The GoGlobal Blog

Month: February 2018

Thailand and Tết!

Thailand and Tết!

These past two weeks have been busy, busy, and more busy. Now that I have hit the one month marker, I feel I have finally relaxed into my life as a study abroad student living in Vietnam. After a few nights of disbelief, stress, and even some discomfort, I think the adjustment has (almost) been made.

Classes have been wonderful! Majority of the classes are directly taught through a lens of Vietnam and/or Southeast Asia and offer a viewpoint I haven’t had the privilege to be exposed to until now. Specifically, my Literature course and Religion course are rooted directly in material of Vietnam and Southeast Asia and the readings for both classes are some I don’t think I would just stumble across myself on my own. Being able to immerse myself in the culture of Vietnam and learn about the nation from professors that are either Vietnamese or have studied and lived here for years is one of the reasons I chose this center for my study abroad semester. I am happy to report that the classes have lived up and went beyond what I thought they would be.

Soooo I know I just gushed about Vietnam like I usually do (I bet my friends and family are tired of hearing me do the same everyday), but I actually travelled this past week outside of Vietnam! This week marks the start of Tết, which is one of (if not the most) important holiday in Vietnam. It is the national celebration of the Lunar New Year and takes place over this entire week, with the core celebrations being the 16th through the 18th. We have no classes during this holiday and have had significant time off which we can use to travel. Myself and a few of my friends in the program decided this would be a great time to take a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Lemme tell you, Chiang Mai is pretty different compared to the bustling nature of Saigon. Our hotel was on the edge of Old Town (the square center town part of Chiang Mai) and was in a relatively quiet area, a stark contrast to district ten of Saigon. Our first day we landed and immediately went straight for Pad Thai. I thought Pad Thai in the states was good but, y’all I was so wrong. We walked around some markets and the night bazaar as well as the various Buddhist temples within the city. The sheer amount of beautiful structure and architecture we got to see was amazing.

One of my favorite experiences was the Thai cooking class we went to. We were picked up from our hotel bright and early to visit a food market and learn about some of the ingredients we were going to cook with. We were then taken to the cooking class were we physically chopped all our ingredients, made our own curry paste, and cooked everything ourselves with help from our instructor Peanut (I know amazing, right?). We made three meals: A stir-fry, a soup, and a curry as well as Thai iced tea. We had a few options for each and I decided to go with cashew chicken stir-fry, coconut chicken soup, and a Kao Soi/Chiang Mai curry. Of course, everything was delicious and I think I may have to try out for Masterchef next season (hopefully they only want Thai food). We got a cute little cook book of all the recipes which I am super grateful so that I don’t royally destroy my kitchen and local supermarket looking for the ingredients I don’t remember the name of and making the dishes.

 

                                                                                                                              

The next day we went to and elephant sanctuary because if you don’t go to one, were you really in Thailand (I kid, I promise). Of course we made sure we went to one that was definitely cruelty free and didn’t allow any riding and we were happy to find a bunch of places that did have rave reviews that ensured the treatment of the elephants is just. Once we arrived, we changed into some clothing over our own and started to chop up some sugar cane to feed the elephants. The guide ensured that their goal of the sanctuary was to keep the elephants healthy and happy (and that sugar cane is some of their favorite snacks). The elephants we got to see were elephants rescued from a riding company, had worked for farms when they were younger, and/or had been in the circus. The three large elephants had been rescued and included an older one deemed the “grandma” and two middle aged elephants. The last one was a 2-year-old baby that had been born at the sanctuary. We got to feed them the sugar cane we chopped, which was an experience and a half. They were all so gentle and sweet and hungry. The guide told us each elephant has a personality and that the younger one likes to be “naughty” which was definitely proved when he kept dropping every piece of sugar cane we gave him. After a brief walk, we got to go into a river/stream and bathe the elephants, which again was quite the adventure in itself. Afterwards we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hotel.

                            

Upon returning to Saigon, we have Tết getting closer and closer. A majority of the students here are going home with their Vietnamese partner students from Bach Khoa University to visit their hometowns. Saigon is supposed to get immensely quiet during Tết as majority of the people are not from the city and leave to go to their home providences to celebrate the holiday among family. I have a lot of work to catch up on for classes (classic Emily) as well as I don’t want to get burnt out because we have another excursion coming up at the end of February to Cambodia and decided to stay in the dorm during the holiday. My partners do have other students coming to visit their home town and I am very very very excited to hear about the experiences and see pictures!

As the half way point draws close for this semester, I am sad to know it is going by so quickly. I had Déjà vu stepping out of the Saigon airport coming back from Thailand and it felt like I had just landed in Vietnam for the first time. I’ll close out as the reoccurring theme of the random food pics I take throughout my time here!

                             

Mundane and Sweaty: A Day at UG Legon

Mundane and Sweaty: A Day at UG Legon

My first week at the University of Ghana has been surreal, and I’ve found it hard to put my thoughts into writing. I want to be able to share my deep thoughts and reflections with you, dear reader, but the words won’t come. I am experiencing both elation and disappointment, successes and failures, wellness and illness.

Instead of attempting to interpret these reactions so soon into my time here, I’ve thought it might be interesting to share what a normal day at the University of Ghana looks like.

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My earliest class is at 7:30. The walk from the International Student Hostel (ISH) to the International House is just over a mile, and it takes around 30 minutes to make the trip. My alarm goes off at 6 and I sleep through it until like 6:30 because I’m a lazy American. I bring my roll of toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, and face wash to the communal bathroom across the hall.

My roommate Emma and I live on the third level of the hostel. We leave our room and attempt to lock our door (it locks about 45% of the time) and head downstairs.

The hostel looks like a huge structure from the outside, but is built in a style fit for the hot climate with all rooms facing an open courtyard on the inside and a patio on the outside. My patio faces south, away from the rest of UG’s campus.

We head north, passing a market that doesn’t open until mid-morning, a convenient store, a few ATMs, and eventually campus buildings. Sometimes we walk on sidewalks, sometimes on the road, sometimes along red paths in the earth. The sun rises as we approach the International House.

Inside the International House.

We walk into our (air conditioned!) classroom for Twi, a language in the Akan family commonly spoken in Greater Accra. After two hours of “Mepaakyɛw, wo ho te sɛn?” I have a history class in the main lecture hall on campus. By the time the lecturer finishes, it’s almost noon.

The sun hits its peak at around 11:30am and doesn’t quit until after 4pm. The temperature often reaches over 34°C, around 100°F. It’s around this time that I usually get sunburn because I forgot to put sunscreen in my backpack. Sometimes I don’t even carry my backpack because it just makes my back sweat uncontrollably. Midday is obviously when y’all can catch me at my most glamorous.

If I don’t have a particularly busy day, I usually stop by Bush Kanteen to get jollof or waakye with roasted plantains for 3 Ghanaian cedi (less than 1 USD) before going back to ISH. If I really don’t have a busy day, I do my favorite thing and take a nap while it’s hottest outside.

Before dinner, I bring my laptop or a book down to a long table in ISH where there are usually half a dozen people to hang out and chat with. If I’m hungry there’s a kitchen on the ground floor staffed by three Ghanaian women where they make anything from instant coffee to fried rice to tuna sandwiches and french fries. I might follow a group of folks to the night market nearby for dinner, or maybe just for a fresh mango or pineapple cut up by a vendor.

By that point in the evening, it’s “cool” by Ghanaian standards. It usually dips to 23-25°C (73-77°F) and a light breeze moves through the open air hostel. After a cold shower I spend time in my room, reading or journaling or chatting with Emma. I tuck my blue mosquito net under the sides of my mattress and fall asleep to the rhythm of the creaky ceiling fan above me.

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I don’t know if I expected every day here to be a thrill of adventure, new sights and sounds, and amazing new people. It’s true that I think it’s beautiful here, and I’m enjoying myself, and those I’ve met have been lovely, but at the end of the day things feel normal. A normal day in Accra is not much different from a normal day in Chicago – one is just a little bit colder than the other.

I like being a student here. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to take the trips that I’ve taken so far (I think I’ll go into those in a forthcoming post), but I like that things otherwise feel mundane. I think these are the baby steps toward making this new place feel like home.

Thanks for listening.

Me, proud that the person who took this photo didn’t catch me off guard.

Until next time,

Anna

The Joys & Pains of Solo Travel

The Joys & Pains of Solo Travel

Solo travel. What is it?

Could be a trip across town using good ol’ solid public transportation. Could be making your way downtown, walking fast, faces pass and you’re homebound. Could be taking any journey on your own through a path you’ve never taken before. For me, my first truly solo experience was my trip to Naples & Pompei: three days in two cities in one country that is still pretty foreign to me. Given, I am independent by nature. I don’t typically need to rely on anyone to get a job done and I definitely didn’t want anything to hold me back from being able to pursue a trip that would make a great story. So, while my friends packed their bags to go to Munich for the weekend, I departed in a separate direction to the Northern half of Italy.

Traveling solo is an experience that is typically marketed as “easy” …for men. Men and women simply aren’t subject to the same variation of dangers that travel entails. While traveling in any group to any place should be approached with caution and research (let’s not be naive here), men have it easier. That’s just the way it is! And don’t worry, I’ll always be salty about it. Women have to worry about what clothes they pack, their demeanor on the streets so as not to attract the wrong kind of attention, and keeping an eye on the closest exit at all times. It’s a STRUGGLE. But if you can pull it off, not only does it give you amazing street cred, it gives you a personal sense of intense satisfaction that, hell yeah, you are officially a solo traveller.

First things first, be prepared. I can not stress enough how much smoother a trip will pan out if you do your freaking research on the area. This includes transportation to and from the city, to and from your lodging, whether to book an Airbnb or hostel or hotel, what landmarks are nearby and how long it takes to get there, and my favorite, where to eat! So basically: location, transportation, lodging, fun and food. Once you have your plans set, all it takes is a bit of a pep talk, a backpack of necessities, and you’re good to go!

Approach a solo trip like a friend who won’t judge you if you decide to sleep in till noon, who will let you eat what you want when you want to, who will officially let you switch on your Do Not Disturb mode. It is a time for relaxation and adventure and exploration and venturing into the unknown! Treat yo self! There’s no telling what you’ll see and do! Diving headfirst with an open mind is as liberating as you make it. It’s like that cheesy quote:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Now that’s not to say you should jump at every opportunity. While there’s no one there to judge you if you said yes, trust yourself to deny the potential for an absurd story, and realize your own company is far more satisfying. No one knows you like you know yourself. I wasn’t prepared for the times I wished I could turn to a friend and say, “You need to try this!” or “Did you see that?!” And if you and your friends go separate ways, FOMO is real and it’s a downer. You have to fend for yourself in more ways than one. The amount of times I’ve been a target of heavy catcalling is enough to make me never want to leave my room!! Needless to say, I definitely perfected my mean muggin’, don’t-even-look-in-my-direction face when the sketch-o-meter was high.

But you know what? I was responsible for ma own self. I am capable. I forced myself out of my comfort zone and experienced a trip  that is unique to me. I can say I went to Naples and Pompei and navigated through a foreign city unscathed. I trust myself to protect my being against social and physical dangers and also to be a good judge of character when needed.

If you’re considering a solo trip, go for it! It’ll build your confidence, help you appreciate yourself a little more, and change the minds of people who think it’s impossible. Sure it’s a little scary and awkward. But all in all, if you’re smart and aware, and don’t let people hold you back from experiencing life and the world and all it has to offer, you won’t regret the experience. I know I don’t.

-Andrea

Introduction and First Two Weeks

Introduction and First Two Weeks

Hello. This is the first entry in my blog for my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of blogs. Or college students studying abroad, really. I find us annoying and often ignorant with a tendency to come off as observers of the world rather than participants, as if we have a right to judge the countries we enter for a few months. So, to the best of my ability, I’m going to attempt to avoid clichés and whatever other perceptions you have about college students studying abroad, and try to use this blog as an opportunity to try to challenge myself to make insightful comments about South Africa’s social and political climate, especially in relation to the US, or insightful comments about whatever comes along, invoke thought in whoever reads this…. or at least attempt to do something along those lines.

Also, I don’t know how to blog. I am determined not to fall into a pattern of just stating facts about my whereabouts each passing day, because I don’t find that especially interesting. Regardless, bear with me as I try to figure out my thoughts and opinions every two weeks, and excuse me while I find my footing as to how write these entries; hopefully they will be sufficient.

To start, I should probably establish some basic facts about why I’m here and the details of the program. It’s a Marquette University program and it’s focused around service learning. I’m here with 17 other students from various Jesuit universities (Creighton, Fordham, St. Louis University, St. Joseph’s, Loyola, and Marquette are all represented, as well as one student from Austrailia). We all live in one house in the Observatory neighborhood in Cape Town. Twice a week, we’re at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), taking two to three classes of our choosing. Another two days a week we work at service sites, which range from non-profits to schools in Cape Town. And on Fridays, we attend another two classes that are through the Marquette program, so they’re the same for everyone and they consist of us 18 students only. At UWC, I’m taking an ethics class about human rights discourse and an African literature course. I have not been placed in my service site – we have visited a few and will continue to visit sites in the next week or so before we make a decision.

My first two weeks have consisted of a few days of orientation at UWC, introductions, a visit to a beach (it’s summer here!), the first week of classes, learning basic Xhosa (one of South Africa’s eleven official languages), and other adventures to explore neighborhoods and downtown Cape Town. I’ve also climbed two mountains in the past two weeks. The first was Lion’s Head, a relatively short hike (30-45 minutes up), in order to see the sun rise (pictured). I don’t think I’ve ever sat and witnessed the sun rising before, but here I watched it rise over the mountains and it was…. peaceful. And easy. And nice. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a Spanish song – disfruta las cosas buenas – enjoy the good things (cheesy, I know, but good advice). The second hike up a mountain we did is called Skeleton’s Gorge. It’s a part of Table Mountain, but I’m honestly unsure exactly where it lies within Table Mountain National Park. This one was longer (about two hours up) but perhaps even more rewarding than Lion’s Head. At the top, we found a lake to swim in and the most beautiful scenery under a blue sky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen skies bluer than Cape Town’s. 

Cape Town is beautiful, of course. The 90 degree weather is a nice break from the zero-degree midwest winter I came from. The people are friendly, and the students at UWC have been welcoming and happy to get to know us. You’ve probably also heard that Cape Town is experiencing a serious water crisis. This is something that we’ve been very aware of before and since we arrived, and we, as well as (hopefully) everyone else in the city, are conserving water to the best of our ability. The limit is 50L per person per day. We’re taking two minute showers, reusing water for flushing toilets, and not doing laundry as often as usual, among other alterations of our daily routines. When we got here, “day zero” – when the dam levels drop to 13.5% and the taps are shut off – was mid-April, and last I heard, it’s now been moved to mid-May, so that’s positive. We, as a group, are fortunate in that we have the money and resources available to us so that we will likely be okay regardless, but we are aware that not everyone is as lucky as us, and the entire city is already experiencing the effects of low water levels.

In the next two weeks, I will get into my classes more and begin to get back into doing homework and keeping up with readings, and also, hopefully, figure out my service site. I also hope to get involved with a club or sport at UWC and make some friends at the university. UWC is surprisingly quite similar to large universities in the United States, so the campus feels very comfortable and familiar. It, however, is certainly different as it has a rich history in the struggle against apartheid, opening in 1960 for colored people only. I look forward to learning more about the university and its history. This upcoming week is also probably the last week where we will have more free time as we’ve not been placed at service sites, so I also hope to continue to explore Cape Town’s neighborhoods and sights.

Like I said before, I’d like to use this blog as a way to think more deeply about my experience here in Cape Town. However, since these first two weeks have been mostly introductory, I’m going to use this first entry as an opportunity to simply talk about a quote that resonated with me this week, and that pertains to my future experience and development as I continue my time here. My African literature professor included this quote in his lecture. It’s by the author of the book we’re reading (Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie): “In some ways, the amount of humanity and dignity the world allows depends on what race and class and gender you are.” This basically serves as a summation, I think, of what I am trying to combat in my studies and eventually through action in my future career, whatever it may be (I’m majoring in Advocacy and Social Change at Loyola). I’d like to keep this in mind as I continue my experience here in South Africa, a place which has such a recent history of oppression based on race, and is a country that is still struggling from the effects of its past. Adichie is completely correct here in her assertion that race, class, and gender, are huge contributors to how one is treated and the opportunities they are allowed. I might even add more categories to Adichie’s list – sexual orientation, for one. The extent to which these categories affect each person’s life is something that I am learning about more each day. Clearly, Adichie’s words outline one of the most serious problems of today’s world, and I know that I will begin to understand this quote more deeply and become even more motivated to combat this as I begin in my service site here and learn more about South Africa.

See you in two weeks. Enjoy the good things. x

First Days in Switzerland

First Days in Switzerland

Hallo Leute! (Hi Guys!)

 

After a long Winter break, I finally arrived in Switzerland on Wednesday to study abroad at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. Although the main campus of the school is in Zurich, the business school and where I’ll be living is in Winterthur, a town of 110,000 people and a 20 minute train ride from Zurich.

Since moving in a few days ago, I’ve already made new friends from all over the world and explored Winterthur as much as possible. Winterthur is a cozy European town filled with many friendly people, coffee shops, and places to get delicious Swiss chocolate. I’ve quickly fallen in love with discovering new small side streets that are everywhere in the town and seeing what each has to offer.

Even though I’ll probably never get bored of walking around the town itself, the best part of Winterthur might be the scenery and nature that surrounds it. Twice I’ve gone on long hikes through the beautiful forest trails and taken in all of the sights. Both trails offered picturesque views overlooking the town and I was able to get an idea of how fascinating and vast the Swiss wilderness is. Hiking also provided a great way to connect with the people that I’ve met and make some great memories. 

Along with enjoying Winterthur, my friends and I also took the 20 minute train ride one of the days to visit and walk around Zurich. While Winterthur is more of a peaceful town where only locals live, Zurich is a bigger city full of attractions for tourists. For the most part we walked along Bahnhofstrasse, which is the equivalent of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The street goes through the entire city and ends at Lake Zurich, a gorgeous lake that overlooks the city.

We decided to grab coffee and sweets at Sprüngli, one of Zurich’s most popular cafes. Luckily, we were one of the last groups of people to get a table and as we left there was a long line out the door. Sometimes famous places may be a bit too overhyped, but the coffee exceeded all of the expectations that I had. Even though we were in Zurich for much of the day, there is still a lot more to see and I’m excited to visit the city many more times as I study here.  

Tomorrow I begin the next step of studying abroad as orientation begins. I’m eager to meet even more people that are studying at the school and to begin to get a feel for the school from an academic standpoint. It will be intriguing to see how much things differ from Loyola and how I’ll be able to adjust.

 

Till next time!

Radek

 

 

 

 

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up

On Friday, February 9, I traveled to Napoli (Naples) with 7 members of my science class and our professor Stefania Galdiero. A native to Naples, Stefania studies the chemistry used in producing pharmaceuticals. Our class is titled Science of Italian Art, and in it, we talk about the many ways science and art overlap. (Think: DaVinci using his artistic talents to create accurate diagrams of human anatomy.) Stefania showed us around Naples for a day, taking us on a tour of the university lab where she works, as well as tours of a nearby Accademia di belle arte (really cool college for art students), and the underground caverns that helped shape the city.

The Accademia in Naples is one of the busiest, most prominent of all the accademie in Italy. Every major city has one, they are essentially museums and spaces to hold huge collections of fine art. David, the star of last week’s post, is housed in the Accademia of Firenzi. The one we visited in Naples is not only a home for works of art, but a school for young artists themselves. The walls are lined with sculptures donated by artists for the students to practice sketching and painting. Students at the accademia study there for five years, before going on to become cinematographers, painters, musicians and actors. One of our guides boasted at the workshop adjacent to the stage, where students and professors design and build all of the set pieces for the plays put on in the college. No other college in Europe, according to our guide, builds their own stage materials that they use in their plays. I couldn’t help but imagine what day to day life might be like for the students here. How much fun it must be to study sculpture, restoration, or cinema in a place like this. The few students that were there on Friday afternoon would laugh and share a cigarette with the professors they passed, before bounding down one of the open air hallways on their way to the studio. It was thrilling to see the workshops and spaces where artists of the future were learning and perfecting their crafts.

For lunch, of course, we had pizza. Now, the story goes that impoverished people in Naples were among the first to start adding tomato to their flatbread as a topping. Much of Europe believed the tomato to be poisonous when it was first brought in from the Americas in the 16th century. Once enough people figured out that tomatoes were not killers, pizza was born. As the dish gained popularity, more people traveled to Naples to try it, even venturing into the poorer parts of the city where the food was first created. The pizza I had in Naples was very good, (I had a veggie pizza with spinach, artichoke, and mushroom) but it was nothing life changing or magical as the hype had led me to believe. (Remember, I’m from Chicago)  That being said, if you’re ever on the hunt for the perfect slice, Naples is a great place to start. I only tried it at one restaurant so there is plenty of uncharted cheesy territory left to explore.

After lunch, we squeezed down into what some refer to, creepily, as the womb of Naples. 40 meters below the bustling city is a complex labyrinth of tunnels that have been used for various purposes since the Greeks founded the city in the 7th century BC. First, a quarry was dug out to provide materials with which to literally build the city. The stone and metals from the Earth were used during the construction of Naples. The underground passages and caverns have an area larger than the city itself, and it was all carved by hand with chisels, hammers, and muscle. Looking up at the high ceilings, we could see the marks and divots left by the workers’ chisels. Decades later, the caves were filled with water and used as the city’s aqueduct system. Those who lived there used wells to access and bring up the water as they needed it. The smallest workers would climb down the walls of the well to clean the inside of the reservoirs as needed. Our guide told us that wealthy families would sometimes pay the workers extra to make sure their portion of the aqueduct was always full of clean water, often leaving others to deal with empty or dirty wells. For about 60 years, the caverns were used as the city’s garbage dump, but was cleaned up at the beginning of World War II. The space then provided shelter for Neapolitans as thousands of bombs were dropped on the city over the course of the war. In many ways, the caverns underneath Naples allowed for the city’s survival.

Overall, Naples is a very exciting place. The streets are alive with activity like they are in Rome. Motorcycles and scooters whiz by you on what you thought was a sidewalk, and every corner has a vendor selling something that smells delicious. There is graffiti on every building and a lot of garbage around. Some of the people in our group thought it was a bit too dirty, but I liked the artsy creative feel of every alley. I liked that the city doesn’t try to be too neat, or perfect. It just lives. Naples has been doing things differently since it created pizza in the 1700s and they don’t plan on changing their ways any time soon. While most of our group stayed in Naples for the weekend, I decided to make it a day trip. Even though it was only one day, I felt that I had seen and done plenty by the end of it. I realized this week that I don’t have to visit a new country or city every weekend. Planning these trips can be very stressful, especially on a student budget. I almost forgot that Rome alone is full of adventure and things to see. So I came back to Rome that evening, excited to get to know the city I started in.

 

 

Just outside the entrance to La Accademia di Belle Arte

The Courtyard of La Accademia                                                                                                                                         What the ancient aqueducts had looked like

 

The original Pizza!

 

 

 

 

Working Abroad: How to Handle Bad A Week

Working Abroad: How to Handle Bad A Week

Okay. This is getting really difficult.

Granted, working for The Roman Guy is a godsend in comparison to other internships I could have gotten in terms of work environment, the job itself is getting a bit overwhelming. It’s been difficult to gather exactly what I need to be doing because there are so many smaller elements that go together for each task I must complete. For example, I have to learn how to operate MeetEdgar. This is a website in which I plug in posts into separate “buckets” based on type of post.

From there I can schedule which posts go on Facebook and Twitter by plugging that bucket into whatever time slot I want. I’ve used MeetEdgar twice, but now I think I’ve got a much better understanding of how it works. Then there is Instagram where I need to be posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at a time I think would reach the most followers. This would be fine if I had images to share. The Roman Guy is a fairly new company so they don’t have a ton of their own pictures. This being said, I need to be going out and taking pictures myself of the various foods and fresh food markets that are in Rome. I’m finding this difficult because I don’t have any income so I can’t always be going out to different places to take amazing food pictures for my posts. With these pictures I do manage to take, I have to create multiple images with polls, quotes, questions, etc. to post at scheduled times. It’s also hard because a lot more time is needed, in my opinion, than the 10-hour average per week that is recommended. It feels heavy especially when also managing school work. This is leaving my content not as amazing as I would like it to be (see attached images). Additionally, it’s my responsibility check on these social media accounts and interact with our followers. I won’t lie, I feel pretty discouraged.

This past week I got a really bad cough and fever. I’m not able to get sleep because of it. My supervisor noticed I seemed ill and was very kind about it which surprised me because people aren’t typically like this in the United States. She sent me home early and allowed me to complete my tasks on campus for the following day. I’m grateful for how accommodating and understanding The Roman Guy is. Though I didn’t go into work, I spent 8 hours on campus in the café this morning completing work so I wouldn’t fall behind. Realizing Rinaldo’s had soy milk was the highlight of my week so staying there for 8 hours did me some good, I’d say. Spending so much time on work today helped me feel like I have a better grip on what I have to do to stay on target. So what am I going to do to get past it? Looking for things to be happy about even if it’s as small as the cafe offering soy milk because I’m lactose intolerant. Additionally, I truly believe that no one should have to think about work and school every moment of every day. It’s healthy to take time to relax especially when getting sick. Tomorrow, JFRC is taking a group of students to a thermal bath for a spa day. Doing something for yourself to not be so overwhelmed can work wonders and improve productivity and sanity. Besides, getting through times like this is what I believe makes it all worth it in the end. I’m trying to stay optimistic because underneath it all I’m happy to be working for a company that shows that they care about my overall well being and is helping me grow into a better Marketer. Sometimes people have bad weeks and that’s alright as long as they bounce back. I just need to push through it.

Spring in Spain

Spring in Spain

I’ve only been in Spain for one month, but sometimes it feels like a week and other times a year.

I started off the first two weeks getting to know Madrid, the city I’m living in. At first, Madrid seemed huge, like a bigger version of Chicago, when I was looking at the maps. Thankfully, the family I have here walked me around all day (seriously, I had to wear comfortable shoes) and I got to know it pretty well. Madrid’s public transportation is just as good as Chicago’s, but you definitely walk around a lot more here; just keep in mind even the sneakers here are stylish.

Now that I’ve gotten to know the city better, I’ve become accustomed to wandering around streets in between classes or going to El Retiro, a big public park that used to belong to the Royal Family. I think I got a little too confident with how easily I adjusted to Madrid because I let my guard down and got my phone stolen while shoe shopping! It was pretty inconvenient, but I survived and got a really cheap one here, and it just became a lesson to keep tabs on my belongings at all times and listen when people tell me Madrid is known for pickpocketing.

As for traveling, I’ve stayed in Spain so far, but I’ve gone to other cities like Segovia, Salamanca, Granada, and Toledo. I highly recommend getting a guided tour because the things you learn are worth the money. I got lucky going to SLU Madrid because they offered day trips with a tour guide

to some of the cities, and it helped me get to know other students who are now my friends. Even if you aren’t interested in the trips, it’s an easy way to meet other students you’re in class with.

Coming from Chicago, I thought it’d be a bit warmer. But yesterday we had our first snowfall since I’ve been here. It was beautiful, but I was unprepared for the weather, so I highly recommend a good coat. Even if the weather is nice when you go, packing a couple of sweaters never hurts.

The hardest part about living here is trying to balance study with travel. I’ve taken to doing homework all day, in between my classes as well as after, so that I have my weekends free to travel. I also use the time on buses to catch up on my reading for class.

Of course, I still have some adjustments to make, like getting used to how late they have lunch and dinner here, but it’s totally worth it!

 

A Series of (Un)fortunate Events

A Series of (Un)fortunate Events

Spain has been home for almost two weeks, and in this past week I have been hit with more bad luck than I imagined would happen in the whole semester. I like to consider myself a generally prepared and organized person, but despite all of my preparation for the semester, everything seemed to go wrong this past week.

I thought it was bad getting sick in Chicago while my mom was 3.5 hours away in Michigan, but that was nothing compared to getting sick in Spain, with my family being over 4,000 miles away. We arrived in Salamanca on Sunday evening, and Monday was spent taking our placement exams and exploring the city. Salamanca is beautiful, especially the Plaza Mayor at night. My classes started at noon on Tuesday, and I decided I was going to wake up early so that I could eat breakfast and relax a little bit before going to class. When I woke up though, I felt as though I had been run over by a train. My muscles ached, my throat was aggressively sore, and I had a splitting headache. I popped a few dayquil, had some tea with breakfast, and assumed that this was just my body being upset with me for being out a little late the night before. Being in class was miserable– I could barely keep my eyes open and my body hurt so badly that I wasn’t able to focus at all.

I am living with a host family this semester: my parent’s names are Gloria and Jonas, and it is the three of us living together in an apartment. Neither of them speak English, which has been so amazing for my Spanish skills, but was difficult when I was sick. In introductory Spanish classes they teach you basic vocabulary for many topics (I remember having a unit on doctors and sickness in Spanish four), but I didn’t have the vocab to say more than simple things like me duele la garganta, la cabeza, y los músculos. I knew I should go to the farmacia, where Spaniards go to get medicine before they go to a doctor (you’re able to get more than just over the counter medicine here, it’s a lot different than in the US), but I was dreading it because of my lack of Spanish medical knowledge. Luckily, I never had to go because Gloria gave me some medicine that made me feel better within hours. I spent most of the week in bed, though, because my body was absolutely exhausted. I talked to a lot of friends who had been abroad, and apparently it’s super common to get sick in your first few weeks because traveling takes a huge toll on your body.

By Thursday I was feeling a lot better, which I was very thankful for since API had a planned excursion to visit Sevilla this past weekend! Things were looking up– I felt better, and I was about to go explore a beautiful city with some friends. The city was stunning. My friends and I spent the first evening exploring, ate some delicious gelato, and went out on the town for a little bit. The next day we saw the Real Alcázar, the Cathedral, and then had more free time! My friends Harrison, Nicolas, and I spent our siesta time on the roof of our hotel, which had a patio overlooking the city, and then Alyssa and I went out exploring again until it was time for dinner! Everything was so wonderful, and I was loving the city.

 Here are me and my friends Cady, Sofia, Kim, and Alyssa at the Real Alcázar!

That night, we went out again, and at about 3 am (nightlife starts late in Spain, I’m usually a grandma who goes to bed at 11 pm, what has this country done to me??), I realized that my purse had been unzipped, and that my phone and wallet were no longer in it. I froze, and felt my heart drop. This was my nightmare. I was in a foreign country with no phone and no money. I always tried to make sure I was paying attention to my purse and thought I did a good job but like my dad said, people who pickpocket for a living are far better at stealing than you are at protecting. I called my dad in a panic from a friend’s phone, and we cancelled my credit card and put my phone on lockdown mode. In that moment, as I was crying on the side of a road in Sevilla, I felt utterly defeated and as though nothing could go my way. But, God has a way of creeping in and reminding me that She’s going to take care of me. I lost my ID, but the week before I left I renewed my license because it was due to expire in April when I turn 21, so a new on is on its way to me soon. My dad also realized that even though he never insures our phones, my phone happened to still have insurance. That means that a replacement phone is getting to my dad tomorrow, and will then be sent to me! Most importantly, my passport was in my hotel room, and I only lost the 20€ that was in my wallet.

Sunday we packed up the bus and headed back to Salamanca. We left at 2 PM, and were supposed to arrive in Salamanca around 9. But, of course, when we were a little less than halfway into the trip, our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. We were about 1 km away from a little town called Torremejía, where we set up camp for a few hours. We had no idea how long fixing the bus would take, so we explored the village. As we were walking around, off in the distance we heard music and saw a group of people in the streets. We decided to go see what was going on and to our surprise, it was a group of maybe 50 dancers and 20 people on a giant percussion contraption parading around the streets. A girl from Torremejía came up to us and asked why we were there– it was a town of about 2,300 people, so our group stuck out like a sore thumb. She told us that this was a group called Comparsa Las Monjas, and that they were practicing for a parade they were going to be in next week. Although our bus had broken down in the middle of nowhere, seeing them practice was without a doubt the highlight of my time in Spain so far. I highly suggest checking them out on Facebook, they are such a cool group!! We didn’t end up getting back to Salamanca until about 1:30 AM, but that didn’t even bother me because of the amazing experience we had had in Torremejía.

As this week (and especially this weekend) happened, I had moments where I felt utterly defeated, but I also had amazing moments that I am so thankful for. Everything seemed to go wrong, but like my dad also said, bad experiences make for great stories down the road. Yes, I am annoyed that I have 11€ in cash and that I have to use my computer in order to communicate, but I am safe and surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family, both in Salamanca and back home. Before I left, a close family friend sent me a card filled with love and wishes that I would have many experiences that would bring me closer to God as I traveled. Although this week felt like a disaster, I can’t help but reflect on how thankful I am for my dad, who helps me stay calm as I feel like my life is falling apart. For my friends, who sit with me on the side of the road in a city we don’t know, and who give me hope and encouragement as I feel like my life is falling apart. For this experience, the good, the bad, and everything in between. And for God, who reminds me that even though things go wrong, She is always looking out for me. 

David’s Home

David’s Home

Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David is bigger than you think, trust me. If you’ve never seen it in person, (or even if you have) odds are you’ll be amazed when you find yourself staring up, mouth agape, at the seventeen-foot-tall, marble depiction of the Old Testament’s most famous underdog. You might also be surprised, as I was, to find out that Michelangelo was not the first artist to try transforming that marble slab into something beautiful. In fact, the statue was originally commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Duomo, now one of Florence’s most famous churches (pictured below).

In 1464, the church commissioned Augostino di Duccio, a student of Donatello, to construct a David for the project. He failed to create much more than a rough outline of the legs. Ten years later, another one of Donatello’s disciples, Antonio Rossellino, tried his hand. Rossellino was afraid that the previous work done on the marble had weakened it so much that it would never support a statue of such great size and weight, so he too failed to complete the sculpture. Fast forward to 1501, the marble block has now been lying dormant in the Duomo workshop for 25 years, naturally eroding in the elements, when a young Michelangelo agrees to do what the others could not. At this point, Michelangelo had recently finished carving his pieta, a statue depicting The Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus. This work would go on to be recognized as one of his masterpieces, arguably second only to the statue of David. 

Michelangelo took a block of old, discarded marble, and created one of the world’s most renowned sculptures. He didn’t protest, nor did he refuse the job because it seemed too daunting to others, he took what he was given and worked. His work paid off, as the completed statue was instantly recognized as a masterpiece. Partially because David was so stunning, those at the Duomo decided that it could not go on the roof, over 200 feet above Florence, but that it had to be on the ground, where it could be seen up close. First, David’s home was the Piazza della Signoria, but was later moved to its current location inside the Academia Museum which is where I got to see it this past weekend.

I think there’s a powerful lesson, not just in Michelangelo’s perseverance, but in the story of David’s changing locations. David was originally going to be part of a twelve piece series that would display on the roof of the Duomo. He ended up standing solo inside a different building. Even though it wasn’t clear where he was headed, David stands tall, guarding and representing the great city of Firenzi all the same. I guess I just have to appreciate the symbolism between David and young people who travel. Many of the students here at the JFRC often have no idea what country they’re going to be in next week, myself included. It is very freeing but at the same time extremely unsettling. One of the things that surprised me most about this semester has been how uncomfortable I have been. Being in new places, plunged into a new language, and unsure of pretty much everything can take a toll on anyone. Seeing David today reminded me that there is beauty in not knowing. Michelangelo likely had his doubts about that old marble he agreed to work with. The city didn’t know where their awesome new mascot would end up, but in the end, it worked out okay.

It can be difficult to explain to someone at home. When I tell friends in Chicago about a challenge here, about something that frustrated me or a time I was worried, they always say the same thing: “I can’t believe you’re complaining about being in Rome.” True, I am very lucky to be exploring Europe and I won’t forget what a great opportunity this is. That being said, culture shock is more real than I thought it would be. When I got to Florence it was seven AM, cold, and rainy. The sun hadn’t come up yet. We couldn’t check into our hostel until two PM. I was anything but comfortable as I had no clue where to go, or what the next 24 hours would look like. These circumstances at home would be nothing more than an inconvenient way to start a day. But take away the comfort of knowing exactly where your bed is, knowing that your family is close by, and shrink your language skills to those of a ten-year-old, and the situation changes. I knew I had my two friends Victoria and Chloe with me though, so I knew that together we would be just fine in this new place.

Once we started, we couldn’t be stopped. We toured the Uffizi museum, haggled with pushy leather salesmen in the street markets, (Chloe got a killer leather jacket down from $290 to $120) stumbled upon a parade, found a vinyl record store, and had some of the best fast food at 1950 American Diner. After all was said and done, my short weekend in Florence was my favorite part of the semester so far. I know I want to go back when the weather warms up, even though it would mean breaking my one rule of never visiting the same place twice. Sometimes, to squeeze the most out of life, you just have to do some things you didn’t plan.

If Michelangelo could make a masterpiece with discarded marble, I can make my way through a semester full of uncertainty.

Victoria (Left) and Chloe (Right) The drinks at Art Bar are as fun to eat as they are to drink.
David, who’s nickname is “Manu Fortis” which means Strong of Hand. This is likely why Michelangelo chose to make David’s right hand extra large.
The Arno River in Florence
The extensive collection at Move On, a vinyl store and restaurant.