The dig and orientation

Voula!
Voula!

It is so crazy to think that this is already my 3rd week in Athens!!! I was absolutely incredible getting to work on the dig these last two weeks! After all was said and done, we uncovered lots of walls, a boat-load of ceiling tiles and burnt areas (indicating collapse and destruction), pottery, giant storage vessels, a feeding trough, ancient animal bones and a drainage system. The best part was using all the things we found in order to try to piece together ideas of what the site was used for and who lived there. The whole experience of the dig really helped me become more well acquainted with the city and the greater Athens area. Every day we would get up at 6am to make the hour and a half commute to the archeological site via metro, bus and walking to Voula (a suburb of Athens by the sea). Even though I was pretty nervous to take on the public transportation system, it ended up not being that bad (as long as you make sure to watch out for pick pockets!). I even felt comfortable enough to take the metro on my own to get home from church.
I’m really going to miss working on the dig, but there isn’t much time to think about it since orientation is in full swing this whole week. Part of orientation is a survival Modern Greek class, which has been overwhelming but very useful for learning enough to get around. I can’t wait to keep exploring and get more involved in the CYA program!

Drawing out the trenches at the dig
Drawing out the trenches at the dig

Taking Gabs by Africa Time!

Today was the first week of school, but not really…. at the University of Botswana, students still register during the first week of class and sometimes the professors don’t hold lectures during this time. I was also told that there is a concept called “Africa time” which means that everything starts 20 to 30 minutes late and that it usually doesn’t apply to class, though my first week seems to have proven this statement wrong. Two of my professors did not show up on the first day of class and most of the others were about 10 minutes late. My longest class lasted about 30 minutes.

The class structure is completely different. In the course outline you are given (equivalent to a syllabus) there are no dates for tests or assignments and most of the time you are not even told what assignments you will have to do. This can be very frustrating because I have been living in a very different environment at Hope College where I know what is expected, how and when to do it. At the University of Botswana, you have to roll with the punches. I had difficultly finding out what I needed to take to my biology lab; I was sent to four different offices and received no answer. I was proud that I did not become that frustrated, but I have realized these obstacles have led me to start taking things a bit too lackadaisical. I need to remind myself that this is actual school and it matters for my future, and this is not just a vacation.

prarie dogDuring the first week when I didn’t have any lectures I had some time to explore Gaborone. I visited the Botanical Gardens (we saw prairie dogs!) with some friends as well as visited some nice restaurants. On Saturday we climbed Kgale Hill which was astoundingly beautiful (also shown below).

climbing kgalefrom the topIt was a tough climb, and my whole group was constantly looking at the ground to make sure they did not fall, but the locals were just running right up the hill. When we got to the top, there was an exercise class! Batswana are amazing when I think of them climbing this hill and then do push-ups and sit-ups at the top!

I hope to have more adventures to share, and will talk more about the local people in my next post!

First Day of Class

UG.jpgI was quite nervous for today – it was my first day of class! I didn’t know what to expect or how it would be. Would I feel strange? Would I be an outsider among my own people? Would I be accepted? Would people be able to tell that I have lived 14 years in the United States? Or would I just blend in like everybody else? All these questions lingered my head as I arrived at the building where my first class would be held. I was nervous and scared at the same time, there was no one inside the classroom. The class was scheduled to start at 2:00 pm and it was 1:55 pm, I was expecting to be the last one. On the contrary I was early and the classroom was empty…. I asked a student outside of the classroom if she had the same class, and she answered yes. She said that it was quite normal for professors to show up 15, 30, 50 minutes late – even an hour, or maybe not even show up at all. For her last class the professor had come an hour and 20 minutes late to the class. I was told that that would not be uncommon but it it just a hard concept to grasp even though I was already told it could happen. This occasion was not the case, I decided to wait inside the classroom. The teacher arrived at precisely 2:00 pm and started going over a concise syllabus. The syllabus did not have due dates and was not divided by days, but it had the class objectives, grading scale, purpose, content and materials needed for the class. I felt comfortable inside the classroom and was relieved that it was not as overwhelming as I thought. Most of the students already knew each other because they were all majoring in the same field. I, on the other hand, was the only one taking the class as a requirement for a liberal arts college. I see that as an advantage because I can meet people at the university with all kinds of backgrounds and interests, not just one area or field. The class was dismissed after 30 minutes and I walked with a girl named Alejandra to the “peceros” (Bus type vans) in-front of the school. After that I took another pecero home and ate with my host family. That was my first day at the University of Guanajuato! Hopefully in the future I will be able to make close friends and feel more at home in the city of Guanajuato, especially at the university.

Dumela!

Hey Everyone,

I am Krista and am studying at the University of Botswana this semester. I arrived in Gaborone, Botswana six days ago, and the first thing you notice is the heat! It is very hot here, but the morning and evenings are very nice. An interesting thing that is very common here is people walking around with umbrellas. People walk with an umbrella to block the sun and create some shade for themselves – what an awesome idea! The biggest thing in Botswana though, are greetings. The way people greet each other in this country is by saying “Dumela mma” (hello m’am) or “Dumela rra” (hello sir) and you shake hands. They have all kinds of cool handshakes, especially the men. Now, each person does not greet everyone he or she meets on the street, though it is common to do so before you ask for directions or order food, or they will not be very friendly. On Hope’s campus we have a similar culture of greeting strangers, but greetings here are shown as a sign of respect which is very important in Botswana’s culture.

I am also a white girl in an African country which makes me stand out and many people stare, but I have noticed that once I say “Dumela” they say hi and smile. The people are friendly and are curious why we are in their country. I have also learned that they do not have an equivalent of “You are welcome” which is very strange to me. They only say “ok,” or they reply with a “thank you.” I keep finding little interesting differences between Botswana and America, but they are also similar in many ways. There are several malls in Gaborone and they are very similar to American malls. Batswana watch American movies, and some American soap operas. They listen to much of the same music as Americans. Overall, Botswana is great, and I am very excited for the semester to start next week! And this is the group from America that I came with through CIEE!Botswana

Chichimeca the indigenous people of San Luis de la Paz

The ruins of San Luis de la Paz
The ruins of San Luis de la Paz

Yesterday was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As a group we visited a Chichimeca indigenous reservation in San Luis de la Paz, Guanajuato. We were accompanied by bilingual teacher Emmanuel. The Chichimeca are one of the only indigenous people who were not conquered by the Spanish. Emmanuel is Chichimeca, he speaks Chichimeca Jonaz and Spanish. He grew up on the reservation and is a very intelligent man who through education is helping his indigenous community. The Chichimeca are treated as third class citizens.

I felt strange entering the Chichimeca reservation because I felt as if I was invading the community’s space. The indigenous people of the reservation could automatically tell that we were not from there because of our clothing and our physical features. Emmanuel showed us around the Chichimeca elementary school. We walked into a first grade classroom and sang some songs for the children. The most intriguing part was that the teacher, Valente, asked the children how many of them spoke fluent Chichimeca Jonaz and less than half of the children raised their hands. Valente explained that it is harder to keep cultivating their native tongue Chichimeca Jonaz with the younger generations. “The younger generations are embarrassed of speaking their native tongue outside of the reservation,” explains Emmanuel. Emmanuel explained his projects for the reservation and also explained how we as a group could help. I really admire him, he is committed to maintaining the culture and helping his community through education.

After all the learning we played a game that included a wooden ball soaked in diesel that was lit with a torch. The ball was literally on fire the whole game, and we were given croquet-like sticks and ask to hit the ball until we scored. First, we were given a demonstration by the sixth graders, then we were asked to play. We were warned that the ball was not to touch our legs otherwise we could get burned. It is an ancient Chichimeca game and it is still practiced on the reservation. Most indigenous communities in Mexico compete on a national level. Then we visited a pre- Hispanic music museum and we saw a lot of the instruments used by indigenous cultures. We learned how and what the sounds of the different instruments meant. As a group we also learned a few words in Chichimeca.

We visited Mineral de Pozos in San Luis de la Paz and saw how a once flourishing and promising town turned into a ghost town. The town was most known because of its minerals and there was a lot of mining in the area. All there is left now is a deserted town that has many ruins and ancient buildings. We spoke to some of the people and they told us some of their experiences and worries about the future of the town. We were in the area the whole day and we spoke to many people. As a group we did so many other things and it is impossible to write it all down. I learned so much from bilingual teacher Emmanuel and from the people on the reservation.

The city of Guanajuato

3553454450_0e6b062fb5_zThe city of Guanajuato is beautiful, it is my first time in the city. The host family that I was put into is very warm and open. My host family’s home is in the hills of Guanajuato; which is why I can see the city of Guanajuato from the terrace. I actually have to walk 20 minutes to get to the CIEE office, it definitely is a lot of exercise. So far we had meetings everyday at the CIEE office. We have already done a scavenger hunt race around the city with other students. Yesterday we met with all the foreign exchange students and the nationals from other parts of México who are studying at the University of Guanajuato this semester. The host spoke very clear as to the distinction between foreigners and nationals, he said “raise your hand if you are a foreigner which means you are not Mexican.” I didn’t know whether to raise my hand or not, even that simple question had me thinking because my nationality is Mexican but I do come from a US university. This is one of many questions that I will be asking myself during my stay here. I am so excited to start classes already, I want to meet the students and the professors. I have not yet been inside the University of Guanajuato, but I have to climb “Las escalinatas” (the stairs leading up to the building in the picture). I look forward to learning more about the history and literature of México.

Predeparture: Enjoying the Snow and learning Malagasy

It’s finally starting to sink in: in two weeks time I’ll be in the air, on my way to Madagascar! My program only starts on the 30th of January, so I’m fortunate to have an extra 3 weeks of vacation to spend with my family. My sister Melinda attends the University of Stellenbosh in South Africa, and conveniently her semester starts around the same time as mine, so we’ll be able to fly as far as South Africa together. This flight plan also means I’ll be able to visit her in SA on my way back to the USA in May 🙂

Can you tell I love snow?!

Meanwhile, while I’m still here in Michigan, I’ve been relishing the wonder of winter and spending as much time as I can enjoying the marvelous amount of snow that fell to earth last weekend – by building “bobsled” runs down the porch stairs, sliding down the banks of frozen waterfalls, constructing igloos, blowing bubbles outside and watching them freeze, and playing broomball 🙂

Frozen waterfalls are pretty cool, eh? Last week I explored Hungarian falls, located near Houghton in the UP. There are some great things to see even without leaving the state!

Now I feel like I can go to Madagascar in a couple weeks without feeling like I missed out on this beautiful season. In fact, the prospect of bare feet and not having to bundle up every time I leave the house is starting to sound quite appealing!

When I’m not playing in the snow, I’ve been trying to learn Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar. It’s been fascinating – the language has Malay origins, but has a definite African feel; the grammar and sentence structure is totally different to any other language I’m familiar with, and although words contains many vowels you rarely pronounce half of them! I’m excited to get to Madagascar and see what the ideal of “picking up” a language that’s around you actually looks like. I’m guessing it involves a lot of frustration! Oh the other hand, I’m feeling more optimistic about French, the other language spoken in Madagascar. I’ve being listening to French radio stations from Madagascar and other French African countries – and so far I’ve been finding the African-French accent easier to understand than the Parisian accent I’ve been taught in French classes! I’m hoping that’s the case when I’m actually in Madagascar too.

 

Bienvenue En France!

Today marks the start of my second week in France. This sounds absolutely ridiculous to say out loud and in print, because with everything I’ve done, I feel like I ought to have been here for at least double that time.

We all arrived in Paris on January 6 to report for Orientation. I’d flown overnight, as had most everyone else, and we were all extremely jetlagged. We met the Resident Director of CIEE-Rennes at the airport and a bus took us to the hostel. And then…we saw as much of Paris as is humanly possible in three days.

I do not exaggerate when I say there wasn’t a single moment when I wasn’t having fun. We were a big group, so it was pretty obvious we were tourists, but the program gave us different options of things to do each day. Every morning we could pick between to places—hmm, the Eiffel Tower, or the Louvre?—and then after lunch we all had a mandatory excursion with a tour guide. One day we went to Montmarte (a small mountain in the northern part of Paris also home to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica), and the other, Isle de la Cité (one of Paris’ two islands and the place with—maybe you’ve heard of it?—Notre Dame Cathedral).

View from the top of Montmartre--a photo doesn't do it justice, so go see it in person!
View from the top of Montmartre–a photo doesn’t do it justice, so go see it in person!

I also had the privilege of being able to visit the Paris Catacombs, a relatively unknown location full of history. We paid a group fee to have a tour in English, which turned out to be invaluable. The Catacombs are both an old quarry and an ossuary. They weren’t even in Paris at one point—which is why they have all the bones. The condition of the Parisian cemeteries was at one point so bad that Louis XIV ordered them all to be emptied and put into the quarry he had just ordered to be mapped. They think there’s around 6 million people buried in there.

Skulls arranged to resemble a doorway to heaven.
Skulls arranged to resemble a doorway to heaven.

If you want to be simultaneously awed and creeped out, visit Les Catacombes. Even though I was super interested in the story of the quarry and catacombs, I felt a little freaked out by the series of tunnels with bones stacked about five or six feet high. I was expecting some sort of barrier between us and the remains of human beings, but nope! I could have reached out, grabbed a skull, and said “Alas, poor Yorick!” if I’d wanted. But I was told I’d be fined if I did that, so I refrained.

A carving done by one of the quarry workers. According to our guide, he had planned to show it to his friends the very day he was crushed to death while working.
A carving done by one of the quarry workers. According to our guide, he had planned to show it to his friends the very day he was crushed to death while working.

Not what you picture when you think of Paris, eh?

After a couple days, of course, we all climbed on a bus and headed to Rennes, where we’re eagerly and nervously waiting for our classes to begin! À bientôt! See you soon!

Move in day!!

IMG_0008Its my 2nd full day in Athens and its a balmy 60 degrees outside (which sounds wonderful compared to the -21 degree weather in Minneapolis and the blizzards in Holland!!). I’m still a bit jet lagged (The 8 hour time difference is a little bit to get used to!) but its getting a little easier each day. My parents came with me to help me get all settled in, and today we get to find out which apartment I will be living in and get to move my stuff. Yesterday we walked all around the city exploring to get a lay of the land. One of the challenges has been finding grocery stores to get gluten-free food since most of the map directions and websites are all in Greek. Last night we ate at a delicious Greek restaurant which gave a wonderful sample of what traditional food is like here. We had pureed fava beans, a traditional greek salad, and I had some tomato-cumin chicken. Best of all, for dessert, there was yogurt with a fruit syrup. It was phenomenal!!!! We get oriented tonight, and tomorrow already (at 7am!) we take a bus to Voula to start working on the dig.

Until next time!