This past weekend one of my best friends came to visit me in Liverpool, all the way from Michigan! The travel bug has surely spread through my friend group as she left me to head for Ireland, Germany and Poland.
A curious thing happened this weekend – I became a tour guide of sorts. What a shock for me! I know it’s a bit ridiculous for study abroad students to come back home saying things like “I’m a local now” or “I know the city like the back of my hand,” since we only get to experience these new locations, cultures, and histories for a short amount of time. But, I realized that I’ve absorbed enough knowledge of my little slice of Liverpool to share with a newcomer, and it made me proud; from the funny heads up of “Woah! You’re going up the wrong side of the stairs!” to seasoned tips of “make sure to take the 82 bus and hit the stop button at the second light after the gas station.”
The memories we made this weekend are ones I will cherish forever, especially since it is basically already Christmas here! We were also very lucky to be able to experience the Tate Liverpool art museum as well as the stunning Liverpool Central Library.
Having another Michigander around also meant watching someone experience the same culture shocks I did! Which means… hot takes part 2:
The whole ground floor versus first floor debacle – when you walk into a building, that’s the first floor! calling it floor zero makes no sense.
Doppelgängers – 100% real, we’ve seen all of you here at least twice.
The cafe servers on campus – have our hearts, hearing “here’s your coffee love” or “enjoy the toast lovelies” is the best way to start the day.
Christmas starting in November – AMAZING!! Add more lights!!
The old man that plays the accordion on the street – also amazing, also has our hearts.
Streets – a bit more bumpy than in Michigan, but less potholes for sure.
Calling cross walks zebra crossings – funny, adorable and should be adopted all over.
A good friend of mine once told me a phrase her dad always use to tell her, and it goes like this: “New place, new perspective”. This couldn’t be more true, especially when the new place is in a new country, culture and language. Getting away from home is a great way to get a fresh look on things, and it often brings many lifelong lessons along with it that you’ll be grateful you learned, no matter how hard it was to get there.
We’ve all seen movies where the lead character runs away and solves all of her problems by becoming a surfer on the coast of Australia or leaves home and realizes everything they had was already enough. While this may happen to you when you study abroad, more often than not, your same problems and insecurities follow you no matter where you run.
Though this might sound discouraging, traveling is actually a really great way to confront your insecurities and grow through them, instead of just ignoring them or moving onto the next ones. Whether it’s working through your social anxiety by making friends in your second language or facing your fears in a whole new light, it’s good to let “real life” follow you to your dream destinations.
This semester, I’ve been out of my comfort zone, a lot. I’ve learned to ask for help with things that I didn’t think were worth asking before. I’ve learned to take up space wherever I am, even when I feel like I don’t belong. I’ve learned to think about doubt and confusion as part of the human experience rather than something I need to “fix.” I’ve also learned to embrace myself more as a whole by taking risks and allowing myself to do things I wouldn’t “normally” do.
While wading through these things came with its own difficulties, I know that I’ve chosen to let studying abroad change me for the better. By being proactive about my insecurities, recognizing them as they were shown to me through being out of my comfort zone, and facing them instead of wishing to be the lead character in a Netflix Original. Being in a new place has given me many new perspectives on myself, the world, and what it means to be human.
My roommate’s alarm sounds at 7:30 a.m. in preparation for our morning Spanish class. After winding down the tight, wooden staircase in the dim morning light, we prepare ourselves some tostadas con tomate which consist of toasted bread topped with grated tomato and olive oil.
Food, as in all countries, plays a central role in Spanish life and culture. Breakfasts in Spain are usually light, coffee and a form of toast is common. Lunch is typically the heartiest and longest meal of the day and is often accompanied by sobremesa, the practice of lingering at the table after a meal. At my homestay, lunches involve a large salad with granadas (pomegranates) and copious amounts of bread along with a main dish and dessert, either fruit or something sweeter such as arroz con leche. Portion sizes wind back down for dinners that trend to the casual and if eaten out can simply be a couple of tapas, small servings of food that are meant to accompany drinks. Some classic tapas dishes in Granada are croquetas, fried rolls of meat and bechamel sauce; salmorejo, a cold soup made of pureed tomato and bread; and patatas bravas, lightly fried potatoes accompanied with a spicy sauce. While emblematic of Spain, in general, tapas in Granada are unique in that they are included in the price of a drink – something especially appreciated when on a student budget.
Some weekends just go above-and-beyond all expectations, and this past weekend was one of them. I think what made it so noteworthy was that every part of it just shouted Philadelphia, due to a strong sense of Philly-ness about it. So I give to you the “Copy Me Weekend,” a weekend that you, too, can copy and enjoy during your next trip to the city of Philadelphia.
I was very fortunate to have my older sister, Ellery, come to visit and share with me some of her favorite memories from her time here. Philadelphia runs in the family – my aunt, mom, and older sister have all taken the semester during their studies at Hope College. This place has absolutely been transforming for all four of us each in our own unique experiences.
We welcomed our weekend on Thursday night with dinner at Porta, a Neopolitan pizza spot in Center City. This late night hotspot really spoke to the liveliness of the downtown – we nearly had to shout across the table! The young people of Philadelphia definitely keep the local joints busy about every night of the week, which is something I have found keeps the week just as fun.
Following dinner, we made our way to Dilworth Park to get in on their Student Ice Skating Night in the plaza. The people-watching was just as good as the ice skating, and we laughed as a young boy wearing just a pair of sneakers was chased (not just once) off of the ice by the staff. Another man took center stage and grooved to the music in his own skating world. The joy of the holiday season was definitely there, and it (almost!) felt like winter.
Friday morning was a hole-up-in-a-coffee-shop kind of morning, and Ellery and I spent a few hours at Menagerie Coffee catching up on some work to free up the rest of the weekend. While the London Fog wasn’t near as delicious as the ones at Square One Coffee (which were enjoyed later), the homemade chocolate chip cookies were. I mean, truly, imagine tasting something homemade after missing out on your mother’s homemade meals for three months!
Philly cheesesteak time! Of course we had to indulge in the city staple. This time we tried Ishkabibble’s, right across the street from my apartment on South Street. Half a cheesesteak is more than enough to last the rest of the day… at least until Happy Hour at The Dandelion and Mission Taqueria! This place is so lively and is one of my favorite spots in Philadelphia. We met up with a coworker Ellery met while studying here four years ago, and I became so excited to think I would someday do the same with the friends I have made. Dinner was on South Street at B&B, a Vietnamese restaurant where I had my first bowl of Pho!
Saturday was saved for our adventure to Chesnuthill, PA. A half an hour car ride takes you to a town that had to be the scene for a Hallmark movie. The Christmas decorations were up and people were crowding the bars with their puffy coats and earmuffs. Spontaneously, we decided to get some sister haircuts downtown and had fun chatting with the hairdressers!
Dessert at Tria was bread pudding! Afterwards, we met up with some of the friends I made while in Philadelphia at McGuillen’s Olde Ale House, one of the oldest tavern’s in the country. This is a very popular spot loaded with lights and even more Christmas decor.
One of the favorite breakfast spots here in Philadelphia is The Green Egg. After attending Old Pine Church, a historic church built in 1768, we walked to the Northern Liberties town nearby. I had heard of their incredible french toast, so we ordered the Creme Brulee French Toast…talk about dessert first!
Earlier we had passed The Candle Studio, a small candle making studio in a little Old City townhouse. We went through all the many scents, mixed oils, and poured our candles. It is now one of my dearest memories, and was a great way to meet a couple of local students who were running the store for the day. Still waiting on the end results of which one smelled better… but, I took the liberty of giving a strong hint.
It wouldn’t be Philly without rooting for the Eagles on a Sunday game day. The Gaslight is the perfect local bar to catch the game, and we had a blast sporting some Eagles gear. Unfortunately, we lost, but it was a few hours well spent!
And that was the finale to our weekend in Philadelphia, in true Philadelphia fashion! Come and explore, and earn a little local status with the “Copy Me Weekend.”
During these past few weeks, I have transitioned from Chile to Nepal. While some parts of transitioning are challenging, I have had an amazing experience. I live with my host dad and his mom who are Newari, and my host mom who is Japanese. I have two host siblings, a little sister who is four, and a little brother who is seven. They know four languages! – Nepali, Newari, Japanese and English! Every day after classes, I come home and eat dinner with them, and hangout. My host mom always cooks us dinner, and we talk about our days. She understands me, but doesn’t speak fluent English. Amazingly, my roommate speaks fluent Japanese! Through translations, body language, and sitting in one each other’s company, I have loved getting to know her and the rest of the family.
Spending time with the kids has been really special. During dinner, Aayan, my seven year old brother, asks us so many questions! “Why do you wear those earrings? Why do you have blue eyes? What is your favorite cup? What is your favorite door?” He is such a cutie. Airi loves to dance and sing. And, while at first she was really shy and gave me a lot of intense glares, she is now full of smiles, laughs, and warm hugs.
My host dad is a professional musician! During meals we get to hear about his adventures all around the world, meeting famous people, and we even get to hear him play his guitar and sing around the house. We also talk a lot about the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, along with all of the festivals that they celebrate in Nepal. One of these festivals is called Tihar or the Festival of Lights. Families put Tika, a red sticky powder on one anothers’ heads as a form of a blessing, and wear flower necklaces. During this time, the entire city is covered in multicolored lights. During these festivals, different days signify different types of celebrations. Each day, people worship different things such as dogs, siblings, cars, their own bodies, and other gods.
Living with my host family, I have learned a lot about hospitality. They are always offering and serving me so much food, inviting us to family gatherings, and they never hesitate to make my roommate and I tea. They ask us, frequently, how we are doing. In fact, when we were both sick at different times, they took such good care of us. It’s amazing to have a place that feels like home, all the way across the world.
Chiang Mai is lovely because it can be touristy in some areas, but those touristy areas are easy to get away from.
Finding transport to fun places on the weekend in Chiang Mai almost always starts with hopping into the back of a red truck. These trucks are one of my favorite modes of transportation because they are easy, efficient, and cheap. All you have to do is walk up to the first one you see (or wave an empty one down), and tell the driver where you would like to go. The charge is almost always 30 baht per person unless you are going somewhere far away. I have been getting better at speaking to the driver in Thai; it makes communication a lot easier because the drivers usually speak little-to-no English.
The back of a red truck has this magical power of accumulating all of the exhaust, so it is a good idea to have something to cover your mouth and nose for breathing.
I haven’t spent many weekends in Chiang Mai because of easy travel to neighboring countries, but here are some fun things I have gotten to do with friends and with my program:
Sticky waterfalls– about 45 minutes outside of the city is a beautiful park with very unique waterfalls. The falls have limestone deposits (making them “sticky”), and aren’t too steep in most places, making it a great trip to go climb up the falls and cool off on a hot day. Beware: if you ever make it to the sticky falls, don’t leave your backpack on the ground. If you do, then you will return to a backpack infested with fire ants and you will not be happy about it. I was able to find a nail on a tree and I hung my stuff on that (and it still had a few ants on it!).
Doi Suthep– one of the most famous attractions in Thailand, Doi Suthep, is a must-do when in Chiang Mai. A red truck up the mountain takes about 40 minutes on a winding road, and the views of the city are absolutely worth it.
Night markets– these pop up everywhere, and there are a few that run every single evening! There is a Saturday night market, a Sunday night market, a night bazaar every evening, and many other markets that can be found around almost every corner.
Monk chat– my Buddhism in Thai Society professor took our class to a temple “monk chat” one day for class. This was something that I would have never done on my own for fun, but I highly recommend and would absolutely do it again. At monk chat, you sit down with one or two other monks, and discuss literally anything with them. I learned a lot about life as a monk, and I was actually quite surprised at most of the answers the monks gave me.
Of course, there are about a million and a half fun things to do in and around Chiang Mai. These are just a few of my favorite things that I have done and highly recommend.
So if you know me, you probably know that I love archaeology, particularly Latin American archaeology. That’s what I want to go on to study once I graduate. If you know West Michigan, you probably know that there’s not a whole lot of Latin American archaeology going on in the area. Not that I blame them at all, it’s not exactly the best location to be doing Latin American archaeology (which would be – of course – Latin America). And while everyone at Hope has been absolutely amazing in supporting me in my goals, it’s hard to get hands on experience there, which is part of the reason I chose to study abroad in Ecuador.
At USFQ (the university I attend) I’ve been able to take two different archaeology classes this semester, one specifically geared to Andean Archaeology. It is absolutely my favorite class that I’ve ever taken, even though the language makes it much harder than the classes I’ve taken at Hope. We’ve gotten to go down to the lab they have and see their artifacts, as well as have some hands on experience with some of the less costly ones (read pot sherds). We spent an entire class, once, learning how you would go about making arrowheads (which may not sound exciting to you, but it was very exciting for me!).
There are pre-Colombian archaeology museums around every corner in the historic district, as well as a few sites within the Quito metropolitan area (I’ve been to more than a few), and many more on the coast and the Amazon. From the university, we can see in the distance where the Inga (not Inca!) civilization mined obsidian over 11,000 years ago.
During my fall break, I had the amazing opportunity to go visit Cuzco, in Peru. We spent a whole day walking through about 7 sites in the Cuzco area, then went to Machu Picchu! It was one of the best experiences of my life, even if we had to get up at 4am to make sure we beat the crowds there.
But the most exciting part is that I’m making connections with the professors here who do research in (mainly) Andean archaeology. One of them, who I’ve talked with, has connections in the national lab where they do preservation and analysis of artifacts from Ecuador (!!!!!!!!), and has contacted the director so I can go visit. I am also going to be able to spend some time helping one of my other professors with his research. One of the best parts about being here has been that I really get to see my dream career in person, and talk to and learn from people who are living it
Standing back on solid ground with my hands shaking, a classmate asked me, “Is this what you imagined studying abroad would be like?” I replied, “No, I imagined myself in the library doing homework!,” to which our international student support manager overheard us, laughed, and smiled.
I had just completed the second part of that day’s activities after archery, and zip lining. Both of which I had never done before, and each filled me with varying amounts of fear.
This was just one-days worth of activities, all completely out of my norm. Apparently, archery is something everyone has dabbled in at some point in their life, according to every other member of my archery team. My friends back home exclaimed, “Wow!!!!! … Like through the trees and stuff?,” and “Can’t believe you went into nature for the first time and didn’t take me with you.”
And to top off all of this exciting newness, this was all happening in Wales. I was in Wales!! The international students had taken a trip to Plas Caerdeon Outdoor Education Center within Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. This trip turned out to be one of the best 2 nights and 3 days I’ve ever spent being outdoorsy.
Studying abroad is continuously proving to me that I am more than capable of stepping outside of my comfort zone, and that when I do that, there will be a group of kind, encouraging friends stepping alongside me. I clipped on my carabiner knowing my group would catch me on the other side of the river. I pulled back on the bow string knowing “Team Mid West” would cheer for me even if my arrow only hit the blue circles.
The leaders of Plas Caerdeon were amazing with teaching safety and general outdoor skills, as well as encouraging everyone to push our personal boundaries. I mean for Pete’s sake, on the very first day our group activity was to build a raft using planks of wood and empty 55 gallon barrels…and then race them down the pond.
Overall, my little visit to Wales was a rush of adventure and adrenalin. A welcoming and familiar feeling on this international journey.
If the 5 AM sunrise or the screeching birds don’t wake me up before my alarm at 7:30 AM, I consider myself lucky! Once I am able to sit up and open my eyes, I hobble out of my little bedroom and into my dorm’s main room to grab breakfast. Every Monday-Thursday (the days I have class), I always have breakfast (an apple and peanut butter) in my dorm.
Classes start at 9 AM so I usually throw on my uniform (white button-up shirt and black skirt), and walk out of the room by 8. This hour gives me enough time to make the trek to the Faculty of Law building on campus that all of my program’s classes are in.
My dorm, Uniloft Student Housing, is tucked away at the end of a narrow road called Soi 7. This road is barely wide enough for cars to pass each other, and there are motorbikes constantly zooming by. The 8 minutes that it takes to walk down Soi 7 are filled with smells of small shop owners grilling meat or veggies, the noises of cars and motorbikes, and sunlight so bright that it is hard to keep my eyes open.
Soi 7 connects to Suthep, which is one of the main roads in the city of Chiang Mai. It runs along the entire backside of the university, and goes all the way up to Doi Suthep (a beautiful temple that is Chiang Mai’s most famous attraction). In order to make it to the back entrance of the university, I have to walk a few minutes on and then cross Suthep. This task can be simple or scary, depending on the day of the week and how much traffic there is. I have definitely learned how to cross the street with more confidence, even if it means running out in front of cars or crossing one direction at a time.
Once I make it across Suthep, I pass through the small door-gate that marks the back entrance of CMU and wait for the shuttle.
My favorite way to get to the Law building is to climb onto the “express,” then wait at the main switching station for a shuttle marked with a 3 or 4 to get me the rest of the way. CMU’s campus is very large so if I didn’t take advantage of the shuttle system, I would arrive at class dripping in sweat!
Upon arrival at the Law building, I fill up my water bottle at the water jugs and get comfortable in the Law cafe until class starts. On Monday and Wednesday, my class schedule is simple: Thai 1 (speaking and listening) from 9-10. That’s it! Tuesday I have Art in the morning, then Thai 1 speaking lab, Buddhism, and Thai 2 (reading and writing) in the afternoon. Thursdays are very similar, with the day consisting of Thai 1, Thai 2, and Buddhism.
Once I am done with class, I hop on the shuttles that take me to the back of campus, walk down and cross Suthep, trek up Soi 7, and hang out in my room until I make plans for the rest of the day.