Ya estoy en España!

**English Below**

¿La última vez que he estado en este país? El 12 de agosto. Me acuerdo de los sentimientos pesados. No quería volverme a los EE.UU. ¿Por que? Pues, a ver…

Hablando de mis primeras impresiones de España, yo estaba enamorada de la cultura, la gente, y el estilo de vida. El primer día sentí una especie de sobrecogimiento cuando finalmente llegué a Valencia. Durante el verano, especialmente en la costa, España es maravillosa. Puede ver las montañas y las palmeras de cualquier sitio. La playa no está tan lejos del centro. Había fiesta del jueves al domingo. Siempre la comida es fresca y  se acompaña con un vino tinto o una copa de cerveza con limón. A partir de la segunda semana, la gente española me mostró que “se vive” en España.

Es una locura que  todo eso hace 4 meses y estoy en España de nuevo. ¿Sabes que? No me siento como hace 4 meses. Desde el momento que ha aterrizado el avión, me siento como hace 2 semanas que estuve en este país. ¿Se lo cree? Pues, yo tampoco. Esperaba que hubiera tenido un choque cultural. Cuando conocí a las personas de mi programa, enseguida, comenzé a hablar en español con ellos. Estaba llena de emoción y quería comenzar la experiencia con confianza en mí misma. Si quiere mejorar un aspecto de vida, hay que tener confianza en sí mismo. Esto es clave en un ambiente distinto. Sin embargo, el tener confianza en sí mismo no significa no necesitar la ayuda de otros. También esto es clave.

Solo he estado en España durante una semana. Todavía estoy enamorada con el país, especialmente la ciudad de Madrid. Si quieres saber mas de mi experiencia durante el verano, eche un vistazo a mi blog en tumblr (enlace). Tambien, estaré cargando unos videos bisemanales, más o menos. Abajo tengo la primera semana ya.  Espero que disfrute los blogs y videos. ¡Hasta pronto!

 

English

The last time I was in this country? It was August 12th. I remember this heavy feeling. I didn’t want to go back home. Why? Well, let’s see…

My first impressions of Spain were those of a love affair. I was in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life. The first day I was in awe when I finally arrived in Valencia. Over the summer, especially on the coast, Spain is magnificently beautiful. You can see the mountains and palm trees from anywhere. The beach isn’t too far from the city. There were fiestas from Thursday to Sunday. The food is always fresh and they eat it with a glass of red wine or a beer mixed with lemon juice. From the second week on, Spanish people showed me that “one lives” life in Spain.

It’s crazy to think this was all 4 months ago and now I’m back again. You know what? I didn’t feel like it had been 4 months ago. From the moment the plane landed, I felt like it had only been 2 weeks ago that I was in Spain. Can you believe it? Me either. I was expecting to feel a culture shock. When I met people in my program, I immediately began speaking in Spanish. I was filled with excitement and I wanted to start off on the right foot with confidence. If you want to improve an aspect of your life, you have to have confidence in yourself. This is key in a new environment. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need the help of others. This is also really important.

I’ve only been in Madrid for a week. I’m still in love with the country, especially the city of Madrid. If you want to know more about my experience over the summer, check out my blog on tumblr. Also, I’ll try to upload videos every two weeks or so. Below is a video from the first week. I hope that you enjoy my blogs and videos! See y’all soon!

 

 

La Vie Française

Hello, world! I am back at it and this time not suffering from the negative effects of jet lag! I have now been in Paris for almost a month so I feel that I’m much more able to start posting about happenings and life in general in Paris now that I’m better acquainted with the city. This week we are talking about: the French home.

My study abroad program, French and Critical Studies with CIEE, is a language intensive program which means that everything that we do associated with CIEE is in French. What that means is that the program forces us to be fully immersed in the language ALL .THE. TIME. CIEE in Paris has two options for housing: student apartments or a homestay with a French family. The students in FCS, however, don’t have a choice; we are required to live in a home stay in order to keep us exposed to the French language.

That being said, for the past month I have been living with my host mother, Katherine (pronounced Kat-rine with a nice French rgh) who, as I mentioned in the previous post, doesn’t speak a word of English. When I first learned this, I was terrified that she and I would struggle to relate with one another; I feared that I wouldn’t be able to express myself. However, we are nearly a month into living, speaking, and dining with each other every single day and I can confidently say that my fears were completely unfounded.

You see, Katherine loves, and I mean LOVES to talk. She sits with me at breakfast every morning and listens to the radio, but as soon as she hears something that sparks her interest the radio is forgotten and she is speaking, with a relatively high level of knowledge about the subject and flowing right on into the next one. This was especially great for me the first few days into living with her because there really wasn’t a need for me to talk and I could get used to the pace of speech from an actual French speaker. These days I’m much better able to interject with my own opinions on the subject and she and I can have more and more conversations which I think both she and I really appreciate.

As I’ve been able to communicate with Katherine, I’ve learned a lot more about her and her life. She is in her 70s with three grown daughters, two of whom live nearby and frequent the apartment. She started her professional life as a secretary but somehow got connected with someone in the art restoration business which led to her second and most favorite career as an art restorer. She told me that she’s worked on a team that has restored big pieces of art such a painted ceiling in the Louvre and another work in l’Assemblée Nationale. She still does some smaller pieces and I occasionally come home to the smell of some of her chemicals that she uses on the paintings.

Speaking of home, for Katherine and me home is a two bedroom apartment in the northwestern suburb of Paris called Neuilly-Sur-Seine. There I have my own room with a big window that looks out over our ally with those cute white Parisian window shutters. I also just have to mention: in the bathroom we have a heating rack for our towels! It’s pretty standard for French homes but I just find it amusing and also incredibly amazing when I get to wrap myself in a warm towel — it’s just great.

My bedroom

Our living room

A little bit about Neuilly: it’s smack dab in between l’Arc de Triomphe (that fancy Roman-looking arch that Napoleon built way back when) and La Defense which is just a gigantic hollow cube in the more business-y part of Paris. Neuilly, as I’m told, is rather chic, although I can’t say that stops people from letting their dogs “relieve” themselves on the sidewalks and not clean up after them. Yeah, watch your step.

Other than that, I’ve found that our apartment in Neuilly is actually in quite an ideal location. It takes me about four minutes to walk to the metro which will then take me straight into the city which can connect me to ten of the fourteen lines in the city. I am also just a ten minute walk away from the Bois de Boulogne which is to Paris what Central Park is to New York. Saturdays are especially hectic with runners and walkers everywhere, not to mention tons of adorable dogs out playing in the fields.

Bois de Boulogne
Some new friends I met in the park

Another essential part of my French home life is the food. Katherine is an amazing cook. She can turn anything into a delicious and nutritious meal. I remember my first night with her I was a little apprehensive when she put my first meal in front of me: cabbage wrapped in ham and covered in cheese. As far as looks went, I was strongly questioning whether what I was about to put into my body would even be worth it, but I was starving so I dug in and it was incredible! Also, leftover night at our place is not to be dreaded because she just whips something completely new together from the ingredients she used previously. I’m serious — carrot and mushroom in a creamy sauce over angel hair pasta…who would have thought?!

At times Paris can feel slightly exhausting and incredibly lonely; it’s hard to live in a place that you’re unfamiliar with around people who don’t know you or even speak your language. In a city where it is so easy to be anonymous sometimes you just want a taste of home. I’m sure every student who has studied in a foreign country understands exactly what I mean, but I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity. When I get these kinds of feelings I’ve found that it’s best to talk to friends and family; they really are just a phone call away! Also, if you can find it, eat some of your favorite food. If you can’t find that, listen to some of your favorite songs or do the same activities you would at home. For me, I’ve found that going for a run helps me immensely because running has always been a very cathartic activity and it’s something that I’ve done first at home, then at school when I moved away from home, and now I can do it here!

No, things will not be exactly the same as they are at home but that’s precisely the purpose of study abroad: to gain a new perspective. Instead of being stuck on what I miss about my home in the U.S., I go out and explore to find new things that help me feel at home here.

Reporting from the Coldest Place on the Earth

Saturday officially marked the third week that I have been in Chicago. It seems like I’ve been here for so much longer than that already! As a small town girl, I imagined the transition to go much less smoothly, but public transit and getting around the city has been intuitive and fun. All the Chicago Semester students have settled into their schedules and internships, as well as I have!

I am at Mercy Hospital, which is just southeast of Chinatown (one of my favorite neighborhoods). My placement is in the operating room (OR), pre- and post-operating care units, and the recovery room. So far, I’ve only spent time in the operating room, but I am thoroughly enjoying every case in which I’ve watched and helped. A unique challenge has been that the OR’s atmosphere and nursing expectations are different to a regular hospital unit. There a technical skills and instruments I have never seen before. Now that it’s the third week in the OR, I’m finally getting used to the roles that are expected of me, multitasking well, and the unique oddities of the OR. I am learning so much and anticipate using these lessons in my future nursing career.

The fact that my internship has come into full-swing has definitely not hindered my adventurous spirit. From spontaneous taco nights to swing dancing, I have fallen in love with all the exciting events that happen daily in the city, which reflect it’s unique history. Even though I’ve been *social* swing dancing for almost three years now, it felt like I had been dancing for three months. The style and energy was high above my technical level, and I anticipate getting much better in my dancing skills. Here’s a video of these talented dancers. I mean, what was I supposed to expect of one of the cities where blues/jazz originated?

I attended a play at Court Theatre, “Photograph 51”, about Rosalind Franklin. Commonly known for their discoveries about the characteristics of DNA, Watson and Crick owe the credit to their concept of DNA’s double helix to Franklin’s x-ray images of DNA, who is far less-popularly known. The story was captivating, dynamic, and full of emotion. What’s really cool about the Chicago Semester is that they offer free art events for the students every week. From the Art Institute to operas, I plan to go to as many as I can! There’s not many times in life where you get to go to free events that showcase Chicago’s diverse culture and history.

Most of my hours and days off have been spent exploring random parts of the city. Google has been a beautiful tool with which I’ve discovered interesting venues with fantastic events. From free arcade games to Lakeshore runs to the Navy Pier, I continue to settle in my internship, growing and learning and enjoying the city more than I would’ve imagined.

My favorite part of the city is how the people are all so connected. Somehow we live separate lives that converge at random points in time. I like to think of them as magic moments in which two strangers can somehow connect at a pre-destined time. I had to leave exactly 2 minutes after my shift ended to meet Ron, the 90-year old Chinese man, on the subway. After moving here in the late 40s, he bought a house in a north Chicago neighborhood and has since lived there. This short 15 minute conversation reminded me of how small I am in the grand scheme of life (a good reminder).

Overall, the past few weeks have been filled with small victories: conquering public transit, exploring a new city, and braving -50 degree weather, which made life very interesting and full of layers. Weird to think that I was in the coldest place in the world last Wednesday. Thankfully, I was bundled up inside with a cup of hot tea and fuzzy socks. Thankfully, the turn-around of 50 degree weather (yes, you read that right. We had a 100-degree difference in three day’s span) has allowed my adventurous spirit to re-emerge.

My goal for the next couple weeks? Continue learning at my internship (Gosh, it’s felt weird to be so young in my workplace). Hear more people’s stories. Find new ways to be uncomfortable (’cause that’s how humans grow to be better humans). Keep an open mind to new experiences that come spontaneously. Embrace city life.

Fresh Air is Good for the Soul

Ever since I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city.  Getting an apartment in New York or Chicago, taking public transportation to work every day; it all seemed like the dream. And living in London was the perfect trial run for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am loving living in the city. There’s so much to do and see every single day. It really keeps you on your toes too. The other day as I went by on the bus, I saw a man serenading some people very enthusiastically with his saxophone. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I was going to miss grass and trees and air that doesn’t smell like bus fumes all the time.

This past weekend we had a field trip to go see Stonehenge and spend a night in the city of Bath. I missed most of the drive up due to being asleep, but once we arrived at Stonehenge, I was surprised at how green everything still was. I’m so used to everything being brown and dead-looking in the middle of January.

After we walked around the stones for a while, my friends and I decided to not take the bus back to the visitor center and hike along the path through the hills instead. It was a bit blustery, but eventually the sun came out, and it was gorgeous. It was then that I realized how much I missed my shoes slipping in the mud while hiking, and the damp smell the earth gives after it rains.

In Bath we had a similar experience. The line to be able to sit in one of the baths fed by the hot springs was much too long, so once again, we decided to walk around. As we looked around the city, we noticed a large park that was situated a bit higher up than the rest of the city. We had no idea how to get there, but we were determined to find it anyway.

We walked out of the city center, into a neighborhood just outside of the city (accidentally walking through a few people’s garden paths in the process). Soon, we found the park. It’s green carpet was a vivid difference in comparison to the pale architecture of the rest of the city. We made our way up.

All of us decided not to look at the view until we hit the very top of the hill. As we stood with our backs facing the city, panting slightly from the incline, there was no doubt that smiles were plastered on all of our faces.

“One…Two…Three”

 

 

It was worth the biting wind, the muddy shoes, and forty-five-minute hike. If nothing else, it made me realize just how much I loved exploring in this capacity. It was refreshing to be able to clear our lungs and take a moment to appreciate this amazing journey we’re on.

The Windy City Welcome

Hello from the Windy City!

It’s almost a week in the city, and I am already absolutely in love with all of the experiences that the Chicago has to offer.  Most of last weekend was filled with orientation sessions that help us understand how to live in the city, but we’ve already begun to explore the culture of the neighborhood. After my family and best friend helped me move in, we grabbed lunch at a restaurant, called Wow Bao.

       

None of us ordered bao, which are steamed buns filled with pork (usually), but the rice bowls that we did order were so tasty! Instead of the traditional counter and register to buy food, customers order on a computer and the food appears in the pods with your name. It was a “Welcome to the future” for us if anything and a great first meal in the city.

My Roommates (left to right) Shannon & Molly

Saturday and Sunday were filled mostly with unpacking and making the apartment homey, especially since we’re living here for the next three and a half months. Chicago Semester is very committed to ensure that its students are well-acquainted with how life in the city works; this includes learning about public transportation, safety in the city, networking, shopping, and community involvement. The program provided several session in which we learned about these various topics. Another important value of the program is that the students embrace the vast cultural diversity that is found throughout Chicago and its over 200 neighborhoods. The city is widely-known as a place where immigrants can find a fresh start. To get a taste of the culture, all the students went to a different part of the city for deserts for the first night of orientation. I went to the neighborhood of Pilsen to Panadaria Nuevo León. The patisserie was brimmed with various deserts whose names I had absolutely no clue but were falling apart in delicious goodness. We even got the baker (after all of us urging her to) to take a picture with us!

            

The following day, several different groups visited different parts of the city for lunch and a short introduction to the people that lived there. I visited Little India (which is almost all the way north edge of the city), where we had the most delicious food.

 Would you believe all this food (for 8 people) cost less than $50?!

Foods pictured: butter chicken, lentil curry, tika chicken, chapati and naan breads, potato curry, basmati rice, beef and bean somoas, and a beef dish.

I had had Indian food before, but this was the most to-die-for that I’ve ever had. Needless to say, it was worth the hour commute from our apartment complex.

After learning about the various neighborhoods, my roommates and I began mapping our semester bucket list. Our first adventure was to Millennium Park and Greek Town. Following the sage advice of the Chicago Semester faculty, we carefully mapped our route. Even though I’d been to Chicago multiple times, my family and I had only visited Chinatown together, because of my Chinese heritage. So, I resigned to do the most tourist-y thing: visit the Bean. The only thing I learned from the experience? The Bean is super dirty.

Greek Town is about a 20-minute walk from our apartment in the Gold Coast neighborhood, and it is full of restaurants (because Greek food is the amazing). Molly, Shannon, and I got sandwiches and cannolis that were so tasty!

The day was windy, cloudy, and cold, but the view was well-worth the aching feet and numb faces. We walked around and eventually landed at a coffee shop called Meddle Dark Matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday was the first day of internship for most of the students. Fortunately, Shannon and I don’t start until next week, and Molly’s first day started late. So, we accompanied her to Andersonville, where she works at their chamber of commerce. We explored the Swedish neighborhood until she had to leave for work. For all the neighborhoods I’ve visited so far, it’s been fairly easy to see what the people value and the center(s) of their culture.

Less than a week in, and I’ve only scratched a piece of the entire surface of the city, but I’m well on my way. Even though I’ve already gotten myself lost twice, I’m becoming more comfortable with riding public transit and routing my destinations better. My first day of internship is on Monday, and I anticipate nestling into a routine of a set schedule mixed with bouts spontaneity.

  

Take Some Time and Forget the Map

On day one of orientation here in London, our program put on the screen a list of several apps to help make sure we knew where we were going the next few days. There was a frantic rush as everyone grabbed their pen or pencil to scribble down the names, myself included. I was nervous and overwhelmed, terrified of showing up late to any of the meetings or required events. Honestly, I needed all the help I could get.

Going to and from school and our residences, we were constantly clutching on to our phones, double checking that we were entering the right tube station, turning the right direction, or getting on the correct bus. By about day three, we were slowly starting to get the hang of where we needed to go—that is if we were going to school or back.

The Saturday after we arrived, my roommate and I decided to get some lunch before heading out to get our groceries. We mapped our way back to what we thought was our street, only to discover that there’s a difference between Angel and Angel street. Angel street just happened to be near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is about twenty minutes away from our home station. St. Paul’s was beautiful and ginormous, and it was a nice surprise to stumble on. After snapping a few pictures, we headed back to the bus using our trusted map app.

Bumping along the jammed London streets on the double decker bus, we got to see a lot more of London than we were expecting. Before we knew it, we were driving along Oxford street with all of its beautiful Christmas lights still up, and traveling through the West End, the bright marquees blinking furiously. We were so entranced by it all, we weren’t paying attention that our bus had crossed a bridge over the river Thames and onto the South Bank—definitely the opposite direction of where we needed to be. And there our bus stopped.

We ended up finding our way back to our residence, slowly but surely, and stopping to take pictures of the sun setting on the London skyline and the London eye in the process. It was quite an adventure. Almost two and a half hours in an attempt to get some measly groceries!

 

Since then, I’ve wandered into neighborhoods that are nowhere near where I live, found some great cafes and bakeries, turned the wrong way out of tube stations and discovered bookshops and theatres for shows I want to go see. Though I always have my map ready in case I need it, I’m starting to put it away and just explore, letting the city take me where it wants to.

 

Reflecting on my Time Abroad

It’s been a while since I left Cape Town and returned to the U.S. and I’m still adjusting to life back in the Midwest. There’s no more weekend hiking up mountains or eating way too much food at the different markets. What there has been, however, is lots of time for reflection. After four months abroad, it has been difficult to express exactly what my experience was like to my friends and family when they ask the inevitable, “How was South Africa?” It doesn’t seem like there is anywhere to begin. So much happened while I was abroad that my mind just jumps from one thing to another, not knowing what to say. How does someone sum up four months of experiences and memories into words?

I am still searching for the best way to talk about my time abroad and still sifting through the most important and influential experiences I had. Being in a new country, surrounded by completely new people, forced me to step outside of my comfort zone in more ways than I anticipated. At the start it was an isolating experience and I had to find ways to break down barriers and build relationships. But after a couple of weeks I was able to find my place in Cape Town and focus on making my time there count. I was able to learn so much while abroad, not just in the classroom, but through immersing myself in the culture, meeting new people, and participating in service learning.

Seeing how things are halfway across the world gave me a new perspective, one that I hope I will continue to view things through. The exposure to the corruption South Africa faces, the poverty that is overwhelmingly present, and the aftermath of Apartheid showed me the brokenness that there is in South Africa. But, the people I met, the culture I lived in, and learning about how they have and are overcoming their history showed me the hope and restoration there is. I learned that in times and places where brokenness is so prevalent, it is important to focus on the progress that has been made and the hope that will allow for more progress to follow.

Along with learning a lot, I also grew as a person, becoming more independent and open minded throughout my time abroad. I was able to broaden my perspectives and open myself to new ideas through being put in unfamiliar situations and being surrounded by new people everywhere I went. I am grateful that I was given this opportunity to grow and learn in a unique way and in such a special place.

I miss the view of the mountain on my walk up to campus. I miss the way the people of Cape Town made me feel at home. I miss the hustle and bustle of the Saturday food markets. I miss learning about such a rich culture inside and outside of the classroom. I miss the new friends I made through IES and UCT. I miss having a new adventure every weekend. There’s a lot to miss, but it is also good to be home. I’m excited to be home so that I can implement what I learned during my time abroad to my life and my studies here, so that I can share my experiences with those around me. And I guess missing Cape Town so much just means I’ll have to go back 🙂

 

Thoughts on Leaving Australia

Recently I thought, how will it feel to leave Australia? This isn’t the first time that I have reflected on the idea of going home, but I realized that in the past, I had always been focused on the returning rather than the leaving. I would think about seeing my family and friends who I haven’t been able to see for a couple of months and I would feel excited about the new stories they would have or the stories that I have to tell them. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that returning home means leaving Australia. I heard stories before leaving the States about students who have tried to extend their stay in whatever country they had been studying in, and I had even heard a couple of stories in which students decided to transfer schools to complete their studies in this other country. I knew that wouldn’t be me, there’s too much back home that I would miss if I stayed but I also can appreciate the feelings of those other study abroad students a bit better now.

Here’s a pic from the inside of the famous Opera House

Upon first arriving to Australia I fell into the classic wanderlust of experiencing a new country for the first time where everything seemed new and exotic and interesting. This feeling was particularly strong during orientation when I was going on excursions and didn’t need to worry about food or classes or planning. But when I arrived in Sydney life did become more difficult. Suddenly I needed to cook and clean for myself, and although I can make mac & cheese with the best of them, my experience in both cooking and cleaning have been limited up until this point. I also had no sense of direction, I felt as though I was getting lost everywhere I went, and I felt far away from the city where most of the people in my program who attended different schools lived. There would be times where I felt a bit guilty writing blog posts or posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook because for every day that was filled with adventure and traveling, there were four or five other days which consisted of mostly cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, schoolwork and other mundane activities not typically associated with studying abroad.

Luna Park: where I accidently ran into all of the athletes from the Invictus Games

This seems likely to be the second stage of traveling to a new country, when suddenly the new country doesn’t seem so perfect or amazing as it was when you first arrived but this felt different from the culture shock I was expecting. Typically when I thought of culture shock I actually projected my stereotypes instead of realizing that the shock arises from what’s unexpected. I thought the culture shock that I would deal with would mostly consist of trying to understand the slang or eating more seafood as I lived near the ocean but that isn’t what my life in Australia has been like at all. Instead, the shock was spurred by the fact that a good deal of what I imagined Sydney to be like wasn’t true. The strangest part about living in Australia I think has been that where I live now isn’t radically different from back home, but it’s just different enough so that I would notice these differences consistently. The food is in many ways similar to the States, but the brands are different, there are far fewer item options, and at times items that I am used to aren’t available such as breakfast sausage, biscuits, or Cool Ranch Doritos. I also perceived Australians as small differentiations of Steve Irwin or the surfer archetype but of course that isn’t true either. Occasionally I’ll come across an Aussie who may be similar to either of those descriptions but in the big city of Sydney, many Aussies don’t act like either of those stereotypes. I suppose that would be comparable to expecting to see people who look like the guys in the TV show Duck Dynasty while walking around New York City, it’s simply a different culture in the city. But these differences certainly haven’t been bad, in fact I feel as though I have learned a lot as a result of this shattering of my expectations.

Darling Harbour on a cloudy day

While these changes at first felt strange and uncomfortable, slowly the differences started to feel natural. I know the names of different train stops and know certain areas of the city fairly well, I know how to use the bus and how to get off at the right stop properly, and even looking the correct directions when crossing the street has become second nature. Perhaps some of the most rewarding times are when I have been asked for help by Aussies themselves. When I returned to Sydney from New Zealand, I was getting on the train to go back home and an Aussie couple asked me how to get train tickets and how to get on the right train to get where they needed to go. It felt amazing to know the answer to their question and be able to help them out, suddenly Sydney was starting to feel more like home.

Royal National Park on a perfect day

The feelings of missing Australia became even more pronounced when I remembered some of the problems that I will be returning to in the States. While studying abroad I’ve felt very, very far away from a variety of socio-political problems that the US faces and it is honestly difficult to think that I will be returning to these problems. This isn’t to say that Australia is without its own set of socio-political problems, while I have been studying there the Prime Minister changed for goodness sake, but by studying on exchange I didn’t feel the weight of those problems the way I sometimes do back home. I found it particularly funny when I would come across an Aussie student in one of my classes who would bash Australian politics or say that Australia had all sorts of problems because I personally didn’t see these problems nearly as much. I suppose that when you grow up in a country, you’re privy to all of the issues or concerns that country may have. Meanwhile when you travel to a new country for a short period of time, you tend to be blissfully ignorant for at least a little while.

The Grounds of Alexandria which is a marketplace and coffeeshop all in one

So when I thought about what it will mean to leave Sydney, I considered all of this. I thought of how scared and out of place I felt when I first arrived, how awestruck I was by some of the differences such as the Opera House or kangaroos, and how much Sydney has started to feel a bit like home. It’s sad to think that I’m going to leave this place. I realized that at some point of studying abroad there’s a transition from being a tourist to being something else. I’m certainly not a native and there is plenty about Sydney that I don’t know, but I also feel as though I have played a role as an active member of Sydney rather than somebody who has just passed through the city. A popular caption on posts by bloggers is something along the lines of “this city will always have a piece of my heart,” and while that phrase is a bit of a cliché and it makes me roll my eyes, it’s a cliché because it speaks of a truth. I know that when I return home, I’ll be different. Not in any major dramatic way, but I have been influenced by living in a new city, a new culture, and a new country on the other end of the world. But I also would like to think that I changed Sydney a bit as well, once again not in any major way whatsoever, but to the friends I have made and classmates that I talked with, I have been able to share who I am with others as well.

Blue Mountain Waterfalls

It will be strange leaving Australia, particularly because I feel as though I have grown so much while I have been here but the end of my time is coming soon. I will leave knowing that I made the most of my time academically, socially, and adventurously but I will also know that there is so much of this country that I didn’t see and experience. I have also been reminded of just how much of the US I haven’t seen or experienced yet either, and I intend to see more of my home country when I return as well. This is such a big, beautiful, amazing world. And I cannot express how grateful I am that God has allowed me to experience this part of it.

 

 

 

Playing with Fire

As my time at the Oregon Extension is coming to a close, I’m trying to catalogue stories in an attempt to remember this incredibly rich experience. The semester feels short and long in a timeless sort of way and I have to work to remember both that I’m going and that I’ve been here. As I reflect on my time, I realize many of my most meaningful experiences have revolved around contact. Here at the OE, there are less barriers between us and our fundamental needs. For example, when it gets cold, you can’t simply turn up the thermostat. You throw on some boots (or sandals), tromp out into the snow, and grab wood for the fire. This closeness to my own heating and fire in particular was uncomfortable at first, and as you’ll see from the story below, rather comical.

 

Just as the weather was getting cold, a girl from the cabin next door was having trouble starting her fire (she can do it just fine now – we all learn eventually) and asked if one of my cabin mates could get it going. Being a bit of a beginner, I was both excited to give it a shot but also scared out of my shoes. Right in front of this girl, I looked my more experienced roommate in the eye and rather sheepishly asked him if I could start their fire. Almost indignant, he said, “Why the hell do you need my permission? Go start the fire.” Tail tucked in a bit, I trundled over to the lady’s cabin. I got a bunch of kindling and paper and logs jammed into the wood stove in a random assortment. Rather predictably, this did not work. I don’t really remember how that fire failed, but I know it took me 3 or 4 matches to get that fire going and I left thinking the girl who asked probably could’ve done a better job than I.

Nonetheless, I learned a tad and in an odd way, my friend’s ridicule at my asking taught me to take more risks, to go out on a limb more often. Later that week, my roommate made a fire building request form (which should be filled out whenever I want to start a fire) to commemorate my timid request. It still hangs in our living room to this day and every time someone new comes into the living room, the story comes out and people laugh at the questions on the form (like, “What, is your fire lighting experience measured in seconds?”). It’s funny now because I’ve taken to tending the fire late at night, alone (with no form filled out!). Its these late nights with hot coals where I’ve forged my confidence. The heat that used to scare the hell out of me (for good reason – white burns adorned my hands for a good month thanks to a hot rock in a fire), is now like a respected friend. As long as I’m smart and treat the fire well, it won’t mess with me.

In this story about fire, the proximity of the OE and the value of that proximity is seen clearly. Without distractions (or I should say less distractions) from real life, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the everyday and the tangible. Take as a further example, the wood I chopped to tend said fires. In chopping, I learned to respect wood’s individuality. Every tree is different – some hard, some soft – some splinters, some splits – some break your axe, some bust your shins – some move obligingly aside from your axe, some send tremors up your arm. The intimacy with materials and the confidence and care this creates is irreplaceable. Being here has reminded me of just how disconnected most of my “modern” life is. The conveniences are real and useful, but I cannot now avoid forgetting that they come at a cost.

The Driest Place on Earth

I’m still trying to process all of the wonders that I experienced in the Atacama Desert.

Day 1: We arrived to our hostel and immediately went for a stroll through the small, desert town of San Pedro. The dirt roads are lined with companies offering tours to all of the attractions, ice cream shops, and rows and rows of small shops full of colorful, handmade souvenirs. We booked our tours for our 5-day trip, expectant of each place we would be able to visit.

Day 2: Tour of “Las Lagunas Escondidas”, the Hidden Lagoons. After about an hour and a half long drive into the middle of nowhere, with only sand dunes surrounding us, we arrived to the 7 magical hidden lagoons. Salt covered the surfaces around the lagoons, making it seem as if we were in the Arctic looking at snow and ice. We had the chance to swim in one of the lagoons, but it wasn’t a typical swim. This lagoon has such a high salt content that we were able to float. We relaxed in the lagoon as we escaped to cool down from the burning desert sun for awhile. It was a magical experience.

Day 3: Tour of “Piedras Rojas”, Red Rocks. A drive through the Atacama Desert with frequent stops at look-out points to observe lagoons and other beautiful and unique landscapes. This tour also included a stop to a salt flat with a special lagoon inhabited by three distinct species of flamingos. There are only 6 species in the entire world, and three of them live at this lagoon in Chile! We got to observe the elegant movements of the flamingos, although most of them were eating the entire time we were there (flamingos eat for 16 hours each day!). We learned that flamingos are actually born white/grey and only become pink due to their diet of shrimp and algae, which is high in carotenoid pigments and eventually change their color. Therefore, younger flamingos are practically entirely white/grey.

Day 4: During the day, we embarked on a self-guided tour to “Valle de la Luna”, Moon Valley. We biked a total of 18 miles to see the wonders that this place had to offer. A huge salt cave is the biggest attraction, and we wandered through and examined the crazy, intricate and unique formations of the salt particles in each part of this massive cave. Hiking ginormous sand dunes, more biking, and extreme sweat were also key parts of our journey.

In the evening we did an Astronomy Tour, because the Atacama Desert is the best place in the entire world for astronomy! Due to its extremely high elevation and its dryness (after all, it is the driest place on earth, with the exception of the poles), it is an ideal place to examine the huge night sky full of twinkling and flashing stars, and bright, steady planets. At one point, we were able to see three planets at the same time. It was the first time in my life that the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” had meaning for me. I am still in awe of the miraculous canvas that is our night sky.

Day 5: Tour of the “Tatio Geysers”. A 4 a.m wake up was necessary for our trip to the third-largest field of geysers in the entire world, and it was so worth it. We watched the sunrise through the steam of these powerful, yet gentle geysers. One of the geysers is usually inactive and sits as a calm geyser until the land underneath heats to a certain level and it explodes, shooting a fountain of steady water into the air for a few seconds, and then becoming calm again, preparing to explode a few minutes later. The final part of this day was spent in a natural hot spring, relaxing and warming up after an extremely cold morning in the high altitude of these Tatio Geysers.

Being in the Atacama Desert for five days reminded me of the importance of finding beauty in bare things that might not initially seem exciting- to search for the hidden gems and the flowing water buried deep within the dry sand dunes of the desert — because the beauty does exist and it is pretty miraculous.