Tag Archives: #cominghome

An Introspective Perspective

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

It took about two days for my ears to finally adjust to the change in altitude and pressure after being home. For those two days, my entire body felt as if I was underwater, perhaps imaging floating around in the Pacific Ocean without a care in the world, enjoying the amazing beauty of Ecuador’s coast and the Galapagos Islands. Muffled inquiries accompanied by shouts for responses filled my days as I just seemed to take up space in my home, my mind lost in the middle of the world.

 

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This is me at the Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) monument made by the French. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Ecuador although it is actually not on the correct coordinates since it was calculated so long ago. It is pretty close though. Only in Ecuador, as my friends and I would say.

 

This past week, I have felt a whirlwind of emotions. As I enjoyed the last week or so of my study abroad in denial, I finally had to learn to say goodbye, a cruelly ironic term that seems to have a powerful spell over human beings, forever leaving us perplexed, angry, upset, hopeful, excited – too many contradicting emotions at once for one person to handle. Yet somehow we learn how to say goodbye, by either packing up those emotions, or learning to leave what we can behind as to not carry too much weight in the future. Although my family and friends here fill the void of the goodbyes and see you laters I handed out with trembling hands and watered down vision, there is a cultural void that exists after spending such a long period of time in another country.

 

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A shoutout to Ecuador for reconnecting me with the fun of watching soccer and attending live matches and also offering it as a culture experience.

 

The reverse culture shock is equally as cruel, eventually turning into something positive and life-altering (I am ready whenever you are), but right now it is just reminding me that I am a stranger in my own country, what was familiar is now strange and a foreign country still has my heart and understands me better than I seem to understand myself. I have been floating around a (my?) town that is too small and too big at the same time within a state in a similar situation, sitting on the coast of a country that could be the host of possibly 50 Ecuadors. The accessibility of taking a bus for a maximum of 10 hours to get somewhere you want to visit with a cost of at most $12 no longer as I sit in a town where a car is required if you want to get anywhere and where the cost of public transportation is equivalent to about 10 rides on the green bus in Quito or the Ecovia (the metro). One trip on the metro will get you to the Historic Center and satisfy your senses with an overwhelming quantity of churches built to show devotion and faith in a being that connects mainstream beliefs in the U.S. with those in Ecuador, disconnected primarily by a language barrier that seems to build walls between countries that are geographically connected to us. This language is one that now slips off of my tongue without thinking, hiding words and sayings in between my teeth so that even when I am speaking English, they can insert themselves in my sentences and remind me of the beautiful language that filled my eardrums for four months, my brain now bitter that after finally adjusting I now expect it to switch to English without a fight.

 

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Another shoutout to Ecuador for making me less afraid of llamas. They are pretty adorable.

 

The experience is hard to put into words, putting into consideration my language conflict or not, and it seems to make people think I did not enjoy myself. When someone asks me a question about my study abroad experience, my mind is forced to flip through what seems to be hundreds of different experiences and memories, all unique and important in their own way, a film reel of colors and locations and people and sounds and smells and feelings that each have their own significance. As I attempt to explain what it feels like to stand at the peak of a mountain or the bottom of a waterfall, my senses overload and my throat blocks words, building an awkward silence that cannot be fixed as I lose my train of thought and my mind wanders to some part of Ecuador that I did not spend enough time with.

 

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Not sure if I have mentioned these views yet? This is a beautiful view of Cotopaxi from Mindo, a rainforest in Ecuador that is filled with endless waterfalls to discover, amazing wildlife, and delicious coffee and chocolate!

 

However, as always, time continues to move forward and thus so do I, frequently finding myself missing the smells and sounds of the marketplaces in Quito or the morning serenades on the bus rides to campus. However, these smells have been filled with the smells of winter in Massachusetts accompanied by the holiday season. I quickly began to crave eggnog and all things festive and have luckily come back during a family oriented time of the year. Still, each aspect of what I miss from Ecuador finds something to cling onto here in the United States that either resembles it completely or somehow could possibly pass for it. Time progresses and I remind myself of the importance and relevance of progress right now.

 

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It will be hard to miss too much of Ecuador and not get reacquainted with the U.S. considering how adorable my nephew is and how much bigger he got in the past four months! Yes, I found a way to talk about my nephew in this blog. Proud auntie!!

 

As the United States finds itself on the brink of change, I know that I must stay motivated to be an active citizen and take part in the democracy that exists within my country. To be fair, the qualms and concerns of Ecuadorians are on a completely different level than ours here in the United States. We are not comparable, we have completely different histories and thus different perspectives on the world. Nevertheless, I will ensure that my voice is heard and I will work towards the future that I want for myself and my peers, always keeping in mind the beautiful country that opened my eyes to the importance and natural beauty of the world and living in harmony with nature and with people different from you.

As I move on in my life, I hope to keep Ecuador a part of my story, making my way back there one day, perhaps after graduating this May. I am not entirely sure what my plans are but I am sure that my experience in Ecuador will help me in my endeavors, whether it be by changing me into a more observant person, helping me with my Spanish, or offering me a place to live and spend some more time in after graduating. No matter what the case, my experience in Ecuador is one that I will never forget and one that can never be taken away from me. Thank you so much for reading my posts and for sharing this experience with me. I hope that you enjoyed reading and that one day, if you have not already, you are able to discover the beauty of Ecuador’s nature and culture firsthand, an experience that cannot be fully appreciated through the stories and words of others, no matter how intricately crafted they may seem.

 

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My first time in the Pacific Ocean! Thanks for everything, Ecuador. It might just be a tourism slogan, but it really sticks with me: “All you need is Ecuador.”

 

Take care,

Alicia ❤

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

The Great Impact

Since returning home, I have been experiencing some stages of reverse culture shock. I was initially very excited to return home, however, since returning home I have found it a bit difficult to adjust back to the lifestyle here. It has been particularly difficult because my experience abroad has impacted me so profoundly. While my friends and family have continued to move along through their everyday routine, I am still adjusting to life here and reflecting on my time away. I feel as though I must not quickly forget what I took away from this experience. It is so completely different here in the United States. I had not noticed how accustomed I had gotten to the Moroccan way and culture until returning. It was hard to see then the little things that had made such a difference in Morocco. It is shocking to me how different the culture here is and I was not anticipating that. Things have been very different than I expected them to be once I returned. They have been more sad than exciting, unfortunately. Adjusting back as an athlete has been somewhat difficult. The amount of  new teammates unintroduced to me has been shocking and incredibly overwhelming. School started so quickly and I felt as though it was a very quick turnaround and that I did not have much time to spend with my family and adjust. Although it has been difficult, I believe that I am slowly adjusting back to the ordinary here. Things are definitely different from the way they were to me before leaving. Nonetheless, I hope that they stay that way.

 

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A photo taken on my departing plane at the Mohammed V International Airport located in Casablanca, Morocco prior to our departure from the country after two months.

 

I very much miss the familiarity of Morocco. It was great being able to go to one restaurant or grocery store where you know people. I also miss being so close with the group of people I was living in Morocco with, as well as adventuring to different places in Morocco. Lastly, I greatly miss the laid-back and happy culture. On the other hand, I am happy to be reunited with my friends and family in the US, as well as the pool and my sport. I have noticed a lot of differences between the US and Morocco. It is mainly the little things, such as the way people interact, the way of life, the conveniences, the food, the regulations, etc. These are things that I didn’t know were so important to my life before leaving America. But while away, I came to realize that all of the little things lacking were actually all very important to my way of living, which greatly affected me.

After having this experience, I will continue on with my schooling, however I will not forget how I have been impacted. I hope to share my experience with as many people as possible, while also becoming a more involved individual. My experience abroad has only made me more grateful and more motivated to make a large impact for the good of others. I know that I will definitely be better about prioritizing my time to put the things that matter most first, and put others before myself. I know that this experience has made me love life and want to live each day to its fullest.

 

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A photo taken from a high point in one of the four mountainous regions of Morocco.

 

During my study abroad, I definitely came out of my shell. I became more open to unexpected situations and more adventurous and courageous. This was mainly a result of unanticipated conflicts experienced throughout the completion of my project, as well as trying to acclimate to the everyday lifestyle of the Moroccan people. It was also due to various weekend trips spent traveling and exploring the country in a very short amount of time. I definitely improved my communication skills, solely as a result of the high level of interaction with others. I definitely developed myself as an individual throughout my time in Morocco. It has become more clear to me the type of person that I want to be. I believe that this was a result of being in a foreign country disconnected from American society. It gave me a lot of time for reflection, all the while having such an amazing experience. It put things in perspective and allowed me to become more in touch with my inner self. Lastly, my experience abroad has made me more appreciative of everything that I have in my life. Just walking on the streets and seeing how the Moroccan people live was enough to evoke this change. They live the simplest lives and find the simplest jobs, just to get by in life. They also set aside time for the one thing that matters most to them, which is family. But the one part of my experience that made appreciation so much more prominent in my life was hearing the personal stories from families with autistic children that I interviewed for my project. They struggle so much to obtain decent lives for themselves and their children, not to mention proper education, treatment, and diagnoses. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories, all the while eye-opening to see how happy and grateful they still are for what they do have.

 

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A photo of the Ksour, a famous clay building depicted on the 50 dirham bill (Moroccan currency). The techniques used by the Moroccan people when creating such a structure allowed them to develop highly efficient architecture.

 

In addition, I definitely grew professionally while abroad. It was a new experience for me to complete this project while working with a sponsor. It was enriching to work with a group of students to complete a report, database, and present all of our information collected to our classmates, advisors, and sponsor. I learned how to deal with difficult team dynamics throughout the project and gained a lot of experience presenting my material in a professional manner.

One piece of advice that I would give to scholars interested in studying or interning abroad in Morocco would be to not set expectations, but rather to just enjoy the experience for all that it is and take the most from it. I can guarantee that any person studying abroad will get more out of the experience if they are able to avoid spending time worrying about how things should be. Whatever happens, they should be able to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience and not set their sights on the things that are not going perfectly as planned. I would encourage them to enjoy every moment of such an amazing opportunity while they have the chance, because it will be over in the blink of an eye.

 

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A photo taken at a village depicting the sun setting over the mountains in Morocco.

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Spring Break and Final Exams

It’s hard to believe my semester here is coming to a close. In exactly nine days, I’ll be back home in the United States working my summer job, preparing for the LSAT and senior year, and undoubtedly missing Athens. Thankfully though, it’s not yet time for me to say a somber goodbye to this wonderful country I’ve come to love and call home. Before that came my last adventure during spring break.

My friend Alex and I, like nearly everyone else in the College Year in Athens program, decided to take advantage of the eleven day Easter break we were given to travel around Europe and see some of the Greek islands. We first visited a close friend of mine studying abroad in Rome, where she showed us the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, and more. By more, I mean gelato. So. Much. Gelato. I regret nothing. I have wanted to go to Italy ever since I was a little girl, and it was everything I imagined and more. A bustling city with breathtaking ruins popping up ever so often, it’s reminiscent in many ways of Athens. We took a day trip to Florence where we saw the Duomo, learned how to haggle in the outdoor leather market (I was pretty good at negotiating, surprisingly enough), and ate the most amazing clam pasta ever.

 

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The view from the Vatican duomo.

 

After leaving Italy, Alex and I spent a few days on Santorini Island, arguably one of the most beautiful islands of Greece. We stayed in Thira, close to the sea overlooking the rocky cliffs that drop to the ocean, and even visited the black sand beach in Perissa, which was unlike any beach I’d ever seen before. From there we took a ferry boat to Mykonos, where we stayed for 3 days in an Air BnB with two other friends for Easter. It’s true what’s often said about Mediterranean waters–it’s the clearest blue you will ever see. The beach near our Air BnB was phenomenal, and almost empty because we arrived just before tourist season began. On Easter our host Sissy invited us to have lunch with her family, and it was absolutely amazing! The hospitality and kindness of Greek people never ceases to amaze me.

 

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Easter lunch with our Air BnB host and her family.

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The view from the Caldera in Santorini.

 

Now it’s back to reality. Final exams start this week, and the Greek language exam is my first. Of course, Greek is also the test I’m most worried about, but I’ve been studying non-stop, so hopefully an A is in my future! Besides that I have a philosophy paper, Greek myth and religion paper, and two essays for my Greek political science class to write. Stress is very much a state of being at the moment, but I’m staying motivated to finish this semester out with a strong GPA. Sleep can be caught up on later! The next time I’ll be writing for this blog will be from home, and there will probably be tears involved. So for now I’m going to tackle my exams and appreciate my last week in Greece as much as possible!

 

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Me in Mykonos.

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Filed under Destiny in Greece, Western Europe

Sleepless Nights, Departure, Mandarin, and Closing Thoughts

My first day back in the United States— Saturday, the 14th of November— was tiring. I had spent a sleepless Wednesday night and Thursday morning editing a video to show at a school presentation early Thursday evening. I did not get to sleep until midnight on Thursday, and with the graces of my body’s alert systems going off, I woke up with a start at 3:00 AM to begin packing for my 11:00 AM flight that Friday morning out of Australia. It was perhaps five hours until departure, so I was glad to have woken up at 3:00 AM and not later. After a twenty-one hour flight back home, I settled into bed early at 10:30 PM, which is my norm in college. Despite my extreme sleep deprivation, I awoke at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, which was pretty early for someone who averaged five hours of sleep each night for the past few days. Ten and a half hours of sleep in total on my first night home. Not too bad for a first night’s sleep.

After my full night’s sleep, I could finally think about the changes that had happened in my first few hours back in the U.S., and I found the memories coming back bit by bit. I could remember back to Friday night, as I got off the plane and feeling firmly attached to familiar ground. Around me were Dunkin Donuts, an abundance of Americans, and even a T fare machine, which is the bus and train public transportation here in Boston. Having my T card on hand, I used the machine to check the fare on my card — $4.20— perfect for two bus rides. I had used a different fare machine for the last three months to travel on Australia’s transportation system, Translink. That thought brought me feelings about the T fare machine that were oddly similar, but not quite the same. I had a sense of unease that I did not quite fit in in a place I had once been comfortable. But that feeling went away when I knew that for certain, I was back where I had started.

I stepped outside the airport terminal into a windy and late fall evening. After spending some time looking out for signs of a bus that would take me towards inner Boston, I realized that I was still wearing my shorts in mid-40˚F weather. I was clearly underestimating the weather in Boston at this time of the year. I put on a pair of rain pants to warm my legs up while I waited for the bus. I looked down at my smartphone and it read 4:50 PM. The sun had already set in Boston, and again, that was unfamiliar. The sun sets in Brisbane around 6:00 PM this time of the year during their long days of spring. It was truly a bipolar change going from Brisbane’s warm long days and short nights to Boston’s wintery short days and long nights.

I took the Silver Line express back home to Copley Square, enjoying the company of a self-depreciating bus driver while listening in one ear to Kiss 108, a music radio station in Boston. The bus drove in the right lane, which was not actually as jarring as when I first arrived in Australia and experienced a bus driving in the left lane. I walked the rest of the way home, suitcase, duffel bag, backpack and all. Walking back home, I was surprised that I could cross the roads without getting hit. Though I did look the wrong way for upcoming traffic a couple of times before I started crossing the street. I had to concentrate on not drifting to the left side of the pedestrian path, which had become natural in the three months in Australia.

And so that was my first night back from Australia, including the nights leading up to my arrival in the U.S.. I am definitely happy to have a break from a regimented schedule of classes, projects, and exams at University of Queensland. Now, after a week of being back in the U.S.,  I am starting to feel fully adjusted to living back at home. Looking forward, I have decided to return to learning Mandarin, a language I have studied in my childhood. I have picked up a winter job at the Frog Pond as a skate guard, something that will keep me active until I return back to college. I have also grown to have stronger culinary interests from taking food classes in Brisbane, made possible by a Student Initiatives Fund grant from my college. In the present, I am enjoying home-cooked traditional Cantonese-style dishes, which has helped me return to a more simple carb and vegetable diet.

Memories of presenting a day’s worth of research on Stradbroke Island, getting caught in that deluge of rain that ruined my laptop, daily hikes through Lamington and Girraween, and the feeling of finishing a four day research project on the Great Barrier Reef are memories of a lifetime. With these experiences I have had abroad in Australia, I already feel that I have a stronger background in my biology major. I will miss the 31 students and 9 staff from my study abroad program. I will miss the great food that my host family always made for dinner around the TV set, and scrumptious “snags” on white bread.

This has been my semester abroad in Brisbane, Australia. Cheers to change and growing up in today’s modern world.

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Filed under Oceania, Raymond in Australia

The Blur of City Life: Rebuilding My Past, Present, and Future

I landed in Australia on the 21st of August. Today is the 11th of November, nearly three months after my Virgin Australia international flight touched down in Brisbane International Airport. Everyday has been a new experience. On one day, I am riding my bike precariously close to cars driving on high speed lanes, and another day I am studying in a cubicle at one of three libraries I regularly go to on the University of Queensland (UQ) campus, taking part in an act that tens of thousands of students here at UQ participate in.

Life in Brisbane comes by in a blur. Waiting for the bus at one of the central transit centers is a hair-raising experience. The process is like this:

1) Look up on the timetable and remember when your bus is coming.

2) Look up at the electronic arrivals board and see if your bus is on time or late (which is often enough).

3) Concentrate on recognizing that your bus with the correct number is coming into the station.

4) Flag the bus down to stop at the station immediately. If you have not done so, then you missed your bus already because it has already driven off.

I have missed my bus twice. Once during rush hour when I was not paying attention and it sped off towards the next station. And another when my bus went past me and I caught up to it as it waited in the bus queue, but the door closed on me just as I ran up to it. The bus driver was not keen on opening that door.

At my homestay, I struggle to come home early because much of my time is spent at a UQ library doing homework on a library computer as a result of a my personal laptop suffering from water damage. I have to cope with being without technology since I have broken my iPhone and Macbook laptop, and I miss the ease of carrying these around to stay connected to others through the Internet. Additionally, my back-up Razor flip-phone has recently lost its ability to project my voice to callers on the other side. Loss of a majority of technology? That was modern culture shock.

Living with a host family has been a departure from my two years living in college dorm housing at my home university in the U.S.. My host family really helped with my process of adjusting to Australia by providing a physical home with people I consider my extended family now. I have not had any bad bouts of homesickness, but I did experience a bit of depression from forfeiting control that I possess in my own country when arriving in Australia. Here, I am a guest, and sometimes the only way to learn my way around is by making mistakes, which requires more patience than I’m used to. When I look back at my study abroad experience in Australia, I will see it as a time when I made the most mistakes I have ever made and have taken the most risks ever!

On the 9th of November, the day after we returned from a class excursion to Heron Island, our lecture in class was not on any of the subjects that we have studied this semester, but it was about culture shock and reverse culture shock! Amazing and coincidental that it was exactly what I was going to write about for this blog post!

From the time I decided I was going to do this unknown and alien thing called study abroad, I was already preparing myself in many ways: Figuring out international cell phone plans, travel plans, “what are you going to bring there” plans, and most importantly, my plane ticket plan. It was a LOT of preparation going in. I had numerous documents for my study abroad program to sign and complete by strict deadlines, all while I was still taking classes at college. But now that all of that prep work is finished, I can focus on the question: How am I going to remember this? And how am I going to go back to the United States after spending a quarter of a year in a foreign country– 1.2% of my current life?

The lecturer warned us that people and things will have moved on without us, whether we like it or not. People back home have started moving in a direction where they have either completely forgotten about you or replaced you with new friends. After all, study abroad makes it hard to stay in touch with everyone you know back home.

Another thing the lecturer shared is that our peers might shrug us off if we start getting too yappy about what a great time we had studying abroad. This is because everyone I talk to about my experience will not be as emotionally invested in my experience as I am, and they might even be a bit annoyed listening to me babble on about what a great time I had. This lesson from the lecture really perked my ears. I imagined myself back on my home campus, speaking with a friend at a football game, sharing about what a great time I had at the Great Barrier Reef on Heron Island. The person will likely not be interested in this story, because they have most likely never been to Australia or to the Great Barrier Reef themselves, or spent as much time and energy studying the ecosystem and culture as I have this semester. Australia is a distant place for most of my American peers. There is no string of experiences that allows them to connect to my story and say “Yeah, I can relate to that.”

I imagine the adjustment of returning home will be similar to adjusting to my first year of college, but on a grander scale of adjusting from the Australian culture that I have grown so used to. I am even imagining how much the playground across the street from my home in New York has changed since I’ve been gone. Last fall semester of my sophomore year, the park was completely torn down and in shambles, but by the following summer the playground equipment was just being put up. And by the time I return, the park will be complete with no more orange construction fences, and perhaps snow will cover the playground where the kids will play in the spring. To understand and talk about what it is to study abroad and return home is one of the most interesting challenges that I have encountered in my life. Despite the personal challenges that I faced, I can confidently say that this experience as a whole has changed me for the better.

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Filed under Oceania, Raymond in Australia