A Day in the Life of a UCT Student

When people ask how study abroad is going, it is easy to send them pretty pictures and tell them about all the cool things I am experiencing. And don’t get me wrong—I am getting to experience lots of new and exciting things. I have already explored multiple local markets. I walked across a suspension bridge in a beautiful national park. I saw penguins. I took a deep breath of fresh air at the southernmost tip of Africa. I hiked up and across a mountain. I visited Langa Township. I even got to walk hand-in-trunk with an elephant! These experiences are enriching and exciting, but they are not the reality of everyday life.

As I start to figure out what everyday life looks like, I thought I would share what sticks out to me during a typical school day. My biology class is at 9:00 AM, Monday through Friday. It takes about 20 minutes to get to class depending on the business of the Jammie (UCT bus system), so I am out the door around 8:30. However, I was late for class one day even though I left at the same time! So, I am learning how to plan for the unplanned and inconsistent bus system. The process of getting to class is an adjustment because it feels like a hassle compared to my maximum 7 minute walk to class at Hope. Instead, I walk about 7 minutes to a Jammie bus stop. Then, I wait. The bus is supposed to come every 5 to 10 minutes, but that is not always the case—especially in the afternoon. Next, I cram onto a large bus with lots of UCT students and our bags, and drive part way up the mountain through some traffic to Upper Campus. Once I flood off of the bus with other students, I have a short walk to my final destination—biology lecture.

After class, I walk through what feels like crowds of people to get some studying done before my next class. After this class, it’s lunch time. I have been packing my lunch and eating at different spots on campus. The sun shines at some point every day, so my friends and I often meet up at a different spot outside. Yesterday, I sat on the steps of Sarah Baartman Hall, previously Jameson Hall, and got sunburned within a half hour. Whoops.

A quick note aside on the renaming of Sarah Baartman Hall. Sarah Baartman Hall was renamed from Jameson Hall in 2018. The act of renaming is a part of the decolonizing process that is occurring throughout South Africa. Sarah Baartman, known as Saartjie, suffered large injustice as she was taken by the British and exhibited as a ‘freak of nature’ in the early 1800s (Swingler). She died quickly after she got to Europe, and then her remains were displayed in a museum as scientists did research on her body and described it as “the missing link between human and ape”. Her remains were returned to South Africa in 2002. Sarah Baartman is now the name of the hall in order to, more holistically, acknowledge South Africa’s history, and bring justice to her name and dignity (Pityana). Students sit on the steps of the hall daily to eat or hang out with the words “Sarah Baartman Hall” above their heads. This is a powerful symbol of decolonization, but also a reminder for many of the work that still needs to be done. 

Sarah Baartman Hall
Sarah Baartman Hall

After lunch, my afternoons look different depending on the day. I either have a biology practical, IES class called Community Development in Context, African Dance, or Service Learning placement (which I am in the process of figuring out). Each afternoon brings its own adventure. African Dance consists of a group of study abroad students sweating more than we expect in a hot studio with lapa’s (term for a piece of fabric, often patterned, worn like a skirt). In the evenings, I run on my own often around Rondebosch Commons, and sometimes with the Athletics Club. The day usually finishes with cooking dinner, reflection, maybe a spontaneous adventure, and homework. Campus is far away and for safety reasons, I am not supposed to walk in the dark, so I feel confined to the student housing building where I am living. This has been an interesting dynamic, but I am able to connect and spend time with people in my program and other local students.

So yes, study abroad is full of amazing and wild experiences. However, it is also full of routine and sameness. I get on a bus every day. I pack my lunch every day. I walk up the steps of Sarah Baartman Hall every day. I go to class every day. I read and study every day. It is in this routine and sameness that I am able to live in the difference of culture and all that culture encompasses — different people, different academic system, different scenery, different climate, different food. As I learn how to live in this difference, I am able to begin hearing part of the stories of others’ lives and discover who I am in the midst of it all.


Pityana, Sipho M, and Mamokgethi Phakeng. “Renaming Memorial Hall Sarah Baartman Hall.”UCT News, 2018, www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2018-12-13-renaming-memorial-hall-sarah-baartman-hall.

Swingler, Helen. “Sarah Baartman Hall: Potent Transformation Symbol.” UCT News, 2018, www.news.uct.ac.za/article/-2018-12-14-sarah-baartman-hall-potent-transformation-sybol.

Chapter 3: Morocco

When you think of Morocco, what comes to mind? Everyone has their inclinations. If you’ve seen movies or know a little about the country, you may feel like you have an idea. The three short days that I spent there, I realized two things: that everything I thought before was very wrong, and that I felt very displaced. Not an uncomfortable displacement, but one that made me feel small in the world. It changed my view on daily life, and on purpose. I saw people living daily lives that were polar opposites from my own. I can tell you that my experience in Africa was both enlightening and humbling.

Chefchaouen - the Blue Pearl, a popular and beautiful city in Morocco.
Chefchaouen – the Blue Pearl, a popular and beautiful city in Morocco.

I could sit and write about the exotic things that our tour group had us experience. I did get to ride camels. I did get to bargain with street vendors. I did get to experience their culture in unforgettable ways. But if I were to write a little touristy blog about “how cool” the beach was, I would have missed the deeper meaning of the entire trip.

Between the spices, the food, the music and landscape, Morocco will forever leave an impression on me; but it was the smallest of moments that left the most impact. I remember vividly driving down the countryside in a bus. There were sprawling mountains and lush green pastures with singular and lonely houses embedded into the side.

I could see a farmer and his mule hiking up a path, carrying something towards what appeared to be his house. A herd of sheep crossing slowed our bus to a stop. From there, I could sit and observe the old farmer. He slowly made his way up the mountain path, taking his time. Then he stopped for a minute and sat on a stump. He stared at the bus for a little while and then looked out towards the countryside, resting. I couldn’t take my eyes off this man. I couldn’t help but wonder his daily life. Everything he knows. Everything he doesn’t know. It fascinated me to try and put myself in his shoes, even if for a moment. It made me feel very small.

Maghrebi mint tea - a cultural staple in Morocco. Very hot and very sweet.
Maghrebi mint tea – a cultural staple in Morocco. Very hot and very sweet.

After a minute or two the bus continued on. While almost everyone else was on their phones or asleep, I was trying to take in every second of the view. During my three days in Morocco, it amazed me how most other students could spend most of their time taking pictures “For the Gram”, but never stopped and looked around at the diverse and unique culture. It was almost as if they were never there at all.

This weekend, and this entire semester so far has taught me a very important lesson: live in the moment. You’re only young once. You’re only in Spain once. You’re only in Morocco once. Why spend your entire time looking ahead at the future or looking down at your phone? The beauty to be seen is right here and now, and I refuse to miss any of it.

Here is a video of my weekend in Morocco!

Early Bird Gets the Worm

A lesson I learned last semester: don’t wait to ask for opportunities. The semester isn’t as long as you think it will be and you don’t want to wait too long. This happened to me when I visited the archaeological lab in Ecuador. It was a fantastic experience and I loved visiting, but I found out when I got there that if I had visited a month or two earlier I could have volunteered!

This semester I wanted to be more ahead of the game, so I reached out to a lab director at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA), which works often with biological and osteological analyses, to see if he had any work for me. Lo and behold, he did! So now I volunteer twice a week in the lab washing bones and sorting cremated pig remains. I work alongside researchers to help with the basics of their projects. The lab director and researchers are great about having me do work that’s pretty basic, but useful and making sure I know what I’m doing.

Although it’s not necessarily the most exciting work, I enjoy being able to work in the lab and gain experience. In a couple weeks, a new researcher will be arriving with a project for me to work on. I’m not quite sure what it will entail, but I look forward to helping her with it.

A photo of me wearing a surgical mask and full body clean suit so that I won't cover my clothing with ash while sorting through cremated pig remains.
Sorting through cremated pig remains is very messy so I wear a lab coat or (when there aren’t any clean) what feels a bit like a hazmat suit.

I also told one of my professors about my future career goals and he put me in touch with the British School of Archaeology in Athens. I had the opportunity to tour their lab, which works mostly with inorganic analysis. I also talked to the director, and starting in a few weeks, I will start volunteering there as well, giving me two really cool experiences to be able to use to gain skills and add to my resume.

It’s All Greek to Me

Γεια σας! That’s Greek for “hi everyone!” One of my concerns coming to Greece was that I didn’t even know how to say hello. Coming from Ecuador, where I spoke the language, this was really intimidating to me. How was I supposed to manage in a country where I couldn’t even ask for directions (and I wouldn’t be able to understand their response even if I could). Luckily for me, pretty much everyone (even the small shop owners) speaks a little bit of English. Some speak more than others, but pretty much everyone speaks enough that I can get what I want.

An image showing the storefront of a grocery store with the name written in Greek
Learning a new alphabet is hard and makes reading much more difficult than just learning the words. This is one of my local grocery stores – the name is pronounced skla-ven-eet-ees.

I do want to be able to speak in their language, however. Part of it is that I love languages, and the other part is that a persons’ face lights up when they see that a foreigner is trying (however badly) to speak Greek. The people of Athens really appreciate when students come to learn about the culture and language, and are more than happy to help with pronunciation and basics. As part of the CYA program, I have a 2 hour Greek class twice a week, which is helping me learn the basics, but of course the best way to learn is to try to speak. I tried to order an ice cream in Greek (after explaining my situation – that I don’t know very much but I want to learn) and the shop owner ran through the word for milk (γάλα) with me 4 or 5 times until I could get the initial sound right.

And the other day, I had my first spontaneous interaction in Greek. As any second language learner will probably know, having someone randomly speak to you in your target language is a completely different ball game from initiating the interaction. Your brain is still functioning in English (or whatever your first language is) and it’s hard to make the switch. I was in the laundromat and was asked something by the woman sitting next to me (in Greek). It was way more advanced than anything I know, so I couldn’t hold a conversation but I managed to remember (and say) (Δεν καταλαβαίνω) – I don’t understand – in Greek rather than immediately resorting to English. It’s a small step, but it was exciting that my brain could actually produce words that are relevant to the situation.

Money Returns, Time Does Not

Here I sit, listening to a video I stumbled across while digging into Joe Henderson, who is growing on me more and more every day. This is a clip from the Aurex Jazz Fest ’80 in Japan with Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Randy and Michael Brecker, and Joe Farrell on Homestretch Blues. These are some of my favorite players, and it’s such a pleasant surprise when they just so happen to be together in one place, decorating time in the ways they see fit. Cheers to the invisible groove that sustains these monsters…

Yes, the musical footnotes are a signature. I have my horn now! I traveled to a little place called Floridsdorf, which is the 21st district of Vienna. It took me around 5 hours to get lost, find my way, get my horn and get to class, but it was all worth it. Even though this was still in Vienna, it was so cool to see how different it was in terms of its vibes, suburban/urban areas, and its people. Vienna is an extremely centric country that allows for great access to, well, a lot of beautiful places. I have continued to explore Vienna and all its wonders, but I have also ventured out to other uncharted territories within my reach. I might be eating only cereal for a week, but I will see as much as I possibly can and travel to my heart’s delight! Money returns, time does not. This post will dive into two wonderful little destinations that I have added to my world map.

First stop? Salzburg, Austria.

The city of Salzburg in the background.
The city of Salzburg in the background.

I took a day trip to Salzburg on Sunday, January 26th, with my roommates. Salzburg is German for “Salt Fortress”, which is a name derived from the historic importance of salt mines during the city’s emergence. The historic center of the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, which basically means nobody can alter it because of its cultural, political, or social impact and importance. About 10 minutes before we arrived at the station, we were delighted by the amazing view of the snow-capped Eastern Alps. In Vienna, we have our beautifully structured buildings, cathedrals, and museums, but Salzburg has the alps. Winner. These were the very same alps that made a cameo in the classic, The Sound of Music. Yes, that was Salzburg! There were many buses that offer S.O.M sing-a-long tours. The city is also known for its extensive artistry, with amazing artists such as Werner Otto, who I learned about in the Salzburg Museum. He basically served as an ambassador for the arts for his entire life (goals), combining abstract landscapes and musical notation in his artworks. Salzburg was also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which is emphasized all around the city with little souvenir shops, a museum in the house he was born in, as well as commemorating statues. The city is distributed into two main sections, the Altstadt (Old City) and the Neustadt (New City). We walked around and explored the wonders both sides had to offer, but a particularly cool moment was the visit to the Hohenasalzburg Palace, which is one of the largest fortresses in Europe dating back to the 11th century! I also visited Haus der Natur, which is Salzburg’s science and technology museum, which brought me way back to my childhood. We finished off the day by sitting next to the Salzach river, watching the night lights reflect while we waited for our train…

Second stop? Copenhagen, Denmark.

Oh, don't mind me, just standing in Copenhagen, Denmark!
Oh, don’t mind me, just standing in Copenhagen, Denmark!

Copenhagen was a little weekend (January 31st – February 2nd) trip idea that was whipped up by zooming out on the map of Central Europe and putting our fingers down somewhere. The hype was too real, and we made our travel arrangements and headed out on Friday the 31st. We were welcomed with a cold Danish wind and a whole different society right in front of us. The primary spoken language in Denmark is, of course, Danish. However, the Friday night we arrived, I was mesmerized at how many people spoke English and how well they spoke it. After doing some googling, I found that approximately 86% of Danes learn English as a second language in school, and I found proof of this everywhere. I was not surprised at the number of people, both domestic and international, that inhabited the city. The smells and sounds were similar to those of Vienna, but everything seemed a bit quieter and warmer. The international food markets were present as we indulged ourselves in some Durum and Kebab, as well as in the nightlife, which seemed to never end. The next day, we woke up bright and early to meet up some friends of my roommates who took us to see all the important and memorable places. We saw the Little Mermaid statue, which is a statue by Edvard Eriksen unveiled in 1913, which represents a mermaid becoming human. Hip. We walked around and explored Strøget, which is a famed pedestrian shopping street, as well as walked around its historic district. Another interesting stop was our visit to Freetown Christiana, which is an anarchist commune with a drug-friendly spirit and very artistic in its essence. The Frederik Church, The Round Tower, Tivoli Gardens, and The King’s Garden were some of our many stops on a busy day of exploring. We were able to get into the Salzburg Design Museum for free and we got a chance to explore special Night Club design exhibits and a Danish chair exhibit, (students or young adults, which is younger than 25). Copenhagen is known for its cycling-friendly society, and it was cool to observe the bike lanes that take preference over cars throughout the entire city. The most amazing thing for me, despite all the wonders, was Nyhavn, which is a canal and an entertainment district…København is a MUST.

This was honestly just the tip of the iceberg folks. I have a little note on my phone and in my travel journal labeled Euro-Trips. I recently visited Lecco, Italy – check instagram for those shots @michaeljpmusic. I have plans to hit Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Madrid, and MAYBE Switzerland. Switzerland is really expensive guys. I have this feeling that I am obligated to travel now because none of the places where I reside back home are very close to Europe, and vice versa! I think I have sparked an interest to continue exploring and traveling anywhere and everywhere, embodying the spirit of our human nomadic selves. The hard part isn’t necessarily getting there – the hard part is always coming back.

If you enjoy this blog, please sign up for the email list to get notified when I post another one! You can find me on Instagram @michaeljpmusic for some pictures and make sure to follow @friedcenterhopecollege and @hopeoffcampus. I am one of 14 bloggers currently abroad, so be sure to check out their experiences across the globe.

Where’s the Spera in Deo? A look into religion of Modern Ireland

Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin City
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin City

The place demands attention. Controls it, in a sense, the way a preacher must have controlled the attention of his flock in years past, spitting in their faces warnings of hell and brimstone. That was then, but in 2020 the scene plays out a little differently. Both the preachers at Christchurch Cathedral and the Dublin landmark itself have little influence over those who visit today. Really, the priests are just grateful if there is an audience, as it’s a little awkward talking into the resounding void of a nonexistent congregation. But still, whether it’s weekend tourists or long-time parishioners, the transporting effects of the historic, dramatic building can still be felt, even if it is by a gradually shrinking group of people. Christchurch still today calls forth bleak, severe memories that still seep from the stone columns like sap from an oak tree. Sitting inside is like watching the world rewind to a scanter time when Dublin was still referred to as Dubh Linn, the “dark pool.” 

Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin City
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin City

Peter Caffrey sits in the nave until the organ voluntary has concluded, before rising to his feet and passing by the towering arches and windows inked black by the falling night. Evensong, a service of prayer accompanied by the formidable, stirring voices of the cathedral’s professional choir. There are around ten people in attendance, and Caffrey is one of the last out. He loiters outside, squinting up at the stonework lit and darkened by light and shadows. The façade resembles a black-and-white photograph, the architecture frozen in Victorian time. Caffrey, an older gentleman with philosophical eyes and a tweed cap, has lived in Dublin his whole life and has been a regular attender of Christchurch for the last fifteen years. “I find it a good place to worship,” he explains. “There’s a core group of regular people that it’s nice to meet with, and that’s a lot of the reason why people are religious, so you can express what you believe in with an identified group of people who share your views.” 

Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin City
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin City

Although Caffrey was raised Roman-Catholic, he enjoys the Anglican services offered at Christchurch. He then remarks that he’s “met a lot of people who feel the Roman Catholic church is a little distant and authoritarian. And not really fitting for how things are nowadays.” By this, he’s alluding to the sexual abuse scandals, still fresh wounds in the minds of many. He cites this as one of the reasons why church attendance is down. “That’s the most distressing part of the story,” Caffrey explains, removing his cap and giving his balding head a quick scratch. “But that’s not the whole story. There’s a change among people, and they’re moving towards a more individual sense of spirituality and away from organized religion. It also has to do with the fact that for a lot of people that spiritual quest happens later in life. You got other things to do when you’re young, besides going to church,” he laughs. “It’s perhaps later in life that certain questions come up to people.”

Whatever the primary reason is, the overall decline of Christianity in Ireland is unmissable. Ireland’s Central Statistics Office has recorded not only a decline in proportion of Catholics, but also a decline in numbers, 132,220 people to be exact, from 2011 to 2016. A decrease like that hasn’t been seen in around fifty years. 94% of the population was Catholic in 1961, but in 2016 it was recorded that only 78.3% remained Catholic, the lowest recorded percentage in Ireland’s history. Whether less people are identifying as religious, or fewer people show up to mass regularly, the absence is felt throughout many churches in the Republic of Ireland. Preachers are finding themselves saying God’s word to fewer and fewer people every Sunday. At Christchurch, Sunday mornings usually fail to fill the seats, and majority of people there are tourists on holiday. The Roman Catholic church may be the epicenter of the fallout, but this decline is a nationwide phenomenon, bringing to an end the religious surge that began in the 1030s, when the Viking Sitric Silkenbeard established Christchurch, and effectively began the Irish Christian movement. 

St. Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny Town
St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Town

Reverend Abigail Sines, the Dean’s Vicar of Christchurch, has noticed these changes, perhaps more keenly than most. She was raised in a non-denominational church in Virginia but felt a connection to the Church of Ireland when she’d studied abroad in Belfast. She hasn’t looked back since. She has just finished up a morning prayer session, of which there were two attendants. She reveals that many times, there are none. “Society norms have changed,” She says, her years in Ireland revealing themselves through a slight acquired accent. “There are other things for people to do on Sunday, going to church is no longer the default option.” With the secularization of the church in the last few decades, priests and members of the clergy like Sines are left to figure out how to respond. For Sines, she responds in the best way she can; with open arms. “This cathedral is in a unique situation because it, for decades, has had its doors open for tourists and visitors. Within the last ten years, there’s been more development of that. Anyone is welcome. That ministry of hospitality is a high priority for the Dean.” Sines and the Dean have been working to make Christchurch a thriving religious center. This includes getting used to the fact that attendance will differ every Sunday. Sines explains; “the pattern of cathedral worship is that it’s offered consistently. If there’s a hundred people in the congregation or six people, the service takes place as it would according to the normal historic patterns of worship here. A lot of the worship that’s offered is about being present, and consistent, and knowing that people will come and go with that pattern. It can be very transitory, the type of ministry we have here.” Christchurch offers an array of services on most days of the week, to adhere to the needs of the people. These sessions are constantly going on in the church, and tourists, whether they are religious or not, are openly welcomed to join in. 

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin City
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin City

            Sines remains hopeful, in spite of the possibly depressing facts. “I haven’t by any stretch given up on the churches or institutional religion,” She declares. “I think churches and institutions need to be open to the challenge, and to adjust and be willing to let go of a place of privilege in society. I think that’s what churches are confronted with, that no one has to show you a degree of respect because you happen to be a priest. They need to be open to moving to a place of humility and real genuine faith, where they can repent of wrong things that have been done in the past.” 

St. Mary's Cathedral, Kilkenny Town
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Town

Not only is Sines hopeful, she also adamantly believes that this change in the church may end up having beneficial effects. “Change is a fact,” she says, smiling at the simplicity yet profoundness of the short statement. “When the normal thing is ‘well, we all go to church because that’s what we do,’ where that’s the cultural norm, it doesn’t present to people that need to decide about their faith practice. In one sense, as the culture changes, it confronts people with the choice of, ‘is this really what I want to practice? Is this a faith that I really have given myself to? What if it costs me something else?’ I think that’s quite healthy, people have to genuinely decide where their faith is, they have to go on a journey of questioning, rather than bobbing along in a general social stream that’s vaguely religious, but not really.” 

Kylemore Chapel, Connemara (featuring good old Hope with her anchor)
Kylemore Chapel, Connemara (featuring good old Hope with her anchor)

Caffrey echoes a similar belief. “I think it is what it is,” he shrugs. “In an ideal sense, any religious practice should reflect an inner belief, so people have to primarily be spiritual. But, I think perhaps spirituality previously tended to be vested in more organized religion than it is now. What was interpreted as a sign of solidarity for people is increasingly a sing of constraint. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, I think there’s a gain and a loss of it.” Caffrey shares Sines’ welcoming attitude when it comes to tourists and sightseers. Of tourism, he believes that “It’s not an obstacle, it’s part of the fabric of the place. It’s part of the richness and diversity of it, people are pilgrims on their own particular journey, and maybe for a little bit of time we share that journey, and then people go their own way, that’s okay.” His sensible gaze wanders over the shadowed Christchurch, taking in every stone and every window dramatically accented by the fallen night. The cathedral has undergone many renovations over the almost thousand years it has been a place of worship; the way it looks today, with is Victorian design, is very different than how it looked a few hundred years ago. Christianity, likewise, will undergo changes. “I don’t think people will stop being religious,” Caffrey concludes. “But they may stop practicing in larger congregations. But at this stage, it’s hard to know where it will go. It will evolve into something else, the way Christianity evolved from something else, the way Islam evolved. These faiths and truths will evolve into something else.” He walks out to the dark, busy streets of Dublin, content that, at least until the next time he arrives for service, Christchurch will remain as it is. 

            Light blue light is coloring the beautiful stained-glass windows of the great church; Sines gazes up to them as she finishes morning prayer and walks to the back rooms to take off her Vicar robes. “I believe that God is abundantly able to manifest his presence and love to everyone wherever they’re at,” she says, in a solemn power that quietly reverberates through the transepts and cloisters, through the lady chapel and up the central tower. It’s almost as if the church itself is whispering hear, hear. “There is no doubt in her eyes, no anxiety about what the future may hold. And as the day dawns, and she prepares for noon prayer, Sines remains comforted in the power of her God, and what He can accomplish; “I’m realistic about what’s going on, but I’m not pessimistic. I know what I’ve seen, and I’m aware of the life of Christianity that’s present.”

St. Mary's Cathedral, Kilkenny Town
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Town

The Last Week of First Semester: A Video Recap

Here’s a recap “goodbye” of all the incredible friends I made last year and the host family I stayed with last semester in Paris. Spring semester is already off to a great start, and I can’t wait to get to know all of the new students here on campus!

A Day in the Life as an IJM Intern

As an intern or employee in the somewhat-traditional professional world, I often get the question: “What do you, like, do each day?” So, in this blog post, I’ll try my best to outline what a normal day looks like for me.

First, I wake up to my 7:00 a.m. alarm, get into my business casual clothes as fast as possible, and grab my pre-packed breakfast and lunch (I like to eliminate as many tasks as possible from the morning to get some extra sleep). While stuffing my face, I speedwalk to Union Station in gym shoes (girls, this is key, do not commute in heels), and hop on the metro for about thirty-forty minutes, where I either read or practice Spanish. Thankfully, Hope provides each student with the unlimited metro pass.

The next part of the morning is up to me. International Justice Mission (IJM) starts the day off with thirty minutes of “stillness,” allowing employees to be paid to meditate, pray, read, and focus up for the day. I either try to get to work early to grab coffee or tea before stillness starts or, if I’m running low on time, I head to a nearby coffee shop to do my devotional, as IJM is lenient on when you come in as long as you don’t interrupt others’ stillness. For the next hour and a half after stillness, I check emails, review my calendar, and send emails to the IJM Latin American team. On Mondays, I send an email updating everyone on the most important news from the last week of the countries we’re focused on. I also email different executive assistants in each of the Latin American countries, asking for updates and prayer requests. Truly, my Spanish has magnificently improved from emailing alone.

The next part of my day is super cool. The entire IJM headquarters meet for “corporate prayer,” which is really a mixture of a meeting, celebration, supporting of each others’ hardships, and, of course, prayer. We hear one of the leaders speak while sharing good and bad news: people rescued, criminals arrested, sickness, visas declined. Afterward, we typically move towards lunch. Your lunch hour can mean a number of things–sometimes people in the organization visit and give us life advice in a weekly event called “Brown Bags,” sometimes the interns and I go to Whole Foods and eat in fellowship, and sometimes I’ll go to the free gym for my lunch hour and eat at my desk later. The lunch hour represents one of my favorite parts of working for something like IJM: a social environment topped with exciting freedom.

The rest of the day, if I’m not called to help another department with phones or moving things around, is left to projects. As an intern, I am blessed with a fantastic amount of opportunity and responsibility. Currently, I am working on researching each Latin American country’s basic information and the prevalence of violence against women and children, so IJM has a spreadsheet to refer to when considering new countries to work in. I’m also writing a summary of a U.S. State Department grant report from a project in Guatemala, and writing an assessment of IJM’s ability to work in Colombia. While the work is much more intimidating than college homework, it’s hard not to stay motivated when it holds such significance in an organization that fights such important problems.

Finally, I hop back on the metro and head home. I finish the day up with some cooking, class if it’s a Tuesday or Wednesday, and some tea and Netflix to wind down. Each day can be exhausting, but when you’re working for something you’re passionate about, it’s worth it.

Rabat to Meknes and Back

Where do I even begin? It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Morocco for a little over a week. I feel like I just got here, but at the same time, I feel like I have been in Morocco for forever. In the short time I have been here, I have stayed in two cities with two host families.

The last week was jam-packed with orientation activities. As soon as I got to Morocco, orientation began. Our orientation was split between two cities, Rabat and Meknes. We spent the first two days in Rabat going over basic transportation & safety information, and exploring the city. The city is breathtaking (see proof in pics below).

After these two days, we traveled to a different city, where we spent the next nine days. During this week, I was with my first homestay family. For this homestay, I had a roommate. Having a roommate was INCREDIBLY helpful as I learned how to communicate through a language barrier.

The view from our bedroom in Meknes
The view from our bedroom in Meknes

A huge part of orientation was the Survival Darija Class. We spent three hours a day, 9:00 AM to noon, learning Moroccan Arabic (Darija). At first, three hours of Darija class every day sounded overwhelming. In reality, the three hours flew by. It helped that we had a short break every hour with mint tea and cookies.

Around noon, we had a two-hour break. My roommate and I walked back to our homestay for lunch. Our host mom, Zineb, made us an amazing lunch every day. After lunch, my roommate and I walked back to the center for a cultural activity. The program had a new activity for us to try each day. Over the week, we had cooking, henna, calligraphy, and pottery lessons.

After these long days, I usually went home to relax and study. Mama Zineb would help me pronounce words in Darija.

View from where I studied
View from where I studied

Other days, I explored the medina with other IES Abroad students.

The square was always bustling
The square was always bustling
The medina at sunset
The Medina at sunset

At the end of the week, I took my final exam for the Darija class. So, my first IES abroad class is officially over! This week, I’ll start the rest of our classes.

On Saturday, we took a field trip to Volubilis and Fes. Volubilis is an ancient city, and it is particularly excavated. We arrived just in time to see the sunrise over the mountains. Our tour guide took us around the ruins and provided a brief history lesson.

In Fes, we had a guided tour around the city. We spent the whole day walking and touring the city. Later in the day, we went to a leather tannery, where we could see the whole process unfold. The tannery had a really strong smell, so we were given fresh mint to block out the smell,

On Sunday, we had a free morning. I used this to catch up on some much needed sleep, pack up my bag to head back to Rabat, and say goodbye to my Meknes host family.

When we got back to Rabat, our host families were waiting for us in the IES Abroad center. I stood in a large classroom waiting to meet our host families. Soon, our host families came into the room holding signs with our names written on them. My host mom, Saida, greeted me enthusiastically, and brought me to my new home.

The week has been a whirlwind, but I have loved every moment. I start classes tomorrow, so I am using today to catch my breath and get ready to dive into the rest of the semester.

Chapter 2: Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal - a very animated and lively street at night
Lisbon, Portugal – a very animated and lively street at night

On Friday, February 7th, a group of about twenty CIEE students made their way onto a bus. This bus was heading to the infamous Lisbon, Portugal (or Lisboa as they say). We had the Airbnb, round trip tickets and passports ready. I came into the weekend without any expectations or notions as to what this experience would be like. As it turns out, Portugal is a very interesting place with an unexpectedly vibrant and fun culture.

Lisbon is unique within its own right. It is a very westernized city, with American food and culture hitting you from all sides. Most of this is catering to tourists, but you can easily recognize brands and foods that are identical to back home. However, there is a tapestry of seafood that can be enjoyed, and the ever delicious Pastéis de Nata – a cinnamon/lemon pastry that melts in your mouth. Like the United States, Lisbon is a big melting pot. People from all over the world are either flying into this port city or living indefinitely. There was not one culture that wasn’t represented. However, the majority of the population did speak Portuguese, which can be best described as a combination of Spanish and French while throwing in a Russian accent.

Lisbon, a sister city to San Francisco, has a large suspension bridge spanning across its bay.
Lisbon, a sister city to San Francisco, has a large suspension bridge spanning across its bay.

The entire city is built on a series of 6 very tall hills. If you weren’t walking up, you were walking down. The slick cobblestone and steep angles really made for a workout. You couldn’t get anywhere in the city without experiencing a pretty intense leg burn. But in a sense, this was a good thing. By the time we got back to our Airbnb, we had burned off all of our dinner!

Lisbon’s monuments were absolutely beautiful. There were large plazas with statues dedicated to the country’s heritage and history. The best of them all is the statue of Cristo Rei, which is a monument dedicated to Christ. The statue of Jesus stands 350 feet tall on a hill overlooking the bay area and city, arms outstretched as if to bless the people there. Cristo Rei was easily my favorite attraction.

Cristo Rei in Lisbon, Portugal
Cristo Rei in Lisbon, Portugal

The native food and monuments were breathtaking. I tried octopus for the first time, and was able to see so many new things. But like everywhere, Lisbon did have its problems. In my opinion, if traveling to Lisbon, travel in a large group as we did. Street vendors will try to stop you, follow you, and harass you with either cheaply made goods, or illegal substances (if you know what I am trying to say). If you walk straight, say no, and ignore them, they will leave you alone. I was very surprised by how many times it happened in the span of two short days. Nothing about this city ever seemed dangerous, but having a large group is definitely advised.

We also visited a town called Sintra. It is about an hour outside of Lisbon, and is known for its castles. This town and its monuments have hundreds of years of memories preserved and nestled into the side of a hill. Low hanging clouds were grazing the hilltops, almost creating a fog between the lush trees. Between the mist, palm trees and dense woods, I almost believed I was in a rainforest. The castle (called Quinta de Regaleira) and the castle-garden were the main attraction that day. The castle was built in c.a. 1400. Also lining the hill are chapels, towers, walls, and an intricate labyrinth of caves. We spent hours walking uphill through the woods. It was amazing being able to touch, smell, and see a place that is well over 600 years old.

Sintra, Portugal. An antique yet beautiful city with hundreds of years of preserved history.
Sintra, Portugal. An antique yet beautiful city with hundreds of years of preserved history.

Overall, this trip was unforgettable. I was able to take a small step back from Spain and its culture to learn a new one. Through the good and the bad, Lisbon, and all of Portugal for that matter, is a welcoming place that I would definitely recommend visiting.

A video I made of my trip to Portugal – enjoy!