Posts Tagged ‘study abroad’

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Sara: My last post!

January 6, 2012

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.

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Lindsay: Less than 2 weeks and counting

January 4, 2012
A little less than two weeks left til I leave and counting.  I am getting sorta nervous, anxious, excited.  I don’t know if I will ever be prepared enough for something like this, but I think that is what makes it so interesting and thrilling.  I have some idea of what to expect, but who really knows exactly.  They say poverty is something you must overcome while you are there, you must not let it effect you, otherwise it may ruin your whole trip.  
Okay Lindsay-suck it up cupcake, you can do this.  Poverty will be hard at first to see and hard not to want to do something about it.  For example, hand them food or money,  but I must not do that either, for I may get followers and other people wanting food as well.  I was warned to not give things away to people, especially as an American because they know we have money.

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.

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Lindsay: Why do I want to go to India?

January 2, 2012

When I was a freshman here at the University of Minnesota in 2009, I had no idea what I wanted to major in.  I enrolled in the Swahili language because I knew Spanish was full and I have always liked studying languages but I didn’t realize the University offered so many. I took Swahili for a single semester and realized that I enjoyed learning about other cultures, but Africa wasn’t the region I wanted to study. Immediately I thought about becoming a Global Studies Major with an emphasis in South Asia.  I had always been entranced by the culture and society of India, as well as the Hindi scripture.  Therefore, beginning my sophomore year, I began taking Hindi classes and have completed one full year of Hindi so far and am enrolled for the upcoming semester.

Currently, I am majoring in Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance and am minoring in Family Violence Prevention, and I have extreme interest in domestic abuse and international violence.  I would really love to intern in India and work closely with advocates and other townspeople on the issues of violence at hand in their region of India.  I have taken courses such as Gender Violence in Global Perspectives, Intimate Partner Violence, as well as an Indian Feminisms course which has taught me how to deal, analyze, and respond to different issues relating to violence and discrimination.  I was first interested in these issues when I was a freshman and I enrolled in a Freshman Seminar where we were able to choose our own topic of interest and create a research project about it.  A group of two other girls and me decided to research Sex Trafficking.  We realized it was a harsh and not widely known topic, but it think that was what intrigued us the most.  Researching this topic really sparked my interest in violence occurring in other countries across the globe, not just in the United States.  Since then, I have always been interested in getting into the Criminal Justice field or Law Enforcement. I would love to gain hands-on experience, especially in the Criminal Justice side of things when it comes to these issues, and especially on how India, in particular, responds to violence.

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Doug: Goodbye study abroad… hello Zanzibar

December 20, 2011

Mambo vipi wote!

So once again I slacked big time in updating my blog over the past month. But here’s to giving you a snap shot of the last month:

My time living on the Kenyan coast wrapped up really well. My internship at the Wema Centre slowed down in the final week—since my students went home for holiday break. Saturday, November 26 was a highlight because this was the day that dozens of students, parents and teachers gathered for Wema’s graduation ceremony on the front lawn. My Kindergarten 3 (KG3) class was graduating, as well as a number of older students on the vocational training classes. Now imagine your typical boring graduation ceremony—and now think of the complete opposite, and that was Wema’s graduation. Instead of boring speeches, there were student performances, an acrobat performance, dance groups and skits. It was quite the event.

American ‘cooked’ dinner for my host fam

My time with my host family on the coast also came to a nice close. Some of the great highlights were cooking an ‘American’ meal for my family with my friend Amber (which consisted of chicken parm out of a box, apples with peanut butter, Caesar salad, and ice cream with candy—as American as you can get since the grocery store didn’t have mac n cheese), and then also taking my host mom and my two sisters out to eat at a restaurant in Mombasa. I really clicked with this family and it was pretty hard to say good-bye; but, nevertheless, on Sunday morning December 4, I hopped on the back of a pikipiki (motorbike) with my two bags, and set off for the bus station. From there it was another 8 hour bus ride back to Nairobi.

The following few days were kinda a blur. All 26 students from my program came back from their respective internships at NGO’s, hospitals, and schools in towns and cities all over Kenya. During this time we stayed at a guesthouse outside Nairobi. It was the same exact one that I had stayed in upon my initial arrival in Kenya; but this time it was like culture shock: running water? Toilets and showers? Consistent electricity? And WIFI?? It was a strange feeling to feel too comfortable after my 6 weeks on the brutally hot coast. We had our final exams (no one really studied for these too much) and had final wrap up discussions.

But the most unforgettable one was when all of us were required to present in groups on our respective internships at development NGO’s, and particularly what was shocking and surprising. What started as initially a slightly boring forum, turned very emotional quite quickly as the brutal realities and injustices we had experienced became clear: a street boy who returned to the streets only to fall back into glue-sniffing addiction, under-stocked and under-staffed hospitals which couldn’t properly do surgeries because they didn’t have rubber gloves, a teenager at a school reading at a kindergarten level, women treated like crap and abused by men, or forced to go into prostitution to feed their kids—the list goes on and on. But as we moved past the tears and the gravity of the situation, it suddenly became clear that each of us had changed since we first came to Kenya. Our eyes had been opened, even in the slightest way, to some of the cruelest effects that poverty has on the lives of individuals—individuals not unlike you and me—who are simply trying to live their lives. People talked about fears over transitioning back to the US and how to even begin to explain these experiences to friends and family back at home.

6 days after our program ended I boarded a 14 hour bus ride for one final trip in East Africa with some friends before going home. The trip was supposed to be just Sunday through Friday, with one night in Dar es Salaam and several on the island of Zanzibar just off the Tanzanian coast. Our bus, complete with cardboard pasted over the missing back windows, barreled down the highway bound for Dar at disconcerting speeds, the engine sounding like it was about to burst at any moment. But, alas, we made it safely to Dar. I even was able to find a street called Ohio Street in downtown Dar! Dar is so unbelievably different than Nairobi—so much less overpopulation, pollution and traffic; not to mention it’s directly on the Indian Ocean.

We took a ferry (after bargaining for the real ticket price of course)  over to the main port of Stone Town on Zanzibar. We spent our first 24 hours on Zanzibar exploring the city’s back alley ways and mosque architecture, night time water-front market, and embarking upon an incredibly touristy spice tour of Zanzibar (no shame—they actually took us through the woods and cut down cinnamon and nutmeg and other spices from trees, it was kinda awesome).

Beach at Jambiani–East Coast of Zanzibar

We then spent 2 nights on the east coast at a $15/night hostel called Teddy’s—one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. And then it was up to the north coast for a night.

Sunset at Kendwa–on the North coast

All in all the trip to Zanzibar was absolutely amazing. From the crystal white beaches to swimming in bright blue oceans, combined with its old history and culture, this island was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been—and I’ve got a pretty bad sunburn on my back to show for it.

Awesome nighttime market in Stone Town

My time here in Kenya is finally coming to a close, and I shall soon do one final Kenya post. Over and out my friends.

Zanzibar livin’

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Lindsay: Program and plans overview

December 16, 2011
I just thought I would give you all an general overview of the program I am in and what my plans are when I arrive in India:
The program I am in is called MSID or Minnesota Studies in International Development.  I will leave on January 15 and I’ll get back on May 20.  I am going with a group of about 15 other college students, most from the U of M but a couple who are not.
I will first be arriving in New Delhi, which is in the north west part of India.  From there we will drive north about an hour as a group up to Jaipur (located in the state of Rajasthan), where we will stay for the remainder of the program.
I will be taking classes (taught in English by Indian professors) for the first 6 weeks of the program.  At this time, I will also be staying with a host family from India.  Throughout this time, my group will travel to places on the weekends such as the Taj Mahal, the slums, and bazaars (or malls for shopping, but they are more like the style of flee or farmers markets).
For the last 6 weeks of the program, I will be interning in Jaipur.  At this point in time, I am not sure where or what my internship will be because it is developed alongside people from the city when I arrive.  However, I will have a different host family during this six weeks.
The program itself ends on the 22nd of April.  From then until about May 20th, a small group of girls from my program as well as myself will be traveling around India.  We hope to make it to the the Himalayas for some hiking, the island of Goa, and hopefully to Mumbai.  At this point, we do not have anything set in stone as far as destinations and approximate times for anything.  It is so cheap to get around in India, we are going to take our time and explore everything and anything we want to. 
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Thomas: The Final Summary

December 14, 2011

As I waited for my flight back to America recently, I did some reflecting on my experiences living in Buenos Aires for over three months. Many people who have participated in study abroad programs claim that they change more, as a person, in three months than they do in years. I would have to agree with this notion. Opening your eyes to an entirely new world changes you drastically. I’ve noticed that my perceptions of South America and the United States have changed and adapted. I’m also better able to look at everyday things from another perspective, a different angle than before. There is no doubt that I have grown significantly as a person.

I wrote earlier about not being able to grow without being out of your comfort zone. I think this is sentiment is true for all people. When I arrived, there is no question that I was out of my comfort zone. As I write today, my comfort zone has widened dramatically. I now feel totally comfortable with much of Argentina and a good chunk of South America, its people and its land. Imagine if your comfort zone widened to cover almost an entire continent of people and things. It’s quite an incredible feeling, the feeling of growth.

Have I mastered the Spanish language? No, not even close, but I’m comfortable with knowing what I know. I’ve taken three Spanish courses since May of this year, so I wasn’t expecting to be fluent. It takes years of dedication to become fluent in a language.

I do feel very fortunate to have had this fantastic experience. I’ve enjoyed it very much and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Having had this experience I know I have become a better person and a better citizen of the world. I also now realize how big our planet is and how much of it still needs to be explored on an individual basis.

It’s a bittersweet feeling. I am sad to leave Argentina, my host family, and the things I’ve grown accustomed to in the last three and a half months. The food, the architecture, the constant activity and action. I am, however, thrilled to go back to the place I love and have spent my entire life. I look forward to seeing my family and friends. I’m excited to see the things I know so well with a new set of eyes and experiences. Experts say that reverse culture shock is harder to adjust to than the opposite. They say it’s harder to adjust going back to where you come from after a study abroad experience than it is to adjust to a new country in the first place. This may be true for me, as I go from living in a city of 13 million to a town of 1,300.

I plan on writing a couple more posts during my first month home. I can bet that there will be a number of changes and a few things I will miss once I leave Buenos Aires.

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Thomas: Spring break in Peru

October 27, 2011

For my week-long Spring break I set out for the indigenous nation of Peru, located in West-Central South America. I knew it would be a long and mostly spontaneous journey, so I chose to make it alone. My main reasons for traveling to Peru: experience one of the more indigenous regions of the planet and of course visit the ancient “lost city” of the masterful Incan Empire, Machu Picchu.

Day 1: I started my long journey by running to catch a bus to the International Airport here in the Buenos Aires Province, which is about a 30 minute drive from the heart of the capital city. After arriving at the Airport outside of the city, I jumped on a plane to Santiago, Chile. There I would experience a 4 hour layover until my next flight to Lima, Peru. I arrived in Lima at about 8:30 PM and my 3rd and final flight to the interior city of Cusco wouldn’t leave until 6:45 AM the following morning. I took a car into the bustling capital city of Lima to only sleep a few hours so I could be at the airport at 4:45 AM. I finally got to sleep in my 4th floor hotel room at around 11:30 PM to thumping music down below, only to wake up about 4 hours later to the exact same thumping. Lima is a very active city, with a thriving nightlife, which explains the loud music.

Day 2: I made it safely to Cusco, Peru in the morning and took a taxi to my hostel, which was located in the center of the city. Cusco is the old Incan Capital city and currently has about 300,000 inhabitants. It’s a beautiful city. My hostel was very nice as well. It had a gigantic courtyard in the center with rooms surrounding it. The beds were surprisingly comfortable and the staff accommodating. My 6 person room only cost $10 per night, which included a small breakfast and 24 hour tea. Upon arriving I took advantage of the complimentary Coca Tea, which helps with the extremely high altitudes of Cusco. Peru has long been a huge producer of the three coca trees used for chocolate, coffee, and coca (which unfortunately has been sometimes processed into cocaine and shipped to North America). For centuries, coca leaves have helped Peruvians with the altitude. Chewing on coca leaves or drinking coca tea has a similar affect on the body to drinking a cup of coffee.

Already on my first day I was able to meet people from all over the world and quickly become friends.

Day 3: I spent mostly exploring the city of Cusco with my new friends and hiking up a local mountain which offered great views of the city and Incan ruins. I would take the same hike all but 2 days of my time in Cusco. It was great exercise, even if it left you gasping for breath every step due to the thin air.

Day 4: I was asked to explore the countryside and more ancient ruins via horseback. Why not? My horse, Capricorn, was very tame and we were able to get along well.

Day 5: I decided to play futbol (soccer) with some people from the hostel. My team was horrible. Having never played soccer outside of gym class, I didn’t help much. My team consisted of 2 Danish, a German, a couple Peruvians and myself. We lost every game to our opposing teams which were made up of all Peruvian players who were actually quite talented. You could tell they have been playing for some time.

Day 6: Time for Machu Puccu, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I woke up at 3:30 AM to taxi into a small town outside of Cusco called Poroy. From there I would take a 4 hour train through the mountains and the jungle until the small town of Aguas Calientes at the foothills of the Lost City of Machu Piccu. I finally arrived in Aguas Caliented in the late morning and quickly wandered around until I found the buses that take people up the winding rode to Machu Piccu. If this sounds like a lot of steps, work, and money, you would be right. Machu Piccu is so hidden and deep into the jungle that it’s very difficult to visit and required a lot of work and different forms of transportation. A lot of people choose to hike the Incan Trail which takes 3 or 4 or sometimes 5 days and costs $300-600. Initially I wanted to try to hike up to Machu Piccu for the experience, but after doing some research I quickly decided against it. Also, you much book your trail hike close to 6 months in advance.

When I arrived at the gates of Machu Piccu, alone I had no idea what to do or see. I was alone, it was misting rain and foggy. There were tourists everywhere of course and it just seemed like a cesspool of people wanting your money. There is one restaurant and hotel next to the ruins where one can spend $20 for a burger, which would cost about $2 in Cusco, and $600+ on a hotel room. Seeing those things, the large crowd of tourists, and feeling the light rain at the gates put me in a soggy mood. Immediately, one of the many tour guides approached me for a tour of the ruins. He said I need a guide, because the city behind the gates is huge and complex. I realized then he was probably right, it would be no fun to wander alone with knowing what I was looking at. So I bargained with him on a price and he begrudgingly accepted my offer, even though I was still about to pay 10 times more than what other tourists were paying in their large group tours. Relatively, I paid a lot, but got a personal tour of Machu Piccu. To say the least, it was breathtaking.  The masterful craftsmanship, engineering, and pure genius displayed by the Incas is nothing to sneeze at. They somehow managed to build an extremely high-tech and well managed society on a mountain side, hundreds of miles from other civilizations with handmade tools and no heavy equipment. It was a nearly perfect city and perfect society. Amazing, indeed.

Of course, the Spanish conquest in the mid-16th Century brought an end to the empire and the city was abandoned. It was only re-discovered and publicized in 1911 by an American professor at Yale who was conducting research in Peru. Hiram Bingham was searching for a lost Incan City, needless to say, he found it.

Day 7: My own journey to visit Machu Piccu would come to an end eventually. Three flights back to Buenos Aires and school on Monday!

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Margaret: 假的 – jiǎ de – fake

October 25, 2011

One of my American friends here grew up on the east coast and is attending a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania studying business.  Some weeks ago a few of us were out for drinks when he asked us what cities he should try beginning his career in after graduation.  Naturally, I suggested Minneapolis – I’ve always seen it as a great place to be a young professional thanks to a good local economy and several Fortune 500 companies.  Beyond that, the city literally sparkles.  There’s a distinct Midwesterness about it.  Lakes and lush green parks nestle into urban areas, cut and crisscrossed by 84 miles of off-street trail, while the old brick buildings of the mill district remind of boom time long ago when the city was the flour milling capital of the world, all thanks to the mighty Mississippi – as if we needed even more beautiful shoreline.  One of my favorite images of the city is the view from Lake Harriet.  Take away the skyscrapers and you’ve got the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Can’t.  Beat.  That.  My friend, however, was less than interested.  “Uhhh what!?  Why would I EVER go to Minneapolis?  Isn’t it like just a farm?”

When I close my eyes and think about home, I see the St. Paul campus in all its midsummer glory, surrounded by the wheat and the corn and the barley and blue sky and big white clouds.  I see myself in the heat of the greenhouses during a blizzard, working late into the evening.  I see myself waking up before the sun to bundle up and trek through subzero wind chill to the cozy Al’s Breakfast for a short stack drizzled with real maple syrup.  I see myself leaving a lecture, inspired, mind completely blown.  I see myself getting dressed up on a Friday night for a date in Tea Garden with my O-chem book.  Call me a nerd (please!) or nostalgic, but these are the things I miss so much that I haven’t been able to recreate here.  Minnesota is a great place, and I always knew that, but I think it took leaving for it to really sink in.  It’s the human condition, isn’t it?  I’m here missing home, and in a year, I’ll be home missing China.  Shucks…

I’ve sort of been down and out this week, increasingly dissatisfied with my phony Chinese life.  I used to always look down upon all the rich hipster kids from the University of Minnesota who go away on their dream study abroad vacations to Spain or Paris, where they have classes in English with other students from the U.  They take a million pictures of themselves in bikinis on the beach or at clubs until three in the morning and post them in obnoxiously titled album on Facebook to show the rest of us how much better their little fairytale life is than our own in sad Minnesota.  Then when they come back, they banter on and on about how “living” in Valencia have them a wider worldview and increased cultural competency.  I always thought, “I’m going to China.  I’m actually doing something real with my experience.”  And yet here am I, with the stereotypical travel blog, living a life as fake as the fake 100 yuan notes that fake cab driver handed me at four in the morning after a night out a few weeks ago.  I’ve got nothing on those hipster kids after all.

Many people (mom!) have false ideas of what studying abroad is like.  “You’ll get there and you’ll interact with the culture and you’ll make all these great Chinese friends right away and on Spring Festival, one of them will invite you home to their electricity- and modern sanitation-lacking village where their mother will teach you how to make dumplings and their father will teach you how to play erhu and they will invite you to name their newborn nephew.”

Easier.

Said.

Than.

Done.

In reality, my fake Chinese life is mostly devoted to trying to stay sane.  I spend so much energy each and everyday staring blankly up at my professors for six hours, trying not to get killed by a bus on the way to school, and finding a seat in a cafeteria packed three times its capacity that I don’t have anything left to give.  What do I do to try to stay sane?  Eating Skippy peanut butter out of a can with a spoon. Gouging myself on Snickers that taste a little off.  Going to WuDaoKou, the expat student area, to sit in an overpriced coffee shop eating an overpriced pathetic attempt at a panini and drinking overpriced tea bag tea with other lazy expats who, like myself, are too scared of real China to leave the cozy confines of the cafe.  Going through the motions until Thursday when I start my weekend early by dressing up and going out to expat bar areas with my American friends whom I pretend to like more than I do to dance the morning away until I roll out of bed the next afternoon and do it all over again.  Three times.

Fake Life Confessions:

I have no Chinese friends.  My language partner is Korean.  And I quickly discovered that the one Chinese friend I did have (her name was Smile) was using other foreigners and me for our English.  She told us she goes to Beida, but we found out she’s not even in college, and she’d blow up my phone every other day saying, “I’ll be waiting for you (insert place) at (insert time),” without even asking me if I wanted to meet or if I was free.  Most of the time, I feel conversing with a Chinese person, even if they’re conversant in English, takes tons of energy and effort, and I find that if given the choice, I will always choose returning to Zhongguanxinyuan to pass out over “hanging out.”  Do Chinese people hang out?  I don’t even know.

I haven’t relaxed in two months.  The trials of each day leave me absolutely exhausted, and unfortunately I have yet to uncover a method to relieve my daily agitation.  In America if I’m feeling stressed out, I can hop on my bike and be on a trail in ten seconds.  Think there is such a thing as trails in Beijing?  Think again.  If I had a bike, I’d be subjected to crazy driver-laden streets, and my bike would likely be stolen within a few months.  Go for a run, you say?  Have fun getting lung disease.  Beijing doesn’t really do parks either, unless it has an admission fee, a few hundred years of history, and about a thousand daily visitors.  I can’t relax when my roommate is around, which she always is, even on Friday and Saturday nights.  I’ve already read the two English books that I brought here (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a biography of Norman Borlaug of course), so I’ve started watching bootlegged movies on the internet.  I don’t even like film.  Maybe after this year though, I will cease to be made fun of for all the movies I haven’t seen…

I haven’t been anywhere in the city besides the university and three expat hangout areas.  My life is a constant rotation.  Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida, Sanlitun, Beida, Beida, Houhai, Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida.  I really haven’t even done anything else here besides school; shopping for fake goods at fake markets; searching for sad attempts at pizza, burgers, and sandwiches; and going to bars and clubs where white people are the majority.  One of my favorite restaurants, Pyro Pizza, is styled exactly like an American college bar, completely with beer pong tables, banners hanging from the ceiling that read “WuDaoKou Football Champions 1977,” and large glass beer steins filled with fake Budweiser.  I can close my eyes and pretend the gophers just lost and I’ve gone to Campus Pizza with some friends after the game.

I love McDonalds.  My girlfriend asked me the other day what I would eat if I could eat anything in Beijing.  I would eat McDonalds.  Hands down, no competition.  Although last weekend I went to the city’s only Burger King, and I must say, their fries are better.

China’s culture is increasingly more fake.  They’ve become obsessed with the West in every way and want more than anything to become rich like America.  Women will bleach their skin white and undergo blepharoplasty cosmetic surgery to create a double eyelid.  They love Nike, they love The North Face, they love Starbucks.  Buddhism is becoming commercialized.  They built a fake section of the Great Wall to capitalize on tourism.  Enough said.

My fake Chinese life has left me exhausted, and I haven’t left the confines of my cold tiled dorm room this weekend save for a frustrating erhu lesson.  Mom sent me a wonderful box full of twizzlers, peeps, granola bars, smarties, etc. and I’ve made dinner out of it for the past two nights and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.  When I woke up this morning, my skin had broken out entirely, worse than it’s been since my middle school pizza face days.  Oh hey body, looks like you forgot all about high fructose corn syrup.  Ahh fake sugar, how I’ve missed you.

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Thomas: Three weeks

September 19, 2011

Imagine having to completely start over. Imagine being placed in a new city, a city not even located within the same continent. You’ve never been to this place before. People are speaking a different language, one that you don’t understand. They live their lives differently than you have ever lived yours. You move into a new house, on a foreign block, in a foreign neighborhood, within a foreign city, country, continent. You live with a different family, go to a new school or maybe start a new job. You know no one. You must create new friendships, learn how to communicate, how to act, how to live, etc.

What you’re imagining is exactly what I have experienced living in Buenos Aires. In the three weeks I have spent living in here I have thought how strange and unique this whole experience has been. Completely re-starting life after living in another one for slightly over two decades. Strange concept isn’t it?

What a Difference a Few Weeks Make

Today, I went back to the restaurant that I visited my first full day here in Argentina. It just happens to be exactly 3 weeks later, and wow, time has never felt so good. Unlike three Monday’s ago, I found myself comfortable at doing nearly everything. It seems so simple, greeting, sitting down, ordering, eating, asking for your bill, paying and leaving, but in a foreign land, it’s not. And today I realized how uncomfortable I really was that very first day.

There’s really nothing like it.

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Hilary: 24 new people!

September 8, 2011

The semester has started!  And along with it came 24 wonderful amazing new people!  We are now a strong group of 26 women and 3 young men.  That’s a lot of estrogen!!  As I walked into the auditorium this past Tuesday which is usually empty, I was confronted with 24 new people and a collective anxious and proud energy.  As the week went on I kept switching from staying in the background and watching quietly, to interacting and telling jokes and stories in English and Spanish.  This past weekend we all had a retreat in Los Bancos (a small pueblo just outside of Mindo, about 2.5 hours northwest of Quito).  This was a magical place.  The hotel was beautiful and set in a forest reserve.  I can’t begin to describe all of the flora and fauna that I encountered.  If I only leave with one concept when I leave Ecuador, for now I want it to be diversity.  Diversity of nature, animals, insects, plants, land, and finally diversity of peoples.  Over the weekend I learned the names of all of my new compañeros, learned about their lives here and in the states and started some beautiful friendships!

There are 4 different “tracks” in my study abroad program.  The first 3 weeks in CIMAS is a general program to learn about development and politics in Ecuador.  After these 3 weeks we will be split up into our prospective tracks.  These tracks are education, social services, public health, and environmental studies.  I am in the track of education. It is one of the smaller tracks—only 5 of us!  But I am looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with these 5 people!

Now to backtrack a bit… Last weekend the 5 of us from the pre-session took a tour of the northwest coast!  We visited Atacames and Mompiche in the province of Esmereldas and then traveled to Canoa in Manabí.  The ocean is so tranquil and calming!  I had a great time getting to know other travelers from all over South America!  From Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala.  We had great campfires on the beach with guitars, drums, accordions, flutes, singing, dancing, and great conversation. If anyone is in Canoa, please stop by the Hostal Iguana, wonderful people with buena onda (good spirit).  

This past week we had an amazing lecture by Doc Haliday, an ethnomusicologist who has been living in Quito for the last 6 years. He gave a lecture about embracing a new culture and letting go of inhibitions and habits from the U.S. I was loving it. He was describing the process I went through in India and in Guatemala to accept, grow, change, and learn different ways of interacting with the world and then he challenged us to spread our knowledge and what we learn, how we change so that the eyes of the world’s peoples can be opened as well. I am so fortunate to be able to be on this study abroad program, and in Ecuador no less. I am hoping to take advantage of all of the opportunities I have to grow and learn, and then to share with you and anyone who I bump into along the way!

One of the main things that I am learning about here is rights for the land and nature. Right now Ecuador has one of the most progressive constitutions in history. It has mandates protecting the land and the indigenous peoples and cultures who live with the land. This constitution clearly respects that we need the land to live and that if we take advantage of it we will suffer because it provides life for us. (In a nutshell, that is the point of view..)

Another idea that we have spent a lot of time talking about here is energy, the energy of the earth, of people, and the energy of the universe.  This is based of of Incan beliefs of the balance between north, south, east, and west; and also the balance between the four elements, wood, fire, air, and water.  We need all of these to live and to create an equal balance in our lives.  One of our guides was explaining the “myth” of 2012.  It is not that the world is going to die—it is that our poles are shifting, and that is creating off-balance in the land.  In 2012 they don’t have an exact prediction of how many degrees the poles will shift, but it is expected that they will.  He talked about the last tsunami/earthquake that hit Japan as an example of a repercussion of this shift. After this little talk, he took some volunteers to measure the size of their personal energy.  He used to metal sticks that cross when they encounter an energy field or force.  We were standing on the equator at this point and so he could show us the force between north and west/east.  He picked me and discovered that my “energy field” is actually quite large.  So cool to see it!

I am continuing to love my time in Ecuador and am ready and open to keep learning.  I hope you are all learning something too. Continue on your journeys, stay happy and healthy!

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