Mastering New Comfort Zones

Step out of your comfort zone. That’s what they tell you to do your whole life. And sometimes it’s easy. Making new friends. Trying new food. Trying new clothes or playing a new sport. Many things you do in your life involve an element of doing something different. But realizing that you are in another country on your own for three months…Let’s just say you think about your personal comfort zone much more deeply.

And you know, that’s why I took on this challenge of studying abroad. To see if it was something I could handle, a new “comfort” zone. But since being here, I have begun to wonder how different this new comfort zone is compared to the one at Fairfield University. Going to Fairfield, I was already forced out of my comfort zone. My home is located in the dangerous part of the south Bronx, where kids don’t go to school or work. Where boys like me don’t end up as seniors in college. Where opportunities are limited because of money. That was me; that was my comfort zone. Even though I pursued a better life for myself, I understood the people around me who didn’t. I understood there were certain things I couldn’t do or get because my family did not have money. Coming home from school, sometimes having a home cooked meal, but sometimes not eating because my mother was too tired from working two jobs. Then walking into Fairfield as a freshman and seeing a completely new world , I found myself out of my comfort zone pretty fast. Such as having to adjust to living on my own, being able to take advantage of any opportunity that I wanted. Seeing white people every day and understanding the effects of being a minority. Feeling uncomfortable in certain situations because you are so different from your peers. A lifestyle completely different from the one I grew up in for 18 years.

Now fast forward four years later and I have studied in Florence, Italy for almost 3 weeks now (wow). I’ve begun to realize that there is more to a comfort zone than just experiencing new people, places, and things. Because thinking about it now, I’ve already acclimated to the culture of Fairfield. All the things mentioned before that would be categorized as culture shock are a part of me now and I embrace them. And it is very similar here in Florence as well. Living on my own, seeing white people every day, being different from those around me, all things I am very used to. So when I decided to study abroad here, live here, and step out of my comfort zone again, exactly what would I be looking to step out of?

I think I touched on it this weekend. This weekend I traveled to the Island of Capri and visited the Amalfi Coast. I was beyond amazed. The pictures I took honestly don’t capture just how amazing this place is. “Who made all of this… and how” was what was going through my head every time I turned. A lot of it is really just incomprehensible. And I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Areas and scenery like the Amalfi Coast are just places to be admired. In the new mindset of embracing myself in this “new world” so to speak, I went around the coast just asking tour guides and people questions about its history, going into random stores and asking how long they have been there and why. I paid 20 euros and got on a boat with some friends and just went around the coast for an hour taking pictures, learning about the mountains, and the ancient legends.

 

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A selfie with the colorful houses of Amalfi.

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A beautiful view of the island of Amalfi from one of the mountains of Capri.

 

The Island of Capri was another amazing sight with amazing views. Taking a 20 minute walk uphill, I went to the museum to see old artifacts of the island and what it used to look like. I also decided to take a chairlift to view the island from high in the mountains while paying a few euros to listen to the history of its creation. I can honestly say that learning and understanding the places that I visited this weekend made it much more worthwhile.

 

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The view of the island of Capri from the chair lift.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

¡Buen provecho! (A presentation of Ecuadorian food)

Whether just to humor me or because you love food as much as this girl, imagine a lunch that somehow never ends, beginning with a fresh juice, then soup, followed by a plato fuerte, and all tied together with a sweet but small pastry. And to top it all off? Ecuadorian almuerzos (lunches) range from $2-4 and the city of Quito as well as Cumbayá, a small suburb where my host university is located. These cities are full of family-owned restaurants waiting to offer you traditional and delicious lunches. There really isn’t anything like it in the world.

 

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A sopa and plato fuerte at a restaurant near my school.

 

I find myself scrambling to find room for dinner after getting lunch with some friends, even after a few hours have passed. But alas, I find the space, not only to be polite and show my appreciation to my lovely host mother, but because the dinners she makes always have a rich and flavorful aroma unlike anything I have had the pleasure of smelling during a semester in college. (On a side note, University of Massachusetts was just ranked #1 for best campus food by the Princeton Review – go UMass! However, there is still nothing better than a home cooked meal, and I will always stick by that.)

 

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A dinner made by my lovely host mom! Llapingachos are a traditional Ecuadorian potato pancake, filled with cheese and butter – ¡que ricos son! They are traditionally served with a fried egg, sausages, and fresh avocado, as pictured above.

 

My host family here is a little different than a ‘traditional’ family. Since it is just me and my host mom, I have yet to truly experience the customs and expectations around a meal with Ecuadorian families. However, one aspect of the food culture here that I have learned is that Ecuadorians strongly believe that no one should eat alone. Even if my host mom has already eaten, she always accompanies me as well as anyone else who is over at the time while we eat.

 

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My host mom and I enjoying a Sunday in Nayon with some ice cream!

 

A few weekends ago I also had the pleasure of visiting Cayambe, a city that is not too far from Quito and is known for their bizcochos and homemade, fresh queso. Bizchocos are similar to biscotti and are usually served with fresh cheese and a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. If you ever find yourself in Ecuador, specifically near Cayambe, I highly recommend you try this snack! You can even watch as they make the dough and tour the bizcocho ovens inside certain cafes in Cayambe.

 

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Bizcochos, chocolate caliente y queso, a delicious breakfast or snack for only $2.50!

 

Food is an essential aspect of the culture here in Ecuador. It is the perfect example of the country’s diversity and colorful personality. There are traditional foods that are specific to certain cities, celebrations, and communities that all create the welcoming and beautiful environment that is Ecuador. Even after a month of being here, I still have many different foods to try, such as the Andean delicacy cuy, or roasted guinea pig, ceviche, a traditional meal from the coast that consists of seafood that has been ‘cooked’ with lime juice, and cevichochos, a traditional Ecuadorian street food that is a mix of chochos, a white legume, small or large corn kernels, ceviche, plantain chips, salsa, aji pepper, and lime.

 

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Choclo y fritada (corn and fried pork) a must have during your time in Ecuador!

 

Although Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, there is a large population of Quechua speakers, an indigenous language and community who live in the Andes and the Amazon regions of Ecuador. The indigenous communities here have a large influence on Ecuador’s gastronomy as well as its younger generations who bring their cravings back from their travels abroad. Although everyday is full of new surprises and unexpected but exciting challenges here in Ecuador, one thing is for certain: food will always be an essential, and delicious, aspect of Ecuadorian culture that imperative to displaying the many diverse environments- agricultural, marine, and beyond- that create Ecuador’s renowned and unique identity that I have been able to enjoy and participate in, even as a gringa!

 

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized

Adapting as a Student Athlete in Morocco

My experience studying abroad as a student athlete has required a good amount of self-motivation. So far, I have been able to incorporate my swimming training into my daily schedule. The most challenging part has been holding myself accountable for my workouts. There are many other athletes joining me abroad in Morocco, however I find it difficult to coordinate both our schedules and workout needs most times. For instance, a good number of the athletes here have been spending time at the local gym, while I have been primarily working out in my own apartment (without equipment) since my project that I am completing here requires that I spend time in other cities such as Casablanca and Ouarzazate.

My fitness routine here in Morocco is pretty different from my fitness routine when attending school at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. While at WPI, I have the opportunity to swim in a pool and utilize the Recreation Center’s equipment, weights, and machines. In the bulk of the season there, I swim between 12-17 hours a week, lift either 3 or 5 days a week, elliptical/bike about twice a week, and complete other dry land and ab exercises 6 hours a week. In Morocco, I have been doing body and ab circuits once a day. Although I have been walking at least 6 miles a day, these circuits only last from a half hour to an hour each time.

I also have shoulder injuries and trying to maintain those in a foreign country has been a bit difficult. Over the past few years, I have been receiving physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and treatments from the athletic trainers at our school. At home I am also instructed to complete a set of stretches every day using certain pieces of equipment. Here, my only methods of therapy have been stretching (at times with resistance bands), applying pain relieving herbal patches, and rolling out knots and tight muscles with a muscle stick and lacrosse ball.

Although it is much more difficult to maintain my standards as a student-athlete here in Morocco, I am glad with what I have been able to do thus far. I believe that what I have been doing here will help me to make great progress in my swimming because it allows me to focus on toning myself as an athlete outside of the water. Training here is completely different from what I am used to but I believe that it will have an incredible and positive impact in the long-run.

Being here has also helped me to develop a better outlook on my sport. I am more excited to return to my school and rejoin my team. My appreciation for both the sport and my teammates has increased since being in this country. I have set serious and determined goals for the season and beyond and aspire to be much more focused on my future when it comes to swimming. I believe that this experience abroad has already had such a wonderful impact on myself as a student-athlete.

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Filed under Allysa in Morocco, middle east

The Meaning of (Indian) Food

I’m originally from Northern Virginia and in my opinion it’s fairly diverse. There are tons of Indian restaurants and a significant number of Indian people. Every time I walk into my Lotte International grocery store I see Indian women in their saris and Indian children running around without a care in the world. Although I have been surrounded by Indian culture and Indian friends, I have never tasted authentic South Indian food. It was not accessible and even if it was, I was afraid of how and what to order. Being in Tamil Nadu for the past month has completely changed my perspective on Indian food.

 

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Lunch cooked by the SITA (South India Term Abroad study abroad program) staff. Pictured is rice, gravy, vegetable side dishes, chapati, papaya, and curd to eat with the white rice.

 

South Indian food is rice-based and there is a ton of variety. There’s so much variety that I could eat something different every single day for at least 3 weeks. If I had to list everything I have eaten so far I would have to dedicate a separate paragraph. Idli, a steamed rice bun, is frequently eaten for both breakfast and dinner. Dosa, a thin crepe made from rice-batter, is another entree eaten at breakfast and dinner. Both idli and dosa are eaten with chutneys. My favorite meal is dosa with coconut chutney. It’s very simple but SO delicious! The secret to South Indian food being delicious is making it fresh and using a ton of spices. For example, the coconut chutney is prepared and made right before dinner. My host mother breaks open a coconut, grinds the coconut meat in the food processor, adds some water to the chutney, and then adds a pinch of different spices. While idli and dosa are commonly eaten for breakfast, lunch is always white rice with various side dishes. South Indians usually eat a heavy lunch because dinner is not until 8 or 9 in the evening.

 

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White Idli with coconut chutney (white) and peanut chutney (orange) eaten for dinner.

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Another variety of idli served with freshly made peanut chutney.

 

In my host family, dinner is always eaten together with my host grandparents who conveniently live 3 feet away from our house. It’s nice to have a family meal every night because it’s time dedicated to talking about our respective days and catching up with one another. Oftentimes my host parents and host grandparents try to overfeed me. Even though I ate 6 idlis, they still insist upon me eating another idli. I’ve realized the act of overfeeding is common throughout Southern India. It’s the South Indian hospitality and generosity. Gaining weight and being “fat” is considered to be good and very much encouraged. A fat person embodies wealth and can physically show society that they can afford to eat. While American culture and media define healthy as being fit and exercising regularly, the South Indian definition of being fit is being chubby and maybe a little overweight. It’s been interesting and somewhat challenging to navigate the attitude towards food in South India because of this difference in expectation. Other American students here in India have told me that their host mother’s goal is to fatten them up before they return to the United States. I’ve interacted with my host father’s nephew who expressed his dislike of attending family functions because they never fail to mention how thin he is and advise he “fattens up.” The difference in food culture has made me appreciate the freedom I have had in the United States to reject food when I wanted to or eat a simple yogurt parfait for breakfast. It’s definitely a privilege I was not aware of until I came to South India.

 

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A Thali meal which consists of a variety of side dishes. A thin wafer and a chapati is offered first. Once those have been eaten, white rice is served.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

Between Worlds

The blog conventions dictate that I shall be known as “Jordan in Scotland,” but it should really be “Old Man Undercover.”  Not only have I sat on a shelf and ripened a decade or two longer than the majority of my peers, but I clearly have the constitution of a man many years my elder. If I were at home right now, I’d be bookended between two cats on the couch, drinking tea. Of course, I can be as childlike as I am centennial. But so can an old man if you stay off his lawn and give him a lolly. The point is, I’m old and set in my ways. I know what I like, and I’ve spent the better part of many years discovering what makes me happy and comfortable and carving a little nest for myself which is conducive to those ideals. So what am I doing in a featureless flat in a foreign land, bereft of all worldly possessions beyond the ones I could fit under the seat of a plane?

Oh, sure, it’s easy to take a holiday from everything that ties you down. Even liberating.  But a holiday, this is not. If this were a holiday, I’d probably be sharing each little oddity, amusement, and imposition with a close companion. But I’m out here on my own, 5,000+ miles from home, with all the usual responsibilities to manage and none of the customary support. I won’t pretend to be having a grand old time of it. But if I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t have come back.

It’s been seven years since I first jammed myself into a flying tin-can for eleven hours and had the privilege to inhale British-European air upon my glorious extrication. Six years, nine months since I’ve been scheming to repeat the ordeal. Because the one thing holidays can’t offer you is the chance to live like a native. For three months in 2009, I was a Londoner. I lived in a flat in the borough of Kensington, took the Piccadilly line from Gloucester Road station, and sat for classes at University of London. The experience filled me with a new lease on life, countless Bangers and Mash, and one last niggling thought as I returned to the States: “I was just getting the hang of it!”

 

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Hamish in 2009.

 

This Scottish scheme was conceived during that previous stint abroad. During the semester intermission, we popped up to Scotland on the rail and took a peek at some of its finest offerings: Stonehenge, Dunkeld, Loch Ness, the Castle of Edinburgh, the Wallace Monument, the Isle of Skye, and Hamish the “Hey-ry Coo” (Hairy Cow). I knew before the week was out that I’d be coming back. But I never do anything by halves. For the next 9 months, I’ll be a Scotlander – longer than I’ve been a San Franciscan from my native California. Nine months and no going back. You could make a whole new person in that time. Nine months in the little medieval town of St Andrews at Scotland’s oldest university, rocking the gothic since 1413. You could make twenty-five generations in that.

You’d think that seven years’ preparation would have prepared me. But this newer, more audacious stint at international infil-, er, integration sends me straight back to nursery school. I’ve noticed in my many lifetimes that one of the harder things to navigate in life is anything you’ve never navigated before. From the moment we’re wrenched from the womb, if we’re lucky, someone is holding our hand and leading us forward every wobbly step of the way. We learn our way around the crib, the house, the neighborhood, the campus, all under the watchful eyes of our elders – slowly graduating from one bubble to another like a geographical Chinese nesting doll, all along wrapped in the confidence that we’re right where we’re supposed to be.

So it’s always something of a terror being set adrift without a map. How do I get where I’m going? What am I supposed to be doing? Am I about to get eaten? Good luck and godspeed.  Anytime I have to do something I’ve never done before, no matter the magnitude, there’s trepidation. It’s inevitable that I’m going to do something wrong. Make a wrong turn, say the wrong thing, walk the wrong way, and generally betray myself as an infant without attendance. In the words of the venerable Bilbo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” Transplant yourself to a new world and every day is an adventure. Adventure is not about safety or comfort. It’s about living. Leveling. Expanding.

And going to another world is exactly how it felt. In the days leading up to departure, it’s all I could think about. I once drove from Arizona to Oregon to seek refuge at home, but there’s no road between home and my heading, this round. If I wanted to come back, I’d be at the mercy of the aviation gods and the depths of my wallet… and Time. There’d be no popping back for dinner and drinks or a hug, no matter how much I or my mother needed it. I may as well have been stepping through a one-way portal to spend the next nine months in search of the one that brings me back. The overbearing sense of “No Exceptions, No Returns” was overwhelming. Not only did I have to remotely prepare a life for myself to step into in the new world, but I had to insure that my life at home would continue to function without me. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than it had in the past, not only due to the extended duration but to the ways that my life has changed.

You also might expect, as I did, that being older makes things easier. But at least in this case, youth seems to have the advantage. For my first expedition abroad, I was fairly new to living on my own. I had moved to a town about two hours south of my parents, and could get home easily if I needed to. I had a new apartment, a new car, and was the newly adopted father to a couple of adorable shelter cats. I had recently returned to college, and my petition to study abroad had been accepted. I was feeling competent and intrepid. I coerced a loyal friend to house-and-cat-sit for my little London excursion, and soon looped back to the States and resumed my life as if nothing had happened. But a lot happens in seven years. I’ve inhabited different residences and jobs, developed relationships, grown my network, and refined my own sense of place and community.  I’ve also developed the kind of ailments that introduce themselves after thirty, like back pain and an irritable bowel. Even more problematic, my furry dependents, now both nine, have each developed their own health hazards. And, oddly enough, my parents aren’t getting any younger, either.

 

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Home life with my cats.

 

My life at 36 is infinitely more beleaguered than my life at 29. I had to thoroughly uproot myself from my latest apartment – no one would be house-sitting this time. I sold most of my furniture in the classifieds, and liquidated many possessions through yard sale and donation. I had to enlist my poor mother to take on the unenviable nursing care of my special-needs cats for the better part of a year, and at a time when she didn’t need the extra hassle. I had to settle my accounts, stockpile medications, and say goodbye to friends knowing they might not still be around when I get back. As if that weren’t enough, that old nemesis Bureaucracy had to rear its great horned head: the pharmacy bumbled my prescription, my university-sponsored health insurance lapsed due to my being technically unregistered (studying abroad), my mobile contract expired a week before departure, and the British Consulate stole my passport without informing me.

 

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Starting to pack.

 

The proverbial hurricane that carried me away from home was anything but exhilarating. I felt like a piece of paper that had been torn in two, with half blown to another continent and the other still wilting, bewildered, back at home. I’ve had a weather widget for St Andrews parked on the home screen of my phone for several years, serving as reminder and motivation; a digital carrot carrying me toward my self-prophesied fate. But upon finally arriving at the pinnacle of my hard-sought destination, poised in the seat of victory atop a double-decker bus, my thoughts were ever in two places. Not unlike they’d been when I’d returned from London, actually. Maybe it’s a side-effect of the portal.

 

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On the double decker bus.

 

After surviving a series of excruciating flights and a layover in Keflavik, I arrived in Edinburgh on August 28th. I’ve blocked out most of that period, so it’s fortunate that the age of digital documentation doesn’t let us forget. It looks like I did manage to collect my luggage at the claim; I suppose that explains why my new abode isn’t entirely derelict. And I do recall the personnel for the Edinburgh Tram outside the airport being incredibly gracious, helping me sort out payment and route not just with patience but solicitude, and not merely in the paid-to-please brand of the term. Perhaps they were new to the work, or maybe they were attracted to the California sun still baked into my clothes. But the sense of disorientation remained profound; I was as green as the Wicked Witch in Emerald City. I bought a day pass for the bus in Edinburgh and when the driver directed me to scratch off the date, I stared at him dumbly. What WAS the date? Was it still Saturday? Was it August, here? With everything so altered, it was very difficult to be sure.

One of the first things I noticed upon setting down in Edinburgh was my inherent tendency to veer to the right on walking paths when faced with pedestrians traveling in the reverse. I noticed this because those oncoming had an unfailing tendency to veer to their left, placing us on a collision course. It gradually dawned on me that we unconsciously seem to organize ourselves on foot by the same rules that we’re accustomed to driving. Thus, constituents of the UK don’t just drive on the left – they WALK left. Have fun attempting to reformat your walking legs if you ever make it here. And then go to a college town half occupied with American exchange students, and have fun playing human pinball trying to guess between them and the locals!

 

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Leith in Edinburgh.

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Edinburgh.

 

Another thing that immediately captured my attention were the serving sizes in restaurants. The Scottish don’t strike me as timid eaters, but a standard helping at the venues I’ve sampled would have been sent back in the States on the charge of forgetting the entree. The burger and smattering of fries I received in one establishment looked a little lost on its comparatively enormous saucer, but they were sufficient to satiate my stomach. Visitors to the US must be aghast at the portions we serve, and satisfied as to the source of our infamous battle with obesity. Truth be told, I would have eaten twice that number of french fries (at the least).

 

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An example of the serving sizes here.

 

Another thing to watch out for here is the predominance of sparkling water. It’s wise to cultivate the habit of adding “tap” when you order a glass of the old standard, and “ice” isn’t bad to include, either. Just as popular is the practice of ordering to go. Virtually every venue will ask if you mean to “sit in” or “take away” – from the afternoon cafes to the evening pubs. In the States, staying seems to be taken for granted unless otherwise specified. As an introvert, I really ought to get a handle on this “take away” trend.

But what has been most surprising for me on this journey so far is not that I have missed my home during this tumultuous transition, but how much I have missed London. I find myself looking not for the comforts of home but to relive the experiences I left behind in Britain. The rustic pubs and tea houses on every corner. The bridges over the Thames, the London Eye, and St James Park. The Tube, the boroughs, and live theater enough to rival the television listings on subway billboards. And I desperately miss my London flat, with its big windows, tall ceiling and cozy kitchen. I came prepared to embrace the British way of life, the one I had jump-started all those years ago. I just forgot how distinctively different two countries that share a continent can actually be. Living in the UK bears certain associations that I’m discovering are not exclusively universal. The Sainsburys grocery chain and Boots pharmacy still exist up here, but I might have to trade in my staple diet of Bangers and Mash for Scotch Eggs and Whiskey. The locals still speak the Queen’s English, but you wouldn’t know it for all you can understand them sometimes.  And the buses!  I have yet to get hopelessly and irrevocably lost on the buses. This definitely isn’t London anymore, Toto. I guess we’d better practice our Scots.

 

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Ready to learn the bus system!

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Filed under Eastern Europe, Jordan in Scotland

New Beginnings

My name is Christopher Amoako-Kwaw, a senior at Fairfield University in Connecticut spending my LAST fall semester of senior year in Florence, Italy. No, to just say Florence, Italy would not do this city enough justice. The beautiful, magical, breath-taking Florence, Italy is where I have been the past six days.

I never really had a picture of what Florence would look like. I’ve see photos and things of that nature, but I never could have expected what I have seen now. Before leaving this past Sunday, I can’t say that I was anxious. I’m not really someone that gets anxious because I am willing to take on any challenge. I would say that I felt that things would be a little weird. Not being around my close friends that I have made at Fairfield, not being able to go home in case of an emergency, things of that nature were on my mind. I just made sure I saw all of my friends and family members before I left. I also made sure to see professors and administrators who have supported me during this process to thank each and every one of them.

 

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A beautiful view of the city of Perguia.

 

When I first officially got here, I was actually kind of shocked. I had no idea Florence had so many tourists. I got off the plane thinking my days of seeing Americans all the time and speaking English were over. But to my surprise, they were everywhere. And I can see why. This city is truly something to behold. I am in an apartment with five other students, and my apartment is located three minutes away from the Duomo. Yes, the Duomo. It’s crazy just walking one block and being outside of its grand and mysterious grace. It’s one of the most beautiful and intricate things I have ever set my eyes on. Also, when I first got here I thought that all I would be eating is the best kind of pizza and pasta. But since I’ve been here, the pasta and pizza from the U.S. actually tastes a lot better. I’m hoping it’s because I haven’t been to the best pizza and pasta places yet, so I’ll continue looking around.

This is something worth noting: I am the only black person from Fairfield here in the program. The Fairfield Florence program host students from three different schools, Fairfield University, Providence College, and Saint Jose. I am also the ONLY black person in the entire program. So yes, definitely a difference from my college experience in the U.S. Diversity is certainly an issue back at Fairfield, but I have people like me that I surround myself with. So I’m not really sure if this is a culture shock or a culture change, buts it’s definitely about to be an experience I have never had before. I am definitely happy and excited to take on this challenge.

 

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The beautiful fountain in the square of Assasi.

 

I have actually noticed many differences between the U.S. and this beautiful city. Other than the obvious 6 hour time difference, the way Italians behave is very different. First off, the streets aren’t packed and busy until around 9:30/10 am. Back home, stores are open and people are running to work at 7:30 am, so that is very different. Another difference is the eating patterns. Restaurants, cafes, and little shops close around 3 pm and open up again around 7 pm. Apparently, that gap is used for sleep so I’ll be getting really use to that.

In terms of goals, I really just want to explore where I live. I want to know how to get home from anywhere as naturally as I do when I’m home. I want to be able to walk into a store or restaurant and not look confused at the menu or confused at what they are offering or saying. I want to be able to go to a grocery store and know exactly what the things mean and say. These are little things yes, but I know they will go a long way. My main goal is to honestly just step outside my comfort zone and meet new people. I don’t want to fall into my ways of comfort. I want to experience what others experience, together with them. I also want people to experience what I experience as well, as well as feel comfortable around me.

People were telling me that coming here would feel like I was in a different world. They certainly were not lying. But people also told me that I can handle anything that comes my way and overcome it. They were not lying about that either.

 

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Views from the Basilica of San Francesco d’assisi.

 

 

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

The Hard Goodbye

Hong Kong is a beautiful place.

 

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The view that taught me that I am capable of missing views.

 

I met so many wonderfully astonishing people here whom I will never forget. I did not think saying goodbye would be hard, but I also did not plan on connecting with so many different people.

How can I put into words exactly what I experienced abroad? This is a question I find myself pondering. In a way I feel detached from my home country even more than before I studied abroad. Now that I have experienced living and interacting with people in a different country, I am certain the United States will not be my dwelling for my entire life. My time abroad taught me that there are so many ways to live comfortably in foreign countries.

I tell my friends that I feel like I’m in the Stone Age because that is what being back in the U.S. feels like now. Some of my day-to-day activities feel so obsolete, like public transportation. In Hong Kong, I could travel all across the city with ease and in a decent amount of time. LA is the complete opposite. It may seem small, but I learned to appreciate and use my time more efficiently while in Hong Kong, so spending some much time on transportation is a nuisance. I am going to have to get used to the prehistoric ways of the U.S.

Upon my arrival to the Los Angeles International Airport, I found my heart sinking out of fear at the sight of security guards/police officers and their guns. I have traveled to four different countries during my time abroad and saw close to zero guns. I can’t say I was surprised because during my time abroad I was constantly reminded that people in the U.S. still find themselves becoming victims of violence by governing forces that are meant to protect.

During my second month in Hong Kong I began missing Western food, my friends, and family. As I type this, I have only been reunited with a handful of my friends since I am staying in LA until school starts again, but I am sure my reunion with my Berkeley friends will be pretty powerful. When my amazing friend picked me up, she surprised me with my dog and food from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle. It was magical.

While I have my gripes with the U.S. it was therapeutic my first couple of days being back. Some areas of LA are truly a beautiful diverse melting pot, and it was nice not feeling like a minority in some instances. However I still miss Hong Kong greatly.

 

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The hard goodbye.

 

I miss the amazing people I met who will never be forgotten. I met some truly incredible people that are worth the effort of remaining in contact with. I will miss the Hong Kong nightlife and all the colorful characters that come with being in those spaces. I will miss eating rice daily with my intermediate level chopstick skills (I became addicted to rice there). I will miss the friendly locals who were kind to me, the ease of getting around in Hong Kong. I am going to miss lunch time with my co-workers and not tipping at restaurants (because tipping is not a thing in most Asian countries I have learned).

Hong Kong is very Westernized, so there aren’t too many aesthetic differences or differences in how day to day life is lived, from my personal observation. However the way Hong Kong interacted with me is completely different than the States. I saw plenty of police daily, but not once was I stopped or questioned at all. I felt very safe, as opposed to the U.S. where I feel very uneasy whenever I see police.

I always fantasized about leaving the States to live and work in a foreign country. My study abroad experience to Hong Kong showed me that it is very possible. I learned that an American degree, especially from my university, goes a long way in Hong Kong. Hong Kong gave me new prospective post-graduate plans. Maybe I will work in Southeast Asia again before pursuing grad school or law school.

My study abroad in Southeast Asia was nothing short of an enlightening, humbling, life-changing experience that I will never forget. I have yet to develop the tools to fully express or explain how much my time abroad affected me. I learned so much about myself, traveling, Southeast Asia and its culture. My experiences in Hong Kong have extinguished the animosity I held towards the States. It has taught me how to cope with the issues in the U.S in a healthier, productive, and less stressful way. Hong Kong ignited a series of growth for me that will continue long into my life, and for this, I cannot thank Hong Kong enough.

 

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My future looks brighter because of my experiences in Hong Kong.

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