Months of Growth

Hallo! Here in Leuven, Christmas is in full swing! Christmas markets are up, Old City Hall is decorated, and the old church bells have been ringing to the tune of “All I Want for Christmas is You”!

 

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Old City Hall decorated in lights.

 

I can’t believe 3 months have passed and now I’m getting ready to wrap up my time here in Leuven. I’ve done so much since I arrived in Leuven. I’ve made lifelong friends, immersed myself in various cultures, and visited cities that I never thought I would.

Studying abroad has taught me a lot about my strengths, my weaknesses, and quirks about myself that I never realized before. I’ve cultivated an appreciation for the smaller things in everyday life. The late morning breakfasts in the hall, the late night talks with friends, and the laughs shared on a daily basis. I’ve learned to take life slower, to love the simplistic beauty that everyday life has to offer and I know that all of these small things will be what I miss the most when I return to the States. As I prepare myself to leave a town and people I’ve grown so attached to, I’ve taken time to be self-reflective on how I’ve changed over the past 3 months.

One of the biggest ways I’ve grown over my 3 months studying abroad is that I’ve become more confident in my ability to travel and navigate an unknown situation. Travelling internationally by myself for the first time has definitely made me become more self-dependent and also pushed me to ask for help when I need it. Then travelling to different countries during the past 3 months, I’ve become adaptable to the different cultures of the cities and learned to take change in stride. I’ve visited London, Rome, Luxembourg City, Paris, and various other cities in Belgium, and each of those cities have different quirks and their own way of life and being able to adapt to those quirks quickly has been something that I developed during my travels and definitely something that I will take with me as I leave. Also, being an obvious tourist in those cities has made me become more assertive and strong-willed against hagglers and others I’ve met during my time travelling. It has also instilled in me a desire to travel more once I return home, whether it be within the States or internationally, I know this trip will not be my last!

 

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With my family at the Colosseum in Rome.

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Outside of the Palace of Versailles, visiting the beautiful gardens.

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Me and some of my friends in Luxembourg.

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A friend and I at the Roman Forum. It was so beautiful and unbelievable to visit.

 

The friendships I’ve developed during my time in Leuven have made me develop a stronger sense of intercultural awareness. Living in a hall with students from 6 different countries has made me realize the nuances of different cultures and how it effects someone’s view of the world and how they navigate through it. My interactions with my friends have made me grow in my appreciation for difference and ability to deal with uncomfortable situations when those differences come into contact with each other. Being bilingual, I have grown accustomed to switching between languages and had a love for the languages I didn’t know, but by living with my hall mates I’ve picked up small phrases in Spanish, Croatian, Dutch, and German. My hall mates have definitely taught me things about myself that I never realized and helped instill an even stronger sense of appreciation for diversity than I had before. None of us know if we’ll ever see each other again, we can only hope, but I am so grateful to have met these people. They have made me become a better person and have made my time here in Leuven unforgettable and filled with laughter and love.

 

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My hall mates and some friends.

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Meat and cheese party with the girls.

 

Leuven has given me the opportunity to grow so much and it will definitely be an experience that I will never forget and one I will always be grateful for. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave this beautiful town and the unforgettable memories I’ve made, but I know that this experience will push me to explore and learn more when I return home.

Now I’m off to study for my final exams. (Too bad I can’t escape from these!!)

Thanks for reading and I’ll write again when I return to the States!

Dag!

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Open Letter to Humility

I have literally just a few days left here in Florence. Saying time flies would be the greatest understatement to describe where the weeks went. Where the different trips, different countries, different types and tastes of food went. Where the memories with new and interesting people went. As excited as I am to go home and be a part of my home country again, it’s clear that no matter how much I try not to think about it, Florence will always be a home of mine. I will always have an attachment to this street, to this historic apartment (we have a mirror that was owned by the Medici family), and to this dirty but special room. There’s that saying you don’t know what you have until you lose it. But in some cases, especially in a case of studying abroad and becoming accustomed to the life you have here, you understand and know what you are losing before you really even lose it. It is through realizing and thinking about this that I have humbled myself and have thanked each professor, each café worker, and each restaurant waiter that I made friends with; thanked them for allowing me to come to this country and sharing a piece of their life with me…

Humble- As simply as I can put it, I am humbled by this experience. It would honestly be impossible to try to show or explain how great and unique this experience was through words or pictures. I know I would just leave so much out and it would not do Florence justice to do that. Being here for three months put my life in perspective in the sense that I’m not really sure what else I could do in my life that would compare to studying abroad here. These final days make me thankful that I made the decision to get on that plane, and it makes me sad knowing that soon I will be heading on a plane back, with the possibility that I may never come back.

When I say I’m thankful for this study abroad experience, I don’t simply mean just being in Italy or going to other countries. I mean enduring so much, stepping out of comfort zones, making so many mistakes and learning from them and just finding ways to be a part of a new environment. There are people here who did not experience Florence in this way, meaning they simply came here to study because they could. To me, the opportunity to study abroad was a gift that I can’t and won’t ever take for granted.

Humble- I am humbled by the personal and external confidence I have developed in myself throughout these 3 months. Back home, I did not do the traveling thing. I either stayed in New York or Connecticut. And if I did go outside of that, it was something for school and never on my own accord. So the confidence it took to get on multiple planes to fly to multiple countries by myself, the confidence it took to sit on buses for 3-12 hours heading to foreign lands by myself – it’s not like I took time to decide, “Should I do this… can I handle it?” I literally booked these trips and just went with it. I think Florence does that to you without you even realizing it. It makes you want to take risks and take on personal challenges, inside the city and outside of it.

When I’m home, my mother and I communicate here and there. We aren’t the overly affectionate family type, so we check up on each other sometimes, but I know she is always there when something is going wrong or I need help. However, for the past 8 weeks or so, my phone has been messed up and I haven’t been able to talk to her. So when I left my passport in Italy on a trip to Vienna, Austria and almost got stuck there trying to get back to Florence, that’s where this confidence came in. That’s when I didn’t freak out because I couldn’t ask my mom what to do, but instead I took the time to figure out my next move and what my options were, and I’m proud of how I handled  the situation with calm and collected maturity.

Humble- I am humbled by my accomplishments: First-generation college student, first in my family to get accepted and attend college, first in my family to have been to another country other than America, and now, first to have lived in another country for an extended period of time. I am truly blessed. Sydney Johnson, my basketball coach back at Fairfield loves to tell us the quote, “We are living the dream” and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing  – trying my hardest to live out each and every day and take advantage of any and all opportunities given to me. I visited 7 countries (well, 8 if you want to include Italy): Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, France, and England. I visited a museum and a church in each country and visited each of the country’s national monuments. I visited a good portion of Italy as well, seeing cities such as Venice, Milan, Capri, Pisa, Bologna, Amalfi, and even Rome. In Rome, I went to church at the Vatican and got lucky and saw the Pope give a speech. I visited an intense soccer game and saw Florence beat one of its storied rivals. I pushed through an advanced Italian language speaking class and have done well. My writing was also published in a monthly Italian newsletter, known as Blending Newsletter, here at Florence University of the Arts (FUA), and I was also recently published in the first issue of Blending’s semesterly magazine. I thought it made sense to use my Creative Writing major and utilize it in my academics here at FUA. It’s something that will be remembered here at FUA and it’s an accomplishment I can always look back to.

 

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My writing in the Blending Newsletter.

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My roommates and me at the soccer game in Florence.

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“I Am” in Amsterdam.

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A gondola ride through the river city of Venice.

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Beautiful view in Rome.

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View from the top of the Pope’s home in Rome.

 

I have also gotten really good at cooking. I mean, really good. Granted, I wasn’t that much of a chef before so any amount of cooking would constitute as something, but I think I have out-done myself on multiple occasions. I was lucky to have a roommate who is a Food Marketing major but also a chef in training, so I picked up on many things he did in the kitchen to understand what really goes into making a good dish. I’ve been exposed to a new economy, a new way of living, and a new way of building routines. I’ve grown a new understanding of currency and the smart ways of handling money on a big scale. I’m glad for everything I’ve done and how much of an impact these accomplishments have had and will continue to have on me.

Humble- Yes I’m glad to have endeavored on this journey on my own, but at the end of it all, I am humbled by the friendships that I have back home. And by friendships, I mean the real and true bonds that I have with people. I am a senior, and so I have been through that four year process of figuring out who is really there for you and who isn’t in college. So being here in Florence for three months without my close knit group of friends really made me think about the people in my life who mean the most to me. I reflected about this because I saw people planning trips together, visiting countries together, and making memories together, and a quick rush of feelings and emotions flowed through my head and body as I thought about who I wished was here for me to plan, make, and create memories with.

However, I have gotten really close with the roommates that I have lived with in the apartment here in Florence, and it has showed me how quickly new bonds can form. Now we are making to plans to visit each other at each other’s colleges. I was able to visit some friends whom I can consider brothers in Rome and in Austria and saw them playing the game of basketball that they play as a career. I value those times with them much more than I can really explain through words. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I was able to take this challenge head on and come out here by myself. But after having all of these adventures, I am a firm believer that experiences like these should be shared with those closest to you to create memories to look back on, talk about, laugh about, and maybe even cry about.

Humble- I am humble and happy for life. I’m humbled to have the three person family that I have and a mom who did all she could so that I could even jump into this fear of the unknown. I am happy I took this opportunity and came out the same person on the outside, but 100% different on the inside. From having multiple conversations about race relations, to dealing with opinions on America’s new president, to being stared at and always having a free seat next to me on the bus – the cultural perspective I’ve gained here is just so valuable. With the way our world is being more and more internationalized, it is necessary for Americans to understand and gain more knowledge on global issues and societies. I am proud to be able to bring these new perspectives back home and share them with the people around me. I am humbled that I will have memories like this under my belt to help guide me throughout my future relationships, future career, and the rest of my life.

I am humbled by Florence.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

A Day in the Life of Jeff in South Korea

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The Inevitable Question: ‘So how is/was India?’

It is early in the morning, but everyone is awake. Cling! Clang! I hear my ammaa making breakfast downstairs. She is probably making idli (steamed rice cake) or dosa (thin pancake made with lentils and rice), with coconut chutney on the side. After getting dressed and eating breakfast, I walk to the bus stand where I always see the same three men sitting in front of Kings Department Store. Turning my back to them, I hail down a shared-auto rickshaw and climb in. The auto starts to move before I can sit down. Once I situate myself on the upper seat I realize I chose a bad auto. It was a private auto that had been converted into a shared-auto, which means that I had to hunch my shoulders and lean forward in order to prevent my head from hitting the ceiling. The other women seated next to me look perfectly comfortable. Their heads are not grazing the ceiling like mine. Standing at 5 feet 2 inches I do not consider myself a tall person; however, I felt like a giant in this cramped auto. Four women, including me, were in the upper seat and four women were sitting on the lower step. There was also a man sitting in the front seat with the auto driver. In total, there were 10 adults in the auto that was originally built for 3 people. Talk about a clown car. I cannot say this was my favorite auto-rickshaw memory.

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My last share-auto ride home from the SITA (South India Term Abroad) center. The cheap and quick mode of transportation that a share-auto provides will be missed.

I have been in India for the past 3.5 months now and it has been quite the adventure. Looking back at my first blog post I sound very naïve and somewhat innocent. In the beginning, the noise and the smell and the interactions with people were exciting. Now, it is tiresome. The loud and continuous honks push at my buttons. Trying to avoid stepping into cow poop, goat poop, dog poop, or even elephant poop is annoying. Everyday I get hounded with the question of whether I like India from strangers…and I do not know what to say. If I am honest, I run the risk of offending locals; if I lie by saying that I love India, I am belittling my time in India. India is hard to describe. It is difficult to explain the experiences I have had. It is frustrating that my friends, who are either studying abroad in Europe or back in the States, will never completely understand what India is like for a foreigner.

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Cow eating garbage for breakfast, and probably for lunch and dinner. Cows can be seen on every corner lounging, sleeping, or eating garbage/cardboard. I didn’t know cows could consume cardboard…until I came to India…

Since studying abroad, I have been able to better dissect my status as a foreigner and as an American. This is a skill I did not expect to gain. Because I am visibly a foreigner, I will never fit in with the locals, however, that does not mean Indians consider me to be American. According to many Indians, I do not fit the description of a typical American. I’ve had random people yell ‘Chinese’ or ‘Japanese’ while I walk past them on the road. (I’m Korean, a Korean-American to be exact.)

It happened while I was on a tour in Mysore. We hiked up to a Jain temple where I broke from the group and wandered by myself for some time. I walked past a group of Indians who belligerently shouted ‘Nepalese, Kathmandu, Bhutan, Thai’ at me. Rather than asking me where I was from, these people wanted to put labels on me that they deemed appropriate.

My status as a foreigner affecting my interactions with people does not end there. Every so often, I will get into a shared-auto and the people sitting around me will, very eagerly, ask me where I am from. Before I can answer the first question, a lot of people will ask ‘China?’ I tell them ‘No, I’m from the US.’ Their faces drop; they thought they had guessed right when they identified me as Chinese. The reactions I get from saying ‘I’m American’ shows me that they are disappointed. I was angry and still am angry. Was this a form of racism? When did being Asian mean I could only exist as Chinese in other people’s eyes? How do I react? Was it my place to teach people about the diversity of America? I was stuck. My program has a total of 10 students: 8 of the students are white; 1 of the students is multiracial; 2 of the students, including myself, are Asian. The other Asian student happened to be one of my best friends from Bowdoin and she had the same daily encounters. At the end of the day, our hands were tied; we had to put up with it.

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The SITA program celebrating Thanksgiving by enjoying a dinner buffet at Hotel Supreme. It’s not a home-cooked meal, but at least we have each other!

India was not wonderful or exceptionally amazing. The staring from both men and women never stopped. High school students, who would shout at me and sometimes even follow me, constantly harassed me. Every time someone tried to start a conversation with me, I was concerned they would try to label me with an ethnicity rather than asking me where I was from. Should I have spoken up against the men who stared, the immature students who did not know how to properly interact with me, or those who did not care how I identified myself? I know I should have, but my peers and my program told me that it was best not to attract attention to myself. ‘Since you’re a foreigner, try not to do anything or say anything that will attract attention to yourself’ is the best and worst advice I have received. I do not want to do anything that will put my safety at risk however that does not mean I have to put up with everything that makes me feel uncomfortable simply because I am a foreigner.

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Maligai Sweets, a tea and sweets shop where the space is primarily occupied by men at all times of the day.

I do not regret studying abroad in India. It was a period of time that I will never forget. Studying and living in India taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. India opened my eyes to the unique diversity of the United States that I had taken for granted. I learned different methods of self-care that worked for me. I know India has helped me personally grow as a student, a person, and a traveler however I do not think I will be able to fully comprehend the growth I have experienced until I return to the United States where I will have the time and space to process everything.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

Culture Across a Town

Hello again! Now there’s only a month left in the semester and classes are starting to wind down as finals come closer. Normally a student at KU (Katholieke Universiteit) would take 6 classes a semester but my coordinator here at KU set up an opportunity for me to do an internship while I’m here to replace some of those classes. My internship is two-fold: For the first part I intern at a local children’s bookstore. There my main project is creating a way to explain the Christmas tradition of Sinterklaas to the parents of English-speaking families. To do this, I created a poster to be handed out to the parents during an informational event. In the poster I explained Sinterklaas and compared him to Santa Claus. Doing the poster was interesting because I got to research about Belgian holiday traditions and it was really cool to see how they differs from American ones.

 

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Outside of De Klein Johannes, the children’s bookstore I intern for!

 

The second part of my internship is at the local art museum in Leuven, Museum M. Through this internship I was able to talk to the head of the Public Relations office, and she explained how the museum is trying to create educational activities that use art as a universal language to break language barriers and act as a unifying tool for the whole Leuven community. My main task is to shadow different tours and educational activities to see how children interact with museum and the art in the museum. Though most of the programming is done in Dutch, my contact in the museum wanted me to follow the programming as an outsider and just read the crowd and see how the students react to the museum and the tour guide. As an Anthropology major, I’m used to reading the texts of anthropologists who do fieldwork like this, so it is very exciting to be doing this at a smaller scale, but also in the field that I am trying to pursue in the future.

 

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Outside view of Museum M! It’s very new and modern!

 

My favorite thing about my internship is seeing how hard my coordinator at the bookstore and my contact at the museum try to cultivate a community across Leuven- across different cultures and families by using art and literature to bring them together. They are trying to break boundaries and the classist and social stigma surrounding an art museum and literature. They want an inclusive community in Leuven and they are really doing an amazing job at it. Hearing what my contact at the museum says about the power of a museum was really inspiring and has reinforced my passion to pursue museum education in the future. This wasn’t something I was expecting to experience when I came to this internship, but is something that I will always remember.

 

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A children’s picture book that Museum M published. They publish one every year and base the museum’s educational activities on the theme of the book! This one is Called Geluk voor Kinderen, or “Happiness for Children.”

 

Throughout this internship I also learned a lot about how to connect different parts of a scattered community to become one cohesive unit and how to try and make a shared culture become the central part the community – one where people from different walks of life can find comfort. People like my coordinators are trying their best to make the marginalized and forgotten community in Leuven feel welcome and also uplifting the positive characteristics of the community.

I’m so happy I was granted the opportunity for this internship and it definitely added a different angle to my time abroad that I would not have otherwise gotten.

Until next time!

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Welcome to the Wild, Bridled, Mid-West

On my first foray into the Scot lands in 2009, I stayed at a charming hostel perched on the edge of Loch Ness and hobnobbed with the venue management over drinks in the evening.  Inspired, as I recall, by a customer’s sordid tale, the bartender imparted to me a truism, as she implied, on Scottish temperament: if you fall and crack your head open on the curb, the Scots will pick you up, dust you off, and send you on your way with a bandaid and a pat on the back.  I did not, of course, take this story literally.  But I did infer from it that the Scots were a laid back sort of people, warm but resilient and able to take a few knocks.  In a world of ever-growing restrictions in the name of public safety, I was attracted to the idea of a more relaxed climate and attitude toward personal responsibility.

When I was a wee whipper-snapper, my favorite playground equipment was a horizontal bar just high enough from the ground for me to do flips on.  Nowadays, at least where I come from, you’ll rarely see so much as a metal slide (burn hazard) much less anything you might risk cracking a skull on.  And the red tape isn’t limited to the little people; try to sit, stand or walk anyplace not strictly approved for the purpose and you’ll be yelled off on charges of “safety.”  I can only assume that this pattern of paranoia is a product of the lawsuit culture in the United States.  The “safety” really being referenced is the city or the property-owner’s protection from liability.  Even erroneous lawsuits are costly and damaging to reputation.  I was looking forward to living some place where the laws were a little more permissive and I could explore my environment without fear of being yelled off by the authorities.  After all, if I want to stand in the shower while drying my hair, that’s my right as an idiot.

At first blush, my intuition seemed sound.  As I was discussing job prospects with a local friend, he mentioned that Law was not a very lucrative discipline in Scotland, as there just isn’t enough work to be had in the field.  A fascinating idea, coming from a place where Law is considered an extremely responsible degree with excellent prospects.  So it is all the more confounding to discover that, far from the land of hard-knocks I had envisioned, Scotland is extraordinarily regulated.

The last time that I lived in school-accommodation, I was dumped into a small apartment with three other people and then immediately and entirely forgotten until the rent came due.  The contrast with my latest experience is enough to make you long for the days of administrative apathy for your existence.  In the Halls at St Andrews, not a week goes by that something isn’t being tested, inspected, handled and branded for safety regulation compliance.  It’s an active, ongoing cycle that can’t be buggered to back off while semester’s in session.  One day the porter needs access to inspect the fire equipment, another day it’s the ever-foreboding shower head that requires immediate investigation.  Cleaning inspections run monthly, and our adrenalin systems – that is, the fire alarms – are tested Every. Single. Tuesday. Morning.

Additionally, each semester an electrician requires permission to enter the premises and test every cord, contraption and cable that ever even dreamed of harboring an electric current.  He then glues a large purple sticker to each and every device lest it be caught horrifically naked and unstickered and summarily confiscated. From where I sat on the bed after the electrician had had his way with things, purple stickers could be seen adorning the television, television cables, refrigerator, dishwasher, thermostat, lamps, stove, tea kettle, and the kitchen sink.  (Okay, that last one was a bonus.)  And personal possessions were not immune: everything from my laptop to each individual mobile charger had been tagged.  It reminded me of an old roommate who used to put stickies on all of her property with the words, “Do Not Touch!” throughout the apartment.  I was discovering formerly unnoticed stickers for days.

 

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A storm of stickers.

 

But the height of the insanity snuck up, as it often does, in the wee hours of the night.  I was awoken one Tuesday morning to the soothing sound of an electric trill.  As I slowly drew myself up from the alternate universe of unconsciousness, I calculated the date.  Yes, it was Tuesday.  Fire alarm test.  The trilling stopped and I drifted back toward the siren call of blissful slumber.  The alarm sounded again and my eyes popped open, landing on it suspiciously.  I checked the time on my mobile: not yet 5am.  Was the system glitching?  Tripping a few hours too early?  Was this a real alarm?  I couldn’t smell smoke or hear screaming.  Most likely it was a glitch or a drill, but I hadn’t read anything on the noticeboard about the latter, so I had to prepare for the worst.  If I was going to be standing outside in the Scottish night for untold hours,  I’d need protection from the cold. I pulled on my jacket, shoes and hat.  Should I save anything?  I started to leave empty handed, then reconsidered and went back for my laptop – that way I could let my family know what was happening and keep busy until (something like) order resumed.  I proceeded cautiously, checking closed doors for heat, then finally exited the building.  I skirted the large crowd loitering just outside the door and put some distance between myself and the prospective inferno, looking back to search for signs of smoke.  I noted that no authorities had yet arrived, which I would expect even in the case of a false alarm.  Just as I was wondering how long we’d have to wait, I heard a voice announce from the crowd that we were free to return.  A drill.  It was all just a drill – a thing I have not experienced in twenty-odd years, and never in the dead of night.  And not just a drill, but a timed one.  The Warden was less than impressed.

Presumably, all this safety paranoia in the Halls stems from an administration in abject fear of over-protective parents, many of whom may hail from the lawsuit-happy U.S.  But the regulation-frenzy isn’t relegated to the Halls.  I had another surprise when I attempted to access a classy website catering exclusively to adult sensibilities on my mobile.  Mobile providers, and indeed internet providers as well, block any and all 18+ content by default.  Even high brow literature, such as I was plainly seeking, is not immune.  It’s not enough to be the authorized owner of a device – access to, shall we say, sophisticated content requires not only a manual change in the Account settings but the submission of a valid form of ID.  Since I don’t have a Scottish driver’s license and am opposed to censorship on principle, I had to proffer the exhaustively long serial number attached to my government-issued passport.  Short of these, you won’t sample a paper thimble’s worth of undressed vanilla.  Since “adult sites” can be interpreted very broadly, you’d be surprised how much falls behind the veil.

A less salacious shock came in the form of counter-shock measures.  UK regulations do not permit any outlets in the bathroom, with the solitary exception of one exclusively for shavers built into on a small lamp above the mirror, presumably to keep it sufficiently removed from sources of electrocution.  It is also not uncommon for switches in the bathroom to be on pull-cords, reputedly to prevent wet hands coming in contact with electric outlets.  I don’t know if this has anything to do with light switches generally being located outside of the room they are intended to light, but I am certain that they are an endless resource for pranksters and small children.

 

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Shavers only need apply.

 

Scotland isn’t quite the land of hell-hardened warriors that I thought it was, but the overbearing public oversight isn’t all bad.  There are a number of social services that we could use in the U.S.  When I went to order tickets for a show, I found discounts offered not just to seniors and students but to the unemployed.  The railway even provides an avenue for mature students, like myself, who ordinarily age out of student benefits to prove our academic status to qualify.  Tenants are liable for property taxes, known as tarrifs, but these are waived for undergraduate students who rent privately.  And there are full-service discount stores here selling the same essentials (like mulled wine) you can buy at the more expensive chain stores for a fraction of the price.  St Andrews is considered by the locals to run toward the high end in cost-of-living, and judging by the way property prices plummet as you head out of town, that must be the case.  But coming from the Bay Area of California, living has never looked more affordable.

 

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Price tiers.

 

So, Scotland may ere more on the side of a Coddling Nursemaid than a Nanny-state and be refreshingly lawyer-free, but until the day that I can surf my laptop from the bathtub, it will never be the savage land sold to me by Braveheart and a little bartender at Loch Ness.

 

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“Careful Visitors Welcome.”

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Trading Buses for Boats and Pavement for Sand

Isabela Island

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Just a nice reminder, respira olores y colores meaning “breathe in scents and colors,” and there is no better place to do that than the Galapagos, that I promise you!

 

Droplets of the sparkling, turquoise water slowly began to cover my face, creating a blur of mystery during the two-hour boat ride to Isabela. As we grazed through the waves of the ocean, each bump was (not so gently) reminding me of my surroundings. The hairs on my arms shot up as the gusts of fresh, salty air danced around my face and neck, sending chills of excitement and incredulity down my spine when we approached the beautiful island of Isabela.

 

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It doesn’t get any more picturesque than this, folks. Shout out to my friend Tyler for his perfect pose for a reflective photo. There is something so personal for me when I am out on the water, usually leading to some self-reflection. Perhaps it resides within the fact that the ocean is immensely profound, leaving me to feel minuscule but also at peace.

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Here we are doing some kayaking on our first day on Isabela! Featuring the incredibly blue/turquoise/indescribable water of the Galapagos…you have to see it to believe it!

 

When we disembarked from the boat, we were greeted at the dock by some very danceable Latino music alongside lots of smiling faces – not only those of other tourists but also those living and working on the island, who were incredibly inviting. Aside from people, we were also greeted by some marine iguanas, lots of different birds, and some rather relaxed sea lions. As we all tried to hide our excitement as to not scare the animals away, the wooden dock slowly converted into a mixture of pavement and sand. This seemingly miniscule detail was something that stuck with me throughout my time there and still now after my return, as I am continuously discovering sand in my shoes from the trip. It also instigated a sort of reflection about the differences in a life with sand or pavement under the soles of your shoes, such as a life on Isabela or a life in Quito, two different cultures and communities I have been able to experience first-hand during this study abroad experience.

 

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Here are two beautiful sea lions advertising how Isabela “crece por ti,” or how Isabela grows for you.

 

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before leaving for this trip that the Galapagos was going to be an overly tourist-focused place, since I have heard that lots of island destinations usually are. Although Santa Cruz, the island with the highest populated town in the Galapagos Islands, seemed to be more focused on ensuring a pleasant experience for the tourists, Isabela, an island with only about 2,000 inhabitants, was significantly more focused on the natural way of things and less concerned with ensuring the picturesque experience for its tourists. However, it was also very easy to have an incredible time on Isabela due to the culture and the people of Puerto Villamil, the town we stayed at, who all knew each other and were very friendly, helpful, and informative.

 

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These pictures are from when we went snorkeling and my lovely friend Haley used her GoPro to take some incredible photos of the animals we saw, and told me I could put some of the photos up on my blog!

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This photo was taken by the USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) alum who planned the trip, Juan Francisco. We swam with this shark! I was only *slightly* terrified – but I survived because sharks are as friendly as Finding Nemo shows them to be!

 

Isabela Island was an incredible escape from my past few months in the city of Quito, which is just as equally as beautiful- a mountainous and breathtaking city full of its own wonders, just as the Galapagos is filled with wonders of nature, warm weather (even at night), and incredibly safe and trusting communities. I will never forget the experiences I had during my time in the Galapagos, and if you ever can go please do not hesitate! I can very confidently say that you will have the time of your life there, discovering the turtles, starfish, manta rays, penguins, flamingos, tortoises, marine and land iguanas, sea lions, sharks, sea horses and much more when snorkeling or even when just walking around the islands, as well as see incredible views of our amazing world, meet friendly and loving humans, learn about the history of the islands, Charles Darwin, and the volcanoes (some still active) on the islands, and most importantly, reflect on yourself and the impact that you have on this beautiful world.

 

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Not only was I able to discover these incredible islands during this time, I also got to know some amazing women from across the U.S. who are on exchange at USFQ as well! (We outnumbered the men, so we got our own very artsy photo.)

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A photo of the group from afar during our last hike on Isabela.

 

If you are interested in looking at more photos/videos of what I did during the Galapagos, my inspiring friend Caitlyn made a snapshot video of our time during the Galapagos and told me I could share it on my blog post so here it is! I highly recommend you check it out to get a little more of a feel for our experiences on the islands.

Thanks for reading!

¡Gracias por leer!

Hasta el próximo post,

Alicia ❤

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