Check out our newly redesigned Study Abroad blog at http://umabroad.com, so be sure to follow us there.
(This blog will no longer be updated.)
Thanks for reading!
Check out our newly redesigned Study Abroad blog at http://umabroad.com, so be sure to follow us there.
(This blog will no longer be updated.)
Thanks for reading!
Today was move in day and I’m already in love with this city. Our flat is located in Ealing, basically a suburb of central London, about 40 minutes away from downtown. I’m not sure how I feel about the distance from the city but I think it will be ok. In Minnesota, all my classes were in St. Paul so I think I can manage this commute! Tonight is pretty low key, the girls and I are going to drink a little wine and talk about places we want to visit this semester! Tomorrow we have orientation at the CAPA center bright and early so it will be my first time figuring out the tube (aka London’s subway system). I’m so happy to be here finally! Below are some photos of our flat.
for three and a half months. I’ll be studying microfinance at the West African Research Center in Dakar for eight weeks, and will then have an internship in microfinance for the last six weeks. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to update, but this blog is in case I do! Check back with me here!
So this is my last blog post! I leave from Cochabamba tonight and I will be spending my night in the La Paz airport. Then I leave from La Paz at 7a the next morning and arrive in Minnesota late at night; it’s going to be a long day but I am definitely excited to see everyone.
Being abroad has taught me so many things! There were good times and bad times, but overall, this experience has made me such a better person. I was able to reflect on all the things most important to me and was out of my comfort zone a lot of the time, but that was the only way I learned so much about myself.
I just want to thank everyone for following my blog, checking up on me and making sure I don’t get lost in the jungles of South America. I also want to thank all my family and friends for being there for me through this entire journey.
This past Sunday was a lot of fun. After the New Years Eve clubbing, more than half of the group that I’m with in Cuernavaca met up at 10:30 am to get on a bus to Tepoztlán. It is about 45 minutes from Cuernavaca. It is known as a touristy town because of all the small shops and the temple that was built on the nearby Tepozteco Mountain.
Once we got to Tepoztlán, we all just wanted to get up the mountain. Little did we know, just climbing up the mountain was going to be an adventure in itself. I don’t think we were expecting the climb that we had to endure. It took about an hour and 15 minutes of pure hiking up rocks and steps to get to the top. Once at the top, it was really cool. The view was remarkable. We could see for miles. Everyone was really nice on top of the mountain too. A Mexican group came up to us and the girls wanted to take pictures with my roommate and I and the guys wanted to take pictures with the girls that we were with. Haha I guess we look very American…who would have thought? Here are some pictures from the trek up the mountain.
After climbing down the mountain for an hour, my roommate and I had one thing that we HAD to try before we left Tepoztlán, “quesadillas con chapulines”. If you were to translate that, you would figure out that “chapulines” were grasshoppers. All of the food that we had eaten so far at Tepoztlán was really good and very cheap. We had been talking to our teacher all week about how we wanted to try them. So we finally had our chance! We found a store and ordered a quesadilla with grasshoppers, hopefully the first and last time I will ever do that. I mean, it wasn’t horrible but it definitely wasn’t good. When I got a leg stuck in my tooth… that was a deal buster for me. We all had a bite and it really was weird. We followed the disgusting and crunch grasshopper quesadillas with plenty of chicken quesadillas because they were so good.
Before heading back to Cuernavaca, we also stopped at this little ice cream shop that our host mother had told us so much about. We got a big group to go there and we all go a bunch of different types of ice cream. The ice cream here is a lot different than the ice cream in the United States; it is a lot less dense I think. Anyways, I got watermelon ice cream which was really weird but also insanely good. There were other people that got bunch of different kinds with come actual fruit in them. There was also a kind that had tequila in it (only in Mexico right?).
Overall the day was great. We got back to Cuernavaca around 8 at night and just relaxed at home for the rest of the night. We also quickly finished our composition that was due the next day. To those of you who think that this is mostly a vacation, I quickly learned that there was also a lot of work that goes along with this trip. We have class for 5 hours a day and then sometimes we have things in the afternoon plus 2 hours-ish depending on the day of homework. It’s a lot of work but I am enjoying it!
Transportation is something most of us use every day, but notice only when it bothers us or stops working correctly. Every week I take the subway to campus and back and take a local train to visit nearby relatives, but I rarely stop to think about how this wouldn’t be possible at all in Minneapolis because of the lack of reliable rail service and infrastructure. On the occasions that I do stop to think about the transportation I use every day I realize how different the transportation systems in the US and Germany (and in Minneapolis and Munich) are. Even if I had a car and could use the road system I would be noticing some big differences:
The first thing most Americans will notice when first driving on German highways is the stretches where there is absolutely no speed limit. While it seems a little odd at first that this is the same country where you can get ticketed for passing a car on the right, or even driving in a left lane when the one to the right of you is free, it makes sense when you realize that it can be more dangerous to disrupt the normal flow of traffic than to drive very fast. Also, German drivers generally don’t drive faster than they feel is safe.
The other major difference in road travel, besides the fact that German drivers seem to be, in general, much better (more attentive) drivers than the ones in Minnesota, is in the structure of road networks. Most large German cities, including Munich, existed long before cars or even horses and carriages were in common use. They grew slowly, starting with a wall around the inner city, then eventually broke out of that wall and absorbed smaller cities nearby. The roads developed slowly along with the city, eventually forming a radial pattern with the oldest part of the city in the center. This historic city center is often a pedestrian zone; car travel is limited in this area.
Large American cities, by contrast, usually have a pronounced grid pattern in their street layouts and the entire city is usually directly accessible by car. This is probably the result of deliberate planning due to the fast growth of these cities. Even outside of cities this pattern is apparent: Most of the farmland in the large, flat parts of the US is divided by roads into neatly tessellating squares and rectangles, giving the land the appearance of a patchwork quilt when viewed from the sky. This isn’t the case in Germany, where farms generally have a more irregular shape.
Where the American and German transportation systems differ the most, of course, is in passenger rail infrastructure. American regional and inter-city rail service is either slow, unreliable, or rarely available in most parts of the country. For the majority of Americans it isn’t an attractive option for any kind of travel. The only options these Americans have for inter-city travel are car or airplane travel, neither of which is particularly comfortable or enjoyable.
Germany, on the other hand, has an extensive rail network that reaches every major city, just about every small city, and even some large villages across the entire country. Train travel is a viable option for those who do not own cars, along with car sharing or comparably-priced flights. The service is usually punctual and has a frequency of at least one train every one or two hours at most stations. The trains are usually fast and comfortable, with the extreme being the high-speed InterCity-Express service that can travel up to 300 km/h and is the most comfortable vehicle in which I have ever traveled (except the one time I flew on business class, but that was orders of magnitude more expensive than a typical ICE rail ticket). Compared to car travel, train travel is comparable in cost (depending on the level of train speed and comfort) and often is about as fast, occasionally even faster (also depending on the location of your start point and destination).
Perhaps most Americans simply prefer the flexibility and independence offered by cars over the comfort, low cost, and safety offered by trains. Perhaps the US’s geographic size and relatively low population density make trains an impractical option compared to cars and airplanes. Whatever the reason, America’s passenger rail network has a long way to go to match the efficiency, popularity, and ubiquity of Germany’s network.
Until now I’ve covered road and rail networks on a regional and national scale. This leaves out an important component of transportation networks, namely public transportation within cities. It’s hard to make national generalizations in this area, mostly because each city seems to take a unique approach to public transportation. Since I have used the transportation systems of both Munich and Minneapolis/St. Paul extensively, I’ll profile them as examples. I should note that the city of Munich is considerably larger than Minneapolis/St. Paul. Munich’s population is about one million, while Minneapolis/St. Paul have a combined population of close to one-half million, although many more people live in the sprawling suburbs that surround the cities proper.
Munich has a dense, extensive, and robust public transportation system. Its high-capacity backbone consists of the U-Bahn, a subway system of six lines, and the S-Bahn, a collection of suburban trains consisting of twelve spokes that join in the city center to form a single trunk line. These trains are usually fast and punctual (the U-Bahn more so than the S-Bahn). The stations and trains are clean and safe. Although the system sees heavy use and trains can get crowded during peak hours and football games, overcrowding on a scale comparable to the Tokyo subways is very rare. With an extensive streetcar and bus network supplementing the U- and S-Bahn, almost any place in the city and most of the surrounding towns can be reached from the public transportation network. In addition, bicycle paths are available along most streets as another alternative to car travel.
Minneapolis and St. Paul have no real subway system. The transit system for this metropolitan area consists chiefly of a bus system which provides good coverage within the city limits and connects busy areas like the downtowns and the U of M campuses. The city had a streetcar network but this was dismantled in the 1950s because a bus system was thought to be more economical. Rail seems to be making a comeback, however, with the recent construction of a light rail line (a sort of compromise between streetcar and subway) with another line currently under construction and a third in planning. Bicycling is especially prominent in Minneapolis/St. Paul: Bike paths are common and all buses and trains are outfitted with bike racks. Biking is especially popular among university students, who (unlike in Munich) usually live within short biking distance of campus. In the suburbs, however, transit coverage is usually spotty and limited to commercial centers. Because of this and the sheer geographic sprawl of the suburbs, residents there are often left with car travel as the only practical option.
It’s been interesting to look at how two different countries, or two different cities, solved the fundamental problem of getting people from one place to another. It’s a sign of how far modern society has come with this task when I can step into a train in one place, step out fifteen minutes and ten kilometers later, repeat this daily with hundreds or thousands of other people and not even give it a second thought most of the time.
January 18, 2012. 91 days.
That is the day that I take off from Milwaukee, WI, USA and head to Rome, Italy.
It seems a long way off but I just know that it is going to creep up quickly. Especially since now almost all pre-departure items are turned in and complete!
Next week I have my orientation and I am really excited to meet the other kids that will be going to Rome as well!
I have already made a list of things I MUST complete while in Italy (’cause how many times does a kid get to go to Italy??!):
10. TAKE LOTS AND LOTS OF PICTURES OF EVERYTHING!
In addition to this list, I hope to eat lots and lots of great Italian pasta and gelato. I’m also hoping that my host family will teach me their exquisite cooking ways.
It has been over two weeks since I returned from my adventures in South America. It’s been hard to analyze my feelings and emotions since re-entering the United States. Two words describe how life has been during the first two weeks back in my hometown, surreal and stressful.
I arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at about 10:30 am on a Saturday to my eldest sister and niece waiting for me near my baggage claim. Their timing was impeccable. It was good to see familiar faces. Waiting in the van were my sister’s neighbors and good friends who tagged along to keep my sister company on the 2.5 hour car ride to the airport. I was very happy as we left the airport, but everything felt much like a dream. Our first stop after the airport: IKEA. Though not the most ideal “first stop” after getting off the plane, I managed to cope and just enjoy looking at the trendy Swedish furniture and random household nicknacks. My first meal after returning from abroad, Swedish meatballs and potatoes.
The surreal feeling continued throughout the next couple of days. It was strange to meet up with family and see some friends again, although most of my friends who are my age were still in school. The quietness and slow pace of my hometown, along with the farm I grew up was a hard change from the high-speed, always busy streets of Buenos Aires. And even though the weather in Minnesota is a bit “warmer” for December at about 30-40 degrees (F), only now am I getting used to the change from the constant 70+ degrees I left in Buenos Aires.
About three or four days after I got back to the U.S. the physical signs of stress started to emerge. My lips began to tingle and soon, over a 24 hour period broke out into sores. Never has that happened to me before. It was a strange and very uncomfortable phenomenon. It has taken about a week and a half and a lot of medication for them to fully heal. An informal doctor visit claimed it was likely a stress related breakout.
Remembering how to live in Minnesota again has been an interesting and fun experience. I had to learn how to drive again. Getting behind the wheel felt foreign and unnatural at first, but like riding a bicycle you never truly forget. After a few miles on the road, driving felt routine again. Simple differences weren’t that difficult to re-adapt to, but it is always fun to remember the differences in the way of life of Porteños to the way Minnesotans go about simple tasks. I always feel the need to point out the differences to friends or family. I wonder if they are getting annoyed yet.
It’s now fun to speak Spanish! I think my family is getting annoyed by me saying some things in Spanish and then English. When at first I speak Spanish, the dumbfounded reaction on their faces is priceless and quite amusing. Over time, I’ve become accustomed to all-English, but I really hate losing the little Spanish I already know well. I am currently on the wait-list for the only Spanish 1004 class that fits into my busy class schedule at the U of M this Spring.
It is so great to be back in the country I love and to see the people that I missed so dearly. My experiences in South America were absolutely incredible and I do not regret anything. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much that it is really hard to talk about my experiences to others. Many ask how my time in Argentina was, but it’s almost impossible to answer in a sound-bite or a couple minute conversation. I usually ask, how much time do you have? I couldn’t talk about my experiences in minutes, but rather in hours.
Thank you all for reading my thoughts and experiences while abroad. It has been really helpful to write about everything and will be nice to look back on as time moves forward. I hope everyone had a happy and healthy 2011 and hope the new year is even better. Happy 2012 to all!
Today, I was just assigned my housing and address for the first 6 weeks of my stay in India, and I will have a roommate from the U of M join me in the same house. Now I only hope the house, well apartment actually, does not have a servant. I was told many of the upper castes have servants. Some are even children looking to help make money for their families. These children often do not get an education. The family may chose to pay them back by providing them with an education. This this is very rare and usually happens when the servant is treated like a family member. Some servants may be treated like family members and may even sleep on an actual bed. However, they could potentially be treated like dirt and are forced to sleep on the hard ground, and that would be considered socially acceptable. It would be incredibly rude of me to even make any gesture of sympathy for them.
The past couple of days have been insane. I have constantly been on the go. There is just so much to do here!! Okay so I will start with New Years Eve day…
On New Year’s Eve day we had our first test. For 2 hours before the test, we just had a review session which was really nice. We pretty much quickly covered all the things that we had learned during the week right before the test. For me, I thought the test went pretty well! I hate the anticipation of waiting to get a test back.
One thing that was really different and that would never happen in any school in the United States is that after our test, they had a ton of salsa and chips for us. They also had bottles of real champagne for us after we got done with our test to bring in the New Year! It was insane! All of us were like, “Is this really happening right now?” It was a lot of fun just hanging out with the teachers for a while.
During the week we have to write one journal entry in Spanish and turn it in to be graded. The first one we had to turn in was on last Thursday and it was supposed to be about the first 3 days that we were in Cuernavaca. My housemates and I all turned ours in together. When Saturday came around and people were getting theirs back with grades on them, I noticed that I hadn’t gotten my back yet so I went and asked one of my teachers. There ended up being a note for me saying that I hadn’t turned it in but I could still turn it in on Monday but lose some points. This is where it gets really complicated. The woman who is in charge of grading them only speaks Spanish, just like the rest of the teachers. I went and saw her and had to explain to her that I had turned it in with my roommates and that they could they could vouch for me. She then asked me to go look in my backpack and notebook again to see if I had it so I did just that, knowing that it wasn’t in there. After “looking” for it, I headed back to her office and told her that I know for sure I turned it in and that it was on notebook paper with my name on it and everything. After she kind of got frustrated with me arguing with her, she finally said that she would look around for it a little later. After the test we all just hung out around the pool at the school for a couple of hours. Right before I was going to leave Nancy, the teacher, comes out with my journal entry graded and said that it had fallen behind a desk or something (I didn’t really understand). There that was a win for me! It is so hard to have a conversation like that with someone when you can only speak a little bit of the language that they only speak. It has definitely been really difficult here at times with the language barrier but it is also a lot of fun as well.
After that mess in the afternoon, we headed back to our house and hung out there for the rest of the day until it was time for us to head out. That night we went to this club called “Juarez Cuatro”. It was the recommended club for us to go to because the head of the school knew the owner of the club. It was really expensive but it was also a lot of fun. This is where a lot of people may have made their New Year “mistakes” that night at the club (haha). It was really packed. They pretty much only played American dance music which was cool because we knew all the words. Here are a few pictures of me throughout the night…notice how sweaty I am, I was definitely dancing a ton.