Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thanks for the Memories Greece

As I sit on a red bench along the river in yet another unknown city where the language spoken around me is as unique as the people I am forced to think back on my study abroad experience. 
View of part of Athens from Mt. Lycabettus
I landed in Reykjavik, Iceland on the second of January and I head back to this same city on my last trip of studying abroad.When I first landed in Reykjavik for a short two hours it was stuck in nearly twenty-four hours of continuous darkness and now as I spend two nights there I will be blessed with twenty-three hours of sunlight.
Home of the first Parliament in Iceland
 I cannot say that these five months changed my entire life, but I can say it changed a portion of my life. Studying abroad has taught me how to live without a cellphone, how to communicate with others that don't speak English, to adapt to constantly changing surroundings, to live out of a back pack for weeks at a time, and that no matter what country you are in a smile can change your day. 
Picture from Meteora Greece
View of Prague

The weather is not always perfect, the plans always change, and people run out of money that's what studying abroad is. 
Taken from the Cinque Terre Hike Italy
It is adapting to the unknown, becoming use to traveling alone and becoming an expert at interpreting train schedules. You leave a part of yourself in every city you visit because it takes something out of you. Traveling is expensive and exhausting but if we don't do it today there won't be time tomorrow. 
View of Rome from above
If you don't see Meteora while you are in Greece
Meteora Greece
or the leaning Tower of Pisa while in Italy when will you ever get another chance?
Pisa Italy
 Studying abroad gives us a break from the monotonous classrooms we will spend more time than we hope to in and throws us out into the world we don't have nearly enough time in.
Enjoying Baklava in Athens
Some of the AIFS students at the Temple of Poseidon

Every city is different, every language has its impact, and every mile traveled another memory. Since I have been in Europe I haven't traveled to a new country every weekend, but I got to know a few very well. Greece has everything from the mountains with monasteries to islands with donkeys and the people are as hopeful in their future as they are proud of their past, 

Donkeys on the island of Hydra Greece

Italy has beaches surround by famous hiking trails, 
Florence Italy

everyone needs to visit Germany to see why Bavaria should be its own kingdom again, 
Fathers day in Munich 
Munich again

Prague has an active night life and free city tour which everyone should take advantage of,

Hohenwerfen Castle Austria

Austria has some of the nicest people you will ever meet and breath taking views,
More Austria

Spain is more than sangria and live dancing, and finally Iceland well Iceland is my last stop before I head back to the mainland so it will be the hardest to say goodbye to. 
One of many waterfalls in Iceland

My heart breaks that I have to leave Europe behind for a summer of working in my home town, but I don't leave empty handed. I met some of the most flamboyant and unpredictable people while abroad, I've made new life long friends, and reconnected with old friends.  I've watched the sunset from cities I only dreamed I would see and traveled on airlines I didn't know existed. 

Cinque Terre Italy

Sunset over Athens

But the most important thing that I am taking home with me is the memories. There are too many to comb through now, but I know they will always be there in the back of my mind lurking to make their appearance when I need it most. At the end of the day souvenirs take up space, pictures go missing, and the wine you brought back gets enthusiastically drank up, but no one can take your memories because those are there for you to keep the best five months of your life alive. We can't live in the past we have to keep moving forward, but your past is what makes you who you are today and maybe someday sitting on the park bench in Passau, Germany will be the memory you need to get your through another hard patch. So may we all become friends with people who speak different languages and not roll our eyes when a friend returning home from a semester abroad starts another sentence with "while I was abroad."
Saying goodbye to Greece with the Acropolis in the background
Until we meet again Europe.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"How was India?" The impossible question

It has been one week since our semester ended in India. It was very emotional the few days leading up to the last day and many tears were shed the final day when we all gathered in a circle filled with love and gratitude.

The question that I've gotten the most after this semester (and that I foresee myself having to answer many times in the future) is, "how was India?" And every time I am silenced wondering what to say. We spent 3 and a half months in a country that is as different as you can get it and I am faced with the impossible task of summarizing such a time. How?

Do I bring up the incredible things we learned in and outside the classroom? Do I talk about how amazing the food and chay(tea) is? Or how seeing Taj Mahal left me in awe and the ghats by the Ganga River made me reflect on life and death? Do I bring up that there are tons of people doing incredible work everyday, like the teacher I met at Kiran center, a school for differently abled children. A single teacher who has children with hearing disabilities, mental disability, physical disability and children with no disabilities- all in one class! Do I describe all the ironies of this country, like the fact that Indian's invented the world's first flush toilet 5000 years ago but that today 53% if India's population defecates in the open? Or how dirty some places are and the amounts of trash there is in the streets? Or how I learned about waste and now can't buy things without realizing the amount of trash I am contributing to? Do I describe how open and hospitable the people I met along the journey were and how I am thankful to each person? Do I talk about how my fellow students and the staff of this SIT program are the most incredible people and how we all learned from each other? Can I bring up that I loved this place but felt great sadness as well? 

And these things aren't nearly enough to explain, "how was India?" In trying to describe my time it is impossible to not give the wrong impression or paint a picture that is not true to the real India. There is so much more to this place then can be put into words and I find that trying to explain it, I loose some of it for what it really is in my mind, my heart and soul.

To India I would like to say: you have taught me so many things, but most of all, thank you for opening my eyes, mind and heart. Thank you for showing me how much love there is in the world and how the world needs more awake human beings.

People used to take from nature what they needed and knew to give it back. Today we live in a consumer world where we don't even think twice about giving back to nature all that she has provided for us.

I think it is about time we wake up from our little bubble and give back.

May I each and everyday through mindful actions show that I care for Mother Earth. Even though I won't be able to give back all that I have used in my lifetime, hopefully I can give back as much as possible.

From the deepest of my being,

thank you to everyone and everything that was part of this journey.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Córdoba, Spain

My second major day trip was to Córdoba, another city in Andalusia about two hours from Sevilla. This city is famous for the Mezquita (mosque) which was transformed into a Catholic cathedral on the inside. As in many of the southern Spanish towns, the outside of the building has a tall bell tower which was originally used for calling prayers but has since been given a more Renaissance-style top and bells during the change to Catholicism.

The inside of the building is what is truly shocking. Rows and rows of arches stretch the whole length of the building with columns like trees in a forest. The moors were very intelligent architects, having built the arches with alternating sections of brick (red) and limestone (white) as seen in the photo here. The difference in stability/malleability of these two types of building materials allowed the arches to compress and decompress under stress from earthquakes which can sometimes be very common in Spain. In a newer section of the mosque, some arches were built very quickly using only one kind of stone, and it is clear that this method does not stand the test of time as effectively. There were cracks everywhere from earthquakes.

The most interesting thing about this building, however, is that the Catholic cathedral section was built directly in the CENTER of the original mosque. Instead of just leveling the whole structure and building one grand cathedral, the Catholics stuck their new architecture right in the middle. It was really disorienting to see the brightly colored arches of the Moorish-style mosque melding with the bright white Renaissance-style vaulted ceilings of a grand cathedral (see the photo.) The abrupt change in style was like walking from southern Spain into Renaissance Italy in a matter of seconds.  

The streets of Córdoba had the familiar and comforting narrowness and white-painted buildings I had seen throughout southern Spain. One of the more famous streets, called Calleja de las Flores (Alley of the Flowers) had a beautiful view of the cathedral's bell tower at the end.
Calleja de las Flores (Alley of the Flowers)


In the spring, Córdoba is known for having patio contests where all of the courtyards of houses sport overflowing flower pots of spring blooms. When I visited, these pots were just starting to put out colorful flowers. I can only imagine how beautiful everything would have looked a few weeks after I visited.

the beginning of flower growth for the spring Patio Contests

 The Guadalquivir river also extends through Córdoba (the same river which has a canal running through the heart of Sevilla) and there is an impressive stone bridge which stretches across it just behind the cathedral/mosque.
Bridge crossing the Guadalquivir River with a view of the cathedral/mosque in the background

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Granada, Spain


  My travel program, GlobalEd, organizes a few weekend trips for its students - the first one I attended was to Granada, a town in Andalusia about 2 hours away from Sevilla (where I have been living.) Granada is known as the city of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain because it is the burial sight of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who are famous for uniting the kingdom of Spain with their marriage but also infamous for their religious zealousness and the Spanish Inquisition.

Day 1
     Our amazing tour guide, Alejandro, took us to see the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella inside the Royal Chapel of Granada. The tomb was carved by an Italian sculptor, as they were typically known to have the best work at the time. However, another tomb next to this one was carved by a Spaniard who had studied alongside Michelangelo so (as pointed out by our guide) it actually turned out to be the one of higher quality. We next saw the Granada Cathedral which is Renaissance style (very different from the Gothic style in Sevilla.) The altar piece, however, is Baroque, with dark golds contrasting the light whites/grays of the otherwise Renaissance space.
Cathedral of Granada (interior)

Day 2
     We visited what has been claimed as one of the new wonders of the world: the Catholic monarchs' palace, “La Alhambra.” It is MASSIVE, complete with gardens and a separate vacation house all tucked away on top of one of the hills surrounding the city. The main parts of the palace were created by the moors during their control of the city, so Arabic inscriptions can be seen along almost every wall. It was surprising to see that even in the rooms where it is known Ferdinand and Isabella would pray, there were inscriptions on the walls claiming Muhammad as the one true prophet. I find it amazing that they had enough respect for the original culture to leave everything as was - it’s absolutely beautiful.From the top of one of the palace towers, we could see the whole city, the cathedral, and also in the distance the Sierra Nevada mountain range - the tallest mountain range in continental Spain.
Later that day I tried middle eastern food for the first time (falafel and couscous get an A+) and went to an arab teahouse.
La Alhambra (the palace)
inside La Alhmabra (the palace)
Day 3
We began the day with a tour of the Albaicín, a neighborhood in the hills from which you can see the palace. The deeper into the neighborhood you go, the more it is considered “gypsy territory” and it is possible to find informal flamenco shows. We walked around looking at many of the small churches, and one mosque. We also stopped at a nunnery in which the nuns are not allowed to leave. They bake pastries and breads for the public and we bought some magdalenas from them (sweet muffins) which were extremely good.

 One thing I noticed in Granada is that there are images of pomegranates everywhere because of the meaning of the city's name! On the manhole covers in the street, on pillars lining the sidewalks, hidden in keystones above doorways, they're EVERYWHERE. 

view of El Albaicín (neighborhood) from La Alhambra (the palace)
El Albaicín (neighborhood)

Monday, May 18, 2015

A recap: Last exams, Last couple of days in London

Hi everyone! It me again Nicole... the world traveler and tea lover. 

I just wanted to talk to you all a little bit about my experience of studying abroad.

I feel like these four months have flown by so fast and that I've gain a lot of life points and wisdom through my travels.

I also quickly want to talk about the reason why I chose to study abroad in London. First of all, I was drawn to the fact that everyone spoke English. Second of all, London is the hub of travel for Europe. You can go any where and find cheap flights. Also I love English culture! The pubs, the afternoon teas, the walk in the parks...the good music, the food markets, the antique markets, and the fact that this is one of the most diverse places in the world! I've heard languages I didn't even know existed just walking through the street!

Unfortunately, I've only got two more days left in London. So I would like to do a little recap of my trip:

First of all, arriving in another country a million miles away is pretty scary. In all honesty, I was really scared to travel so far away from my family and comfort zone that I put off studying abroad one semester. After taking the leap and making the final decisions to go I was nothing
but excited.

Sometimes you have to put yourself in situations that scare you or make you uncomfortable in order to learn or grow or to go from uncomfortable to comfortable. And even though I've travelled around Asia growing up - that was with my parents. Being on your own in foreign countries is scary. But so worth it.

These are all the things I've learned and become better at while studying abroad: 

1. organizing trips
2. time management (catching flights or trains)
3. approaching people for help with out being scared that they don't speak english
4. admiring the scenery/taking time to be inspired
5. falling in love with food, people, a country
6. being fearless (even that means arriving in Barcelona at 7pm by your lonesome self)
7. most importantly being opened to anything and adventures

Here are some tips for traveling: 

1. pack lightly ALWAYS (to avoid having to pay a fee which small airlines some times prey on non-european tourists)
2. always carry some cash in case of emergency
3. have a portable phone charger
4. check 'Skyscanner' for really cheap flights or use the EasyJet app on the phone and you won't need to print out tickets
5. chose to travel during off-peak tourist season (April usually or May or any months before big holidays)
6. when arriving in a location set at least one or two days to see all the major sites and have another full day to walk around and enjoy at a slow pace ... this way you will experience it in a totally different perspective
7. always try a local cuisine or drink to fully experience the place
8. If traveling with other's be a responsible travel buddy and a team player and learn how to compromise !!!!
9. and most of all HAVE FUN and LEARN something about yourself or the place

These are a few of my tips and lessons I've learned so for those who want to study abroad I wish you the best!

**My last tip: Money.

Traveling is expensive. I won't lie or sugarcoat it. I've worked hard for three years to enjoy my traveling and I've used my own money to visit these places that I've been too. At first I was really reluctant in spending so much money. But for some, traveling is a way of life or a once in a life time experience. Choose wisely the places you want to go and things you want to spend your money on. Because there are ways to save money while traveling. Think of the necessity. I always think about how the memories and experiences of all the places I've been to will have a cost much more than all the money I've spent on traveling: it's these memories that I will always hold dear. Or if I want to take something small like a piece of stained glass from Venice...things that have special meaning or food you'll only ever eat once or can get somewhere special might be worth spending money. Once you accept the fact that traveling isn't cheap you will be able to enjoy traveling.


London to Italy

London to Italy (and Paris again)

Hi everyone, I had to make a major spontaneous decision recently and it was whether I should go on a trip to Italy with my Uncle or not because it was two weeks before my big exams. Don't tell anyone, but I might be having too much fun on this study abroad trip. One of my flat mates gave me some advice that I thought was really interesting. She wanted me to consider whether I will remember failing three exams or going on a trip where I could make memories that would last a lifetime. Obviously I chose to go on the trip. (And I actually spent a whole week studying for my exams so I have really good feelings about not failing.) So I guess this is kind of telling students who are wondering if they want to study abroad or not. The answer is yes you really should! No regrets. Take the jump.

Italy is an amazing place to visit. It's like stepping through a time warp. Even though Italy is a young country it has history that dates far beyond what my tiny mind can grasp. I took a plane to Rome, drove to Florence, and took a train and water taxi to Venice. Greatest and most tiring trip I've ever been on and I think I've learned more through traveling then sitting in class.

Here are some photos to help you decide if you want to study or visit Italy. Rome is probably my favorite place in Italy because of the grandiosity of the buildings. Amazing architecture, amazing food, and big very big buildings.

The Colosseum: tip buy tickets in advance don't wait in the line you'll be there all day. 

The Roman Forum 

Lady of Roma 

Driving to Florence only took two hours. If I thought Rome was old Florence is even older. It has a more gothic style of architecture and art. It's a bit small. You can do Florence in a day. I also got lucky and got to see the David for free. 

The Fountain of Four Rivers (this is Rome) 

Tiny cars of Italy - I love 

The David original 

Bonjourno Venice! The magical city on the water. Wow, this is the most unique city I've ever seen and luckily I've travelled to many cities. There is beautiful scenery, great sea food, and luxury everywhere. Prada, Gucci, expensive boutique Italian brands and expensive restaurants. Good looking and very well dressed people every too. But don't let that bother you, as a student traveler I was able to do many things like walk around the maze like streets of shops, take a gondola ride, or visit other islands for 12 euros. I was also so inspired by the beauty that I picked up my pen and started drawing again. 

I think this is the church...the architecture is beautiful and so dreamy isn't eat? 

On the left is a church in St. Mark's Square that is a popular site and the right is the Doge's Palace which is more like a state of affairs building and a prison which is now converted into a museum. 

Had a gondola ride for 80 euros. A steep price but so worth it...When in Venice? You get to have a tour for 45 minutes and if you are nice enough the gondolier will even sing to you. Yes. Venice is so romantic and you are suppose to kiss under a bridge for good luck. One day I'll have to go back here with my significant other haha. 

*All my photos are taken with my Iphone sorry for the quality guys.