Archive for January, 2011

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Miles: Oh, Thoreau!

January 26, 2011

Quick Updates:

  • Went Cross-country skiing. Loved it. The falls are significantly less painful. There are beautiful tracks near Kringsjå, another student village.
  • Did Laundry. Am now out about $10. Will now be wearing all clothing for a disgustingly long time.
  • First Norwegian cold! My throat hurts like WOAH. Green Tea and my flatmate’s stash of Ricola throat drops are saving my life.

One of the courses I am taking this semester is a North American Studies class called “Restoring the Earth/Renewing Culture: Critical Evaluations of the Green American Tradition.” It is a course on Environmental studies and writings. Yes, you could argue that it is silly to take a course studying my own country when I am in the middle of a Scandinavian adventure, but having only had the class twice, I can already feel the value of the course.

First, I am getting to see the States from a Norwegian point of view. The professor, while American, skews his examples towards Scandinavia when providing comparison to North America. For example, when talking about forces that are pitted against the environment, we discussed Norwegian economy. (Norway’s primary export is Oil, and many in power argue that the country simply cannot ween itself off of oil when it is such a large part of the economic stability of the country. I will be researching more into this, as I think it is fascinating. I will report more later!) By being a part of a class studying a culture that I am more familiar with (but by no means an expert on), I am in fact learning more about their culture.

But more importantly, and perhaps the thing I am most excited about, I am learning about the role Nature can play in my life. In our first reading assignment, we were given selections of Thoreau’s journals and also his piece “Huckleberries” (which, I have learned, are blueberries. Blueberry Finn. Who knew?) My favorite quote out of the journals was part of a section where Thoreau was writing about how the Earth is always changing, but continues to remain vibrant—we shouldn’t ever think of things as “dying.” He writes: “decayed wood is not old, but has just begun to be what it is.” To think of Nature, especially in wintertime in Oslo, is always being at its fullest is an extremely helpful way to look at things. It turns winter into not the long wait for spring, but rather it’s own beautiful entity.

“Huckleberries” takes the idea of a huckleberry patch to discuss the way we are living—Thoreau breaks down class systems, the concept of property, and challenges “modern” (circa 1861) men to begin the process of restoring the environment around them. (My summary certainly doesn’t do the piece justice and I highly recommend looking into it.) For me, the part that resonated the most was when Thoreau talked about everything that we have to gain from Nature that cannot be captured when things like berries become commodities—concepts like inner peace, happiness, beauty. He argues that Nature is the most important part of any community, and that it should be cherished.

Thoreau’s ideas challenged me to think about the way I interact with Nature. Here in Oslo, a city with about half the population of the Twin Cities area, I have the opportunity to interact with a great deal of nature. I walk through a small wooded area to get to campus. Any time I approach the subway from my flat, I see Mountains in the distance. A short ride on the T-bane takes me up into the hills and surrounds me with trees. I can walk to Sognsvann, a beautiful lake circled by hiking/skiing paths and forest. As a student trying not to spend copious amounts of money, I have found Nature to be a simple yet stunning way to connect with my semester abroad. When I go for a walk or cross-country ski, I am not only experiencing Nature, but am truly experiencing Norway. This is why I am here—not to get drunk all weekend every weekend, not to shop at H&M, not to panic about final exams—to truly be here. I think I will find that connection in Nature.

Then I begin to think about “home”—whether that is Madison, Wisconsin or Minneapolis, Minnesota. How can I take Thoreau’s ideas and bring them back with me? At home I am accustomed to my routined way of life—and up until now, it hasn’t involved a ton of nature. Sure, I bike to class when it feels safe to do so, I go for walks, I visit Powderhorn Park and sit on the shore of Lake Monona, but can I take the feelings I get from the Nature in Oslo and apply them to the Midwest? It is a challenge I look forward too.

(Okay, that all sounded way more earthy-hippie than I had initially intended, but really, I think maybe it’s all at least a little true. I also think that there is a part of me that, because of growing up in mostly urban settings, has a weird pastoral fantasy that I have yet to fulfill. Chickens and vegetable gardens, I’m a-comin’ for you!)

Things I have learned:

ROUTINES WERE MEANT TO BE BROKEN. I have a limited amount of time in Norway. It would be so awful to get into a rut and not experience every inch of it all. Whenever I feel myself getting too settled or too comfortable, I try to find a way to push. So far, it has been a lot of fun.

MACHISMO SUCKS. REALLY. I MEAN, REALLY REALLY SUCKS. I never realized how fortunate I was to be attending college surrounded by men and women and everyone in-between who believe in gender equality and who constantly challenge themselves to not perpetuate sexism and male-dominance. I am trying to find balance between the cultural differences that I may be oblivious to and the unacceptability of having a sexist attitude towards the women around you. I am trying to remember a phrase we used in Central Touring Theater (the organization that I interned for all last year): “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.“

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Kelly: montañas

January 25, 2011

I went mountain hiking/climbing/traversing today! It took my breath away—from the altitude and the spectacular views (excuse the joke). The pictures do the scenery no justice at all.

Rachel, Adam, and I took a taxi (my first taxi ride in Ecuador) to the cable car (Teleférico—the longest in the world) to 4,100 m. We figured we hiked up to about 4,500 m. The hike up took 2.5 hours and the way down took considerably less time. It was fantastic.

There was one point where we were climbing fairly steep rocks—you could call it a cliff in honesty, I think—and I started to freak out (plus I was already a little light-headed from the altitude and looking down). I had to talk to myself out loud to get myself back down the ledge… which is harder to do than going up it.  I hope there will be more time for playing in the mountains. I still am having a difficult time believing that what I saw/did was real.

Click to view slideshow.

After we got to “Quito-level,” we found a restaurant in the touristy area of town and I ordered my first beer here. The Pilsner comes in a glass liter bottle (recycled, I believe) and costs $1.43. Although in reality it’s pretty watery, it was perfect for the moment.

Again, I have failed to read my homework and will be up later than I want to skimming the articles. But really, who wants to do academic work when there are mountains to explore!!

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Jonathan: What’s to come

January 25, 2011

The photograph above is of a palace in Delhi with a beautifully manicured garden.  The woman in red in the foreground, a member of the Dalit community (also known as the ‘untouchables,’) lives on the lawn there with her family of over five children.

As you can imagine, the start of the program has been hectic and unpredictable. In a country where internet is not readily available at the drop of a hat (but cell phone coverage certainly is), it has been difficult to find a sustained time to write. But enough of that…

Everything you’ve heard about India is wrong. And it’s also right. At the same time. It is a land of what appears to be contradictions, a striving for binary’s where the gray area is so omnipresent, and enthralling.  As I end day number eight here, number six in Jaipur itself, I am at a loss of where to even begin. How to even explain the sights I’ve seen when so much has happened in such a short time?

There are eleven of us (ten women and myself). I’ve never been surrounded by so many intelligent, dedicated, and interesting people. For the first time in a long while I feel challenged by my peers in an academic context, and have learned so much from them already. We represent a variety of academic disciplines, including international studies, political science, public health, food science (a huge bonus to the program), economics, sociology and English (with myself representing social work and gender studies). Most have had academic/formal exposure to discussions of international development, others have none, while I have a fair amount just from my outside readings and personal research and interests. The highlight so far has been long discussions with eachother where we bring our own personal studies to try and contextualize and understand this immense experience. While we haven’t begun our formal classes yet (we will finally begin on Thursday), we are all excited to start integrating all the confusing messages we’ve received thus far into our studies.

India is many things, seemingly all at once.

Women in saris, kurtas, and salwar kameses of bold red, green, white, blue, yellow, orange, and every iteration beyond literally glow in the sun light which is reflected off of their gold bangles, nose ring, earrings, and mirrors affixed to their clothing. And yet, men dominate the public sphere, outnumbering their female counterparts at least two to one. Men are everywhere: walking, riding buses, taking auto-rickshaws (a rather unstable three wheeled ‘taxi’), urinating publicly (mind you, in full view of any passer by), manning businesses, and every other imaginable demonstration of public citizenship. It is both full of women’s color, and completely devoid of their presence as well.

The neighborhood I live in with my hosts, the Bansal family, is a stable middle class one with large homes, spotless living rooms, and manicured lawns. At yet just two doors down lives a cow and her calf on the sidewalk.

Just ten more feet away on the main road is a small tent village of desperately poor families who beg for food and money. This abject human suffering of which no words can fully describe, is also punctuated by the reality that they are controlled by the local mob, who takes any earnings they receive from begging.

The streets are filthy here, littered with an unimaginable assortment of trash. And yet, I’ve not once seen a cigarette butt; people here simply do not smoke (although chewing tobacco is popular). And yet, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, an international gathering of famous authors which brings together the Indian intelligencia and gentry, it often has the feeling of a smoking lounge, and the air is thick.

I will not belabor the point, and I think it stands that there is no way to sum up this experience in one blog post, or even twenty. It is a land filled with curios and the mundane seemingly all at once. Sorting through that is my task for the next four months.

At a practical level, I am currently living in a homestay with the Bansal Family comprising of the father (Papa-Ji), a chemist and owner of two small businesses, the mother (Mummi-Ji), an yoga master and homemaker, the sixteen year old son, and the grandmother (Dadi-Ji). A modern middle class Indian family, they are secular Hindu’s, emphasize education, and are desperate to obtain green cards in the United States, where over 40 members of the paternal side of the family currently live. Their older son, who is my age, is currently away at Law School, and a particular obsession is a constant conversation about ‘success,’ standards of living, and how many PhD’s are in the genealogy. This, of course, is mixed with an interest in my background: I gained significant approval upon their hearing the my mother has her doctorate (followed by a barrage of questions about her salary). There is a strong strain of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate,’ mainly in an effort to maintain their class distinction. My running thesis is that middle class is defined in visible opposition. They have money to bathe daily, wear button down shirts over tee-shirts, and maintain a clean house. They are not, thus, at all like the street at the end of their driveway, which is dirty, dusty, and littered. They have a comparison to act against. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Andrea: Rocks and Water

January 25, 2011

Several years ago when I was taking an introductory art history course covering works from prehistory to the Byzantine era, I saw a picture in my textbook of a group of arranged rocks known as Stonehenge. I never would have thought I’d ever get to see the megalithic ruin that has baffled scholars and excursionists alike for centuries, but whaddya know…

It was very cold on the Salisbury Plain because there is nothing around for miles to break the wind. It was also quite cloudy with short bursts of sunlight here and there, which only added to the mystique of the site. I have to admit that it wasn’t as large as I believed it would be, but I’m not complaining. There are many theories as to who constructed the site and why to keep me interested. Some believe that the druids were responsible. Although it’s been proven that Stonehenge was created before their time, they still would have seen it and possibly used it as a temple. Others say that it was used as an astronomical observatory. Of course, there are also those few who believe that aliens were involved and will return to Stonehenge someday.  Hmm…

Afterward, I made my way to the city of Bath, a World Heritage city where I saw Bath Abbey, and of course, the Roman Baths.


I know that one of Bath’s famous inhabitants was the writer Jane Austen, who actually didn’t like the city. I’ve never read any of her novels before, but I’m definitely inspired to now. The city is incredibly beautiful and I’d love to go back someday. Oh, and I also loved the performing street artists which were pretty much everywhere!
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Anna: Gelato & great views

January 25, 2011

I finally completed my first week of class. It does not feel like I am in school at all because all my classes are once a week except for my Italian. I switched out of a class that assigned us a 15 page paper and into watercolor. I know I know, I am probably lazy…but now at least I get to spend my time painting outside of the classroom instead of writing a huge paper! I haven’t water colored since Mr. Beaman’s junior high art classes so this should be interesting, but I have heard great things about the teacher.

We ate dinner last Thursday as a huge group. We were lucky enough to sit with our super nice CAPA staff Lorenzo and Guido. They were very funny giving us tips about where to go out. He gave us some names of places near where I live that he said we would enjoy. The dinner was a trio of pesto with penne, gnocci in a cream sauce, and meat and cheese ravioli. It was delicious! Groceries here are so cheap. Fresh mozzarella is only 1 euro! Delicious bread way under 1 euro and the produce is so cheap too. I hated sandwiches back at home, but here they are some of my favorite meals.

I am finally starting to feel like I know my way around a little more. I found it’s alright to ask questions if I find myself lost because it probably will help my Italian anyways. Also, the lovely Allie Hynan (Katie Hynan’s sister) provided me with a huge list of tips. As I read it a week in I know where certain places are, have visited quite a few of them, and I love that I know if I am getting ripped off of gelato!

My apartment
View from Piazza Michelangelo

This weekend I went to the Uffizi. I have heard it will take me many many times to get through the whole thing, but I ended up seeing a little over half of it! Plus I have my art history course that will take us there. It is truly remarkable to see work that was created so long ago. I also took a walk with a room mate and we found that our backyard (a little up a ways) is where the famous Piazza Michelangelo is. It overlooks the ENTIRE city of Florence, so so beautiful. I will take whoever visits there.

A word to describe the weather here would definitely be brisk. There will be sun but it is still cool and windy. The whole week is 45 degrees out. Not too bad, way better than Minnesota so I should not complain!

I made my room mates dinner the other night and it seemed like it went over well. I am the only one who likes cooking so they get really impressed over the simplest of things. I made spaghetti with ricotta, roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. It was really yummy I was proud of myself.

I have to admit there are times where I am homesick. My room mates and I all sat down and talked about it last night before bed (when most of us get home sick the most) and ended up the night laughing and writing down quotes. It is hard to be away from the people and friends who know you the best, but I have met a handful of really nice girls who I will hopefully do a lot of my traveling with. There aren’t just Minnesotans so a lot of the times I really miss that “Minnesota Nice” smile people give.

Next weekend I am either visiting Rome or a day trip to Pisa. Ciao for now! I will try to write on this more. Pictures to come later!

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Michelle: First week of classes

January 25, 2011

Every year, I await with anticipation the first day of school. Like a kid before Christmas, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to class. This year was no different. After a week of orientation to the city of Montpellier and falling into step with my host family’s life, I was sad to see my vacation go but at the same time, I was ready.

Monday started off great. My first class was on the world of work in France and is a class specific for Minnesota students. Everyone who does an internship has to take it. We spent the whole lesson learning vocabulary for the workplace (words like bosser, entretien d’embauche, engager, and licencier)  Despite the class being exclusively in French, I understood pretty much everything.

The second two classes that day are for the same course. One is a three hour lecture on developmental psychology, the other is another three hour lecture on social psychology. Both lectures have an emphasis on child/adolescent psychology. It’s hard enough having to learn in another language. However, when there’s a class of 300 students, some of whom are talking constantly while the professors talk in a lecture hall that echoes, comprehension is near impossible. The blatant disrespect for the professors in both classes astounded me. I sat in the front for both classes and people all around me chattered incessantly from the time they sat down to the time we were dismissed. In my classes in the US, this would never happen, especially not in the front row. Fortunately, during the first class, both professors simply laid down the basics and discussed a little bit of history and fundamentals in each topic. As a psychology major/enthusiast, I was familiar with most of what was discussed. There are many terms that are similar in French and English. For example “l’erreur d’attribution fondamentale” is the “fundamental attribution error.” Also, obviously all the names are the same (but with a French accent). Plato becomes Platon; Aristotle becomes Aristote; Erikson is still Erikson.

After both classes, another American girl in the class with me and I introduced ourselves to the professors. They asked how it was and we answered honestly. “Quand je vous entends, je peux vous comprendre, mais il y a beaucoup de bruit alors je ne peux pas toujours vous entendre” (When I hear you, I can understand, but there’s a lot of noise, so I can’t always hear you.) The social psychology professor responded, “It’s not like this in other universities, but what can you do?” I was so tired after that day. I just came home, ate dinner, and slept. I actually fell asleep without intending to. My host mother was so nice. She came in, put a blanket over me, and turned off the light.  This was not a great start to my first day of courses.

Today was my second day. My only course on Tuesdays is Civilization du Sud de la France. It’s a course for international students, but like the courses the U offers, it’s taught in French. One thing I’ve noticed is I’m not used to three hour lectures. Halfway through, I already find my attention waning. In the US, the longest lecture I have ever had to sit through has been two hours. After class, the combination of the length and the language makes my head feel like it’s about to explode.

Talking to other Americans, it’s reassuring to hear that some other students struggling too (although, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone have trouble with other students talking). It sounds mean, but I think you all understand. Going through something difficult is a lot easier when you know others are doing the same thing.

I still have the rest of the week to get through and after that the rest of the semester. Tomorrow I have Grammar and the day after is Phonetics. Once I get used to the language, I’m sure everything will go much more smoothly. Until then, I’m just going to have to bear through it. To anyone who plans on studying abroad in the future, voice recorder = best Christmas present ever. Thanks Dad.

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Eric: primo giorno di lezione

January 24, 2011

Yesterday, the group met for breakfast and then trekked off to the Trastevere Sunday flea market. For as far as the eye can see down a backstreet that flows southwest of the Tiber were tents and people crowded shoulder to shoulder in-between them. The attitude was relaxed and chaotic all at the same time with thousands of people browsing imitation designer clothes, shoes, boots and everything else that could possibly be replicated and sold at bottom barrel prices. The smell of pork wafted through the alley and beckoned for you to come get a Chicare sandwich.

There were several shops selling kitchenware, and I kept my eyes open searching them all for a thermos to replace the one that broke. Spatulas, spoons, Tupperware, espresso makers, colanders etc. but no Thermos. At the point in which I was about to give up I saw one gleaming like an obelisk from underneath a small stand of assorted goods. Excited, I bee-lined for it and gave it a look. It was time to barter. I asked how much to the Chinese woman behind the table, but I could not understand her response. I countered whatever she said with an initial bid of 6 euro, she looked to her right and caught glances with her husband and my offer was denied with a counter offer of 8 euro. I attempted to offer 7, but I could tell that she was not in the mood to haggle on the item so I paid the 8.

Later, we all decided to head off to a pizza place that my host family had recommended. Although we had a map on the back of the business card we were lost in piazza so cossimato. Skateboarders shooting a part rolled around skating the benches, concrete embankments and rails scattered infront of renaissance cathedrals. I spotted a fellow American and asked if he might know where this place was, but he seemed unsure and as we all tried to orient our current location to map I caught the name of the restaurant staring back at me from a non-descript window in front of us. Lunch was awesome!  We shared two bottles of wine, two bottles of water and each had their own 10″ thin crust pizza for 10 euro.

Later that evening we went to a Pub named Scholars where every American student seemed to have crowded into in order to watch the Green Bay Packers beat the Bears. The oak walls seemed to flex as we maxed out the place with cheering Wisconsin co-eds reconnecting with a culture that they had exchanged for a more reserved nothing in excess except laughs type of people.

So anyway…back to this morning!

I opened my eyes to cerulean blue light peeking through my blinds reminding me it is morning again in the Eternal city.  Pushing off the cover I rolled out of bed eager to have another espresso and some breakfast pastry. Like clockwork, as I opened my bedroom door to exit into the hallway, Valentino entered the apartment with a silver thermos of coffee. As delighted as I was to see the coffee I came to the realization that they already had the exact same thermos that I had purchased from the Trastevere Sunday market to replace the one I had accidentally broken. I figured it was the thought that counted, and I handed the thermos I had purchased to him who promptly refused. Valentino understood my intentions and brought the vessel down to Marina. As I set down to coffee and screwed off the lid of the thermos I realized that the one that I had given to Marina as a replacement was a fake of the one that she already had.

As I hit the pavement I was met with a sunny brisk Roman morning. We took the 870 to Poana which drops off a few blocks from the center. Today was the first day of class, which started with Made in Italy taught by a brilliant woman who is fluent in three languages and has lived on three continents. The class seems extremely engaging and we may even score some free passes to a fashion show that features an all-star class of Italian fashion designers unleashing next seasons garments later this spring. After another quick coffee break it was time for my first Italian course. Our teacher Mario is fantastic! I do not think that I have laughed so hard in my life when we were paired up and attempted to work on our pronunciation. Mario kept an open ear to our conversations and butted in to offer suggestions and crack the occasional pun which had all of in smiles for the hour. Following class me and Mike did the Caesar shuffle back to his apartment in the Monte Esquilino district of town to get his money to pay for our side excursions and so he could grab his running gear so we could go for an evening jog in the Villa Panfili park.

I was able to put my iPod into my back pocket, crank up the internal speaker and hit the trails with Mike.  The trail starts out by entering a non-descript gateway covered in graffiti.  The true magic of the park lies about 3/4 mile up the 20% grade hill that rises above Rome onto a hilltop crested by decaying fountains, beheaded statues, and a pristine villa with immaculate hedge garden.

After working up a sweat, we decided it was time for an apertivo and headed off in search of a café near by.  We eventually found a spot that seemed worth entering where we were served peanuts, chips, and a glass of Chianti apiece.  As we sipped our wine and talked about life my phone rang, and it was Marina. Tempo per la cena!!  Not looking to upset our hosts we rushed back to the homestay just in time to be served oriacceli with broccoli for first course along with a sparkling red wine that is popular in this region. Second course was sautéed beef served with insilata.  The meal was rounded out with a shot of grappa and sugar cookies.

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