Cultural Differences – By the Numbers

17 minutes – How late my class at University of Granada usually starts. Spain is quite relaxed with their sense of time, and it takes so much of the stress off. 

106 people – The capacity of the normal sized bus in Granada that would probably hold 50 or 60 people in the US.

Twice – The number of times I do my Michigan Nice smile to fellow pedestrians in the street each morning before I remember they think its weird. For Spaniards, it’s weird to look into strangers’s eyes, let alone smile. Well, hopefully the people who walk close to my house in the mornings just think I’m friendly! 

50% – The percent of Americans in roles Spanish singers imitate during a popular reality TV show. The influence of American shows and movies is everywhere! Almost everyone knows what Jersey Shore is, and the Simpsons (dubbed version) even has a prime time spot during lunch.

Zero – The number of times that politicians are asked about their religious leanings. Here it is considered very taboo to ask religion when talking to a politician because that is considered more or less a violation of secular government and the separation of church and state. That is one of the reasons that some people consider the US government to be non-secular, a thought that would astound most US citizens.

3 pm – Normal lunch start time. Needless to say, I’m always hungry. 

Study but do not stress out

This has been a slow week compared to the previous ones. No matter where you are or what you are doing there is one thing that we all will have to focus on while studying abroad; that part is studying.

Studying abroad is not just about travelling and getting to know your host country but it is also about comparing the academic content as well as teaching styles from US and Europe. Since I have been here my course work sometimes overwhelms me. With a more than a month of field studies in my program, my whole semester course load is packed into around three months. It does seem like a daunting task but I got a very good advice from one of the alumni of the program: “Focus on school work but don’t let it stress you out”. For anyone who would think of studying abroad this is a good advice to keep in mind. I have noticed that most professors know that you are trying something new by simply being abroad. They have told us the work we need to do but in the meantime they subtly express that we also need to explore more and try to have fun with our courses. Exposing myself to their teaching style lets me see the difference from American college systems but also allows me to appreciate how courses are taught in the United States.

Like I said, no matter how much course load one has, there needs to be time for fun. The sun has finally started coming out in Freiburg and all of my class mates are pretty excited about it. We did not get the best weather when we were here. There was more snow here than Michigan had which means that we were bundled but in layers the whole time. Now that the weather is getting better I have realized that sunlight gives a totally different dimension to the places we have actually been to already. We climbed up an observation deck the first week of our semester and Freiburg looked foggy but now the whole city is visible to us. The change of weather has definitely given us more to do in Freiburg now.

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Weekend in Lot

Last weekend I went to the Lot, a department in the south of France, with my program.  Lot personifies and surpasses all the cliché images that come to mind when you think of southern French countryside.  When we first arrived we explored a prehistoric cave, bison and mammoth cave drawings and all! It was absolutely incredible, however I was unable to take pictures as it damages the paintings.

We stayed at a hostel called Eco-Oasis, a charming and eco-friendly place nestled in the foothills.  It is run by a wonderfully kind couple who cooked the most delicious, organic meals! I could go on forever about the food in this country, especially the bread!  We did a fair share of hiking, but it did not come close to compensating for my gorging on the multi-course meals.

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The hike was cold, but we prepared with absurd amounts of layers.  We hiked to St. Cirque Lapopie, a very small village that was voted the most pleasant in all of France.  Apparently in the summer it is constantly packed with people, but we had it all to ourselves.  And right on cue, it started snowing in the most magical way, fat flakes with no wind.

ImageImageAnd back in Toulouse, the city is transforming! As we transfer from winter to spring, the warmth brings everyone out into the streets with music and costumes and wonderful antics! If I was still getting lost everyday, it would be like living in an entirely new city all over again.

 

Exploring Freiburg.

Compared to the big cities I have travelled so far, Freiburg is not as populous or “touristy” but that doesn’t mean there is not much to do here. The past week has been pretty calm but I got to explore Freiburg and I was surprised by how much I could be occupied by the small city itself.

One of my favorite things to do right now during the weekends, if I don’t have much homework, is to go to the Black Forest nearby the town. The cake “Black Forest” was actually named after this part of Germany and I would not have guessed that when I munched on the desert few months ago. I have managed to sneak out of the town couple of times now to enjoy the hike trails the mountains and forests have to offer. So far all the parts I have been to have been snowed on which makes the hike always difficult. However, I got lost once in the area and a random stranger passing by told me that it should not be that difficult for someone who is from Nepal. Regardless of the mountain climbing stereotypes associated with Nepal, the hike was very challenging and being from Nepal did not prevent me from getting half my body stuck inside the snow.

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It has always been my favorite pass time even before I came to Germany but watching FOOTBALL (soccer) has been a completely different experience with a crowd who really care about the game. Every time there is an exciting football game going on, the bars are packed. I have hardly watched a game sitting down in a chair. The football fanatics make the atmosphere incredible and there is no doubt that watching football in Europe is a memorable moment. I managed to go watch the Freiburg team play in the German Bundesliga and the passion shown by the player along with the supporters is breathtaking. Football is one thing that all of my flat mates are passionate about and starting a conversation talking about a random game never goes wrong. 

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P.S.- Having stayed in America for a year and half, it has been hard to say football and not soccer while I have been in Germany. I wrote soccer frequently in my post above just to scratch it out after I realized what I had done. 

Host Family and (Not) Burning Down the House

Being in a host family is a very unique social situation. You are automatically living in very close quarters with people you barely know and at the beginning could barely communicate with. Luckily, it only took one mis-communication for my host mom and I to start learning how to understand each other. My host mom, a very traditional Catholic but a very welcoming and fun person, is named Ascención, but everyone calls her Choni.  During the whirlwind first day, Choni had taught me how to make coffee on the stove using the small percolator she has. However, I didn’t fully understand how to turn it off. I thought, “its just a stove how hard can it be?” How wrong I was. 

My first day of class comes and, of course, I am running late. Everyone else in my host family had already left the house. I pour out my coffee and go to turn off the stove. After 5 minutes, I can get it to turn off except for one upside down four on one of the displays. After 10 minutes, I just had to leave. After class, I go running to the student life office to talk to one of the advisers and also a recent friend Estrella. I try to tell her in Spanish, but an emotional Evelyn attempting to explain in Spanish was just not going to cut it so I quickly switch to English. “I’m sure I’m going to burn the apartment down!” I exclaimed. She ensured me that everything would be alright and that she would give Choni a call. I went back to class and after lingering to talk to my new friends, heading back home for lunch. I was sure I would be greeted with a strict lecture when I arrived back home. However, I was greeted with an enthusiastic “Buenas dias, guapa!” (Hi, cutie) and a delicious. Later that day, she explained it once more and I realized that the upside down four was actually an h for hot.

Since then, we’ve been getting along very well, including attending a kids club and church together and some very interesting discussions during lunch. I’m looking forward to getting to know her even better in the coming 3 months! 

I never thought I would____ !!

I just sat down to write about what I have done in the past one week and realized how the past seven days have been filled with travels and “wow I never thought I would be here” moments. In the past week I have been to Luxembourg, Brussels, and Paris to see how the European Union actually works and honestly speaking, if I had not been to these places my course work would probably not make sense to me.

From talking to the US deputy ambassador in Luxembourg and going to the European Court of Justice to visiting the European Council as well as the Commission, the last week has increased my knowledge about the European Union academically and practically. Getting a firsthand account from people who actually work in these institutions gave me insights on the struggles, strengths, and weakness of the EU in a wider dimension.

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As much as I love talking about what European Union does, I have realized that I need to have some fun stuff written here as well as those are the reasons why I will remember my experience all over Europe.

Let me start with Brussels. I really don’t think I have had so much chocolate in my entire life. Not only is Belgium famous for their chocolate and waffles, they also had a chocolate museum where we actually got to see chocolate being made and got to sample as many as we wanted. YES, AS MANY AS WE WANTED. Being the place where Tintin (the comic book and the movie) was created I had emotional moments every time I saw monuments glorifying the comic book I have spent my whole life obsessing about. Never would I have thought when I was a kid, reading one of Tintin’s adventure, that I would actually go to the place where he was born.

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Like I said this week was filled with “I never thought”. Never did I think that I would see the Eifel Tower; no matter what anyone says the thing is beautiful especially during the night. Never did I think that I would see the Mona Lisa. Regardless of people considering it being overrated, there is no better feeling other than being in front of probably one of the most famous painting in the world. Not only that but being in the Louvre, surrounded by thousands of masterpiece from around the world, was simply overwhelming (maybe it was the size of the museum too).

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Right now I am back in Freiburg and when I look back at the last seven days, I am just thankful that I was able to go to the places I went. As much as I love travelling, I am pretty sure my wallet loves being back in Freiburg and am looking forward to not having a week long travel for another month; I guess it is time to explore the city in depth and get to know my flat mates. Study abroad is all about starting a new adventure when the previous one ends.

La Ville Rose

 

Yesterday for the first time in my life, I experienced mountains with snow! I had the chance to snow shoe in the Pyrenees and after that day visit, it’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with those beautiful mounds of earth!  It was also my first time out of the city since I’ve been here making the experience even more cherished. 

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I am thankful to now feel more settled into life in Toulouse; the language barrier becomes a little less imposing everyday, I love my homestay, and I’m now in a routine with classes. For my volunteer project, I’ve been placed in an afterschool program called Alliances et Cultures.  This past Friday we made pancakes (being the only American I was considered the expert on this subject).  It was essentially chaos, but very much welcomed.  Something I’ve found here is that people are generally quieter, so the noise and energy of the kids felt familiar (despite not understanding what they were yelling about). 

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Amidst the foreign and the familiar, each day I find myself deeper into a beautiful predicament:  I fall more in love with France, and more in love with America with every uncovered nuance.  The particularities of French culture further define the uniqueness of life in America.  I suppose only time will tell how this quandary will play out, but for now I am thoroughly enjoying what I’ve discovered thus far, and I am very much ready to see more!

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Berlin and Prague

Before I tell you all about Berlin and Prague, I am going to tell you about what I just did- I just went sledding and skiing in the Swiss Alps and I am very sore. I don’t think I have ever seen that much snow in Michigan (I may have in Nepal though).

One of the biggest features of the program I am enrolled in is that I get to explore Europe while analyzing its political components and have fun at the same time. The Swiss Alps falls under the fun part. Going to Berlin will probably be one of the most memorable experiences for me. The Topography of Terror, which used to be a GESTAPO head-quarter during World War 2 and now a memorial for the persecuted Jews, along with the Stasi prison where prisoners during the reign of East Germany were held, overwhelmed me with the historical significance Berlin reflected. Having withstood two notorious regimes in the past 100 years, Germany has done a really good job to confront their history and develop to where they are now. However, one of the most enlightening insights I got during my stay in Berlin was regarding the East Germany; we had a meeting with two residents who lived before the Wall fell and they both concurred on the point that East German regime was not that bad as everyone thinks it to be. Both of them said that it was corrupt and economically unstable but noted that it was as functional as any government system in the world right now; perhaps, a dual reflection of any situation is required in order to understand it entirely.

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While I got to see how Germany and Europe has progressed so much from their past, Prague showed me a nation still going through the transition from a communist nation to a capitalist one. Even though it has been almost 20 years since Czechoslovakia separated, it appeared as if the political system is still inclined towards the old system; a change in political generation has still not occurred. However, it has been speculated that this new era is coming soon and seeing the transition would be valuable.

I will stop with the politics for now. One thing I wanted to tell everyone before I ended was that Freiburg has a “Halloween” type festival of their own called the Fasnet which took place last week. It is celebrated to signify nest of fools taking over the city and the battle of cold seasons against spring which ends with the burning of Freiburg’s carnival costume until it can return again next year. With all the costumes and masks all over the city, all the students who have celebrated Halloween found it a bit similar but apparently more bizarre.

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Since I am leaving Freiburg for another trip tomorrow, I will make a point to update everything I do here. For now that’s all folks 🙂 

When History Leaves You Speechless: Ronda and Seville

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This is the fountain we saw in the center of the patio of the Cathedral in Seville. It looked like an average fountain, with children playing and old men chatting. However, as our professor explained more about the history of the this place, this fountain has been a part of a sacred meeting places for more than 1500 years. They have proof that this fountain was part of a Visigoth Church and after the place for the sacred washing before the Muslims would enter their church an now a fountain in the third largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Who would of thought that a simple fountain could have that much history!

There were many other examples of the mix of Muslim and Christian history and architecture. The one on the right is a tower in Ronda. Where the Christians destroyed and the rebuild the tower can be seen where the rock at the bottom switches to brink halfway up. A similar event occurred at the mosque that used to be where the Seville cathedral is now. On the left you can see a picture of the inside of the top of the tower. After an earthquake destroyed the outer layer of the tower, the Christians rebuild the outside to house bells. The impressive arch can be seen dating from about the 13th or 14th century. As well columns visible are from the mosque at Cordoba to have continuity of the faith, so they date from about the 10th century!  As cool as all the history, the best part of the trip was definitely getting to hangout with my new IES friends!

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