Tag Archives: nature

A Venture into Volta

One of my favorite experiences thus far in my study abroad endeavor was a journey into the Volta Region in Ghana. Ghana is split up into ten regions, and the Volta Region is named accordingly due to its physical border of the grand Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake by surface area in the world. The Akosombo Dam is also located in this region, and provides the majority of energy for the country. The Volta Region holds some of the nation’s most prized natural wonders, some of which I had the chance to see over a refreshing weekend excursion.

At the beginning of our adventure, we stopped to walk over the Adomi Bridge that overlooks the Volta Lake. The bridge held marvelous views of the rolling green hills and fishermans’ villages below. After we crossed, the villagers sold local dishes, most of which included the seafood caught from the lake below.

 

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The view of the lake from the bridge.

 

Later that day, we had the chance to visit a monkey sanctuary called Tafi Atome where wild but protected monkeys approached with hunger as we suspended bananas in front of them. Eventually, the furry creatures warmed up to us, and one even jumped on my arm to take his share of the fruit! Later in the evening we were invited to meet some of the elders in a village nearby, and we went through several customs and rituals such as pouring some alcohol on the ground in honor of the ancestors past.

 

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Our furry friends.

 

The following morning, we awoke at the crack of dawn to begin our hike up the tallest mountain in Ghana. Mt Afadja is 885 meters high, so this was no laid-back climb. High humidity and extreme heat followed us up the nearly entirely vertical path. After the many stops to catch our breath and wipe away the moisture that clung to our clothes, we arrived at the top of the mountain. I hope you trust me when I say that the view was not a disappointment.

 

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After our big hike.

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Posing with the Ghana flag. 

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The incredible view from the top.

 

Following the spectacular views from the top of the mountain, a quick lunch break ensued to refuel our energy for one last big pit stop. A breathtaking waterfall awaited us at a short distance, and not much else sounded better than swimming in chilly water after a long hike. I welcomed the misty spray from the powerful beauty as I approached the base of the falls. Each step closer built my confidence to creep under the crashing beast and I accepted the wonderful pounding of the water to wash away any worry and fill my mind with awe and marvel.

 

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Just like Bowie, I Turned Myself to Face Me

As I begin to write this blog post, I can already feel a numbing sensation trickle down my arms as my eyes that have seen so much these past four months fill with tears. I will proofread for any typos but can’t make any promises with my watered-down eyesight.

I am a little afraid that I have almost changed too much since studying abroad, and that the culture shock when I return home will be a really difficult experience for me, but there is no need to worry about that yet I suppose. It is difficult to put into words for me how much my time here has meant to me. I hope that this post does this beautiful country justice.

If you had asked me one month into my study abroad experience how I honestly felt, I would have told you that I did not think I would make it through these four months. I had never been away from my family, my boyfriend, or the U.S. for so long. And now, here I am, three months later, not wanting to leave this beautiful country and the diversity that fills it, and living tranquilly next to an active stratovolcano. 

 

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Doing touristy things in Quito before leaving at Parque Carolina, an incredibly huuuge park in the middle of Quito that has soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, a track, vendors of any food you might be craving or didn’t know you were craving….essentially Ecuadorian culture in a park.

 

Honestly, I am not sure when things changed exactly. I don’t think it was a specific moment in my study abroad experience, but rather an accumulation of several things. I began to become more independent and I was getting through days with a smile on my face or laughter throughout the entire day more easily and easily. I became stronger as things seemed to fall into place. I was going on more and more adventures with new friends and disconnecting myself a little more from social media and the things that connected me with the U.S. (Actually I left my phone in a taxi and my laptop charger broke so I didn’t really have much of a choice…but as they say here in Ecuador, así es la vida, or “such is life,” so I had to move on.) I also was enjoying time on my own more, which is something I never really enjoyed prior to this experience. When I decide to explore Quito on my own, I almost always encounter someone who is surprised at my Spanish level and thus wants to talk to me more- a conversation that usually comes from them first trying to sell me some jewelry or $1 seco de pollo from a cooler.

My alone time throughout the city has also helped me realize how much I have changed in terms of being a more observant and in-the-moment person. Being more observant has definitely come from necessity, considering pedestrians here do not have the right-of-way and buses will start driving/shut the door before you’re comfortably on the vehicle. And living in a city for the first time has also made me more aware of my things when I am walking or on public transportation.

It is pretty much impossible to make a plan and follow through with it completely here, but that is part of the fun. Buses don’t really have schedules (and even if they do they aren’t always followed), some places are closed because they don’t feel like opening, detours appear and change daily, the list goes on and on. Although this would have frustrated me in the U.S., here it seems like an opportunity to enjoy and explore wherever your trip ended up taking you. I have definitely become more open to change during my time here and have become less nervous asking for help from strangers, especially since Ecuadorians always want to help, even if they have no idea where you are heading, and thus just make up directions…but you can’t even get mad because they are so sweet. Despite these challenges, I have successfully made it to several different cities and towns in Ecuador, one of them being Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, where I went to a Barcelona (a huuuge fútbol team from Guayaquil) soccer game that was an experience I will never forget! 

 

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Just a taste of the support the fans gave to their team in Guayaquil. It was even crazier than the two Ecuadorian national games I have been to in Quito. Soccer games are a great way to experience the culture, get some delicious and cheap food, as well as learn some interesting sayings…

 

If I had to elaborate on one aspect of my life here in Ecuador that I am going to miss incredibly when I return to Massachusetts it would be the diversity here in Ecuador. Prior to studying abroad, I always thought of the word “diversity” as something that referred to cultures and people. Although this is still the case, I also have been introduced to the environmental diversity of a country so small yet so incredibly diverse in terms of its people as well as its flora y fauna. Even in the capital, with its stressful traffic and diesel-filled air, there are still magnificent views of the snowcapped Cotopaxi from afar or the just as incredible but closer to home Pichincha Volcano that is engulfed by Quito. There is also a National Park nearby called Cayambe Coca that is a popular home for bears and consists of a beautiful mountain range and lake. Before coming to Ecuador I had only seen views like this in National Geographic or on postcards.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciated nature. 

Now, I can tell you that I don’t think I can fully live without visiting mountains or waterfalls or something that is a part of nature at least several times a month.

 

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An incredible view of the Cayambe Coca National Park. I am definitely going to miss seeing nature like this everyday.

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The breathtaking sunrise on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. My friend Caitlyn and I got up a few times to go for morning runs and our last day in the Galapagos we got up eeextra early to see the sunrise.

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The unbelievable Quilotoa Crater Lake in Quilotoa, a few hours south of Quito.

 

Beyond the environmental diversity here in Ecuador, there is a pluriculturalism that exists within the identities that fill this beautiful country, shown through the clothing that people wear, the customs and music they have, the holidays they celebrate, and the languages they speak. On just a 20 minute bus ride to campus I can hear people speaking Spanish, English, and Kichwa, as well as see people wearing very modern clothing (probably from Colombia or the U.S. since clothing here is very expensive), more conservative or practical clothing, as well as indigenous clothing, which can vary depending on the indigenous community they come from in Ecuador. During the morning bus ride I can hear someone singing modern American music to a group of indigenous folks playing their traditional instruments, and also singing rather sad songs that portray the indigenous history of this country that they promise to never forget. I have even seen people walking on the highway for several hours to see the Quinche Virgin and profess their faith and dedication to her during El día del Quinche.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciate diversity, that I am an open-minded person who appreciates differences across cultures as long as everyone is respected.

Now, I can tell you that I have an entirely new perspective of diversity, one that includes our beautiful earth that we have to appreciate and protect, as well as diversity through positive relationships I have witnessed between lots of different groups of people in one city, something that I hope our country will be able to reach in the near future.

 

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My beautiful friend Brittany and I with a past President of Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez!

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Just a bunch of gringos and Ecuadorians in the back of a pick-up truck. Nothing unusual for the countrysides of Ecuador!

 

Not only will I miss the diversity, I will also miss speaking Spanish daily and learning new sayings and Quiteño slang, as well as the connections with Ecuadorians, international students, my host family, and with myself that I have made thanks to my time here in Ecuador. But this is not goodbye. I know I will be back in Ecuador sometime soon, and I will see the new friends I have made who live in the States, and I will never forget the changes I have undergone as an individual throughout this experience.

Mil gracias mi lindo Ecuador

 

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A view of the Historic Center in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for obvious reasons I would say.

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Ready for my next adventure, wherever it might be! (Taken in Cuenca, Ecuador.)

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! As always, thanks for reading!

Hasta pronto Ecuador,

Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized

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

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Peru

Peru hosts some of the oldest civilizations in the Western Hemisphere and is celebrated for the capital city of Cuzco which was built by the ancient Inca empire six hundred years ago. Peru is also home to the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca, and the mysterious Nazca Lines. Although there are many incredible sites that should be seen and explored in Peru, the places listed below is a condensed selection of sites based solely from my own personal experiences as a student studying abroad.

#1 – Iquitos and the Amazon Jungle/River

Prepare to view (in person) all the amazing wildlife you got to see through a TV screen as a child on the National Geographic channel. Imagine waking up to see squirrel monkeys swinging through the trees in your backyard that happens to be the Amazon Jungle. Become one with nature while you explore the jungle at night and experience just how much Mother Nature can provide when you need food and water. During a jungle night hike, our local tour guide offered us live termites to eat and fresh water to drink from a long vine. Being the daring and adventurous girl that I am, I naturally agreed to everything he suggested for us to try. The termites tasted like smoked seeds and the water was super fresh and natural tasting. I hope that by sharing this experience, my peers will be encouraged to remain open-minded and explore outside of their comfort zone when presented with new and different things.

While in Iquitos, I had the privilege of visiting a wildlife preservation space that nurtured baby animals until they matured and could be released into their natural habitat. In addition to viewing different species of monkeys, turtles, and fish, the caretakers allowed our group to feed and pet some Amazonian manatees. Later while traveling on a boat along the Amazon River, I got to see pink dolphins play with each other, hundreds of great egrets fly above and around us, a king fisher, sloths, and many different kinds of fish. I even got to try fishing for piranhas with some of the locals. This is the kind of experience you can look forward to when you travel to the Amazon and Iquitos. Before you leave, make sure to pack long, lightweight pants and shirts and buy extra mosquito repellent!

 

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About to load into the boats on the Amazon River.

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Feeding and petting the Amazonian manatees.

 

#2 – Ica and Paracas Bay

Along with my study abroad program, I traveled south of Lima to the Ica region in the middle of the Peruvian coastal desert. On the first day, I was taken on a sand buggy tour of the sand dunes and oasis. The ride on the buggy felt more like a roller coaster at times than a peaceful tour of the sand dunes, which of course made the ride ten times more fun! I was also able to try sand boarding, a sport I quickly found out only works well if the beginner lies flat on their stomach instead of standing upright like one would when snow boarding.

 

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Getting ready to slide down a sand dune penguin style.

 

On the second day, my group traveled to the Paracas Bay where the Ballestas Islands are located. These islands are home to herds of sea lions, flocks of cormorants and other coastal birds, as well as acts as a natural stop for migrating birds and a winter refuge for the Antarctic humboldt penguins. In addition, I was able to view the remnants of the guano industry that used bird manure for fertilization. I learned that this industry flourished on the coastal islands of Peru during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Later for lunch, our group was taken to the historical house of Hacienda San Jose, a 17th century sugar cane plantation that used to be worked by many slaves. During my two day adventure, I learned about the African-Peruvian culture and its contribution to Peru in terms of music and gastronomy, the haciendas, the old agricultural methods in coastal Peru, and the biological diversity of the Peruvian coast.

 

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Some of the sea lions we encountered on the boat ride in Paracas.

 

#3 – Cuzco and Machu Picchu

I was lucky to view the city of Cuzco as it was preparing for a weekend of parades in celebration of its anniversary. At night, the main plaza was alive with bands and Peruvian dancing. The streets were full of people socializing and enjoying the preliminary parade. During the day the shops were open, guinea pig meals were served, and people from all over the world were gathered to view the show. My experience in Cuzco was a nonstop parade full of colorful costumes, singing, and traditional dances. I sincerely loved every moment and I am confident future study abroad students will enjoy the city as well.

 

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My friend and I posing next to some of the dancers who were practicing during the preliminary parade in Cuzco.

 

Close to the city of Cuzco lies Machu Picchu. The view of these mountains is beyond spectacular and altogether an unforgettable experience packed with rich history and culture. Anyone interested in history, adventure, and travel should take the opportunity to see these majestic landscapes. Getting to view the Inca ruins was incredible and mind blowing all at the same time. It was unreal to think that my feet were standing in the same places ancient Incas used to walk around every day. It is important to note that there are different Inca trails that are available to visitors. Some hikes must be reserved months in advance and could take up to four days to complete! My advice to other students would be to pack hiking boots, sunscreen, and a rain jacket because some walks–like the walk to Intipunku (Sun Gate)–is a good upward trek of uneven ground and ambiguous weather.

 

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The spectacular view looking down from the Sun Gate.

 

#4 – The Miraflores District in Lima, Peru

There are a ton of things to do in the District of Miraflores! Have fun exploring the shopping center, watch a movie, play games at the arcade, view the ocean, try new kinds of foods, go parasailing, and much more. My favorite experience in this district was learning how to surf. Even in winter, the beach shore is lined with tents specifically set up as “surf schools.” Although it is tempting to pay at the cheapest vendor, I highly recommend paying a little extra for a school that is better quality and more widely known by locals. For 100 soles or $30 US dollars, I was provided a complete set of surfing equipment, a quick lesson (Surfing 101 for beginners), and received one hour worth of one-on-one personal training out on the ocean waves.

 

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My friend and I after an exhausting, yet really fun, hour of surfing.

 

Even though I was unsuccessful at standing on my board for the first couple of tries, my coach and other surfing students present that day were all extremely positive and tried to help me out as much as they could. I loved the personal environment that was created and I began to feel a certain bond that made me feel included as part of their surfing family. Through surfing, I was able to break past any language and cultural barriers that existed between us. I am happy to share that after two failed attempts, I successfully was able to stand on my board and surf a wave. Surfing a few waves was honestly one of the greatest achievements I have made in life so far. Give surfing a try and I guarantee the experience will be an unforgettable one.

#5 – The Historic Center in Lima, “Plaza de Armas”

Walking through the Plaza de Armas for the first time gives you a real sense of the European influence in Peru. The architecture is simply breathtaking and many of the buildings are preserved just as when they were first built. This is a hot spot for taking pictures and buying all sorts of trinkets and gifts to take back home. Tourists and locals alike visit the street vendors that are located in nearly every alley and corner, shop name brand and Peruvian brand stores, eat delicious Peruvian cuisine, and buy fresh fruit at the nearby markets. One may also look forward to the live music and dancing performances that seem to take place almost every day. The Plaza de Armas is an excellent place to experience the historic, cultural, and social aspect of Peru all at once!

 

 

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Filed under Isabel in Peru, south america

Reflecting on the Impact of Central America

Hola!

Studying abroad changes you. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize these changes. I think before coming to Costa Rica, I had all of these ideas in my head about how much I would change, how much I expected to grow with the Spanish language, and learn to understand the culture. I was expecting it so much, that I didn’t really stop to consider all the little things, or people, that have made such a lasting impact on my experience in Costa Rica.

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A photo of San Jose at night. I took this from the balcony of a building in central Heredia.

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Hiking throughout Barva in northern Heredia was how I celebrated the end of an incredible semester. Ah, I loved it so much.

Number one: My host mom. Gosh, have I already written about how much I love her? She’s literally the most graceful and optimistic individual I’ve ever met. I’m seriously so thankful to have been placed with her. It overwhelms me how happy and safe she makes me feel and her sense of compassion for others. This past month has been overwhelming for me with stress and anxiety, and she has been by my side as a healer. She’s taken me to the beach, and made me hot chocolate at night while studying for my exams, and has just made me smile. I really admire her because she is so sweet and patient to everyone she encounters. I’d like to consider her not only a good representation of the faces of Costa Rica, but also of the embodiment of simple human kindness. I know I’m fortunate to have another five months with her, but I already know I will miss her so much when I head back to the States in May.

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Mayela, my host mom and I in Guanacaste. Ah, I love her so much!

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Mayela and I at Playa Flamingo right after sunset!

Number two: My Spanish professor. Gosh, I love him more than he’ll ever know. He’s actually a lawyer here in Costa Rica. He told our class of six at the beginning of the semester that after he suffered from a medical issue a few years ago, he wanted to do something good for his health and that’s why he joined the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) family as a professor. I believe he’s one of the rare individuals who teach for the sole purpose of making a difference in people’s lives because it makes him happy. Knowing that makes me happy, too. Especially because he’s had such an impact on my life in so many ways. Because of him, I’m able to communicate in a second language. Because of him, I’ve had my first conversation in Spanish with my dad and now my dad and I only communicate in Spanish. My professor has also been a reminder of the importance of laughing—especially at ourselves. We were going around the room in class one day, and he asked me to translate “give me” to Spanish, and I responded (with such confidence, I might add) digame (which actually means “tell me”), and he laughed so hard he went silent for a good twenty seconds, and then suddenly the whole classroom was laughing. I laughed so hard I cried! He definitely has made learning so much fun, and I know all six of us will miss having him as a mentor and professor.

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Arturo, my Spanish professor for Track I (“Baby Spanish”) and the whole class. All of us called ourselves his princesses! We will miss him so much!

Number three: Appreciating Latin American culture, and feeling more connected with my family roots has had such an impact on my life. Growing up in Houston, especially within my family culture, there was always this sense of indignity that lingered with being half Mexican. I’ve experienced so much negativity growing up and hearing people degrade anyone on the other side of the border with vile names and prejudice. My time living in Heredia has really helped me to take pride in how beautiful the people, the food, the customs, and the dancing of Latin American culture is. It’s also made me so happy to be able to communicate in a language I should have been raised to know. I can’t express enough how happy talking to my dad in Spanish makes me, or how grateful I am that so many people in Costa Rica have made me feel so welcomed (thank you everyone in the chess family, especially Martin, for always making me laugh).

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Martin, my chess club director who has made me feel so welcomed here throughout the semester. He always puts a smile on my face.

Number four: This country is truly so rich in beauty! Hiking throughout Barva has been such a life enriching experience. And seeing the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio and Flamingo have been incredible, especially experiencing this with my host mom. I look forward to experiencing more of the natural beauty Costa Rica has to offer.

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Playa Manuel Antonio. Everyone kept recommending I take a weekend trip there and I’m so glad I did. This beach is absolutely beautiful!

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Another of Barva. Doesn’t this look like a place fairies and elves would live?

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A butterfly landed on my friend’s shoe. We were completely focused and awe inspired for a good few minutes, and then the butterfly started to crawl on her leg and both of us began screaming. It was funny! Poor butterfly had a broken wing, so we put it on a leaf away from the car path and continued on our way.

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A grazing cow in Barva.

The past four months have truly changed my life. I’ve learned so much about the world, and about people. I’ve treasured all of it.  As I’ve concluded my first semester in Heredia, I can’t help but feel so excited for this one month break and for next semester to begin. This Christmas break, a friend and I are going to volunteer at a sea turtle conservation project from Christmas through New Year’s. I’m also thrilled for this upcoming semester! I’ll finally be able to start interning as a research assistant at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (UNA), where I’ll be helping a professor study the hydrology processes to improve water conservation. And then there’s applying for graduation, and my last semester of undergraduate, ever! Ah, life goes so quickly!

Wishing everyone holidays filled with joy, family, and hot cocoa!

Pura Vida,

Alexandria

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That’s me in the UNA Chess Club uniform! I know how to teach people how to play chess in Spanish (pieces, moves, annotations and all).

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Being happy in Costa Rica!

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Slo-Mo Mantis Shrimps, Past in Review, and Future Professions

Honestly, I am still deliberating about what I want to do professionally. I have a wide skill set, which is the direct result of my education in liberal arts schools since I entered kindergarten. As a college student, I feel that I am among millions all around the world that have no idea how they place in society or are differentiated. I am really no different from other students who have grown up in the American education system, even with my unique opportunity to be educated at an Australian University, which is akin to higher education in the United States. I picture myself as a non-potentiated cell, with no specialized instructions that tell me to do some specific societal task. Though when I do think about it, Australia is nearing the apex of my life’s turning point. And along the way I have found that studying abroad has had effects on my level of independence.

Independence is the drive to, for example, get out of the house and try something new when no one else is looking behind your back making sure that you are okay. It is the level of comfort that has changed. For me, I see the benefits of independence as the freedom to mold myself into whatever shape I want.

One of the ways that study abroad has given me independence is University of Queensland’s amazing curriculum. I am taking four classes; two are Biology related, one is Social Studies, and the last is Environmental. For my two Biology classes, I am taking Marine and Terrestrial Ecology. I have explored Australia’s marine fauna and animals in my first week abroad on Stradbroke Island at the Moreton Bay Research Station and observed Australia’s flora and plants in both Lamington and Girraween National Parks. Although both locations have aspects of flora and fauna ecology, they are specialized and are dominated by the landscape of the national parks and Stradbroke.

On Stradbroke Island, my group researched a question about the stomatopods, or mantis shrimps, which live in burrows under the dunes of the sandflats. We measured variables such as the distances of bait from their shelter, the state of the hole (open or closed), and time that the shrimp took to take the bait. The successes and failures were also noted, and our findings were presented to the class in a PowerPoint presentation.

In both the classroom and field, we learned how to gather data, work together in small teams, and present our findings in a timely fashion. This happened efficiently thanks to the stellar coordination of my group members; one of us had the clipboard to scribe, one observed a burrow, and another took pictures and video. Back at the station, we grabbed a table and dumped our data into Excel, and together made reasonable inferences as to what had happened. We observed that the mantis shrimp could smell the scent of the bait while submerged at higher tide, but not while the tide was low. I created a small video to add to our presentation, showing the mantis shrimp attacking the bait in slow-motion. This was a really fun part of working together with technology and I felt that seeing fauna in action really added a professional layer to our work.

I could be a field biologist working for National Geographic one day, who knows! But I believe that working together with my classmates has made me into someone that is more independent and self-sustaining. In a couple of days, I will be on a bus to Heron Island Research Station along the Great Barrier Reef, which will be a fruitful end to my Marine Ecology class. We will be researching at the station, creating our own experiments yet again, but at a real world diverse marine ecosystem, where anything can be found. Just like my future.

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