Saturday, February 27, 2016

Italy is What Dreams Are Made of

Ah Italy, the land of pasta, coffee, and where Lizzie McGuire became an international pop sensation. Where do I even begin? From the flight over the Italian Alps until the moment I arrived and had my first espresso, I can truly say that Italy has stolen my heart. For those of you who don’t know me or haven't heard me obnoxiously complain about the pizza in Hawaii, I’m actually 100% ethnically Italian! It’s been a surreal experience getting to explore the land of my heritage for the first time and learn about its history, culture, language and of course, the incredible food.
if you could have only seen my face when I woke up on the plane and saw this view

About one month ago today, my dad and I flew from New Jersey to Milan. I was so grateful to have my father bring me to Italy; he was born in a small town in the south and moved to the United States when he was young, but still grew up speaking Italian and carrying on family traditions, which has made my transition a heck of a lot easier. (You can imagine how excited my family was when I told them I was coming here for five months.)
Although I didn’t really grow up speaking Italian, I started learning on my own through the app Duolingo about a year ago when one of the awesome study abroad advisors, Kri, told me about it. Thanks to practicing some Italian with my Nonna (which means grandma in Italian), my father, and Duolingo (this is not an ad for them by the way although any payment for this endorsement would be greatly appreciated) I was placed into a second level pre-intermediate language course for my two week language intensive. I couldn’t believe how much Italian I learned over the course of two weeks; I can now hold a conversation in Italian- as long as nobody gets too fancy with their vocabulary.

After my dad left to go back to New Jersey, I did struggle somewhat with the language barrier, but I’ve discovered that as long as you try to speak in Italian, the locals really appreciate it. I’ve also found that the phrase “Non parlo Italiano molto bene/I don’t speak Italian very well” which sounds kind of ironic, has also come in handy on numerous occasions. I didn’t want to fit the stereotype of being an American who only speaks English wherever she goes, so I have really being trying to immerse myself in the Italian culture as much as possible. That’s why I’m taking a semester long language course/cooking class! (Yes, there will be pictures of the food I make)

Since arriving, I’ve met international students from all over the world! In my language class alone I met students from France, The Netherlands, England, Finland, Chile, and Belgium. We spent a lot of time talking about the similarities and differences between our countries and joked around about the stereotypes we had of each other’s cultures. Turns out not everyone in France eats snails, who knew? (Hopefully you will all learn to deal with my stupid jokes, as I will be making a lot of them in my blog posts). I've also gotten to catch up with Hunter, another HPU student here at Universita Cattolica in Milan! 
Iris from The Netherlands and Leonie from Germany

Through the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at my school, I’ve also gotten the chance to meet many Italian students through the activities and events they organize. I really enjoy practicing my Italian with them and seeing their reactions when I tell them I’m Italian-American; it's usually a combination of excitement but also confusion as to why I'm not fluent, which I'm still yelling at my dad about. I almost forgot to mention that my roommate is an Italian student from my dad’s hometown! She speaks some English and I speak some Italian so we’ve been trying to speak in each other’s languages to practice them. I usually just end up combining the two which has led to Italianglish, if thats even a thing.

Okay so before I ramble on any more in this post I'm going to end it here but don't worry, there will be more to follow including many pictures of pasta, pizza, gelato, etc. Arrivederci and stay tuned!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Truth About Coming Back From Study Abroad

Hello all!

This is my last post, and consequently I've decided that writing it after being home would be appropriate to truly capture post study abroad feelings.
I would really like to point out that I felt completely unprepared for what being home would feel like. At first my last week in the UK was a bit exciting. I was excited to see my family once again, to be home, and give them the gifts I would be bringing back for them. But as the day approached for me to leave Hatfield and the UK altogether, I was more than unhappy and the entire experience was surreal. All the friends I made, I spent most of my time there with them. I think I spent more time in their flat than in my own flat. The truth is that I genuinely loved being in their company. So when you spend that much time around people and you suddenly find yourself around 4700 miles away it is more than a bit odd. Whether it be you are around a group of people most of the day, or you had a different routine, you still have created a norm for your life abroad. And coming home 100% disrupts that. That is the truth about coming home from study abroad. Your normal routine becomes obsolete, as you no longer are in the vicinity to go to over to the next flat, or walk to Nandos for dinner, or take the train to Kings Cross station and ride the tube all day. Suddenly the excitement to see your family or be home diminishes quickly. At least for me, it did, and the process was fast. It took about 24 hours for me to skype my "U.K. fam" otherwise known as the friends I miss back in the U.K.. What is odd about that is they seemed to be just as bummed as I was about leaving. That is the other truth about coming home from studying abroad, you don't really know how important the connections you make with people are until you leave. And additionally, your time abroad impacts more than just you, but those around you and the people you interact with. Here are some photos from my last weeks in the U.K., that is until the next time I return...                                                                                
On the Plane for the holidays to Ireland

Outing in Dublin with Roisin
Happy Christmas from Kildare, Ireland

"Fam" Portrait, with Mark (Left) and D'Andre (Right) in the infamous Flat 4. Some of my favorite neighbors, and new friends. The beginning of my official last week in England.

My last week in the UK, and a visit to the Warner Bros, Harry Potter Studio tour was a must.
Got a shot in front of the Chamber of Secrets Door used
in the films.

On my way to board the Hogwarts Express

Left- last full day fun with my
flatmate Sherlene from Malayaisa, 
My good friend Giuditta (from Italy) and I.

Sarah (from Essex) and I. 
My friend Sam and I.

Mercedes, Bridget, and I

The last photo taken  minutes before getting in the taxi to the airport. Nobody really wanted this photo taken, it was a pretty upsetting time. And in reality, I didn't think I would be, or that they would be so sad during this time. Two of my friends didn't even face the camera, and the rest of the smiles were actually really forced. This photo is the last truth I think I want to present. Nothing can really prepare you for what it is like when you leave your study abroad term. Goodbyes are terrible, and I started missing my flat, flatmates, neighbors, and England in general when this photo was taken. It was the last picture with all of us, for an undetermined amount of time, and that is extremely odd to think about when you spend most of your time with these people.
Thanks for the good times England, I can't wait to go back for more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Okay, lets start with the fun stuff... I arrived to Milan about a month ago with one suitcase, a backpack, and absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into! I was under the impression that housing was easy to find in Milan, so I decided to wait until I got to the city to start looking. SPOILER: It wasn't easy!

The next two and a half weeks consisted of bouncing around different hostels and friends houses I had met at the university, and utilizing weekend travel trips as temporary housing. I referred to my luggage as my portable house, where I made over ten trips with all of my belonging through metros, trains, busses, and trams. This challenging experience of looking for housing was frustrating at times, but has now come full circle to the present day. DRUM ROLL PLEASE...

 I now have an Italian grandma! "Nonna", which means grandma in Italian, is an 81 year old Italian lady who had an open room I found on AirBnB. Living with Nonna for over a week now has been a wonderful experience! First off, she speaks absolutely no English. This has forced me to talk in Italian everyday. Secondly, Like every grandma, you are required to eat until NONNA SAYS YOUR FULL. She has made pastas, soups, cookies, you name it! I am obviously a fan of all this and have eaten some of the best Italian meals I have ever had.

Enough about housing, here are some of the places I have been lucky enough to travel to since I have been in Italy:

Rome was number one on my list of places to visit. A destination I had dreamed of going to since I can remember has turned out to be one of my most favorite places I have ever been! I walked on foot around the city from dawn to dusk for 4 days, visiting the many churches and historical sites, scenic lookout points, and everything else the city offers. Being Catholic, this was a chance for me to pay a visit to the Vatican. I was able to see Pope Francis give his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter's Square. One thing I know for sure, this will not be the last time I visit Rome before I leave!

Overlooking Rome from St. Peter's Basilica
The next weekend I took a trip to the famous city of Venice with friends from the university. We also went camping overnight and the following day toured Padua, a city near Venice that is filled with much history!
 My intensive Italian language class started last week and regular classes will begin next week at the University. I have had many chances to explore my home city of Milan. My favorite place to visit is the Duomo Cathedral.
Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Duomo cathedral, Milano
Last weekend I made a day trip to Lake Como, a beautiful lake in the mountains of Italy, right by Switzerland. The day was filled with hiking, great food, and boat rides to the different villages around the lake. Being a short hour train ride from Milan, it is any easy get away from the big city!
Lake Como

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Month in Review

Hi! I'm Sophia and I'm studying abroad in Thailand
I really don't know where to start but let me just go back to when it all began. It was the morning of the 27th of December 2015, a day that I had long envisioned had finally arrived. It was one of the hardest and regretful day of my life. I knew that I was going to a new place, that everything the study abroad staff had mentioned is going to happen. That I will be homesick or culture shock, but what I did not know is how hard I will have to take it all in and pretend that I was fine especially when I said my last goodbye to mom and dad. I was so close to calling it off and forget about this whole idea of studying abroad, but I'm glad I did it anyways - like they always say, "Fake it till you Make it!"

I can go on and on about my sixteen hour flight but I'll just say that I was relieved to have arrived safely. Literally, because the moment I saw that MUIC staff standing in front of the Exit Gate 3 with that blue uniform and my name held before him, all my inside lit with joy and I nearly hugged him. You should have seen my face as if I have known this person for a long time. That early morning after setting foot for the first time in Thailand, I was overwhelmed with mix feelings and uncertainty of what's ahead but I knew that if I take one day at a time...I'll be just fine.

With every beginning there is always an introduction. I am currently staying in Chaiyapruk Village. It is such a beautiful and luxurious place for a college student to stay at. That is where I first met some of the nicest people from all over the world that I have now call friends. I even got to meet two lovely ladies, Pannee and Thongda who work there as our housekeepers and our three very dedicated guards. I managed to get a photo of one of them while I was randomly taking pictures of our housing. 

Meet Mr. Tawan
I got to learn more about their backgrounds and interesting cultures. We even started a tradition where each group would cook their own meal on every Tuesday night for dinner for everyone. The Hawaiians had their chance and it was such a wonderful experience to share our Aloha to all of them. I would say that this is also the best medicine to get rid of being homesick. I learned that surrounding yourself with people makes you feel a lot better. 

My first experience with Thai food was a bit rough though. I should call it food shock since my first try of Pad Thai made me lose my appetite for a week. On the bright side, I had a taste of their coconut ice cream and I just can't get enough of it. One thing you will always see here and by here I mean everywhere is 7 Eleven. You will find it wherever you go, so don't worry about missing some of the things back home. The locals are very nice and although English is very limited, most of them are always willing to help. My favorite part is taking a taxi or the tuk tuk and oh the hard part of trying to communicate and letting them know about your destination. Good thing I had my cheat sheet of how to say the directions in Thai posted on the back of my ipod. It got me to places until I finally had it engrave in my head. 

Riding in a Tuk Tuk
I was scared to go to most of the places that I was invited to, especially when it was New Year's Eve. After a month in Thailand, I got used to living here that I somehow forgot about all the fears that I had of such place. I had visited markets, palace, some temples, and seen elephants for the first time which took my breath away. I have lived amongst the locals that most of the times I wish I could speak Thai. I even made friends with my Thai neighbors and those who own shops along the street.  
Watching the Elephants

Distant View of the Wat Arun Temple

"This experience is so far the best choice I have ever made and I will keep you posted for more to come!"

Leaving Salzburg... For now!

It is with mixed feelings that I am now back at Hawaii Pacific University.
As excited as I am to be back, I am also sad to leave behind so many new friends and lovely Salzburg itself.

As an update, my Robot Kinematics partner, Martin, and I won the robot tower building challenge, for the tower which can be seen in the image below:
A feat which earned us a case of beer, which can freely be drunk on school premises.
This, and many other things have made me realise just how large the cultural differences are between America and Europe. I had noticed it during my first two semesters at HPU, but for some reason it just became more clear to me while I was on study abroad in Austria.

Here is the view from my dorm room, with the FH on the right:
 Of course, one of many benefits I would have to mention to anyone considering going to FH Salzburg on study abroad is the incredible convenience of living on campus once it starts snowing. It got quite cold at times, but with a 20 meter walk from the dorm door to the FH door, it was always possible to go there to study.
...Which we did a lot! It has been an intense semester, but also very rewarding, and full of friendly, helpful classmates. Here an unsuspecting classmate and I are studying for our final exam in Parallel Computing:

Here is the FH from the front:
As a final remark on my study abroad experience at FH Salzburg in Austria, I would say that it is one of the best decisions I ever made, and I would encourage anyone interested in the programs they offer to go there! I absolutely loved it!
If you are still in doubt, here is a photo I took one morning on my way to buy groceries:

Well, I have to get back to work now, since I only just arrived back. The semester in Austria is different from the one in America, therefore I had my last exam on Friday, Feb. 5th, hopped on a plane to Denmark to change my bags on Feb 6th, and got on the plane for Honolulu at an ungodly hour on Feb. 8th.
No rest for the weary, for the semester here is already full under way, and I have some catching up to do :)

Alles Gaude, Elisabeth

An Open Letter to Scared Travellers

First of all, I totally understand. Even the simplest trip, so much can go wrong.

As I settle into my second exchange year, and become more accustomed to travelling, I get a similar question all the time, for different reasons, but from countless people. "Aren't you scared?"

Of course I am.

And that's what's great.

I have no idea what's going on most of the time. I'm in an unfamiliar culture. What if I lose my passport? What if I get robbed? What if people are mean? What if I get lost? What if..what if..what if? Those are the common, mostly global fears. There's also a second kind of fear, and this stems from the region I'm currently studying in. I'm presently in Istanbul, Turkey, and if you've seen the news, some of you may think I'm in some danger being here. But, so are you. Every day. Sitting at home. Driving to work. Sitting in class. I know it sucks to say, but something bad can happen anywhere.

This reasoning is how I try to explain to skeptics how I step past my fear and try to see as much of the world as possible. I received this advice from a colleague before I left, and I've clung to it. I stand by it. This reasoning, along with another tried and true saying you might've heard: "life begins outside your comfort zone." And oh, how it's true. It's like you're standing on the edge of a cliff, and all you have to do is jump. Dig into your feelings of fear, test them. I've travelled alone a lot now, and I still get worried showing up in another country unattended, but so far I've had nothing to worry about. However, each time I go, I still get worried...and I still go.

The same conclusion can be brought about both kinds of fear. Don't let it stop you. Don't let anything or anyone stop you. I would rather get lost every day for the rest of my life, than feel stable. I learn more, I see more, and I'm humbled by every experience.

Yes, humbled. As if this couldn't be filled with more cliches, I've got to throw another one in. As a person from the United States, I was unconsciously scared of the rest of the world. It was far, it was different, and it was...well, foreign. The food was different, the language was different, the culture was different; oh, the horror. We always think that people are fundamentally different, insurmountably different if we leave the place we know. But, people are people. In every country. People have families. People have problems, jobs, friends, pets, homework, a favorite coffee shop...most of the fear I mentioned above negates all of this. And by breaking through that barrier to learn that the line you've drawn in your mind between you and the rest of the world is total crap, well, it makes it easier to do again and again, for the rest of your life (which, is kind of my plan).

Basically, I get your fear. Every bit of it. Now smash it to bits and get on that plane.