Artists Block

Unsplash images- Justyn Warner

A message for my creatives.  Have you ever been through a creative desert? A place where inspiration and motivation seem to have dried up completely, but you still have the task of creating before you? Although constantly surrounded by art in NY, for some reason I felt more overwhelmed than inspired. Days and weeks roll by without having picked up a pencil or paintbrush, leading me to be hard on myself as an artist. This wall of unproductivity is something that I often encounter and many of you may sympathize with. Throughout this trying time in my studio practice, I have found two points that have helped me get going again in my artwork.

Look inwardly before creating outwardly.

Unsplash Images- Sasha freemind

Art is often an expression of our personal experiences and what is inside of us. If we are going through an emotional turmoil or our mind and heart is not in a healthy place, our art will often be a visual reflection of that. Creative work takes energy, emotion, and intentional thought; when I am in an emotionally drained place, I often see that my art quality declines. It’s easy to find myself overwhelmed to finish all of these projects so I end up not doing anything. During those times, taking a moment to clear my head and breathe has been an agent to break through unproductivity. Practical things that I do to assist are going outside for a walk, talking to family or friends, and meditating/praying.

Spiritual Breakthrough is Creative Breakthrough

Unsplash images- Amaury gutierrez

My relationship with God has always been the foundation of my creative practice.

Spending time with God before creating reminds me that he is the ultimate creator, therefore he is the expert for my creative process (Gen 1:1). This time also gives me a space to address the noise in my head, and find peace in the often overwhelming search for breakthrough. Giving it all to God and letting him guide me in my practice, instead of my various thoughts and emotions, brings more clarity in my thought process and state of frustration (1 Peter 5:7).

These moments give me a space to be at peace with the fact that I’m not supposed to have it all together because as humans we were created to be dependent on God. It gives me the freedom to surrender and acknowledge my limits, and from that place of surrender create something beautiful with my creator.

Food Glorious Food

Walking down the streets of New York City your nose is bound to pick up some of the delicious smells wafting out of the restaurants lining the streets. These smells are a lovely break from the often overpowering smell of the trash and sewers, but hey you win some you lose some. Having spent about two months in New York now, I’ve tried quite a few restaurants, especially during quarantine when I couldn’t get any groceries. This being said I’ve tried my best to eat in as much as possible because New York is pricey, even groceries are robbing me blind. As hard as I’ve tried to be a fiscally responsible member of society, I have failed many times and splurged on a meal out. Here is a list of the top three places I’ve eaten thus far. 

  1. Emmy Squared Pizza

This place was actually recommended to me by the head of the New York Arts Program. My roommate and I had to quarantine for ten days earlier in the month, and on the last day of our isolation she very generously offered to buy us pizza. We told her we really didn’t have any place in mind so she suggested Emmy Squared Pizza. This restaurant has several locations in New York as well as other states in the east. We of course got delivery since we couldn’t leave our room. My roommate and I are both fans of white pizza which does not have tomato sauce. We both got the “Good Paulie” pizza which had caramelized onions, sausage, and smoked gouda on it. We enjoyed the pizza so much that we ordered the exact same thing again two or three days later. The crust was the perfect thickness; not too thin, but not too thick and fluffy either and it still had a nice crunch. I would highly recommend Emmy Squared Pizza.

  1. Tacombi

I discovered this place one day out on a walk around the Upper East Side. I was immediately drawn to the restaurant because the building looked like it was straight out of a Wes Anderson film; perfectly square and covered in bright colors. I took a picture and told myself I had to come back to try the food. Turns out the restaurant has a ton of different locations throughout New York and each restaurant looks so unique and retro. One night I had a real hankering for Mexican and I dragged my friends along with me. I got pork tacos and please believe when I said they were incredible. I will say the portions are rather small so make sure you order at least two (I got three). I also have to give a shoutout to their marketing team because I’m obsessed with their branding. The restaurant brands itself as a tropical vacation destination and when you get their business card it looks like a retro postcard from a beautiful getaway in Mexico. 

The Tacombi building.
The Tacombi building.
  1. Court Square Diner

I put Court Square Diner on this list for aesthetic reasons. The food was good, but not life-changing good. This diner was located in Queens, and it was the first restaurant I got to sit down and eat in. From the outside and inside, this place looked like your typical retro diner. The diner sits on a corner tucked under a bridge, but with its silver exterior and neon lights, it’s hard to miss. On the inside you have your typical bar with stools that I could imagine sitting at and ordering a black cup of coffee (if I drank coffee straight up). When we sat down, half of the table ordered lunch items and the other half ordered breakfast items. It was a very cold day, and a cup of coffee and french toast just sounded right to me.  

Outside of the diner.
Outside of the diner.

Riverboat Tour

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. My friend Hannah and I signed up for a riverboat architectural tour of the city. If you are ever in Chicago and wondering what to do, I highly recommend this tour! We were able to sit back, relax, and learn a little history about the buildings along the river. One of the most interesting facts that we learned is that the word “Chicago” is actually derived from a Native American term, which translates to “smelly onion.”

Hannah and I were a little concerned that we were going to get rained on so we purchased some fun ponchos to wear during the boat tour (enjoy the pictures). We took notice to appreciate the blend of old and new architecture that made up the scenery along the river. My personal favorite part of the tour is when we made our way out toward Lake Michigan. At this part of the tour, we were able to stop and take in the sight of one of the the most beautiful city skylines in the world. This tour allowed me to appreciate the buildings I have been walking, running, and biking by in a new way. There is so much history in the city, and it felt good to appreciate the history it took to see the City as it is today. Enjoy the pictures that I took on the tour and I hope one day you can get on a boat and experience it for yourself! Thanks for reading.

How I get around the City

Public transportation was one of the many things that intimidated me the first few weeks in New York. From the bustle in the subways and busses to the fast-paced walking New Yorkers flooding the streets, getting around can seem like a mission! Although it was intimidating at first, it was actually very simple and fast once I got the hang of it. Below, I will put some tips and ways to get around the city!

Subway

In the New York subway system, there are 28 functioning trains, and each train has a color-coded route that helps you identify where you want to go around the state (New York City Subway). Each station has the name of the station or street number on the wall or on a sign in the waiting area so you will be able to know where you are (ex. picture below)!

Unsplash images: alexis Antoine

There are three ways to pay for the subway: a one-way ticket, a metro card, or OMNY (a contactless payment system). A one-way ticket costs $2.75, a metro card can be filled with your desired amount and can be reused, and OMNY is a scanning system that scans your phone to access your mobile wallet (ex. Apple wallet). There are also options for unlimited rides through the Metro card; for a week, the cost is $33 and for one month, it costs $127. I personally just use the refillable Metro card since I am not commuting often, but all of these options depend on how much you want to travel around!

Bus

In the city, there are a total of 336 lines for city buses: 63 being express buses (these buses don’t stop at every bus stop, they only stop at major junctions between large cities) and the 273 buses being the local city buses(Map of NYC Bus).

Regular bus fare costs $2.75 and express buses cost $6.75, for both of these you can pay with your metro card or use the OMNY payment method mentioned above. The destination and line of the buses are usually displayed at the front of the bus so you can always double-check if you are getting on the right one! Although buses take more time than subways, I have found them to be a lot cleaner and easy to get around.


CITATION
New York City Subway. 7 Mar. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway#:~:text=There%20are%2028%20train%20services,line%20of%20the%20particular%20service.

“Map of NYC Bus: Stations & Lines.” New York City Map 360°, nycmap360.com/nyc-bus-map#:~:text=New%20York%20City%20buses%20are,bus%20%2F%2063%20express%20bus).

Kiswahili Crunch Time!

Just prior to our Serengeti Safari, we were informed that the U.S. Department of State decided to upgrade the travel advisory in Tanzania from a level three to a level four. The reason why is still a mystery since Tanzania has not been reporting their COVID case load, from the beginning. Per SIT’s guidelines, this means that, unfortunately, we have to relocate the program. Now, where to relocate is the million dollar question. Originally, SIT had in mind to move us to Uganda. However, following some student input, it was decided that Kilifi, Kenya, would be the best option due to its coastal ecology being similar to that of Zanzibar, which is where we were scheduled to spend the second half of our Tanzania program. They gave us two weeks to complete the transition. What this meant in the short-term was that we would have to up our Swahili learning intensity if we were to secure the credits before departure.

With one week of intensive Swahili (4.5 hours a day plus homework) already under our belts, we were left with one more week to prepare for our exam. That meant adding on an extra hour every day. It sounds a lot worse than it actually was, our walimu (teachers) were excellent and made learning fun. They also made it a point to get us out into the community to practice Swahili in real world situations, which helped a lot. One such excursion entailed a trip to the market.

Now, if you are a local living in Tanzania, chances are that you don’t shop at one of the few supermarkets they have, those are for tourists and are overpriced, accordingly. Instead, you get all of your shopping done at markets like the one pictured above. The photo does not adequately capture the true scale of the market. In reality, these markets can encapsulate several football fields with little to no space between any two of the hundreds of stalls present. It’s intense! For this excursion in particular, we had a specific list of food items already in mind given to us by our walimu. Thankfully, we knew how much to pay for each item, ahead of time, because those venders take every opportunity to overcharge a mzungu, not that I blame them. Negotiations were slow as our walimu insisted that we only use Swahili, but the venders were very gracious, which negated a lot of the pressure.

Once we returned to our B&B our group, designated the Guac group, we used the items we purchased at the market to… you guessed it, make guacamole! It turned out pretty good, too, if I do say so myself.

The following day, we had our Swahili exam. Everyone passed with flying colors thanks to our excellent walimu. Shoutout to Mama Beatrice, Mama Ni, and Mama Helen for putting up with us mzungus. Now with our Swahili credits secured, we set our sites to the Kenyan Coast!

Let’s Eat!

New Yorkers are known for a lot of things, but one thing that goes unnoticed is their love for eating out! In the Upper Eastside, it is hard to walk around without seeing New Yorkers enjoying a hot meal and socializing. One thing that I absolutely love about New York is its diverse selection of different cuisines. You can find Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Indian… you name it! As an international student, eating food that reminds me of home is something that gives me so much joy and comfort. Because of the variety in food, New York has been the perfect place to find food that cater to my home cravings. Below, I have listed a few of my favorite places that I have gone to with their price range, and my thoughts on the restaurant overall!

Tacombi

Tacombi has definitely been one of my favorite places to go to when looking for a quick and satisfying meal. They serve Mexican food, and are especially known for their delicious tacos. My personal favorites are their pork tacos and their corn esquites! Their price ranges from 3.95- 12.95$, so they are especially nice when you are on a budget.

The Tacombi Restaurant website: https://tacombi.com/

North Dumpling

This store was one that my roommate had found on TikTok and we had decided to try it out. We were definitely not disappointed. Not only is this place affordable, but its delivery in taste and quantity of food went beyond what I had expected. North Dumpling is a Chinese food store that has dumplings, sesame bread, noodles, and much more. I usually get the sesame bread and some pork dumplings when I go, and it never fails to satisfy! They also offer frozen options for dumplings in bulk, so if you are like me and want less time to meal prep, this is the place to go! Their price ranges from 3-5$.

North Dumpling Website: http://www.china-north-dumpling.com/

New Wonju

My bias definitely goes to any place that offers Korean food, so Wonjo was definitely a top choice for me! Not only is there a vast selection of food you can choose from like Korean BBQ, Udon, and Kimchi Jjigae, but each meal comes with a lot of different side dishes, so there are so many flavors to choose from!

In the image above, I had ordered a dish called Kimchi Jjigae (a warm kimchi soup with different meats inside), and Bo Ssam (steamed pork wrapped in napa cabbage) along with different side dishes. This meal was a good mix of spicy food and something a bit milder; it definitely satisfied me and left me with a good amount of leftovers to eat later! Wonjo’s prices range from 15-30$ for noodles, bibimbop, Bo Ssam, etc. for one person, and other meat combos for Korean BBQ (2-3 ppl) will range in the 100$.

Wonju Restaurant Website: https://newwonjo.com/

Into the Crater!

Following our three nights in the Serengeti, we headed for the famous Ngorongoro Crater where we were to spend our last night and day on Safari. The crater pictured below is the remnants of an old volcano which collapsed inward on itself more than 2.5 million years ago, following a major eruption. It is worth noting that it is this same eruption that is responsible for the Serengeti plains today. When the volcano erupted, much of the ash was carried westward and settled where the Serengeti savannah currently resides. When the ash settled, heavy rains cemented the ash to create a hard, clay-like layer which remains to this day just a few meters under the surface. It is because of this layer that larger shrubs and trees cannot survive in the grasslands, not being able to sink their roots deep enough for the dry season. Consequently, you are left with grass filled plains as far as the eye can see.

The descent into the crater feels like a descent into an ancient world untouched by time, que the Jurassic Park soundtrack. Surrounded by high cliffs on all sides, the crater is 264 km2 of lush grasslands, patches of dense forest, and seasonal lakes and streams. Many of the same species that call the Serengeti home also live in the crater, just on a smaller scale. Everything from Wildebeest, to hippos, to hyenas, the crater has it all!

One of the coolest sightings on the trip so far came when we saw a herd of buffalo, at least a hundred strong, acting a little strange. We drove closer to investigate. Upon further inspection, we discovered that the buffalo were chasing away a pair of lions who had wandered too close to their young. Having decided the trouble was no longer worth it, the pair of lions searched for some shade to recuperate in. Our land rover, providing the only shadow for miles around, was the obvious choice. Before we knew it, the duo waltzed right over to our vehicle and plopped down in the shade to relax. The result, one of the coolest animal encounters I’ve had in my life.

Following the close encounter with the lions, we headed over to the lake region to see what we could find. As if the crater hadn’t been good enough to us already, it provided us with a rare sighting of the Black Rhino — talk about a cherry on the cake! The Black Rhino, up until this point, was the only one of the Big Five we had yet to see. Our list was now complete! Although it was far away, I managed to combine new technology with old by holding my phone up to my binoculars and snapping the pic above. Thus concluded our five day safari, we could not have ended on a better note. Special thanks to our Range Rover drivers Samuel and Julius, our excellent camp crew, wildlife expert Kaiza, Activities Coordinator Oscar, and Academic Advisor Dr. Oliver for ensuring our excursion was a success!

Simba was a bit annoyed when we finally drove off with his shade.

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Finding Community

Although coming to a large city has opened a door for a lot of independence, it has also shown me how easy it is to feel isolated. With COVID-19 regulations and being in an environment where people don’t know me very well, isolation often feels inevitable. Especially if you are an introvert like me, initiating new friendships can be intimidating and a huge task. But getting out of my comfort zone and creating community has not only grown my character but has enriched my experience in New York.

Invest in the people around you

A couple of friends and I at Washington Square
A couple of friends and I at Washington Square

I started by intentionally being with the people who were around me on my off-campus program. These were people who understood my circumstance, and became people to lean on when figuring out a new life in a new location. It’s so easy to feel that you are the only one who is trying to figure it all out, but when you surround yourself with people in the same circumstances as you, you can see that you are not alone. Sharing the experience of being in a place for the first time also creates lasting memories and deeper relationships with the people who are with you.

Seek relationships outside of your program

Dinner party that happens every Wednesday through C3 NYC church
Dinner party that happens every Wednesday through C3 NYC church

Seeking relationships outside of the program also gave me a well-rounded experience. I did this by getting plugged into a local church in Manhattan called C3 NYC. Through this church, I was able to meet new people, who live in the city, during worship nights and dinners. It has served as a way to not only give me a community of Christians to encourage me in my faith, but also a group of local New Yorkers who can give me more insight into what it means to live here.

Stay connected with those away

Calling a friend on messenger video chat
Calling a friend on messenger video chat

Stay connected to your friends back at school and family back home! This is a way I could unpack and process my experience, and as I talked to someone outside of my situation, it helped me clear my mind. It is also a way to feel seen and understood when everything feels new. Being in an environment where people don’t know you very well can be discouraging, but reconnecting with people who know you can help you have a better sense of yourself, giving you the confidence to keep going!

Visiting Archeological Sites!

Finally, after three months of waiting, the Municipality of Athens decided to reopen all of the outdoor museums and archeological sites. Having been here for months and not being able to go see the things that Athens is best known for was quite difficult. For this reason, I have gone a bit stir-crazy in visiting as many sites as I possibly can.

The first place I went to was the Acropolis and the Parthenon. This is pretty much the crown jewel of Greek archeology, and maybe archeology in general. Many people consider the Parthenon to be the symbol of civilization and knowledge as a whole, and it really lives up to its name. The sheer size of the Parthenon, and the detail of all of the buildings on the Acropolis are amazing. I walked around the entire place for about 20 minutes with a few friends, and we were practically alone. This is incredible considering that it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Europe. I am told that the line to get in is usually around 2-3 hours. When I went, I didn’t even have to wait in line. This is a bit of a silver lining during the COVID pandemic. But, it also makes me want it to end so much quicker because I know many Athenians rely on tourism for a living. Being in the presence of so much history and culture is such a gift, and it makes me treasure the study abroad experience more.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis
The Parthenon on the Acropolis
Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery
Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery

Another site I visited recently is the Greek Agora. This is the main marketplace of the Greek classical era. Among the random columns laying around is the Royal Stoa, the Temple of Hephaestus, and more. My favorite building is the People’s Court, which is a ruin seemingly forgotten about. It is on the side of the train tracks that go through the Agora; this is the building where the Trial of Socrates took place, and he was sentenced to death. Abundant everywhere you go in Athens is the opportunity to learn about many interesting facts.

Overall, I am so happy to be learning about the history of Athens and Greece while finally being able to enjoy some of the most interesting archeological sites in the world.

The Watering Hole with Farting Rocks

Following a week of intensive Swahili instruction, our quest for the big five brought us to none other than Serengeti National Park! You probably recognize the name Serengeti, and with good reason as it is one of the most famous national parks in the world. The Serengeti contains the largest intact mammal migration in the world with a mobile heard of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles numbering 2.2 million. Boasting an impressive 30,000 km2, the park is also home to the largest concentration of predators both large and small, including everything from lions down to the serval cat. It is home to over 500 species of birds, both permanent residents and migratory, and its unique geological history has ensured a variety of ecosystems. It spans from the famous grasslands (pictured above) to woodlands and small hill ecosystems throughout. I promised national geographic level pictures and I am here to deliver (be warned of the massive impending picture/video dump).

This video above showcases our initial ride into the Serengeti. Along the way, we saw an estimated 500,000 wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle. The clip offers only a small glimpse into what we saw for at least a half hour of our drive; nothing but black dots peppering the horizon for as far as the eye could see. It was evening by the time we got to our camp at the heart of the park. I didn’t manage to snap a picture of our camp this time, but much like in Randilen, it was full-blown tent camping. We often went to sleep to the sound of lions patrolling the perimeter of our site. Seeing hyenas between you and the bathroom at night was not an uncommon site; just don’t show fear and you’ll be fine.

Thompson Gazelle showing off his speed. They are so fast that Cheetah’s are the only animal that will chase them and even then its 50/50 who wins.

We were to stay in the Serengeti National Park for only three nights, and so the following morning we wasted no time piling in the land rovers and getting to work. Similar to when we were in Randilen, our goal was to conduct perpendicular road counts of all mammals spotted in four different ecosystems of focus, riverland, grassland, woodland, and disturbed habitat. The question of our research would be to determine whether certain species are more apt to be found in certain areas of the park over others. As an added bonus, we would also record animal behavior of every spotted herd/individual to assess species tendency. Now that our methodology was in place, all that was left was to set out and find some animals. In this regard, the Sergeant did not disappoint.

Perpendicular road counts over the two days of recording yielded ten unique mammal species including Topi, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Hippo, Impala, Buffalo, Elephant, Dik Dik, Water Buck, and Giraffe. Off the record sitings (meaning species spotted outside the realm of our research) included Cheetah, Leopard, Grant’s Gazelle, Thompson’s Gazelle, Wildebeest, Hyena, Serval Cat, Jackal, Hartebeest, many species of birds including Flamingos and Crowned Cranes, and the king of the jungle (Lion). Most often these “off the record” species were spotted on our evening game drive where the predators were more apt to move. One of these evenings, in particular, we were taken to a massive watering hole. At first, we were all confused why our guides had taken us to such a place. At first glance the pool was empty, but then the rocks started making sounds (see below).

Analysis of data yielded mix results for both groups based on a number of different factors, but it was found that certain species of mammals do prefer certain habitats within the Serengeti. For example, our group found Elephants residing exclusively within the grassland habitat while species like the Giraffe and Dik Dik preferred the resources of the woodland. All in all, the Serengeti was very good to us yielding three more of the legendary Big Five; those being the Lion, the Buffalo, and the Leopard. That leaves only one more species to go. So, with the elusive Black Rhino in our sites, we set a course for Ngorongoro!

Enjoy some extra videos of the wildlife below!

Elephants cooling off at the river
Giraffes moving through
Some Olive Baboons hanging out by the visitors center
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