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Myliyah Hanna is a Japanese and English major who spent this past spring semester studying on exchange in Tokyo, Japan. Read about her spring break adventures!
Golden Week is a week of Japanese holidays, such as Showa Day or Children’s Day, that many people take off to vacation and travel. For us exchange students it meant a week off from class, my spring break. Golden Week is an opportunity to travel and therefore the prices of the shinkansen, Japan’s infamous bullet train, flights, and hotels are bumped up. Even though expensive, I asked myself when would be the next time I get a chance like this. And so, I booked a flight and an inn in Naha, Okinawa.
When I left for Okinawa, Tokyo was cool in the morning. The sun was bright and an early morning breeze swam through the city and across the shoulders of other people pulling suitcases alongside themselves. After a three-hour flight to Naha, I found myself overdressed. My leggings and t-shirt were too warm for Okinawan weather and I was paying the price via sweat. But the air near the airport smelled of the ocean and palm trees stood tall along the roads.
I decided to stay close to the airport since Okinawa doesn’t have trains. Besides a car, buses are the main form of transportation. In Naha, however, there’s a monorail that goes through the city. My inn was about ten minutes from one of the stations on the monorail. It was also about 20 minutes from one of the most popular tourist attractions in Okinawa, Kokusai Dori (Kokusai Street), a long road abundant with yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants and Okinawan souvenir shops where one could buy a jar of habushu, or Okinawan snake wine.
The owner of the inn was a talkative, friendly older man who referred to himself as “Master” and spoke in the third person. In the morning he was usually near the entrance of the inn stretching to prepare for a daily run. Sometimes I would come down and see him playing with a short-tailed cat that often frequented the inn. The kitten was a girl who he had wanted to name Kentarou, a traditionally masculine name, but had yet to name her because he couldn’t think of anything else he liked. “See, if I named her Kentarou,” he said, “she’d probably get scared by the name and run off.” Every night he was usually in the kitchen, watching television and inviting people to sit and drink with him. Amongst some of those conversations, I had come to know him in a way that I wasn’t expecting. He was open and honest about his life, his feminine personality, his open marriage and three girlfriends. He had probably told me too much for even American standards, but I undoubtedly appreciated his honesty.
“Master” was just one person in Okinawa that I encountered and made me feel like I belonged, almost as if Okinawa had been waiting for me. Although I wasn’t free from the prolonged staring, Okinawans were more willing to approach me and ask me questions than people in Tokyo. It was also the first time I received so much positive attention on my braids since my arrival. There is something to be definitely said for Okinawa’s excellent hosting skills. It was the first time in my exchange experience thus far that I wasn’t the odd man out. I wasn’t othered. I was welcomed and I cannot begin to explain how necessary that was for me.
This isn’t to say that people in Tokyo haven’t been kind and gracious either. I’ve run into many nice people who were patient with me as I tried to explain myself in nervous Japanese. I will say, however, that even though Tokyo is the most global in its visitors and stores, Okinawa’s mindset is far more international. There is no need to remind a foreigner how un-Japanese they are in their mannerisms or mother-tongue. Okinawa knew that, and it didn’t care.
Okinawa was laid-back, lacking some of the rigid social rules I discovered in Tokyo. I noticed this especially when it came to clothing. In Tokyo, certain styles of tops and dresses–off the shoulder tops, open back dresses, spaghetti straps–have a reputation for promiscuity. In Naha, however, these tops and dresses were abundant in Naha. Simply put, it was too warm in Okinawa to cover up. Tokyo is serious; Okinawa is a beach.
Two days before my flight departing from the island, I visited an interactive workshop that specialized in traditional Okinawan sango dyeing. The building was styled after traditional Japanese architecture and soft music played overhead. Upstairs was where I sat at a table and used coral and paint to create designs on a t-shirt. The entire workshop, which was about an hour, cost about 30 dollars but it was well worth my money. Later that day I also visited Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage site and one of Okinawa’s oldest historical monuments. The inside curved and weaved through numerous rooms that each held their purposes, such as the throne room for celebrations and a raised platform room where past kings conducted political business.
I didn’t know what to expect what when I landed at the airport. I imagined long rural roads, strangers distancing themselves from me. Okinawa surprised me, opened up a whole other side of Japanese identity I thought I would rarely see. The friendliness I experienced in Okinawa alone is reason enough for me to go back. I was reminded that Japan is not only Tokyo, the one place that seems to ring in our minds the loudest when we hear the country’s name. Okinawa reminded me that central Japan, the big cities, are not the end-all-be-all. It also reminded me about the pleasures of taking a break from crowded areas to breathe and stretch, feel the ocean on my toes and the sunshine on my skin.
When I hear the name Osaka, I think of medieval Japan. I think of how important Osaka was as a trade post and a cultural hub where many of the great poets journeyed to. I think about its proximity to Kyoto, Nara, the once great capitals of Japan before it was decided that Tokyo would become the next, and final, capital.
Japanese literature classes can only teach but so much. I knew of Kansai-ben, or Kansai dialect, and of Osaka’s infamous okonomiyaki, which I can only describe as a vegetable and meat pancake. Other than that, Osaka remained a mystery to me. Japan is ultimately more than just Tokyo and I wanted to experience the Japan that wasn’t in Tokyo. After Okinawa, I returned to the airport and boarded a plane heading for the port city.
Admittedly, when I arrived in Osaka I was excited to have trains and subways to ride again. The airport stood atop an island about twenty minutes or so from Osaka itself. When I landed, the waters and sky were streaked with flecks of gold and purple, the windows of the stylish airport glittering with the sunset. It was rush hour but people were calm, taking their time to board the trains heading into the city. Osaka has its own loop line that circles the city, making stops at the most popular locations. The guesthouse I stayed at was on one of these stops, two minutes from the station.
My favorite part about Osaka is the fact that the city weaves its rivers into its architecture. Bridges are abundant, each with their own character and connecting different areas together. Atop the Umeda Sky Building is an observation deck. I went and ordered a parfait to enjoy the breathtaking view. Mountains stood tall along the horizon and I could see planes descending to land at the nearby airport. The outside observation deck had speakers playing the epitome of cafe music, with its soft guitar and drums. It was windy but the circular deck gave me one of the best views of Osaka. I could see the curves of the river and how they emptied into the sea; I could see clouds lifting off from the mountains.
It was at night, however, that Osaka’s young spirit opened itself up to me. Dotonbori is undoubtedly a tourist site, but the attention it attracted was nothing but positive. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves. I indulged in the sights and smells of ramen and okonomiyaki. There was laughter and music and relaxation. As I walked through Dotonbori, crossing bridges over a glimmering river to the other sides of the area, I walked aimlessly and took in what Osaka gave to me. I had chosen a small izakaya to eat dinner at that night. I sat at the bar, where I watched the two chefs prepare the meals and joke with one another. I was the only foreigner in there at the time, but that didn’t stop anyone from asking me questions. Before I left they wished me luck in my studies, asked that I come back to the izakaya when I’m in Osaka again.
Although my time in Osaka was limited to a day, it’s easily one of the most memorable. I didn’t want to leave. The people were incredibly friendly and unbothered about my foreignness. If anything, it emboldened many to ask me about my studies, where I came from, my reasons for coming to Japan. The week of traveling reminded me about the importance of traveling in the first place. Of course seeing monuments and visiting famous areas is always an experience in itself, but certainly, the beauty of venturing oceans away from home is to interact with people and to learn their stories and their habits. Okinawa and Osaka presented to me the beauty of human curiosity and kindness, the kind that one can find only when they travel.
I returned to Tokyo via the shinkansen, or the bullet train. I was convinced by some friends who have been to Japan numerous times to ride it at least once while I’m here. From Osaka to Tokyo it was about two and a half hours, but the trip itself felt so much shorter than that. At one point Mount Fuji stood in the distance. I scrambled to take a picture, but the train curved and Fuji-san disappeared from my sight.
I wasn’t expecting Osaka to leave such a deep impression on me, but that’s what makes it so alluring. Osaka was young and carefree, wanting to take you everywhere and show you everything it could. Osaka showed off its mountains, its rivers like snakes emptying into the sea. Osaka’s nighttime dress was bold and kind, and when it saw me off to return to school I knew I had to visit again before I returned to America. Osaka still has so much to show me, and I eagerly await my second chance.
Martha Sheridan is a Systems Engineering major who spent this past spring semester studying on exchange at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Take a look at photos from the first two months of her time abroad.
Sarah Romanus is a Global Studies major who spent the spring semester in Pune, India, participating in The Alliance: Contemporary India- Development, Economy, Society program.
Mary Long is a Foreign Affairs and English double major (with a minor in Spanish) who spent the spring semester of her third year traveling from San Diego to Hamburg on Semester at Sea. This is her first post as she prepared to embark on her voyage this past spring.
Bright Yellow Suitcase: On being ready to go but unwilling to leave
I first heard about Semester at Sea through an old friend’s Instagram account, which is indicative of a whole handful of things, but especially of the heightened globalization of the world. Without getting technical or meta or anything of the sort: how crazy is it to think that a single series of photographs determined my path five years into the future?
I distinctly remember seeing that friend’s pictures appear on my phone, promptly turning to the internet for further research, and writing down in my journal — right then, right there — that I was going to do that. At some point, some way. And here we are, over 1,700 days later, and I am less than 100 hours away from embarking on that same voyage my tenth-grade self swore to some day do.
Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to these coming moments for a long while. This past summer, when this whole dream began to become a reality, I thought through what these next few days and weeks and months would look like, over and over, and over and over. But as the fall semester rolled along I got swept up in the present — not a bad thing, certainly — and stopped throwing myself into the future.
This happened accidentally, of course, in between the tests, the readings, the car breakdown, the never-ending and hellacious visa application process, that pleasantly surprising date function, that perfectly impromptu trip to Boston where we almost missed our flight. Somewhere along the way, within and without of those innocuous, seemingly mundane moments, I was no longer thinking about spring semester and all the traveling and adventure that would fill it. I had started the semester thinking I was more than ready to go; I ended it realizing I would never be ready to leave.
Those final weeks of December were, for me, full of an uncomfortable dualism, an awkward balancing of excitement and tentativeness. I wanted more than anything to go, I was thrilled more than anything to go. And yet: it was harder to leave than I had anticipated. There is a difference, I realized, between putting yourself in a new place and taking yourself out of an old one, even temporarily. The former is freeing. The latter is frightening.
When debating whether or not to study abroad, a chief concern — petty though it may sound — was that the life I would be leaving at UVa for a semester would continue on without me. I decided to go nevertheless, telling myself that just as my UVa life would continue without me, so too would I continue without my UVa life. There was liberation in that — I wasn’t confined to any one place, any one person, any one rule.
But as the clock ticked down to that moment when I hugged my family goodbye for seven months and began the first leg of my journey to the Semester at Sea boat by boarding the plane to San Francisco, I began to feel that I didn’t want to be completely liberated from the places, people, and rules that I already knew.
There’s a great Modern Love article that talks about this jumbled mix of wanting-yet-refusing to be tied down. It’s called “Security in a Bright Yellow Suitcase”. The author remembers traveling to and from her boyfriend’s apartment each weekend, packing her belongings neatly into a bright yellow suitcase each Friday evening and Sunday morning, coming and going easily and without question, able to leave whenever she so pleases. At the start, she loves that she is able to so smoothly go, that while she relies on the boyfriend for companionship, she simultaneously stays unattached from him; she feels that her ability to move allows for a certain liberation on her end. But over time, things stop being so neatly packed into that bright yellow suitcase, and items that were once distinctly hers begin to be left at her boyfriend’s apartment, signaling a heightened coexistence. Surely there is something attractive and freeing about independence, but don’t we want someone and something to depend upon?
I don’t think I understood that concept so clearly until now. In moments of rejection or doubt, I used to reassure myself of my potential by thinking of all the places I someday hoped to go to, thinking of travel not just as a means for adventure but also for escape.
I’ve traveled before this, but never for such a consecutively long amount of time, and never during the school year. This trip has already made me realize that “escape” is something which is much more attractive in idealistic form than in reality. That I want to have both the mobility to come and go as I please as well as the desire to attach myself to a place and the people that fill it. That I want to take my yellow suitcase far and wide, but be unafraid to occasionally let its contents out of the bag.
Dominick Giovanniello spent the entire 2016-17 year studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, participating in CET’s intensive Arabic language program. He shares an experience navigating social norms.
In an effort to compensate for all of the carbs I’ve been eating and the hookah I’ve been smoking, I decided to get a gym membership a couple of months ago and to my surprise, I’ve found that I actually really enjoy it. The gym I go to is called Troy 24/7 even though it doesn’t open until 5PM on Fridays and Saturdays. It sits on the main street, right on top of a hookah store and a barbershop staffed entirely by Syrians. The gym itself can politely be described as worn…for example, all of the pads on the machines are ripped and several pieces just seem to be held on by black electrical tape. It’s not the cleanest gym in the world, and the owner’s attempts to spruce it up, like painting blue triangles on the wall, only serve to emphasize that fact. Nevertheless, the staff are super nice and helpful, and the gym members – a weird assortment of foreigners, mostly Koreans; out-of-shape older men, and tattooed gym rats – have become a familiar community for me.
The other day when I went to the gym; however, I had a weird experience that left me a little wiser. And although I generally tend to hate blog posts where X-encounter taught me Y-valuable lesson about myself/culture/life in general, I really want to talk about it since it helps me simply articulate a concept that I’ve been struggling with.
Usually when I go to the gym, I bring a bottle of water; however, this time I forgot and so I went to the front desk, paid for a bottle of water, and watched as the owner used his fingers to unscrew the hinges on the door of the broken refrigerator where the water bottles are stored. No big deal. The next time, I also forgot to bring a bottle of water, so I put some money on the counter, went to the fridge and started to unscrew the hinges. The employee on duty, Abu Noor, an Egyptian working in Jordan because the economy is better (which tells you all you need to know about how awful the situation is in Egypt), saw me as he was walking past and cried out, “Stop! What are you doing? You can’t do that!”
He marched up to me and I started to explain myself, but he cut me off, “No you can’t do that. It’s not your place. When you go to the store and there’s something you want but can’t reach, you don’t climb the shelves, do you? You ask whoever’s working there.” Abu Noor kept getting more and more agitated as he tried to explain this concept to me. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. But it’s not your fridge, just because Muhammed (the owner) did it doesn’t mean you can!”
At this point, I was extremely confused and could not figure out what he was getting so worked up about. I’d apologized, it was an innocent mistake, and not even a big deal to begin with! Realizing this, Abu Noor grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “I know you’re a respectable guy, studying Arabic, and that you want to learn as much as you can. But you need to know that when you study a language, you’re actually studying three different things: language, culture, and behavior.” It then dawned on me that he wasn’t actually mad at me, rather he was offended by the way I had just assumed that I could go about something, which in his mind wasn’t my place to do.
Although those words aren’t innocent, particularly “behavior” in a patriarchal society, I think that they’re really insightful. Learning a language, especially when you’re overseas, isn’t just about grammar and vocabulary. The ultimate goal of language learning is to be able to use that language to communicate with and connect with other people. Additionally, every word, phrase and interaction is shaped by an enormous amount of implicit cultural, historical and social knowledge. We take it for granted, but every time we interact with someone else from our own culture, we’re drawing on an entire lifetime’s worth of interactions and operating within a very firm, defined set of social norms. It’s a reminder that you need to get out of the classroom to gain a full understanding, and it doesn’t just apply to language learning, but to every field of academic learning.
Check out this Q&A from UVA Today with alumna Heather Mason, who moved to South Africa and developed a career as a travel blogger and writer.
Zachary Diamond is studying abroad in South Korea and Japan on UVA’s short-term Commerce program Finance in Northeast Asia.
After visiting Samsung in Gangnam, a group of us ventured to Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 A.D. The first thing was the temple is absolutely beautiful, especially because they are currently celebrating Buddha’s birthday so thousands of colorful paper lanterns are hung up throughout the temple. It was extremely relaxing to walk through the entire area. Apart from the central prayer building, the temple is built into a hillside allowing for a small dirt trail surrounding by trees and a giant statue of Buddha that people would circumambulate in prayer.
Below is my favorite picture I’ve taken so far on the trip as it resembles the most fascinating part of this temple. From the spot of the picture, I was standing around trees, listening to nature and wind set off peaceful wind chimes. However, directly across the street are large class skyscrapers that hold offices for national and global firms. In Seoul I found a direct contrast of modern and traditional that is not evident in the United States. While Korea feels like a new and foreign land, the skyscrapers remind me just how similar it is to a large city in the states.
At the temple, I found myself conflicted between respect and experience. At the temple, people were in deep prayer and I felt as if I was trespassing on their special place. Especially at the statue of the Buddha, I was hesitant to walk close to the statue as I did not want to distract or interfere with those in prayer. Personally, I would be extremely thrown off and probably mad at anyone who was being a tourist at my temple back home. While for me the Bongeunsa was a spot to visit on this trip to Korea, for many people it is their sacred space and normal temple. The more I stay in Seoul, the more I realize it is just like any other city, and that makes me feel somewhat guilty about trying seeing special places of the city as I’m treating the city as a spectacle and not what the locals treat it as, home.
Morgan King, a French and Foreign Affairs major, is currently studying abroad in Morocco. Check out her most recent blog!
Before I came to Morocco, I was surprisingly ignorant about most of the culture and politics of Morocco, North Africa, the Maghreb region, and the Middle East more generally. After months of exposure I feel like I’ve only tapped the surface of this complex society but here are some of the coolest cultural experiences I’ve had:
- Dressing Up like a Moroccan:
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a wide range of dress here in Morocco. Some women dress very western but many wear traditional jaballas and head scarves. Our professor, who is Moroccan, invited us to her house one day to try on her traditional formal attire. The dresses shown below would be worn to special events such as weddings or parties. We had such a fun time taking pictures and learning about Moroccan fashion!
- Making Bread like a Moroccan:
Bread is a HUGE part of the Moroccan diet (which I was thrilled to learn upon arriving here). Khobz are served with every meal and used in place of a fork/spoon. For breakfast/tea time there are dozens of breads: harsha, msemmen, krachel, etc. etc. A friend from school invited us to her parents bakery to learn how to make msemmen and harsha. It didn’t turn out very well the first time but I plan to improve!
- Dressing Up like a Moroccan (part II):
A few weeks after our first encounter with traditional Moroccan clothing, we were invited to the home of a tailor. She showed us her workshop and the immaculate dresses she sews with her hands to the customers desire. After letting us try on all of her creations she served us mint tea and sweets in typical Moroccan fashion. We chatted for hours in French about her independent entrepreneurship and breaking into the dress market in Rabat.
- Learning like a Moroccan:
Morocco is an extremely multilingual society. Everyone speaks Darija (a dialect of Arabic) but school is taught in French and many people also speak English/Spanish. In this fashion, this semester I have taken one class in Darija, two classes in French, and three classes in English. Many of my classes have focus on Moroccan politics which I knew nothing about prior to arriving. I’d love to talk to you about the Moroccan monarchy and Arab Spring
- Living like a Moroccan:
One of the best parts of my experience abroad has been living in a homestay. I live with another UVA student, a Moroccan woman, and her mother. The homestay provides the opportunity for complete language and cultural emersion. Every day I speak French with my host mom, she cooks us traditional Moroccan food, gives us insight into Moroccan thought, lends us supplies to go to cultural actives (ex. hammam), exhibits the famous Moroccan hospitality, and SO MUCH MORE. I’ve really gotten to live like a Moroccan the past few months and its something I’ll never forget.
It’s been 3 months since I landed in Morocco and I can definitively say I’ve become a better and more global person because of it. I have just over a month left in this beautiful country and I’m so excited to embrace every last moment I have here!
Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her most recent blog post!
The alarm goes off at 7:30 in the morning, a sharp vibration against my mattress loud enough to rumble me awake. I turn over onto my side, stare at the screen of my phone, and realize that I do, indeed, have to get up to get ready for class. But I set it on snooze for another fifteen minutes.
I don’t think we are as aware of it as we could be but, at some point, we fall into routines. We put our shirts on with one arm first before the other, then the pants, and then the socks. We pour the cereal into the bowl before the milk. We make sure to grab the keys before we head out for the day. I think a lot of these little rituals are inherent at this point in our lives, routines that are so deeply carved in our muscle memory that one step out of place would cause a twinge of confusion.
At the same time, I wonder if the routines practiced over in America would follow me here into Tokyo. Would I still wake up the same, walk at the same pace, execute the same social cues out in public like I did in America? I don’t ask these questions to have a clear cut answer; there is no yes or no. In a few days I will have been in Japan for a month, and while that lends itself to a decent amount of time to have a response to that question it still isn’t one that is directly answered.
Instead, I’ve come to understand it as doing as the Romans. In a new country and a new environment with its own history and patterns, I needed time to figure out how to comfortably move throughout Tokyo. There were days of awkward language exchange, where Japanese leapt off my tongue and drowned in a pool of miscommunication. There were days of mistakes and remaining a “typical foreigner” in the eyes of onlooking natives. But it is in those discomforts and in my own personal sense of being a foreigner here in Japan that I find myself developing more routines. Every day is a chance to practice speaking and continue to strengthen my language acquisition. Every day is a chance to learn a new rule or discover a new place and why it’s significant in Japan.
Unlike many of my friends, I have never traveled overseas until this semester. Realistically my family can’t afford overseas travel; scholarships and loans are how I’m surviving here. This is the first time I’m truly engaging with myself on an international scale, figuring out how I work amongst a country that is not mine and where the language is still so new to me. As daunting as it may sound, I’m thriving here. It is challenging to go across oceans and time zones and separate oneself from everything that is familiar to them. Humans are creatures of habit and putting oneself in another environment where one has to create new habits can be difficult, but thus far it’s been rewarding.
One of my favorite habits happens whenever I am leaving or entering the dorm. The lobby is stone tile. On the right wall is a glass window that the caretaker of our dorm can see through. Ahead are the mailboxes, and on the left side is a wooden step and more rows of little storage boxes. In Japan, most apartments and dorms have a standard genkan, or the entranceway. Much like at home where I took my shoes off at the front and then put them into the closet, I take off my shoes and step up into the dorm. For some, it might take some getting used to especially if taking off the shoes at home was never practiced. Doing this every day not only attests to the spotlessness of the dorm floors but of how these routines have blended together for me.
As a creature of habit, it is near impossible for us to escape a subconscious need for structure. And while that it is true, it doesn’t mean we are required to stay attached to any one habit for the rest of our lives. Perhaps that’s the beauty of traveling overseas and being able to break away from habits that can become so mundane after years of repetition.
Coming to Japan was a breath of fresh air. I put on a new pair of glasses, drank in the vivid sights and smells of this chain of islands. I figured out the best streets to take to get to the konbini or the supermarket. I figured out the route to my classes, which buildings they’re being housed. I figured out what time to eat dinner was best since the dining room would be full of friends and at a decent enough time to have dessert later. I figured out how to respond to cashiers at stores, how to hand them my cash or card.
It still remains, though, that the one habit I developed as soon as I got off the plane is the openness to being wrong. I certainly had that back home, but I had to develop a real understanding that I was going to make mistakes, like throwing paper in the noncombustible bin or fumbling over my Japanese and saying something strange. But in a way, reminding myself of that during this first (almost) month I have reminded myself to be patient. I don’t have the malleable mind of a small child anymore and I’m not a natural-born polyglot, but every day I have to push myself to find the courage to speak Japanese. And slowly, but surely, I’m improving.
Christopher Hoffa is currently studying abroad in London at the City University of London. Check out his blog below!
I am checking in with my 8th blog post while being abroad! I am actually currently on a train back into London after a trip to Ireland. The trip was wonderful and Ireland was absolutely beautiful. It was actually my first trip by myself, so it felt much different than anything else I had done before. Though it is different, I did enjoy it a lot. Everything that you want to do is completely in your control and that was something that I definitely enjoyed. With all of this being said, I will move into my main topic of this post, and that will be post-exam life here in London. My flight from London back to the United States is not until June 2nd, giving me over a month of time here without any school.
I will talk about the last two weeks, starting with the first week when my brother and mother came to visit. It was there first time out of the United States, which made things very interesting. I enjoyed watching them attempt to learn the culture here in London. During the entirety of the trip, I couldn’t help but think if how they acted was how I acted when I first entered the United Kingdom. They were amazed by the smallest things and clearly did not understand the norms of the society. This made sense though, as they had no idea what it would be like going into the trip. However, by the end of the week, they seemed to understand a lot about London and were beginning to fit in. They understood how to use the Tube, or Metro System, here quite easily. My favorite part watching them learn the very British words and finally understanding some of the locals, who they were very confused by at the beginning of their trip.
After they left London, I went on my first trip alone to Ireland. During my trip, I visited Dublin and Galway. The cities surprisingly different quite a bit from one another. Dublin was a much more modern city and the capital of the country. In terms of architecture, surprisingly did not remind me of any of the cities that I had been to before the trips. In terms of culture, it did remind me a bit of London, which makes a lot of sense given its history. From there, I went to Galway for a day, which was completely different from Dublin. I expected them to be fairly similar, but Galway really felt like it was a small town. It was filled with very cultural life, with music being played everywhere. There were a lot of great food shops and not too many tourists. It really felt like a true, small Irish town. I would say that Dublin felt much more like a tourist city, much different than Galway.
To wrap up this post, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed my semester abroad. Even though I am still here, it feels much different without having to go to class. It gives me a lot of time to think about what is going on in my life and giving me much more time to appreciate my surroundings. With a little over a month left, I will definitely be focusing on enjoying my remaining time outside of the United States.
Until next time,
Katherine Johnson is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Philosophy. Check out her trip to Sicily below!
After nearly three months of restlessly waiting for our group trip to Catania, I still was not prepared for the limitless amount of food we ate. Our professor warned us to bring our control top leggings, that it was a good idea to fast the day before, and even showed us a Powerpoint of everything that must be tried. Four days in Sicily – a delicious adventure – and an entirely new culture of cuisine.
Lunch in Palermo: We started with the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, an especially memorable restaurant because it actually used to be a favorite of the notorious Mafia boss ‘Lucky’ Luciano. From arancini to sardines, panelle (chickpea fritters) to eggplant parmesan, our first typical Sicilian meal was nothing short of amazing. Focaccia was passed around the table until the basket was as empty as the wine bottles, and we finished with the absolute best cannoli in possibly all of Italy.
Lunch in Catania: After hiking Mount Etna, we settled in a little gift-shop restaurant in plain view of the mountains. Coca-Cola was placed on the table for the first time since I’ve arrived in Europe, so we immediately traded up for red wine. The bruschetta came first, and already we noticed that bread in Sicily is very different from bread in Tuscany (although both were actually incredible). Sausage, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna were quickly placed in front of us, and devoured even quicker. For a mountainside restaurant whose main business comes from hikers, I give it a 10/10.
Snack in Catania: Straight from the Mt. Etna restaurant, we took our bus back to the city and stopped in front of Pasticceria Savia for a food and walking tour. The only way we were able to get through this much food was remembering that it’s a marathon…not a sprint. Two types of arancini were split amongst us all – and for everyone who has never heard of that word before: arancini are stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. My favorite are those filled with mozzarella; but ragu, ham and cheese, or spinach are other common types. Arancini get their Italian name from the word arancia (meaning orange in English) because they faintly resemble this fruit in their color and texture. Side note: some parts of Sicily call it arancine (feminine) while in Catania it’s called arancini (masculine). We thankfully had to walk to our next destination for desert: granita with brioche. Molto bene.
Dinner(s) in Catania: Our group gave a lot of business to Ristorante Marco, because we ate dinner there two nights in a row. I’m not even kidding when I say there were more plates than table space – we were stacking. Two types of ricotta cheese, mushrooms, four types of horse meat, artichoke, five types of salamis, two types of bread, eggplant, fish, fries, frittata, and of course, wine, surrounded us for hours. For desert there was lemon granita and chocolate salami – which is not actually salami but made from cocoa, broken biscuits, butter, eggs, and a bit of port wine or rum. If you’re ever in Catania, put this place on your bucket list. Oh, and try horsemeat because it’s actually amazing.
I’ll save you the description of how full we were from this weekend, but I’m sure you can imagine. So when you get a free moment, hop on a plane to Catania and try EVERYTHING, because we all deserve Sicilian food.
Caroline Alberti is currently studying abroad in Toulouse, France, on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!
I love speaking French, going out, and meeting people. In fact, I have been trying to go out more here in an effort to meet more people and speak more French (it’s educational Mom and Dad, I promise!). Before coming here, I was nervous about how I would received in French social situations as a foreigner. I’d heard stereotypes that French people were more closed off, or easily offended by imperfect control of their language. However, I have found this not at all to be the case. While I definitely think that French people are less open than Americans, the people I have met have been very kind and I have met a lot of great people.
The funny thing is though, meeting new people here in France is almost formulaic. If you are American and deciding to travel abroad anytime soon (like in the next 4 years to be exact) you may want to expect the interactions of the following sort:
Step 1: The “Bonjour”
The greeting, usually a bonjour and a bise is the first engagement. As I said before I am still getting used the kiss-greeting thing. This is the step where very quickly my accent is detected. I have a love-hate relationship with my accent. On one hand I think it gives more liberty to make mistakes and makes me interesting. On the other hand, I don’t find American accents particularly pleasing but that could just be me.
Step 2: The “Where are you from?”
The accent thing inevitable triggers there “Where are you from?”. When this happens I have decide how annoying I want to be, and I either give a direct answer or I say “guess!!”. It’s really interesting to me to see where people think I am from. Almost never has someone guessed American. Most often I get English, or German and occasionally Irish, which is so surprising to me because I think that my accent just screams “AMERICAN”.
I think people don’t usually guess American because in fact in Toulouse there are not really that many Americans since it’s not a super popular spot for American study abroad programs. I actually really like this about Toulouse, since it means that being an American here is kinda special, and meeting other Americans here is rare which makes encountering one of my compatriots here is out of the ordinary and so when it does happen it’s a treat.
There “Where are you from questions” extends to where exactly in the United States I am from, where I have a little existential crisis not knowing whether or not to say PA or VA.
Step 3: The “TRUMP” Part
It may not happen right away (all though often it does). We may get talking about the weather, or studies, or music or whatever, and I’ll think I’m safe… but no no no. The question always comes sooner or later: “So…. what do you think of Donald Trump?”
*Sigh* Then there it is. The unavoidable topic as an American abroad in this day and age.
When I first starting receiving this question, I was a little surprised, but not at all bothered. In fact, I was glad to have an open ear to my rantings about the madness of this past election. It’s something, that like most Americans, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on (which I won’t really put in this blog because it is not a blog about politics– though I feel like anyone who knows me probably knows where I stand politically). However, with each politically charged discussion I began to get more and more tired of talking about how crazy and doomed my country is (even though a big part of me agrees).
I think the political situation in our country makes it a really weird time to be an American abroad. I am surprised with the bluntness that French people approach this topic with me, since in French culture, personal things like that aren’t discussed as upfrontly. I am also surprised how blunt people are because in theory (though NOT in reality) I could be a Trump supporter. So far, I haven’t met any French person who aligns themselves with Trump’s ideals (if you can call them “ideals”), although with the way the French election cycle is going, I am sure they are out there. When I am asked about politics in America, I think they make the assumption that I am (rightly) unhappy about the current situation. I never feel like I am being blamed or aggressed for Trump’s election, which is something I was worried about before coming. More accurately I feel like the topic is breached with a sense of curiosity and often with pity as well.
It’s frustrating to repeat the same conversation, but it’s one I feel like I have to engage in or else people with think that I don’t have opinions on it or that I support Trump, both of which are definitely not true.
But over all, it’s hard to complain about people being interested in my country and wanting to hear my opinion. I am glad to be able to represent my country abroad at a time like this when a lot of bad images are presented of the United States abroad. In fact, this type of cultural diplomacy that happens within each exchange, the sharing of ideas and opinions, is one of the reasons I love traveling and studying abroad. These interactions, the ones I have had both here and in Morocco and elsewhere have definitely challenged me and helped me widen my horizons and perspectives, and for that I am very grateful.
So Frenchies, keep the questions coming. I promise you I will have an answer.
Anyway, hopefully this post wasn’t too political, rant-y, or pessimistic. I’ll try to whip up a little something more lighthearted next post!
ALSO, since this post was very light on pictures, enjoy this photo of my best friend in Toulouse and love of my life, Cissi, my host dog.
Isn’t she beautiful?? My heart melts every day when I see her.
Pce, luv, & politics,
Jessica Park is currently studying abroad in Korea for the UVA Exchange at Korea University. Check out her photo blog below!
Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his newest experience!
Fallas of Valencia 2017: Intangible World Heritage
Fallas. Where do I even begin? Professors and other students talked up this festival to me long before I arrived in Valencia, and now I know why. Even after having lived through it, I still find it difficult to explain the “locura” (madness) that is “las Fallas.” The celebration is truly unlike any other, and although I doubt my words will be able to fully explain the celebration or convey what an incredible experience it was, I’ll try my best!
Fallas is a festival of fire that takes place in the city of Valencia every year from March 15th to 19th. During this time, huge, brightly painted wooden sculptures are erected in plazas and public areas and are ultimately burned to the ground with fireworks displays at midnight on the 19th. From the minute the clock strikes 12:01 am the morning of March 15th (and honestly, even way before that point – certain festivities begin as early as February 3rd!) until the moment the last ember dies out, the city of Valencia is in a perpetual, 24 hour “fiesta loca.”
Here’s an example of a falla (the Falla Cuba-Literato Azorín, to be precise)
As if the opportunity to be living in Valencia and experience all this wasn’t cool enough, my best friend Sam joined me for the week! I loved getting the chance to celebrate Fallas with her 🙂
The most commonly agreed on explanation for the origin of Fallas dates all the way back to a pagan celebration during the middle ages. Because of scarce daylight hours during the months of winter, Valencian carpenters frequently labored far after the sun had set. In order to continue working without daylight, the carpenters would hang oil lamps from precariously built wooden structures. As winter came to an end and the days lengthened, these structures were no longer necessary, and the carpenters would set them on fire to celebrate the Spring Equinox and the lengthening of the days. Eventually, the celebration was Christianized and made to coincide with “La diada de Sant Josep” to honor Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of carpenters. The day of Saint Joseph always falls on the 19th of March, and is also when Father’s Day is celebrated throughout Spain.
These crude wooden structures from the middle ages have evolved so much that they have almost nothing to do with the fallas you’ll see today (except for the fact that they’re flammable). Fallas nowadays are made of what is essentially papier-mâché and sanded wood, painted over in bright colors. Fallas are satirical in nature and normally are designed to poke fun at someone or something (and really, anything is fair game). In this way, fallas vary in style and subject each festival because they offer social and political commentary on the events of the year (you had better believe that there was no shortage of mini Donald Trumpsbeing burnt to the ground in Valencia last weekend, and I can’t say the sight brought me much remorse).
This year, the day of Saint Joseph (also known as the Cremà, the last day of the festival when the burning of the fallas takes place) happened to fall on a Sunday, which was just a coincidence. However, this means that the largest days of the celebration fell on a weekend, allowing many more people from outside of Valencia to take days off and experience the festival. What’s more, 2017 is the first year that Fallas has been recognized by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as intangible world heritage. Both of these factors made the festival even larger (and more crowded) than normal. All in all, it’s estimated that the population of Valencia doubles (some will argue it almost triples) during the week of the celebration. The preliminary numbers indicate that this year’s festival was record breaking, as the city welcomed well over a million tourists and spent around 8 million euros (and remember, that number is even larger when converted to US dollars) on the festivities.
Most “barrios,” or neighborhoods in Valencia have a “casal faller,” a committee that sponsors the neighborhood’s falla. This committee is composed of different residents of the neighborhood who oversee the falla’s design, construction, and erection. The process lasts year-round (no exaggeration – they’ve already begun planning for 2018 and it hasn’t even been a week yet!) and brings neighborhoods together to form tight-knit communities. The process can also be quite costly – many committees sponsor fundraiser paella dinners (a typical Valencian dish) throughout the year to help defray costs. Each year, the neighborhoods enter a friendly competition with each other to see who can sponsor the best falla (as deemed by a committee of judges). To be as fair as possible, neighborhoods are separated into different levels of competition based on their budgets. The top tier of competition consists of neighborhoods that have been sponsoring fallas for years, and are so good at it by now that they can mount absolutely spectacular and humongous fallas (or in other words, they have a huge budget at their disposal). For my pictures of fallas at the bottom of this post, I looked up the names of all the fallas in the top tier of competition. For the rest of them, I’m just going to leave them captionless, because looking up all those names would take forever! Fallas are normally named after the intersection of streets they are placed on, and at times the official names can get pretty lengthy.
As if the normal fallas weren’t enough, each casal faller normally sponsors a falla infantil, a smaller falla (normally more lighthearted and less satirical) for kids to enjoy. Each individual character on a falla is known as a ninot. Each casal faller chooses one ninot that they feel is an example of their best work and most representative of their falla as a whole to be put on display the month before the festival. Leading up to the week of Fallas, anyone can visit the museum and cast a vote for their favorite ninot. The ninot with the most votes becomes the “ninot indultat” of the year. This means the ninot is pardoned from the flames, and is kept in the museum instead of being burned. This is done for both regular fallas and fallas infantiles.
The ninot indultat from this year, depicting a scene that one might see in Valencia’s famous Mercat Central
Each casal faller also chooses one fallera mayor and one faller mayor infantil to represent their neighborhood falla in various ceremonies like parades and events at the town hall. For these events, the girls wear traditional fallera dresses and have their hair done up in a particular style. There is also one fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil chosen to represent the entire city, a great honor.
The fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil of Valencia, 2017
Walking up and down the streets of the city during Fallas, Valencia sounds like a war zone. You can hear explosions 24 hours a day coming from “petardos,” or firecrackers. If you’re like I was before I came to Valencia, when you hear the word firecrackers, you think of cute, small little packages that pop when you light them on fire. Not in Valencia! Petardos make huge explosions, a very loud bang, char the ground, and flash brightly. They can either be lit from the ground or thrown (theoretically also at the ground, unfortunately sometimes thrown at people). Many Valencians use the illegal variety packed with an excess of gunpowder, which can be quite dangerous if set off incorrectly. Petardos are used every morning around 8 am as part of the “Despertà,” or wake-up call, where partygoers roam the streets and set off explosives to wake up anyone still sleeping and start off the day’s festivities. Although most people exercise common sense and are able to set off petardos without getting hurt, there are inevitably accidents, and the hospital burn units are always busy during the week of Fallas. There are even men who will set off full-on fireworks (which is also illegal) down in the Rio, the drained river that the city of Valencia converted into a park system. It was astonishing for me to see so many young children set off and/or play with these explosives with minimal or no parental supervision. The camp counselor in me wanted to run up and take the explosives out of their hands, but I had to restrain myself.
Venders selling food or knick-knacks out of mobile stations are also very common. Although the sale of food is supposed to be regulated and the vendors are theoretically approved by the health department, we’ll just say from my observations, the standards seem to me a bit more flexible than they might be in the US. I was advised by my host mom to buy food sooner rather than later, as some vendors don’t change the oil they use to fry food in from one day to the next, which makes buying food the last few days kind of dicey. Sam and I took her up on that suggestions, and enjoyed some delicious churros and buñuelos on our first night.
Another quality tip from my host mom was to go out the nights leading up to the beginning of the festival. This way, Sam and I got to see a lot of the fallas without having to deal with crowds. We saw a good number of fallas during the “Plantà,” the process of setting up the fallas, so some of them were only partially constructed. However, it was a lot more pleasant than trying to elbow your way through lots of people in the midday heat. In fact, some families will take their children out at insane times (like 4 am) to see the fallas in order to avoid crowds.
There are lots of events and traditions that go on during the week of Fallas. Every day at 2 pm, there is a Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the town hall square). For this event, the crowds are simply unavoidable. You have to get to the plaza at least an hour early if you want a half decent spot. The Mascletà is similar to a fireworks display, except it’s put on during the day, and the fireworks stay closer to the ground and are even louder. The joke is that the Mascletà is so deafening, you can hardly hear it – but you can feel it! The vibrations you feel from all the explosions, particularly at the finale, are dangerously potent (I’m talking so strong, we were warned to keep our jaws slack to avoid chipping a tooth). What’s even crazier, the Mascletà starts long before fallas do, on the 26thof February to be precise! And seeing as it’s a daily occurrence, the city of Valencia spends a great deal of money on pyrotechnics well before the actual Fallas celebration even begins.
Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The big spaceship-looking tower is the falla of the town hall, which has nothing in particular to do with the Mascletà, they just happen to be in the same place.
There are also many “cavalcadas,” or parades, throughout the week. At any time during the festival, but especially during these parades, you’ll see people dressed up as falleros and falleras, wearing traditional Valencian outfits. You will also hear all sorts of bands and percussion ensembles playing music to rally people up and excite passerby.
(Very cute) falleras infantiles!
Each casal faller has its own parade to the “Plaza de la Virgen” (Plaza of the Virgen, although I feel like in this case the translation was hardly necessary), where they offer bouquets of flowers to the Virgen Mary on behalf of their neighborhood. This is known as the Ofrendà. All of the offerings are used to construct a larger-than-life Virgin Mary made out of flowers that is left on display for the week (and I feel the need to note that this structure is not burned).
However, my favorite of all the Fallas traditions are the castillos, or fireworks shows. They are absolutely stunning, and the photos don’t begin to do them justice. I also must say, as much as I love my country, these fireworks displays put the 4th of July to complete shame. Each night, the show gets bigger and starts even later. The biggest show, the Gran Nit del Foc, doesn’t start until 1:30 am!
But then again, during Fallas, the city never sleeps. This is a week where there are more people in the streets at 5am than at 9am. Fallas is a time where everyone kicks back and enjoys themselves, socializes and unwinds. However, the celebration has negative aspects as well. There is a horrific amount of trash generated in the likes of beer bottles, discarded wrappers, and the remains of fireworks that lie scattered all throughout the streets. Clubs and discos move outside, and blast music at all hours of the day, preventing people who live nearby from sleeping at night. The city infrastructure becomes absolutely paralyzed. Driving anywhere is nearly impossible with so many roads blocked-off to mount fallas, or converted to pedestrian-only for the week. This causes any remaining roads to become insufferably congested with traffic, to the point that it’s really just quicker to walk and save yourself the trouble and the gas. The metro still runs, but it becomes insanely crowded and everyone is shoved into the train like sardines (Sam and I got to experience this firsthand on multiple occasions). Businesses are shut down for the holiday and it can be difficult or near impossible to run errands or get things done during the festival. And this is not to mention the considerable environmental impact of so many fireworks, Mascletà’s, and burning fallas. For these reasons and more, some residents of Valencia dislike the Fallas, and others leave the city for the week altogether. Many residents stand somewhere in the middle, as they enjoy the celebration but dislike the effects it has on the city. My host mom is of this persuasion – she told me that she has seen enough of Fallas in her day that she would have left the city for the week had I not been staying with her. However, from my perception at least, the majority of Valencians seem to enjoy Fallas and are proud of what it represents for them in terms of cultural heritage.
Last but certainly not least, at midnight on the 19th is the “Cremà” (burning), the fiery end to the festival. Explosives are laid underneath the fallas, and when the clock strikes the hour, they are ignited. The fallas infantiles burn at 10 pm, the regular fallas burn at midnight, and the big falla by the town hall burns at 1am. These times tend to vary based on the amount of firefighters available to supervise and control the burning. Fallas that have won awards may also be burned later so more people can come to watch. I was amazed at how quickly the fallas burned, and how I could feel the heat from the fire even being a considerable distance away. At first, I thought it was sad that artists spend the whole year crafting these beautiful sculptures, only to burn them to ashes. And it is sad, in a way. But I now understand that it is all done in the spirit of the Fallas. The festival reminds us that beauty is not eternal and doesn’t last forever, and neither do the fallas. The Cremà symbolizes rebirth, a sort of purification through fire – out with the old, in with the new.
The Cremà on a Sunday night
I can now say with certainty that the title of World Heritage is well-deserved by the Fallas! I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to experience such an incredible festival firsthand and will always treasure my memories from this week.
Sarah Genovese is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Foreign Affairs. Check out her spring break below.
You could call this the Spring Break Edition of my blog posts, because after traveling to three different cities (Barcelona, Lisbon, and Madrid) in a very abbreviated time span I don’t know quite where to start. To make sense of it all, I’ve decided to do “favorite” and “least favorite” part of each city, and tried to include some of what I learned in each place.
Barcelona: I was surprised how much I loved this city. Favorite parts had to be learning about the history of the city and the people (free tours are great for this kind of overview, and I did one in every city I went to) and the nightlife (because if you didn’t try to stay up all night with the Spanish, I’m not sure you’ve gained a full understanding of the culture). My least favorite part of the city was the necessity of using the metro– I’ve gotten used to cities one can walk around in quite comfortably, and during a long trip with multiple plane rides it was stressful to add metro trips to the equation. But really, that’s a stretch. I was surprised how much I loved Barcelona. I definitely discovered how crucial learning the history can really be to one’s experience in a city.
Lisbon: my favorite part of Lisbon was Lisbon itself– I could spend all day and night just absorbing this beautiful city and its many different neighborhoods, and to some extent that’s exactly what I did. I can’t wait to go back. My least favorite part of my time in Lisbon was that I got so sick I physically couldn’t leave the house my last day there. No delicious Portuguese dinner for my last meal (only a five piece McChicken nugget), no lovely pastel de nata pastries, and no hike in Sintra. It was all pretty devastating. I learned that traveling can be taxing and taking care of yourself extra carefully is definitely in order.
Madrid: my favorite part of Madrid was El Prado (this museum makes spending 7 hours in a museum easy) and walking down Gran Via. My least favorite part was that compared to Lisbon, it just lacked charm. It’s a big city with a lot to do, but I never felt completely blown away. Still, I learned that every city really does have something amazing to offer–if my friend hadn’t been visiting from the US I probably never would have thought to go to El Prado, and I really would have been missing out.
Orian Churney is a 3rd year electrical engineer currently studying abroad in Hong Kong! Check out how he is settling into life as an exchange student there.
My time at HKUST is going pretty well. The classes are pretty similar to the ones in America, with both lectures and homework assignments. The library is pretty nice; there are a lot of places to study both in groups and by yourself. One thing that’s different than my home university is that essentially you have to take the elevator most of the time. To get to the main academic concourse, I have to take two elevators that each go up 10 floors, and after that most of my classes were somewhere on the second, fourth, or fifth floors. I had to get really used to taking elevators and some of the etiquette that the local students had about getting on and off elevators. But overall, it isn’t too hard, and I can get to most of my classes in around 15 to 20 minutes.
There are also some other interesting things that I have gotten used to over the first month of being here. I’m starting to get used to walking around with a lot of people around me, which is somewhat different than being able to drive around by yourself all of the time. The transportation around the city is pretty nice, as well. It’s a lot easier to get around when you don’t have to pay attention to directions while driving, and you just need to make sure which train to go on and which stop to get off at. The novelty of taking the train might wear off at some point, but for me it’s still pretty interesting to be able to easily travel around. It’s also interesting how much walking that you can do in large cities. At my hometown, if I wanted to go to the grocery store nearby, I would probably take my car, but over here everything is close by, so it’s a lot easier to just walk and take the metro. I don’t think many people even need to own a car, because of the public transportation.
One thing that is a pretty big change from my usual habits is that I now take notes on loose-leaf paper instead of in notebooks. This might not seem like a big difference, but I usually take a lot of notes in class, and now I have a bunch of paper in random folders. The folders are different too: instead of having two pockets arranged like a book, many folders just have one big pocket like a slide paper. I think many students took notes using electronic devices like a tablet, though. My professors post lecture slides online, which are pretty useful for studying, also. In general, my classes are going well.
Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her pre-departure blog!
At eleven years old I had this dream of being in Japan, exploring the country, speaking Japanese and indulging in the culture. At eleven I was starry-eyed, pupils dilated with an unyielding love for a country I had neither been to nor knew of my existence. Perhaps Japan was my first love, though hardly romantic. Instead, the eleven-year-old me loved Japan because it was the opposite of everything that an American Black girl at my age was, according to the scrutinizing eyes of society, supposed to love, and at the time I reveled in its difference.
Eleven-year-old me still lingers in my aged heart, pressing her greedy fingertips against the valves and chambers to beg for indulgence in all things Japan. I cave in sometimes, end up spending an hour or three watching vloggers in Japan live their daily lives. Although the topics are not always interesting–how many videos about grocery shopping in a Japanese supermarket can you watch without exiting the tab?–I remain attentive and eager to see even the tiniest glimpse into Japan. I was looking through the peephole, falling further and further into a rabbit hole.
But the difference between eleven-year-old me and Myliyah now is the difference of time and the awareness of my place in the world. Children are beautiful, their naivety and innocence of the world a true reflection of just how important they are. Children are malleable and as easy as it is to mold a child it is easy to strip them of that warm gentle beauty. The difference of nine years and two and a half years of college is stark, unavoidable. My edges are sharpened, my senses heightened, but if one thing has remained it is my need for knowledge.
In a few weeks, I’ll be on a plane for nearly a day of travel to end up in Japan, where I’ll spend a few months studying and exploring. Even now I can hardly believe it. Kids that come from my demographic–working class, minority, from the inner city–don’t get much hope. You can’t do it because society says you can’t. My defiant nature wouldn’t let me be another example for the naysayers, and here I am years later: attending an excellent university, studying abroad with a few scholarships under my belt. I don’t want to use this as a chance to brag but rather as an opportunity to reveal that there is an entire vault of intelligent, bright kids and teenagers waiting for their chance but not always having access to the resources to get there. For that, I am blessed and privileged, and for them, I’ll dedicate this blog.
The closer I get to the date, the more I realize that I don’t have an international mindset. Per Japan’s travel policies, I have to have a visa to enter and stay in the country. I received the documents to obtain said visa in mid-February and decided to make a trip to the embassy on one my days off. It was located in a building on Park Avenue, in the heart of Midtown. I signed in, and a few minutes later a security guard led a few other people and myself into an elevator. On the 18th floor was the embassy. The walls were pastel green and orange with soft carpeting and announcements printed on bright, colorful paper; the feel of the room reminded me of a daycare. After walking through the metal detectors a gentleman pointed me to the visa window, which was right in front of a group of Japanese people watching television.
The woman greeted me and I explained myself to her. It was in the midst of our exchange that she asked if I had my passport, and I froze because I didn’t. I knew exactly where it was too–back at home in a file cabinet. She smiled and laughed some, told me that I could come back once I had my passport. I nodded and apologized, excused myself to the side to reorganize.
I suppose at any other time that I didn’t have my documents I would be highly annoyed with myself. What the hell, Myliyah? I would think. That time around I wasn’t. Instead, I thought, duh. Of course, I would need my passport for a visa into another country. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. It was in that thinking that I realized that my mind, my actions, my everything, was still so American. Nine-year-old Myliyah couldn’t begin to comprehend how I couldn’t just go to Japan and stay without putting in any kind of work or effort. Beyond learning the language, it’s necessary that I stretch my mindset to encompass both the perspectives of a young American woman and, soon, a young international woman.
To which I now ask myself the question: what does it mean to be international? Does it mean being able to speak another language, do as the Romans? Does it mean forgoing my American identity to usurp a bit of a Japanese one? Does it mean to live and interact in Japan as I have done so all my life in America?
I have no answers for these questions right now. But now with the visa in my passport, I will get on the plane and, perhaps in these next few months of travel, I will find answers to these questions. I won’t say that these will be definite and absolute and will be the same for every foreigner that studies abroad. Instead, these blogs will serve as a recording of my truths and how I will experience them in Japan.
Katin Tran is currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. Take a look at her photos thus far!
Today is March 15th and I am here to update you all again with my 5th blog post. It has been exactly 2 months since I left the United States. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by, especially since I have started to travel more recently. In this post, I want to talk a little about how I’m feeling in London and about some of my recent travel.
First, I’ll talk about London. To put it briefly, I believe I have adapted quite well to life in London. I know my surroundings extremely well and have found a nice group of friends. Additionally, I have become acclimated with all of the classes here. The part I was most worried about, living in a city, has surprisingly been something that I have come to truly love. There is always something to do and getting from place to place is very simple. In terms of cultural differences, I think that I have adapted fairly well to them. There are still some small things that bother me, but as a whole I have gotten used to them. One, for example, is that people tend to show up late to class. When I say late, I don’t mean a minute or two. Almost every class there are students that arrive anywhere from 1 minute after class starts to an hour after class starts. To me, that is something that I don’t see very much in the US, but is something that I have definitely gotten used to here in the UK. I would say that this is something that initially shocked me, but is something that I am now somewhat comfortable with.
Another cultural difference that I have noticed is that students will talk during a lot of the lectures. In the US, this is something that is extremely frowned upon and the professor will call the students out for. Here in the UK, there is a lot more talking and the professors do not seem to care a lot of the time. This is something that I have definitely not gotten used to, and I don’t think that I will. I sort of see it as a sign of disrespect, while it has been normalized in the UK. To each their own, however, right?
Now that I’ve talked a little bit about life in the UK, I’ll now talk about my most recent trip to Berlin. The travel during the trip was extremely rough, as a workers’ strike at the Berlin Airport had us rerouted to Hamburg, where we then had to take a train to Berlin. To make the travel portion even worse, my group purchased the wrong subway tickets and German train enforcement checked them and asked us to get off the train. From there, we all received fines even though we had not purposely used the train system incorrectly. This was definitely an experience that will be a life lesson, especially in regards to communicating with law enforcement within a country that the primary language is not English. Other than that, Berlin was an awesome experience. Berlin is filled with history and is definitely a place that I wish I would have had more time in. As a whole, I have genuinely enjoyed traveling to countries where the main language is not English, as it puts me out of my comfort zone and I feel as if it helps me to grow as a person.
All in all, the two week since my last update have been great. I can not believe that I leave in 2.5 months, something that is quite sad to me. I will definitely look to make the most of my remaining time in the UK though.
Pictured: Here I am with a professional League of Legends player (Jankos) that I met at a match in Berlin. It was quite a great experience seeing a professional E-Sports match.
Until next time,
Chris Hoffa is a third year in the School of Commerce studying abroad in London. Check out his adventures in his posts!
Hey everyone! In this post, I primarily want to focus on my first trip to a place where the native language was not English. This was place was Paris, an absolutely beautiful city. I had two experiences that I really want to focus on, as I believe they were pretty wonderful and really opened my eyes to some things about life outside of the United States. Coincidentally, they both happened to occur on the same night, even though the trip spanned over three days.
I will start with the stories in chronological order. The first story relates to the Hostel that we stayed at in Paris. When we got off of the Paris Metro, we arrived in a part of the city that didn’t seem that nice and was way out of the center of town. I quickly realized that we were in a more residential portion of the city. After about a 10 minute walk late at night, we arrived at the hostel. What was surprising was the fact that the hostel was simply a town house. Chantal, the lady who owned the hostel, lived there along with her brother and her children. It was literally her house, and it was unlike any other hostel that I have stayed at. The room that we stayed in was her daughter’s room, which was very surprising to me. To me, this was much different than the United States, as I don’t believe most parents rent their children’s rooms out to strangers. I realized that her daughter was literally away at school and she was renting her room out. This was something that most parents joked about, but was something that Chantal was actually doing. It made me realize the cost of living in a city, or Paris that is, is probably considerably higher than most other places. In our culture, renting your child’s room out while they’re at school seems taboo, but in another culture I learned that it may not be.
The second story that I want to discuss relates to the restaurant that we went to that night. After settling in Chantal’s daughter’s room, we realized how hungry we were. We strolled around the busy street looking for a place to eat. Two men running a Kebab shop quickly pulled us in and it was hard for us to say no. Only one spoke English, and not very well. We tried to communicate our order difficultly, but eventually succeeded in doing so. The food was absolutely delicious, but what followed was pretty amazing to me. The two men came over and talked to us, and I mean both of them (even the one that didn’t speak English). They asked where we were from and wanted to know all about us and our trip to Paris. One had to go as another customer entered, but the non-English speaker stayed to talk to us. For the next 10 minutes or so, he attempted to give us advice through hand gestures and French. It was difficult to understand, but he gave us tips about pickpockets and how to work against them. This was amazing to me because, honestly, if I had two customers who didn’t share my language, I would simply serve them their food and walk away. On the other hand, this man seemed to care about us and wanted to make sure we had a wonderful trip in Paris. After giving us advice, his friend came back, translated some stuff, and talked to us a bit more. Eventually we ended up leaving the restaurant, but the experience was wonderful to me. It truly showed me that kindness is universal and language was not a barrier to it.
Well, that is all that I have this time. I look forward to updating you all in the future. Until next time!
Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!
What it is: a traditional Christian celebration marking the beginning of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter when no meat is eaten. Corresponds to English “carnival” and is our equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
How It’s Celebrated: Basically, it’s a huge winter celebration of masks, parades, food, music, and parties. All of Europe celebrates it, but there’re a few cities in Italy that go ALL OUT.
The Best Places to Go:
CET planned for us to go to Carnevale di Viareggio, so Michela and Giulia, our Italian roommates, bought our train tickets and we left for a day trip. Just the excitement of going to one city for Carnevale inspired us all to also buy tickets to Venice for the following the weekend, and there are absolutely no regrets.
Review of Viareggio:
Viareggio celebrates Carnevale mostly with a parade of floats. The first round is a satirical showcase of politicians, world events, and Italian pride. A few that stuck out were the Brexit float (Britains with suitcases and God Save the Queen) and Trump (Los Trump Alato – The Winged Trump) with Trump as a bald eagle with wings holding a bag of money in one hand and a crying Hillary Clinton in the other. On the banner it read “Make Carnival Great Again!”
In the second round, Viareggio brought out the big guns (literally, check out the “Make Carnevale Great Again” float). These floats were the most massive works of art I have ever seen, and all of them come with masks, full costumes, marching bands, dancing, and throwing confetti and candy. It’s difficult to even describe these so see for yourself:
America, once again, was portrayed as the Trump takeover with cowgirls and guns. Oh, and it lit up later.
The parades go on for hours and they’re judged as a competition (winner’s released later in March). The typical carnevale food we see throughout Italy (i.e. frittelle) weren’t present at this Carnevale, but they had food trucks, gelato, and games.
Is It Worth It?
For €18 in Viareggio, absolutely!! S/o to CET though, we got in for free!
Review of Venice:
Unlike Viareggio, Carnevale takes over ALL of Venice. As soon as we crossed the bridge from our Airbnb to the ferry stops, we were surrounded by costumes, masks, and murano glass. Oh, and the view was pretty good too.
Piazza San Marco was first on the list. Every square inch was filled with people, and there were mask competitions, Romeo and Juliet reenactments, and showcases going on all day. After visiting Basilica di San Marco, we went to the top of the Campanile (iconic tower) for the most beautiful views of Venice.
Carnevale wasn’t just restricted to the Square though, it completely filled Venice from the Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Bridge. We each bought a mask in the name of Carnevale, and Kayleigh showed us all up by getting a cape too.
My dreams finally came true around 5:30pm when we rode a gondola through the Grand Canal. I wish a picture could capture the beauty of Venice when the sun was going down, but they just don’t do it justice. Side note: George Clooney stays at one of the hotels on the Grand Canal, it’s a shame he wasn’t there.
Finally, Is It Worth It?
Venice is worth going to any time of the year, but visiting during Carnevale just made it even better. The costumes, the masks, the shows, the food, and just the energy all over the city made it an unforgettable experience.
This past weekend, a few friends and I travelled to Belgium. It was my first time leaving France since my arrival in early January. It was rather perfect because in Belgium, they speak French, English, and Flemish, so we all got a chance to further our French skills. In Belgium, they enunciate more when they speak French, so it was honestly easier for me to understand them than many of the French people I have encountered. Everyone we talked to was very impressed that as Americans we could actually speak and understand French, which was very flattering. Still, it also struck me that most Americans make little effort to learn the languages of the countries they visit. I have certainly been guilty of this when I travelled in the past. I think there is much more of a push to learn other languages in Europe, where you are surrounded by multitude of languages, than there is in the United States. I think that Americans also have less incentive to learn other languages because many people in other countries speak English.
One night while we were there, we decided to see the film Neruda about the Chilean poet and political figure Pablo Neruda. We bought our tickets in advance and stopped at a nearby grocery store for movie snacks to sneak into the theater. About twenty minutes before the start of the movie, we realized that this movie was in Spanish movie with French subtitles, not in English with French subtitles as we had hoped. We all looked at each other and laughed at our poor planning but decided to see the movie anyway. Why waste our money? We hunkered down in our seats with our assorted snacks and braced ourselves for an utterly foreign film, doubting that we would understand much of anything. But as it turned out, to our delight and disbelief, we understood almost the entire movie. And what’s more, we all genuinely enjoyed it. Sure, there were some vocabulary words and idiomatic expressions that we did not understand. But we still understood the majority of the subtitles. We were able to appreciate the beauty and style of the film. We even picked up on some of the jokes. After the movie, we all exclaimed over our mutual understanding. To me, this experience proved that my time in France and Europe in general is invaluable to my language skills.
10 Things Moroccans Do That Americans Do Not (Part 1):
- Eat couscous for lunch every Friday. EVERY Friday.
- Interpret traffic signals as arbitrary. Red lights, blinkers, & lane divisions are suggestions.
- All female gyms & all male cafés. Mixed feelings on this, look for a future blog post.
- Bread. with. every. meal. I’m not complaining, in fact I love it!
- Eat everything with their hands. Honestly, I forget how to use a fork at this point.
- Consider juice a food group… Americans are really missing out on this!
- Disregard time. “The (insert: class/party/dinner) happens when it happens and ends when it ends”
- Value multilingualism. Everyone speaks AT LEAST 2 if not 3 languages.
- Communal bath houses. You can even have someone bathe you for 10 cents extra!
- Refuse to split checks. One person in the group is expected to pay for the entire meal (lol)
We finished our first week of classes!! (for me: Politics of the Maghreb, Intro to Darija, Régime Marocain, Sociologie Deux, Les Connaisances d’Islam + an internship at La Fondation Orient-Occident)
To celebrate, we spent the weekend exploring Rabat on our own for the first time! We really like to walk (tbh mostly to burn off all the bread we eat) and ended up walking 20+ miles, taking a cycling class, and doing yoga over the course of three days! Here are the Rabat hotspots as far as we can tell:
Medina: means “old city” but is basically a humungous, fortified market. I bought the first of many scarves here (for $5!!)
Kasbah: a UNESCO world heritage site, a fortified sub-city within Rabat on the beach. I forcibly received a henna here on Saturday… kinda traumatized but recovering nicely!
Chellah: you guessed it, another fortified area in the city! It’s full of ancient Arab and Roman ruins… and you can walk all over them!
Hassan Tower/Mausoleum for Mohammed V: this fortified area contains the gravesite of the current king’s grandfather and the unfinished mosque he tried to build before war broke out.
Rabat Beach: somehow we end up here almost every day! when it get’s a little warmer you’ll find us here surfing! The waves are HUGE and the cliffs are gorgeous.
Next weekend it’s supposed to rain so we’ll be exploring Rabat’s ~indoor activities~ then the next weekend we have our first trip to a new city!! Stay tuned.
This is our friend and personal trainer Mohammed. He only speaks Darija but was intent on giving us the best spinning and yoga classes we’ve ever had — motivating us with Arabic music and commands in small English phrases (think: “lets go baby!” from popular American music lol). After 2 hours he wanted us to continue with core and leg conditioning… but we finally called it quits. Before we could escape he insisted on a picture together to commemorate our friendship. It has now been 3 days and we’re all still stumbling around with sore legs.
Sarah Genovese is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Foreign Affairs. Check out her thoughts on studying abroad below.
I’ve always been interested in studying abroad, and it was a huge part of my choice when picking a college– I wasn’t going to go to a college that did not facilitate an amazing study abroad experience. Traveling is one of my favorite activities, and international politics has proven so interesting to me that I am majoring in Foreign Affairs. I believe that there is a real value in moving away from everything you know, to better know yourself as well as the wider world. College seems like the best (and potentially only) time to move from the US for a little while and experience something entirely new.
Italy was an easy choice as a place to study abroad. My dad’s side of my family came from Sicily when my grandfather was very young, and I have always felt drawn back. My grandfather wanted his kids to have the American dream, and believed that a part of this dream was making them as stereotypically American as possible. As a result, my dad was taught none of the Italian language, and little of the culture. I have always felt that this was a loss, and desired a better understanding of where my family came from and what that means. I have taken Italian my last three semesters at UVA, and thus begun that process. However, I don’t think anything could replace the experience of actually being there.
While I am completely overwhelmed by how amazing this opportunity is, I have also been feeling overwhelmed more generally as well. Packing, and the logistics of air travel, are not my strong suits. Saying goodbye to friends and family was also incredibly difficult. Though I love traveling, I find it hard to let go of those people who will always be so important to me, even for a few short months. Meeting new people and moving on to new things can sometimes be hard for me because the people already in my life are so spectacular. However, even the most emotional of goodbyes felt very evenly balanced with my excitement at all that I hope to accomplish in these months.
My goals for my time studying in Florence are founded in self-development. Though being in college was a new level of independence for me, navigating a life that’s completely foreign to my mom and other mentors will be an even deeper level of self-reliance. Experiences shape who we are, and the experiences I will have studying abroad are experiences that I believe I may only be able to have in this moment of my life– as a student, as a twenty-one year old, and as a person reliant on herself and responsible only for herself. I’m excited to see where Italy takes me, and how the history and culture of this new place becomes a part of the person that I am becoming.
Holland Cathey is currently studying abroad in Germany for Environmental Studies and Sustainability. Check out her first blog post below.
I’m Holland and I’m studying abroad this semester in Freiburg, Germany! I’ve been planning my study abroad experience as long as I can remember and I honestly cannot believe it’s finally here!! The countdown is on and there are just 18 days until I leave. February 27—once a far away and distant date, just 18 days away!
In these last few weeks before I leave, I find myself hyper-aware of all the things I anticipate missing like seeing familiar faces every time I walk past the Corner, all my friends in HackCville and in AXO, and even big events like Foxfield! I’ll miss the creature comforts of home and the ease of constantly speaking my native language. At the same time, I can’t wait to put that on hold for a semester and just GO!
Freiburg is a notoriously green college town on the edge of the Black Forest. Just a few miles from the borders of both France and Switzerland, it’s perfect for a semester of new experiences! I’m studying global sustainability and German with a minor in environmental science and chose this program (IES Freiburg: Environmental Studies and Sustainability) specifically because of all of the amazing classes I will have access to and the culture of sustainability in Freiburg. I get to immerse myself in a culture where environmental stewardship and sustainability is a lifestyle, rather than a distant fact we have yet to come to terms with. If what I’ve read is correct, you can earn some pretty nasty looks from other students if you fail to separate your trash correctly in Freiburg! Even at the fairly progressive UVA, I couldn’t even get my first year roommate to use a re-usable water bottle!
I’ll take ecology classes in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, snowshoe through Liechtenstein, and learn about sustainable energy first hand. While abroad, I hope what it is about Freiburg that makes it so “green”—and bring that knowledge home! My goal is to use my experience from both Freiburg and Charlottesville to gain a unique perspective on sustainability and environmental issues and ultimately help solve related problems in the future.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it’s about more than academics. Improving my German and studying sustainability is important to me, but what I’m personally most excited for is exploration. Freiburg is located within an hour or two by train to France, Italy, Switzerland, and even Liechtenstein! It has always been my fantasy to study somewhere where I can hop on a train and explore whatever city I happen to get off at. I find myself visualizing an idyllic semester packed with weekend trips, gothic cathedrals, and the picturesque views of the Schwartzwald, but what I am looking forward to most are all of the moments that won’t be caught in a photo. I can’t wait for the first time I successfully have a conversation with a local—in German! Exploring a new city, culture, and language is all about meeting people and getting lost—and that’s what excites me the most! I can’t wait be lost in Freiburg, absorbing new sights, sounds, smells and experiences. I’m ready to throw myself into a brand new situation and see what I make of it. I’m ready to see everything and feel anything. A semester abroad is so much more than the photographs—it’s a life changing and inspiring time and I’m ready! Right. Now.
Sarah Romanus is currently studying abroad in India participating in The Alliance: India: Contemporary India- Development, Economy, Society program.
University of Pune: Pune, India
I took this photo because the University of Pune is the largest university in Pune city. Many universities in the city have ties to this university, but are assigned different names. This photo is the main building at the university.
This photo was taken on India’s Republic Day. For this holiday our program visited a school for children with hearing impairments. This school support kids from age 5-18. The children had rehearsed a performance celebrating Republic Day and afterwards we all celebrated by eating a special Indian dessert together.
Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics: Pune, India
This is another incredible example of the vibrant colors and arrangements that can be seen in India. This specific flower arrangement was created for India’s Republic Day. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the gates of the university to see this beautiful arrangement at the entrance in celebration of Republic Day. In the middle, India has been made out of flowers to match the colors of the Indian flag.
This photo is from a street stand selling chaat and panipuri. These dishes are originally from North India but have since spread around India and South East Asia. In this photo you can see many people gathered around to get a quick dinner. Street food is very popular in India and it is common to see many different types of stands line the road with various meals. This was my first time trying the street food in India and it was delicious. My host family took us to this particular one because it is their favorite.
I took this photo at a flea market in Pune city as the sun was setting on a wonderful day. The flea market had vendors selling mostly handmade crafts and clothing. In addition, there were live local bands playing music in Hindi, while food trucks sold typical dishes from all over India. This event has been one of my favorites because it combined and displayed many different aspects of India’s unique culture.
Alexis Ferebee is a third-year currently studying abroad in Lyon for the semester. Check out her decision to study abroad below!
I almost didn’t study abroad. During my first 2 years at UVA I had decided that leaving the country would be more of a hassle than anything. After all, I was probably just going to major in Media Studies anyways. Then, at the end of fourth semester, I realized how much I greatly enjoyed French, and decided to double major. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about studying abroad. Suddenly, at the beginning of this school year, I realized that I would be wasting the chance of a lifetime and that I needed to apply. Luckily, I had this enlightening realization just in time to submit an application for the spring semester, which would have been my last opportunity. And now here I am.
Tomorrow I leave to study abroad in Lyon, France for 5 months. I have done so much preparation for this moment and yet I feel like I still have so much to do. I have realized though, that stressing about it doesn’t help much. I truly do not know what to expect from this experience, and do not have many preconceived notions, but I do have many aspirations. First of all, I want to be able to enhance my French. This seems pretty obvious but the betterment of my French could help sway me in a certain direction career-wise. I also want to make international friends. I say this because I have two very good American friends going with me on this trip and I don’t want to just hang out with them while speaking English. I can do that any time. My biggest goal is to gain more confidence. Even now, I am sitting at my computer worrying about many insignificant details about my trip but I want to be more sure of myself, and I feel like this trip will give me the independence I need to make this happen.
There is such a mix of anxiety and excitement that I can’t explain. I’ve never quite experienced anything like this in my life, so I guess that feeling is pretty normal. I am anxious about my flight, my train, but most of all, my communication. I am confident in my French abilities, but what if I forget and freeze up? I guess I will have to wait and see what the next few days bring. All I know is that I am excited to be in a beautiful country studying a language I love!
Morgan King is currently studying abroad in Morocco for the semester. Follow her travels below!
Greater known fact: I speak French.
Lesser known fact: I am minoring in African religions.
What do you get when you combine those things and walk into the study abroad office? MOROCCO! Starting January 25th I will be living in Africa… AFRICA!!! My wildest dream is coming true!
For the next four months I will be studying Arabic, taking politics courses in French at l’Université Internationale de Rabat and conducting research for my masters thesis. Excitingly, a week of the program takes place in Grenada, Spain!
I’ve spent years building my French, months building my Morocco-appropriate wardrobe, and days building my courage to finally get on this plane. I am so excited and incredibly nervous for the intellectual, cultural, and social challenges that the next few months will provide; but I am also soo ready for the camels, couscous, and caftans.
I’ve been asked so many times “why take this risk?”,” why Africa?”, “why Morocco?”. Honestly, I don’t have a good answer other than this: I’m following my heart. I’ll keep you updated on why as I figure it out myself! For now, here are my goals for my semester in Morocco:
- SPEAK FRENCH: This might be an obvious one but, really, I want to force myself to speak French and not cheat by speaking English because it’s easier. I’m here to be immersed and I’m going to do it!
- TRAVEL: I’ve been to Europe twice but I’m so excited to take advantage of my close proximity to lesser-known parts of the continent. Marseille, Amalfi, and Santorini are calling my name! Also, MOROCCO IS SO COOL. Rumor has it a $10 bus ticket will take you across the country. We’ll see where I end up!
- EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE: Morocco is pretty westernized but as a Muslim State it has so much to offer from a non-western perspective. I am thrilled to learn more about Moroccan culture and to experience some reverse culture shock when I arrive back in the US!
Thanks for reading along as I run around northern Africa in my ankle length dresses! Merci à lire!
Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!
Something tells me I should be packing…but I think it makes more sense to watch Under the Tuscan Sun the night before I leave for Italy.
20 years and 9 months later, it’s finally time for the ultimate departure from North America. For someone who’s international travels include spending 4 hours in Cozumel after high school graduation, a semester abroad has me freaking out. While it feels like hundreds of factors have gone into this decision, it all comes down to my battling a travel addiction. I am obsessed with the idea of travel. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be willingly giving up one of my precious 8 semesters at UVA, but its even harder to imagine passing up an opportunity to study abroad. When friends, family, professors, etc. have all asked me where I’m going, it’s not surprising that hardly anyone subsequently questions “why Italy?” because, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy? Well, for everyone who is just dying to know my answer, here it is:
- The history, the architecture, the art. Siena offers the unique perspective into the history of Tuscany with the perfect “road less traveled by” setting. Although I’m a philosophy major and politics minor, I’ll be taking an art history class abroad and have the opportunity to travel around Italy to see the paintings for myself – and yes, this is included in the class! I’ll naturally get lost in the museums in Siena or on my way to the Piazza del Campo – a medieval square that holds the infamous Palio horse races twice a year. Italy is home to some of the most beautiful cities in the world (Rome, Florence, Capri, Milan, Venice…just to name a few) and I plan to visit them all.
- Undoubtedly, cuisine is an immense part of a true Italian experience. I’ve gotten countless recommendations of restaurants to check out and foods to taste upon arrival, with gelatos and pastas being at the top (what a surprise). Wine is an entirely different subject. Italian wine is the final frontier of wine expertise, and taking a wine tour is at the top of my bucket list. Between the vast amounts of vineyards and modest pricing, it won’t be long until a glass of Prosecco at the dinner table becomes customary for me.
- Italians value family and la bella figura– meaning they care about having a good public image and live in a way that emphasizes aesthetics with good behavior. They are notorious for living la vita bella (the beautiful life) in that they approach daily life in the most relaxed and positive attitude, a refreshing cultural aspect for any twenty-something in America. What most of us as Americans take for granted in our day-to-day, Italians experience fully and passionately…including time. In the fast paced reality of being a third year college student, there is never enough time in the day to accomplish everything I want. I envy those who can constantly just live in the moment, which is basically the majority of Italy. How long it will take for me to be even remotely relaxed about time though is TBD.
So finally, after over a year of planning, it’s time for my own adventure.
Siena is the destination, but I plan to experience as much of Europe as I can in the next four months through some major binge traveling. No amount of Google searching, memorizing small Italian phrases, or flipping through maps of the rolling hills in Tuscany could satisfy my curiosity for the experiences I hope to have. Fortunately, my excitement outweighs my fears – fears of being homesick, of living with people I’ve never met, and of the monumental culture shock I’m about to feel – because of everything I have to look forward to.
Thanks, Lizzie McGuire, for preparing me for anything to happen in Italy.
It’s too bad she also didn’t show how she packed all her shoes…
Teresa Nowalk is currently studying abroad in Siena for the semester. Check out her reflection before she embarked on her journey!
Italy. I can’t stop saying it or thinking about it… Soon I will be in Italy to study for about five months, which will be the longest time I have ever been out of the country. Part of me is of course excited, and who wouldn’t? Gelato, pasta, pizza, mozzarella… But beyond the food, there is the history, art, and the culture. Those are the three things I want to focus on when I am not preoccupied with the dinner table and my stomach (not that I plan on going hungry in Italy). Since I am a history and (most likely) anthropology double major these next five months will be a really neat way to see my studies come alive. To me, Siena will be a recharge: a perfect halfway point for my studies as I conclude my second year.
Many of my thoughts go toward my homestay. I wrestled with whether to do one or not and am still not 100% certain about it. So we will see how my thoughts on the homestay will change later in the semester. But right now, my inner anthropologist is nervously excited to live in an Italian home. I love learning about how different countries eat dinner and what foods they eat in general so I am excited to branch out of the (American) Italian restaurants and their breadsticks. I also love learning about how other countries think about the US, so hopefully as my Italian goes from rusty to only somewhat rusty I will be able to understand why we are the ugly Americans (or not!)… But beyond this, I am looking forward to my sampling of Siena.
But most importantly, I have a few goals while abroad. Perhaps I am naïve and drank the study abroad kool-aid, but I hope to become more confident when I am abroad… And like everyone hopes to have better grip on the future, I hope to figure out what I want to do with two humanity degrees by the time I come back. More personally, I am determined to be more social and befriend as many people as possible. This is because, for me, as much as I want to have great stories when I come back, I also want to have others’ stories because an adventure should never be an individual experience. So to both my future self and to my readers: here’s to the stories and Italia.
Chris is a third-year studying Commerce at the University. He is currently studying abroad in London for the semester. Check out his thoughts before he left!
Before I get into my actual blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about myself. My name is Chris Hoffa and I am a third year in the School of Commerce. I love to play a variety of video games and watch New York Mets games during my free time. I am looking forward to traveling across all of Europe during my semester in London.
I still can’t believe that I leave for London in two days. As someone who has never left the country once in his life, this will be quite the experience for me. I am worried about making friends, about getting homesick, and about the challenges that I could potentially face. With that being said, I am still plunging myself into this adventure of a lifetime. I hope in this time that I will be able to learn more about myself than ever before and to become a better person through having such a diverse experience. I have created three major goals that I hope to accomplish during my semester abroad.
The first goal that I have is to befriend as many people as possible. This goal will allow me to receive all of these diverse perspectives and to meet people that I would never have had the opportunity to do before. I will be able to learn from these new friends of mine and hopefully be able to create lifelong friends from my time while in London. This will make my experience more wholesome in a sense.
My second goal that I have is to put down the electronics. I am someone who is an avid gamer and loves to play a variety of video games. Though it will be tempting to fall back on this hobby of mine when I feel isolated or face a challenge, I hope that I will be able to put them down and truly appreciate this time abroad. The video games will not be going anywhere in the near future, but this experience will be. I have a limited time while abroad and need to make the most of it while I can.
My third goal for the semester is to continue to stay in contact with my friends and family back home. Though I will be participating in this experience of a lifetime, I need to make sure not to forget the most important people in my life for five months. Keeping in constant contact will allow me to maintain these relationships and also will hopefully prevent me from becoming homesick.
As a whole, I hope that these three goals that I have created for myself will make my experience in London the best that it can be. This will hopefully be a life changing experience for me and will me allow to grow in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I look forward to leaving in two days and embarking on the biggest journey in my life so far.
Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his pre-departure blog!
Hi! My name is Thomas, and I’m a second year student at the University of Virginia. Starting today, I’m leaving Jefferson’s Grounds behind for the spring 2017 semester to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. I plan on using this blog to post regular updates on my adventures and experiences living abroad. Seeing as I’m currently somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now and don’t have anything particularly exciting to report on (yet!), I figured I would take the time to explain why I decided to study abroad and what Spanish means to me.
Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to learn Spanish. Growing up in my hometown of Oxford, Pennsylvania, almost a third of my high school graduating class was Hispanic. I can distinctly recall hearing Spanish spoken in the hallways during elementary school, and thinking how cool it would be if I could speak a “secret language” to communicate with friends and stump teachers. When I had the chance to begin studying the language in the eighth grade, I eagerly accepted, and Spanish soon became my favorite subject in school. I always excelled in my Spanish classes academically, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school in Spanish V when I realized it was what I wanted to study in college. I became president of the Spanish Honor Society my senior year and soon after decided to attend the University of Virginia as a Spanish major.
College classes were, of course, a rather large adjustment from high school classes, but nonetheless Spanish remained my strongest subject. My second semester, I was lucky enough to study under two particularly phenomenal Spanish professors who really motivated me to spend additional time practicing outside of class in order to further increase my level of proficiency. To that end, I read two incredible novels over the summer: El tiempo entre costuras – The Time In Between and Cien años de soledad – One Hundred Years of Solitude(both of which I highly recommend!) in Spanish to avoid the summer slump and expand my vocabulary. As if the books weren’t enough, I also developed a raging addiction to Spanish telenovelas such as Gran Hotel and Velvet. However, it wasn’t until this fall that Spanish truly became the unequivocal center of my life at UVA. In addition to taking three Spanish courses, I moved into the Casa Bolívar, UVA’s Spanish-speaking dorm. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent just about as much time speaking Spanish as I did English last semester. Because of all this practice, I feel reasonably confident in my abilities to communicate in Spanish, which will hopefully help mitigate the inevitable culture shock that comes with adapting to life in a foreign country.
This semester, I’m in five 4000 level Spanish courses covering a wide variety of topics. That sounds kind of crazy (and I guess it is) but hey, at least in Spain we don’t have class on Fridays! There’s no doubt these courses will keep me plenty busy, but by the end of the semester, I will have finished the complete course of study for UVA Spanish majors in two years’ time. Here’s my class schedule:
SPAN 4050: Global Integration of Latin America – MoWe: 09:00-10:30
SPAN 4600: Literature & Cinema – MoWe: 10:40-12:10
SPAN 4705: Spanish Mass Media – MoWe: 12:20-13:50
SPAN 4713: Economy of European Union – TuTh: 12:20-13:50
SPAN 4320: Contemporary Latin American Short Fiction – TuTh: 15:40-17:10
As you may have noticed, in Spain they use the 24-hour system (military time) which is definitely something I’ll have to get used to. The class I’m most worried about is the econ course – economics is already like another language to me, so I’ll have to see how it goes when it’s taught to me in Spanish!
To say I’m excited for study abroad would be a gross understatement. En route to Spain, I can’t help but feel quite introspective. When I look behind me, I marvel at all the progress a “gringo” like me has somehow been able to make in Spanish so far. Even so, looking forward to this semester, I see incredible opportunities to further increase my fluency and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture. I feel extremely thrilled and blessed to be embarking on this journey and absolutely cannot wait to see what Valencia has in store for me. Look out Spain, Tomás is coming for you!
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