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Spoonfuls of Nature’s Bounty


Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve gone on several weekend trips, while finishing up classes for the semester. The first trip was to the Fiordlands to hike the Routebourn track; one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The first day was by far the most difficult. We covered about 15 miles of ground over a 9-hour span, hiking from The Divide where the track starts all the way to the Routebourn Falls hut, which is the second-to-last hut of the trail.

On the way there we saw some majestic sights. The first was a magnificent waterfall that was flowing rather heavily due to rainfall the night before. We walked right past the area where it hits the pool below, and were shrouded in mist.

After passing the halfway point, the clouds started to clear and glorious rainbows that spanned across the mountain range greeted us. I couldn’t believe the great luck we had to experience such beautiful weather, which is not known to be commonplace in the Fiordlands. As we hit the highest point of the Routebourn track, we had a 360-degree view of the area. Beautiful valleys were down below, with a river careening through the mountains and emptying into the Pacific. It was a breathtaking view from which we simply could not move on.

After struggling to continue the hike, not wanting those views to be fleeting memories, we moved on to a rather easy portion of the trail, a flat little jaunt across the mountain, while jumping over several flowing rivers. As we collected ourselves at a small shelter only 1 hour from the finish, we had a bite to eat and took in the beauty. However, the rain started to come down upon us.

We began the final portion, but since it was a group of 7 going at largely different paces, we began to separate, knowing we were closing in on our night’s accommodation. While I scampered down a snowy bank seeing the group leader many meters in front of me, I turned to my left to see a flush valley with a large river carving out the middle. Right before reaching our destination, the river culminated in a large waterfall that flowed with the strength of Poseidon himself. After wondering for several minutes at the sight bestowed upon mine eyes, I walked to the hut and set myself down for the night.

The next day, we took our time waking up, knowing the day’s hike would be less stressful. We went back the way we came, taking in the beauty at a comfortable pace. We rested for the night at the midway hut, before finishing the trail the next day.

The following week, I finished up both my final paper and test of the semester, with a comfortable 2-week break before my final exams. The tests here are taken far more seriously than I have experienced at Hope. You enter the auditorium, and are forced to remove your jacket and place it at the front of the room. The tests are already placed at alternating seats, with 4 different colored booklets at each one to alter the questions to prevent any foul play. The rest is treated like a standardized test, with the proctor at the front reading instructions before the clock starts and you open your test. While my classes haven’t been overly difficult, that type of atmosphere is most definitely not cohesive with my academic abilities.

This previous weekend, a few friends and I took a day trip south to the Catlins, where we explored the Petrified Forest.  Here is Geology major Daniel Leaman’s description:

“The Petrified Forest is an extensive fossil record of a Jurassic flood event that deposited tree trunks and plants amidst volcanic sediments.  The location of the Petrified Forest, now known as Curio Bay, was a relict fluvial plain surrounded by several volcanoes.  Igneous sediments from these volcanoes mixed with flood water and organic debris, and were quickly deposited at Curio Bay.  Due to the high silica content of igneous sediments, the flood debris underwent the silification process in a matter of weeks.  The Petrified Forest is an extremely rare and well-preserved outcrop of Jurassic fossils and sedimentary formations.”

After a short time walking around this area, I spotted an extremely rare Yellow-eyed Penguin. There are only about 4,000 left, and South Eastern New Zealand is the only place in the world where they can be spotted by tourists. After wandering around a large, nearby waterfall, we headed home, jubilated by our stupendous afternoon.

Now, as I prepare for finals, I look ahead to the coming weeks that will be filled with more traveling, sad goodbyes, and last-minute planning, and I know that my memories will flood outward through my soul every time I encounter a willing ear from henceforth.

A Day in Sibiu

It was a fun day!

Today we traveled by bus to the lovely and historic city of Sibiu! We started the day with a tour provided by our Romanian teacher, Elena. We walked on the first iron bridge built in Romania, which is also known as the “Bridge of Lies” or “Liar’s Bridge”. According to legend, if one were to tell a lie while standing on the bridge, piece by piece it would start to crumble. This bridge is a popular destination for lovers to pledge their vows, and many wedding photos are taken on this bridge.

beautiful church
Top photo: most of the group standing on the Bridge of Lies; Bottom photos: one of the many beautiful churches in Sibiu!

Some of the group also toured the Romanian art in the National Brukenthal Museum – where we were able to use our International Student ID cards to get a large discount! 😉 The museum was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I think that my favorite piece of the day was by Gheorghe Tattarescu. I unfortunately was unable to snap a photo because at this point in the museum I was told that taking photos was not allowed (oops!).

art gallery
In the art gallery before I saw the sign that taking pictures was not allowed!

Spending the day with my crazy-fun girls was the best part of the trip! After our tour in the morning was over, we drank coffee and relaxed in the city center where we observed other people also enjoying their day in the sun. We shopped, found a cool bookstore, took a lot of goofy photos, and laughed a lot. It was a great Saturday, and I am so blessed to have met all of these awesome people!

Climbed the clocktower
We climbed to the top of the clock tower where the view was fantastic and they also had 3D art!

 

I hope you’re having a great day!! La revedere!

=)  Marga

 

 

“…and the truth will set you free”

Faith and ministry are a huge part of Veritas and the Romanian Studies Program (RSP). Veritas is the non-profit Christian organization that the RSP students partner with. The goal of Veritas is not only (if possible) to meet the physical needs of the people of Sighisoara, but also the spiritual needs. All of the programs offered at Veritas incorporate a prayer or Bible lesson into each session because they recognize that by sharing the gospel, they are able to offer true freedom and hope for their clients. Veritas’ doors are open to all, and will not turn away anyone (even with the strong prejudices against the Roma “gypsy” population). The needs are great here, and the poverty was at first extremely overwhelming (especially after going on my first home visit). I believe this is why the foundation of the organization is built on the message of Christ and God’s redeeming love – to provide hope in the lives of those living in the poorest conditions in the community. The word “veritas” is Latin for “truth”. Veritas strives to spread the truth of the gospel to all who participate in the programs. The services that are provided by Veritas are a Kindergarten, separate after-school clubs for kids and teens, elderly clubs, a special needs program, and a domestic violence program. 
These programs open up opportunities to work with diverse populations. Sometimes I get frustrated because I do not feel as if I am able to truly help others while here, but that’s when I remind myself that it’s not necessarily about what I can do here, but rather what I can learn while here. The Romanian Studies Program is all about having a different cultural experience, and I am able to learn so much about how non-profit organizations work and what kind of scenarios arise while working with such diverse and oppressed populations. It’s definitely not the “typical” senior field placement, but I think that is why I first found the RSP so appealing. It is a lot different here than in the states. I may not learn about how to do all of the paperwork that is necessary and prevalent in American social work organizations, but my experiences here, I believe, surpass that need. Through spreading the truth of the gospel, Veritas is an example of what Christ’s love in action looks like. It provides the message of hope and ultimate freedom for all to hear.
John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
This is a peaceful river that flows near my house in Sighisoara
This is a peaceful river that flows near my house in Sighisoara.
Have a blessed day!
Marga  =)

 

What exactly are you doing in Sighisoara?

I have been asked this question quite often, and to be honest, I was not so sure of the answer myself for the first couple of weeks. Because Jill and I are the very first Hope students to participate in the Romanian Studies Program, we were both unable to give many details about what exactly we would be doing while here. Finally, after a month in, I feel as if I have settled into a routine, and somewhat know how to prepare for the day ahead of me…

Monday:

  • 8 am Romanian language class
  • 9:30 am Teen Club adviser meeting at the Veritas Family Center
  • 12:30 pm Lunch at Veritas Family Center
  • 2 pm Teen Club
  • 5 pm Cross-cultural checkup at Dorothy’s house
  • 6 pm “American” dinner at Dorothy’s house

Tuesday:

  • 8 am Romanian language class
  • 10 am School visits
  • 12:30 pm Supervision with Dorothy
  • 2 pm Teen Club
  • 5 pm Elderly home visits with Zsolt, my translator

Wednesday:

  • 9 am Elderly home visits/ Food delivery with David and Mia
  • 12:30 pm Lunch at Veritas Family Center
  • 2 pm Teen Club

Thursday:

  • 8 am Romanian language class
  • 10 am School visits
  • 12:30 pm Lunch at Veritas Family Center

Friday:

  • 8 am Veritas team meeting
  • 10:30 am Social Work Seminar
  • 12:30 pm Lunch
  • 1:15 pm Romanian History and Culture Class

Every other weekend, Dorothy plans day trips and tours to different cities in Romania, and these are a lot of fun! During the week, the majority of my extra time in between clubs or meetings is spent preparing material, researching, or studying Romanian. Because I do not speak the language, it is extremely difficult to focus on the counseling aspect of social work. The majority of the Veritas staff can speak or understand English well, and translators are available, but nonverbal communication is huge when working one-on-one with clients. My role as a social worker here is more focused on the aspects of being an educator, an advocate, a researcher, a service provider, and a net-worker. Throughout the week, I help lead group activities, lessons, and games for the teens and elderly clubs that focus on getting them involved and interacting with one another. I also go on home-visits to assess the needs of the family or client, and to observe their home environment. Through my daily interactions with my clients, I look for opportunities to meet their needs with the help of the already existing Veritas programs, and I am encouraged to voice my suggestions and opinions about possible new program ideas to my supervisors. At the end of the day, I am usually exhausted from the mental and emotional stress, but I am blessed to have this unique experience. I continue to thank God for the strength He provides, and for stretching me further than I would have ever thought possible! So, what exactly am I doing here in Sighisoara? I am here trying to love God, serve His people, and learn more about what it means to be a social worker in a non-profit Christian organization from those with greater wisdom and experiences than my own.

Pa! =)

Marga

Is That A Whale?! Nope Just A Rock

photo (10)
There were facts like this one posted all over the festival

Howzit?! Last weekend I spent time away at the Hermanus Whale Festival about two and half hours away from campus. My program sponsored the event and about thirty Americans signed up. We left Friday night and stayed through until late Sunday afternoon. It was so nice to get away from campus for a few days and see a new place. We stayed at a quaint and comfortable hostel walking distance from the festival and all of our meals were prepared for us by the owner and staff. We were all ready and geared up to see whales on whales in the bay, take pictures of the whales and buy whale t-shirts. After sitting looking out at the water for about an hour, it seemed the festival was lacking one minor detail. I might have seen the back of one whale, but… it very could have been a rock. Regardless of the whale aspect, the trip offered the chance to really get closer with some of the other Americans. It was such a beautiful day and valuable time was spent bonding with the other students while lying in the sun on the shore.

I still remember my first week here, worrying that I would not make any authentic, genuine relationships. This was one of my main goals in coming to South Africa- to find new people to connect with and learn from beyond the surface level. Prior to coming here, I honestly had the perception that I wouldn’t really even talk to Americans and would be laughing and scampering about South Africa with the locals. Surprisingly, those that I have become closest to are not local South Africans, but other American students in my program. As time passed, I found myself wanted to discuss and reflect on the experiences I was having with people who would understand the context. Through both the good times and the more challenging times, I wanted to find peers that could really relate to what I was feeling. I have definitely made local friends and have had many conversations with South Africans; I just have not developed the relationships I anticipated. With all of this said I am so grateful and blessed for the strong relationships I have made! I am learning so much through these friendships and my experience here would not be the same without them. Several of us are already making plans to get together back in the States after the program ends! 🙂

 

This is Rebekah, one of the other American students. I guess you could say we have become pretty close :)
This is Rebekah, one of the other American students. I guess you could say we have become pretty close 🙂

 

Kars Kars Kars!

This past weekend we had the opportunity to go on an organized trip with CIEE to Kars, a small city in Northeastern Turkey. By the title of this post, you can already tell I loved it! 🙂
It was definitely interesting to see a completely different side of Turkey: the community Kars finds itself in is very rural and it was also extremely cold, it even snowed while we were there!! The day we flew in we had a small tour of Kars and got to see some cool architecture and learn about the history of the community and the influence of the Russians, Georgians and Armenians in the region. image
Our second day there was, well, interesting. Over half of our group got food poisoning from the night before and had to stay at the hotel and recover. Thankfully, my pickiness when it comes to food saved me from that one (yeah Mom and Dad, there you go 😉 ). Me and the other half of the group went to Ani, a town close to Kars, where we got to see some of the most beautiful ruins and the Armenian border. image

image
It was really, really cold but the landscape and ruins were worth the painful cold! imageimageimage

The other side is Armenia!!
The other side is Armenia!!

After our tour of Ani, we drove in our bus to Boğatepe, a small village about an hour away. When we arrived, we split into three groups and each group had the opportunity to eat at one of the villager’s homes. The food was fantastic and fresh and it was an amazing experience to interact (through translation from our CIEE coordinator) with our hosts and learn more about their lives. image

Got this from my friend Danielle; here with the lady of the house and her daughter-in-law!
Got this from my friend Danielle; here with our host and her daughter-in-law!

After our meal, we learned more about the cheese production in the village and the work of women cultivating herbs for pharmaceutical purposes.Finally, we went back to the hotel to join our sick friends who were feeling a little better after their rough day.
The last day in Kars we visited one of the only two bird-banding stations in Turkey, located an hour and a half from Kars. It was an interesting experience because I know absolutely nothing about birds. At these stations, birds are caught and they are examined and get a small band or bracelet on one of their feet. If that banded bird is caught again somewhere else in the world, more is learned about bird behavior and their migratory patterns, which contributes to furthering research and advocacy for their protection.
Anyway, I have bored you enough with my talk about birds, but I hope you enjoyed reading about this trip as much as I enjoyed experiencing it. Today, a new adventure begins! Kurban Bayramı (a religious holiday-if you want to know more about the religious significance of it, you can read a little about it here: http://www.mymerhaba.com/Bayrams-in-Turkey-119.html) break begins today and I will be traveling with my friend Keelia for 10 days; I am super excited as we will be visiting 4 different cities in the Aegean region of Turkey: İzmir, Ephesus, Pamukkale and Bodrum. My next post will be after the holiday! Hope everyone has a nice fall break! 🙂 Hugs from Turkey!

Climbing to the Scaunul Domnului (Chair of God)

 

Dangling
Dangling my feet off of the cliffs of Scaunul Domnului! Unbelievable scenery. Never before have I felt so free. =]

Probably one of my favorite days so far this semester was this past Saturday when we went on a hike in the Calimani Mountains. Our destination was a look-out peak called Scaunul Domnului (the Chair of God). We started our hike at 10:30 am and reached the top of the cliff around 2:00 pm! We carried our lunch in our pockets, and stopped to eat in an open valley on the way up the mountain. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day for a hike!

On the trail up towards the top, we saw fresh signs of a large bear, as well as signs for wild boars. Thankfully, the only animals that attacked us that day were sheep dogs. Apparently, sheep dogs can be pretty vicious, but the shepherds were nearby and able to keep them under control.

They
The dogs may look cute in the picture, but they were pretty scary in person!!

It was a long hike to the top, and the view was definitely worth it!

on top collage
We made it!! Pictured on the top left is the side view of Scaunul Domnului, and the other two photos are taken while standing on Scaunul Domnului.

We ended up taking a different route down the mountain and didn’t make it to the bottom until 6:30 pm. The last couple of hours were miserable for some because we were all tired and hungry, but David, our tour-guide, was cheerful and showed us the food we could and could not eat while on the mountain!

The
The mushroom on the left is poisonous (and pretty), but the seeds and plant on the right are edible (and pretty tasty)!!

It was a long day, but definitely worth the time and energy. I felt rejuvenated after this hike, and I cannot wait for my next chance to go back to the mountains! Hopefully the snow and cold weather will hold off, because I want to go hiking as much as possible while here.

The girls minus our tour guide
The girls standing on top of Scaunul Domnului! =]

Au o zi buna!

~Marga

Elderly Club Group Outing!

One of the highlights from last week was being able to bump around on a tour bus all day for an Elderly Club Group Outing! We visited the Brancoveanu Monastery and the Brukenthal Palace near Sibiu. A team from the United States joined the excursion with the elderly, along with Damen, a Romanian adopted by an American family. Damen is 23 years old, has a mild case of autism, and was partnered with me for the day. We had a lot of fun admiring the beautiful countryside during our 10 hours together, and had many “moments” throughout the day that were memorable.

Just a glimpse of the monastery
Just a glimpse of the Brancoveanu Monastery
Damen
Damen and I sharing a “moment” while walking back to the bus from the monastery.
Beautiful
This photo was zoomed in and taken while riding on the bus, but it was my first time seeing the snow-capped Carpathian Mountains! Absolutely beautiful.

Our second stop of the day was to Brukenthal Palace which during the summer months is open for tours. However, we arrived in the off-season, so we were only able to admire the mansion, guest house, and garden from outside.

One
One of the elderly women felt the need to pick up a live mouse that we found on the staircase leading up to the mansion. This provided loads of entertainment for all observing and involved!

All in all, it was a fun but long day. We frequently had to stop the bus on the side of the road because someone was feeling car-sick, so that an elderly club member could use the restroom, or to pick the wildflowers and mushrooms on the hillside near the road. It was quite the adventure, and we had a lot of fun touring different parts of Romania!

Sarah
Sarah and Darbi were the only other two RSP students that traveled with the group. We were fortunate for the opportunity to join the Elderly Club Group Outing!!

La revedere!

*** Marga  =)

A Family-Filled Weekend

Oh hi again 🙂

I have decided to write another post about my weekend at home in Granada! Carmen and Fabi’s grandkids stayed with us and I spent a lot of time with them. Their names are Cásper, Laurenzo, and Paulita. It was a special weekend because it was Laurenzo’s 8th birthday :). Now, I have had the chance to get to know them more, especially Cásper. Yesterday, I helped him with his multiplication facts, which I was more than happy to do. We had a lot of fun, despite that it was math homework! I succeeded in making him laugh when I asked what 4*100 was. Later, however, he didn’t make me seem like a good tutor when he didn’t know the answers to the facts Carmen asked. I think he was just messing with her though hahahah (a typical boy). Afterwards, I joined Carmen and Fabi when they took the boys to the García Lorca park, where we tried to pose like the people on the random exercise signs. I was sad that I didn’t bring my phone to take any pictures of this! It would have been a great supplement to this post :(. But, not to worry! I have included a lot of photos from Laurenzo’s birthday party, which was earlier this afternoon. Allie and I were lucky enough to receive invitations ;).

Lol apparently, he couldn't contain his excitement to take a picture with us.
Lol apparently, he couldn’t contain his excitement to take a picture with us.

It’s my host family’s tradition to celebrate birthdays on the mountain, San Miguel, in Granada.

As you can see, Allie and I had fun taking pictures.
As you can see, Allie and I had fun taking pictures.

The first thing we did was set up the decorations!

I thought these were SO cute!
I thought these were SO cute!
I figured out that "Cumple" is a colloquial expression for birthday
I figured out that “Cumple” is a colloquial expression for birthday

After sipping sangria and eating paella, it was time to put the snacks for Laurenzo’s friends on the table. Meriendas
Unfortunately, Allie and I left early, so we didn’t get to try the cake (I know, what a bummer!), but it was definitely a neat experience to be part of the birthday festivities with my host family.

The American Girl in Spain

Hey everybody! And of course, Happy Homecoming, Hope!!

Over the past couple weeks, I have noticed that I’m starting to see Granada as my new home. Maybe it’s because I found my new favorite drink for breakfast hahaha (see picture)??

ColaCao- The spanish version of chocolate milk :)
ColaCao- The spanish version of chocolate milk 🙂

Or that I found a solid group of girl friends, who encourage me to be more adventurous? When I visited Barcelona, I was sad to leave Granada just for the weekend. I thought if I’m feeling like this now, how about when I have to leave in December? That’s when I realized I am growing attached to this city. I have a pretty good idea of where things are and thus, I rarely have to ask for directions when I need to go somewhere…Yayayy! However, it’s more than just the small things that have been adding to my experience.
For one, I am taking a class at the Universidad de Granada about how to teach spanish :). So far, this has helped make my semester abroad more of an immersion.The class is full of native speakers, but there are a few girls who have been very welcoming.They always invite me to sit by them, clarify things if I don’t understand and are genuinely interested in hearing about life in the States! It’s been fun for me because for the first time ever, I am the popular girl! Also, I have started to dress up on a daily basis like other young Spanish women. There is not one woman on the street wearing athletic attire, which has been a cultural shock for me because I love my gym shoes! Even if I do put together an outfit, I still feel like I don’t quite fit in because my clothes are from American brands. So, I bought a skirt and bracelet from the street market, La Rambla in Barcelona.

Modeling my new skirt ;)
Modeling my new skirt 😉

I must talk about the Spanish brand Mango a lot because Fabi came home the other day with a catalog from the store for me… It was super sweet. We also bonded over my American magazine with Shakira on the cover and discussed how she is married to FC Barcelona player, Gerald Piqué and how she sings that song about “calderas”. Hahaha.
My host family continues to play a major part in my cultural immersion by teaching me what it’s like to live in a Spanish household. Unlike when I live with my parents, I feel more obligated to spend a certain amount of time at home and responsible for keeping my room clean (Carmen lectured me on the first day before I unpacked about this!).
Just yesterday, I mentioned that I was going to get my nails done. She asked me where and how much it cost. After I told her, she INSISTED that her daughter knew a better place and for me to bring her my cell phone so she could call and cancel my appointment. Lol the joke of the day became that I was “a baby” and couldn’t call myself! She is also very obsessed with my hair because she calls me “pelo lindo” or “pretty hair” everyday… the compliment is always welcome 🙂