Archive for the ‘Summer Study Abroad’ Category


Alyssa: Class, to work, to play… with no breaks

May 30, 2009

Thursday was a total whirlwind! It started out with a tour of Southwest London with my Pop-Culture class where we began in Covent Garden and walked and walked and walked all over learning about little shops with unique histories. It was really interesting to hear about the hippie and punk subcultures. I had no idea the hippies were so prevalent in London. Our teacher was walking really really quickly but I managed to keep up.

Immediately after class, I hopped on the tube to my internship. My class had gotten dismissed a bit early so I ended up getting to Connaught about an hour early. This was perfect considering the project one of my supervisors had planned for me.

I had not even set down my heavy bag when I heard, “I’ve got a project for you,” which of course got me immediately excited. He hands me five vials of face cream and gives me the task of creating packaging with a magnetic closure that suggests high-end quality while still appropriate if one, two, or all five vials are packaged. He also gave me a box of their current packaging as a starting point.

I began brainstorming solutions to the problem and sketching out ideas. After coming up with about six I called my supervisor over to get his opinion. He selected two options, one holding the vials with ribbon, the other a sort of Roman arch/toe separator design.

We then drove to a small design shop to pick up supplies for the mock-ups. I went to get into the car and completely went to the other side of the vehicle. He simply said with a laugh, “That’s my side,” which queued me to get in on the other. It was a bit unnerving essentially being in the driver’s seat with no steering wheel on the wrong side of the road. Then he said, “Just don’t scream when you see cars coming at you.” I appreciated the heads up as I was pretty freaked out.

Once we got back with the supplies I set to work. I had two hours to mock-up both options. I was so worried I wouldn’t get done. After creating the boxes I had to create the holders. I managed to get everything done just in time to head to the tube for the play we had planned to go to.

On my way to the tube station—with the huge bag and computer—I tried to contact one of my roommates to see how to get to the theater. My phone froze and I was left to just wing it. Once I got off the tube at Covent Garden, I wandered around until finally asking directions. The directions I got were terrible; however, she did tell me I was going in the complete opposite direction. By some incredible chance, or miracle, I happened to turn to my left to see the theater two blocks down the street. Even more interesting my phone decided to unfreeze! I was able to contact my roommate and get in on time.

The show was great! We saw Spring Awakening, which looked at the relationships and boundaries between parents and children and its influence on sex and love. It was incredible and fascinating to see the juxtaposition of rock ‘n’ roll music set to Victorian prose. If you ever get a chance to go see it—GO, you will not be disappointed. I laughed and cried even though that is so cliché to say.


Erica: Merida Botanical Garden

May 29, 2009

So, today was interesting. We visited the Merida Botanical Garden for my tropical ecology class. See the photos below. ( In the third one there’s an awesome tree. I forgot the name but one of the theories of why it has spikes on its truck was to protect itself from the giant sloths that used to be present in South America before humans came.)


Erica: Classes so far

May 28, 2009

Sitting in class now, waiting for my spanish Prof to come back. Hopefully we’ll finish early today. The other girl in my class isn’t here, so it’s been a very interactive class thus far. I think there is a cold going around to all the Americans. I’m pretty positive I have an ear infection, but I’ll continue to take pain relievers and trust that my body will take care of it (I was reading online, and it said that 80% of ear infections heal themselves after a few days, with or without antibacterial medication).

Last night we had a Venezuelan cooking night. Although the dough was pre-made, the Americans got to flatten our own arepas. It was very similar to the beginning stages of making lefse, so I was already a near-expert on flattening them, making them nice and round, and making sure I have just enough flour to make sure they don’t stick to the griddle. Along with those, we had some sort of egg soup (which I always thought would be kinda gross, but it’s actually really, really good. Simple, too.)
Alright, one class down and one to go. I’m really enjoying my Tropical Ecology class, and tomorrow we’re taking a field trip to the Merida Botanical Garden. I’m excited, and I’ll make sure to take a lot of pictures. Spanish class is going fairly well. Much of it is review from last semester (and for me, a necessary review) but the other girl in my class might switch to a more advanced class. That would be fine by me, it was fun being the only student in the class for a while, gave me more of an opportunity to converse directly with my professora. And I’d much rather have her be challenged in a different class than complain to me about having to review things. I’m here for 12 weeks, and I have absolutely no problem with taking it slow (I already feel like I’m beginning to operate on “Venezuelan time”, which means I’m late for everything… but everyone is late, so I’m on time. It’s a pretty good system.)
My spanish professor was telling me about this are northwest of here called the “relampago del Catatumbo” which is roughly translated as the “lightning of the Catatumbo”. It sounds magical, check out the Wiki page: I’d like to go see it, hopefully I can find some interested Americans to come with me. It would be my tribute to Thor if I could make it out there.

Alyssa: First full week in London

May 27, 2009
Sunday was beautiful so we decided to go out to Hyde Park and wander around. Unfortunately, we missed Speaker’s corner, but we have plans to go this weekend. It was a gorgeous day and the park was the perfect idea. We then walked around Kensington High Street and peeked into Harvey Nicholswith its elaborate shop windows, and Harrod’s, two world famous department stores.

Monday was a bank holiday which meant virtually everything is closed (even the banks!). We made a run to our sponsor school to drop off some paper work then went through our internship commutes again just to be sure we knew what we were doing for our internship interviews the next day. Once we got home we all just spent the evening relaxing and prepping for questions we could be asked. I reworked my resume and internship samples just in case he wanted to see them.

Tuesday was my internship “interview” and by interview I mean first day of work. I walked in all ready to sell my work and my work ethic when I was surprised to see my work station all ready prepared for me. My site instructor introduced himself and immediately set me to work. It was so exciting to see how things work in the UK from a designer’s standpoint. I also had my first cup of English tea—which was amazing!
Wednesday consisted of more work within my internship (which I did not want to leave) and classes. My first class is called Post-War British Pop Culture and is really interesting with almost every class consisting of a field trip to somewhere significant in London. The instructor is pretty eclectic too which is entertaining.

Erica: Aguas Termales

May 25, 2009

Last weekend we traveled to the hot springs. It was incredible. The hike to our campsite was pretty hardcore.. I thought that the boundaries waters were difficult, but they are a cakewalk when compared to hiking in the mountains. It began with a huge hill that took us about 30-45 minutes to ascend, and we all stopped to rest probably around 5 times going up. Then there was another 15 min or so of hiking along the mountains. There were two other groups of Venezuelans who were camping there, and I ended up meeting both groups and practicing some spanish with them. It was kind of silly.. the americans went to bed earlier than I would have liked, so, emboldened by two or three drinks, I trekked my way up to their campfire and introduced myself. It ended up being one of the highlights of that trip. We were fast friends, and they were all studying some kind of natural science and were more than willing to learn some more english. And the stars were incredible. I could pick out some constellations (scorpio was high in the sky, and the big dipper was on the horizon), but the North Star was hidden by mountains. It cleared up late at night and got cold (even by MN standards) and I have never seen the stars so bright and magnificent. I even saw a shooting star.

Now on to the photos: The first picture is us sitting in the hot spring, the water came down the wall behind us and was as hot as the water in a jacuzzi. The next picture is the a view from our campsite. The third is an interesting bit of an old building that was next to our campsite (I wish I knew its story), and the last picture is of the wild dogs that hung out with us the whole time. They were sweethearts, and we figured they probably lived off the food of the people who camped there.


Alyssa: First Thursday and Friday in London

May 23, 2009

The last few days have absolutely flown by. The first Thursday and Friday in London were a bit crazy but really created interesting opportunities to experience the city.

It began with a mini-tour of London in search of our internship sites. Riding the tube is an experience within itself. It’s a bustling fast-paced environment and requires you to go with the flow and not to stand on the wrong side. Keeping to the left of the walkways was quite difficult and felt extremely awkward. Throughout the day we were able to navigate the tube system and find all of our internships. The last stop brought us to Oxford Street, a hugs shopping street in London. It was so crowed it was a struggle to stay together. Once we got home from grocery shopping that night we decided to explore the local pubs in our neighborhood.
Orientations filled most of the day Friday. These orientations; however were a waste of time. Most of the information they gave us we had already discovered the day before on the tube. Then, for our internship orientation, the information was so generic it was not much help.In between orientations we wandered around looking for some place to eat. We came up on this quaint little French restaurant where I had the most amazing French grilled cheese. (I have yet to each any English food however).

After our second orientation, we headed home to get ready for the CAPA sponsored arrival party. Most of the food was gone by the time we finally got there but decided to hang around anyway. After that we headed Leicester Square and got to experience a bit of London’s club scene. The Zoo Bar was insane, strobe lights were flashing over a completely packed dance floor. We managed to get into the bar for 2.50 pounds instead of 10 pounds. It was really exciting and was opened really late. Once we left the Zoo bar we wandered into a few more pubs before heading home. We found our way to the bus stop and had no luck trying to figure our how to get home by bus, so we ended up catching a cab for 20 pounds… I video taped the ride home from the Piccadilly Circus all the way back to Kilburn.

Erica: Friday!

May 22, 2009

It’s nice to just relax for a bit.  It’s amazing though, I haven’t even been here a week and I’ve already picked up some more spanish words and phrases.  I suppose that’s the point though.  Tonight we have a “welcome BBQ” at VENUSA and I will have more time to talk with the Venezuelan I got paired up with.  It’s really a neat system, all the Americans drew a name out of a hat and this person will be our Venezuelan companion.  We help them learn English as they help us learn Spanish.  I drew the name “Josie”, a 27-year old who is studying English and literature.  She seems really nice and has already offered to take me to a hot spring (different from the one we plan to go to this weekend), some of her favorite bars, and maybe to the beach (although that’s a 9-hour bus ride away. Bleh.)  She studied abroad in London for six months, so she speaks English very well.  And I like that she doesn’t sound like she’s too much into the club/party scene.  I’d generally rather just have a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

The clubs are definitely an interesting experience.  Bartenders will try to charge Americans at least 1.5 or twice as much as the drinks actually cost (this goes for cabbies as well, but the coordinators at VENUSA told us to not pay more than 20 bolivars.  Also, Venezuelan men don’t hesitate to catcall, come right up and dance on you, or take your hand and try to get you to dance with them.  It’s (more than) a little too bold for my tastes, but I suppose it’s another one of those cultural differences I’m going to have to adjust to.  Related to that, people drive like maniacs around here.  And they definitely do not yield to pedestrians.  If anything, they’ll try to speed faster and drive past before you have a chance to get halfway across the street.  It makes me feel like I’m seven years old and have to learn how to cross the street all over again.  It seems that generally Venezuelans do not concern themselves with safety as much as Americans do.  I’ve seen many cars drive past with 3 to 5-year olds who aren’t buckled in and are either poking their heads out the back window or are sitting on the laps of people driving or sitting in the passenger seat.  And yesterday when Taylor and I were walking to school we passed two Venezuelans who were using jackhammers to tear up the sidewalk, and neither of them were wearing any sort of eye or ear protection.  This blew my mind.

Erica: On the third day it rained

May 21, 2009
Today we went up the mountains.  We left VENUSA around 10am and it probably took us about three hours to get to the state park we were aiming for, because we had many stops for pictures, food, and general altitude adjustment. It was unbelievably beautiful. I ended up with about 100 pictures just from today. It was amazing to see the ecological changes that happened as we got farther up the mountain (our guide told us we were at about 9,000 ft at the highest point, up from somewhere around 5,000ft in Merida).  When we made it to to the top of the Andes some heavier clouds rolled in. We hiked for about 2.5 hours… which probably could have been more like 1 hour if we didn’t stop for so many pictures and to look at all the neat plants, but where’s the fun in that?  We were right up in the clouds, and later on it started to drizzle, then sprinkle, and for a while it was a genuine rain as we walked through this cloud forest (you were right mom, I should have bought an umbrella or raincoat).  But it was magical.  For a long while there it looked like the terrain was more suited for Ireland or Scotland, because the plants were impossibly green and mingled with pale stones.  And as the clouds rolled in to obscure more of our vision I kept expecting Brigadoon to appear.

Classes begin tomorrow, and I think I will appreciate being on a set schedule again.  Although it was very exciting to have a field trip today, the bus ride back to VENUSA (cold, wet, hungry, and non-stop Reggaeton for nearly three hours) is something I could go for a long while without repeating.  And for icing on the cake, Taylor (the American who lives below me) and I had to walk home in the rain and get splashed by cars whose drivers thought it would be funny to make the gringos more wet and miserable than they already looked.  It’s funnier now than it was then, but we mostly took it in good humor because it seemed so ridiculous.  When I finally got home (we ended up walking too far and backtracking a few blocks, too) there were warm clothes, a shower, and a delicious dinner waiting for me.  My host madre really knows how to whip up a meal that will warm your heart and fill your tummy.

Alyssa: Packing and Freaking Out

May 20, 2009
For the last two days I have been trying to figure out how to pack for a month and a half into two suitcases. I managed to completely destroy my apartment in the process, but I’m done now and am just biding my time until 6:15pm when Jenna comes to pick me up to drive me to the airport.

Somehow, I managed to pack everything into my largest and smallest suitcases and my backpack. I’ve never traveled alone, or traveled abroad, so how can I possibly decide what I need and what I don’t? Furthermore, I’ve never been to Europe, so I feel I need to pack for every possible situation… from fish and chips in a pub to my internship with Richard P. Chapman Design Associates. (which I am beyond excited for!)

Not really a big fan of flying, so we’ll see how that goes… I packed three books, my colored pencils and sketchbook, my computer, and snacks—I should be okay, I hope. Eight hours on a plane seems like so long and I still haven’t quite figured out the whole time situation yet. I don’t care though, I’m so excited to get on the plane to get there and finally be in LONDON!

Erica: Danza!

May 20, 2009

Today went by much more smoothly. I think it helped that I had a dream last night where the people I had met in Germany 5 years ago came back and told me it was difficult at first, but it definitely improved as time went by. We had a general orientation today, and then took a tour bus around Merida. We stopped at places downtown, and various other tourist-y areas. We definitely stood out like sore thumbs. Bunch of pale gringos with their cameras out speaking in rapid and excited English. Probably one of the most noteworthy parts was visiting an ice cream parlor that held the Guinness Book of World Record’s title for the most flavors of ice cream. It was kind of ridiculous. Among traditional flavors like strawberry, oreo, and chocolate chip there were things like tuna, ham & cheese sandwich, hot dogs, corn, and tomato. I tried the cheese-flavored ice cream. It definitely tasted like cheese, but like Venezuelan cheese. Which (in my experience thus far) is white, generally flaky or crumbly, and much stronger/aged. It is like a mix between swiss, parmesan and feta.

Tonight we went out dancing, which was a great experience. There were probably about 20 americans accompanied by about 5 venezuelans, and we pretty much took over 1/4th of the bar. I tried to talk with a native Venezuelan, but didn’t get much farther than “My name is Erica. I study spanish at VENUSA. I am here for three months.” I suppose it’s a start. It’s really fun that everyone is so enthusiastic about dancing, too. It’s probably because I come from an area where people generally do not like/do not know how to dance, but it seemed to me that they all looked like professionals when they were dancing together. And the beer is probably only about 50 cents when converted into US dollars, and we were drinking the more expensive, quality bottled beer (muy delicioso). We got a great exchange rate coming down here. Hopefully some of the bad economy in the US will be resolved while I live like a virtual Queen through my American dollars.

Now on to the photos… From the top: different flavors of ice cream, random house downtown with some neat architecture, and a statue dedicated to the women of the revolution.
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