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!



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


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.



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


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

Meet Gilman Scholar Allysa Grant

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Filed under Allysa in Morocco, middle east

The Two Sides to a Sunday

I would argue that Sunday is the most conflicting day of the week. It’s the last day of freedom before Monday, a day that is introduced with an intrusive yet essential beeping that sneaks into my dreams as a car alarm, a phone call, or a door bell, to remind me of reality and responsibility. The purpose of a Monday is clear, whereas a Sunday’s identity is split into two: do I sleep in, have a late brunch, and watch some telenovelas with my host mom? Or do I wake up early, go to a café, and let my fingers carry the day away searching for definitions of Spanish words and phrases, creating essays, and analyzing short stories from brilliant Latino authors who blow me away with their complexity and ability to think beyond this dimension of time and space, like a script from the Twilight Zone?



A productive Sunday with a delicious strawberry, mango, and banana batido (smoothie) and some Kichwa (an indigenous language that is primarily spoken in the Andean region and is a recognized regional language in Ecuador) homework.


Despite all of the differences between countries, cultures, and generations, I know that I can count on the destiny of any given Sunday being unclear for gringos and Ecuadorians alike. From Sunday trips to El Parque Carolina, to plans to meet up for lunch or explore downtown, there’s always some number of people not wanting to face the reality of a Sunday, similar to my experiences in college in the U.S., especially as a resident assistant. From my own personal perspective, the double-sided identity of a Sunday is one of the most beautiful aspects of being a human – and the similarity here in Ecuador to a Sunday in the United States has helped me realize that my infatuation with this day of the week is something that unifies my experience in the world with many others, even those living in another continent. It has also awakened me to realize that everyone needs a break sometimes, and that no one should feel guilty about it.

I hope that this post will inspire people to enjoy their upcoming Sunday, instead of worrying about the Monday that follows it. Although last Sunday was not an academically productive day for me, it was a day that I will never forget. It was the first time I had ever climbed a volcano, and I felt like I was on top of the world – a tiny gringa in a huge city, just taking it one adventure at a time.



Views from the TelefériQo!


Pichincha Volcano is an active stratovolcano in Ecuador. Its two highest peaks are Wawa Pichincha (wawa is kichwa for child or baby) which is approximately 15,696 feet high, and Ruku Pichincha (ruku is kichwa for old person) which is approximately 15, 413 feet high. Luckily we did not have to hike from the bottom, since there is a gondola lift known as the TelefériQo, one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 feet to 12,943 feet. From there, we started our ascent to the top of Ruku Pichincha.



Taking a break on the way up the volcano. Lots of water, snacks, and layers needed for this trip!


Slightly intimidating goal…


As we got closer and closer to the top, the wind become harsher, but was still refreshing. When it wasn’t covered by clouds or fog, the sun beamed down on my skin, warming me to my core, inspiring me to continue trekking to the top of Ruku’s peak. After several stops for snacks, water, taking off and putting on layers, and of course, posing for pictures and admiring the breathtaking views, my friend Stephanie and I finally made it to the top of Ruku Pichincha. The group that we started with split up a little bit based off of pace and comfort level. It took us about 4 and a half hours to make it to the peak, but when we stepped foot on the top of the summit and saw the sign welcoming us to the la cumbre (the top), a gust of wind full of joy and pride whisked by me and as I took a deep breath in, this wind sent chills from the bottom of my toes to the tips of my fingers, and I knew that I made the right decision to make this Sunday a beautiful and inspiring day for myself. It was a day unlike any other, surrounded by the natural beauty of the country that is my home for the semester, as well as wonderful and supportive friends with whom I shared a common goal: to push ourselves, together and individually, to greater heights than we had ever gone before.



We did it! After some slightly sketchy rock climbing. But as they say in Ecuador, así es la vida (such is life).


And life is so, so worth it.


Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

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.



A selfie with the colorful houses of Amalfi.


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.



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


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.



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.)



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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


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.



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