It’s official! I’ve been in la República Dominicana for an entire week, and I’m loving it! Although I don’t speak much Spanish, I have fully immersed myself into Dominican culture by living with a host family and doing everything I can to be in the community. From the rhythmic music and dancing to the rich food and fresh fruit, the DR has truly proven itself to be a wonderful place through my two favorite things, dancing and eating.
Dancing is something I’ve done my whole life (informally) that will stick with me forever. I don’t know where I got my talent, but one thing I do know is I LOVE to dance to Latin rhythms. Here in Santiago, there are many places to dance, las discotecas (clubs), los balies (dances–at school), and one of my personal favorites, las calles (the streets). Calle Cuba closes down every Sunday–weather permitting–to become a dance floor for everyone. Merengue, bachata, and salsa are the most common forms of dance seen here. Here, a man is expected to approach a woman and ask her to dance (which happened to me). Sometimes–if it goes well–a friendship or maybe even a courtship will develop.
Breaking a sweat on the dance floor sure makes a girl hungry and, luckily, I will eat almost anything at any time. My favorite dish so far is sancocho. ¡Me encanta SANCOCHOOO! (I love sancocho!) And just in case you’re wondering, yes, it is that good. A stew made up of chicken (bone-in), carrots, corn-on-the-cob, yúca (a Dominican staple; similar to a potato), potatoes, cilantro, and some type of magical broth lay atop a bed of rice complemented with a slice of avocado is a complete game-changer. Sancocho is often made as a welcome dish or a dish of celebration, for example, New Year’s Eve/Day, but it can be seen (and devoured) throughout all seasons and for any reason.
Well that’s all I have to share with you for now. I can’t wait to experience more of what this beautiful country and its people have to offer, and maybe I’ll bring a recipe or two back to share.
I woke up not exactly remembering where I was. Squinting out my window into a powerful gray sky, and listening to the harsh calls of seagulls reminded me: oh yeah, I’m in Dublin.
There are far more seagulls in Dublin than I expected, as I didn’t even think there would be any. But they’re far more numerous than pigeons or crows, and are treated with the same general disdain as other city birds. The guide for our tour of “The Liberties,” a run-down yet noteworthy section of the city just on the edges of Viking/Medieval Dublin, referred to them as “flying death” and guaranteed they would peck your fingers off for a sandwich. I only really understood a third of what he was saying as his information was rapid and coated in a thick Irish accent. However, this caught my attention.
Waking up, I had a tight knot in my stomach, comprised of stress from the other day that hadn’t worn off yet and of uncertainty for the day to come. My first full day in Ireland. Laying there, the realization of waking up IN IRELAND wasn’t even stimulating enough to force me out of bed. Just like at Hope, I had to weigh the costs and benefits of going back to sleep, and realize that I would have to face the day at some point so why not now. Some things never change I suppose, no matter what country you’re in.
After our tour, a few of us study abroaders -on the search for SIM cards and groceries- wandered the city of Dublin. And despite my innate desire to put everything I see to words, some things simply defy description. I’m sure other Hope bloggers are running into the same problem. Walking down Grafton Street, passing by a guitarist playing the Game of Thrones theme song, surrounded by locals and tourists and beautiful shop windows with the lush of St. Steven’s Green in the distance, I couldn’t believe I had made it that far in such little time.
This semester snuck up on me faster and far more abruptly than I had anticipated. The majority of my packing was completed in the two days before I left for Chicago (I do not recommend this). When I think of “packing for a trip,” my first thought is clothing. What comes incrementally after is the multitude of small things such as portable chargers, waterproof bags, adapters for charging phones/laptops, an under-your-clothes bag for passports and credit cards, etc. My first word of advice is to pack early. And this doesn’t mean lay out folded clothes on your bed and leave it at that. Create a detailed list of everything you might possibly lead, brainstorm any possible tool or gadget that would help you on your semester abroad. Find out if your housing offers towels and sheets. Find out if the airline will allow you to take your violin as a carry-on (thankfully it did). And do this at least a few days before you leave, if you can force yourself to then do it the first day of break. This will allow you to 1) be 100% certain that you have what you absolutely need, and 2) give you the chance to seriously contemplate your study abroad experience.
No matter how excited I was to head to Ireland for a few months, I refused to think about it until suddenly it was January 3rd and I had no choice. The anxiety around studying abroad stopped me from legitimately visualizing it as a very real and fast-approaching reality. My second word of advice is to put yourself in a regular routine of envisioning your study abroad experience. Whatever step you are at in your planning, whether you’re just now considering studying abroad or you’re about to hop on a plane, dedicate a portion of your day to it. For fifteen, thirty, or even sixty minutes a day, dip your feet in the water and recognize how it feels. Read what other students have said and experienced. Go through those “10 best things to do in Madrid” or “20 smart tips to saving money abroad” lists that are everywhere on the internet. Allow yourself to feel those premature nerves, and come to peace with them because you will feel them no matter what. Don’t just immerse yourself in the country when you’re there; immerse yourself in it now, and take your seat on the plane in relative control of your worries and emotions.
That being said, the road to Dublin was pleasantly less rocky than I had feared it to be. Mandatory airport procedures are easy to stress about beforehand, but in the moment they held no struggles. What did prove to be a struggle was catching sleep on the plane. My third tip would be don’t count on getting some sleep on the plane. No matter how tired you may think you’ll be, it is quite an effort to fall asleep when you’re surrounded by people, light, noise, and the elation/terror felt when you think, when this plane lands, I will be in a different country. Especially if your flight is less than eight hours long, it could be impossible to get a full-night’s sleep in, and you will have to plan for that. Of course, many of you will have experience traveling, and will already know much of what I say. But if you’re a bit more like me, whose only been out of the country twice before now, learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to learn from your own.
Arriving in Dublin at 9:35 am their time but 3:35 am my time, I was shaking both from sleep deprivation and the uncertainties now standing directly in front of me. My first short glance out the airport windows showed planes, miles of runways, a horde of airplanes…and far beyond these, the greenest hills I have ever seen. Those hills sustained me through the rest of the ordeal of getting through the airport, getting a cab to my apartment with other study abroaders, and unpacking everything. Even now, after the first part of orientation is over, and after I’ve explored Dublin a little, I’m still just slightly shaking. With all the huge changes that have occurred since January 6th, I can’t exactly put my thoughts to word just yet. But seeing, those green Irish hills, walking down the cobblestone city streets, hearing the screeching of gulls, it all felt fundamentally right. As if these experiences fit like puzzle pieces into my life, putting faces to names that have been long-memorized. Exploring the side streets of Dublin (and trying not to trip over all the cobblestones), it is a pure thrill understanding that by the end of this semester, I will know this city more intimately than I’ve known any other.
I was nearly tired of the rocky road to Dublin. But now that I’m here, I don’t feel quite so weary.
Here I sit, listening to Antonio Hart’s alto saxophone solo on September In The Rain (Roy Hargrove – Approaching Standards) on repeat while eating a peanut-butter-banana-honey sandwich. I am listening to it, singing it, and trying to internalize it before I transfer it to my horn. This is a great process for transcribing solos in jazz. Besides being inside my good ol’ musical mind, where am I?
You can find me in an apartment in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. This is where I reside, and I have had a wonderful Christmas break with my family and friends, gigging around with some killer musicians, practicing obsessively, and building on several of my personal projects. That’s what breaks are for, right? To relax. Although it hasn’t really hit me yet, I am just moments away from one of the biggest transitions of my life. In 15 hours, I will board a flight to Miami, then to Madrid, and finally, to Vienna, Austriato begin my study abroad semester.
Until then? Storytime.
On November 3rd, 2019, I traveled to New York, more specifically to the Austrian Consulate, to bring an end to the treacherous process of applying for a Visa for my time in Vienna. It was a magical one day/one night trip where I was alone in the big city. I was awestruck from the moment I arrived, and I ended up visiting Times Square at around 1:00 AM which is when I got into town. I woke up bright and early, bought some cookies from my bunk-buddy at the hostel, and began my journey through the Big Apple. It certainly had a heartbeat and no matter how far I walked, the city seemed to stretch out for miles in every direction. Out of the many places I visited, Central Park was by far my favorite. There were two jazz cats in the park just jamming on their horns, and one of them was caught off guard when I complimented his “altered pentatonic lick” on Blue Bossa. I wondered how often he got approached by a total nerd. I heard around 10 different languages and smelled all of the smells. I met so many wonderful people and saw so many wonderful sights that I never wanted to leave…until I realized I might not be able to.
See, I currently possess a US Passport and a Honduran ID and Driver’s license. It dawned on me mid-flight to New York that I would be giving the Austrian Consulate my passport in order to process my application, leaving me with my Hope ID and my Honduran IDs. To my sheer astonishment, a quick check on the TSA’s website revealed that no, Honduran IDs do not count as valid forms of identification while traveling in the US. OPE.
So there I was, in New York City, with no apparent way out. All of a sudden, what was once the majestic land of Narnia turned into that much darker part of the movie that people prefer not to talk about. I scrambled around the city trying to figure out what to do, eventually giving up and making my way to the airport, empty-handed. As I nervously waited in line for my turn to go to the ID checkpoint, all I could think was to stay casual. I don’t think all the casual in the world could have calmed me, but it was worth a shot. With smoldering confidence, I walked up to the checkpoint and immediately the TSA agent closed off the line and sent us in another direction. Interesting. I walked over to the other agent’s desk and waited for a while before she reached for my ID. As I handed it to her with a charming smile, the moveable light that was attached to the desk to revise IDs somehow snapped off and fell, calling the attention of two other agents who quickly scurried over. Fantastic. I waited for about 5 minutes before the three agents were hovering over my ID and they began to ask me questions. After some checks with the head office, I was treated as a “secondary” and put in a SEPERATE LINE. (can you believe it?) After going through the whole bin process, I had all of my belongings bomb swabbed by a fun gentleman who told me he loved my socks and hated his job. He would come with a little test strip and rub it on one of my belongings, making some snarky comments about his superiors before going back to his little machine. There, he would wait for a beep and come back with a new strip. I actually had a blast with this guy. This endured for about 15 minutes, and after another series of questions, I was free to go.
Blessings are everywhere folks, don’t forget that. As I flew back to Michigan, I was relieved that I had made it. The visa application process is definitely one that requires a lot of patience, time and organization, and I had finished the last step. All that was left was to wait for my passport to be mailed back to me in the FedEx envelope that I had given the consulate. I arrived back at Hope after midnight, and went straight to sleep. That night, I had a dream that I was a knight fighting a fire-breathing dragon which I defeated with my axe (literally, a guitar) because, I guess, I actually would be that guy. As I ran up the castle staircase, I was super excited to make my way to my princess (Roland Jazz Chorus 120, my favorite amplifier of all time). Somehow, I tripped and began to fall down the long staircase. As I hit the castle ground, I jolted upright in bed to hear my phone ringing. Who could it be? It was 11 am. Unknown number.
“Hello, this is Michael speaking?”
“Mr. Pineda, this is ———– from the Austrian Consulate. Please tell me you are still in New York.”
“Um, no, actually I am not still in New York. I left yesterday, a few hours after our appointment at the consulate. I am back in Michigan. Is everything alright?”
“Well, Mr. Pineda, I have some unfortunate news. This has never happened before, but we had a glitch in our system, and we cannot seem to find your biometric data. The IT team is working hard to see if we can recover the data, but we seem to have lost your fingerprints.”
One of the goals I had for studying abroad was to consistently attend a church on Sundays. I thought that if I went to a service each week, I’d be able to make some connections within the London community and see how other Christians around the world worship each week.
Now, this didn’t exactly go as planned. In England, most the churches are affiliated with the Church of England. There aren’t as many options for those who attend Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, etc. churches in the States. Most of these services are traditional with organs, a choir, and priests dressed in robes. While I enjoy this kind of service from time to time, it’s not my favorite way to worship. This made it more difficult to find a church that I wanted to go to week after week.
Additionally, I planned most of my trips over the weekends so I wasn’t in London most Sundays. I should have scoped out churches in the area where I was traveling, but most of the time, going to a service did not fit into my group’s itinerary.
Of the services I did attend, I was able to worship in some pretty cool places. I went to a traditional service in St. Paul’s Cathedral and a Hillsong service at the Apollo Victoria theater. Talk about a change in service style, and in venue! While I enjoyed my experience at these churches, they weren’t quite for me.
Too late… I remembered that Holland UCC, the church I attend at Hope, streams their services every Sunday. This would have been so useful for when I was traveling outside of London. If your church streams their message online, use it! Then you can get the service you love anywhere in the world.
On the Sunday of Finals Week, I noticed a bunch of people gathering around the Ethiopian Church across from my apartment building. Everyone was wearing Christmas hats and welcoming people into the church. It turned out that Kings Cross Church held English services at this old venue every Sunday, and that today was their series of carols services. I decided I would take a break from my final paper and go see what it was all about. Boy had I been missing out all semester! Most of the congregation was made up of people who were my age, the message was wonderful, and the music was a healthy mix of a classical and modern vibe. I absolutely loved everything about this church — and to think it had been right in front of my nose this whole time!
If you are studying abroad soon, do some research about churches in your area. You may be surprised by what you find! Like my home church, see if any of these international churches stream services, and watch them before you go. That way you know which church you would like to attend before you arrive. And if anyone is studying in London, check out Kings Cross Church at the Ethiopian Christian Fellowship Church on Pentonville Road. I know that’s where I will attend when I find myself back in London!
Let’s talk about a French stereotype: strikes. If you don’t know, the French have a reputation for constantly striking against the government–it’s a right protected by their constitution and it’s been going on majorly since 1789, a.k.a., the French Revolution.
As with everything in France, there’s clearly a long and complicated history when it comes to striking, but nonetheless, it’s an important part of the political life to understand here. People rally in the streets for manifestations (protests) and leave their jobs for grèves (strikes) to tell the government their opinion, and it works. Often times, the government is either forced to change their laws or back down completely due to the voice of the people.
20% of people here in France are fonctionnaires, meaning they work for the government. Whether as train operators, construction workers, police or in the town halls, you name it, people work it. So, the more people that work for the government under les syndicats (unions), the more strikes you’ll have. It just makes sense. That, and don’t forget about the 1789 Revolution.
Anyways, back to today. On the 5th of December, the SDNF and RATP, the two major train companies that operate the Paris Metro and Eurostar, completely quit operating. The Paris metro stations look like shopping malls after close, with big metal grates blocking their entrances. There are still a few bus and train lines a day during rush hour, but trying to get on one is like scoring a deal on the latest iPhone on Black Friday, speaking of shopping malls, and by that I mean: Prepared to get trampled!
The issue? Retirement. Due to an aging population and expanding life expectancy here in France, the government’s social security system can no longer support everyone’s needs. The system for retirement needs reformation, and it has for years. Unfortunately, the current proposed change by President Macaron is said to be causing a lot of distress for middle class workers on the brink of retirement.
Though the official retirement age will be kept at 62, the new plan calculates pension differently, and is said to encourage (and maybe financially force) workers to stay at their post for longer. This is a serious matter for aging fonctionnaires in tough working conditions, like metro drivers, who’s life expectancy is shorter on average than other occupations. They’re worried they might not be able to retire as soon as planned.
À cause du grève, all of my classes have been online since Thursday, and I had to take my exams via Skype with my professors because the trains have been down for a full week now, not to mention protests are so big that they’re blocking roads–it is the largest industrial walkout since 1995, after all.
The protesters were close to my apartment yesterday so I was doing homework to a soundtrack of endless sirens. While there’s a small risk of danger here, for the most part, everyone is completely calm as this is a part of political life here in France, and there’s no real danger on the street. If you’re not near a protest or don’t know about the train strikes, you’d think it’s a day just like any other here in Paris. This is just another fascinating part of life abroad–when you enter another country, you enter into another political culture.
While studying abroad, I’ve been traveling all over the European Union. Catching a train or a flight has become second nature to me. But when I booked a flight to Paris, I was really nervous. This was my first time traveling to a country where I didn’t speak the native language. Thankfully I studied French in high school and for one semester at Hope, but I was by no means fluent. However, I got along just fine. More than fine, actually! While in Paris, I was stopped five or six times by French people, and I was able to help a few find their way in the city. Here are a few tips for traveling to a country that doesn’t speak English.
Know how to ask if someone speaks English. And be able to tell someone that you don’t speak their language.
Know how to order food. On my last day in Paris, I ordered a whole meal in French, and only had to use English a few times!
In major cities, many of the museums will have student discounts or discounts for people under 25. Be able to say that you are a student or your age. Also know what people will say when they need to see your ID. It may also be necessary to have proof that you are studying in the EU or in your host country in order to access these discounts
And obviously, know how to say please and thank you. Make your momma proud!
And last, but not least, know how to say excuse me. This will help you get someone’s attention, tell someone to move, or serve as an apology if you mess up a phrase.
Use these five tips and you’ll be set to go anywhere in the world!
I thought that when I got home from studying abroad, everything was going to feel different. That my friends and family would look a bit older. That there would be many events I missed out on or didn’t know about. That I would accidentally slip some French into my English. I know I was only gone for four months, however, I also know just how much happens in a semester and how different I feel after each one. And I know that after each semester, it’s not just me that has changed, but everyone and everything else too.
To my surprise, upon arriving home, these changes were not as dramatic as I thought they would be. Of course, there are a few details I’ve missed and time surely has passed at home as it did while I was away, but nothing seems that…different. This is a relief to me, honestly. The only things that caught me off guard upon returning to the Midwest from Paris was how friendly people were, and that tax is added to sales. (What do you mean it’s not exactly $5.99?!)
The fear of missing out is real. It happens to all of us, whether we’re on campus or off. But I am grateful to say that for me, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I only feel like I’ve grown and gained from my experience away, and now I get the chance to share this growth with the people closest to me.
I’m grateful to be home for the holidays and swap stories about the time that has passed, fill in the gaps of what might have been missed, and most importantly, pick right back up where we left off.
For those of you who are studying abroad soon, I’m sure you’re trying to plan how you are going to pack everything you’ll need into a suitcase and a back pack. There are hundreds of lists online about what you should or should not bring, and believe me, I read a good chunk of them before I left for London. Here is a list of a few items I found to be really helpful.
A portable keyboard. Right now I’m typing this blog on a train, and on my phone. If you are planning on traveling often, you should also plan on doing your homework on your way to your destination. By having a foldable keyboard you don’t need to lug around your whole computer on your trip, but you can still type with the same accuracy and speed that you would if you were typing in the comforts of your room.
A portable charger. It is worth it to splurge on one that has the ability to charge multiple types of devices. This way you can charge your phone, your friend’s phone, and your portable keyboard!
A pair of waterproof shoes that don’t look like rain boots. I have worn my rain boots every single time I’ve gone on a trip. It rains a lot in the UK, and Paris had a surprise rain storm when I visited. If you have waterproof shoes with lots of support that look good with whatever you like to wear, you can go anywhere with one pair of shoes.
A small backpack. My Kavu is like a second arm. It goes where I go, and it is also my souvenir. Everywhere I’ve travelled, I have gotten a patch for my bag. Not only does my bag look really really cool, but sewing the patches on my bag gives me something to do when I am on my way back to London.
A winter coat. I must admit, I do not have this item in my arsenal of travel supplies. But I wish I had brought one! A two-jacket system does work just fine, but having to lug around a warm layer and a waterproof layer can get annoying very quickly. It may be a hassle to fit into your suitcase, but you will not regret the warmth when it’s 30 degrees and raining all day in Scotland!
I hope that these five suggestions help all you folks who are planning on traveling while abroad!
Food has definitely been a recurring topic on this blog, but this post is extra special to me.
I had the unexpected opportunity to independently travel outside of England and visit Marseille, France. It was upon recommendation of my dad who said “the food there is great!” I quickly discovered that, as per usual, he was right. The surprise was learning that the food came with enormous amounts of hospitality.
Here are 3 stories about food that made France feel like home.
The first happened the first morning in Keaton and my Airbnb. It was my first Airbnb experience, and I was a bit nervous about getting to know the hosts. Almost all of my worries disappeared as I walked into the living room to find the sweetest breakfast laid out for us. I’m not sure if this is something every host does, but it absolutely made my day. For me, it was a sign of how friendly and welcoming this trip would be.
The second happened as Keaton and I wandered around the area, through an ally. I don’t even remember where we were going, but I stopped to look into a building that I hoped was an African restaurant. I knew Marseille had a large population of North Africans, and was extremely excited to be near a culture that reminded me of home. As I peered into the glass front door, I heard French being spoken to me. I turned to meet the puzzled, but friendly gaze of a quite fashionable black woman. She continued to speak in French and eventually my brain started working again. “Désolé, Je suis Américaine” I said. She went “ooohhhh” and smiled. “What are you looking for?” I sighed relief and pointed behind me, “African restaurant?”
Long story short, this very friendly woman, who’s name I did not get, turned in her tracks to lead us to “the best place!” Yes, this was a bit risky of us… following a complete stranger, but she seemed really, really nice!
We walked to a nearby Caribbean restaurant called Kaz Kreol, and she opened the door and spoke in French, smiling and pointing to us. I picked apart some words and guessed she said “I brought you some Americans.”
The 3 course meal was delicious, and we so appreciated how friendly and willing everyone in the restaurant was to help us. Although Caribbean food is similar to African food, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. This leads us to the third story.
At this point of our stay, I could almost taste the Benachin in my dreams. I decided it was time to type African Restaurant into google maps, and hope for the best. I’ll never forget the amazing feeling of seeing 20+ nearby locations pop up. Senegalese food in walking distance? What a dream!
We chose a restaurant called Mame Diarra that specialized in Senegalese dishes. (West Africa represent !!) This specific experience will always be one I cherish. After sitting down, I asked “Parlez-vous Anglais?” to which our waiter smiled, holding up a finger. He went back to the kitchen and a few minutes later, a woman came to our table. She said “Sorry about that. I know some English. Only a little, I’m actually from Gambia.” My jaw dropped as I mumbled in amazement, “me too!!” Her smile widened as I chose items from the menu in the most comfortable and excited way I’d ever done since leaving Michigan.
Marseille was an amazing experience filled with so much unique culture. While being guided by your stomach in a foreign place may seem a bit precarious, this trip was well worth it.