Archive for the ‘Summer Study Abroad’ Category

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Anna: Growing on me…

July 28, 2009

After 2.5 weeks here, I can say that Argentina has really started to grow on me. It helps that the weather has warmed up a bit and I was able to do a little more exploring this past weekend than I had done previously. On Friday night I partied it up like a porteño, making it home at about 5 am (only 15 minutes before our host-sister came in). Saturday I went with a group to the city of Tigre, an river delta area where the majority of the town is located on islands accessible only by boat. Then Sunday I took a long bus ride out into the country to visit an Estancia (a type of ranch) where I rode horses, watched a gaucho show, and was treated to a fabulous dinner served on the lawn of the ranch.

My Spanish skills are also constantly improving and though I am a long LONG way from fluent and can’t even imagine using the language effortlessly, I understand more and am able to express more every day. I still feel like an idiot when I have to ask someone to repeat sentences multiple times, or when I use the wrong word, or completely misunderstand something, but at the same time I am proud of how far I’ve come. That is a really good feeling…

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Kate: Ciao, Roma

July 25, 2009

On Wednesday we did our Made in Italy presentations and then took our final. We were so thankful to be done! Wednesday evening was spent out for our group dinner and I was lucky enough to sit at the end of the table with Tim Gunn. He told us about one of the small Italian villages he lived in when he first moved Italy. He talked about how Italians will never decorate the outside of their houses because they want the glory all to themselves and will decorate the inside. When he moved to this town he bought a small house with a pathway to the church. He remodeled the house and bought all new furniture, and kept one wall exposed with the beautiful 15th century stone it was made from. Anyway when people would visit his house they would say things like “Are you going to finish this wall?” and “Do you like this furniture?” to which Tim Gunn said, “no, I just bought the furniture for the hell of it, yes I liked the furniture!” So then he told us about he purchased an olive tree for the Piazza in which there was a fountain that hadn’t had water running in it for over 30 years. He said old people used to sit on the stone wall and stare at each other because the fountain was so ugly they didn’t look at it. After he had the Piazza cleaned up all the townspeople said it was their idea and had told the mayor years ago to re-landscape it. Needless to say, dinner with Tim Gunn was fabulous.

After dinner the roommates stopped at the Trevi fountain to throw a coin in. We took pictures and enjoyed watching all the interesting people there. Clare and I are pretty sure some Spanish woman took of a video of the two of us talking to one another because she had the camera pointed directly at my face. That will make for an interesting vacation video.

On Thursday we took the train down to Ascea. Micah and I played gin. I lost. I have decided Micah is not a person I want to play gin with for a while. In Ascea we met up with the rest of the group, who all took earlier trains and yet our apartment beat everyone to the beach-that’s right, we have mad skill. We frolicked in the water and then went to the residence to get ready for the night. We discovered we had no hairdryer and 9 girls with very wet hair. Also the power kept going out. We would be trying to put on makeup or do someone’s hair and suddenly there would be no power. Our entire group improvised, but Micah was the winner. Not only did he go on a trip with 9 girls but he also showered and got read, sans contacts, in 4 minutes. I timed him.

The Fashion show in Ascea was super fun. I really liked the designers and was impressed by their talent. These students were between the ages of 19-24, it was very impressive. After the show Gianni turned on Salsa music and we all danced on the beach under the stars. As a group we ran through the water and enjoyed our last night together. We hung out with the models who were very excited to hear we had facebook. On the way home all 10 of us piled in the back of Gianni’s truck, as in the truck bed, and drove back to the hotel. The night had a warm wind and the stars were shining as we rode under a clear midnight sky. It was the perfect ending to our trip.

Friday was spent in the sunshine and saying goodbye to Fabiana, which could be the most difficult thing I have done on this trip. We took the train back to Rome, and had our own couchette. After losing another game of gin to Micah we discovered we could make our couchette into one large bed. It was really fun until some random guy decided to come sit in our couchette. At home we have been cleaning and packing. I sit writing this blog on my bed as the floors dry. We leave for the airport in a few hours and then are off to London. The group flight left a few hours ago and the rest of us are all off going our separate ways.

So from my European adventures what do I recommend? What do I wish I would have done differently

Favorites

  1. Ascea and La Poseidonia beach club
  2. Castello Banfi and Florence
  3. The Frigidarium near Piazza Nuvono in Rome
  4. Salzburg
  5. Prague, and climb up the Astronomical Clock Tower
  6. The Cathedral in Koln
  7. Jersey Boys in London
  8. Trier, Germany. Everything is idyllic
  9. Saint Chapelle in Paris
  10. Our little pizza place next to the Pantheon
  11. Schonbrunn
  12. Versailles

And what would I change?

  1. Italian Regional Trains- just don’t do it.
  2. Frankfurt
  3. Hotel Europa- Frankfurt. Primitive Bathrooms as I believe Clare put it
  4. Living on the 5th floor of an apartment building in Rome with no air conditioning, but it was worth it
  5. the 64 bus at 8:15 in the morning. You will never feel that close to strangers ever again
  6. Culture, Society and Ethics in Modern Italy
  7. The B Line, ok really no metro system is close to The Tube. MIND THE GAP

And that’s all I have for you, but really this trip was everything I could have wished for and more.

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Erica: Artsy field trip

July 23, 2009

Last Tuesday for my Cross-Cultural Communication class we went downtown and visited some art museums.  It was my first time taking a buseta (little bus) and seeing some of the art scene of Merida.  It was really interesting, and I always love walking around downtown.  Though I was disappointed that the solitary pan-flute player wasn’t in the Plaza Bolivar playing Celine Dion or that song from the movie Ghost.

One of the places we stopped was an old church built in the 1800’s that had a bunch of paintings and sculptures from that time.  It smelled old, damp and musky.  Next to the tall windows were little seats built in so young, unmarried women could look out onto the street (though normally there would be some kind of wooden cross-stitched panel so that they could not be seen).  We also stopped at what was formerly some kind of Governor’s Mansion with tons of portraits of former governors of Merida.  My profesora pointed out how each of the plaques below their names showed the years through which they governed.  Pretty much all of them spanned three years, because that’s generally how often they have elections.  However, the dude in power now has been there since 2000, because he is a buddy of Chavez.  And there just haven’t been any new elections organized.  Pretty sketchy if you ask me.  I can’t imagine something like that happening in the U.S.


I won’t be around this weekend because I’m (FINALLY) going to the beach!  We leave tonight and have rented a private bus so I don’t need to be nervous about falling asleep and having my things run off with someone else.  It’s something like a 9-12 hour bus ride, so we’ll be able to wake up and be at or very near the beach.  One of the young english profesoras at VENUSA is organizing it for us, and I’m pretty sure we’re staying at some kind of beach house that is owned by someone at VENUSA.  Also, some kind of boat is included in the cost, so we’ll be able to get off the main beach to visit some islands.  As per usual, I’m pretty fuzzy on the details.  But I make up for it in enthusiasm.
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Anna: Things I’ve learned about BsAs

July 21, 2009
  • The annual rainfall here is something like 4 inches. I think today we got at LEAST that much and this kind of rain does not make porteños or their gutter systems or roofs very happy.
  • Usually the rain is much more of a mist.
  • During a downpour, roofs in even nice building leak.
  • People eat eggs on almost everything… on sandwiches, hard-boiled on pizza, hard-boiled inside pastries, etc. but never for breakfast.
  • Breakfast here consists of coffee or tea and toast, crackers, or these sweet croissants called medialunas that are to die for.
  • There are several Jewish temples, but keeping kosher here must be quite a challenge since meat and cheese (usually together) are huge staples of the diet. Also…
  • Beef may be a strong part of the economy and the pride of Argentina, but ham is their other favorite meat. There are several different varieties of ham flavored snack crackers available at every snack stand and every restaurant has several options of ham-based meals. Bacon is also popular although it’s not crispy and resembles ham more than American bacon.
  • People do not clean up after their dogs here, and there are a lot of them, which means you really need to watch your step.
  • There are TONS of pigeons here, one of which almost pooped on me further lowering them in my opinion. I have grown to loathe pigeons.
  • There are very few controlled intersections so driving and walking is always an adventure.
  • In the intersections that are controlled, they give a yellow light warning when it changes from green to red, but also when it turns from red to green letting people know to get ready to GO and FAST.
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Kate: Let’s play catchup

July 21, 2009

It has been such a long time since I have updated the blog. Since I last left off we have done a plethora of things.

On the 11th Clare and I accompanied her Mom, Dad and brother, Ross, on a 13, even though it turned into about 15.5 hour excursion to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Pompeii was spectacular and I was very excited to see Vesuvius. After Pompeii we drove through the mountains and down to the water on the Amalfi Coast. Little did Clare and I know we would take a boat to the town of Amalfi. Putting two girls who are prone to seasickness on a boat unaware is not always the best idea. But never fear, we survived. The ride back to Rome was a little more difficult though. The three girls who shared our car, driven by our driver Mo (or Don Fabrizio as Clare and I lovingly called him) decided to sing as loud as they could to the cds Mo played. I did not appreciate their singing and Clare did not appreciate the music. It was quite the combination. Anyway 12 hours turned into 15.5 because the three girls were constantly late for all the meeting points, and the Euro-trash mom in the other car decided to get motion sick and vomit. I still don’t understand why our perfectly healthy van had to wait for her, but all in all, it was a great day.

That Sunday Clare and I refused to move except to apply aloe. Our day of rest was much needed.

So since that point what have we done? Well our group did another pub crawl. I have never seen such a large group of people wearing matching t-shirts. I believe we had a school group from Spain with us, I know this because they sang in a large group different Spanish football songs and cheers. There were points in the night where I thought the group was going to get in trouble due to the amount of noise outside of the bars. In Rome you are not supposed to make noise really after 10 pm so I don’t think the residents of the various neighborhoods appreciated it.

We have been working on our marketing project and term papers and studying for our finals like crazy. I don’t believe I did anything remotely worth talking about this past weekend because I was writing. Well I did two fun things in the last 11 days worth writing about.

We saw Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. It was wonderful. After the first viewing we were very critical of the choices of story material and after the second viewing (in leu of writing our papers) we found it to be hilarious. I recommend seeing it. However if you have not seen the previous 5 movies, now is not the time to start. There is too much information missing and you would be dreadfully lost. I’m sorry if I’m the bearer of bad news.

And now here we are, refusing to study for our finals. Clare announced around 7 pm she was not going to study and simply started to watch The Dark Knight. Whatever gets you through the day.

And now I leave you. You will most likely get another update in a few days, perhaps at the end of the trip. Until then, ciao ciao. Baci Baci!

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Anna: La Boca

July 19, 2009

Yesterday we went to the neighborhood of La Boca which is the most colorful and vibrant part of the city surrounded by the worst (and notriously most crime ridden) slums.

The 9 or so blocks that are fit to go down, however, are very interesting. The buildings are painted a variety of bright colors and the pedestrian-only streets are lined with restaurants, shops, and art galleries. In the streets themselves are Tango dancers, Gaucho dancers, and other street performers.


Wandering around the area was the most fun I’ve had exploring the city so far. Even the cold weather and our cab driver’s warnings about the dangers of La Boca didn’t prevent it from being a good day. The restaurants there were a bit on the pricier side for the city but the souvenirs were good prices and there was plenty to do and look at for free.

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Alyssa: On Being Back…

July 19, 2009

I have been back in the United States for two weeks. The feeling is indescribable, but not so much in a good way. As I prepared for my trip, I came across a graph showing the emotions one goes through when planning, experiencing, and returning from a study abroad experience. It began with intense excitement and happiness as one decides to go, then drops a bit during the preparation due to the forms and fees one experiences, then goes up as departure approaches and the program begins, then drops as the frustration of a new place sets in, then up when one gets comfortable and begins to experience the culture, then down when the reality hits that you must leave. After returning your mood elevates as you get to see your family and everyone is happy you are home.

But after that, it drops. It dips down quite quickly as the people around you lose interest in your stories, you have to go back to work, and then come to the reality that you are flat broke in a place that lacks the same interest as your host city did.

That is exactly where I’m at. Suddenly I’m completely alone in my apartment in a city that doesn’t really fascinate me anymore. I feel as if I’m here for my last semester of school and for no other reason. I feel anxious and uneasy with the lack of excitement I had gotten so used to while abroad.

To try and combat these feelings, I plan on purchasing a guide book for the Twin Cities to ease back into the culture here. Although, I need to wait about a month before I get paid for that to happen. I’m trying to stay busy and creative but it’s proving to be quite difficult. It also doesn’t help that I’ve caught another weird and unexplained sickness that won’t seem to go away.

I’m hoping this is all part of the roller-coaster of emotions I’m supposed to experience as part of a study abroad trip and everything will get back to normal. (what’s truly normal at this point, I don’t know.)
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Ben’s first adventure: Caracas, El Vigia and Mérida

June 8, 2009

During a quick chat from the Houston airport, I received some sage advice from my wife; take everything one day at a time and things will start getting better. I married a very smart girl, and at that point it was exactly what I needed to hear. Especially since I still had more than half of a very long journey ahead of me.

Little things started to go my way the moment I got on the plane to Caracas. I found my seat and there was a woman sitting in it. Now I normally like to have a window seat, but I saw that she was taking her shoes off… this meant that I was free to take my shoes off, and I knew that would help me relax a little. So I sat down in one of the other two seats. We smiled at each other, and then both began to look expectantly towards the front of the plane. Boarding was almost complete, and although most of the flight was filled, there was still an empty seat between us. It was almost five long minutes before the cabin door was sealed shut, and we both breathed a slightly less than discreet sigh of relief; the extra seat was ours!

With the seating arrangements out of the way, and with my shoes off, I leaned over to ask the woman next to me if she spoke English. She did not. However, between the two of us we were able to discuss briefly who we were, where we lived, and why we were going to Caracas; one of us was headed home while I was leaving mine.

A sleepless flight, a small bite to eat, and we were on the ground in Caracas. Now, the directions I received on checking in for the Santa Barbera flight to El Vigia did not mention the gentlemen that I met immediatley on the other side of the door into the National Airport. I was immediately accosted. “Where are you going señor?” “Welcome to Venezuela señor!” I tried to reject their services, but what can I say, they were very good at their jobs. Before I knew what was happening I was being quickly whisked away by a team of two, one tall skinny guy with a great smile, and his portly counter part who reminded me of a Venezuelan version of someone out of the Sopranos. I think the large wad of bills that he carried helped make that association… or it could have been the tinted sunglasses and the fact that he never smiled.

I had to show them my ticket to explain where I was going, and from the moment I did that it was all that I could do to hang on to an edge of it! The tall skinny guy grabbed the paper and walked away, me clinging nervously to my only proof that I had a reserved seat of the flight to El Vigia, and I have to say that I was not overly reassured by his constant assurances that “it will be okay, I work here!” I am fairly certain that he did not.

When all was said and done, these gentleman helped me get my ticket from the Santa Barbera counter, helped me get my bag checked, helped me over to pay exit taxes, and exchanged money with me for higher than the “official rate.” Now, this of course all comes for a price: 100,000 Bolivares. Based on the exchange rate I had just received from the mafioso, that meant about $35. Yes, I know that I got taken… to some extent. But in hindsight I am glad that they were there. Their services really did help me. The price is exorbitant, but it basically erradicated (well, at least expidited) a very stressful situation. I had been in Venezuela less than 30 minutes and I could already tell that things worked very differently here. With smiling faces, as much as the mafioso could smile, that sent me on my way with cries of “Enjoy Venezuela!” I of course needed to remind skinny that I had paid him 100,000 B. for his services, but that he had also grabbed the change from the tax counter. With a good natured grin he immediately handed me the change. I laughed and went on my way.

Now, the 11 hour layover seemed ridicuously daunting. The flight had landed before 5 am, and by 6:30 I was sitting in the terminal trying to kill time. There was a T.V. hanging over one of the gates, but I realized incredibly quickly that it only played the same 4 music videos over and over, with something like 8 different commericials randomly interspersed. Definitely not enough to kill 11 hours.

I started to look for the other student who was supposed to be arriving in Mérida at the same time. I have heard that his name is Benjamin Kline. Every time I saw a single twenty-something guy seated at the gate with a bored or distraught look on his face, I was certain that was him. Of course, every time I had gathered up enough courage to go over and introduce myself, a traveling companion would sit down next to him. I felt like I was waiting to meet a blind date. I have still not met him.

The 11 hours eventually passed, and except for a last minute gate change, I boarded the plane to El Vigia without incident.

Here is where the real adventure begins… Read the rest of this entry ?

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Ben: A rough beginning…

June 7, 2009

I am sitting in the Houston airport, literally in a state of shock. So much has happened in the last couple of days that my head is spinning. It is still going to be 24 hours before I reach the place I will call home for 3 months… and although it has only been 6 hours since I was dropped off at the airport, the effect is staggering.

I suppose I should preface this entire entry by saying that I am still looking forward to my adventure. On the flight from Minneapolis to Houston there was a small Mexican boy in the row next to me, and I loved listening to him speak. Some words I understood, some I didn’t, but I kept thinking about how different it would in three months. How different I would be in three months.

But now, aimless, killing time in an airport, those three months seem like an eternity. Even the next 24 hours seem daunting. I miss Jess. There is no other way to put it. Saying goodbye to her was difficult, and as the time slowly ticks by I ache to be able to talk to her. We have been best friends for a long time, but when did it become something so much more? When did we go from just doing everything together to needing to be with each other through everything that we do?

Sitting here, I still half expect to look over and see her coming out of the airport bathroom smiling at me. After all, I am traveling, and I always travel with Jess. One of us watches the bags while the other goes to the bathroom. We talk about our expectations of the upcoming trip, or we talk about the experiences we just had. Can it be less than a year ago that we were in Russia? I believe that I am experiencing the old adage… “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Who knew that it also hurt?

As I mentioned, a lot has happened in the last couple of days. I found out on three days ago that there was not going to be school representative to help me through the Caracas airport, or to help me get from El Vigia to Mérida. El Vigia is the town I will be flying into. It is about an hour away from Mérida, and I will need to take a taxi or a bus. I also found out that, unlike students that went down earlier this summer, I will not be going to the school to meet my homestay family. Instead, I will need to go directly to their home, knock on the door, and when they answer, introduce myself. This may not seem all that difficult while you are reading this, except I failed to mention… on Wednesday I still did not have my homestay address. Does that make it sound more exciting? Nor did I have their address on Thursday. In fact, it was Friday afternoon before I actually got the address. But I have it now, and I am looking forward to meeting them.

Interruption: I mentioned that this trip was still a bit surreal, but as I was writing this blog entry I was paged in the Houston airport. After finding a courtesy phone I contacted the switchboard and they relayed a message to me from Jess… I forgot the camera. It was still sitting on the bed along with the small Flip video camera, and maybe I should buy a new one before I leave the States. Wow.

Well, I did manage to get a camera, and I was able to call Jess from a payphone. Then we decided that we would try skype and I was able to hear her voice. It made things a little better, and a little worse. If I could hop on a plane and head home right now I would.

I am boarding for Caracas in about 10 minutes. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little better.

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Erica: Merida Zoo

June 5, 2009
Like always, I went to the zoo excited and left depressed. I did get to see some interesting animals, though.

Yes, we were really that close to the lion. It was breathtaking, frightening, and exhilarating all at the same time. I snapped a video of him pacing back and forth, and if I figure out how to post it on here I will. It was really sad to see what small cages they kept their Big Cats in, though. Really, really sad. I also soaw one of the big cats… I think it’s a jaguar… doing its cat-like thing. I needed most of my willpower to stop myself from touching it (it was rubbing its face against the bars, just like a Little Cat would do). But I decided I liked my fingers too much, and respected the animal too much to touch it.

This animal totally cracked me up as well.  It’s called a Tapir and lives in tropical rainforest areas.  Glorious.


This is the only species of bear that lives in Venezuela, and it hangs out in the Andes mountains.



This bird just cracked me up. And it was in the cage with some parrots who kept saying “Ola!! Ola!!” to us.

And I had to take a picture of the Toucan, just because it’s a Toucan. It was really bizarre, though, they had these really exotic tropical birds in the same cage as a deer, and something that looked like a deer but was smaller and red-ish colored.
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