One thing that is interesting (and convenient) about the Japanese language, is that there are words for very specific things. For example, 木漏れ日 komorebi, which means “The sunlight that filters through the trees”, or 積ん読 tsundoku, which means “buying books and not reading them.” Things that take a whole sentence to explain in English, becomes something you can say in a word in Japanese.
One of my favorite of these words is a little less complex, but I have been using it almost everyday this Fall season. That word is 紅葉 kouyou, which means the changing color of the leaves in the Fall, or autumn foliage. Japan’s autumn has seemed to last a much longer time than what I am used to in the US thanks to the very gradual transition of the trees and temperature. However, currently, no matter where you go, there is beautiful 紅葉 everywhere.
I recently went to a park with my host mom. The park, known as Asukayama park is actually quite famous in Japan. You can ride swan boats, or order some Yakitori (yum!). It is also known to be quite beautiful in the Fall. My host mom and I mostly just walked around and enjoyed the 紅葉, but at just about any park you go to in Japan, you’re guaranteed to see some beautiful colors!
However, it is not just parks that you can enjoy the 紅葉, but even in the midst of the city, at schools, or surrounding shrines. Tokyo has a lot more nature than you may see in some US cities. My personal favorite 紅葉 to search for is on all the Gingko trees because of the unique shape of their leaves.
I hope that where ever you are, that you have been able to enjoy some 紅葉 as well. If not, maybe you will have to book a ticket to Japan before all the leaves are gone!
It’s been a couple weeks since I have last posted due to the fact I was taking my final exams. My exams weren’t necessarily difficult, but they were time consuming. As many of my friends and family know, I am a bit of a procrastinator so this did not help my case. Nonetheless, after many hours spent at outdoor picnic tables, the law building, and some other study rooms around campus, I managed to finish all of my exams. Now that I am completely done with school for my remaining time here, I am going to try and go on as many adventures as possible. If I am being honest, it kind of puts a lot of pressure on me to try and squeeze in as much as possible before I go home. Nevertheless, the challenge is accepted.
Before my exams started, I went to the Gold Coast to visit our friends at Bond University. The Gold Coast was absolutely beautiful. We toured Bond University’s campus and it reminded me a lot of Hope College’s campus. It was a lot smaller than my University in Sydney, but it still had a rich environment with lots to do. When I was there, I spent my time at the beach, horse races, and exploring the town. I have never been to a horse race before I went to the one in the Gold Coast. That being said, it was very entertaining to watch people win and lose money on bets and calculate which horses would place in a race. On our beach day, we went swimming for a large sum of the day at Burleigh beach. The waves were stronger than we were, but I have never seen my friends or I laugh so hard while resurfacing from a wave that completely demolished us a few moments before.
Once it was time to leave, it was very hard to say our goodbyes a third time to our friends staying in the Gold Coast. In the little time we had together though, we still made lifelong bonds and are planning on everyone meeting up this summer, no matter how far we live away from each other.
Our freedom from school work in Sydney has just begun. There is not a shortage of things to do in this city. We have been spending consecutive days at beaches anywhere from Bondi to Coogee. I’ve bought more sunscreen than I would like to admit, but being in the Australian rays comes at a cost. I’ve been trying to be mindful of each experience I am currently having because soon enough, this will just be an end of a chapter which saddens me to say.
My friend Mali and I went to Watson’s Bay the other day. It is a small beach town where there is a walk that shows you some of the best views in Sydney. After sunbathing on some rocks we found along the walk, we ate at a beach club and then rode the ferry home. It’s days like this that make me never want to leave. I am very grateful for my life here in Sydney. Speaking of gratefulness, happy late Thanksgiving! It was an odd feeling being away from my family on Thanksgiving. I have never been apart form my family on a holiday. However, after face-timing my family, my friends and I had friends-giving and celebrated our US holiday in Australia.
Tomorrow, I leave for Tasmania. We are staying in a hostel to save money which excites me because I have never stayed in a hostel before. We have a few things planned that we want to do there, most of which entails hiking to world renowned views. Once we come back, we will only have a week left in Sydney. I look forward to updating you one on my last week and a half abroad, as much as it pains me to admit that I only have that amount time left here.
I came to Japan with the spirit that I was going to find ways to dance here. I had very specific ideas about what that meant. I was going to join a dance club, make cool dance friends, and maybe show off some of my skills in the subway.
My imagination and reality have been two very different things. It has actually been quite difficult to join a dance circle here (since I came in the Fall semester and Japan’s academic year begins in Spring). Also, it feels odd to pop and lock around a bunch of salary men standing in line for the train. Needless to say, I have learned one of the greatest lessons of my life due to this predicament. Tell people what you are looking for!
I started opening up to a variety of individuals about my struggles finding ways to dance outside my bedroom. My host mom started reserving rooms in the recreational center so that I could practice. I found out about studios that I can commute to most cost effectively. I had someone who dances knock on my door asking to be friends. I even approached some dancers and got added to group chats that’ll help me get access to free practices.
There are a variety of ways to do what you love wherever you are, though it may look a little different. If you advocate for yourself, you will find them. I still am searching for more avenues to dance. However, even outside of dance, I have seen how powerful it has been to talk to people about the things I am looking for or struggling with. You will be surprised what solutions come up!
To end, here is a video of me working on some choreography by Tobias Ellehammer at that recreational center!
This past week was almost a dream as it was one of the last program trips of the semester. For this adventure, we packed a week’s worth of items and traveled from the bustling city of Athens to the Peloponnese Region. Let me just say, this was one of my favorite trips while being in Greece!
The trip started by loading onto a bus at 8:30 in the morning. We then left the city and were on the road for a few hours before stopping at a rest stop for food. The place we stopped was in the mountains and gave us quite an unexpected view! A large layer of fog was visible over the land below us, which is something I had never seen before. It was absolutely beautiful! Our stop didn’t last long as we had to keep going, so we quickly loaded the bus and continued on. The next time we stopped was as soon as we passed into the Peloponnese. We were able to take a break and look at the small channel that separates the region from mainland Greece.
The channel, known as the Corinth Canal, is an amazing site with some pretty crazy history. The idea of creating the canal originated in the 1st century CE and an attempt to create it was made, but quickly stopped when they realized that creating the canal was practically impossible. Construction would only resume in the early 1800’s and finished at the end of the 19th century. The canal is fairly small, so only smaller boats can pass through. No matter the canal’s size, it was a sight to see! We spent enough time at this stop that I was able to watch boats sail through the canal, which was very relaxing after being on a bus for hours.
The next stop led us to Mycenae, an archaeological site known for its stunning finds and amazing history. To give some background, there have been numerous findings here with some of them now shown at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Being able to see some of these items in person back in Athens and now seeing where they came from was an experience I can’t necessarily describe! I learned about the findings from a class in 2021 and never thought I would stand where they were discovered!
Much of the site remains, such as the walls, a large well, and multiple grave sites that have uncovered valuable information. The most recognized part of the site would be the Lion Gate right at the entrance. The gate was beautiful, revealing a lot of sculptural details that have passed the test of time. We walked underneath the gate to view the remaining site, which led to amazing views of the nearby fields and eventually led us to a small cave where the Mycenaeans collected their water. Seeing everything and learning the history was amazing, and definitely something I will not forget.
Not far from the main site is one of the most preserved tholos tombs discovered. A tholos tomb was a large burial building with a “beehive” top to it. They are very large, which is why it’s more difficult to find them in good condition. This specific tomb is almost all from the original construction! Being able to walk into the tomb felt like I time traveled as it was something I have never seen before. I think what I will remember the most is walking up to the giant tomb.
We left Mycenae not long after and traveled to our next destination: Epidaurus. Epidaurus is a small ancient settlement with many sculptural findings and one of the most well-preserved ancient theatre in the world. The site has many ruins, some built by the Greeks and others constructed under the Roman Empire. While some of the site is still unknown, one of the most notable parts is the theatre located on the southern portion of the site.
The theatre is HUGE! I’d seen images of the theatre before this trip but I was unprepared to see it in person. It was beautiful as most of the theatre is the original. We were able to walk around the site, sit in the stands, and sing on stage. The most interesting thing about the theatre is its size but also how voices from the center carry throughout the structure, even in the farthest seats. There were people who took turns singing or saying something quietly to see if people could hear it from the top, which they definitely could hear! I couldn’t have been happier that I got to go to Epidaurus and experience something as amazing as this!
Time in Nafplio and a Day Trip to Corinth
After Mycenae and Epidaurus, we loaded back onto the buses and traveled to our final destination for the day: Nafplio. This town is quiet and stunning, with numerous restaurants and gelato stands (the town is known for their gelato)! We arrived late that night and I ended the day by eating with friends and then walking around the town.
The next day included another early start, with my group traveling to Nafplio Castle. The castle resides above the city, originally used as the town’s defense. The castle was vast, so much so that I didn’t have time to view everything there. One of the things I did see was an amazing site of the city!
After the castle, my group traveled over to Corinth to view the archaeological ruins. We had the chance to walk through the site and learn about what life would be for a Greek in Corinth. One of my favorite parts of this trip is standing in the same spot that the Apostle Paul preached while in Corinth! The space is labeled for everyone with a passage from 2 Corinthians carved into stone in the same spot.
After Corinth, we returned to Nafplio for the remainder of the day. It was nice to have time to relax and do whatever I wanted in such a beautiful city. I took a long walk around the edge of town near the beach and ended up at the city’s docks and watched the sun set. During this, I ran into a few friends who were playing instruments and joined in with singing. Even though I’m not a good singer, it was a lot of fun!
Castles over Sparta
The next day my group said goodbye to Nafplio and set our eyes towards Sparta. We arrived early in the morning and started off with a hike above the city in castle ruins, through multiple churches, and even visited a nunnery.
We started with a steep incline to the top of the mountain, where the castle ruins remained. The stones taking us up were slippery and I almost fell a few times, but that did not stop me! I was happy as when we were at the top we could see all of Sparta! It was such an amazing sight that no pictures can do it justice.
Afterwards, we started the long trek down. As we continued on, we saw many different churches that still have beautiful artwork inside, even with natural disasters and damage from the World Wars. What was most interesting about all of this was the active nunnery located near the ruins. The nunnery is home to less than ten nuns and dozens of happy cats. One of my favorite things is as we got there we saw a nun feeding the cats. After they ate, the cats ran over to us and surrounded us, wanting to be pet! If I could have taken all those cats home, I would have!
After the nunnery, we continued down to the bottom of the mountain. From there, we traveled back to Sparta and had lunch. We sadly didn’t have much time here, as we had to get back on the road to reach Kalamata where we would spend the night.
Palace of Nestor
The next day, we traveled to the Palace of Nestor. One of the coolest things about this trip is that my professor took part in the excavations at this site. Hearing him talk about it was a fun experience! We saw the main portion of the site, the tholos tomb discovered not far from the palace, and the well-known Warrior Grave near the tomb. While there, we saw that current excavation projects were taking place. I can’t wait to hear about the new findings when they are done!
We finished the day in Olympia by visiting a honey farm. The farm is run by a family and they gave us a tour of their work and the honey they create. It was really cool because I didn’t know much about running a honey farm, not to mention getting to try delicious honey! After the farm, we stayed the night so that we could quickly start the next day by viewing the ruins of Ancient Olympia.
We woke up very early again and traveled to the ruins. The site was vast, with so much information and buildings that I never saw everything. One of my favorite things was the stadium, as we got to run in the stadium and race one another. After that, we went into the site’s museum and viewed some of the most beautiful sculptures. Some of my favorites came from the pediments of the Temple of Zeus and the clay votive offerings that were the size of my pinky finger!
Return to Athens
After Olympia, we started our long journey back to Athens. It was sad that this trip had to end, as this means I am in Greece for only one more month. It makes me sad, but also helps to remind me to do everything I want these last few weeks. There is so much to do here in Greece that I will hopefully be able to do. I loved the Peloponnese and the time I had there! I will always look back on the trip with good memories. Now, I hope to take the same feelings back with me to Athens and make the most of the rest of my time here!
At Hope, I have a few places on campus that I have designated as top-study locations.
If you know me, or have routinely seen an over-stuffed blue and maroon backpack in the same places, you would know that my favorite study spots are: the Bultman Student Center, Phelps Dining Hall, Ferris Coffee, and, of course, the ol’ faithful dining-room table.
While in Geneva, especially during this ISP period, it was important to me that I establish a few home bases where I could comfortably research, reflect on interview notes, and write my paper… So what else to do, but explore my options?
When searching for these places, I had absolutely no criterion in mind, except for wifi access and the likelihood that I could stay for at least 2-2.5 hours without being severely judged. My friends even hopped on this quest, and we traveled to different cities, like Bern, Zurich, and Lausanne, to expand our options! From cafes, to libraries, and to bookstores, I have enjoyed being able to explore the different places where I could get work done!
Alas, the verdict is in. Here are my favorite study locations:
University of Genève, Uni-Mail
A coffee shop near my classroom (name withheld until completion of program)
The dining room table at my host mom’s apartment
Why are these locations my favorite?
Uni-Mail is a college in Geneva, where thousands of students around my age study. Within the campus, there is a multi-floor library that is quiet, has big tables, and is well-lit (this is definitely a triple win in my book)! But one of my favorite parts about this location is that it is usually filled with students, allowing me to fully immerse myself in Swiss university life! If you are studying abroad, I definitely recommend finding a study spot where local students gather– you’ll feel right at home and even develop friendships with students along the way!
The coffee shop
Great cappuccinos, even-better background music, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Need I say more? (And a bonus… Shoutout to my favorite barista for speaking with me in French!)
The Dining Room Table
When the coffee shop and Uni-Mail library are closed, this place provides a comfy ambiance where I can laser-focus. What’s especially nice is that sometimes my host mom and I will work at the table at the same time! If I want to spice things up, I can even sit on my host mom’s balcony and listen to the birds as I click away on my keyboard.
Though I love my designated study spots at Hope, I have to say that they now have some tough competition!
My family arrived this week! My cousin, Allie, and my mom arrived a week ago to the Goldie. This week has been about showing them what my life looks like 9,000 miles from home!
Our first day (jet lag took a day), I took them to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Here, they got their first taste of Australian wildlife – touching a kangaroo and koala for the first time was magical, and even more so to see them experience that. They met Big Rudy (my favourite), and then we got to meet Freckles. Freckles is Big Rudy’s son. He is about 9 months old, so he is learning life out of the pouch. Despite his limited interactions with humans, he has already learned to roll on his back for belly pats.
After my classes on Thursday, we went to the sunshine coast for the night. It’s much more humid there than on the Gold Coast, but we spent the evening chatting and trying decadent desserts from an Italian restaurant on the water. Falling asleep here was special to me, because I could hear the ocean. Despite only being a 7 min walk from the water at home, there is some fabulous excavation going on right outside our building (only from October to December aka the time I live there). It goes from about 9:30-10pm at night to about 5am, so I hear jackhammers instead of waves. This was a pleasant change of pace.
The next morning, we were up early and driving over to the Australian Zoo, the home of the Irwin family. I have been following the Irwins since I was small, so in addition to seeing the internationally recognised zoo and icon of Australia, I got to see the Irwin family in person, which is a dream come true. Though everyone was excited to see these legends, I may have had a reaction that could be considered to some, over the top. I believe that it was valid.
Their crocodile show was incredible, featuring Robert Irwin and Chandler, Bindi’s husband. They showcased the croc’s abilities as well as how crocs are not going to hurt humans far from the shore. Robert demonstrated this by sitting, then laying on the ground. The croc looked on for a moment before returning to the water, unbothered.
To make our day at the Australian zoo complete, we all picked animal encounters. My mom and Allie held koalas, and I pat a wombat. At the zoo, they take their wombats on walks. Each one has their own individual harness, and if they tire, they have a wagon to take the wombat back without it walking, haha. My wombat’s name was Ellie, and she is the youngest wombat at the zoo at 4 years old. Wombats can run up to 40km per hour for short distances, so if they decide to charge you, watch out. Ellie was scraggly and wiry but still felt quite soft. Wombats are also known for pooping cubes. We don’t know why they do that physiologically, but they believe it to be some sort of territory marker.
Upon returning to the Gold Coast that night, we met up with our friends from Sydney! They had flown in the day before and were spending the weekend with us, so the following day, we got to show them what we always do on the weekends: go to the beach. I took the guys surfing, and they were shocked by the intensity of the waves. Those waves were actually pretty good for us, haha. Of course, spike ball made an appearance, and all of my friends taught Allie how to play. The water has warmed up considerably, so it was wonderful to swim in the ocean as well.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove up to Brisbane to see The Lumineers. The concert was outdoors at a stage within the Botanical Gardens. A band called Hollow Coves opened for them. They are originally from the Gold Coast, which was a fun surprise. The Lumineers were spectacular. Some of my friends went up really close to the stage. Lara even held the lead singer’s hand for a moment! The weather could not have been better (though I did walk out with a few mozzie bites). There were low rolling clouds and a breeze that rippled over us. The Lumineers told us that this is the most people that have ever come to a show in Australia, so we like to think us 12 Americans that went pushed them over the edge, haha. If nothing else, we were part of that number. Seeing an American band so far from America was beautiful in many ways. Some of the lyrics they sang made me think about this semester away and this journey. For example, the lyric: “cause if we don’t leave this town, might never make it out” hit home to me. I am a homebody at heart. I love to lay on my couch and stay in my comfort zone, which is not a bad thing. But it is easy to become stuck and never push yourself out of that bubble, so I pushed myself to leave Holland, my home and go somewhere new. Now that I’m here, I want to try another new place!
When the concert ended, my mom, Allie, Emily and I got some ice cream to take back to the hotel. We also introduced them to the Netflix show: Wild Croc Territory. This has been a great watch as it takes place in Northern Australia where a group of people work to rescue crocodiles in the Bush.
Through all the excitement and fun of showing my family around the city that has become a home to me, it has made me reflect. Studying abroad is hard. Being over 9,000 miles away from your loved ones is hard. Dealing with time zone differences and communicating with them is hard. Missing their hugs and the relief their physical presence brings is hard; however, time goes fast. They are waiting for you, praying for you, loving you while you are away. Then all of a sudden, you’re with them again. I consider myself blessed that my family could come visit me and see the world I’ve created for myself. It’s something that I am proud of and am thrilled to share it.
I´ve had some fascinating moments in Chile. But my most surprising adventure by far was my trip to the emergency room at Santa Maria Hospital.
About four years ago, I was “diagnosed” with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A common condition that affects the digestive system. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, and change in bowel movements. In addition to these, I experience the less common symptoms of lethargy, headaches, nausea, and heartburn. When I consulted my doctor, I was hoping to get a quick and fixable diagnosis of my problem. But there is no exact test for IBS and after countless testing and scans my labs were normal.
After months of failed treatments, I had difficulty completing daily tasks due to pain and discomfort. I was losing hope and felt defeated by all my unanswered questions. Although I consulted doctors, who prescribed more meds and friends offered me advice, I felt alone and misunderstood. In the midst of my hurt, I turned to my relationship with God. I found peace and hope in Him. I asked for healing and although I didn’t receive it, he taught me to wrestle with my faith. These trials, strengthened by relationship with God and began a passion for accessible health.
With this mindset, I hoped to learn about the role of social work in healthcare during my time in Chile. I didn’t anticipate however, I would learn from first-hand experience.
My symptoms started a few weeks after I arrived. The most consistent were dizziness and fatigue. IES provided a list of recommended clinics from past students. With the help of my coordinators, I scheduled an online consultation with an English-speaking doctor from a local clinic. My diagnosis: vertigo and a sinus infection. The doctor prescribed a few meds and told me to rest. In the following few days, I felt stronger but the symptoms didn’t disappear.
About a month later, I got food poisoning after trying “Curanto,” a traditional cooking style from the island of Chiloe. My friends and I devoured delicious seafood broth filled with oysters, clams, pork, longaniza, potatoes, and Chapaleles (potato bread). However, the mixture of seafood and meat didn’t sit well in my stomach. I spent a weekend cooped up in my room.
Unfortunately, my body was slow to recover and I was still experiencing my original symptoms. So I made another doctor’s appointment. This time, in person at Clinica Manuel Montt. The night before, I did some research in Spanish on my symptoms. My vocabulary had increased immensely since my arrival but medical terminology felt like a whole other language. Thankfully, my student coordinator accompanied me to help translate when needed. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I entered the clinic. It was similar to hospitals in the US. The floors were organized by specialists and treatments. Each had its own receptionists and waiting area. Nurses and doctors rushed around in their scrubs and masks. Apart from the language difference, I felt as if I were at another hospital back home. Although I was comfortable with my surroundings, the atmosphere was distinct. The biggest difference I observed was the practice of familiarity and affection. For example, I had gotten used to the greeting in Chile, a kiss on the cheek, and a hug. I found it quite comforting actually. But I have to admit, it was a bit strange to greet my doctor in this way. Another transition was the use of endearing terms. My coordinators referred to me as “Mija” (Darling), “Mi Amor” (My love), “Linda” (Beauty), and “Preciosa” (Cherished/Precious). To my surprise, I encountered the same warmth with my nurses and doctors. To this extent, my treatment felt more personal. Their affection made me feel like a priority rather than just another patient. In addition to their comforting reception, each doctor shared their contact via email or Whatsapp (the most popular communication platform in Chile). At first, I didn’t understand the sincerity of this gesture till a later appointment. My doctor scolded me for waiting to see her rather than calling her the day my symptoms worsened. Likewise, I received regular texts from her checking up on my condition. The follow-through and relationship built by each medic in Chile were impressive.
Another difference was the system and process of care. Even though every clinic I visited had computers, my doctors wrote their notes on paper. Rather than the doctor calling in an online prescription, I was handed a stack of papers with dosages. It was my responsibility to find an available pharmacy with my prescription.
In addition to medications, my doctor ordered a few medical tests. The most exciting was an endoscopy. It was my first time getting one and I was a bit nervous about going under. But when I came to, I didn’t remember a thing. Apparently, they had been unable to complete the endoscopy because the food was still in my digestive tract. Before they stopped, however, the gastrologist took a sample and discovered Helicobacter Pylori, a bacterial infection of the stomach. The bacteria is common, present in about 60% of the world and rarely produces negative symptoms. The infection is fairly easy to treat but requires some heavy duty antibiotics.
That weekend I began the treatment. The day after my first dosage, I felt drained and spent the day in bed. I was hopeful to regain my strength quickly but it was just the opposite. I woke before the sun the next morning and rushed to the bathroom. Waves of hot and cold washed over me. Spells of dizziness brought me to the floor. After a few moments, I hauled myself up to the mirror and let out a terrified gasp. My face was puffy and red. There was a faint hint of color in my eyes, but was that just from sleep? I questioned. I was shaking and my body began to tingle. I couldn’t tell, was it sickness, adrenaline, or panic? I did the only logical thing; I called my mom 5,000 miles away. Of course, she answered and at the sound of her voice I broke down crying.
“Mom I’m scared.” My mind and heart raced. Was it the medicine or panic that was making it hard to breathe? I was hysterical and in shock. “God is with me.” This time I cried out in desperation. “Please dear God, I’m so scared”
By now I had moved to the kitchen floor. I was starting to lose consciousness and my mom urged me to seek local help. After a brief conversation on the IES emergency phone I redialed my mom to let her know my student advisor and an ambulance were on their way. Thankfully, a friend from my dorm came to sit with me as well and I was comforted by her presence. About 10 minutes later my coordinator arrived and advised we take an Uber instead. In Chile, ambulances are infamous for being delayed and you have a better chance of getting to the hospital in a timely manner by taxi.
Once we arrived at La Clinica Santa Maria, I had just enough strength to walk inside. It was still early in the morning and there were only two other patients in the waiting room. Within 30 minutes we were taken to an observation room. The doctor diagnosed a sever allergic reaction. I was given an antihistamine injection and an IV for fluids. The antihistamines worked quickly. My body was exhausted but still fighting and the worst was over. With the help of my coordinator, I made it home safely and spent the next few days recuperating in my dorm.
After my visit to the ER, I had a few more doctor’s appointments. Along with changes to my diet and daily routine, I reflected on my emotional state. I also turned to my faith. Once again, “God is with me.” Not only did I ask Him for healing, but I also rested in His presence. Being sick so far from home was challenging and at times scary. But I found comfort in the Father. In other ways, my illness in another country has been a blessing. In all the years of doctor visits in the US, I was unable to get certain medical tests due to the cost. But in Chile, the access and quality of care I experienced were more cost-effective and felt more personalized. With that being said, I am a foreign citizen in Chile and have the privilege of private care and insurance. Not all Chileans have the same access and I learned about the inequalities they face. Much like in the US, quality medical care is expensive and not equally accessible to all. The opportunity to gain personal experience with these issues motivates me to further investigate global social work. In addition, I have insight into concepts we discuss in my social work classes and an understanding I could never get from a textbook.
I am still recovering, but I have learned a lot about myself and how to advocate for my needs. As I mentioned, my coordinators were very supportive and helpful throughout the whole process. I also received lots of prayers and words of encouragement. I am grateful for the support of loved ones and for this platform to share my experience and observations.
Switzerland is conveniently located in the center of Europe, allowing access to a multitude of sub-regions within the European continent….and I may or may not have taken advantage of this characteristic already.
Where I have traveled to, since the beginning of the semester?
What are my next travel locations?
(I think it goes without saying that I have been a frequent customer of EasyJet… and of course, making good use of my Swiss Pass).
As previously stated, one of the benefits of studying in a country like Switzerland is that I can easily go to and fro both outside and inside the country’s borders. It is an immense benefit that has fulfilled my sense of traveler’s curiosity. In fact, it has even expanded my traveler’s curiosity to an academic level, where I find myself wanting to learn more about the history of the states that I visit.
But, although access to easy travel is extremely wonderful, there is an opportunity cost.
Allow me to give a slight preface and explanation.
One of my goals for this semester is learning to master the all-known-too-well concept of “being present.” This was especially relevant for me and my lifestyle, as it’s common for me to go into hyperdrive during the semester and have everything scheduled to a T (let me note that it is completely okay to be extremely organized and involved, it just wasn’t the structure for me). Through being involved in a variety of activities and trying to prioritize multiple different tasks or facets of my life, I found that truly enjoying and developing relationships with my surroundings proved to be difficult because I was always busy.
Before coming to Switzerland, I had to acknowledge that this was the first time in a while that I would be able to take a break from my involvements, solely because I wasn’t on campus. This was the first time I could step on the brakes and make a detour to the scenic route, instead of continuing to speed on the highway that has characterized my college experience. I knew that especially considering that I’m graduating in a few months (eek!) and starting the job search, my time abroad is a great time for me to learn how to truly focus on my surroundings and enjoy where I am, while also being productive and having tasks to complete.
I bring this up in the context of my voyages to date, because the opportunity cost of my travels is that they decrease the amount of available time with my host mom, my allocated free time, and my chances of building a deeper relationship with Switzerland and enjoying my time here.
But what if I told you that this opportunity cost had an…advantage?
On the one hand, these travels decrease the quantity of time that I have free, thus diminishing my sense of “presentness” because I am thinking about what I’m going to do and where I’m going to go. However, on the flip side, this means that I am intentionally increasing the quality of time that I spend in Switzerland.
It’s easy to make traveling a priority, and I think that when students are abroad, they should travel to other places. It’s a great way to see the world, but also strengthens one’s sense of independence and confidence. However, I think that while considering traveling to other countries, it is important to take time to prioritize building a relationship that can lead one to continually develop memories and cultivate curiosity about what their host country has to offer.
On the days when I am not traveling, I can be found sitting on the balcony of my host mom’s apartment, usually looking out at the silhouette of the Alps behind a layer of mist. Sometimes I even hike or cook with my host mom because, after long weekends of travel, I want to express my appreciation for her. Though unplanned and completely spontaneous, these experiences are all memorable; and let me tell you, it is those opportunities to watch the sunrise or make Croque monsieur that deepens and strengthens my ties with Switzerland.
I truly am happy that I have built a foundation in learning to be present and deepen relationships with my surroundings. I know that my experience of learning how to savor Switzerland, through travel and having a background of busyness, is the reason why that foundation began constructing itself.
Though I have lots of travel behind me, and still some travel ahead, I will continue to prioritize my time spend in Switzerland. By doing this, I am optimistic that my time in Switzerland will continue to be characterized by a deepening connection and a stronger capacity to be present.
But, what does that mean for the rest of the semester? If you think that the answer is that I have four free weeks to hang out with Swiss cows (though, I wish I could)… it’s actually quite the opposite.
While my schedule will be lighter during this period, I will be writing an extensive research paper on a topic of my choosing and presenting it to my cohort at the beginning of December. Based on my professional experiences and academic interests, I have decided to use my project to determine if China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI) impacts access to strategic supply chains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
This paper is a maximum of 30 pages and requires in-depth analyses of reviewed content. Thus, throughout the next few weeks, I will be conducting research by reading and analyzing available open-source information resources, holding interviews with scholars and public figures, and attending relevant lectures and conferences at Swiss universities. Needless to say, I will be consuming lots of coffee in my favorite café in Geneva and upping my daily minutes spent listening to music on Spotify.
Already, I have perused a variety of Chinese, American, Congolese, and other international sources, as well as talked to public figures to further enhance my understanding of the relationship between China and the DRC. Based on my conversations, I have come to understand that this is a sensitive issue, as it highlights the emerging US-China power competition and conversations of social responsibility in the context of development.
For me, I think the biggest challenge of this project will be breaking down how states’ national security concerns impact perceptions of development initiatives. However, considering that my courses this semester have highlighted international cooperation and development, I look forward to employing the themes, topics, and policy considerations, that I learned about, to further understand this relationship.
Stay tuned for more updates about my project and ISP period pursuits!
As promised, here are some of my go-to favorite study tunes:
Lyric Pieces, Book 9, Op. 68: Badnlat (Cradle Song): Edvard Grieg, Einar Steen-Nekleberg
Remove the Complexities: Peter Sandberg
Je te laisserai des mots: Patrick Watson
Cornfield Chase – Piano Version: Hans Zimmawe, Javi Lobe
Un sospiro: Franz Liszt, Van Cliburn
Lohengrin Prelude to act I: Richard Wagner, Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
I have a question for you. What do you do when you need to clear your head? As for me, I always go to the beach. If I’m dealing with something personal, or if I just need a study break, I always end up by the beach. I do this in Michigan, and here in Sydney where I currently reside. Over the past week and a half, I have been to Jervis Bay, Hyams Beach, Coogee Beach, Bondi Beach, and Bronte Beach. I traveled to these in various ways; either by train, taxi, bus, or by walking. Keep reading to share these experiences with me!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, Jervis Bay is known to possess the whitest sand in the world. Take it from me, that statement is true. The sand was blinding to look at without sunglasses. However, it was absolutely gorgeous to visit Hyams Beach and walk the shoreline. Jervis Bay is a very small town, so much so that it reminded me of my hometown compared to Sydney. It was comforting to have the small-town vibe once again. There were two taxi drivers that all of the locals knew, I could start to understand how to get everywhere by day two, and we visited each of the popular restaurants in the little time we had there. On our last morning there, we went on a dolphin tour and saw a pod of dolphins that followed our boat almost the entire way back to the bay. Traveling to Jervis Bay and back was pleasurable as well. We had a four-hour train ride there, but it went down the coast of New South Wales so we could see the Pacific Ocean almost the entire way there and back.
Coogee to Bondi Walk
One thing on our bucket list was to conquer the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee. This past Sunday, that is exactly what we did. To our surprise, there also was a sculpture festival going on that is comparable to Art Prize in Grand Rapids. That being said, we were accompanied by dozens of astonishingly constructed sculptures from Bondi to Bronte Beach. This three-mile hike is something I recommend to anyone studying abroad in Sydney. You get to see the most popular beaches in the span of 2 hours and you can stop to lay out and swim at each one along the way!
The day before Halloween, our program director from TEAN took all of the UNSW students, interns, and University of Sydney students to the Blue Mountains for a day trip. We had a hiking coordinator that led the way through three different hiking trails and told us environmental and historical information during each hike. The name “Blue Mountains” is a perfect fit for this scenery. There was one point where I thought we were by the ocean when instead, the oil from the Eucalyptus trees in combination with the dust and water vapor scattered short-wave length rays of light which are blue.
The Letter to Myself
On the night of October 26th, my friend Mali and I met our friend Nicole at Coogee Beach to listen to live music. This turned into us talking for hours on the beach long after the performers went home. I had a surreal experience that night. However, it wasn’t the views or the music that made the experience what it was. As we were having a deep talk about our experiences here and what we have learned, I remembered that I wrote a letter to myself several months before I left for Australia. If I am going to be honest, I wasn’t doing as well as I put off in the months prior to my departure. I was lost in what I wanted out of life, and I wasn’t on a path that was necessarily good for me. In all honesty, I wasn’t happy, and I felt stuck in a routine that wasn’t beneficial. As I sat on the beach and re-read the letter I had written to myself, it told me that if I was having second guesses on whether or not to go, I needed to think about how my path was going right now and that if I stayed, it probably wouldn’t change. In closing, it wrote, “Remember, it is so hard to leave, until you leave, and then it’s the easiest thing in the world. You will grow so much from this. You owe it to yourself”. As I read this, I remembered the girl who wrote that and how she felt. I was so proud of myself to see that I did something that made her proud. My choice to leave changed the path of her life, even though it was terrifying in the moment. My message to whoever is reading this, is that if you have a feeling that the place you are in currently isn’t helping you grow, leave. Explore how new surroundings show you how powerful you truly are, and how much there is to be learned in your independence.
Upcoming Adventure (s)?
In a couple of days, I will depart from Sydney to go to the Gold Coast to visit my friends at Bond University. I am very excited to see what they experience there day-to-day and make more memories with them. I am excited to give you all updates on how my time here goes. When I return, I will be very busy with school for the next couple of weeks. However, as exams end a week and a half before I depart back to Michigan, I am hoping to go to Tasmania with a few of my friends. One thing I have learned is that if you are already across the world from home, might as well make the most of it. Life is short and the world is wide.