Descanso (Fall Break the Spanish Way)

Sorry for the long post, but it’s been a busy few weeks…

Even here in Spain, we get a fall break! I’ve had some pretty memorable fall breaks at Puget Sound, going to visit my sister in Eugene and traveling to Portland, but I feel like my fall break this year beat them all (not only because it was one day longer than the UPS break either). After completing our first month here – with a language intensive class and block one of Spanish culture, covering everything from Prehistory up until the reconquest by el Reino Católico - I was ready for a break…

Córdoba

View of Córdoba from the towers of the Alcázar

View of Córdoba from the towers of the Alcázar

Before we left for our week abroad, our program went to Córdoba to see the mosque and experience the arab baths. We arrived at 11 am and were given 3 hours of free time to wander about the city and visit some of the more famous monuments. I, like most people in my group, chose to go to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (or the fortress of the Christian Kings). From the top of the tower we were able to see all of the city, lined up along the river and the famous bridge that is often depicted in postcards and travel brochures.

Pebble Mosaic

Pebble Mosaic

Inside, I was struck by a large mosaic made entirely out of small black and white stones. When I first entered the room I thought for sure it must be a painting or drawing, but I was proven wrong when I got closer.

The gardens of the Alcázar were by far the largest and most elaborate gardens I have seen thus far in Spain. I’d be curious to see if they were kept in such immaculate condition historically, or if it only came about when the fortress was turned into a tourist attraction. Either way they were breathtaking, and we managed to spend over an hour wandering around and taking pictures of the place.

The Gardens of the Alcázar


The Gardens of the Alcázar

However, the heat eventually got to us and we fled the fortress in search of a bench and shade where we could enjoy our bocadillos. (For those of you who have not had the pleasure of learning what a bocadillo is, I’ll fill you in… It’s a large sandwich which is to be given to anyone who is not going to be returning home for lunch. My bocadillos are generally half a loaf of bread with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce and olive oil.)

The Mosque

The Mosque

When we met back up with our group we went to the mosque for our tour. Our tour guide, a lovely woman from Córdoba, much to our delight, had a hard time following our program coordinators directions to speak only in Spanish and would often explain something to us in English. The mosque was amazing. There are not words to describe it and anyone who has the opportunity should definitely go and see it! It was built over four and a half centuries, with construction starting in 784 and ending in 1236. It’s unique for a variety of reasons…

  1. It is built on top of a church
  2. There is a church built in it
  3. It’s huge
  4. All of the columns are different and come from different places

The columns all came from different places and were reused, which I thought was quite resourceful. They are all also marked with the name of the person who installed them. The church inside the mosque is one of the more controversial parts of this mosque. Both the mosque and the church are beautiful on their own, but by placing the church inside the mosque, they essentially destroyed the majesty that was created by the immense size of the mosque. Carlos V, one of the most famous kings of Spain who ruled in the XVI century said, “You have built here what you, or anyone else, might have built anywhere; to do so you have destroyed what was unique in the world.”

Signature of the Artist

Signature of the Artist

The Alter of the Church Within the Mosque

The Alter of the Church Within the Mosque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona

Lunch in Barcelona

Lunch in Barcelona

From Córdoba I went straight to Barcelona with two girls from my program, I was only there for a day and a half, but I feel like I was able to see a lot. On Wednesday morning we went on a walking tour with a lovely British tour guide who loved to point out that Barcelona has always been on the wrong side of the fight. We stopped for lunch at a specialty ham shop where I enjoyed the deliciousness of a bocadillo de jamón iberico… yum :)

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

 

 

 

 

We went to the Sagrada Familia that afternoon, which was a change after the mosque. It was huge, and it was strange to be in a Basilica that isn’t at least 5 centuries old, in fact it’s not even finished. We had booked tickets for the nativity towers, so we headed there first. They took us up in an elevator and then from there you walk across and down the tower in a spiral staircase, something I do not recommend if you suffer from vertigo, but which otherwise is a wonderful way to take in beautiful views of Barcelona.

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View of Barcelona from the Nativity Towers

View of Barcelona from the Nativity Towers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Rambla

I spent the morning of my last day at the Rambla market in the downtown Barcelona. It was food heaven. It reminded me a lot of Reading Terminal (which I’m told is very similar to Pikes Place Market, although I’ve never been). I walked in and was instantly surrounded  by fresh fruit and stacks of candy. As I made my way deeper I passed stands filled with smoothies buried in ice, home made cheeses, fresh fish, and cured meats. It was food paradise, and I would love to simply live there and trade work in the booths for samples of the amazing food. Unfortunately, I had to go to catch a flight, but I’m sure I will return next time I’m in Barcelona.

Ireland

Howthe

Howthe

From Barcelona I headed to Dublin… it was definitely a change from the hot, sunny days I’d been experiencing since my arrival in Spain, and I was happy for it. The cloud cover, greenery, and changing leaves all made me miss being up in the Pacific Northwest during the fall months, but I appreciated the taste of home, and the brief break from speaking Spanish. I spent a day in Howthe, which anyone traveling to Dublin should do. It’s at the northern end of the city and lays on the coast with a beautiful harbor and views of the ocean. I spent the whole day hiking around and finished it off with a delicious meal of fish and chips right in the marina. It was one of the best days I’ve had abroad.

Fish and Chips!

Fish and Chips!

I also took the chance to explore Trinity College campus in the heart of Dublin and it made me want to transfer. It is one of the oldest colleges in the world, sits in the center of the city, is beautiful and green, and the students were all really friendly. But I’ll put off my newfound dream of going to school in Ireland until I finish my semester in Spain.

Guinness Academy

Guinness Academy

 

To finish up my break I met up with a few people from my program during my last day in Dublin and toured the Guinness Storehouse. It was good fun, but I must admit it was quite the tourist trap. You enter at the ground floor and work you way up the floors of a building shaped like a pint glass (that part was cool) on escalators that only go one direction. On the second floor you go to the tasting room where you learn to really appreciate the flavors of Guinness. Then when you arrive at the fourth floor you are taught how to pour a perfect pint of Guinness (this part was also cool). You then travel with your pint up to the sky bar overlooking Dublin to enjoy. Once you’ve finished and they’ve got you feeling good, they spring you with the gift store on your way out where you can purchase just about anything Guinness. All in all it was a good time, but I think I may have preferred the Jameson distillery where you can actually see how it’s made.

Back to Granada

So now we’re back in Granada and we’ve begun our new classes. I’m taking a class on the Political Systems of the EU, Islamic Cultures in Spain, Writing and Speaking, and the culture class with our program. I’ve also signed up for activities through the University of Granada… I’m taking Inline Skating and Salsa.

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Week 3… Finally feeling Settled

Feeling at Home while looking like an Outsider…

Just a little chocolate to make the day better...

Just a little chocolate to make the day better…

I’m definitely starting to feel more comfortable here. I watch tv with my host family, wander the streets alone during the day, and feel confident ordering in restaurants, probably because I’m always eating churros and chocolate, tapas, ice cream, or chocolate croissants (I might have a weakness for chocolate…). But despite how relaxed I have become here in Spain, I still am constantly making a fool of myself and assuring everyone around me that I am a foreigner. It doesn’t bother me much, but I’m sure I provide excellent entertainment to everyone around me.

Churros and Chocolate… Mmmmm

For example, last weekend my host family invited me to a surprise party that they were throwing for their cousin whowas getting married. The wedding was planned somewhat last minute because he got a job in the Caribbean and his girlfriend and child couldn’t come unless they were married. My extended host family has a total of four exchange students, and all of us were invited to the party (the other girl in my house, and our host moms niece has two exchange students that are part of our programas well). When we got there we went to our assigned table and opened the bottle of water that was in the center. The four of us proceeded to drink the entire bottle of water before anyone else had even opened theirs, apparently water isn’t essential to life in Spain. The entire family stuck to wine and champagne throughout as we worked our way through two bottles of water to accompany our alcoholic beverages. The best part though, was when the waiter came around to ask if anyone wanted anything

else to drink. It was about 10:30 at night and I knew I was going to be up until sunrise, so I asked for a coffee. The waiter, and everyone at my table, proceeded to laugh at me. Stupid American, nobody drinks coffee before dinner. However, to me the most shocking part of all of this was realizing the difference in the service industry here. I’m a waiter myself in the US, and if someone orders an absurd drink, no matter what it is, you bring it to them, but here it’s acceptable to laugh at the order of a customer and refuse to bring them what they would like. It’s nice to know there isn’t a rigid standard of service everywhere in the world, and I liked that I provided some entertainment for my host cousins, even if it was by making a fool of myself.

Dinner at the Family Party

Despite these few mishaps, the party was really fun and the cousins did a really good job of trying to make us feel included. The dinner was incredible, we started off with a cheese and meat plate that had chorizo and Iberico ham, then a salad, then fish, then ham in a delicious pepper sauce. For dessert we had cheesecake, which made me miss my mother’s cooking. After dinner there were speeches, and then we danced. The cousins taught us some of their dances, and we watched as they all danced flamenco together. The whole family, including the babies stayed until about 3 am. After that, the cousins took us to a club to keep the party going. It was a unique expierence and I’m glad that my host family is willing to include us in their celebrations, even if we sometimes (often times) embarrass ourselves (and perhaps them) by acting like Americans.

Exchange Students and the Cousins

Monachil/Nerja

Monachil!

Monachil!

Besides making a fool of myself here, I have done a few other, slightly more productive things. Last week we wrapped up our first block of culture class and finished our language Intensivo! YAY! So glad to not have class 4 hours straight Monday through Friday. To celebrate finishing up Intensivo I headed to Monachil with a group of people from my program. Monachil is a small town with awesome hikes about 20 minutes outside of Granada. We got their at the hottest part of the day and proceeded to climb our way up to the begining of the trail. But once we got their we were instantly cooled off by the trees, river and canyon walls that surrounded us.  It was wonderful to finally be surrounded by nature in Spain and have nothing to worry about besides getting home in time for dinner. We jumped in the river to cool off twice during our walk, the second time we swam underneath a waterfall that cascaded off a cliff on the side of the trail, and which you crossed by walking across a suspension bridge. For anyone looking for something close, fun, and adventurous to do near Granada… go to Monachil!

Caves!... Kinda dark but we weren't allowed to use flash

Caves!… Kinda dark but we weren’t allowed to use flash

On Saturday, to continue celebrating my completion of Intensivo and to take advantage of the sun while it’s here, I headed to Nerja, a beach town about 2 hours from Granada. While there I checked out the Cuevas de Nerja (Caves of Nerja), which are home to some of the largest Stalactites and Stalagmites in the world. It was incredible. I felt like an ant inside the caves. When we entered, we came into a small room, which a proceeded to gawk at for about 15 minutes before realizing that this was only the entrance into the next room, which was about 5 times as big. The second room is also set up so that they can put on concerts and flamenco shows, which would be

20130921_161651incredible to see. However, once we got past the second room and made my way deeper underground we came into the main room (that’s open to the public), which was giant. I don’t have any way to describe how big it was but it stole my breath away.  the caves we made our way back down to the beach where we played in the Mediterranean and climbed on rocks for the rest of the afternoon.

Beach at Nerja!

 

 

 

 

 

Beach at Nerja!

 

Alhambra

Ceiling in the Women's room

Ceiling in the Women’s room

Decorated Archway

Decorated Archway

Poetry on the Walls

Poetry on the Walls

Old Gardens

Old Gardens

Yesterday, I finally got to go to the Alhambra… wow. For those who don’t know, the Alhambra is a muslim city in Granada, that is home to the castles of the Muslim kings of Granada, and Carlos V, the son of Isabel and Ferdinand. It has been converted into a monument and is one of the most visited places in Spain. Outside of the city are the gardens, which include new gardens from the 20th century, and gardens from the Islamic reign. After viewing the gardens we entered the Alhambra from the far end. This is where all the servants and artisans lived, and the houses no longer exist, but the ruins of the structures are still somewhat in tact. As you get closer to the church, which used to be a mosque but was converted when the Christian Kings conquered Granada, the houses get nicer and the buildings are more in tact. On the other side of the church are the castles and the military fortress. The muslim castles were the most impressive to me. The artwork is exquisite and every part of the building’s interior is decorated: cieling, floor, windows, and walls. Across every wall there is a line of plaster that has poetry written in arabic inscribed in it, surrounded by exquisite designs. Below the plaster writings there is ceramic tiling across the walls. Imagining the amount of time that was dedicated to each little detail is daunting and incredible. The Christian architecture was beautiful as well, with more decoration outside than the Islamic art, but it didn’t come close to containing the same amount of attention to detail.

 

That’s all I have to say for now. We have our level test this afternoon, and tomorrow we travel to Córdoba. After that we have 5 days of vacation, so I am heading to Ireland. I’m very excited to see the mosque in Córdoba… one of the largest in the world.

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Rhonda, A Music Festival, and a trip to the Beach

Sorry about the large gap between posts, but we haven’t had internet at our house since Friday… something with the telephone company. Luckily it’s all been solved and without too much inconvenience.

RHONDA

RHONDA

RHONDA

So last Saturday (August 30th) we took a trip with our program to Rhonda. I first heard of Rhonda about a year ago (before I had any idea that I wanted to come to Spain) through my favorite Facebook page, Places to See Before You Die. Now of course all of the photos on this page make me have an absurd desire to travel the world, but I remember bookmarking Rhonda in particular as something I absolutely had to see. I’m very glad that I did! Being in the town is like being in the photographs, only better because you’re actually walking the streets and seeing the views in person. One side of the ravine is the “old city” and the other side is the “new city.” Now this can be slightly misleading as both sides date back to the 13th century. The cobblestones that make up the streets are so worn down by time and use that I had to be extra careful not to slip and fall, not an easy task for me considering I’m quite clumsy to begin with. But it was humbling to think of all of the people who had walked on those streets before me and all the people who will in the future.

La Vuelta España

La Vuelta España

Got to see part of the Vuelta España, it was very fast, but cool to see a sporting event that is really popular here… other than soccer.

INTENSIVO

Life in Granada is pretty busy right now as we started ‘Intensivo’ last week. We have 4 hours of class every morning split between two professors. Then we walk back and eat lunch and on Mondays and Wednesdays I have my Spanish culture class. We’ve begun delving into the history of Spain, starting with the Iberians and Celts and working our way through the rise and fall of the Roman empire, the visigodos, the rise of Islam in Spain (Al Andalus), and finally ending with the reconquest of Spain by the Christian Monarchy. In our ‘Intensivo’ we’ve been focusing a lot on the differences in language here as compared with latin american Spanish, which I’ve come to learn are numerous.

MUSIC FESTIVAL

So for a little fun last week our professor suggested we check out a Music festival, El Festival Zaidín Rock, that happens every year in Granada at the beginning of September when most of the students start returning to the city. It was a mix of Spanish rock and reggae bands, none of which were too famous, but all of which were quite enjoyable. So naturally we took her up on her suggestion and headed to the festival on Thursday night. I went with three other students in my group and we decided to take a cab since it was on the opposite side of the city. When we got there the cab driver told us “en el otro lado” (on the other side) which we all casually brushed off figuring we would have no trouble finding the concert. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The festival was divided into two parts, on one side of the street was a music festival in a large open field, on the other side (where we were) there were a bunch of carnival rides and music for a slightly older crowd (50s/60s). We asked several people if we were in the right place and they all said the music was on the other side. We proceeded to walk all the way around the soccer stadium without any success. Now if anyone had informed us that it was on the other side of the street, perhaps we wouldn’t have spent so much time wondering why our professor had sent us to a family/senior festival. In the end we found our way there, after about 90 minutes of confusion, and were pleasantly surprised by the young crowd and good music.

2 of the Bands we Heard

Bongo Botrako

La Kinky Beat (I would like to clarify also that Kinky does not have the same meaning in Spanish, but it means to steal stealthily, like pick pocket)

ALMUÑECAR

Almuñecar... a little cloudy but beautiful nonetheless

Almuñecar… a little cloudy but beautiful nonetheless

Finally, this weekend I decided I wanted to head down to the beach and dip my feet in the mediterranean. I’d heard from several people that Salobreña was a good beach about an hour away so a friend and I purchased bus passes and headed down on Saturday. We had been told to expect the buses to be late here, but we were very confused when we were denied entry to our bus. There was a mechanical issue and so we waited for about twenty minutes with the other passengers and then were redirected to another bus. In another turn of events, when the bus arrived in Salobreña, rather than stopping at a bus stop and waiting for the passengers to get off, the driver simply opened the door at a stop sign for a couple of seconds and asked a woman outside a question. Then he closed the door and began driving. Everyone on the bus assumed we were headed to the bus stop, but we were wrong. As we started to leave Salobreña, someone on the bus with better Spanish skills than my own asked the driver if we had missed the stop. He told us we had. Fifteen minutes later we arrived in Almuñecar. My friend and I didn’t mind as it was another beach town and we spent the day exploring the town, swimming in the Mediterranean, and laying on the beach. Despite the rough start I would say it was an overall successful day and I’m sure that Almuñecar provided us as good an experience as Salobreña would have if not better.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bienvenidos a Granada

I’d like to begin by clarifying that this is my first blog, and I’m not exactly sure what to include and what not to, so I apologize if I discuss anything here that is a typical of bloggers… I’m learning…

I arrived in Granada on Tuesday morning after a long day of traveling that began in Denver on Monday morning. Having never been to Spain I was thrilled to be here, but exhausted from traveling. So I enjoyed the view from the window of the cab to my homestay without taking many photos. I arrived at my hosts home to be greeted by my wonderful host mother, Liberada. My roommate, Alli arrived shortly after me. The day’s events are a bit of a blur that stems from a combination of jet lag, exhaustion, and culture shock. Alli gave me a tour of the city, as she had been here for nearly a week after spending her summer in Salamanca.

On Wednesday we had our program orientation with our program directors Mark and Maria. Our house is close to the Plaza de Toros and I was quick to discover that our classes are about two miles from our house, so I will be getting plenty of exercise in Granada even if I don’t make it to the gym. They gave us our schedules along with some advice to make our homestays more comfortable. It is considered to be of “muy mal educación” or bad manners, to walk around a house without shoes on here (Considering I’m barefoot 90% of the time in the US, this has been a bit of an adjustment for me). We then returned to the house for lunch and another siesta. In the US I have a hard time sleeping during the day, and I thought it would be difficult to adjust to the siesta schedule, but considering the heat and jet lag, I think the siestas have made the transition to the new time zone easier, at least for me.

The best part of this week has been all that I have learned about Granada and Spain. We’ve had two classes about Spain, one that was an overview of the topography of Spain and the basics of the political structure, and the other was about the fiesta lifestyle that Spain is so well known for. While the classes have been interesting, they cannot compare to our walk through the city with our history Professor, Alfonso. As our introduction to his class and to the city, we walked throughout the historic neighborhoods of Granada and learned a little about the history of each. The most important year in Spanish history, according to him, was 1942 for three reasons. There is of course the reason we all know in the US, Christopher Columbus. But for Granada there were two other reasons: It was the year that Isabel and Ferdinand conquered the city of Granada, taking it out of the control of the Muslims, and it was the year that the Christians expelled the Jewish people from the city. I found it very interesting that in the same year that Christopher Columbus was discovering “the New World,” Granada was undergoing dramatic changes making it a new place for him to return to as well.

A fountain in the Garden near the Alhambra where we walked with our class... Picturesque

A fountain in the Garden near the Alhambra where we walked with our class… Picturesque

The city of Granada

The city of Granada

There are cats all over the city. In the Garden near the Alhambra overlooking the city we saw this kitten and I wanted to bring her home with me.

There are cats all over the city. In the Garden near the Alhambra overlooking the city we saw this kitten and I wanted to bring her home with me.

It has been a full couple of days and I have enjoyed every moment. I will do my best to write more about what I’ve been doing in my free time in my next few posts, but for now I need to get to bed.

Tomorrow we are going to go to Rhonda with our entire group (41 people). I’m excited to see the city and the cliffs that it is so famous for.

Hasta Luego

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Jumping Right In

Hej everyone! I have survived my first week in Copenhagen. A lot has happened, but the city and my host family have been great so far and I look forward to the rest of the semester. My arrival last Sunday was crazy. I went directly from my plane through customs (which was surprisingly easy), picked up my bags, and was ushered to an arrival orientation meeting. I got all of the paperwork I would need for the coming week and then a DIS staff member who looked as exhausted as those of us arriving walked us through the basics of living in the city. After about an hour my host dad Peter and host brother Hesse picked me up and we headed out. I’m living just a short walk from downtown Copenhagen in a neighborhood called Christianshavn.

Rainier from my flight out of Seattle

Rainier from my flight out of Seattle

Our orientation took place Monday through Wednesday. It was mainly taking care of immigration paperwork (without a residence permit you can only live in Denmark for three months), figuring out how to navigate the city via information sessions and brief historical tours, and meeting new people. As with most orientations, the people you meet

A typical Danish morning.

A typical Danish morning.

in these sessions you’re likely to never see again. I also got to explore the city a bit more, meaning that I got lost on more than one occasion. Getting lost worked pretty well as an introduction to the city, though, and I can now successfully navigate most of downtown Copenhagen.

Unfortunately for tourists there are very few straight roads in Copenhagen.

Unfortunately for tourists there are very few straight roads in Copenhagen.

Classes have just started, so I don’t have a lot to say on the intensity or style of teaching quite yet, but so far all of my courses and professors seem great. I’ll get into the gritty details of that in my next post. For now, here are some fun facts I’ve learned so far about Danes and Copenhagen.

Downtown has fascinating buildings for both architectural and historical reasons.

Downtown has fascinating buildings for both architectural and historical reasons.

  • Danes hate peanut butter. My host dad said it’s because peanuts are for squirrels.
  • There is no Danish word for “please”. This can cause confusion when Danes speak English. They aren’t trying to be rude, they just don’t get the point in having the word.
  • Danes will wait for the “walk” sign on street corners even in there are no cars or bikes in any direction.
  • Cyclists are ruthless. If you’re standing in the bike lane, expect at least to be yelled at. I have seen Danes purposefully almost hit tourists standing in the bike lane so (hopefully) they’ll stay on the sidewalk in the future.

 

  • Milk and yogurt come in extremely similar cartons, so make sure you actually read the label or you’ll end up with yogurt in your cereal.
  • You know how in America when you pass someone you know you say something like, “Hey, how are you?” and then keep walking? This is so confusing for Danes. If you ask a question, expect an answer, and probably not a short one.
  • Speaking of questions, tourists and travelers are often afraid to ask Danes for directions or advice because they’re so serious-looking. They can be intimidating but nine out of ten Danes will smile and help you with your problem if you approach them. I’ve had people literally escort me places when I asked for directions. So if you have a question, just ask. Unless you’re on the train. No one talks on the trains.

Hej hej,
Skyler

 

 

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The Countdown Begins…

In exactly three weeks I will be arriving in Paris. I cannot believe how quickly summer has passed. This whole trip finally started feeling real after receiving my visa in the mail last week. I guess I better start thinking about what I am going to pack!

I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Meg and in three weeks, I will be moving to Lyon, France for roughly nine months to teach English in three different primary schools through TAPIF (teaching assistant program in France). As I will only be working around 12 hours per week, I will have plenty of time to explore and experience all that Lyon (and parts of France) has to offer me. I am equal parts frightened, overwhelmed, and unbelievably excited to begin my adventure.

The main worry that I have right now is figuring out where I am going to live. As of now, I have a roommate (another teacher from the UK) and we are attempting to find an apartment in Lyon. After sending countless emails, we have received few replies save for one diligent scammer who tried to trick us out of a couple hundred euros. Thankfully we didn’t fall for his hoax but it definitely made me lose some faith in dealing with people online. You have to be extremely careful and double check everything. If I hadn’t done a google image search of the pictures he sent us, we never would have found multiple listings in different countries with the exact same photos on different sites. All of the people I’ve known who have done this program have told me that it is nearly impossible to find housing before I arrive in Lyon. So as difficult as it is for me to let go and just wait to search once I get there, it looks like thats what I am going to have to do.

So as my departure date of September 15th rapidly approaches I really don’t have that much left to do! Except for that herculean task of packing my life into two suitcases…yeah I should start thinking about that.

Until next time!

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Adventure is Out There!

Hello everyone! Let me introduce myself briefly and then we’ll move on to the fun part. I’m Skyler, a junior studying biology with a neuroscience emphasis. I’m also in the Honors program. This fall semester I’m studying abroad in Copenhagen, a trip that I’ve been planning since senior year of high school. I’ve always wanted to visit Denmark, and the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) conveniently has a neuroscience program, so I applied as soon as I could. I’ll be spending my semester studying neuroscience, marine and microbiology, and Danish culture. My flight is tomorrow morning and I’ll arrive midday Sunday in Copenhagen, be picked up by my host family, and start my adventure abroad.

These past few weeks before my departure I’ve been frantically going over my to do list to make sure that all the necessary paperwork has been filed and everything that would need to be packed was ready to go. I spent my summer on campus doing neuroscience research, and once that was completed I went home for a week to hang out with my family before leaving for Denmark. This meant that I had to pack up all of my belongings in Tacoma, get them to my house, unpack them, and repack what I was taking abroad. During this horrid experience I remembered that I hate packing. So. Much. Because of this, I decided to give you some tips that I discovered along the way while packing so you don’t have to go through the same agony.

  1. Make a list. This actually worked really well for me. I was stressing out about squishing my whole life into one suitcase and two carry-on items, but it was too early to start packing, so I made a list of everything I wanted to bring instead. Writing down all the items I thought I needed helped me realize what I actually didn’t need to bring. It also helped to look through my closet while I was making the list so that I could tentatively pick out what clothes I wanted to bring and remember them for later. Having a list to follow while packing stopped me from impulsively throwing every pair of shoes I own into the suitcase.
  2. Roll your clothes instead of folding them. Lay clothes of similar shapes (all your pants, T-shirts, long sleeve shirts, etc.) flat on top of each other and then roll them up all together. It will take up much less room in your suitcase than folding or rolling each individual item.
  3. Can you buy it where you’re going? Then don’t take it. If you’re staying somewhere for more than two weeks, take limited quantities of toiletries and other items that you can buy when you arrive. Big bottles of shampoo and such take up a lot of room, so just transfer some into smaller bottles (they sell travel-size plastic bottles at Target!) and then buy more if/when you need it.

One last tip (which has nothing to do with packing) is to get all your paperwork done as early as possible. Traveling is stressful enough, especially if it’s the first time you’ve gone abroad, without worrying about your passport not getting to you on time or there not being open seats on a flight. As soon as you know you have to do it, get it done.

Pretty much all I’ve done so far in my adventure is pack, so I don’t have much other news to share. I’m excited to be getting on my flight tomorrow and to finally be on my way to Copenhagen. I’ll post about arrival and orientation madness (hopefully with pictures) sometime next week after I get settled into my new home!

Hej hej (goodbye),
Skyler

 

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Northward, ho! Arriving in Hokkaido, Japan’s final frontier

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Having graduated from my spring term at Kanda University, I met up with my parents in their downtown Tokyo hotel before embarking on our two-week long trip throughout northern Japan, stopping at holy mountains, secluded hot springs and ancient samurai … Continue reading

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Nos Vemos

I know I’ve been MIA over the last couple weeks and this time I don’t have an excuse like I was off frolicking through the ancient ruins of Peru or had a life crisis that I needed to fix before I could sit down and write. The truth is is that I have had plenty of time to write and tell you all about what has been happening in my life here in Santiago; but over the last couple of weeks I felt like nothing was really worth writing about. Now that my semester has ended here and I have found a job in a lab, it seems like living in Santiago has become a normal life. Which I love. With this extra month here, living by myself, without my host family and without my study abroad program to go to if I have a problem, I feel like I have really become one with this city.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt at home here before. I absolutely adored my host family and as I said in an earlier post it was really hard to leave them, but now that I have to do my own grocery shopping, my own cooking, my own cleaning, I feel like I’m more in charge of my schedule and a little more independent. It’s not that I felt like my host family or my study abroad program was holding me back in the slightest during the semester, but now that I have stepped outside their boundaries, I’ve found that I have so much more freedom and feel more independent in this city. I know though that I could not have done this without them when I first arrived. I needed the support of a study abroad program and a host family to help me navigate this city and life in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. But now that I have removed myself from all of that, I see that my study abroad program was keeping me connected to the States in a way and now that I’m not constantly at the center or with those students, I feel more integrated into Chilean society and social circles.

I’m extremely happy here and there’s a part of me that wishes I could just stay down here, enroll in the university, take another semester, even do med school here. But I know that is unrealistic. I don’t have the financial means to live in this city longer than I’m going to and I want to finish up my undergrad degree at Puget Sound with the rest of my classmates. But I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it a few times.
That being said, I’ve been having a lot of emotions in the last few days as my time in Santiago begins to wind down and the day of my flight back to the States gets closer and closer. I will be leaving this beautiful country and city that I have called home for the last 6 months in 6 days. I can’t believe my time here is coming to a close. It feels like I have lived here for much longer than 6 months and it also feels like no time at all. When my program officially ended a month ago, I was not ready to leave at all and felt like I wouldn’t be ready to leave in another month either. While I can’t say I’m completely ready to leave, or even really want to leave, I have had feelings of wanting to be home. I’m not sure if its my way of accepting that I have to leave and trying to get myself excited to return—see my family, go back to school—or if I really am ready to go back. In a single day I will go through so many thoughts and emotions that I’m really not quite sure what I want at this point. In the morning, as I ride the bus to work I can’t imagine myself leaving this country, this city, this routine, for another life that will surely seem dull after this grand adventure. But by about noon when I’m sitting at my desk waiting for an experiment to run and I have nothing else to do, I just want the days to go as fast as possible so I can get home already. But then I quickly think, “You have no idea when you will return to Chile, if ever. You’re going to get home and all you’re going to want to do is come back. Enjoy the last few days you’re here.” So I push those thoughts of yearning for home out of my head. But there are moments when my excitement to see my family and return to Puget Sound outweigh the thoughts of not coming back to Chile. I feel as if I am in limbo, trying to enjoy the last moments I have in this wonderful city that I can’t imagine leaving, and the excitement I have for returning home.

The emotions I’m having are so hard to describe. Because even when I feel an excitement to see my family and get back to the States, I think how I really don’t miss any of the things that I’m returning to. While I miss my family and would love to see them, I’m used to being away from them as I don’t see them during the year when I’m at school. And even though this has been the longest time since I have seen them, I don’t have a pull or a heartache that I usually do as the semester winds down at Puget Sound. I feel as if I could go another full semester without seeing them and I would be okay. I’m not especially pleased with myself to say this. I absolutely love my family. They are my best friends and I talk to them almost everyday while I’m at Puget Sound. I think my absence of homesickness though is a testament to how much I feel at home in this city and also how much independence I have gained through this experience.

The same absence of homesickness goes for Puget Sound and my friends there. At the beginning of the semester I couldn’t wait to return to Tacoma and see all my friends again, but now as the time comes closer and closer, I feel like I could go another full semester without returning and be happy. Once I get home, I know this sentiment will change but right now I feel like I am a completely different person than when I left and I feel as if I have moved on from this part of my life—my life at Puget Sound. This being said, I am very interested to see how this change will translate to my life back in the States. Although I feel like I have grown and learned a lot here, I think I’ll really see the difference when I return home and am in the same environment and situations I was before I left.

When talking with friends about this change I’ve described it as a before and after moment. There are experiences in your life that affect you so much that you begin to think of yourself as “before” and “after”. You divide your life suddenly, your life before that experience and your life after, because you feel as if you are two totally different people in these moments. This trip is one of those experiences. I have already begun to think of my life as before and after Chile and I haven’t even left. I know that this division will only be greater when I get back to the States.

This will most likely be my last blog post. I want to thank all of you who kept reading throughout this crazy adventure of mine. I know this wasn’t the most traditional blog of funny stories while traveling or a chronicle of my everyday life here. I chose to write more about the things that I felt I grew from and marked my semester in a deeper sense than simply a comical story. Thank you to all that stuck it out with me. It’s been a wild and crazy ride and I hate to see it end. But another life awaits me back home and I will embrace it with open arms.

I want to sign off by saying, “Nos vemos.” It’s an expression in Spanish to say, “We’ll see each other soon.” To Chile, it’s not a goodbye, but a nos vemos. And to all of you reading at home, my friends and family, “Nos vemos.”

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Hey, America!

Nineteen days.  19.  Oddly, the “culture shock” has been more abrasive upon returning to America than it was when I entered Germany.  Perhaps because, when I went to Germany, everything was new and exciting, an adventure!  I tried to absorb it all, as quickly as I could.  My feelings about returning to the States are and were very mixed, very bittersweet.  I notice a new perspective, one that I believe can only be gained with experience outside one’s home; I now have a comparison, a contrast, one that I did not, before my year abroad.  I notice differences in clothing styles, speech mannerisms, etiquette, culture, music, relations, things that I never saw before.  Some of it is positive; some not so much.  Regardless, it affirms my opinion that everyone who can live abroad for a period, should, if only to realize all of the different possibilities in life.

That’s all, Loggers.  Enjoy the summer.  =D

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