Category Archives: Uncategorized

Goodbye Wilderness, Hello University of Canterbury

My five-week field camp is over. Our final week was spent mapping lava flows on Banks Peninsula. The work was similar to the volcanology we did on North Island, with one major difference: Whereas Taupo Volcanic Zone is one of the most active systems of its type in the world, the volcanoes of Banks Peninsula are extinct. Enough time has passed for the flows to become overgrown with vegetation, which makes them much harder to see. The upshot is an inviting, pastoral landscape, nothing at all like the foreboding, otherworldly terrain you saw in my last post.

 

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Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula.

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The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.

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The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.

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The town of Akaroa, Banks Peninsula.

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Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.

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Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.

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Fishermans Bay, Banks Peninsula.

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The seal colony on this shore platform is home to dozens of seals, many of them newborn pups!

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The beach at Le Bons Bay. These local boys have erected walls of boogie boards and are now throwing sand at each other. As we passed, we overheard one of them call out, “It’s the U.S. vs. Mexico!”

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Some of the students from my group wade into Le Bons Bay, which is extremely shallow. Even 100 meters from the shore, I could still touch the bottom.

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This Maori war canoe, called a “waka,” paddled upstream as part of Okains Bay’s Waitangi Day celebrations. Waitangi Day is February 6 and celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty gave England sovereignity over New Zealand while granting some rights to the indigenous Maori. Unfortunately, the English and Maori language versions of that treaty differ slightly, so there is debate over how to interpret them. Maori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population, but account for 50% of the prison population. On average, their income is only two thirds that of European New Zealanders. Still, they are better off than Native Americans. Many of New Zealand’s largest companies are Maori-owned, and 20% of New Zealand’s parliament is of Maori descent.

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Children’s foot races at Okains Bay’s Wataingi Day celebrations.

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Unlike nearby Australia, the wild animals in New Zealand are relatively harmless. Instead, it’s the plants that will get you. Gorse (pictured here) is the mildest. It’s sharp, but flimsy, so the best tactic is to walk quickly through it without pausing. Matagouri, on the other hand, is sharp and stiff, so it requires more caution. Worst of all is ongaonga, which grows only in shady areas and is covered by poisonous hairs. One look and you know its dripping with menace. Our professor described it as “stinging nettle on steroids.” The burning sensation lasts for up to three days!

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Full days in the field require plenty of food. Fortunately, we were well fed. This sandwich has sausage, chicken, ham, cheese, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, mustard, and hummus. My typical lunch would have two sandwiches like this, two pieces of fruit, and two granola bars.

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Our group plops down for an extended lunch break next to Coffin Rock (on which I was standing to take this high-angle photo), Banks Peninsula.

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The wind played an active role in many of the landscapes we visited. On one particularly bad day in Castle Hill Basin, gusts reached almost 100 mph! The wind was not as bad on Banks Peninsula (pictured here), but you can see it’s still strong enough to rake this bush into a sort of natural topiary.

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Our final stop was an old school that had been recently converted to a campground.

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The best part about camping at a school was getting to use the playground. Besides this soccer field, there was also a tennis court.

 

As fascinating and educational as field camp was, it was starting to wear on me by the end. The constant stimulation and weekly location changes were a little much for an introvert like me. I prefer to have my own space and a predictable schedule. Now I get my wish.

For the next four months, I get to settle down in the largest city on South Island, Christchurch (population 375,000). The city has been a hotbed for geology ever since 2011, when it was shaken by a deadly and highly destructive earthquake from which it is still recovering.

Three miles west of downtown is the University of Canterbury (UC), where I’m now one of 12,000 full-time students. It’s many times larger than Pomona College, but it’s not entirely unfamiliar. Before Pomona and before the Marine Corps, I spent a year at another UC: Berkeley.

I spent only one year at Berkeley because it was a poor fit for me at that time in my life. I struggled academically and socially, and ultimately withdrew. During this first week of class here in Christchurch I’ve had a few flashbacks to that overwhelming experience eight years ago. Thankfully, my work ethic and study skills are better now, and the students here are not workaholics, something I disliked about Berkeley.

I live on campus in a five-bedroom flat. Surprisingly, I’m younger than all four of my flatmates. Matt is a 32-year-old Kiwi undergrad who used to work in the wine industry but is now changing careers to become an accountant. Marius is a 27-year-old postdoc mechanical engineering student from Germany. Rounding out the flat are two PhD candidates: Calvin, a chemical engineer from Malaysia, and Jasper, a botanist from the Philippines. Although we’re still getting to know each other, we’ve already had some good conversations in our flat’s common room. It’s nice living with older students.

 

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After five weeks of sleeping in bunkrooms and tents, this spacious bedroom is a major upgrade. It’s mine for the next four months.

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There are five of us who share this five-bedroom flat. The common room has a fully stocked kitchen, a table with chairs, and a couple of sofas. It opens onto a balcony that faces another four-story building just ours. The front door to our flat is at the end of the hallway.

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There are about 1,000 international students at the University of Canterbury. This map shows where they call home.

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International Student Orientation was held inside the University’s largest lecture hall, the same room I use for Physics 101 and Statistics 101.

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Two days after orientation I went to the Central Library for enrollment. The domestic students get to enroll online, but we international students had to do it in person. I waited in a series of lines for more than two hours. Fortunately, I got into all four classes that I wanted to take.

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Special events are common during orientation and extend into the first week of classes also. This game reminded me of the pugil stick bouts that are important rites of passage for Marine Corps recruits at boot camp. The purpose of those pugil stick bouts is to teach aggression, but this game is just for fun. The building in the background is identical to the one in which I live.

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The area of campus west of the academic buildings has expansive lawns and gardens. Chalk advertisements are everywhere this week because the student clubs are recruiting new members. Here you can see one for the largest club on campus, EnSoc, which is short for Engineering Society.

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The Puaka-James Hight building houses the University’s Central Library and is one of the tallest buildings in Christchurch. Its blocky concrete architecture is typical of the rest of the campus, which was constructed in the 1960s.

I’ve been told that classes here are much easier than what I’m used to at Pomona College. That’s held true for the first week of class. This semester I’m taking two geology classes and what I fear will be two boring electives: Physics 101 and Statistics 101. They might not hold my interest like the Spanish and dance classes that were my go-to electives at Pomona, but they are prerequisites for graduate school.

Outside of classes, I expect that my biggest time commitment will be biking. This semester I’ve made it my goal to become an avid cyclist.

I need wheels. I feel trapped without them. I want to get out and explore the city, but anything more than two miles from campus is too far to walk, and I hate waiting on buses. My study abroad program doesn’t allow me to own a motor vehicle, so a human-powered one is the next best thing. With the right bike, I can expand my radius from two miles to twenty. Nothing will be off limits!

 

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I have all the gear I need for the perfect commuter bicycle: Helmet, lock, gloves, high-visibility vest, and cycling shoes with compatible pedals. All I need now is the bike. Every time I ride a new road, I’ll cross it off on the map that’s pinned to the wall.

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Once I have a bike, visiting attractions like this farmers’ market will be much easier. It took me 28 minutes to walk here from campus. With a bike I could do it in less than ten.

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The farmers’ market in the previous photo is held every week at Riccarton Bush, a park that is home to the last old-growth forest in Christchurch.

 

Over the last week, I’ve spent hours each day researching my options. I’m looking for a good, used road bike. Ideally, it will be fast enough to beat the bus, but cheap enough that I won’t be devastated if it’s stolen. This morning I test rode a 2006 Kona Zing that might fit the bill. I found it on Trade Me, a hugely popular New Zealand website that’s like Ebay and Craigslist combined.

Once I have a speedy bike for zipping around the city, I look forward to learning every neighborhood, visiting every park, riding all the way east to the ocean and south to the mountains of Banks Peninsula. By the end of the semester, I want to know my way around this city better than the locals. I’m stating that goal here so that my readers can hold me to it.

Until next time, that’s all the latest from Down Under!

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand, Uncategorized

Just like Bowie, I Turned Myself to Face Me

As I begin to write this blog post, I can already feel a numbing sensation trickle down my arms as my eyes that have seen so much these past four months fill with tears. I will proofread for any typos but can’t make any promises with my watered-down eyesight.

I am a little afraid that I have almost changed too much since studying abroad, and that the culture shock when I return home will be a really difficult experience for me, but there is no need to worry about that yet I suppose. It is difficult to put into words for me how much my time here has meant to me. I hope that this post does this beautiful country justice.

If you had asked me one month into my study abroad experience how I honestly felt, I would have told you that I did not think I would make it through these four months. I had never been away from my family, my boyfriend, or the U.S. for so long. And now, here I am, three months later, not wanting to leave this beautiful country and the diversity that fills it, and living tranquilly next to an active stratovolcano. 

 

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Doing touristy things in Quito before leaving at Parque Carolina, an incredibly huuuge park in the middle of Quito that has soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, a track, vendors of any food you might be craving or didn’t know you were craving….essentially Ecuadorian culture in a park.

 

Honestly, I am not sure when things changed exactly. I don’t think it was a specific moment in my study abroad experience, but rather an accumulation of several things. I began to become more independent and I was getting through days with a smile on my face or laughter throughout the entire day more easily and easily. I became stronger as things seemed to fall into place. I was going on more and more adventures with new friends and disconnecting myself a little more from social media and the things that connected me with the U.S. (Actually I left my phone in a taxi and my laptop charger broke so I didn’t really have much of a choice…but as they say here in Ecuador, así es la vida, or “such is life,” so I had to move on.) I also was enjoying time on my own more, which is something I never really enjoyed prior to this experience. When I decide to explore Quito on my own, I almost always encounter someone who is surprised at my Spanish level and thus wants to talk to me more- a conversation that usually comes from them first trying to sell me some jewelry or $1 seco de pollo from a cooler.

My alone time throughout the city has also helped me realize how much I have changed in terms of being a more observant and in-the-moment person. Being more observant has definitely come from necessity, considering pedestrians here do not have the right-of-way and buses will start driving/shut the door before you’re comfortably on the vehicle. And living in a city for the first time has also made me more aware of my things when I am walking or on public transportation.

It is pretty much impossible to make a plan and follow through with it completely here, but that is part of the fun. Buses don’t really have schedules (and even if they do they aren’t always followed), some places are closed because they don’t feel like opening, detours appear and change daily, the list goes on and on. Although this would have frustrated me in the U.S., here it seems like an opportunity to enjoy and explore wherever your trip ended up taking you. I have definitely become more open to change during my time here and have become less nervous asking for help from strangers, especially since Ecuadorians always want to help, even if they have no idea where you are heading, and thus just make up directions…but you can’t even get mad because they are so sweet. Despite these challenges, I have successfully made it to several different cities and towns in Ecuador, one of them being Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, where I went to a Barcelona (a huuuge fútbol team from Guayaquil) soccer game that was an experience I will never forget! 

 

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Just a taste of the support the fans gave to their team in Guayaquil. It was even crazier than the two Ecuadorian national games I have been to in Quito. Soccer games are a great way to experience the culture, get some delicious and cheap food, as well as learn some interesting sayings…

 

If I had to elaborate on one aspect of my life here in Ecuador that I am going to miss incredibly when I return to Massachusetts it would be the diversity here in Ecuador. Prior to studying abroad, I always thought of the word “diversity” as something that referred to cultures and people. Although this is still the case, I also have been introduced to the environmental diversity of a country so small yet so incredibly diverse in terms of its people as well as its flora y fauna. Even in the capital, with its stressful traffic and diesel-filled air, there are still magnificent views of the snowcapped Cotopaxi from afar or the just as incredible but closer to home Pichincha Volcano that is engulfed by Quito. There is also a National Park nearby called Cayambe Coca that is a popular home for bears and consists of a beautiful mountain range and lake. Before coming to Ecuador I had only seen views like this in National Geographic or on postcards.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciated nature. 

Now, I can tell you that I don’t think I can fully live without visiting mountains or waterfalls or something that is a part of nature at least several times a month.

 

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An incredible view of the Cayambe Coca National Park. I am definitely going to miss seeing nature like this everyday.

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The breathtaking sunrise on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. My friend Caitlyn and I got up a few times to go for morning runs and our last day in the Galapagos we got up eeextra early to see the sunrise.

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The unbelievable Quilotoa Crater Lake in Quilotoa, a few hours south of Quito.

 

Beyond the environmental diversity here in Ecuador, there is a pluriculturalism that exists within the identities that fill this beautiful country, shown through the clothing that people wear, the customs and music they have, the holidays they celebrate, and the languages they speak. On just a 20 minute bus ride to campus I can hear people speaking Spanish, English, and Kichwa, as well as see people wearing very modern clothing (probably from Colombia or the U.S. since clothing here is very expensive), more conservative or practical clothing, as well as indigenous clothing, which can vary depending on the indigenous community they come from in Ecuador. During the morning bus ride I can hear someone singing modern American music to a group of indigenous folks playing their traditional instruments, and also singing rather sad songs that portray the indigenous history of this country that they promise to never forget. I have even seen people walking on the highway for several hours to see the Quinche Virgin and profess their faith and dedication to her during El día del Quinche.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciate diversity, that I am an open-minded person who appreciates differences across cultures as long as everyone is respected.

Now, I can tell you that I have an entirely new perspective of diversity, one that includes our beautiful earth that we have to appreciate and protect, as well as diversity through positive relationships I have witnessed between lots of different groups of people in one city, something that I hope our country will be able to reach in the near future.

 

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My beautiful friend Brittany and I with a past President of Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez!

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Just a bunch of gringos and Ecuadorians in the back of a pick-up truck. Nothing unusual for the countrysides of Ecuador!

 

Not only will I miss the diversity, I will also miss speaking Spanish daily and learning new sayings and Quiteño slang, as well as the connections with Ecuadorians, international students, my host family, and with myself that I have made thanks to my time here in Ecuador. But this is not goodbye. I know I will be back in Ecuador sometime soon, and I will see the new friends I have made who live in the States, and I will never forget the changes I have undergone as an individual throughout this experience.

Mil gracias mi lindo Ecuador

 

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A view of the Historic Center in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for obvious reasons I would say.

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Ready for my next adventure, wherever it might be! (Taken in Cuenca, Ecuador.)

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! As always, thanks for reading!

Hasta pronto Ecuador,

Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized

A World of Firsts

Making the decision to study abroad wasn’t an easy one. Going abroad meant I’d be further away from my parents than I have ever been. When I was deciding what college to go to,  I chose one close to home so I could make it back to my parents whenever they needed me. My parents and I were used to being able to seeing each other weekly, so the idea of going 4 months without seeing each other was scary. But it was my parents who in the end pushed me to go. They knew it was an experience I would never get otherwise. So off I went, ready for an adventure of a lifetime that was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Being a first-generation college student means that all of my college experiences were firsts. So when I was applying for study abroad programs, I didn’t have anyone to tell me what the best countries to go to were or to help me with the process of getting my visa. I was on my own. My parents supported me in any way they could, but in the end it came down to me doing everything independently. No one in my family knew anything about Belgium, so I had nothing to go off of besides reading what I could off of Google. I think this is the biggest thing that sets me apart from other students studying abroad. I had to try and figure everything out myself. Though going through the process of applying, choosing a program, and getting ready to study abroad was definitely a growing experience for me. It made me become more independent and grow more confident in myself.

I knew my parents couldn’t come to visit me half way through like most of my friends’ did. I knew I would be without family for the entirety of my abroad experience. I see a lot of my friends get excited that their family will be coming to visit and I know that that will never be me, that I will never fully share this experience with my own family. That being said, it didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to take them with me! I had an idea of taking family photos for every new place I visited. So, I went to Hema (it’s like Target but smaller) and printed out 3 large photos of my parents and brother and took them with me around Belgium and to a trip out to Luxembourg! My mom got the family photos after all!!

 

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Me and my family in Arlon, Belgium! Arlon is the smallest town in Belgium and right near the border to Luxembourg.

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A panorama of Luxembourg! So pretty!

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A photo of houses in Luxembourg City.

 

To any first-generation college student thinking about studying abroad, I would absolutely say do it if the circumstances are right! The fear and uncertainty that come with studying abroad dissipates as soon as you get settled in your home abroad. When things get overwhelming, take a deep breath and remember what your goals are. Filling out dozens of papers and going through hoops and obstacles to get your visa will be worth it in the end. Things will be crazy and you will go through a whirlwind of emotions, but once you feel settled, you’ll look around wherever you are and you’ll see how it was all worth it. For me, I knew I wasn’t studying abroad for just myself; I’m studying abroad for my parents too so they can see glimpses of the world through my pictures and they know I’m taking Europe on for them!

 

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Duck faces with my family in Luxembourg City!

 

Tot ziens! Until next time!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Uncategorized, Western Europe

A New Sense of Reality

Hi! I’m Nhi and I’m currently studying at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium! I’m an Anthropology major and Museum Studies minor and will be continuing my studied here in Leuven. I arrived here on September 19th and have slowly been acclimating to Belgian culture.

Leuven is a small city east of Brussels. It’s a beautiful city where biking is the main mode of transportation. But I am a little skittish of riding a bike so I’ve been walking everywhere.

This was my first time traveling internationally alone and I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about flying and figuring out how to get to KU, but navigating the airport and surviving the long flight was easier than I had initially thought! My study abroad program gave me pretty straightforward directions on how to navigate the airport and what train I had to take to get from Brussels to Leuven. Leuven was a short 15 minute train ride from Brussels. From the train station my dorm is a 3 minute taxi ride or about a 15 minute walk. I live in a residential dorm with 14 other international students. We share a kitchen and bathroom and have grown really close within the past week. There are people from Spain, Belgium, South Korea, Germany, England, Croatia, and America. So it’s really fun not only learning Belgian culture, but the cultures of all of these other countries!

 

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Ready to board my flight with some Generation Study Abroad gear!

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My view from the windows of my dorm room! I can see the sunset every evening!

 

The first thing I noticed when I got to Leuven was how differently the roads and streets work here. Unlike the States where we have traffic lights and usually separate bike lanes, around where I live in Leuven there are no traffic lights and no separate lanes for bikes! Pedestrians, bikes, and cars all share the same road with no traffic lights and have to fend for themselves on the road! You just have to zoom across the street, because there is no guarantee a bike or car will yield to you. The streets are mostly all stone roads from what I can tell, so paved sidewalks and roads bleed into each other with almost little to no distinction.

Another thing I found surprising is that every store you go to requires you to buy a bag to hold your purchases. The bags can cost anywhere from 5-25 cents. I was expecting it at some grocery stores, but it’s at EVERY store I’ve been to so far and that has ranged from a grocery store, to a Belgian version of CVS, to a tech store. I usually try to stuff my purchases in a bag I already have but sometimes I have had to bite the dust and buy a plastic bag. It’s a funny quirk to me and the other Americans who live in my corridor.

Another thing that is different from America is that all stores are closed on Sundays! There are a few 24/7 stores open but mostly everything else is closed on Sunday and reserved for people to rest and prepare for the upcoming week, which I think is nice for all the workers and business owners. Small things like this took me for spin at first but now it seems pretty normal to me.

 

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This is the main library of my host campus. It’s super beautiful and I can definitely see myself using it to study!

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This is Arenberg Castle. It’s beautiful and currently houses the engineering and architecture departments of my host university.

 

All in all, the time I’ve spent in Belgium so far has been wonderful and has allowed me to meet some amazing friends and see beautiful buildings in Belgium that leave me in awe. The few days I’ve been in Belgium have me so excited for what else the beautiful country has in store for me. I’m excited for my next 3 months here in Belgium and am grateful that Gilman has helped make this trip possible for me!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Uncategorized, 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

Being LGBTQ in Japan

Being a part of the LGBTQ community in any country gives you a little extra nervousness whenever making new friends. Japan is no different, and it also gives a little extra element of nervousness due to the fact that you don’t really know how the people in your age group will react when you tell them this little piece of information. So far, the Japanese friends that I’ve made and told this to react with shock and surprise. To be honest, they have had a very different reaction than the people who I’ve told back in America. I still find it a little awkward when telling someone here because I’m used to my sexuality not being a big of a deal to anyone. Being Pansexual is not really a concept that people even in America can fully understand or distinguish between Bisexuality. Trying to communicate this kind of difference in Japanese usually doesn’t work too well, so I’ve had to mostly say that I’m bisexual to my friends if/when I tell them. It’s kind of awkward having to change my sexuality label just so I can get people to understand that I’m not straight, but the language barrier definitely rears its ugly head in this situation. Yet, even after the initial shock, none of my friends or anyone else that I’ve told about my sexuality have ever been rude or demeaning in any way. In fact, they seem extremely curious and interested in learning more about my life and views on relationships and my background. It makes me actually really happy in a way that I can’t describe well, but it gives me a lot of hope for the LGBTQ community slowly becoming more accepted in the younger generations here.

You honestly don’t really hear anything about the LGBTQ community here in everyday conversation or on the news. There’s a small part of one of the areas on Shinjuku called Ni-Chome that is known to be the gay district full of bars, clubs and also some prostitution, and it’s seen as being pretty scandalous to go to that area unless you’re with a tour group. So, I haven’t really gotten a chance to try to integrate into the community here and I honestly don’t know if I ever will.

When I first lived abroad about three years ago, I was very shy about my sexuality and was definitely still closeted, but living in a different country gives you a lot of insight into the fact that “norms” with anything (especially when it comes to notions on sexuality) isn’t really something that’s cross culturally applicable. My time abroad has given me so much confidence in knowing who I am as a person, and in turn given me so much pride for the community that I represent. And, even being in a situation now where I may feel uncomfortable at times about how people react to a part of me, it’s actually done nothing except made me more proud of the fact that I call myself something other than heterosexual and it’s made me realize that the United States maybe isn’t as bad overall as some make it seem when it comes to accepting people in the LGBTQ community.

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Filed under East Asia, Stephanie in Japan, Uncategorized

Staying Focused

At the beginning of the semester, I romanticized the idea of moving to a foreign country, getting a job, finding someone special, and beginning a whole new life (partially because my best friend just accomplished that very thing). However, London is (and never was meant to be) the place for me. It’s too cloudy, extremely expensive, and way too proper. Paradoxically, studying abroad in London has made me realize New York is the best place for me to be as a writer, student, and person.

I’m studying abroad relatively late in my academic career, during the first semester of my senior year. Most people go abroad their junior year, and at New York University, even their sophomore or freshman year. So my London thoughts have been centered around: WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WHEN I GRADUATE?!!!!!

Well, now I have one answer: not live in London.

This is how indecisive I am. In September, I was so convinced London was the place for me. I probed through my academic requirements to see if there was any way I could finesse staying the entire academic year. I came up with this delusional plan: flying back to New York for the winter term, paying out of pocket for a winter course, flying back to London for the spring semester, then flying back to New York at the end of May to complete my senior colloquium.

I was mad.

This decision was one hundred percent influenced by a certain person I had recently met. This is the part where I take the time to tell you: Be cautious about letting people in your life influence your academic and professional goals. Especially people you just met in a foreign country, or someone you think is “one of a kind” and just “gets you.” Trust me, almost every one of my friends here has their own version of this person. It can and will happen to you.

When I finally accepted there was no realistic way of staying in London the entire year, I set my eyes on graduate school. Since freshman year I’ve known I want to complete a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction writing. So I just readjusted that goal to completing a MFA in Britain. That was in September. Since then, people and situations have changed, time has passed, and my mom’s fried chicken has become greatly missed. A week ago, I went through my list of dream graduate schools and started my applications. Then, last night, it dawned on me: what happened to all of my British schools? None had even passed through my mind when I picked my final schools. Although my study abroad experience has been great, this was proof to me that I am not meant to stay here beyond this semester.

I have gained a lot from my fashion business courses. I have learned to look at pop culture, fashion, and advertising with a more critical eye, taking into account gendered advertising, cultural appropriation, and subcultures. My biggest lesson has been learning about the amount of attractive coercion that occurs in fashion advertising, promising huge things such as happiness, love, or attraction. The same thing occurs in other formats, like TV, pop videos, and movies. We all participate in the fashion system whether we like it or not. Rejecting fashion is as much of a statement as is participating in it. I’ve had to rethink my relationship with pop culture and how I want to work within it. I’ve come to acknowledge that some of my pop culture loves play upon the same concepts I criticize in my essays (such as performing for the male gaze and cultural appropriation) and I’ve had to ask if these moves are conscious or just my favorite artists unconsciously embodying what society has drilled into them?

This study abroad experience has affirmed my dream to pursue a career in fashion journalism. I still see a lot of power and positivity in it. It’s a great space for artistic expression, identity creation, and fantasy. If I am so lucky to land a job in the fashion world, I want to work in the creative department, more than the business/public relations side, though I am glad to have learned about that aspect through my classes here. Through a creative position, I can influence the design, visuals, and advertising to be more thoughtful about how they operate within our culture.

And no one can change my plans.

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Filed under Andre in United Kingdom, Uncategorized, Western Europe