The GoGlobal Blog

Month: October 2016

My Big Fat Greek Fall Break

My Big Fat Greek Fall Break


Silence. Crickets.

At 5:45 AM, nobody was ready to respond to our Academic Dean Sander Evers’ cheer. Our group of 47 students plus one SLA Michael groggily trudged to the bus during those wee hours of the morning, rubbing sleep from our eyes…if you could really call it “sleep”. Most of us only got a short catnap the night before, due to fall break homework, last-minute packing, and general restlessness from anticipation.

But anyone who personally knows Sander Evers knows about his relentless optimism. And if you protest, he’s tall enough to step on you.

I’m not a morning person, so the actual journey from JFRC to the airport in Rome to the plane remains a blur in my mind. However, our landing in Greece was unforgettable! I was lucky enough to have a window seat for the flight to Athens, our first destination on this ten-day-long trip.


As I stared into blue horizon, the thin line that separated sea from sky slowly solidified into a tan island, punctuated by mountain peaks. All around it, the Aegean Sea glistened green, an emerald expanse inviting us to seek its treasures. Peeking down at the Attica peninsula below me, I noticed little white structures dotted the golden brown terrain. Considering the various aerial views I’ve experienced in my lifetime, this appeared the simplest of them all. But when there’s an abundance of natural beauty surrounding you, does extravagant architecture really matter that much anyway?

After a smooth landing and an even smoother baggage claim, we finally got to meet the 50th member of our cohort: our Greek tour guide Ioanna Kopsiafti. She wore an outfit entirely of black and white, with minimal jewelry and long black boots. Her olive skin reflected a healthy glow, and she carried herself with a unique air of self-assured humility that few convincingly achieve. I could already tell from her outfit and swagger that she possessed just the right balance of refined sophistication and worldly ruggedness.

“Welcome to Greece!” she twanged.

Twanged. Cue the sound of a record scratching.

Why did our Greek tour guide sound like someone from Gone with the Wind???

Well, it turns out that Ioanna’s parents immigrated from Greece to Canada, where she was born in Toronto, and she developed her Southern accent growing up in South Carolina. What a wonderful hodgepodge of heritages bundled into one human!


Lunch by the sea stimulated all five of my senses! Stepping down from our tall coach bus, the glittering shoreline hypnotized me, inviting me to sit next to it. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that I didn’t have to since our lunch tables were just a few feet away from the beach!

As I floated closer, nautical and gastronomical aromas enticed me. Salt water, mussels, wine, bread, olives….I was fighting a cold, but my stuffy nose didn’t want to miss out on this sensory explosion!

And if those food items smelled good, they tasted even better! I don’t consider myself a foodie by any measure; I mostly eat what’s in front of me. My stomach is a tank that needs fuel. But it was particularly fun filling my tank during this meal! I tried everything the waiters set on the table, and to my amazement, I was never disappointed.


Listening to everyone’s excited conversations punctuated by bouts of laughter, an outsider couldn’t have guessed that we had all been awake since 5 o’clock that same morning! With the soft thrashing of the bay against the rocks next to us, the sea called to my friends and I, and we had to answer.

One by one, we removed our shoes and socks, gingerly stepping from rock to slippery rock until we reached a bigger rock in the middle of the bay. Keeping our eyes peeled for barnacles, we held each other’s hands as we tentatively moved along, like teachers make preschool children do on field trips. I felt like I was back in preschool; everything was new, everything was an adventure. There was too much to take in, yet I still couldn’t get enough! This was our first time setting foot in this country outside of an airport, after all.


Apart from the beautiful views, the real reason we ate at this seaside restaurant was because the Temple of Poseidon sat atop a hill at the opposite side of the Sounion Bay. Once again, we boarded the bus in order to check out our first ancient Greek ruin!

The Greeks really knew what they were doing when they built the Temple of Poseidon! Overlooking the Sounion Bay, watching ships pass in the distance, it represents the perfect location to praise the Greek sea god. The way the clear blue water there blended with the clear blue sky, almost erasing the horizon, represents the strong bond of brotherhood that existed between Zeus, Lord of the Skies, and his underwater brother.

Many myths occurred at this temple, including the story of Poseidon’s lover Medusa (you know, the lady with the snake hair). Also, it was at this same location that King Aegeus mistakenly thought his son Theseus died fighting the Minotaur because he forgot to change his sails from black to white, and so he flung himself into the sea. This sea is now named after him as the Aegean Sea.


Several hours of hiking to the top of that hill and exploring the temple ruins concluded with a bus ride to downtown Athens, where we stayed at the Jason Inn. The best feature of this location was that, upon exiting the lobby door and looking up and to the left, we could easily see the Acropolis looming over the city with the Parthenon lit up at night!

With the Parthenon hovering above us, Ioanna took us on a walking tour of Athens that evening. The city flourished as a colorful collage of old and new. To label the intricate spray can paintings that covered the buildings as “graffiti” seems insulting; the term “street art” elevates them to the creative merit they deserve. Looking back, I wish I had taken pictures of them, but I guess that gives me yet another reason to plan my next Greece trip!


We ate dinner that night at one of the many picturesque cafes in the downtown area. In addition to the fantastic cuisine, ours also featured live Greek folk music. If stomachs and ears could smile, mine would be the Cheshire Cat and a model in a Crest White Strips commercial.

The following morning, I discovered that, as gorgeous as Athens showed itself to be during the nighttime, it was even more stunning during the day! Gazing at all the details on the ancient and modern buildings, I was amazed at how much I missed during our twilight hour tour the previous evening.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon occurred while walking to the Parthenon. Ioanna stopped us in front of a small peculiar storefront with cartoonish figures painted on either side of the door. She then explained to us that this building commemorated the ancient puppet theatre that had migrated from Asia to Greece through trade, and that we were walking on Tripod Street, which is believed to be the oldest street in world! The theatre nerd and the history lover inside my brain gleefully gasped in tandem.


Finally, it was time to visit Athens’s #1 Must-See Attraction: the Parthenon! I knew that this monument sat atop a hill; you could see it above you from almost anywhere in Athens. However, I never put two and two together in my mind enough to mentally prepare myself for the strenuous climb it took to walk up to the Acropolis! But it was absolutely worth the workout! The panoramic views of the city took my breath away (or was it just my huffing and puffing from skipping leg day at the gym?)

By far, the most riveting portion of our Parthenon tour occurred when we explored the Acropolis Museum. The thought that stuck with me the most was about the appropriation of the famous Elgin Marbles. These ancient engravings were stolen by the English nobleman Lord Elgin, and they remain on display at the British Museum in London, England.


Ioanna explained that historians are struggling to return these precious artifacts back to their original home in Greece, but to no avail. While dissenters argue that more people will be able to view the stones in London than in Athens because a higher tourist population, Ioanna posed the question, “Wouldn’t it be more significant to appreciate the stones at their place of origin, rather than somewhere across the world?”

I totally agree with her! As someone who grew up in Washington, D.C. and visited the various Smithsonian Museums many times, this dilemma makes me question my right to observe those relics in a place outside of their context.

A group of friends and I spent our final evening in Athens at an area called The Gazi. It consisted of a large field surrounded by a plethora of rooftop bars and nightclubs. We talked, laughed, and danced the night away!

On the bus to our next destination, Professor Evers made a second attempt at his rallying cry:



At long last, we finally responded to Sander’s cheerful call. The beauty of Greece had awoken us!


London in 3 Days

London in 3 Days

Ciao a tutti!

Next stop, London. This has been a city I’ve wanted to go to since I was little, and I can’t believe I get to check it off my bucket list. Because I only got to spend a weekend here, I wanted to make the most of it and see everything that London has to offer. Here is how I did London in 3 days.

1. See all the sites at once: Your feet are going to kill, but it will be worth it. Our Airbnb was right by Buckingham Palace, so this was where our journey began. From here, we walked to Westminster Abbey, took a picture in a phone booth by Big Ben, crossed the Westminster Bridge, walked ALL the way to Shakespeare Globe, saw the London Bridge, crossed the Tower Bridge, sauntered by the Tower of London, then took the tube back. The pain in my body was immense, but I wanted to be certain that I would see all the important things in the short amount of time that we had. We didn’t go into anywhere because we didn’t want to pay the money and the lines were incredibly long. However, if that’s something you want to do, I suggest an early start to your day and buying your tickets in advance to the places you want to enter. There might be difficulty in visiting every thing in one day then, but if you take the time and plan it out, then anything is possible.

Basic but necessary


2. See a musical: DO IT. We saw Wicked, my all-time favorite musical on this planet, and it was by far the best show I have ever seen in my life. I might be a little biased, but the singing was amazing, the acting was amazing, and they all had British accents, which were pleasant to my American ear. The tickets weren’t that bad at 70 euro, and it was by far the best moment of the entire trip. Be watchful of the website you buy from because there is always the fear of buying counterfeit tickets. So either buy from the official theater site or the website I used was here. You’ll have to go to the theater and pick up the tickets, but it’s very simple. You present your ID and VOILA. Get ready for the best night of your life.

3. Abbey Road is overrated: I might get shanked for this, but I am not a big Beatles fan, never have been, probably never will be. However, it was still on my do to list, mainly because I wanted to buy a souvenir for my sister. We get there, it is on a very busy road, and it’s almost impossible to get a picture. We got lucky because we had a very nice guy to stop his car for us, but everyone else wasn’t so nice. It’s also way out of the way, so unless you’re a huge Beatles fan, I wouldn’t recommend. But if you feel compelled to go much like I did, ignore the beeping, and strut like you mean it.

4. Make time for tea: I, a previous hater of tea, am now a spokesperson for English tea because I had the best cup in my entire life. My recommendation would be to go to the British Museum (which I will talk about next) and then cross the street and go to The Montague for tea and scones. OMG. Firstly, the place was SO cute, and the scones were to die for. You got to pick 4 scones and 4 jams, all of which were good except the chocolate ones because I hate chocolate. Also, they let you smell the tea leaves before picking one, so I picked one of the sweetest smelling ones and it was absolutely delicious. A+ 10/10 would recommend.




5. British Museum!: I’ll keep this short because you might not get it if you don’t go to Greece at some point or know Greek history, but they have parts of the Parthenon here and refuse to give them back to the museum in Athens, so as annoying as this is for someone like me who deeply loves Greece, it was still cool to see. Also, they have the Rosetta Stone and the mummy of Cleopatra. Cool stuff. Oh, did I mention it’s free? Yeah, it is. Worth it!


I followed these simple steps, and I had the BEST weekend in London. It’s on my top 3 list of favorite places I went while abroad because I was able to have a very fulfilling experience and definitely get my money’s worth. I hope this helps for those of you looking to spend a weekend in London. I will absolutely be back there one day, hopefully longer than a weekend, so maybe I’ll edit this with more tips once I go back!

Arrivederci i miei amici <3


Managing Stress and the Mid-Semester Slump

Managing Stress and the Mid-Semester Slump

Today marks the end of my ninth week in Vietnam. During that time, I have had plenty of ups and downs as we started classes, spent time with our partners, took our 10-day excursion to the North and Central Regions of Vietnam, and got settled into a routine. Overall, I’ve been enjoying my time here, but the last two weeks have brought around that mid-semester slump – ya know, the one where free time with friends becomes non-existent due to midterms and projects and it’s a constant battle with procrastination.

To be honest, I had been warned that the mid-semester slump while studying abroad came with its fair share of home-sickness, but because I had traveled for four months before the program started and had not yet experienced an extended case of it, I think I thought I would get through the semester without it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It doesn’t help that Chicago is alive with the excitement of the Cub’s success and the World Series is right around the corner.

I find myself dreaming of my mom’s apple creations, homemade hard cider and raking leaves (yes, I’m surprised, too…). Without homemade desserts to distract me, it has become increasingly more difficult to manage my stress. In the past few days though, I think I have begun figuring out what works best for me.

For one, I have been cooking more meals in the dorm after discovering that kettles are a beautiful thing. I have made everything from hummus to lentil soup and discovered how refreshing it is to have fresh vegetables and a homemade snack once in a while. I have also relearned the importance of slowing down, taking a deep breath and making time for myself – which can be very difficult in a program with 17 students that live in close quarters and take most of their classes together. Additionally, long Skype conversations with loved ones and the occasional western meal by myself have been overwhelmingly beneficial as I start to climb out of my slump.

Of course, everyone handles stress differently, and I think most, if not all, of my peers are feeling a similar way. Some have gotten massages or pedicures, others have sought more alone time, while still others turn to a good night out to help lift them up. Whatever one’s personal needs may be, it is so very important to recognize them and work towards them.

Tomorrow, already, we leave for our Cambodia excursion and I think with the first round of exams and papers behind me, things will again start looking up. With only a month and a half left of this program, it’s time to delve back into Vietnamese street food, attempting to use my language skills, and neighborhood walks. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of this semester holds, both the bad and the good.

Greece – The Aesthetic Experience

Greece – The Aesthetic Experience

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written! Mostly because I was enjoying fall break in Mykonos, Greece, and Milan, Italy for the past couple of weeks.

For those of you who think my semester abroad sounds like a nice little vacation – let me tell you – the classes I’m taking are actually pretty difficult. My “Rome: Aesthetics” class, for example, is both my most favorite course and my most challenging.

Since day one of the semester, the study of aesthetics in philosophy is a subject that took me by surprise as one of my most favorites. Perhaps it peaks my interest because in Rome, I am constantly surrounded by all sorts of aesthetically pleasing architecture, art, and people. It could also be partially due to the fact that I’m an art major. The class focuses on different philosophers and their opinions on subjects like taste, beauty, and what defines an artist. I don’t want to get too in depth, because it’s a dense sort of subject; but it delves into topics of how a person should approach beauty, what a work of art should do for a person, and how it all fits into the grand scheme of life. I truly believe this class has given me a different perspective on places I’ve traveled that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. In places like Germany, Switzerland, and Greece, I have been able to look at both natural and artistic beauty with this class in mind.

Greece, in particular, was a place where the study of aesthetics was constantly in my thoughts. Probably because it is stunning, really. Yes, for me, the beauty of Greece tops every place I have been abroad, even Switzerland. Right now, if you picture Greece in your head, I want you to multiply the beauty by 10. The houses and buildings are white as ever, stacking along the mountains and hills as close as they can get. The water is so, SO blue. You can open your eyes underwater and see everything. The Greek people always have smiles. There is not much green, but still, the desert-sort-of landscape is rich in beauty.

In relation to aesthetics in Greece, I want to talk about something that played a part in my experience there: photography. Let me start off by saying that in all my time spent in Europe, I never regretted taking my camera somewhere. I think it was our third day in Greece that I took my Canon T5i to Paradise Beach. Me and my friends wanted a break from the pool to a public place where we could get lunch and relax. As I picked up my camera to take photographs, I remembered something I learned in aesthetics class. Philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that to view beauty and truly have an aesthetic experience from it, one must be devoid all interest. This means, in simple terms, that they stop wanting anything and everything, and are only focused on the beauty of that subject. In class, we discussed that in contemporary times, it means not taking photographs of something beautiful. For example, when seeing Michelangelo’s David, we must approach it without desiring anything from it, even something as little as a photograph.

My mind danced over that subject for a few moments before I started taking photographs. But in contrast to Kant and probably, to my professor, I do not agree.

All day, I took photographs of the beach and of my friends. And for me, this enhanced my experience. For me, photography wasn’t “throwing in interest.” For me, the art of photography WAS the aesthetic experience. It was through the lens of my camera that I was able to find the most beautiful moments in both people and in nature. They are seconds frozen in time, ones I know I will thank myself later down the road for having captured on film. I have found that in the split second of taking a picture, a person usually reveals some part of their personality. This glimpse of inner self is the most meaningful kind of photograph in my opinion. It is what makes me keep snapping them. I have to believe that all photographers feel the same way.

Enjoy some pictures I took of some of the beautiful people I have met abroad!

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While I don’t agree with Kant, it should be noted that this class allowed me to really contemplate this subject. In that sense, I am learning more about myself and what I believe in. As much as I have enjoyed my studio classes like drawing or painting, they have never revealed these sorts of things about me to myself. YES, I can confidently say that I like learning about philosophy. Trust me, I was surprised, too!

My family has been in Rome for the past week, so hopefully I can share my experience with them and our travels in my next post. Ciao!

Kitchen Scissors

Kitchen Scissors

Since I was a little girl my mother has instilled in me the belief that kitchen scissors are one of god’s many gifts to the earth. They are the kitchen’s most essential tool. Need to cut Eggo waffles fast so you can feed your three children? Kitchen scissors. Need to cut a rack of ribs fresh off the grill? Kitchen scissors. They are so essential in fact that we always had multiple pairs: a blue pair, matching the theme of my mother’s kitchen, and a black pair with silver details that came with a fancy knife set. They are invaluable to the preparation of almost every meal, and because of their value it was a spoken rule of the house that they were never to leave the kitchen. This rule was of course not always abided by, and it was common to reach for them only to find that they weren’t in their proper resting place. This moment of disappointment was always followed by a desperate plea of ‘Where are the kitchen scissors?’ and then followed, hopefully, by the return of the scissors to their appropriate home: the kitchen.

Whilst studying abroad my junior year of high school, I discovered that human dependence on kitchen scissors was also present in Italy. Within the first week of arriving at my host family’s house in Vicenza, among other crucial vocabulary words, I learned the Italian word for scissors (forbici). My Italian grandmother even commented one afternoon on the universality of scissors when the mystery of the missing kitchen scissors stuck once again. She yelled, ‘Dove sono le forbici?’, before turning to me and asking if this was a problem that households had in the United States as well. Last year while staying with my boyfriend’s family in Bordeaux, the third French phrase I learned was ‘Où sont les ciseaux?’. Scissors are life.

A few weeks ago Binu, a friend in the program, suggested I try a street vendor who sells bún thịt nướng outside our dorm early in the morning. Eager to switch up my breakfast routine I wandered out of Bach Khoa early around 7:30am. I waited in line for a few minutes and when it came time for the vendor to make mine, she pulled out an old pair of kitchen scissors and went to work cutting lettuce and slicing spring rolls. Suddenly in a world full of unfamiliar utensils and food preparation methods, I felt at home standing on the street watching her skillfully use scissors to fill a to-go container with lettuce, herbs, and bean sprouts; then piling it high with rice noodles, fried spring rolls, grilled pork and finally garnishing it with pickled carrots, radish, and peanuts. This woman got it, she understood the importance of scissors and, just like that, I was hers and her delicious bún thịt nướng was mine.

It is safe to say that kitchen scissors are a global phenomenon and each time I watch bún thịt nướng lady prepare food I am reminded of my own mother and her yellow and blue kitchen that greeted me each morning. To me, kitchen scissors are a consistent and peculiar reminder that people everywhere –  regardless of a million different factors like language, nationality, and religion – are really all just the same.

Bún Thịt Nướng
Bún Thịt Nướng





A Blog about a Blog

A Blog about a Blog

When I came to China, I was under the impression that I would have a lot of free time to take random trips throughout China and to explore the city. What I did not realize was that Beijing itself is a city that could take months on it’s own to explore if you really wanted to explore every nook and cranny, that travelling in China is not like it is in Europe because China itself is a huge country and is not as cheap, and that my classes last way longer than they seem (the reality of having class 950-1220 and 130-415 is a lot longer and takes up a lot more of your day than you might think). All to say, my expectations were completely changed as soon as I realized this, and I’m glad it has.

When we were on our 2 week trip through the Silk Road, I got a text from our Academic Director who was forwarding over an internship opportunity at the Beijinger, a magazine geared towards foreigners living here in Beijing. As an exercise science major, I never considered an internship in anything other than exercise science and physical therapy – until for some reason I was like why not apply.

After going in for an interview and taking the position, I became an events intern for the magazine. That’s the cool thing about China is that you can find so many internships from working for the American Chamber of Commerce to working for the World Health Organization to working for start ups of English as a Second Language companies. Because we cannot legally work here for money, without getting deported, as part of our VISA’s, getting an internship is a great way to explore the city and free up some free time.

My internship is so cool because I get to write blogs for the Beijinger as well as explore restaurants and write reviews of them. Last Saturday, the Beijinger held the annual Pizza Cup, which is this huge food festivals where Pizza Vendors from all over can come and sell their pizza in food stands. I got to volunteer at the pizza cup as well as I got to eat all this delicious pizza (a nice reminder of what I’m missing from home). While I love the food here, I still have yet to find a good brownie if a brownie at all and some cheese and goldfish (so send those care packages!!!).

FullSizeRender[1] (This is Joneil – she also goes to Loyola and interns with me at the Beijinger – volunteering at Pizza cup with our pizza).

So why do I say a blog about a blog? My first published piece for the Beijinger I actually wrote Guide for Foreign Students Studying abroad in Beijing. So if you want to read another blog I’ve written with actual advice about studying here … check it out! (

Until the next blog, find me curled up in my room because it’s starting to get chilly here and China hasn’t turned on the National Heating yet.


Welcome Week Done, Now What???

Welcome Week Done, Now What???

Welcome week is over and we have had time to enjoy and explore Sevilla with our new international friends! Now it’s time for work. Let me tell you guys a little about my program and what you should expect. As part of the dual business degree program all of my courses are set so there is really no room for me to choose other class options. All of the dual-degree students have the same schedule with some minor differences. For example, I am taking an operations management course and Taylor and Karlie, my fellow dual-degree mates, are taking a required theology course. So the start of my semester has been pretty hectic. I am currently taking 6 courses and an extra mandatory Spanish course so you can say my schedule is pretty packed. My classes include operations management (favorite class btw), management control, economic policy, marketing 101, corporate finance, macroeconomics, and finally my Spanish class.

There are a couple big differences in the way class schedules work for the dual-degree students compared to other international/Erasmus students at ULA. For one, the dual degree students have no say when it comes to choosing our classes, therefore we can’t choose our own schedules. This is kind of the worst part of being part of a set business program because I’m usually stuck on campus all day for the majority of the week. Monday’s and Tuesday’s I have classes from 9am-9pm so my day starts from 7am when I leave home and ends at 10 when I get home. The campus is quite far from the city center so if you don’t have a car it will take about 30-40 min to get there with a public bus if you don’t take the morning shuttle. Being at school that long is one of the downsides of not being able to structure your own schedule but I guess you have all day to study right…  I usually head to the library or stay in the lunchroom and hang out with my friends. By the time I get home at night all I do is eat dinner and head straight to sleep because I’m so exhausted. The one good thing is that I have Thursdays off so I usually visit the city center, get some work done, and go tutor in the afternoon. My Thursdays are usually the best part of the week because I get to sleep in a little later and sometimes I get to eat lunch with my host family before going to work. Overall, I like my classes and I do enjoy hanging out with the international students during breaks but the campus is pretty small so there is only so much you can do. Let’s just say you can’t get up and walk along the lake or hang out in the quad. Staying on campus that long is just tiring and by the end of the day you wish you had taken a mini siesta. One thing I did discover is that there are some couches in building G, so if you ever need a nap just head there and you’ll definitely find international students there.

My first few weeks of school have been a bit tiring but also pretty interesting. There will always be things I want to change but as part of the first cohort of dual degree students I guess I have to deal with these minor (sometimes feel like major) inconveniences. But hey! At least I enjoy my walks home every night in beautiful Sevilla.

Morning spent in the library!
Loyola Universidad Andalucía
Hablamos solo en Español con Amelia jaja
First dual-degree students!


Spring Break 2016×2

Spring Break 2016×2

I began writing this a few of weeks ago however, with the university shutdown I have just been able to finish it. So FINALLY here is how I spent my Spring Break here in South Africa (or rather outside of it).

As Summer ends and Fall begins in the States, Spring has just started showing itself after a wet winter in Cape Town. Just like the American universities, the University of Cape Town gives their students a well-deserved mid-term break. One week of no school, no classes, no papers, no tests. A time to relax and enjoy what South Africa has to offer………or get out as fast as you can to go see other sites in the southern part of the African continent. When deciding on whether to stay in Cape Town or experience other countries, I knew that the only option I would be happy with was to leave. So on the first Saturday of break I woke up at 3:30AM and hoped on a bus with 20 other study abroad students and started what was going to be the best Spring Break I have ever had.


Day 1: Livingstone, Zambia

Early mornings seem to be a common occurrence whenever I travel anywhere. Though, to admit 3:30 in the morning was just a little too early for my liking. But not too soon after departing the residence hall my adrenaline kicked in. I kept glancing at my friend Meg who was on the trip with me, as well as two other boys from the IES Program (Aditya and Logan), and we both could not stop smiling. In about 6 hours we were going to land in Zambia and start what was sure to be an amazing experience. Landing around 1:30 PM in Zambia we headed to our accommodation for the night, Livingstone Backpackers (highly recommended for anyone travelling around the area!) It was so quaint and cozy with travelers from around the world all gathered together. No one wanted to stand around to do nothing so we ventured out into town to check out the local market. Masters at sales and negotiation the salesmen and women promoted their goods, statues, bowls, bracelets, shirts, and paintings. After an hour of perusing the stalls we headed back to the backpackers to lounge by the pool. Understandably, it was an early night for everyone after an exhausting day of travelling and the next day was going to be more adventures and exploring.

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Day 2: Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Out of all the days on this trip, my favorite by far is still this very first day. After a day of travelling getting to sleep in until 9:00AM was quite refreshing. The four of us, Aditya, Logan, Meg, and I, had an absolutely delicious breakfast (probably the best one on the whole trip) at the backpackers. At 11 we were picked up and driven to a very nice resort where we would be relaxing by the pool until our activity of the day began. Right on the edge of the Zambezi the hotel is the launching point for the Devil’s Pool experience. Before our scheduled appointment we had about 4 hours to kill. We were able to relax by the pool, swim, and go for walks around the compound. Our walks were just to explore the area and stretch our legs but we were surprised, and delighted, to find zebras and impala along our way. It was amazing to be so close to wild animals and to just get to watch them do what they do. After the walks and a dip in the pool it was time to set off for the edge. Literally. Devil’s Pool is a small “pool” on the very edge of Victoria Falls. A boat took us from the hotel to a small island known as Livingstone Island. From this location we swam thru the Zambezi to get to the pool. After very slowly and cautiously climbing into the pool, we were able to sit on the edge of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating, and the words “oh my god” left my mouth about a hundred times. It was an incredibly surreal moment and one that will forever be imprinted in my memory. I could have stayed in the pool for hours but unfortunately, all too quickly we were ushered out and made our way back to Livingstone Island. After a late lunch on the island it was time to go back to the hotel and make our way to Zimbabwe. And what better way to do this but to walk? As the Zim/Zambia border is Victoria Falls it was not far from the hotel. So, the five of us (the IES 4 and our tour guide, Angelica) made our way down the highway towards the border. We crossed just as the sun was setting and made our way thru the national part in the dark with only one headlight guiding our way. We were warned that there were buffalo, elephants, and hippos that we had to be careful about by an overly concerned taxi driver offering us a ride. We decided to venture into the “wilderness” anyway and made it safely to our Rest Camp without being mauled or eaten by anything. This day was not just my favorite because of the activities. What really made this day was the people I was with. Though the activities were amazing and walking across the border was a unique experience the little moments of laughter, joking, lounging, and talking with the four other people I was with made everything so much better. And though, none of the following days topped this one, they definitely came very close.

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Day 3: Hiking Victoria Falls and the Village

After an exciting adventure the day before, today was scheduled to be a little more relaxed. After breakfast at the rest camp our entire group went on a hike of Victoria Falls. The hike takes you to 16 different viewpoints of the amazing falls. Each vantage point was just as beautiful and amazing as the next one. At half of the spots water rained down and turned the scenery into a beautiful amazing forest. The rest of the spots were surrounded by brown foliage. The contrast from forest to desert was quite astonishing to see. After an hour of hiking, pictures, snacks, and more pictures we headed back to the rest camp for a relaxing afternoon by the pool. A couple hours later, our group left to spend the night with an amazing group of children at a local orphanage. We had dinner with the children (where I ate a caterpillar, a Zimbabwean specialty) and then a massive dance party ensued. We were fortunate enough to be there for one of the girl’s birthday; this was the first birthday party this little girl had ever had. It was such an honor to experience it with her and to see the joy on her face when we surprised her. After a few hours of playing and dancing it was time to say goodbye. Hugs went all around and by the end of the night none of us really wanted to leave. Thirty minutes of goodbyes later and our night had finally come to an end. We all needed our rest, for the next day things were going to get crazy!

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Day 4: Rafting the Zambezi

At the end of this particular day my only thought was, “I SURVIVED!” I do not think I have ever been so close to death as I was today. And yet, it was AWESOME!!!!! I wouldn’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie but it was a lot of fun. Today, I went white water rafting on the Zambezi River, the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. There is not much more I can say besides it was thrilling, scary, fantastic, and again, amazing. The pictures bellow pretty much say it all. There are 6 grades of rapids; each grade is more dangerous than the next. Grade 1, you can swim in, Grade 3- be prepared for a bumpy ride, Grade 5- anywhere from a 50-99% chance of flipping, Grade 6- you die (a little dramatic but they are very, very dangerous even professionals do not ride these rapids). In many places in America a person must be certified in order to go on Grade 4 and up rapids. Well, not in Africa! We went all the way up to Grade 5 and we all survived. We got a quick lesson on what to do if the boat flips, hiked down a gorge to get to the river, and after 4 non-stop hours of rafting, hiked back up the gorge. We were lucky that this was the only activity for it was exhausting. The day ended with a nice dinner and relaxing by the pool. It was the perfect ending to such a tiring yet exhilarating day.

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Day 5: Markets and Gorge Swings

Our last day in Zimbabwe was our own. No planned activities, no early morning wake up, and no death defying activities……wait scratch that last one. Since nothing was scheduled we were able to pick and choose different activities that we wanted to partake in. I decided that I wanted to explore the village more and other non-profit organizations like the orphanage. A tour guide took a group of us around the village, showing us different markets, going back to the orphanage, and an old-person care home. The markets were not touristy markets or places to buy souvenirs. These markets were the places where the people living in the area would go to buy clothes, shoes, hair products, etc. They weren’t indoor markets or what one would normally think of. Once the tour was over, our group headed back to the rest camp.  The group I came with (Logan, Meg, Aditya, and I) decided that we were not satisfied with having a lazy day around Victoria Falls. So, what better way to spice things up then by jumping off the gorge and swinging side-to-side? Our last adventure in Zimbabwe was the gorge swing across the Zambezi. If I thought white water rafting was scary, this was terrifying. It was all fine until that moment when you are standing on a wooden platform looking down at the bottom of the gorge. Luckily, Meg and I were doing a tandem jump so I was not alone in my moment of fear. The hardest part is always right before the jump. Fortunately for us the man in charge of the jump didn’t give us much of a choice; after counting down from 5, he pushed us off. I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to someone for pushing me off a cliff. The initial free-fall lasted about 3 seconds and then the swing set in and we were soaring over the gorge. It was so much fun and so beautiful going across the river. After the jump and the climb back up, we headed back to the camp for our last Zimbabwean night.

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Day 6: Chobe National Park, Botswana

Our adventure this morning was to say goodbye to Zimbabwe and hello to Botswana. A couple hours’ drive had us at the border where we switched cars and headed straight into the first activity of the day. The big Jeeps would talk us into Chobe National Park and on a 2-hour Game Drive to see the wildlife. My first safari of in Africa! It was hot and bright out as we made our way through the park to the edge of the Chobe River. Hundreds of elephants grazed around the river and bathed on its banks. Water buffalo stood right beside the elephants minding their own business. The elephants in Chobe are known to be the largest in the world, and that is no lie; they are huge. As we continued on we spotted giraffes, kudu, impala, and other antelope species. Unfortunately, no lions were around for it was too hot for them to come out. To continue our animal adventure, we drove to the bank of the river and hopped onto a boat for a sunset cruise on the river. This was my favorite out of the two. We were able to see crocodiles and more elephants up close. But my favorite animal to see were the hippos swimming in the water and eating on land. Hippos and giraffes are probably my favorite animals so getting to see them in their natural habitat was quite amazing. As the sun began to set, we headed back towards the shore where we would be able to get a better view of the setting sun. I was having a lovely conversation with the boat driver when I jokingly mentioned that he should let me drive the boat back. To my surprise, he let me! I was able to steer the boat to where we were going to watch the sunset. It was such a unique experience and only enhanced how great the day had been so far. Watching the sun set over the Chobe River was breathtaking. The sky lit up in different colors and the sun became a deep orange. Too soon it was over and we were off the boat and back into the Jeeps. Our rest camp was not too far and we were able to have a very comfortable night on extremely comfy beds, before our next adventure was to take place.

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Day 7: Maun, Botswana

This day was nothing but driving. The drive from Chobe to Maun took 8 hours. By the time we reached the rest camp we were exhausted and nobody was in the mood for any activities. Which was perfect because there was none planned. Our accommodation for the night consisted of tents with a padded mattress inside. This was in preparation for our night on the Okavango Delta. A short walk, dinner, a little conversation and then it was off to bed for us all.


Day 8: Mokoro Tour, Okavango Delta

Today was probably the longest day of the entire trip, or at least it felt like it. Most of our day was spent on a boat. First, a speed boat and then a skinny, canoe-looking boat called a mokoro. These boats are the only types of boats that are permitted thru the Okavango Delta. They are small enough where they can fit off the big canals and into the tall grass areas. For 8-hours we paired up and were driven around the Delta by a mokoro driver. Aditya and I shared a mokoro and our driver was a 21-year old women named Michelle. We had a wonderful time talking to her about her life and enjoying the scenery. Our trip allowed us to see hippos, crocodiles, one lone elephant, a herd of zebra, and lots and lots of bugs. We made it to our campsite, where we would be sleeping under the stars on the Okavango, and got a short break. A group of decided to take advantage of our amazing location and go for a swim in the Delta not far from our campsite. I still cannot believe that I can say that I swam in the Okavango Delta in Botswana; it is a little surreal. Once our dip in the Delta was over we dried off. No rest in between, for we hopped back in our mokoros and set off for another island not too far away. On our way we passed a place called Hippo Pool where hippos come and relax, hang out, and sleep. We took a walking tour of the island in search of some animals. We did not find any live animals but we came across an elephant skeleton. It had died a while ago and all that was left were the bones. Its skull was still intact and the femur was massive and so heavy. As we walked back to the mokoros the sun set off in the distance and cast a glow over the island. We continued on our journey back to the mokoros; we made it back to campsite just as the sky turned black. Our last dinner was a happy but solemn one. None of us wanted to leave and yet we were all exhausted and ready to be back. Plans for reunions were already being discussed as our dinner progressed. Our night ended with us gazing at the amazing starts in the sky and discovering constellations. One last “tent talk” between us four IES students and it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep…

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Day 9: Flying home???

After only a few hours of sleep I was up at 5AM and hanging with the cooks and mokoro drivers. They had built a fire since it was still dark out and we talked around the fire for about an hour before the sun started to arise. The rest of the group started emerging to watch the sunrise over the delta. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip. After breakfast and packing, it was back onto the mokoros and back to the rest camp. Logan and I were on a direct flight back to Cape Town while the rest of the group was on an earlier flight thru Jo-burg. Logan and I stayed behind to relax at the rest camp while the other group went ahead to the airport. We said our quick goodbyes and promised to get together that night for dinner back in Cape Town……………or so was the plan……… With comfy couches and two hammocks swaying in the warm breeze, I could not resist the temptation to take a nap. We were being picked up at 1:30pm for our 3:00 flight. Waking up just before 1, Logan and I just sat around the couches waiting for the car to come. Logan decided to look up our flight online to get the details about when we would be landing in Cape Town…. And that was the last calm moment before things hit the fan. Our flight, which we were told was leaving at 3, was actually scheduled to depart at 1:35pm, in 30 minutes. Logan ran to the reception and told them we needed a taxi right away. I called Angelica and told her that we were probably going to miss our flight. She hung up to call the owner of the travel company. The owner messaged Logan and informed us that we had indeed missed our flight and that there were no more flights out of Maun to Cape Town until the next day. We were stuck in Botswana for an extra day. Our tents were pitched again and dinner (and a well- deserved drink) and breakfast were provided for us. It was definitely not how we planned to end the day but overall, an extra day in the Botswana is not the worst thing that could happen to a girl.


Unintentional Day 10: Finally Flying Home

With very little sleep the night before and the unexpected flight mishap, I was in bed and asleep by 9:30pm. A great night sleep was exactly what I needed to endure the flight during the day. I counted every step. Step 1: We got in the taxi. Step 2: We made it to the airport. Step 3: Got our tickets. Step 4: Made it thru security. Step 5: Made it on the plane. And finally, Step 6: The plane took off and we were on it! As much as I loved the trip and it was everything and so much more, I could not wait to be home!

Se agapó Greece!

Se agapó Greece!

Ciao a tutti!

Or should I say, kaliméra (good morning in Greek). I had to say goodbye to Rome for a little bit because the next 10 days of my life will be spent in Greece through a program run through JFRC. To be completely honest, I was very skeptical because it cost 1300 Euro to attend this trip, which was basically more than half my budget. However, all my friends were going and as much as I love Rome, I didn’t want to be alone for 10 days. So, with special help from my amazing father, I was able to go and experience this once in a lifetime trip.

*Disclaimer: By the end of this trip, I cried. And for those of you who know me, I NEVER cry. Like ever. I didn’t even cry saying bye to my mom at the airport. Crying isn’t a part of my vocabulary. So, me crying shows how amazing this trip was.*

I am going to share with you my top 3 days while in Greece. Andiamo!

FRIDAY (10/7/16): 5 AM I am forced to wake up at because our flight is at 8 AM. I am NOT a morning person in the slightest, so I was miserable. But I took the hour and a half plane ride as an opportunity to nap, and I awoke refreshed and ready to take on our first day in Greece. We flew into Athens, grabbed our checked bags, and headed for the seaside in Sounion, which is on the outskirts of Athens. Here we grab lunch, and can I just say that this set the mood for the entire trip? The view was outstanding, with the temple of Zeus on the mountaintop just across the water. It was like we stepped into a painting. The water was so blue, the sky so clear. I couldn’t believe this was my life. We sat down and were given scary looking fish for lunch, such as mussels, octapus, and calamari. Again, for the people who know me, I hate fish. Living and dead. They gross me out, and I never want them near me. But I promised myself I was going to try everything, so I did. And they weren’t bad at all! I was actually sort of obsessed with the mussels, which took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to eat. I ain’t no foodie expert, I can’t even boil water correctly, but it all tasted so fresh, and I actually felt healthy after scarfing down entire plates full of food.

Lunch with a view (hey Poseidon)
Lunch with a view (hey Poseidon)

Afterwards, we visited the Temple of Poseidon (that itty bitty monument on top of the hill in the picture above). We had a 360 view of the entire Aegean Sea (which I kept calling an ocean, my b). We learned about the history while walking around, enjoying the beauty around us before heading to our hotel in Athens. We were exploring Athens and it’s active nightlife, when it started to downpour on us, forcing us back to our hotel. I thought this day was overall amazing, but I was soon to find out the greatness that Greece still had to offer.



SUNDAY (10/9/16): Today, we headed for Delphi, a town situated on the side of Mount Parnassus, which in the ancient times was sacred to Apollo and the Muses. It had a temple dedicated to Apollo, an amphitheater, and a stadium that used to hold running tournaments.

Good people, greater view

After all of this, we headed back to our hotel and got ready for dinner. We had to hike up 300 stairs in order to get there, so I was dying, but my appetite was ready for some good food! Also, the wine was probably some of the best I’ve had thus far. After a bit of wine, we all decided to get up and dance, and it was the most fun I’ve had in my life. We learned how to Greek dance and just enjoyed each other’s company. I talked to people I’ve never talked to before, and we all really connected that night. We left and then went to another bar, and all 50 of us took it over. We were dancing on the tables, talking to the locals. We stayed here until the wee hours of the night, and I never wanted to leave. However, at about 2:30 in the morning, we decided to call it quits and headed back to the hotel. There, our dean of students and our tour guide, Ioanna, invited my friends and I to have drinks at the bar with them. We talked and laughed and finished off the night the right way, with Night Caps, which are dessert shots. They were so good! It had Bailey’s, whipped cream, and some other stuff, and it was so delicious. It was definitely a night to remember.

This picture basically describes the night. Too much fun!

SATURDAY (10/15/16): Last night in Greece! 🙁 The best, yet the saddest day of my life. I have grown to love everything about it, and although I love Rome, I developed such a deep bond with the Greek people and its culture. I think I miss the food the most, to be honest. It consisted of some of the best meals I’ve ever had. Anyways, on this day, we spent our morning in Mykonos and walked amongst the cute little shops.


We then got on the bus around 10:45 and left for the boat, which was going to take us back to Athens. Four hours later, we docked and went to our hotel, which was AMAZING. It was called Mare Nostrum, and it was a resort spa. Yes, you read that right. They even gave us free passes to use the spa. We got ready for dinner and left for this restaurant that was about 15 minutes away. There, they had live Greek music and a DJ that was playing whatever songs we requested. Also, the dinner was beyond words. I really can’t get this saganaki covered in sesame with sweet jam out of my mind. Like I said before, I am going to miss the food so much. We spent the remainder of the night dancing, singing, and laughing. This was definitely my favorite night of the entire trip. We invited Greeks who were eating in the restaurant to dance with us, and they were so kind and having just as much fun as we were. The entire night felt like a dream, and I wish I could relive it over and over again. I made everlasting memories and friendships.



Thank you Greece for changing my life and for being so welcoming. Se agapó! (I LOVE YOU.)

Travels Galore

Travels Galore

This past Sunday we returned from a 10-day long trip around Vietnam’s north and central regions. It was the first major trip in the program and will be followed in another week by a short excursion to Cambodia. Instead of giving you a comprehensive rundown of the entire trip, I’m imparting short snapshots of each city to you:

Hue: After a long day of touring Hue, a city in central Vietnam that was once home to the legendary Nguyen dynasty, a group of us tracked down a Mexican restaurant on TripAdvisor called Jalapeno.  To our surprise upon entering the restaurant we found a different group of Loyola students half-way through their meal – in the spirit of group travels we combined tables and took over half the restaurant.  Happy hour at Jalapeno meant BOGO margaritas and free beer with any main entrée – an offer none of us could refuse. After receiving our chilled margaritas, we toasted to a happy day and to Emily’s last night as a 21-year-old. Pha, our waiter, overheard the birthday wishes and quickly rushed to the side of our table for more details: whose birthday was it, how old were they and how did you spell their name. Emily did the honors and for the next 30 minutes, as plates of enchiladas and nachos came and went, all of the staff snickered, giggled and whispered. Finally, the moment of truth came. The lights dimmed, the doors shut and a cake with numbered 22 candles and ‘Emily 29.9’ written in red frosting was delivered to the table (not one of us had the heart to tell Pha that Emily’s birthday was actually September 30th). What followed was Emily’s worse nightmare: 4 different renditions of happy birthday and an impromptu dance party in which Pha and her coworkers made us dance to, among other songs, Gangnam Style.

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue
Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue

Hoi An: Hoi An, another city in Central Vietnam, is known for its quaint architecture and old style. It’s vaguely reminiscent of a small, peaceful Italian town which left Emily and I feeling very at home. After visiting My Son Cham ruins, Emily, Kelsey, Binu, Vien and I rented bicycles to visit a nearby beach. I have no words to explain how wonderful those few hours were. The weather was perfect, the water warm and the waves just enough to inspire the greatness of the ocean in you right before the water set you back down gently on the sandy ocean floor. At one point Emily instructed us to take a good long mental picture of the moment in our heads – it was something we would want to remember the next time we were dozing off in class.

Beach just outside of Hoi An
Beach just outside of Hoi An

Da Nang: Surprise! Da Nang is another city in central Vietnam. For most, Da Nang is known for modernity and cleanliness (apparently, it’s one of the best places to live in Vietnam).  For me, Da Nang is known for the worst mango smoothie. By mango smoothie, I mean to say sugary milk, chunks of mango and a few ice cubes garnished with a random piece of mint. To be fair we only spent about an hour and a half in Da Nang and so please know that I am judging a book by its cover. So please do me a favor and return to Da Nang in order to write your own snapshot that does the city justice.

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang
Dragon Bridge in Da Nang

Hanoi: In Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, we were greeted by delicious northern delicacies such as bun cha and not so friendly Vietnamese northerners who lived up their reputation of being more closed off than their southern counterparts. We found a sweet little place called the Polite Pub where the majority of us Loyola students shared a few glasses of half price wine before a traditional water puppet show. I adore Hanoi for its small streets, large trees and old feel. I sincerely wish we had spent more time there.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Sa Pa: Sa Pa is a glorious small town up near Vietnam’s border with China. We spent only one full day here but it was a wonderful place to relax and its magnificent mountain views do make it worth visiting. The only catch is that to get there you must take a 6-hour bus ride in a sleeper bus. For those of you who haven’t yet encountered the world of sleeper buses, this means that the seats are essentially like beds. For those of you who have encountered the world of sleeper buses, you can probably relate to me when I say this is wonderful except when your seat is broken which leaves you lying flat for 6 hours. The ride up to Sa Pa was fine but it was the ride down that left me a little shaken. After loading up the bus in Sa Pa our driver proceeded to pick up hitchhikers along the highway, stopping (and I mean slamming on the breaks) every 20 minutes to pick up new folks or drop others off. He drove at the speed of light so we get could to Hanoi and drop off the other illegal passengers but still get us to our drop-off location early. This entire experience was made even more complete by the odor of urine and the stench of cigarettes that left my hair smelling as though I had spent the past 6 hours in some shady European discotheque. This was a wonderful experience and although I may not ever repeat it and I am sure I will cherish it for years to come.

Sa Pa in all its glory
Sa Pa in all its glory

At the end of all of this, I was so happy to return home to Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a curious and beautiful thing to feel that you are returning home after only having known a place for 7 weeks.