British Life

So much has happened every single day there is no better way to tell you than a daily breakdown. But first, an introduction!

What is really cool about my program, that none of us quite knew, is we have our weeks broken down in a way of exploration. The first two, middle one, and last two weeks we are taking a class called British Life. Each week we have a new topic to learn and explore! Then for the middle eight weeks I have not mentioned, we have academic classes. This week is orientation/ History week.

Sunday, we did a local walking tour through the gardens surrounding where we live and down to the river. The river has a tide since it connects to the ocean on both sides and you can see the water go up and down. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and all families were out enjoying a Sunday in the park. We stopped at a pub for lunch before heading to the city for our next tour.

The city was a lot cleaner and livelier than I expected with shops of all sorts. We wandered through the streets until we broke off from our guide and were left to explore on our own. The Swiss nine, French four, and “me lonely American” found our way to the second pub of the day. Disclaimer: I am 21. The food was very very very good and I am now a cider drinker. From there, we wandered to Chinatown for dinner and went home after.

Monday was our orientation day were we went to the main campus, met people, took a tour, and had some tea time!! There are some very new changes for me, such as walking ten minutes to the bus stop and twenty minutes on a bus to campus. It is also not simple to change campuses, but I am sure it will get better as time goes on. Second, the busses start at 8:15am and stop at 6pm, which means if you want to go to an activity on another campus you will have to take a taxi or bus back to your place at the end of the event. Second is the fact that we have a bar on campus that serves alcohol. This seems very normal for people here but coming from the states it has been a bit of a shock. We can also have alcohol in our flats and even bring a beer or two down to hang out in our main rooms.

In the evening, two French girls and I traveled back into the city. Another shocker, the city is boppin’ on a Monday night! Like boppin’. Like clubs in full swing and live music flooding into the streets with people all around smiling and having a great time. I think all of us found this amazing! We saw where the Beatles became famous, but chose to leave that for another night. As we walked, we found a tapas restraint with AMAZING tapas. I will have to go back again… even though it’s not super cheap, 2.50 for one thing. In the evenings I tend to leave my “French life” and head to Switzerland AKA I spend my evenings in the kitchen hanging out with the Swiss. I have enjoyed our conversations and getting to know each other very much!

Tuesday we had our first lecture by Dr. Fiona Pogson titled “Liverpool: From Small Town to the Second City of the Empire” . Being American, this was fascinating for me. If I go into the details this post will be more so a thesis. A large section of Liverpool’s wealth came from the slave trade. While they recognize this as a negative and horrible part of history, they cannot deny the wealth this brought to the people of Liverpool. After that, we traveled to the slavery museum to get a hands-on perspective of the slave trade.

Wednesday, we had our second lecture by Dr. Louise Wilson about “Shakespeare, Immigration and British Identity”. I have studied Shakespeare in depth so not much new was told here but I was interested on their want for an individual language with no borrowed words from other countries. In the end, this didn’t happen but was it was very interesting. There was also a test that that immigrant had to take about Britain in order to be a citizen. Same as yesterday though, if I go into detail this will be a very long post. From there we went to a graduation ceremony at a cathedral downtown. It was very interesting to see how they run graduations and their traditions.

Exciting news!!! The heat is finally turned on!! Though I am not sure mine is working. I, along with everyone else, have been so cold at night! In class we also must keep windows open. Even in winter. This will be very hard as it feels like we are doing class outside, but this is the school’s COVID protocol. I will add a picture of me in class at the bottom as well….

            Thursday, we started off the day taking the city bus to the creative campus. I am realizing everyday that I need to leave extra time to commute. The day was pouring rain more than usual. When it rains it is not to cold but when the clouds clear up the heat is released and it is quite refreshing. To get to the campus you walk through a security building into a beautiful courtyard that took my breathe away. We toured the creative campus, and I was very pleased to hear we have practice rooms so I can continue my voice lessons independently. We had a seminar on The Beatles, and then headed on our way to find a café. We went into this Turkish café, and I found out what 250g of baklava will get you… it was a lot but the smallest portion I could order. Needless to say, I have leftovers.

            We made our way to the Liverpool Central Library into one of the rooms that was now refurbished and… wow!!!!! So beautiful. A lot of tourist/ art/ museum/ sights are all connected together in the massive building. We chose to go next door into the world museum which had an aquarium!! If you know me even a little you know I LOVE animals. I got to share facts about all the animals as we went from habitat to habitat. We also went to the third floor of human world artifacts, the Egyptian wing where I say the most unraveled mummies I have seen and it was a little terrifying but very very interesting. Last but not least, a natural history exhibit with animals from all over the world plus extinct animals like dinosaurs. We only made it through a third of the building, so I plan to visit again Sunday.

            Grocery shopping here is not my favorite as it is not so simple. Is it a 30–40-minute commute to bring the heavy groceries home in the POURING rain. A positive though, I have all of my groceries for the week and an umbrella!!

            Last day of this blog post is Friday! Today we had a lecture called “The History and Development of the Welfare State” by Michael Lavallette. I found this lecture so interesting. I did not know about the Beveridge document. The document suggested a reason and resolution to the poverty and unemployment happening in Britain in the 1940.

Second fact I found interesting was Scotland’s governmental system. They can get free prescriptions, whereas England you have a set fee of nine pounds and some change. College for schottische students in Scotland is also free but if you are not from Scotland and want to attend school there the fees vary.

The third and probably most adorable fact I learned today actually started in Finland, but Scotland was the second to adopt this type of support. They are called baby boxes!! So, when a baby is born in Scotland the government sends the family a box. The box can be used as a crib and inside there are nappies, food, and a baby book. I think all of these are so cool and now makes me want to move to Scotland. I have been enjoying my time here, a lot!! Next week is Academic British Life week.

Chapter 2: Hikes, Hikes, and More Hikes!

reading Harry Potter of course
reading Harry Potter of course
a different kind of peace

These weekly mountain adventures have quickly become my favorite part of Colorado. Don’t get me wrong, I love channeling my inner main character by staring out of the window on the bus, driving through the heart of the city, while listening to some Taylor Swift, but something about the mountains makes me feel like my truest self. Sitting in this hammock while listening to The Lumineers and eating a peanut butter and jelly that has been smooshed in my backpack is the tiniest glimpse into what my heaven will look like.

The picture and video above was taken at Lake Wellington which like I stated before is a place that houses a different kind of peace that can only be found in the most special and rarest of places. I sat down on this rock and tried to soak in all the beauty that my eyes were witnessing. I gazed for so long hoping that the image would be etched into my brain, so I would never forget it. I know someday I will forget exactly how it looked, but hopefully I will always remember the peace and serenity that existed in that place and the joy that I felt sitting on that rock with Harry Potter next to me. I’m glad he also gets to experience all these amazing sites with me 🙂

sorry for my posture mom
sorry for my posture mom
Lost Lake Trail (so thankful we found the lake, ya know since it's supposed to be lost)
Lost Lake Trail (so thankful we found the lake, ya know since it’s supposed to be lost)

Feeling really thankful to be in a place and with people that value escaping into nature every weekend. It truly feels so refreshing to get away from the busyness of what a week in the city can bring, and only have to worry about what cute mountain town bakery we will go to after our hike.

Pinch-Me Moments

“It’s like a movie!” 

I have been repeating this phrase so many times as I stand in awe at the beauty of England. From the bustling streets of the city to the quaint towns only a few miles away from London, I cannot get over how gorgeous the historic areas are compared to the modern buildings of America. 

Tea Time with Friends
Tea Time with Friends

I have been fortunate enough to spend my Fridays thus far going outside London to smaller cities such as Hastings, Rye, and Canterbury. The villages are adorable with their small streets, colorful and ornate buildings, and slower-moving ambiance. I have seen cottages, cathedrals, and castles. I have had afternoon tea and lush meal spreads. When I post photos on my social media, the comments of “this is the most British thing I’ve ever seen” have happened multiple times, which always makes me smile. 

View from the tallest point in Rye
View from the tallest point in Rye

I have made comments to my parents saying I am basically doing things I would in Holland, MI, just in a different country. However, in the moments I take the sights in and reflect on all I have already been able to do, I realize it is so much more than my typical day at Hope. I get to live out my dark-academia dreams and feel like my life is the movie I have always wanted to be a part of.

At the White Cliffs of Dover
At the White Cliffs of Dover

Petra

If you have ever seen Indiana Jones, you’ve seen Petra. Located in Southern Jordan, Petra is known as one of the seven wonders of the world. Its history dates back to as early as 7000 BC, settled by the Nabateans around 3000 BC. Just a thousand years later it was developed as the main trading hub in the region–positioned perfectly near the incense trade routes. The mountainous terrain in and around Petra provided the perfect place for the Nabateans to build their wealth, allowing them to build temples and tombs into the stone, collect rainwater, and have bountiful agriculture. Its annexation to the Roman Empire and an earthquake in 363 AD led to the majority of its destruction, ultimately abandoned, and left in the hands of the local Bedouin community.

In 1812 Johannes Burckhardt dressed up as an Arab and tricked a local Bedouin guide to take him to Petra. Since this ‘rediscovery’, Petra became increasingly known around the world.

In 1985 it was deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and voted one of the 7 World Wonders in 2007. Today it is a symbol of Jordan and the most popular tourist attraction in the nation, visited by over a million foreigners annually.

Today Petra consists of over 60 square kilometers of siqs, trails, tombs, temples, theatres, and caves. There’s a lot to cover, but the pictures I snapped while there do a pretty good job of doing it justice. Let’s dive in!

To reach the main tombs of Petra, including the Treasury, you must first walk through a 1.2km long natural gorge, known as a siq. This siq was made through the natural splitting of the mountain and serves as a dramatic (and chilly!) entryway to Petra. Water channels run along both sides and you walk along the ancient paved road.
To reach the main tombs of Petra, including the Treasury, you must first walk through a 1.2km long natural gorge, known as a siq. This siq was made through the natural splitting of the mountain and serves as a dramatic (and chilly!) entryway to Petra. Water channels run along both sides and you walk along the ancient paved road.
The first peek at the main attraction of Petra, the Treasury, after a long walk through the siq. We went early in the morning, and the Treasury was beautifully lit up by the morning sun. Quite literally glowing.
The first peek at the main attraction of Petra, the Treasury, after a long walk through the siq. We went early in the morning, and the Treasury was beautifully lit up by the morning sun. Quite literally glowing.
The Treasury--the quintessential attraction of Petra. It is 40 meters high and meticulously adorned with Corinthian figures and friezes. Archaeologists recently discovered a graveyard underneath it, but believe its two main floors were used as a temple and to store important documents.
The Treasury–the quintessential attraction of Petra. It is 40 meters high and meticulously adorned with Corinthian figures and friezes. Archaeologists recently discovered a graveyard underneath it, but believe its two main floors were used as a temple and to store important documents.
This photo was taken 5 hours later once the sun had fallen behind it, now lit up in bright red. Petra is often known as the rose-red city for its vibrant red hues.
This photo was taken 5 hours later once the sun had fallen behind it, now lit up in bright red. Petra is often known as the rose-red city for its vibrant red hues.
The camels at Petra and their Bedouin caretakers ought to be considered the 8th World Wonder. The moment you step out from the siq, you will be approached by many small vendors inviting you to take a ride on their beautifully decorated camels. "Only 10 JD to the monastery!" they will yell, usually followed by a "But for you, I'll make it 8." If you're blonde like I am, you will also likely get a "You dropped something--your smile" followed by a wink and another invitation on their camel.
The camels at Petra and their Bedouin caretakers ought to be considered the 8th World Wonder. The moment you step out from the siq, you will be approached by many small vendors inviting you to take a ride on their beautifully decorated camels. “Only 10 JD to the monastery!” they will yell, usually followed by a “But for you, I’ll make it 8.” If you’re blonde like I am, you will also likely get a “You dropped something–your smile” followed by a wink and another invitation on their camel.
It's not just older men tending to the camel and donkey rides. About half of the vendors were young boys under the age of 15. "For 1 JD I will take you to the best view" or "For 2 JD I will take a special picture for you" are common phrases instinctually said by the young boys. This young boy pulled the camel towards our big group and waited for our tour guide to stop talking so he could invite us for a ride. You'll notice behind him are more tombs and structures carved into the mountain.
It’s not just older men tending to the camel and donkey rides. About half of the vendors were young boys under the age of 15. “For 1 JD I will take you to the best view” or “For 2 JD I will take a special picture for you” are common phrases instinctually said by the young boys. This young boy pulled the camel towards our big group and waited for our tour guide to stop talking so he could invite us for a ride. You’ll notice behind him are more tombs and structures carved into the mountain.
While we didn't ride any animals at Petra, the camels were beautiful, and so much fun to look at.
While we didn’t ride any animals at Petra, the camels were beautiful, and so much fun to look at.
Donkeys are common in Petra, as well as horses.
Donkeys are common in Petra, as well as horses.
Across Petra you'll find small vendors inviting you to take a look at their souvenirs. It's a full-time job saying "La shukran," which means "No, thank you" in Arabic, every 30 seconds. I did however say "Aywa," or "yes", once when I bought a traditional Jordanian keffiyeh. These scarves are square and made of cotton, worn predominantly by Palestinians and Jordanians, particularly males. A red keffiyeh, like mine, is indicative of Jordanian history, whereas a black and white scarf is indicative of the Palestinian fight and ongoing struggle. As it turns out, they are also extremely functional, preventing sunburn and allowing for a perfect face covering when the sand blows.
Across Petra you’ll find small vendors inviting you to take a look at their souvenirs. It’s a full-time job saying “La shukran,” which means “No, thank you” in Arabic, every 30 seconds. I did however say “Aywa,” or “yes”, once when I bought a traditional Jordanian keffiyeh. These scarves are square and made of cotton, worn predominantly by Palestinians and Jordanians, particularly males. A red keffiyeh, like mine, is indicative of Jordanian history, whereas a black and white scarf is indicative of the Palestinian fight and ongoing struggle. As it turns out, they are also extremely functional, preventing sunburn and allowing for a perfect face covering when the sand blows.
I don't know that I would've made it the 6.4 kilometers, 14,000 steps, and 5.5 hours at Petra if it hadn't been for my awesome program group. Our fearless leader and SIT program assistant, Razan, is in the middle, and guided us through a wonderful tour of the site.
I don’t know that I would’ve made it the 6.4 kilometers, 14,000 steps, and 5.5 hours at Petra if it hadn’t been for my awesome program group. Our fearless leader and SIT program assistant, Razan, is in the middle, and guided us through a wonderful tour of the site.
After spending lots of time in the sun, I was ecstatic to find my way back into the breezy siq after a long day exploring Petra.
After spending lots of time in the sun, I was ecstatic to find my way back into the breezy siq after a long day exploring Petra.

Coastal England

With the sound of the waves clapping against the cliffs, a coastal breeze that circulated through the air, a blue fall sky cast above me, and the smell of the fresh salty air, I was very content. I was near the ocean. As the big blue sea is one of my favorite places to be, I jump at any opportunity to be near it. Through our program, IES provides us with different excursions that we can choose to go on. So far, I have had the opportunity to go to three different coastal towns : Dover, Hastings, and Rye. Each encompassing their own character.

Dover

I had been anticipating this trip for a while. It was one of the locations I told family and friends back home that I was most looking forward to seeing. Something about the vibrant green landscape mixed in with the chalky white cliffs being touched by the blue ocean water created a mystical experience that lived up to my hopeful expectations for this place. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. The temperature was just right, the weather cooperated, and the sky was crystal clear which allowed us to see France from afar; a rare commodity one might say. Apart from seeing the White Cliffs of Dover, we were also taken to Dover Castle and Secret Wartime Tunnels that allowed me to gain a first-hand experience of what it was like to be a princess during the medieval times and the expansive network that went into Britain’s WWII wartime effort. 

White Cliffs of Dover. 
Standing tall in all their glory, the White Cliffs have been a symbol of hope and peace for people for many years. As the Statue of Liberty defines America for many, these cliffs are a clear symbol of Britain.
White Cliffs of Dover.
Standing tall in all their glory, the White Cliffs have been a symbol of hope and peace for people for many years. As the Statue of Liberty defines America for many, these cliffs are a clear symbol of Britain.

Hastings & Rye

For another one of our day trips, we headed south again to two different towns: Hastings & Rye. The weather in this case was a bit moodier as one may say. Right when we stepped off the bus, torrential downpour came out of nowhere to welcome us to the coast. After 5 minutes, everything from head to toe was soaked. The preconceived notions of what weather was like in England, especially on the coast, was granted true that day. The towns were so cute though! As Hastings is right on the ocean, it makes for a very good fishing town. Some of the best fish and chips I’ve had so far have been from this spot. The town of Rye was a little more inland. This spot embodied a traditional cozy English town. With cobbled stone streets, green tipped roofs, and the best spot for cream tea, it was nothing like I had experienced before! 

Hastings. 
This picture accurately depicts the ominous weather that lingered around this coastal town for the day. The rain would move in and out quite frequently but perhaps the more notable thing this town is known for is the Battle of Hastings that occurred in 1066. As tour guide Brian said, this battle was an event that forever changed the history of England as it established who ruled the land; the Normans.
Hastings.
This picture accurately depicts the ominous weather that lingered around this coastal town for the day. The rain would move in and out quite frequently but perhaps the more notable thing this town is known for is the Battle of Hastings that occurred in 1066. As tour guide Brian said, this battle was an event that forever changed the history of England as it established who ruled the land; the Normans.

As the hustle and bustle of city life can be a little overstimulating at times, I’m thankful for places like these coastal towns where I have been able to escape for a day. Life moves at a little slower pace down here. They not only offer me a new perspective of what all England has to offer but they show you how each different town throughout the country carries its own personality. Thankful for this experience!   

The Heart of Oaxaca

Did you know that Oaxaca is the state in Mexico with the highest indigenous population? In fact, there are 16 officially recognized groups. However, the reality is there are so many subgroups, the “true” number is unknown, but their presence is undeniable. This grand diversity of cultures and people groups explains the more than 70 dialects/native languages spoken within Oaxaca!! Of these cultures/languages, the Zapoteca and Mixteca communities are considered to be the most sophisticated and prominent, their influence present everywhere. For that very reason, I want to share with you a glimpse into the heart of Oaxaca, a glimpse into the Zapotec empire.

Monte Albán

Imagine walking on a leveled mountain under the scorching sun, stone pyramids, terraces, and tombs towering all around you. This is the feeling of walking through the ruins of the Zapotec, Olmec, and Mixtec civilizations known as Monte Albán. 

 Monte Albán in all of its glory.
Monte Albán in all of its glory.

With help from their well-developed astronomy and excavation skills, the Zapotecs constructed the ceremonial site in 450 BC. While much smaller than other ancient cities, such as Teotihuacan or Tenochtitlan, Monte Albán once boasted 18,000 Zapotec residents! During its 1500 year inhabitance, the city accommodated temples, ball courts, temples, hieroglyphics, reliefs, and so much more than meets the eye. Being the center of religious controversy, newly-developed cultural traditions, and political movements, there was never a dull moment. 

A sneak peak (haha, get it?) at Monte Albán.
A sneak peak (haha, get it?) at Monte Albán.

Nowadays, Monte Albán is one of the greatest archaeological sites in all of Mexico, part of the World Heritage site that is Oaxaca. Today it is full of tourists. However, one can’t help but wonder, what this place was like filled with the artisans, warriors, priests, chiefs, and politicians that made Monte Albán come alive? 

Counting to Ten!

In an ever-globalizing world, more and more indigenous languages are erased and discredited for colonizer languages, such as English and Spanish. However, within the past few decades, there has been a revival to keep these languages alive. In fact, here in Oaxaca at the Universidad de Benito Juarez students can study the Zapotec language. My program coordinator here is one of these students. Thanks to her, I get to learn a few words here and there, what a privilege! Games, such as Las Tripas del Gato (your classic connect the pairs with lines game), help me learn words as easy as tobi, chupa, chonna!

Here is your Zapotec lesson for the day: 

1- tobi (toe-bee)

2- chupa (choo-pa)

3- chonna (cho-nah)

4- tapa (tah-pah)

5- gaayu’ (guy-yoo)

6- xhoopa’ (show-pah)

7- gadxe (gah-djay)

8- xhono (show-no)

9- ga’ (gah)

10-  chi’i (chee-ee)

This is just the tip of the Zapotec culture iceberg, but I can’t wait to learn and share more language lessons with you! Until then, adiós! 

A Stroll Through Sitges

Welcome back to another adventure in Spain! My program here in Barcelona offers weekend day trips for students. Just this past weekend I attended my first day trip to a town south of Barcelona called Sitges.

This day trip consisted of a beautiful walking tour of the quiet city, a delightful lunch, and some free time to explore. First, we met our tour guide and began walking around the city. Sitges has lots of stone streets and colorful buildings. Our tour guide explained to us that the buildings left white were to indicate that fisherman lived there. This was to communicate to locals who to buy food from. The other colorful buildings lit up the town, some buildings had tile mosaics adding color to the streets. On one leg of our walking tour we stopped in a beautiful terrace covered with greenery at the Jardins De Beyrouth.

After the walking tour, we made our way to a restaurant for lunch. This lunch consisted of three courses, the aperitivos, paella, and coffee. We started with a green salad, calamari, patatas bravas, and hummus. Next, they brought out generous servings of seafood paella. Finally, we drank coffee and had an option for dessert. It was an authentic Spanish lunch as we spent about two and a half hours at the restaurant.

Following lunch, we were given free time to explore the city. During my free time, I walked around the town and visited the local beach. The beach in Sitges was much quieter than beaches in Barcelona which I appreciated. Sitges has a much more small-town feel.

I finished my trip with a leisurely walk to find gelato and headed back to Barcelona with my classmates. I am thankful that my program puts on trips like these because they are an easy and efficient way to see more of Spain while I am abroad.

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Election Day

On September 26, Germany voted in a national election. The election takes place every four years, and this year is an especially unique election year. Angela Merkel has been Bundeskanzlerin (chancellor) since 2005 but is not among the candidates this year.

I am currently living in the downtown area of Freiburg, which is a center of travel, politics, and community. A few street train lines run throughout the city, and at every stop there are numerous election posters.

The German Political System:

Here’s a quick rundown of how the German political system works: One side of the ballot is a vote for a specific candidate; the other side has a vote for a political party. Direct candidates who receive a majority of votes in their district get a seat in the Bundestag (Parliament). The party vote determines the other half of the seats in the Bundestag. The percent of votes corresponds to the percent of seats each party receives.

Some nuances exist though, such as when the percent of votes in the party vote does not match the percent of that party’s direct candidates. In this case, seats will be added or taken away from parties until it is proportioned correctly. The Bundeskanzler is not directly chosen, but rather decided once the new Bundestag meet and the political parties form coalitions for a majority. For more details, this article from Deutsche Welle contains more information about the German political system: https://www.dw.com/en/german-election-process/a-37805756.

Most Popular German Political Parties:

Die Linke (the left): far left party, focusing on strong market regulation and rent caps

Die Grünen (the green): a left party focused on the environment

SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany): left-middle party, usually popular among the working class and trade unions

CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union): middle-right party (which Angela Merkel was from), a balance of conservative values with new ideas

FDP (Free Democratic Party): middle-right party, focusing on civil rights and individual freedom

AfD (Alternative for Germany): a extreme right wing party, focusing on anti-immigration

More info on German political parties: https://www.dw.com/en/cdu-csu-spd-afd-fdp-left-greens/a-38085900

Election Results:

SPD received 25.7% of the vote – 206 seats

CDU/CSU received 24.1% of the vote – 196 seats

Die Grünen received 14.8% of the vote – 118 seats

FDP received 11.5% of the vote – 92 seats

AfD received 10.3% of the vote – 83 seats

Die Linke received 4.9% of the vote – 39 seats

The political parties will now discuss to form coalitions, so one group of parties has the majority in the Bundestag. The majority coalition will then select the Bundeskanzler (chancellor). This process could take months, and in the meantime, the current government will stay in place.

Travel!

Traveling to Manchester was not too bad. I got to the airport in Raleigh, North Carolina, at 10:30 am. I did not want to run into any problems. Everything went very smooth. My bag was two pounds over and I didn’t know if the airport would let me through without a charge. They notified me it was overweight but that they would let it slide. The gentleman next to me was not so lucky. His bag was eight pounds over and he was charged $100.

            My flight left at 1:30 pm and I landed in Detroit at 3:00pm with a three-hour layover. I knew my next flight would be long, so I walked terminal A three-times, B one time, and C once. Boarding the flight to Amsterdam took a very long time. I am not sure why but after an hour and a half we were all settled in. The flight was smooth, and the food was fine. We arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 am.

I learned enough Dutch to get around but when I entered the terminal, I realized most words were in English and the overhead speakers were also English. It was nine in the morning and the pub in the airport was already full of people drinking beer! This took me by surprise, but I loved it. You cannot escape Holland as there were tulips and clogs in most stores! This is funny since Michigan is based on actual Holland, but I view it as Holland is the same as Michigan as Michigan is what is familiar.

            So, Amsterdam customs….was a lot. First, I went to a self-check in kiosk and got an updated physical ticket. I already had a physical one, but I got a new one with updated information. Then I stood in a line of 200+ people all waiting to go through customs. I stood in this line for 2 hours! Once I got through the line, I walked up to the first person, there are twelve cubicles, and they had to check if I had all of my COVID-19 documents and tests. From there, I was sifted into two lines to get my passport checked. Mind you, my flight had been boarding for half an hour now. After that, I had to book it down 23 gates to my gate, 26. A few more stressed-out Americans from the New York flight joined me to load onto the plane. The flight took an hour and a half and landed at 10:30 am.

            When I arrived in Manchester, I was guided through customs. I was pretty sure I was supposed to go the other way, but they told me to keep going. At the end of the line, I talked to the Security guard who told me I was supposed to go into the other line. Lucky me, he took me to the front. This means I skipped at least an hour of customs. I picked up my luggage and met the taxi driver who was sent to pick me up and we drove about an hour to Liverpool.

            In the evening, all of the participants in the program had a chance to meet each other for the first time. We are split into two flats. I live with two Swiss boys, two Swiss girls, and one French girl. The other flat has the other seven students. Out of everyone, I am the only American. This means I have not heard an American accent all week! I think I am more likely to come home with a French-Swiss accent. Being the only American is great and what I want out of an abroad experience, but it can also be hard as groups from the same country have formed. Everyone is very nice in both groups but do not always speak English. This can make it very hard to be a part of the conversation, know when to speak, and can be a little overwhelming at times. However, I am learning to speak French and Swiss-German! Pour moi, je n’entre pas dans une nouvelle culture mais dans trois en une.

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Walking Among Alebrijes

Instantly my vision flooded with colors, from captivating reds to vibrant purples, and my nose filled with the scent of freshly carved wood. Just another day in the classroom. The copal trees provided some much-needed shade from the baking sun as we meandered through the workshop observing the artists in action. After all, it’s not every day you get to see how alebrijes are made. 

Entrance to El Taller de Jacobo & María Ángeles
Entrance to El Taller de Jacobo & María Ángeles

What is an alebrije?

Most people associate the term with the colorful and fantastical creatures that grace the screen in Disney’s Coco, but there is so much more to their story. Truthfully, alebrijes is an encompassing term for both tonas and nahuales that are an important part of the Zapotec culture. The tonas represent the animals of the Zapotec calendar, similar to Chinese astrology. Some examples include coyotes, armadillos, bulls, and owls. The nahuales refer to animals fused with the human spirit or the animals that humans transform into during the night. This is why if one looks closely at the style at Taller Jacobo & María Ángeles (where we visited) you can see the resemblance of human features in the figurines, such as braids.

Overall, these carved figurines function as and depict guardian spirits. Individuals can have their own, based on Zapotec astrology, as well ancestral guardians. Pepita, the mashup of a lion and an eagle that guides Miguel home in Coco is one example of these ancestral guardians while Dante, the dog, serves as a personal guide. 

Discovering the Hidden Nahual

Alebrijes were originally made of papier mâché in Mexico City by a man named Pedro Linares. However, in an effort to preserve artisan handicraft traditions in Oaxaca in the mid-twentieth century, artists chose to carve them from the wood of the copal tree and called them “alebrijes of Oaxaca.” The wood the artists receive is soft copal and each artist studies the piece to discover the hidden nahual inside. (The taller (workshop) we visited actually has a copal conservation project that has been operating for 10 years!!) Once the nahuales are discovered, the artists carve using traditional techniques and tools, such as machetes and chisels.

Depending on the size of the piece, this can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Following the carving process, the copal is left to completely dry (to avoid future deterioration) anywhere from weeks to months. Finally, the artists cover the wood with base paint before passing it onto the painters to bring the piece alive with iconic colors and patterns of Zapotec origin. The total process can take anywhere from a couple months to an entire year! The dedication and intentionality behind each piece is incredible. 

Significance in Color

In order to preserve tradition, the artists use natural paints made from materials such as coal, seeds, indigo, or cochineal mixed with various minerals (zinc oxide and limestone) and a bit of lime juice. Our guide handmade several colors in front of us. Did you know that if you mix ground-up pomegranate arils with lime juice and a bit of zinc oxide you get a lovely teal color? Science in action. 

The process of hand-making the paints. Our guide used the tiny block of wood and the materials on the table behind to show us the process.
The process of hand-making the paints. Our guide used the tiny block of wood and the materials on the table behind to show us the process.

On top of this, many of the colors have significance of their own. Green often symbolizes empathy and nature, while red symbolizes love. Blue represents tranquility and brown portrays animals and connection to the earth. Orange relates to the liberation of negative emotions and yellow reflects our emotions, happiness, and light. 

Several of their smaller alebrijes are available for purchase in their gift shop. As you can see, turtles, armadillos, peacocks, and jaguars are a few of many creatures that are created.
Several of their smaller alebrijes are available for purchase in their gift shop. As you can see, turtles, armadillos, peacocks, and jaguars are a few of many creatures that are created.

Every little detail, every color, every pattern intrinsically links to Zapotec culture and provides oaxaqueños with an immense amount of pride. I’m excited to see where my Spanish class takes me next!