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Tag: Loyola University Chicago

Madrid to Mallorca

Madrid to Mallorca

Time is running out, and finals are fast approaching. Earlier in the semester a couple of friends and I decided to book a trip for the long weekend before finals week to the island of Palma, Mallorca.

I’m not sure if it was because I know my days are numbered now, but this trip was by far my favorite. I arrived with only two expectations: laying on the beach every day for the whole trip, and leaving with a heavy tan.

Not only were my expectations met, but they were surpassed. I made friends with other guests at my hostel and we tanned on the beach and went on adventures for the three days there. I went cliff diving for the first time, visited a palace, took a picturesque train ride to the other side of the island, and partied with people I just met! It seems like a dream, how perfect the trip was. It made me realize that talking to people who didn’t come on the trip can add to your plans, not take away from them.

Of course, I was afraid to do a lot of what I’ve done, but I’ve also conquered a lot of those fears now. I’m terrified of heights, so cliff diving seemed ridiculous to me, but I went anyways. I still have no idea how I mustered up the courage to jump, but I did, and even though I landed wrong I’d do it again any day. You don’t have to do anything as extreme as cliff diving, but you should do things that push you out of your comfort zone.

The last night I was there I got to see the sun set over the mountains and the ocean, while thinking about my study abroad experience. As often as it is repeated, I really do believe you have to go into all of it with zero expectations, ready to change plans again and again, and be open to new experiences. My time studying abroad wouldn’t be as amazing as it is without trying new things.

    

Romantic Solo Trip to Venice, Italy

Romantic Solo Trip to Venice, Italy

So, there I was, sitting in Rinaldo’s in my usual seat on the couch in the corner listening to my peers discuss travel plans for the upcoming weekend. I couldn’t join in because I had no plans so I decided I needed to go somewhere. I pulled out my computer and my credit card, searched “Rome to Venice” and booked a train ticket and a hostel for the weekend. Spontaneous and maybe even a little impulsive, I made the decision and didn’t need to discuss it with anyone. After I realized what I did, I thought, Oh my God I’m going to Venice, ALONE!! And there began the brewing of excitement tinted with unease in the pit of my stomach.

Here’s my “excited-to-travel-alone” selfie.

After a late night of cheering on the Men’s basketball team and celebrating their victory into the Sweet Sixteen, I woke up (a little hungover), packed, and made my way to the train station. I’m not an anxious person, but when it comes to traveling with a deadline, I’m always on the edge of panic but everything went smoothly and I made it on the fast train headed to Venice. With a grin on my face, I admired the hills and fields passing me by as I sped over 150 mph towards the City of Water. Four hours later, tired and hungry (the default state of being for a college student studying abroad), I arrived in Venice, immediately dropped my backpack off at my hostel, and went off to explore the narrow streets and winding canals.

Venice is a maze. Google Maps would tell me to walk down what appeared to be a dark, deserted alleyway but, when I would turn the corner, the street would be bustling with life. I thought I was walking in circles because I would pass Murano glass shops, mask shops, and pizzarias then I’d walk over a bridge and pass more glass, masks, and pizza. I happened upon Piazza San Marco, the only piazza in Venice, crowded with one half tourists and the other half pigeons. Children were chasing the pigeons, couples were dancing to live music emanating from the caffès lining the piazza, men were feeding the pigeons and trying to get tourists to pay to take pictures with the birds, and tourists were walking around with their selfie sticks, always looking up with their mouths agape. When you travel a lot, you start to notice the typical tourist giveaways.

At the East end of Piazza San Marco lies Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica. Unfortunately, I was unable to go inside but I did admire the facade, which was highlighted with gold mosaics and sparkled in the golden hour sunlight. The sun was approaching the horizon and I realized that now was my opportunity to see a Venetian sunset so I frantically walked around trying to find that perfect view that I’ve seen in photos but, unfortunately, I could not beat the sun. I started back towards my hostel, meanwhile glancing at all the menus posted along the way. A woman, whose job consisted of getting people into her ristorante, advised me about the perfect Venetian dishes to try for a seafood beginner (I’m not a fan of seafood but I wanted to be adventurous). I ate spaghetti alle vongole which was spaghetti with teeny, tiny clams in their shell and tomatoes with garlic sauce. Delizioso! Oh, can’t forget the glass of white house wine, one must drink wine in Italy.

I began my second day in Venice with a cappuccino and a trip to Murano, an island about a thirty-five-minute waterbus ride from my hostel. Murano is famous for its glass production which began in the 7th century. I went to the Glass Museum and saw some ancient glass and learned the history surrounding the main product of Venice. The glassblowing process is so fascinating, I wish I could’ve seen it in person! After leaving the museum, I walked along the canals and browsed through the shops lining the water. It took lots of deliberation but I found some beautiful souvenirs to bring back home for my friends and family.

Let’s talk about transportation in Venice. There are no roads, only canals, so you can either walk or travel by water. Waiting for the bus consisted of standing on a swaying platform next to a dock and hopping on a boat when it arrived. Venice did not feel like a real place because it is so different than any city I’ve ever seen. Florence has mopeds, Amsterdam has bikes, London has the Tube, Paris has the Metro, and Venice has waterbuses and gondolas.

Gondolas have set rates in Venice so one gondola for forty minutes is €80 and you can have a maximum of six people splitting that cost. As we know, I was traveling by myself and I could not afford an €80 private gondola ride on my romantic solo trip but I couldn’t go to Venice and not ride a gondola! I scoured the internet until I came across a deal on Viator.com for a walking tour plus thirty-five-minute gondola ride for $51. US DOLLARS! Lifelong dreams were coming true that day. It was time to meet up for the walking tour of Venice and my tour guide was a Venetian with a sarcastic, dark sense of humor and I enjoyed it. We toured an area with less tourists and saw a few of the one hundred and twenty-five churches of Venice. Venice sinks about 12 cm a century so now is a great time to invest in the housing market (credit for that joke goes to my tour guide, Marco). 

It was finally time for my gondola ride! I was put onto the boat with two couples and another solo rider and we embarked on our thirty-five-minute expedition around the winding Venetian canals. My gondolier did not sing or wear a fun hat like I saw other gondoliers wearing but he peacefully propelled us along. The best way to experience Venice is by water and I am so glad I was able to go on a gondola ride. It was peaceful and beautiful but over all too quickly.

After disembarking from the gondola, I wondered around a bit and happened upon Piazza San Marco, again. There are wooden walkways for when the city floods stacked all over the piazza so I went off towards the Doge’s Palace to sit on the walkways with the other tourists. I had a salami sandwich in my purse leftover from my sack lunch and I was starving so I thought it would be a good time to relax for a minute and eat. Plus, I was saving money because I did not need to buy another meal. I pulled out my sandwich, unwrapped the tinfoil around it, and took a bite but within thirty seconds of that first bite, a seagull swooped down and grabbed the sandwich from my hand. The seagull landed about fifteen feet in front of me and eight other seagulls were fighting that thief for my sandwich. I was completely shocked. Did a seagull really just take my sandwich? The other tourists around me also looked shocked and I started to laugh hysterically. I could not believe that just happened and I thought it was hilarious because it was such a stupid mistake to try and eat in a piazza FILLED with birds. If you go to Venice, please do not eat in the Piazza San Marco, learn from my mistake!

There I was in the piazza, hysterically laughing, alone, and without food so I wondered around until I found a take away pizza place. I had walked past it a couple of times during my earlier adventuring and there was a spinach and ricotta pizza that I had been eyeing. Of course, I got the pizza because it was only €3.50 and the slice was huge! I think my sandwich was meant to be taken from me so that I could enjoy that delicious pizza. It was waaaaay better than any pizza that I’ve eaten in Rome so far.

The sun was setting on my second day in Venice and I found myself at a dead-end with a perfect view of the sunset. It finally hit me that I was in Venice. Traveling is hectic and everything moves so fast that it’s possible to forget to take a breath and really appreciate the place you’re in. I felt the cool breeze on my face and I knew that if I touched the water, it would be cold. I’m not sure for how long I watched that scene but I did not walk away until the sun made its full decent beyond the horizon.

Venice is gorgeous, unique, and a little bit ridiculous and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to visit before it sinks. I’m kidding, that’s not going to happen for a while. Traveling to Venice felt unreal because it is so different than any city that I have ever seen. This small town will forever hold a place in my heart, even if it feels like just a dream.

 

Things I’ve Learned While Abroad

Things I’ve Learned While Abroad

Hi again! Blogging my life abroad has started to feel almost normal? I have had a lot of time to reflect on some important topics during our excursion to Cambodia, so to make this easy on all of us I am going to make a list of the things I’ve learned as a whole while studying abroad. Hopefully I can help inform anyone thinking of studying abroad, and specifically anyone wanting to come to the Vietnam Center!

  • You learn conversions for money in a snap

After our trip to Thailand, where the baht is used, and our excursion to Cambodia, where the US dollar as well as the riel is used, you learn to become a money saving master. The exchange rate for each currency is different, but budgeting has become second nature, so I don’t have to keep going to ATMs and racking up those international fees. The amazing thing about being in Southeast Asia is that places you only could’ve dreamed of visiting are just an hour flight away instead of a 20-hour flight. I do keep a small amount from each different currency I have just as little keepsakes which I find something I am going to love to have to look back on.

  • We never really learned about Southeast Asia

Our recent excursion to Cambodia really made this point very clear to me. The Cambodian genocide is something not mentioned in most general education classes, but is a very important historical tragedy that I recommend everyone read into. We spent our trip visiting Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where we visited the historically important spots in each city which I am super grateful for. The two sites we visited in Phnom Penh were the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Field Genocidal Center which become not only a sobering moment, but a reflective one. Speaking to the tour guides and people we met allowed us to learn more information about Cambodia in a handful of days than I knew in my entire life. When Loyola said this experience would be immersive, they weren’t kidding (in the best of ways).

  • You learn new things everyday

My time here has showed me that I actually am learning and not just running around Saigon as a 19-year-old American with no direction. I am finding ways to incorporate what I’ve learned slowly into my life. I have also learned so much from our BK partner students and would listen to them speak non-stop about their lives if they wanted me to. It’s amazing to pick up on things you never really knew about Vietnam even after being half way through the semester. I just found out I’ve been telling my taxi drivers the wrong way to turn since I got the two Vietnamese words mixed up for right and left (I should’ve enrolled in that Vietnamese class huh?).

  • No pain no gain

As mentioned, we also went to Siem Reap while in Cambodia and went to the Angkor Archeological Park. We woke up at 4am (yes you read it correctly!) to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. It was a lot of walking and tuk tuking (motorbikes with an attached ack for up to 4 people to sit) and standing in the sun, but it was all worth it. We got to venture around a few of the temples including Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm (The temple in Tomb Raider!). If we didn’t get our lazy bones up that bright and early we wouldn’t have spent so much time seeing temples almost a thousand years old and the carving that looks like a dinosaur in Tam Prohm.

                                     

(The dinosaur carving *X Files theme song*)

I don’t think I am going to stop learning as long as I’m here, and as the days roll by I do get nervous to come home. I think I am going to miss living and studying in Vietnam a lot (and the 22-hour flight back has already given me nightmares aha). I definitely know I am going to fall victim to reverse culture shock, but I do know I am going to get myself back to Vietnam one day again.

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!

                             

Culture Shocked: Transportation, Scammers, Making Friends

Culture Shocked: Transportation, Scammers, Making Friends

Thursday, January 18th, 2018.

What am I doing here.

 

Prior to arriving in Rome, I had this notion that I’d be living in the middle of a postcard. Everything beautiful all around me all of the time. That wasn’t the case. Here at the John Felice Rome Center, we’re on the hill. It’s sort of the outskirts of Rome called Balduina and is on top of a hill. If I take the 990 Bus, for example, I’m 45 minutes from Vatican City. That is if the bus ever comes, of course. This is the first culture shock: public transportation works how and when it wants to. There is no use in understanding it. This is just the way it is. Understanding that Rome has no logic is the hardest part of adapting for me, but now I’m two weeks in and I’m over it. Need more dependable transportation? Take the metro.

Culture shock two: Scammers. They’re everywhere. This is a huge obstacle to making local friends other than the language barrier. The second night in Rome, a group of friends from at the JFRC and I went out to Trastevere. All of the locals know this area for their American pubs and clubs so some often times locals will come to swoon the International Students. Its also known by JFRC staff as an area

for students to be more cautious in. While hanging out near a bar, a group of locals approached my friends and I. They seemed really friendly and we had a lot of fun trying to overcome our language barriers. They knew as much English as we do Italian. One of the guys offered us a drink out of his cup. Red Flag. Its important to remember, especially if one’s been drinking, to stay aware of possible harm. I don’t know whether he was being amicable or malicious in his offer; however, I did know I did not want to find out. This isn’t to say making friends here outside the JFRC is impossible

because there are so many warm and loving people in Rome. More-so, never forget to stay aware.  During the first two weeks of orientation, the JFRC staff takes all of the students on trips and diners. One trip we went on was to The Colosseum and to the Roman Forum. It is one of the most astonishingly beautiful areas I’ve ever been in. Around these tourist areas specifically I’ve noticed, people on the street will approach me with roses, selfie-sticks, bracelets, ect. and try to put them in my hand essentially to get me to buy. At first I found it shocking, but now I’ve learned to say, “Non, grazie,” and be on my way. One place I noticed scammers weren’t as prevalent are the Villas. As a group, JFRC visited Villa Farnese other known as Villa Caprarola where we were privileged enough to tour the mansion. Sometimes the coolest places in Italy are in the middle of nowhere and its amazing.

 

This week I met someone named Ben. He’s an International Student studying medicine at a neighboring university. One night, we walked all around Rome hitting all of the tourist spots that just have to be seen and he explained the history of each spot. It was fascinating. We saw the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti (The Spanish Steps), and Villa Borghese gardens. Days like this where the weather is beautiful, tourism is down because its later in the evening, and great friends surround you are days where Rome is absolutely lovely and the fact that buses may or may not ever come doesn’t matter to much. Making new friends, in my opinion, is my favorite part of being in Rome. I generally trust new people, but taking precautions such as telling my roommate or SLA where I’ll be, who I’m with, ect. to stay safe is vital. We drove back to the JFRC to drop me off at the end of the night on a scooter and in that moment I actually felt like Lizzie McGuire.

 

 

 

So, what am I doing here?
Living my best life.

 

It’s Almost Thai-Me to Go

It’s Almost Thai-Me to Go

6 weeks left. I can’t believe my flight from Saigon back to Chicago leaves in exactly 6 weeks from now. Sometimes it feels like I have 6 more months to go, and sometimes it feels like I’m supposed to have left already. My outfits have consisted of colorful pants and too-sweaty t-shirts, I have a general disdain for anyone who drives their motorbike on the sidewalk, my wallet is emptier now than I thought it was going to be, and my playlists consist of a mix of travel-inspiring and homesickness songs (Rivers & Roads, anyone?).

I was having a low week a couple of weeks ago where I really didn’t want to be in Saigon anymore, not because of Saigon itself, but just being away from my support system, (first round study abroad homesickness y’all) so I made myself a list of accomplishments. So tacky, I know, but when I looked at all of the things that I’ve done so far, the ways I’ve grown as a traveler and as a person, it’s pretty incredible what can change in the course of a couple of months.

Everyone usually hates when I remind them how much time we have left because it’s a gentle reminder of the idea of returning home and the pressure of not missing out on anything while we’re still here. In honor of the limited time left, I took advantage of this past weekend to visit the southern half of Thailand before jetting back over to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a concert. Once again, I had a day where I was in three different countries in the course of 24 hours, which is unfathomable to me seeing as before I showed up to Vietnam, I had been in ONE other country other than the US. Many expats and Viet-Kieu (Vietnamese who grew up outside of Vietnam and have returned) that I’ve met are very surprised to hear that Vietnam was my second country. As I’ve found, Vietnam is not for the weak or the faint-hearted, let alone solo-traveling around SE Asia. In all, my trip to Thailand consisted of 24 hours in Bangkok, two and a half days in Krabi, Thailand, and 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur. Here are a few of the more interesting little moments I observed in my time in Thailand:

 

The Wai: The Thai greeting consists of a slight bow with palms pressed together in front of you. It’s similar to the Indian namaste and the Cambodian sampeah This in itself isn’t the most interesting thing I saw, but it was the fact that as people were driving their motorbikes, they would BOW to other people as they got into another lane, kind of like the wave we do in the US. If you’ve ever driven a motorbike, you understand how difficult this is to do. Most didn’t press their hands together, but still. Also this is completely different from the way that Vietnamese drive what with the intense beeping, constant cutting off of each other, and the skillful avoidance of accidents (for the most part).

Speaking of motorbikes, I finally had a female grab driver! Since being in Vietnam I’ve had one woman taxi driver and not a single woman grab driver. Needless to say, I did a little internal fist pump. I also watched someone flossing while driving their motorbike, and also saw someone driving with an open flame in their basket. Y’all, literally ANYTHING happens on a motorbike. If you can imagine it, it happens.

The death of the king: It’s been more than 100 days, but people are still paying their respects to the King at the Grand Palace and huge murals and pictures of him are everywhere. Never have I seen such deep respect for someone who’s passed away.

Evolution: As I pulled away from the Krabi airport, I noticed there were street signs with pictures of what Krabi used to look like… 3 million years ago?? After getting in at 9pm, I had some questions.

Cute couple things: Putting in eye drops for each other, but continuously missing. I don’t know why I found this hilarious, but I guess on your fourth flight in 6 days, anything outside of the safety instruction is comic relief.

Scales outside of every convenience store: Because who doesn’t want to know what they weigh after unashamedly stuffing themselves with three rolls of oreos and cheap drinks.

Other things of interest included motorized uni-wheels, a golden monk blessing a group of small children and a husky café.

Aside from the basically normal (but interesting to me) little moments, I saw beautiful cliffs and beaches in Krabi, rock climbed until my arms gave out on an outdoor 5.10 route, and had a life-changing night at the Bethel worship night in Kuala Lumpur. I’m extremely blessed to be here in Vietnam, and it does come with its challenges. On Thursday our group heads out for 12 days on the road through Central and North Vietnam where we’ll get to see a whole different side of the country. Homesickness can be hard, but letting it stop me from taking in all that I can while I’m here is not on the agenda. I’ve been pushed to find inspiration in places I never have before and have learned what it’s like to be truly independent and how to love alone time. The lessons I’m walking away with can’t fully be captured in words, but I hope I’ll be able to hold on to what I’ve learned here long past when I return home to the States. For now, I still have more cafes to discover, more mountains to climb, more papers to write, and more life to live. Catch you on the flipside!

Here’s some more musings:

“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there” – Vince Lombardi

 

Novaturient (adj): A desire to change and alter your life.

Coddiwomple (v): To travel purposefully towards a vague destination.

This One’s for Sufjan

This One’s for Sufjan

Walking on the beach of Phu Quoc Island, looking distantly into the horizon of the South China Sea while listening to Oceans is an incredible experience. Less incredible was walking behind an older woman who’s bikini top was at her waist and her bottom piece was more nonexistent than existent, if you know what I mean. Over the weekend I spent 48 hours in retirement paradise amongst mostly people old enough to be my grandparents. I met up with a new friend, Kate from Canada, and shared laughs over the fact that we were the “young chicks” as one sweet older couple called us.

As she headed off to motorbike around the island, I headed off in search of clean beaches and time to reflect over the last 4 weeks of my life. As I walked, I strolled through street markets, to local areas, to dirt roads, to talking with local children just getting out of school, to accidentally stumbling upon and deliberately sneaking into a 5-star resort with a beautiful beach. Here’s the thing though: it worked. As I walked onto the beach and set up camp, I wasn’t questioned. I blended in, sitting there amongst the small crowd of variably tan white people, and was never questioned whether or not I belonged there. It was then that I realized that the privilege I have in the US as a white female is just as real here and everywhere else in the world. The whiteness of my skin is a ticket to not being questioned of my authority or belonging. So what do I do with that? How do I treat my privilege here or anywhere? These are the questions I’ve had for much of college and studying abroad continues to confront me with this, especially living in a district mostly populated by local Vietnamese. I still don’t have answers. I do my best to acknowledge my privilege and bias but I fail all too often. One important lesson I learned from an international experiential education conference I attended a couple of years ago is that there is a 100% chance that you will offend others at least one point in your life when trying to make cross-cultural connections and confront your own privilege. However, now more than ever you have to make room for brave space. Be okay with the fact that you will fail and try anyway. I’ve learned the most through conversations with others, and I’ve already had several eye-opening conversations here about race and what it means to be a foreigner in Vietnam.

 

Cassia Cottage
  

 

So switching gears a bit, I’m a month in and have been blessed enough to have done a ton of traveling and bouncing around within SE Asia. However, I’ve been yearning for something more, something more immersive. And yet, I’m the only one getting in my way. There are moments of motivation where I reach out to service organizations that are mostly Vietnamese run or have conversations with locals who don’t have English as their first language that push me outside of my comfort zone. And then there are moments that have me running to my cà phê sữa đá in English-speaking cafés and my bed with Netflix. I want to be happy enough with the progress I’ve made so far, the small victories, the lessons I’ve learned, but I can’t help but think that there’s more to this. Should I just throw my computer out the window, cut off all ties to the US and walk out my front door in search of solely Vietnamese company? Should I keep enjoying my status quo of classes, cafes, banh mi, and short interactions with locals? As I struggle through what it means to be in search of an immersive study abroad experience, any advice can be directed to 497 hoa hao, Phuong 4, Quan 10, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. At the beginning of the year I made a list of 17 for ’17 achievable goals for the year that would challenge me to open up my perspective of the world and enjoy each moment as it comes. While I’m happy that I’ve started to make progress on many of them, I’m realizing more and more how little I know and have experienced so far.

 

Fisherman off the coast of the South China Sea
 Fisherman off the coast of the South China Sea

 

So by now you’re probably wondering why I titled this post the way I did. For reading this far, I’m granting you the answer. So one thing that’s great about all of the flights around SE Asia is that they all play music while boarding and getting off. On my solo flight to Phu Quoc, excited for the weekend ahead, I knew it was going to be a good time because as soon as we landed, they started playing an anthem by the great hero, Sufjan Stevens. And not just any song, but “Chicago” of all possibilities. I took this as a sign that not only is it going to be okay, but I need to see each moment for what it is and accept each emotion as they come. Between signing myself up for an adventure race in April, joining a local church, and continuing to make a name for myself here in Vietnam, I’m slowly but surely learning who I really am and want to be, all the while experiencing things I never could have dreamed of before coming here.

 

Here’s my motto for the rest of the semester:

 

Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry. – Jack Kerouac

 

Catch you on the flip side.

Learning Curve

Learning Curve

“I’ll be leaving the country in January.” “Oh, where to/what for?” “I’ll be studying abroad in Vietnam for four months”.

 

A nice thought, this more or less summarizes more than half of the conversations I’ve been having over the past month or two in preparing to leave for my first semester abroad. It never fully felt real, although I heard myself saying the words and the excitement in my voice. I had traveled before, and had in fact led a trip abroad for high school students to Costa Rica, so of course I was ready for my time abroad.

 

Hell no.

 

I boarded the plane just over a week ago, said goodbye to friends and family I wouldn’t see until May, and set off for what I thought would just start to push me outside of my comfort zone. After making great friends with the people next to me, handling the first 15 hour leg of the flight like an old pro (even giving advice to people who hadn’t done it before – I am a straight fraud, everything I know I learned from Pinterest), and enjoying a free hotel because of a missed connecting flight, I believed I had it all figured out.

 

To give you context, I’m a biology major turned international studies circa sophomore year with another major in sociology, and if I’m passionate about two things, it’s about pushing outside of my comfort zone and building authentic, raw relationships with people. I chose the Vietnam center for a combination of reasons, ranging from the fact that my scholarship applies to this program to not having any prior context for Vietnam to wanting the most intense adventure I could find. I’m a lead facilitator for Loyola’s experiential education office, Ramble Outdoors, and am pursuing a career in adventure education. More or less, the combination of outdoor adventure and working with people is kind of my thing. Even in the first week I have absolutely seen how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study abroad in a country like Vietnam.

 

Meeting some of our partners for the first time and exploring district 10 together!
Meeting some of our partners for the first time and exploring district 10 together!

 

I was the first to arrive for our program, which has a total of 16 people. No emotion had hit me yet of the fact that I was leaving for a few months and it won’t fully hit me for a few weeks more. That night I walked around by myself trying to do my best to look like I knew what I was doing. The air tasted sweet although the fumes of the motorbikes often overpower it. Vietnam has already flipped my world upside down in some ways and I love it. With having a smaller program, there are so many perks, especially having Vietnamese partner students. Their kindness has been overwhelming and I’ll talk a little bit more about them later on. Vietnam is a lot to take in at once, and in 7 days I’ve already been drenched in a rainstorm while riding on the back of a motorbike, struggled through language barriers to the point of frustration, made travel plans for the upcoming holiday, maneuvered through a few of the districts of the city, and tasted more food than I could have imagined. While I still have an incredible amount of cultural and linguistic wisdom to catch up on, I couldn’t be happier to be studying at the Loyola Vietnam Center.

 

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As someone passionate about adventure and having been challenged and pushed to my limits in several other aspects of my life, I’m so excited to start my journey through Vietnam and discover what this semester is going to mean for me. I firmly believe that travel holds such powerful meaning for one’s life and keeps one from limiting their own life to a narrow worldview.

 

Life is not meant to be lived in one place, and while traveling this melcouth world takes courage, life is meant to be lived creatively and the benefits of studying abroad have already proved to be ineffable.

 

As Maslow once revered, “In any given moment we have two options: To step forward into growth or step back into safety.”

 

Today, and for the rest of the semester, I’m choosing to step forward.

History in the Making

History in the Making

This past weekend I took a trip to 1944.

Utah was the NCAA basketball champion, Pensive won the 70th Kentucky Derby, the Oscar for best picture went to Casablanca, FDR was re-elected President, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five star general for the American Army serving as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe as World War II started to wind down.

The United States has been very fortunate not to have had many modern wars fought on domestic soil. Europe, however, is a different story.

For two days, myself and 40 other students witnessed first hand the graves, troop landing sites, battle sites, and museums of WWII. It is one thing to read about these things in history books; it is quite another to see the actual battlefields and read all of the names, ages, and hometowns of the men and women who fought and died. It is a strange and sobering feeling that creeps into your stomach when you realize that you are the same age as they were.

On the first day, we visited Pomezia, the German War Cemetery. The sheer simplicity of the layout, the entrance, and the tombstones perfectly reflect a classic German style. The space is somewhat small for being the final resting place of 2,740 soldiers, but it looks that way because three individuals are buried in each plot. I found two soldiers that I share a birthday with. They died at the young ages of 21 and 22–only one and two years older than me. If that doesn’t make you appreciate the life you have, then I don’t know what will.

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Our next stop was the Museo Piana dell Orme. This was no ordinary museum. This museum had life-size replicas of scenes from the war, complete with real artifacts and chilling sound effects. There were authentic uniforms, war vehicles, audio tapes of bombs exploding, men shouting, planes, cars, and tanks. We went scene by scene through the war exactly as it happened in Italy: from the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943, to the Allied landing at Anzio that began in January 1944, and finally to the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944.

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After the museum, we traveled to the site of an actual battle, Isola Bella. While the area is now occupied by houses and farm land, it was once littered with bullets and ash as the Axis forces residing on the hills surrounding the area targeted the Allied powers down below. The only remaining clues that a war was fought there 71 years ago, are two columns that had obvious damage from the conflict. Otherwise, Isola Bella is a now quiet and peaceful street.

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It was then time to visit another cemetery. The Sicily Rome American Cemetery is located in Nettuno, just outside of Rome, and is the site for 7,861 American servicemen burials. In contrast to the German cemetery in Pomezia, the Sicily Rome American Cemetery had larger crosses, a fountain, a two room memorial, and only one person buried in each grave space. It was a peaceful and moving tribute to the fallen soldiers.

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As a group we laid flowers at the grave of John Burke, a Loyola University of Chicago student who was killed near Cisturna in January of 1944. We also saw and read about others buried at the site: Ellen Ainsworth, a nurse who died while helping patients during a gun fight; Sylvester Antolak, a Medal of Honor recipient, and Henry T. Waskow, whose death was emotionally depicted in a widely-read column written by Ernie Pyle (who died in Japan in 1945).

We placed a wreath beneath the Brothers Statue (one man represents the Navy and the other represents the Army–they symbolize the bond American service men and women have) in the memorial, and were able to lower and fold the American flags as representatives of the John Felice Rome Center. It was an incredibly moving experience, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Next on the itinerary was the beach at Nuttuno, close to where the Allies stormed the beach in Anzio. This was a nice change of pace compared to the rest of the day. The sound of waves replaced the loud roar of bombs, and the view of a luminous sunset replaced the visions of wounded and dead soldiers, the destruction of bombs and tombstones. After recounting my trip later to my dad, I found out that my great-great-uncle (my Grandpa’s uncle) had been a part of the landing at Anzio. This was so exciting! My dad said that my great-great-uncle lived through the fighting and made it back to the United States in one piece. I had no idea that I had a personal connection to WWII in Italy.

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After the beach it was time for pizza and bed. To say that I was tired would be an understatement.

Day two was spent in Rome as we recounted the events that took place on March 23 and 24, 1944. Our first stop was a neighborhood in the city that houses a memorial called Fosse Ardeatine. This is the location of a massacre of over 330 Italian men on March 24, 1944. The events that occurred on March 23rd lead to the mass killing: A group of Italians bombed a German police force as they marched along a narrow street in Rome called Via Rasella, killing 33. The Germans sought reprisal for the attack: 10 Italians killed for each German killed. You can walk through the underground caves to see where the Italians were shot.

Interestingly enough, the group of Germans responsible for the massacre had never before killed anyone, and so it is said that they were most likely pretty drunk when they shot the Italians. The victims were concealed in the caves when the Germans set off explosives to seal the openings. The bodies were found after the war and given proper burials. Each of the victims had a plot in the large memorial that included their name, age, occupation, and pictures. The eerie silence that surrounded this memorial was chilling.

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After Fosse Ardeatine, we went to the Museo della Liberazione. The entire museum was just the three small floors that were the German SS headquarters during the war. Prisoners, and those involved in the resistance of the German occupation in Italy, were imprisoned, interrogated, and even tortured there. Two of the floors were small, windowless rooms that looked like closets. These rooms acted as solitary confinement spaces, where a prisoner would spend hours, or even days, in the room. It was chilling to walk into these rooms and see the carvings the people made on the wall.

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The building was abandoned by the Germans when they found out the Allies were going to liberate Rome. They took a lot of important papers (the Germans were incredibly good at keeping records-for instance, all of the people killed in the Fosse Ardeatine massacre were listed by name and checked off when they were apprehended). Many other items in the building were well preserved.

The final stop for day two was Via Rasella. This was the street where the bomb went off on March 23. Our two leaders for the trip, Jim and Phil, (who both attended the JFRC as students), recounted the story of the bombing for us while we walked. After the explosion of nails and other shrapnel, the Germans started firing their weapons at anyone and anything around the site. Their bullets hit houses and buildings along the narrow street. There are still holes in some of the structures today.

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What struck me the most during the tour of Via Rasella, was that I had ventured along the same streets two days before, but I was completely unaware of the historical significance. Friday. I decided to venture into the city by myself, partly as a challenge to see if I could navigate my way around, and partly because I was restless and anxious to be in the city center after a long week of classes. I started off by the Vatican and made my way to Via del Corso. I eventually found myself in front of the Trevi Fountain. It was breathtaking to be honest- partly due to the realization that I was standing next to the Trevi Fountain, and partly because there were hundreds of people in that tiny piazza and it was hard to move. Anyway, I then thought I would get to the Spanish Steps and take the metro train back to Balduina and JFRC. However, I was completely lost somewhere in between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps with no wifi and only a package of blackberries I had picked up at a market earlier. That was when I stumbled upon Via Rasella. Of course I had no idea that it was the site of an infamous bombing that lead to a massacre. During my time living in Rome, I have found that this is the case with most of the city. You walk around and admire the ancient architecture that so naturally blends with the modern tones, then you find out there is a story behind everything. Maybe that story is from the age of Constantine in the fourth century, or maybe it’s from the year 1944 and the end of WWII.

This weekend was an emotional one. Seeing cemeteries, battle sites and museums dedicated to the deadliest and most destructive war of all time definitely stirred my emotions and brought out feelings that I cannot begin to accurately describe. There was pride, mixed with sadness, mixed with wonder. Next weekend will also be a busy one for me because it is the start of Fall Break! We are very fortunate to get nine days off from class to go out and explore. I will be traveling to to Munich, Vienna and Prague!

Ciao! Until next time!

~Amanda

The Big and the Small

The Big and the Small

Ciao!

My first 20 days in Italy have been extremely busy but productive! Since arriving all of us at the JFRC have been learning how things work in Rome and on campus, and we all got to spend a weekend in the beautiful region of Umbria! Now that classes are picking up and routines are settling in, I have found I have more time to relax.

This past friday I spent the day roaming around Rome; shopping and sipping cappuccinos in a cute cafe while watching the rain. Friday night, however, was one of my favorite nights so far. Earlier in the week we had the chance to sign up to distribute Panini’s to the homeless in St. Peter’s Square. I signed up, excited about visiting Vatican City.

When I first walked into the square, I was taken aback by how massive it is. I have been in some pretty big stadiums and buildings, but combining the size and historical significance made it feel tremendously magical. It was strange knowing Pope Francis was somewhere in the Papal Apartments right above me.

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I was assigned to bag fruit for the homeless to take with them after they got their meal. A few of us set ourselves up in an assembly line and started filling bags with apples, peaches and plums. They all gladly accepted the additional food and thanked us profusely. It was eye-opening how a few small pieces of fruit put such a big smile on their faces and hopefully, eased some of their stress. Everyday at the dining hall there are apples to take and I don’t blink an eye, but there in the middle of Vatican City, apples were revealed to be much more valuable than I assumed.

After that night I could not stop thinking about how important small things are. For example, on Saturday a few friends and I took a day trip to Pompeii. Last semester I took a class on Pompeii for my history minor, so walking around the streets I had read about was something I had been looking forward to for a while!

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Toward the end of the day, we were standing in the forum when something caught my eye. On the ground in the middle of the large open space was the imprint of a sea shell in the stone. It was so small and the only reason I saw it was because I noticed a hole in my shoe.

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It was such a sharp contrast to everything else we had seen. I felt like I had been looking up the whole day, admiring the mountains outside of the city and the architecture that had been so well preserved after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. After seeing the shell I started to notice details that I might have missed, like the carving of a gladiator in a home and a stone that looked like a lego.

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Overall I had another amazing weekend!

I am excited to get to know Rome better in the coming weeks and will hopefully notice more of the small and unconventional details while still gazing at the bigger things.

Arrivederci!

~Amanda