle and tried to get a knack for the game until we saw some university students looking on and giggling at us. I motioned some over and eventually our circle of five turned into about twenty U.S. and Vietnamese students. They impressed us with their skills and coordination, and it was a lot of fun to share in some non-verbal communication.

Speaking of communication, some funny interactions have occurred due to what was been lost in translation. For example, our professor tried ordering coffee and ended up with two coconuts bigger than his head. Our group has shamelessly craved ice cream, but our familiar flavors or textures have eluded us thus far. After some friends and I enjoyed a meal we ordered some Oreo ice cream. After close to a 10-minute wait, we were worried we’d be late for class and wondered how ice cream could take so long. Out came a huge bowl of blended ice cubes with cream beneath, reachable only by the long spoon or straw. Atop sat fruit, corn flakes, and a few crushed Oreos. Our mouths were agape when the waiter brought it out, but in their defense they carried through with the promise of both ice and cream, so we enjoyed it nonetheless.

We have a few days left of classes in Cần Thơ and then we’re off to Ho Chi Minh City until our flight. Morocco is next and I’m excited. I’m left with a lot of different feelings about the memorable experiences I’ve had and all of culture I’ve missed out on. I expect more adventures ahead, with a little more wheat and bread in my diet.

Hạ Long Bay
Hạ Long Bay
Chloe Sucato | Bologna, Italy | Post 1

Chloe Sucato | Bologna, Italy | Post 1

I arrived in Italy about a month and a half ago, ready to embark on my first journey abroad. I came with few expectations because I wanted each new experience to be as untainted as possible from the stories I heard from previous participants of the E.C.C.O. program in Bologna, Italy. Although my final destination was Bologna, I spent three weeks experiencing southern Italian culture in Lecce.

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My time in the south taught me that Italy is a richly nuanced country. Each of the twenty provinces of Italy, but often each region or city within each province, has its own distinct culture, traditions and food that its people widely embrace. The Vassar Italian department definitely warned us about the regional differences that exist in Italy, but I was still surprised to see how greatly southern cities varied from those of the north in terms of industrial and economic development and societal progress. Northern cities, especially tourist-prone or university cities like Rome, Bologna and Milan, have more active business sectors and noticeably less rigid patriarchal structures in comparison to those of the south. Although the south was different from what I am accustomed to as a New Yorker, for three weeks I enjoyed the slower pace of life and the cucina povera, traditional southern cuisine, in Lecce. I learned how to function with an extremely limited wardrobe and without amenities like drying machines, air-conditioning, and ever-present hot water.

I began learning Italian my first semester at Vassar after having taken Spanish in high school for seven years. One of the things that has surprised me the most is how confident I feel in my ability to communicate in a foreign language in a foreign country. While I was visiting Rome on my way up north to Bologna, I encountered a banking issue and had to explain my situation to a very kind Italian banker. While the situation was not serious and was resolved quickly, my ability to explain what had happened saved me a great deal of stress.

Although it has only been a little over a month, my sense of independence has increased tremendously. I am proud of myself for figuring out the Roman public transportation system in just three days and for discovering cool cafes in each city I visit where I can sip on a cappuccino and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. I have adapted quickly to each city that I have visited, both in terms of understanding the different dialects and figuring out my way around.

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If you are a foodie, make sure you take a trip to Italy. The first time I went to a frutteria in Lecce, I bought some of the best peaches, plums and apples that I have ever had. Ice cream does not compare to gelato. Homemade pasta beats boxed pasta every time. Get my drift? The relationship Italians have with food, both in the north and in the south, is completely different, however, from what you encounter in America. You will never be rushed out of a restaurant and meals are complex ordeals here, consisting of several courses, made almost exclusively from locally-sourced products that follow a particular order. This goes mainly for lunch and dinner because breakfast is usually light and consists of an espresso and a croissant. Although Italians eat generously, they balance their diet with an active lifestyle. In university towns like Bologna and Ferrara, bikes are the most common form of transportation, aside from walking.

 

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One of my most memorable moments so far is from my trip to Modena last week. A few of my friends that I was traveling with wanted to take pictures outside of Chef Massimo Bottura’s restaurant, currently ranked #2 in the world, after watching a special about him on Chef’s Table. While we were in the midst of taking silly pictures and acting like a typical group of college kids, a dapper man poked his head outside of the restaurant and gestured for us to come inside. We immediately thought that we were about to get reprimanded for being disruptive outside such an esteemed restaurant, but to our immense surprise we were silently seated at one of the rarely available twelve tables. My surprise grew when Chef Massimo came over to our table and had a friendly conversation with us before treating us all to his freshly-made desserts and espresso.

Although the moment lasted about a half an hour, it will be hard to forget the kindness that I was shown that day. The experience reminded me to be open to random opportunities that pop up while traveling because you never know what can happen. Studying abroad is a personal learning experience, not just academically, but also culturally and emotionally. My advice? Embrace each experience because it all goes by so fast.

 

Places to go in Rome:

-Gelato: Giolitti

-Pizza: Dar Poeta

-Cappuccino: Sant’Eustachio

 

Places to go in Bologna:

-Gelato: Cremeria Mascarella

-Pasta: Osteria dell’Orsa

-Lunch: Jukebox Cafe

 

Places to go in Lecce:

-Pizza: Il Pizzicotto

-Gelato: Settimo Cielo