Tag Archives: explore

Everything Is Going to Be Alright

          The world is our oyster. The correspondents on this site who have shared tales from Ghana, South Korea, England, Scotland, and France are only a small sample of the more than 850 Gilman Scholars who are having life-changing experiences all over the globe. While we chose our host countries for a variety of reasons, one common draw was the challenge and adventure of navigating a foreign culture far from home.

        With that opportunity comes risk. Setbacks are an inevitable part of any journey. Some can be anticipated, others take us by surprise, but all can be overcome with the right attitude. That’s what I’ve learned these last three weeks here in New Zealand.

        One difficulty I saw coming was the different testing and grading style of a big university compared to that of a small liberal arts college. At Pomona College, my professors know me personally. They know I don’t cheat, and when I submit work that is incorrect, they can compare my answers to what they know about me as a student to figure out exactly where I went wrong. At University of Canterbury (UC), my Physics 101 professor can’t possibly learn the names of all 700 students in my class, much less trust them on a test. Similarly, graders faced with a foot-tall stack of Statistics 101 assignments don’t have time to dissect strange-looking answers.

        I was confident going into my first Physics 101 test. After studying for seven hours, I aced the online practice test with time to spare. I had so strong a memory for the material that I didn’t even bother with the reference sheet I was allowed. Instead of filling the sheet with important equations, I thought it would be funny if I made a colorful crayon drawing of a boy flying a kite. So, that’s what I did.

 

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My Physics 101 professor allowed each student to bring a reference sheet to the first test. He said I could put anything I wanted on it. This is what I chose!

 

        I got a four out of ten on the test, not for lack of a serious cheat sheet, but because the strict testing procedures made me nervous. I had to show my ID and calculator at the door, leave all my belongings at the front of the room, then sit with empty desks on both sides of me to discourage cheating. Once told to do so, I opened the booklet and had exactly one hour to finish the machine-graded, multiple-choice test.

        As soon as I hit one small stumbling block, I panicked! I remembered the formulas, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to work the problems through from start to finish. It made me miss Pomona’s casual, take-your-time approach to testing. Fortunately, it was only worth a small portion of my final grade. I’ll be ready next time.

        My first Statistics 101 assignment was a similar story. I submitted it assuming I’d get an A. Despite doing all my calculations correctly, I got only half credit because I didn’t display my data in the correct format. For example, I lost points on one of my graphs because the values on its y-axis were expressed as absolute values instead of percent values. It seemed so nit-picky, but that’s the attention to detail that’s needed here, and now I know. For my next assignment, I’ll print it out in advance and ask for feedback before I turn it in. Problem solved!

        If only all problems were so straightforward….

        My girlfriend and I had been dating for two years. We planned to marry each other someday. This month, she broke up with me.

        Long distance was nothing new for us. That’s how we had spent most of our relationship. But once she started graduate school last semester, she started to make new friends and see new career opportunities. Without either of us realizing it, she started to drift away from me. At some point, our long-distance relationship stopped being a buoy for her. It became an anchor. She didn’t want to put her life on hold for a future with me that was still two years away, so she cut the rope. I don’t blame her.

        I had a good cry the night she broke the news to me, but she said she did it for both of us and I understand that now. The longer we had been together, the more reclusive I had become. It’s hard to be present when half your heart is hundreds of miles away. Instead of engaging with those around me, I used to busy myself with solitary pursuits like reading and video games. It got to the point that I hardly had a social life outside my girlfriend. I made little effort to stay in touch with old friends, and no effort to make new ones. Not anymore!

        I had an epiphany recently that I’m afraid of putting myself in situations where I must compete for peoples’ attention. So, what am I doing now? Exactly that. I’m joining clubs left and right, chatting up strangers, making new friends, and accepting invitations I normally would have turned down. Basically, I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone and seeing what happens. I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing, but at least I’m doing something, and it seems to be paying off.

        So far this month, I’ve joined six student clubs and attended 13 meetings. I’m cycling with UC Bike Club, speaking with UC Spanish Club, tasting with UC Wine Club, grooving with Defy Dance, and doing community service with the Student Volunteer Army. Through these activities, I’ve made several friends who I never would have met otherwise. I’m also growing closer to my flatmates, who continue to impress me with their friendliness and consideration. Things are looking up.

 

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The flatmates celebrate Jasper’s 35th birthday! From left to right: Marius, me, Mathew, Calvin, and Jasper.

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My first ride with UC Bike Club.

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Last weekend I went camping with the Student Volunteer Army. My group did trail maintenance. Others improved the campground by doing yardwork and home-improvement projects. The camp is owned by a charitable trust that subsidizes camping trips for the disabled.

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After the Student Volunteer Army was finished working for the day, we got to relax at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, a waterpark that is naturally heated by magma near the Earth’s surface. It was of special interest to me because one of my geology classes this semester focuses on geothermal energy!

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The Avon River winds its way through Hagley Park, a 400-acre park right next to downtown Christchurch.

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It’s been six years since the deadly earthquakes hit Christchurch, but ruins are still a common sight downtown.

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Last month the city unveiled a memorial to commemorate the 185 people killed in the earthquakes.

 

         I’ll end with an update on my cycling, and mention one ride that perfectly sums up my experience these last three weeks.

        After weeks of searching, I finally pulled the trigger on a 2014 Trek 1.1 road bike that was listed online. My patience paid off. Although it’s three years old, it hadn’t been ridden at all before I bought it, so I basically got a brand-new bike for a 40% discount! In my three weeks of ownership, I’ve ridden 250 miles all over the city.

 

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I finally bought a bicycle! This is Trek’s entry-level road bike. It’s three years old, but it looks and rides like new. The previous owner hardly ever used it.

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Looking northeast down onto the beach community of Sumner, seven miles from downtown Christchurch.

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My longest ride so far was a 38 mile round trip to the beach at New Brighton. Little did I know, the national Surf Lifesaving Championships were going on that day! I joined the hundreds of spectators on Christchurch Pier who were watching the kayak and rowboat races.

 

        My most memorable ride was on a Wednesday night. It started as the sun was setting and continued past dark. So many things could have gone horribly wrong, but didn’t. I won’t list all the near misses here, I’ll just share the one that best describes my mood right now.

        I was on my way home riding through downtown when I became distracted by a giant neon sign outside the Christchurch Art Gallery. In colorful, all-capital letters, it proclaimed EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. That’s when the front wheel of my bike slotted into a streetcar track, flinging me sideways. (For added irony, this happed right in front of a street sign warning cyclists of this very hazard!) I fell, but I got up again. The bike was undamaged, I was uninjured, and I have a feeling that everything is going to be alright.

 

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This sign would have been helpful if I had seen it in time.

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Instead of heeding the warning of the sign in the previous photo, I was distracted by this bigger and brighter one across the street. I fell hard, flat on my side! Thankfully, my bike and I suffered only minor scratches.

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand

Where I Am and How I Got Here

Hello! My name is Trevor. I am a Marine veteran and a third-year geology student at Pomona College. This semester I’m studying abroad in New Zealand. I’m halfway done with the first part of my program, which is a five-week field camp all over the North and South Islands. 

 

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That’s me atop a hill that was located near the center of our mapping area and offered astounding views in all directions. I’m holding the map board and field notebook I used to record my findings.

 

I must admit, I’m a little surprised to be here. When I started at Pomona two years ago, I had no plans to study abroad. I was lucky to travel a lot growing up, and I’d recently returned from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. I thought I’d be content to hang around campus all four years, but my curiosity got the better of me. Some friendly encouragement from my girlfriend (who also studied abroad while at Pomona) was the final push I needed to take a step out of my comfort zone. Here I am.

 

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A farm truck and a sheep dog driving through the countryside. It doesn’t get much more New Zealand than that. Sheep outnumber people 20:1 in New Zealand. 

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Kura Tāwhiti Conservation Area: Known to non-Maori speakers as Castle Hill, these limestone cliffs featured prominently in the Chronicles of Narnia movies. That’s my group gathered in the background.

I had three main concerns about leaving home, all of which still hold true to varying degrees. 1) After field camp finishes, I will have to do my own cooking for the rest of the semester. I hate cooking. 2) Cars are my greatest passion in life, but my program does not allow me to own a motor vehicle while in New Zealand. 3) I sunburn easier than anyone I know. New Zealand’s depleted ozone layer means I will have to be even more careful than usual.

I haven’t yet had to cook for myself, and I’ve only been away from my car for a few weeks, so the only concern I’ll address now is the sun. Yes, it’s bad, but it is manageable. As long as I reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes I know I won’t burn. I’ve only burned once so far, and that was on an overcast day in the field when I tried to make due with only three sunscreen applications instead of the usual five.

Otherwise, adjusting to field camp has been pretty easy. The Marines prepared me well for this physically demanding and highly structured environment.

 

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Rivers cut through rock leaving behind excellent exposures for us to study. The only downside is soggy socks.

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Crossing White Horse Creek during a rainstorm.

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The sea foam at 14-Mile beach was knee-deep and jiggled in the wind like Jell-O.

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Torrential rain damaged much more than just this trail. The flooding and debris flows it caused closed major roads, delaying our trip to the West Coast. Professor Sam described it as the storm of the decade. According to weather reports, more than a foot of rain fell in a 24-hour period, and the wind was gusting at almost 100 mph!

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My group descends a hillside at Castle Hill Basin after a long day in the field. The area we mapped measured two square miles and extended all the way to the foothills of the tallest mountains in the background.

 

I’m here with 22 geology students from American liberal arts colleges. We won’t mix with the local New Zealanders until classes begin at the University of Canterbury next month. For now, it’s just us and a rotating cast of professors and teaching assistants. I like that everyone has a friendly attitude.

 

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A few of us pause for a photo op during a steep ascent of a limestone ridge. Tectonics have uplifted the limestone beds so much that in some places they are vertical, or even overturned. The beds continue onto the terrace behind us. You can see the vertical bedding exposed in the small hill to the left of the larger one. Also note the landslide scraps on the right of the photograph. This is a very active landscape!

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Professor Sam (left) and student Monte (right) try to distinguish between the bedding and cleavage planes of this sandstone at 14-Mile Beach. Bedding planes show how the sediment was originally deposited. Cleavage planes are where it later fractured. Ordinarily, they’re easy to tell apart, but these beds have been steeply uplifted. By measuring the orientations of bedding and cleavage at several locations across the beach, we were able to piece together the size and shape of a fold that was thousands of feet wide.

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Students play on a suspension bridge. Look how it flexes!

 

Each day we spend six to eight hours outside in the field making observations and taking measurements. Sometimes this means miles of hiking over hills and across rivers. Each night we spend a couple more hours in the classroom combining and interpreting our data. It’s a lot of work, though we do occasionally get days off to relax indoors or go off exploring on our own.

The university’s field stations serve as our base of operations. They have everything we could want: bunkrooms, classrooms, kitchens, bathrooms with hot showers, and half-decent internet. So far, we’ve spent nine days at Cass Field Station in the Southern Alps and five days at Westport Field Station on the West Coast. In a couple days, we’ll fly to the North Island to study volcanoes. Below are some more photos of the sites we’ve visited so far. 

 

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Scotts Beach, Kahurangi National Park. I climbed to the top of the tallest rock on the left. 

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Moria Gate limestone cave, Oparara Basin, Kahurangi National Park

           

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The famous “Pancake Rocks” of Paparoa National Park.

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On the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, we hiked toward Cape Foulwind (the rocks in the distance) where we surprised a seal sleeping in the plants. It was so well hidden we didn’t notice it until we were almost on top of it!

 

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Filed under Oceania, Trevor in New Zealand

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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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

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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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

7 Things To Do in Leuven

Hey guys! Now I’m more than halfway into the semester! Time has flown by and I can’t believe I only have 7ish weeks left in Belgium. From my study abroad experience here so far, I’ve created a list of 7 things you must do if you study in or travel to Leuven, Belgium:

1. Go to Oude Markt.

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Oude Markt.

Oude Markt, or Old Market, is the place to go to for a night out. With dozens of bars lining a main pathway on two sides, Oude Markt is the go to place for anyone looking to go dancing or catch some drinks with friends. Oude Markt is also just beautiful, both during the day and at night. The architecture is beautiful and it’s just a few steps away from the Old City Hall. During the day, the bars act as a place to grab a yummy lunch. At night it transforms into a lively place where thousands of people are strolling around dancing and socializing. It’s a MUST GO when visiting or studying at Leuven. Funny enough, at the end of Oude Markt there is a secondary school, so at 2 pm you’ll see hundreds of students pour out of the gates on their bikes riding through Oude Markt.

2. Go to Grote Markt.

Grote Markt, or Large Market, is a large plaza in front of the Old City Hall and stretches into a shopping center in central Leuven. Grote Markt has a large outdoor market every Saturday morning where you can buy fresh cheese, fruit, and other foods. You can also shop for some antiques at the Saturday market and other little knick-knacks at the surrounding stores. There are also a handful of food places you can grab a bite to eat at- either a quick on-the-go meal or a nice sit down meal. Also, the Old City Hall is also here. You can behold the beautiful building where thousands of hand-carved figures detail the structure. It’s always bustling in this area due to the fact that the market center leads into several main streets.

3. Visit the Stella Artois Brewery.

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At the Stella Artois tour with our vests.

Leuven is home to the original Stella Artois Brewery. You can take a tour through the brewery for as cheap as 7-8 euros and see the process of how the city’s famous beer is made. You also get a few goodies on the way out! It’s fun and you get to wear a neon orange vest when making your way throughout the factory. The people there are kind and are passionate about brewing quality beer and its really fun to see how much the beer means to them as a community.

4. Visit Museum M.

Museum M is a newer art museum that opened in 2009, but it is very popular and such a fun place to visit! Museum M is also where I do half of my internship but I’ll talk more about that in my next post! The people who work at the museum have worked very hard to make the museum a true community space where everyone is welcome. Even though most of the programming is in Dutch, they believe that art and creativity is a universal language that can be understood by all. If you have a Culture Card, which is usually connected to your student ID card, you can gain entry for only 3 euros! And if you buy a student member card for only 10 euros, you can get in as many times as you want for a year!

5. Visit OTHER Cities in Belgium.

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Me and the girls in Gent, a BEAUTIFUL city an hour and a half train ride away from Leuven.

Though Leuven is bustling with a lot to do, it’s also important to explore Belgium’s other cities. Brussels is only a 20 minute train ride away, and other popular cities like Ghent or Bruges is only an hour and half to two hours away by train. It’s definitely worth it to make day trips out there and see the beautiful cities Belgium has to offer. On the weekdays round-trip tickets are usually about 12 euros but on the weekends it’s significantly cheaper. Or you can buy a Go Pass for 50 euros and get 5 round trip tickets! It’s totally worth it! Those pictures you look up on Google about Belgium really do not do any justice to the reality. Every time I visit a new city, I just stand there in awe of the beauty of it all and feel so grateful and lucky to be able to study abroad.

6. EAT EAT EAT!

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Fries with Andalouse sauce!

You’re in Belgium so eating some frites, waffles, and mussels is a must! But also eat the Speculoos gelato you can find at the numerous gelato shops around Leuven. You won’t be disappointed! Eat at Domus, which is a restaurant on Tiensestraat, right by the Grote Markt, which boasts authentic Belgian food. Taste the authentic Belgian beers with your meal and really indulge yourself in the food culture of Leuven. The food culture also involves stopping by Panos and getting a large sandwich on a baguette to go, or getting waffles slathered with chocolate sauce in between classes! Enjoy it!

Fun fact: a lot of Europeans call cream cheese “Philadelphia.”

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Eating some yummy gelato at Ostende, a coastal city in Belgium.

 

7. Indulge in the Culture of Others

Leuven is a huge international hub where students from all over the world come to study at KU (Katholieke Universiteit). Take advantage of that. Not only immerse yourself in Belgian culture, but also the culture of the other international students you will live with in dorms or have classes with. I’ve not only learned about the Belgian culture but I’ve also learned about Spanish, British, and German cultures because of my hall mates. It has been a really transformative experience and one I am so grateful for. Make sure to not stay in only your circles. Reach out and go to the events that KU provides and really try to meet new people. With them, you’ll learn and experience new things that you’ll never forget.

 

I hope this hopes anyone planning to study abroad in Leuven! I’ll check back in a few weeks to talk about my internship! Tot Ziens!!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

A World of Firsts

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

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

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

 

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

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A panorama of Luxembourg! So pretty!

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A photo of houses in Luxembourg City.

 

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

 

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Duck faces with my family in Luxembourg City!

 

Tot ziens! Until next time!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Uncategorized, Western Europe

What Constitutes a Home?

Last week my study abroad program, made up of 10 students, went on a tour to Kerala. Kerala neighbors Tamil Nadu and a lot of Indians call the state by its nickname, ‘God’s Own Country.’ If I had to compare Kerala to a specific location in the United States I would say it’s similar to the Outer Banks because it seems to be where a lot of Indians and foreigners flock to for their vacation. Kerala was beautiful! The temperatures were much cooler (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and there was very little humidity.

Our first stop was Thekkady, a very popular tourist destination. Trees and greenery surrounded Thekkady; I felt like I was in the jungle. One of the highlights of my stay in Thekkady was visiting an organic spice farm, which was also a mini animal farm. On the spice farm tour I learned that almost 78 percent of the world’s pepper is grown in Kerala! Crazy! I’ll never look at black pepper the same. Another highlight of Thekkady was being able to run outside. I woke up early in the morning to take a long jog up the mountain and it was beyond fantastic! The morning fog was still lingering amongst the trees and the sun had yet to fully rise. The air was cool against my face and I could actually see my breath when I exhaled. The best part about my run in Thekkady was the peace and quiet that surrounded me. It had been a very long time since I was provided with a space and time to be consumed in my thoughts.

 

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I saw an emu for the first time in my life…at the spice farm….

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All of us were able to take a leisurely walk in the tranquil tea plantation.

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My friend Nora and I befriended an elephant!

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We were terrified of getting on an elephant (as you can tell from our facial expressions). Never again will I get on the back of an elephant.

 

Thekkady was filled with luscious greenery and calming, cool air. The visit to the spice farm was a stark realization of where my food came from. The visit to the tea farm helped me understand why my friend Hunter is in love and obsessed with tea. Tealeaves are planted in a way that it looks visually appealing. All the shrubs are evenly spaced out and grow along the side of the mountain; therefore, from afar the tea farm looks like a wall of green. In Thekkady I was one with nature (which is hard to come by in Madurai); however, in Cochin my experience was the complete opposite. We visited Cochin for the last 2 days of our tour. It was a bustling, hustling city. It felt like Madurai but on a greater scale. The streets were filled with automobiles, the nightlife was exciting, there was a humongous mall. I visited the Centre Square Mall a couple of times and for a split second it felt like I was back in the United States. The mall had stores that I was familiar with: Nike, Puma, The Body Shop, Levi, and so many more; however, I wasn’t interested in shopping. The real reason I visited the mall? It had a Baskin Robbins! Finally, an ice cream shop that I recognized! To be fair, I’ve had my fair share of ice cream in Madurai. Ice cream at iBaco is mediocre; they always have waffle cones, which helps make up for the lack of depth to the flavor of the ice creams. The mall around the corner from where I study has Coldstone ice cream but I find that they mash the ice cream one too many times. Therefore, finding a Baskin Robbins stand on the first floor of Centre Square Mall was a sign from the world that I needed to consume as much ice cream as possible. What are vacations for if you can’t eat whatever you want in huge quantities? I estimate that I had at least 7 scoops of ice cream during my 2-day stay in Cochin. In other words, the Baskin Robbins employee got to know me very well.

Although the existence of a Baskin Robbins could have probably convinced me to set up camp at the mall for the rest of my time in South India, I wanted to return to Madurai. I remember saying to myself, “I want to go back home now.” Regardless of Madurai being drastically different than my home in the United States, I have made Madurai my home. For the past couple of weeks I have struggled with establishing personal space and finding my niche in Madurai. Regardless, I call it home.

 

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Chocolate exotica from Puppy’s Bakery. It definitely satisfies my chocolate craving.

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Dark chocolate dessert jar from Puppy’s Bakery. I’ve bought so many I now have a growing jar collection in my closet.

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My mango milkshake from Zaitoon, an Arabian restaurant. Sometimes I wonder if I’m eating my stress away via sugar….

 

What constitutes a home? For me, home is closely related to familiarity. In Madurai, I can hop onto any ‘share auto’ at the end of my street because the drivers always go the same route. I can walk to Nila, a local grocery store, and pick up a carton of curd to eat with my oatmeal. Every evening my patti (grandmother) greets me with a huge smile as she hands over the house key. While it can be relaxing to get away from the city of Madurai, being able to come home to a welcoming host family at the end of the day is much more satisfying. After 2 months of being in India I feel like I’m settling in; I’m finally starting to call Madurai my home. With only 30 days left in Madurai (I have a short study abroad program) I hope to make the most of my time by spending more evenings watching movies with my ammaa (mother), getting to know the employees at Puppy’s Bakery, and whatever else Madurai has to offer.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia