Tag Archives: #gilman

First Impressions of Vienna

“When are you going to start packing for studying abroad? You know you’re going to be there for 6 months. You need to start now.” That’s what my mom said about a month before my date of departure to Vienna, Austria. I laughed and told her my plans for the next couple of weeks, then went on about my business. Boy, was she right! Funny pre-departure story: I cried from the moment I arrived at the airport until I boarded the plane. Serious tears, not crocodile tears. I wasn’t crying because I was going to miss my parents or home, or for any of the usual leaving-home-for-a-long-time reasons. I cried because I forgot to grab my winter coat. Yes, my winter coat, of all things. I think the stress and sleep deprivation from packing was the cause. I mean, after unpacking and repacking three times in a matter of five days, all while juggling an online class, I learned my lesson the hard way.  The good news is that the journey to Austria was a memorable one, and I survived without my winter coat.


Representing the Gilman Scholarship Program while waiting for my flight to depart.


Since the first day I arrived in Austria, I keep thinking Vienna is massive! (Compared to my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.) When I tell the people who live here how big I think the city is, we always end up agreeing to disagree. My initial thought about Vienna is that the number of people on the streets do not amount to the number of apartment buildings in the city. There are so many buildings, and no two buildings look alike.



Nearby apartment buildings.


I’d say the size of Vienna is comparable to New York City or Chicago, but the discomfort of walking through those cities just isn’t here. I say discomfort because if you’ve ever visited New York City or Chicago, you just can’t escape bumping into a couple of people or getting lost in a huge crowd. I believe the fact that Vienna is separated into 22 districts is the reason it feels less populated. Every district I’ve been in also varies in the vibe it gives off. One may feel urban while another feels more suburban. I live in District 22 near the Schonbrunn Palace, and I’d describe it as a busy but relatively quiet district. It’s lined with cafes, local markets, restaurants, and art galleries (recent discovery)!



Art from the gallery that is a 5 minute walk away from me.


The way Vienna is set up makes it unique and breathtaking, and excites me more than any city I’ve ever visited. There’s a thrill in knowing that I won’t ever be bored because on top of my classes, there will always a new place to visit, or a different restaurant to try out. I love the city life!



Traditional Austrian schnitzel with fries. Yum!


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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Video Bloggers, Western Europe

Elizabeth Awoyungbo’s Introduction to Austria

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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Western Europe

Developing a Routine in Morocco

Over the past few weeks, I have developed a routine: I wake up to the city-wide call to prayer in the early morning. I prepare my school supplies and do some last minute studying. I walk up the narrow staircase to my host mother and siblings eating breakfast. My mother gestures for me to get some bread on the table, and use the olive oil, honey, and jam to spread on the bread while she pours me some coffee and mint tea. After eating for a bit, I realize I have lost track of time and have to hurry off to class. I make a shaking gesture to my host mother trying to communicate with her that I need to run, and she does the same gesture back to me while making a noise that is supposed to imitate the sound of rushing feet. I thank her and dash down the stairs to get my jacket and backpack and open the door to the slowly awakening medina. Breathing in the cold morning air, I walk around the street merchants setting up their displays, mothers bringing their young kids to school while dodging bikes and motorcycles. These tiny, winding streets that only a short time ago felt like an indecipherable maze, now feel like part of a normal morning commute.


Fez's Medina neighborhood

Fez’s medina neighborhood


As I walk up to the wooden door of my host institution, I ring the buzzer and wait a few seconds for the click signaling that I can enter. I exchange good-mornings with the staff member at the front desk and hurry over to my Arabic class. When our class is over, my other classmates and I exchange complaints about how difficult Arabic is, but how glad we are that we are learning it in a country like Morocco. We grab some coffee from the coffee machine and head to our lecture. I am constantly in awe of the amazing people that we have the opportunity to listen to and ask questions to. One day it could be a foreign correspondent for Reuters or Associated Press, and the next day it could be a human rights activist who was jailed and is explaining censorship in Morocco.


Biennale 6 Art exhibition in Marrakesh

An art exhibition in Marrakesh.


After the first lecture, we head to lunch and discuss and debate the contents of the lecture and what we might want to do for our independent study project. After filling our bodies and minds, we head to our final lecture of the day, where we will once again be enlightened by an amazing professional. After our classes, we split up into groups depending on who needs to study what, and head off to various cafes to study. I typically study in a cafe called Arab Cafe located just off of Mohammed the V Ave. After studying for a few hours, and ingesting more than our fair share of mint tea and second hand smoke, we head back to our respective host families and enjoy a traditional family dinner.
Although this routine was becoming comfortable, this past week we had the opportunity to explore outside of Rabat. Getting into a routine, you can kind of take the place you are in for granted. Some of the things you once saw as novel could become monotonous. This excursion shook me out of that. We were able to travel to the Medina of Fez where we saw the tanneries and the various other textile cooperatives. We traveled to the Sahara and watched the sunset and rise over the sand dunes. We scaled the Atlas Mountains, and we went to a traditional medicine cooperative in Marrakesh that sold pure Argan oil, among other things.


Leather tanneries of Fez

Leather tanneries of Fez.

Rissani, Sahara Desert

Rissani, Sahara Desert.


While riding in the bus between these cities, I had a lot of time to reflect. As I watched the landscape rush past I became aware that this- what I was seeing, and smelling, and feeling, and thinking- would have all been a distant dream had it not been for the Gilman Scholarship. The Gilman Scholarship made what I once thought was impossible, a very real reality. For that, I am deeply and truly grateful for this opportunity and will live it out to the absolute fullest. When I turn the corner into the Medina during my morning routine, I’ll make sure to stop, look around, take a deep breath and smile, knowing that even if I am late for class, I am late for class in Rabat, Morocco.

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A Crabby Catastrophe

Well, I’ve passed close to a month and a half studying abroad in Greece and I think it’s safe to say that at this point, the honeymoon period is over. Not to say I don’t love Athens and the experience I’m having here, I think I’ve just gained a more realistic understanding of the city in quite a few different ways. For example, today I had one of the most unpleasant encounters yet. For some background, I absolutely love cooking. It de-stresses me, I love the artistry of combining flavors, and I enjoy feeding people. So when I went to the grocery store today and saw that fresh blue crabs cost 4.50 euro per kilo, I had to buy some. Unlike in the U.S. though, here in Greece they only sell them alive, without rubber bands on their claws. So, when I got up to the cash register I set a thin plastic bag of clawing crabs on the counter in such a way that the cashier wouldn’t have to touch the crabs. Unfortunately for her and I both, she picked the bag up anyway. A crab grabbed her finger, and when she started speaking rapid Greek I couldn’t figure out what was happening until I realized she was bleeding and the guy behind me in line had to unclench the claw from her hand. I was thoroughly mortified, and felt absolutely terrible for the cashier (she was close to tears at this point) whose day I had undoubtedly ruined. The entire store was staring at me and I all but ran out the door as soon as I had paid. The victim was okay, but needless to say I didn’t feel bad when I turned her attackers into a topping over fettuccine.



Fresh blue crabs for dinner.


Beyond that, the language barrier has been giving me trouble, since for some reason after I say a few words in Greek the people here get very excited and quickly continue the conversation far beyond what my limited vocabulary can grasp. I guess these experiences are what everyone meant when they warned me of culture shock.

It’s not all bad though, not by any means. Recently College Year in Athens (CYA) took us on our first school wide field trip to Peloponnese, and it was absolutely beautiful. We spent five days traveling through Nafplio, Sparta, and Olympia. Nafplio was my favorite. Surrounded by ocean on three sides, the views were gorgeous. I’m an ocean girl at heart so this was paradise in a scholarly setting.



Enjoying the view!


In Nafplio we were able to see an incredible cave people once inhabited from the Bronze Age as well as elaborate Mycenaean graves.



The Mycenaean graves at Nafplio.


The cave at Nafplio.


In Olympia we saw some of the greatest altars built for the gods, an incredible museum with statues of Zeus and the Olympians in action, and the site of the original Olympic games. All along the entrance of the Olympic stadium were small statues built by athletes in the Olympics who had cheated- an ancient wall of shame, if you will.

So at this point it seems that I’m beginning to really settle into life here, taking the good with the bad just like anywhere else.

Until next time,


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Robert Penna’s Introduction to Argentina

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Do as the Chileans Do

Hola, me llama es Natalie. I am spending this semester “studying” abroad in Valparaiso/Vina del Mar, Chile. I’ve placed those little quotes around the word studying because spending a semester abroad is so much more than studying. Using the word “studying” is just an easy way to explain to strangers or your relatives what you’re doing.

Stranger or relative: What are you doing in Chile?
Natalie: I’m “studying” for a semester.
Stranger or relative, (impressed): Oh, wow!

The context of that word reveals itself to me a bit more each day in many surprising forms. A few ways you’ll know that you are “studying” abroad:

  1. You stare at street signs in frustration and wonder why you can’t read these easy public oriented messages.
  2. You ask your host mom for directions somewhere and understand about two words of the conversation, one of them being el metro.
  3. You feel kind of like a child who lost his mom in the grocery store.
  4. The waiter asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
  5. The clerk at the store asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
  6. Your host mom asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
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This is a typical view in the city of Valparaiso, known for its colorful alleyways and care-free spirit.


Alas, I’ve only been in the country of Chile for a week. There is still hope! There is a long list of anxieties I had before I came here and still am having, i.e., I don’t know enough Spanish, I’m too shy, I’m not the “type” to study abroad, I don’t belong here, I picked the wrong country, I’m not trying hard enough.


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This is the university that I am attending this semester. The building is located in a very urban part of Valparaiso, right next to a market that has the most beautiful fruits. There’s a constant flow of people, buses, and vendors.


As time progresses I’m beginning to feel more of a connection to things here. Upon first arrival I could acknowledge that everything is pretty and great, but I felt as if I couldn’t be a part of it, or that I couldn’t belong to it. I think that’s a huge factor in culture shock. Now that I’ve made daily trips to visit the ocean, it’s starting to feel like the ocean is there for me too. Claiming stake to things requires confidence in yourself and comfort in your surroundings. Both of those things take time and effort.


gilman 4 new

There’s something about being by the ocean that calms a person instantly.


Another thing that I’ve picked up on and discussed with friends is the breadth of emotions you can go through in a single day. At one point you may be in love with the craziness of the street vending and performance art and hours later after being overwhelmed by the language barrier, questioning why you wanted to be here in the first place. It’s exhausting to keep up with yourself, but it’s a natural process of adjustment.


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“What are you doing to change the world?” Colorful, thought-provoking murals are at the core of Valparaiso’s spirit.


I’ve been trying to think more in depth about what I want to accomplish here, but I think its necessary to first understand what Chile can offer. And those possibilities seem to be endless. I’m going to allow a little more time for adjustment before I set specific goals. There’s a lot to think about. And a lot of ice cream to eat while thinking.


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The helado (ice cream) here is both cheap and fantastic. I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best helado in Chile. Chileans know their sweets.



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Filed under Natalie in Chile, south america

Education Abroad and a Search for the Past

My study abroad experience in Argentina began on January 26th after a grueling 18 hour flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and from Atlanta to Buenos Aires. However, upon arrival I was warmly greeted by the Expanish Spanish School which is hosting my University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) in Argentina.

Although this is a very unique experience for me, it is not my first time in Buenos Aires. I first came to visit Argentina with my father in 2009 for his 60th birthday, and again with my mother in 2015. These first visits to Argentina lasted two weeks each and it was very special to experience it with my parents who were both born and raised in Caballito, Buenos Aires.



The Office of the President of Argentina, also known as La Casa Rosada (pink house) located in Plaza de Mayo.


Argentina’s Obelisk is a national icon of Buenos Aires, built in 1936.


This is my third time in Argentina, but it is my first time as both a student and blogger. I have been using a DSLR camera for nearly 5 years and at my home institution, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), I was able to refine my skills in documentary courses such as Documentary Production for Social Change and Creating Community Media. Therefore, as a first-generation American and college student, all my experience, education, and training is converging to these 4 months in Argentina and I am very excited for the goals I have in line for myself.



Caminito, one of Buenos Aires’ original neighborhoods, accommodated many Italian and Spanish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. It is now a popular tourist location where one can find live music, food, artisans and more located in La Boca.



Conventillos were small homes for many immigrants. These were made of sheet metal taken from large ships of various colors, a distinct characteristic of La Boca.


Painters in Caminito.


In addition to video-blogging and the articles I will be submitting as a Video Correspondent for the Gilman Scholarship, I plan to create a mini travel documentary series. Each episode will be a one minute portrait focusing on a specific person, place, or historical account directly associated with Argentina. For example, a taxi driver, street performer, chef, musician, or historical building can help shed light on Argentina’s rich cultural and historical background that blends both European and Latin American demographics. I believe a short travel series about Argentina can be a fun and effective way of exploring and educating myself and others about Argentine history and culture through the daily experiences of its people.



A Carlos Gardel look-alike in San Telmo, another one of Buenos Aires’ old and famous neighborhoods.


A boy wearing a Boca Junior jersey, a very popular adult soccer league in Buenos Aires. The people who grow up in Boca are born into the spirit of this famous neighborhood.


A street laborer in Bario Chino.


I also plan to film interviews with my relatives who have lived in Argentina all their lives. Both of my parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1974 which was only two years before the beginning of the Dirty War and probably the worst dictatorship Argentina has ever experienced. I am particularly curious to know why parts of my family came to the U.S. while other relatives had a stronger conviction to stay. What was it like to live under a militant regime and how did it affect my family?

I am driven to investigate this past primarily because I am curious to know more about my family origin. While I was growing up, my brother and sister were 10 and 15 years older than me, and my parents started to live separately but were not divorced. By the time I hit high school, it was just my mom and myself living at home. Where my family came from and why they chose to live the U.S. was always unclear to me, and my mother, who felt I was too young to understand, gave me an easy way out: “It was complicated in Argentina.” I didn’t quite have a profound relationship with my father so when he came to pass in 2013, I didn’t really know what to ask him at the time of his death. It is only recently that I begin to deeply question what exactly caused my family to arrive to the States of all places, and not anywhere else. I think my curiosity has something to do with being at UCLA and encountering many students who know more about their family backgrounds than I knew of my own. By retelling this story I hope to provide an analysis or interpretation in terms of immigration and assimilation, along with a little bit of a history to contextualize it.



The white scarf is a symbolic mark of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, who stood against all odds during Argentina’s ruling militant dictatorship and the Dirty War (1976-1983).


Therefore, part of my study abroad journey is about understanding where my family came from and what exactly about the U.S. appealed to them. I think with understanding my own family immigration and process of assimilation comes a greater appreciation and understanding for my Argentine-American identity. By sharing these stories and testimonials, others like myself can be inspired to pursue cross-cultural educational experiences while also developing a profound relationship with their personal roots.



My parents, Carmen and Jose Penna sometime during 1980s.

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america