Thursday, April 28, 2016

Overcoming Language Barriers

Here is a conversation I’ve had approximately 50 times ((slight exaggeration)) since coming to Italy:

“Gabriella Marzullo…your name is Italian and you look Italian, are you half or something?”
“Yeah I’m actually 100% Italian! My dad was born here.”
“Oh cool so you’re fluent!?”
“Haha no…not yet anyways.”
“Wait what?”

Every time I have this conversation with someone, I just have to laugh. Obviously my name is Italian and I look Italian, so it’s natural for people to assume that since my dad was born here, I speak fluent Italian. I then have to go on to explain that we never actually spoke it while I was growing up and I’ve only been learning it for a year. Although I’m not close to being fluent, I have to say that my Italian has vastly improved since I first arrived. From taking an intensive language course my first two weeks here, to taking a cooking class where we can only speak Italian, and visiting relatives in Southern Italy who speak little to no English, I’ve really been pushed out of my comfort zone to think of different ways to say something so I can say it in Italian. Although I may butcher it sometimes with broken Italian, I’ve found that about 85% of the time, people will understand what you’re trying to say, and more importantly- they appreciate that you’ve tried. 
Buona Pasqua! Enjoying Easter dinner with my relatives in Southern Italy

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about Italians being rude to them. Sometimes that can definitely be true, especially in a metropolitan city like Milan, but usually those same people who are complaining are people who only speak to Italians in English and expect them to understand. I’m not saying you have to be fluent in Italian to live here, obviously I’m not, but making the effort and even pulling out google translate in times of need makes it easier for the locals to understand you so they can help you.
Can we just appreciate these lush green hills? I wanted to dance around like Julie Andrews but I restrained myself.
First time meeting my 2nd cousins! 
Conversely, the first time I went to the cafĂ© next to my apartment, my Italian was just awful and I ended up saying everything in English. Ever since then, they only speak to me in English. Although I love to practice my Italian any chance I get, I think it’s really sweet how they go out of their way to make me feel comfortable by speaking English. Which reminds me, I haven’t been there in a few weeks... I miss their pistachio cream filled croissants... BUT I DIGRESS. Just try your best, anywhere you go. When I went to Paris and said a few phrases in French, everyone was so kind and told me how cute they thought my accent was and appreciated my sad attempt at French.
See, they even put a smiley face in my cappuccino!

Also, I’m not sure how often these happen in the United States, but if you’re studying abroad in another country where you’re learning the language, I suggest going to a language exchange! I’ve gone to a few, and even though it’s intimidating at first, it really helps me practice my Italian. Plus, it’s a great way to meet new people from all over the world! :D

Thursday, April 21, 2016

On Top of the World

Mount Toubkal: Located in Marrakech, Morocco. Altitude of 13,671 feet (4,167 meters). Tallest mountain peak in Morocco and North Africa. 2nd tallest mountain peak in all of Africa behind Mount Kilimanjaro.

September 2015: Picture this, my friend had a crazy idea to hike the tallest mountain in all of North Africa which was conveniently located in Morocco, just a few hours from our homestay city. Of course I agreed because, once in a lifetime chance, right? When was I going to be presented with this opportunity again? Realistically, never. So I did some research, booked a tour guide, and bought some gloves from the Marjane near Sale.

October 2015: I'm traipsing around a little Spanish territory in the north of Morocco with my friends. We're steady looking for the nearest pub that's open at 10 am (not much luck) and we walked everywhhheeerrreeeee. There were too many hills for my liking and I was lowkey pissed about the whole situation. I was hungry and wanted food. Every time someone started complaining, we'd all say, "This is your training for Toubkal 2015."

November 2015: THE MONTH OF TOUBKAL. Y'all, I knew I wasn't prepared in any way. I didn't have enough snacks, I didn't have the proper clothing attire to climb a mountain covered in snow. I packed for Morocco with the idea it was going to be hot because Africa, yeah? Sahara desert. Both are hot. I was so so so so wrong. My host family had the intent of making me fat while I lived in their home and they succeeded. I was so out of shape trying to climb a mountain over 13,000 feet above sea level. Sometimes I think I'm a crazy person but then I tell myself I'm just a person who takes advantages of her opportunities.

Here's a rundown of how the climb went:

Day 1. We wake up in Marrakech crazy early to meet someone who is going to drive us to the mountain for us to begin our climb. We were staying right in the medina of Marrakech so very much in the city. We get to the base of the mountain and start climbing. We had to pack our bags on the back of a mule which then took all of our belongings to the refuge we would be staying at for the night. The beginning wasn't too bad. I felt like I was just taking a walk on a slow incline. The beginning of our hike was ascending very slowly because we had to walk through the mountain range to even get to the base of Mount Toubkal itself. Let me just tell y'all. For someone who lives on an island AT sea level, hiking 13,000 feet above that is killer for the lungs. My lack of physical ability wasn't even the issue. It was my lungs never feeling like they had enough oxygen to keep going. We finally made it to the refuge at the base of Toubkal after 4-5 hours. The refuge was somewhere around 3,000 meters (idk what that translates to in feet)and it was freeeezing. A solid 30 degrees and the refuge didn't have any heat running through it or hot water so a shower was totally out of the question.

Day 2. We began our ascent up Toubkal itself. Talk about D-E-A-D. This ascent kicked my ass in the worst way because it was very steep and got that way very quickly. But I did experience a pretty magical moment. We had taken a break because I was dying and needed a second to breathe. I'm standing there, looked up, and saw a shooting star (my first one EVER) at 5 am and the sun hadn't even risen yet. I felt very free and so thankful to be literally exploring our earth. I was there, in Morocco, IN AFRICA for God's sake, climbing a mountain before the sun had even woken the earth yet. It was such a beautiful and humbling experience. The rest of the climb up Toubkal went a little like this: We climb for a bit, I was in the back, huffing and puffing away, taking a break what felt like every 30 seconds. I got so tired at one point that I literally just laid in the snow and told everyone to leave me there. I was so over it. I didn't want to climb it any more. I didn't care. I just wanted to die because my body was in so much pain, now because of my lack of athleticism and because my lungs were so confused about what they were breathing in. It sure didn't feel like sea level air anymore. We finally saw the summit and it was only a 15 minute climb to get there, but very dangerous because of the snow and the ridge was quite small. We finally made it to the top and I just collapsed in the snow and straight diedddddd. I have never in my feel felt so accomplished and proud of myself. I had finally made it to the top of a mountain I thought I would never be able to climb. It took about 4 hours to ascend from the refuge. We finally started going back down but we were going all the way back to the bottom where we started. In total, we spent 16-17 hours on our feet ascending and descending Mount Toubkal.

Mohammad, our tour guide. He nearly dragged me up the last part of the hike
and to him, I basically owe my life. I cannot say enough good things about this man and
how much he cares about each and every person he gets to share this experience with.
Mount Toubkal summit reppin' HPU

 Still to this day, my most proud moment is climbing that mountain because I never thought my body could physically do it and it did. I encourage each and every person to have faith in themselves no matter what it is because you can literally do whatever you put your mind to.

Feeling Small

I feel very small, as a person, whenever I travel to another country. Granted, I've only been to 6 countries but I still have the sense of being a world traveler. Feeling small isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually quite liberating. I realize how little impact I have on this world and how insignificant I am but at the same time, I was there in Morocco with this family and I knew that after my time there was up, I was going to have some sort of impact on these people who offered to share their home with me. We bonded so well and created pretty solid relationships. I learned so much from them and I hope that I have something special enough to offer them in return.
I went away for an entire weekend to another city about 2 hours from Rabat and when I got home, my brother told me that my whole family missed me so much over the weekend and they were glad I was finally home. I became the 6th member of a family of 5 and compared to the entire world, that’s not very many people. Just the fact that my absence made a difference to them helps me realize that no matter how small and truly insignificant I am, I’m also such a big part of these people’s lives as they are in mine. It’s okay to feel small and to recognize it.
I knew that leaving Morocco after 4 months was going to be one of the harder things in my life and I was oddly okay with that. I’ve always heard that people should stop trying to make sadness a beautiful thing but when you realize all the things you have in your life, it really is beautiful to have something important enough to be so sad about.

Guess This is Goodbye: Final Month in Review

Hi there! It's been a great time sharing with you...

If you haven't notice, well this is my final month abroad in Thailand. I know right! That fast...maybe it's because this was a trimester instead of a semester (555 - that's a Thai slang for haha). Now before I get all emotional and start drowning myself in tears, let's just look at the bright side and smile that it happened. 

Trip to Myanmar, Yangon (03/17-20/16)

Mingalaba! from the Shwedagon Pagoda
One of the best things I got to do while abroad was traveling to another country. I have to admit but this one I didn't really plan nor thought that I would be going to another place besides Thailand. "Yup, expect the unexpected." It was a requirement for our Visa, meaning that either we pay an amount to renew our stay or go out of the country and then come back. I chose ADVENTURE! Just another perfect opportunity to expand my global views of the world and it sure was worth it.  

My Japanese friend Rina who took two trimester in Mahidol and is one of the residents in Chaiyapruk International House was my travel buddy. We had a three day trip to Myanmar, a country that borders the Northwest of Thailand. I have no idea why Myanmar but what I do know was that I wanted to go to places that I have never heard of and Myanmar was one. My friend and I stayed at the City Star Hotel that cost us about 176, 452.50 kyat which is only 150 US dollars for three nights. Not bad compared to other countries. 

Myanmar is a whole other story that I would probably have to write a novel since it totally defeated my expectation of what it will be. I went there thinking that it will just be like Thailand but boy was I wrong. I was mind blown by the people and simply everything. If you happen to go there you will mostly encounter locals who speaks multiple languages and are very fluent. To name a few: English, Japanese, Thai, Burmese, Spanish...etc. Funny thing is, I always mistaken saying thank you or hello in Thai to Burmese people. 
taking a break from our tour (our taxi driver on the left, Me in the middle & Rina on the right)

Rina paying her respect (a mini version of the Golden Rock)
We ended up visiting so many beautiful and breathtaking places. My personal favorite was the Golden Rock in Kyaiktiyo. To get there we had to take a 2 to 3hr taxi ride early morning and then a 45min truck ride up the mountain. Although it was a disappointment when we got there because the Golden Rock was under construction, the trip up the mountain was amazing. It was like a roller coaster ride that I could feel my stomach twist and turn as the truck continues to ascend to the top. In short, we had a wonderful time learning a new culture, trying their delicious food and getting a glimpse of the lifestyle in Myanmar. If I knew more, I would have definitely travel to more countries and I hope you will take this into consideration. Once you are there, the possibility of going to other places is very possible. 

The Reclining Buddha at Bago, Myanmar

Entrance to the Shwedagon Pagoda

Just another busy day in Yangon, Myanmar

MUIC Farewell Party for Exchange and Visiting Student (03/22/16)

Chaiyaprukers and Phoenix (Nithiphat) taking our last farewell photo

I already made up my mind that I will not be joining the farewell party since exams were around the corner. On top of that, I was not ready for any goodbyes. With much persuasion, I reluctantly gave in to the pressure from my friends. I'm glad I went though because it turned out to be my luckiest night. Normally I don't win anything but that night was a night to remember. I won some cool prizes and ate lots of food as well as playing some entertaining games. We all enjoyed spending our last night together and sadly have to say our farewells as we part ways. When this time comes, you would definitely need to make sure you bring along some tissues. 

Happy Holi from Jane and I! (03/27/16)

meet my ajuma Jane 555
While things were slowly winding down, my friend Jane took me to celebrate Holi (a Hindu Spring festival) in Bangkok. This is a must go event if you are taking a semester in Spring. There was music, bubbles, colors, water, food and the entrance fee was free. It was the best times of our lives, and what was more rewarding was meeting one of my favorite Indian actor. We stayed there for almost five hours or more because every time we told ourselves that this will be our last song before going home, yet, we always ended up postponing our decision. The last song becomes two more, three more, four more, and later on it was not until the event was officially over. It sure was fun and memorable to immerse ourselves in the Indian community. Khop Khun na Kha to my friend Jane, I got to experience the Holi festival since I will be missing out on the celebration of the Songkran (Thai New Year) and I hope you don't miss out on that one too. 
this is us when we were looking clean before the party started
...and then here we are

I did a great job of making sure I don't count the days I have left in Thailand. As months become weeks and weeks become days, there was no escaping the fact that I'll be leaving soon. I guess this is the part we say goodbye, but for now I'll just stick with...Until Next Time!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Where Did the Time Go?

A Life Changing, Eye Opening, and Culturally Amazing Experience: Looking Back on This Journey

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step - Lao Tzu

After being away for about three and a half months, I can say that deciding to study abroad in Thailand has been one of the best academic decisions I have ever made! Alongside being an amazing academic experience, it has also been an extremely rewarding personal journey.
At the beginning of this journey abroad, I was terrified to be away from home because I haven't left home in such a long time. However, like Lao Tzu stated "the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step" and some times that single step is in an application to go abroad and from there it follows its own path....

While studying in Thailand, I stayed at the Chaiyapruk International House and it was really nice, in a gated community with a great atmosphere, and the area is clean as well. The house keepers are Panee and Thongda. They are extremely sweet and always willing to help, they make the stay there a bit more cozy and it gives it the sense of a home. Their English is very minimal, but with a translator, hand motions, or assistance from the English speaking Thai students, communication becomes a very tiny barrier. Same goes with the three guards that rotate shifts at the house. Very kind individuals and always willing to help you in any way possible as well. 

Chicken Long Rice

Spam Musubi
Within the house, the other students and I started a weekly tradition where a set of students from different areas would cook dinner for the whole house. This weekly dinner occurred every Tuesday night and boy it is not easy cooking for 30+ people when you are in foreign country and all the ingredient are in Thai or non-existent in the area, but thankfully we found SPAM!! So what we made for dinner was: chicken long rice, spam musubi, rice, and a macadmia nut, with pineapple mango juice. It was a success!!

"Okay, 1,2,3 Shaka!" "What's a shaka?" 
Hawaii dinner made by yours truly: Team Hawaii 
The group of students living in the house were so amazing!!! At the end of the term, we were all so close, it was hard to leave. As you can tell from our family photos!

Chaiyapruk Village International House, Term 2, 2015-2016

MY GRANDMA! Who I've met for the first time <33

Another thing to add in the books of Thailand memories was meeting my grandmother for the first time! It was such an emotional day filled with so many tears. You really do not know when the best days of your life will occur, but when they do, you'll know because it will be a moment so great that no amount of words will be able to describe exactly how you felt in that moment. 
After 20 long years, I was finally able to meet my Thai grandmother for the FIRST time! It was so amazing! Her spirit is enlightening, her personality is great, and she is so loving and kind. There are no exact words to express how I felt, but the tears come close enough. Getting to know here and being able to see where my dad grew up was so special, because once you get to know your roots, you learn a bit more about yourself as well. Though, the time with her was short, I plan on visiting her again in 2 years.

Ayutthaya stop. I'm the ant in the center.

A little glance of the many adventure you can go on. The Ayutthaya adventure is definitely one to go on, there are nine different destination you can visit- so plan to dedicate at least half a day or a whole day to really explore the areas and intake as much information and culture that you can. Everything about it is AMAZING! From the sights to the history, every inch of the area is something new and worth analyzing. The boat tour was also great! You get to see the old city that is literally along or on the river and what the houses are like in that area. It is really an eye opening experience, because while at school you don't really see anything that has not really been reconstructed, so it was very refreshing to see what life is like away from the big malls and the busy streets.

Veronica (America), Patrick (Germany), Jonas (Germany), and I with our street food.

A day at Jatuchak (Chatuchak) weekend market at Mo Chit BTS station.

This market is a must-go-to destination. You can get all your souvenirs and locally made items here. The sell almost everything you would have in mind. Though it is hot during the day, there is also a night option called "JJ Green" and it is just a few blocks from this market.
At the end of this trip, I can wholeheartedly say that the experience abroad has been more than amazing and I have learned so much from the short amount of time I was away. The culture took some time to get used to, but with an open mind and a bit of curiosity, you will learn a lot in just a single conversation with anyone you meet! The fear that I had when I first arrived, was gone within a month and the experience that I've undergone will change me forever. They say that studying abroad is one of the best things you can do while in college and I can attest to that statement because the friends you make are from all over the world, what you learn takes place in many areas outside of the classroom, and your cultural awareness grows immensely. There are no words to really describe what this experience was like. It is one of those, you had to be there type of things. In simple terms, it was amazing and I would not regret it at all!  

I WILL BE BACK THAILAND! Till next time, kop khun ka for a great experience!

Field Trip!! Haven't been on one of these in forever...

Thailand: Wednesday, December 30, 2015

MUIC Field Trip Day

Today was field trip day and a few of us from the dorm decided to try to walk to school today. The walk to the school was not too bad, took about 25-30 minutes, but it was really hot! Sweating is like an understatement, haha. It was more like drowning and trying to fetch for air. The campus like I said, is huge! So huge that there is a tram that transports you within the campus and if you don't feel like taking the tram, you can take a taxi, motorbike, or even rent your own bicycle.

I got to ride a double decker bus for the first time today! The bus was how they transported us for the field trip. It was really nice and had air conditioning, which was perfect after being in the hot weather. The first part of the field trip was planting trees at Buddhamonthon Park, it was really nice and we were able to feed the catfishes as well.
Sophia and I on our first MUIC field trip!

Chloe (Australia), Sophia (HPU), and I near the huge lake where we were able to feed the catfishes.
Sophia and I with our free snacks after planting trees. It was a hot day, thankfully we had our MUIC hats to shade us.
After planting trees, we headed to Sampran Riverside where we experienced some of the Thai culture through walking around the Thai Culture Village. At the Thai Culture Village, there were many shops with extremely beautiful things to buy. However, since it is a tourist destination, it is much more expensive compared to the prices you can bargain for at the markets. So always try to find the better deals, the prices are cheaper compared to the U.S but you can always find cheaper. The way to ask to lower the price for something is pronounced "lot (low- ot) dai." At the Thai Culture Village, we experienced an elephant demonstration and a Thai culture show.
They served us another buffet lunch and this time I was able to tackle the Pad Thai and it was SO GOOD!!! Other foods included: Thai Green Chicken Curry (also really good, but a bit spicy), fruits, Thai desserts, and so much more! I have never eaten so much. After the buffet, a few people that I met decided to venture around the venue. We took so many photos and the place was so beautiful, filled with so much culture and history of Thailand. Aside from eating, one of the other things that I did was held a snake. It costed 50 baht, and I was totally not going to do it because of how frightened I was, but I was peer pressured.
As you can see, it started off okay. Then feelings changed. Everyone, this is Mr. Charley.

The next thing I did was ride an elephant, which costed 120 baht. Although, it was not a bare back ride, it was still enjoyable and I was really glad that the mahout did not have to use the stick on her. Elephants are so adorable and I also go to feed one of them sugar cane, it was the cutest thing ever!

Traditional Thai dancing 
Lastly, was the Thai Culture show. It was very interesting to watch and displayed a lot about the Thai fighting style, wedding ceremonies, life of becoming a monk, dances, and other traditional events. As an individual with Thai descent, it was very interesting to watch because it was a brief summary and introduction to what the That culture is like and it really taught me a lot. I hope to experience more of the Thai culture while I am here. It has been a really eventful day! Hoping to intake much more cultural knowledge through this experience. Thailand has been great so far. Can't wait for what else is in store!

MUIC Orientation Day

Thailand: December 29, 2016

Mahidol University International College Orientation Day Wrap Up

The sun seems to be the alarm here. I set an alarm, but the sun beats it always... so far. I've been here for three days and each day I have been woken up by the sun.

Today we have orientation. Had to be outside of the dorm by 8:00 am. Still haven't gotten used to the time difference! Bangkok is 17 hours ahead in comparison to Hawaii! SO CRAZY!

Once we got to the university, there was the international college building. Just one building for all the international students, which makes it easier for us because classes are near each other and there is only about a 5-10 minute time gap between classes, if they are scheduled back to back.

The university itself is HUGE! There are so many buildings on campus, one for each program of study, family marts, 711, coffee shops, gyms, and so much more! We walked part of the campus and it was probably less than half a mile and oh boy, the distance felt so far and the heat was incredible. If you think it's hot in Hawaii, Thailand's heat is a bit worse, it's humid and sometimes there is no wind, so it gets very sticky and humid. There are more than 100+ visiting and exchange students here at Mahidol University International College (MUIC) this trimester, and from those that I have met, they are all very nice. This term abroad will be quite interesting!

Also at orientation, we learned a couple of basic Thai words and it was helpful in terms of an introduction to the language, but the tones are so stressful! There are five tones and personally I only heard two. The uniforms we need to wear are very basic, but I haven't worn a uniform since grade school so it was a bit weird, but totally doable.

For lunch, we had a buffet! The food was good, but I didn't get to try the Pad Thai and that was a bit upsetting, but I know there will be more opportunities to try it. Today, I also went to Central Plaza- a mall in Bangkok and it was huge! The mall is 4 stories and completely indoors. Its presentation is very western and I wasn't expecting to see so many American things but there is a McDonalds, Starbucks, and KFC- so that is a bit close to home. I also got to taste my first Pad Thai in Thailand, and it was nothing like the Pad Thai from Fort Street. It was lighter and a bit more chewy. On the way back from Central Plaza, we (Sophia, Rina- student from Japan, and I) were afraid we were going to get lost because the taxi driver was headed towards Bangkok and Chaiyapruk International House was in Salaya. Thankfully, Rina spoke a bit of Thai and was able to communicate with the taxi driver and we arrived safely at the dorm.

Looking forward to all the clubs that the university offers and getting to meet my grandmother! Instruction starts on January 4th, so I have a little bit of time to explore and get used to some things until then.


In front of the International College building! One of the MANY buildings on campus.
Aloha from MUIC \m/ Sawasdee ka!

A glance of some of the food we had for lunch. 

Sophia and I in our uniform. Alongside the white top and black skirt, there is also a belt, pin, and shoes that go with it.