The Final Countdown

Part two of my late update of the past two weeks:

I cannot believe this is my last week in Barcelona. I’m completely in denial. How has it been six weeks already???? I have two final exams left (one Wednesday and one Thursday) then that’s it. I’m leaving Barcelona and taking a train to Madrid right after my last exam Thursday morning. It’s so weird to think that my program is basically over and even weirder to think that I probably won’t see the majority of people I met here ever again. Of course I’ll see my UF friends, but who knows about all the other random friends in my program from schools all over the country. Like, “Hey it was fun spending the best six weeks of my life with you in a foreign country, but bye forever, have a good life!!!” So strange. My roommates from Towson have already been planning a visit to UF for a game day in the fall, and I really hope that works out. Living together for this long and becoming such good friends then never seeing each other again would be pretty depressing.

So I’ve checked a couple more things off my bucket list

  1. Brunch and Cake: The most touristy brunch place in Barcelona but so good
  2. Chupitos: A bar with really creative shots. I roasted a marsh mellow on a flaming shot, so that was pretty cool.
  3. Labyrinth: A park with a cool maze made out of bushes. The maze lasted about five minutes total, but the park was pretty
  4. Spanish movie theater: This wasn’t even on my list, but I went with my roommates to see “Finding Dory” and it was the coolest thing ever. The movie food was the best I’ve ever had and the Spanish subtitles were hilarious because you can tell some things just don’t translate.
  5. The Bunkers pt. 2: We’ve been saying we want to go back there since we went the very first week, and tonight we’re finally going. I’ve seen a lot of views this trip, but I think this one really is my favorite.

This past weekend we went to Ibiza and it was like a movie. I feel like I was either in a pool or at the beach all weekend. We got there Friday morning, checked into our hostel, then went straight to the beach. The beach near our hostel was gorgeous and way smaller and more private than Barcelona beaches, so it was a nice change of pace. Not to mention the water was so blue it didn’t even look real. That night we went to the famous Fiesta de Agua at a club called Es Paradise where water starts raining from the ceiling around 3 a.m. and the whole club just turns into a giant pool party. Casual, right? The next day we went to Ocean Beach, which was another pool party that looked like it was straight out of a music video. The next day we continued the water theme and went to a club on the beach then the hotel where Avicii was playing, which of course, was decked out with tons of palm trees and a massive pool in the middle of the stage area. In between the beach and the hotel we managed to exercise our American-ness at a giant Steak and Shake. That double burger was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten hands down. Avicii’s performance was amazing. Even more amazing: seeing one of my sorority sisters from UF who I didn’t even know was going to be there in the middle of the crowd during the concert. Small world. After the concert we celebrated the end of our weekend by walking down to the beach and jumping in the ocean. The cab driver who took us back to our hostel was not amused when he realized we were all sitting in his car soaking wet and sandy, but I have no regrets.

Our flight wasn’t until 10:30 p.m. on Monday, but our hostel checkout time was 11 a.m., so we were homeless for a good 10 hours. We were all so exhausted from the past three days that we just asked the front desk to keep our luggage and attempted to nap by the pool until it was time to cab to the airport. I say “attempted” because it was probably close to 100 degrees with no breeze and we all felt like we might die any second from heat stroke. The hostel also didn’t have air conditioning. Neither did any restaurant or store we were in all weekend, so that was pretty rough. At least we have fans here in our un-air conditioned apartment in Barcelona.

Things I learned in Ibiza:

  1. Ibiza is hot
  2. Every activity revolves around a pool
  3. Booking flights home for 10:30 at night is not the ideal decision
  4. No matter where you go in the world, there’s always a change you’ll run into someone you know
  5. Sometimes cab drivers have songs from the “Frozen” soundtrack on their playlist (We jammed out on the way to the airport)
  6. I want to go back to Ibiza

Now that the crazy weekend is over and finals are officially underway, it’s finally hitting me that we have less than three days left in this beautiful city that has been my home for the past month and a half. There are so many things I’m going to miss about living here that I couldn’t even begin to list them. Instead I’ll just say that knowing I have to leave so soon is one of the saddest things I’ve ever experienced. I guess the good news is that I still have a week left of traveling left after my program ends, so things could be worse. Madrid, Dublin, and London, I’m comin for ya.

 

Super Tourists

I haven’t had a chance to blog since my last post about Amsterdam I’ll have to split this update into two separate posts to fit everything in. So, I’ll start off with two weeks ago (weekend of July 1-3) when I finally got the chance to relax and spend some time in Barcelona that didn’t involve classes, homework, or cabbing from my apartment to the airport. One of my roommates went to Paris and three others went to Italy, so my one other roommate, Katie, and I decided to embrace our stay-at-home weekend and check everything that we’ve been wanting to do here off our lists. Basically, we were super tourists.

On Friday we spent the day at the beach, which was so nice since I have class until 5 on the weekdays and rarely get to go. I can literally feel the temperature climbing by the day now that it’s the middle of July, so the water felt amazing. While we were at the beach we decided to try out Bacoa, this burger restaurant one of our friends told us about. It was a build your own burger kind of thing, and my burger was so big I could barely even fit it in my mouth. I think all the people sitting around us were probably disgusted at the way I was shoving this giant burger into my mouth and spilling half the contents onto the table in the process, but it was totally worth it. So delicious. We also walked down the street a little and discovered a little Mexican place with tequila flavored ice cream. Also delicious. Friday was our most relaxing day, which was kind of ironic because I think it’s the first Friday since I’ve been here that I haven’t been on a train of a bus on my way out of Barcelona.

Saturday we made our way up to Tibidabo Amusement Park. It’s literally an amusement park on the top of a mountain. When I say on top of a mountain, I am not exaggerating. It took us about a 30 minute bus ride, all uphill, to get there, and once we finally arrived it was nothing like we expected. As Americans, we’re used to parks having maps at every corner and signs pointing to different areas and rides every few steps to guide us around all day. I guess Tibidabo didn’t get the memo because I don’t think I saw a single map and the signs were scarce and also meaningless because we didn’t know the Spanish names of any of the rides because there weren’t any maps. Fortunately, my roommate and I are both pretty laid back about these kind of things, so we just decided to wing it and pretty much rode every ride we came across. Oh, did I forget to mention the park was separated into 6 floors of different rides and attractions? It makes sense because it was on a hill, but I never thought I would go to an amusement park where I had to use a giant glass elevator to get from one ride to the next. Despite the overall confusion of the day, Tibidabo was so much fun. Every ride we went on (pretty much all of them) was amazing because around every twist and turn we could look out and see the entire city of Barcelona stretched out in the distance below us. We were so high up we were actually in the clouds. The weirdest part of the park was that the top floor had a random giant church just sitting there a few steps away from the restaurants and rides. Only in Spain can you find a church at an amusement park. They put those things everywhere and anywhere. What was even funnier about it was that someone was getting married in the church while we were there. We saw the bride and groom taking wedding pictures on the carousel. Interesting theme for a location wedding. When we got back at the end of the day we went to a seafood restaurant that trip advisor claimed had really good paella. Trip advisor was right. Our waiter came out with a giant pan and split it into two plates full of saucy rice and mussels, clams, shrimp, fish, chicken, and sausage. We could barely finish half that night so it lasted us for two dinners.

The final day of our tourist weekend we took two metro lines, two trains, a cable car, and a funicular to the summit of Monserrat. In case you don’t know, because I definitely didn’t, is basically just a train that goes almost straight up the side of a mountain. The town of Monserrat was really cool just because there are restaurants, shops, museums and a beautiful cathedral all isolated an hour outside of Barcelona and on the top of a mountain. Kind of like Tibidabo but way more isolated and without the ferris wheel and roller coasters. So the main town was impressive, but the best thing about Monserrat was the hike to the summit of Sant Jeroni. It was about 1,200 feet up and took us a total of around 2 hours to do the whole thing. The hike was this beautiful trail weaving through the woods and around giant boulders. At the top was a long, steep, stone staircase leading to an overlook with a 360-degree view of all the rural land and cities around us. There was a kind of sun dial that pointed out which landmarks and mountain ranges were in each direction. The wind almost blew us off the summit, but the view was amazing and definitely worth the walk all the way back down to the main town (which included at least 200 flights of stairs).

Last but not least, Monday. It’s not technically the weekend, but it basically was because it was the 4th of July. It honestly wasn’t that weird celebrating in another country because all my friends here (and basically my entire program) are American. It was kind of funny being at the beach with our little American flag and country music when everyone else around us was just laying out and swimming like any other beach day… probably hating us in the process. We did the most American thing we could possibly think of and booked a booze cruise. So I was at the beach, out on the boat, and surrounded by Americans. It was basically like any other 4th celebration, except of course we were in Spain, so it was actually a lot cooler.

Things I checked off my Barcelona bucket list:

  1. Get in as many beach days as possible
  2. Eat good paella
  3. Navigate my way through a Spanish amusement park
  4. Hike from a monastery to the top of a mountain
  5. Obnoxiously celebrate an American holiday in another country while all the locals judge me

Looking Back

I’ve been home for about two weeks now and I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be here for a while.

When my friends and I first returned home the common phrase was “America sucks.” We were back to the monotony of actually understanding what people were saying. Back to the stiff, geometric skyscrapers littering the streets. Back to the hustle and bustle lifestyle that seizes the everyday American. Essentially, we were back to reality.

Now that I’ve let it all soak in, I’ve come the realization that America certainly does not suck. I may no longer eat pasta or pizza every day, nor do I get to pass centuries of history while walking to class, but America possesses pieces of our everyday lives that I often took for granted. We can split checks at restaurants, we don’t have to pay for water with a meal, we have public restrooms, we (generously) use our air conditioning, we dry our clothes. We may be young, but we have come farther in this short period of time than some of the oldest of established lands. We are a country with little shortage of hospitality, luxury, and rights. No, we aren’t perfect, but we don’t suck.

Therefore, spending six weeks in Florence, Italy not only allowed me to appreciate and love a new culture, but it allowed me to further appreciate and love my own. I got to experience a place that, in a way, became a part of me because I grew to know it on my own and in my own way. Now that I am home, I feel as if i have a perspective that others around me don’t have. I don’t mean this to sound vain, instead I feel that certain everyday experiences can now be compared to the everyday experiences of a person halfway across the world. Whether I’m comparing the sizes of American ice cream to Italian gelato (American portion sizes are indeed out of whack) or I’m comparing the pace of my day to the pace of an Italian, I now have tangible experiences to refer back to that allow me to think about the varieties of life on this earth. My time abroad made me eager to explore even more types of lifestyles and to reevaluate my own. After finishing this journey it’s my belief that traveling shouldn’t just make you fall in love with where you went, but it should enhance the way you see where you are.

As cliché as it may seem, I felt this is what happened to me on the Fourth of July last week. After being a foreigner in different countries for so long, and learning the history and culture of those places, it felt strange to be celebrating the history and culture of my own. After the initial strangeness subsided, I felt a pride and patriotism I hadn’t acknowledged before. Here I was, in my home country, no longer a tourist or confused American student lost in a fog of flirtatious buon giorno‘s. I was in a place whose culture I identified with, and others traveled here to admire that just as I traveled elsewhere to admire other cultures. My study abroad session has given me six weeks to enjoy a new place, and a perspective that will give me a lifetime of enjoying wherever I am in the future.

While this all seems thoughtful and positive, I should include a belated disclaimer that I spent a good deal of time pretending I was still in Italy and wishing I could go back forever. It was, and probably always will be, the best summer of my life and I will be forever grateful for it. However, now that I am looking back, it is clear to me how it was more than just a fun summer–it changed me, in the least cheesy way possible, and with that I will leave you with one final ¡Grazie, ciao!

Week 11: Helsinki Eats

Hello everyone! This week I’m going to tell you all the best places to eat in Helsinki if you ever visit and you definitely should! I am vegetarian so all of these places will have some vegetarian food!:)

The first place I love going to is Maya Bar & Grill. This restaurant is in the city center, right next to the central railway station. Maya has delicious Mexican food and great drink specials! I personally like to order a 2 or 3 of their appetizers as my entre to have a variety of options. My all time favorite is the goat cheese quesadillas! They are so yummy on their own or even with a little bit of their side spicy sauces.

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Secondly, being Indian I had to find a place that serves decent curries. I don’t know why but Helsinki has so many Indian/Nepalese restaurants, which are all amazing! My go to one is Satkar, which is across from Kamppi. I have been there so many times that the staff know me and I have a table there, haha! Satkar’s spicy level is on point and I know that because I love my food extra spicy! I have tried many different options from the menu and they are all great. The service at Satkar is probably the best in all of Helsinki. The staff are always very friendly and accommodate to your needs. The food is always prepared in a timely fashion with just the right portions sizes.

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Next, a great lunch place with a cozy vibe is Lucha Loco. I always go for their Taco Buffet, which is only 12.50 euros for unlimited tacos (my dream come true). By now I’m sure you can tell I love spicy foods. Anyways Lucha Loca has a variety of toppings to choose from even for vegetarians! For my first couple tacos, I try a couple different style tacos as the toppings slightly change from day to day. They have this feta cheese quinoa salad topping which pairs well with lime and red and green salsas. The staff here is also another plus to visiting. They are super friendly and always smiling adding to the brightness of the restaurant.

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Cholo, Cholo, Cholo! This place is an adorable hole in the wall café style restaurant and has the best burritos and salad bowls. They have a small yet great selection of spicy level options. The food tastes very fresh and healthy in a good way:) This restaurant is partnered with Lucha Loco.

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Lastly for this list is Just Vege. A great place for vegetarians and vegans, they serve different style falafels. This is only place I have not been multiple times so far but I just had to write about it because of how yummy my falafel was! It is another hole in the wall place with not much seating but definitely worth visiting! I ordered a juice shot, which was full of nutrients and vitamins from vegetables. It was very good! I also ordered a goat cheese and pesto falafel. So yummy!

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Ohmygosh, I’m getting so hungry just thinking about all this food! I need to get to one of these places stat! Some other restaurants worth visiting also include: Manala (Italian), Skiffer (pizza), Voffeli & Kaffeli (waffles), Flores (Mexican), and Corleone (Italian).

Interning Abroad: CET Jordan

Study hard, work hard and play hard are all aspects the CET Intensive Language and Internship program in Jordan offer. After a week of intensive Jordanian dialect classes, we were eased into starting Modern Standard Arabic along with starting our internships. Months before getting to Jordan I was asked to give a detailed description of the type of work I would like to do at my ideal internship placement. This information along with my resume was used by the CET Jordan staff to compile a list of about 10 civil society organizations and NGOs that fit my interests and will allow me the opportunity to serve the organization’s needs along with growing professionally. You are sent that list about two weeks before the start of the program, and you are asked to rank your preferences on a scale of 1 to 10. After a few days into the program I was happy to find out that I was placed with my No. 1 choice, which was to intern at the Near East Foundation.

CET’s got my back. I remember the first day of my internship. My classmate and now co-worker Mal and I were told to be ready to meet Mazan, the resident director, and Tom, the resident assistant director by 8:30 a.m. in front of our apartment building to head out for our first day. We all crowded into a car together to drive across town to Al-Weibda where the Near East Foundation Amman branch is located. Listening to Arabic music and chatting about what we want to get out of our experience with the organization, I almost felt like a kid again being driven my mom to my first day of school. It was a nice and comforting feeling. Upon our arrival we had a meeting with the director of the organization to discuss NEF’s current projects, what their needs are and what we would like to get out of our six weeks working with them. Mazen transformed from a parental-esque figure to our attorney as he negotiated terms about our internship.  Again I felt comforted every step of the way because CET was there to make sure we were happy with our experience.

Mal and I attending our first staff meeting completely in Arabic. The staff was brainstorming the most effect times during Ramadan to conduct follow up visits to the homes of new business owners thanks to NEF’s project in Zarqa.

Mal and I standing outside the Youth Association for Self-Development, which is a local community organization that works with NEF on the Reducing Vulnerability of Iraqi Refugees, Jordanians and Vulnerable Groups in Zarqa project.

 

The Near East Foundation recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, distinguishing it as the longest running nonprofit humanitarian assistance and development organization in the Middle East and North Africa. I feel honored to have the opportunity of working in one of the organization’s largest branches. Currently we are wrapping up two yearlong projects tackling two important issues through developmentally sustainable methods. One project aims to reduced economic vulnerability for Iraqi and Syrian refugees and Jordanians in the Zaqra governorate by providing business training for small home-based business startups along with grants to help participants get started.  Additionally, we are working on a project to raise awareness about gender inequality and to promote women’s rights in the Tafilah governorate through a series of youth network workshops, trainings on the issue and nation-wide conferences to engaged the community and lawmakers to evoke policy change.

 

Ramadan and the workplace

The staff at NEF have been fantastic and have welcomed us with open arms. Despite the fact that many of them are fasting, they tend to go out of their way to ensure that Mal and I are comfortable and have full bellies at all times. Since I am responsible for documenting success stories of individuals who participant and benefit from our projects, I have the opportunity to go with the field staff to our different project sites. While on the three-hour drive to the governorate of Tafilah for meetings and interviews with project participants, my co-workers constantly reminded me that I should feel comfortable eating and drinking while on the trip. They were so adamant about this that they pulled over and bought me chips, sweets, juice and water even after I swore that I didn’t want anything. Their Arab hospitality meters where through the roof. A small part of me wonders if they were eating vicariously through me…

One thing I found interesting is that none of the native staff members in the office take a lunch break. I asked one of my co-workers if this was only because it was Ramadan, but she said that this is a custom year round. Mal and I are welcome to take a lunch break if we wish to. We quickly learned that if we did want to eat something that we need to bring a packed lunch because everything near the office is closed during the day and there isn’t much of a selection at the few dakakeen (convenience stores) nearby. Our first day on the job, we roamed the streets for about half an hour on the hunt for food. We considered ourselves victorious once we scraped together some grapes, pita bread and chips for lunch. That day I discovered how delicious and surprisingly filling sandwiches made solely of pita and chips could be. I highly recommend it.

Ultimately, Mal and I are very happy to be interning with the Near East Foundation. We’ve already had the opportunity to travel to different parts of Jordan and to meet some amazing and resilient individuals whose stories will stay with us forever.

Entering the Zarqa governorate, which is about 30 minutes northeast of Amman, to visit one of NEF’s partner community organizations to distribute grants to women for business startups. The Near East Foundation has been working in Zarqa for about a year to reduce vulnerability of Iraqi refugees, Jordanians and vulnerable groups

Grant recipient Hadaya Alawi rubs one of her skin products on my hand to demonstrate the quality. Hadaya, whose name means gifts in Arabic, gave me several samples of perfumes and creams she made right before my eyes

Hadaya demonstrating how she makes hair dye from natural ingredients that you could find in your local grocery store

A group of volunteer trainers who led workshops and initiatives to promote gender equality and women’s rights in the Tafilah governorate

While on the drive back to Amman from Tafilah, my co-workers pulled over on the side of the road so I could snap this picture of this camel who strayed way from its caravan to model for me

Let me tell you that I love you, and I think about you all the time…

I spent the first few days of my summer adventure in Scotland.  More than an interest in the country (have exciting things happened there?), I thought it would be good to get acquainted with the program and my classmates before classes actually started.  This is a love letter to the country that stole my heart.

My parents enjoy folk music, so I’ve known this song since the womb, but I connected with it in a new way this past week.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXwak2ZNU5E  — “Caledonia” is Latin for Scotland.  This is a cover of folksong written in the 70s about a man who loved and longed for his country.  There’s something special about Scottish pride.  Of course they take pride in strength and independence (think Brave Heart—despite any inaccuracies most locals seemed to love this movie).  But I also picture Scottish pride as a person sitting alone by a Loch (lake) and drinking in the countryside.  This song speaks to that deeply personal bond that every Scotsman I met seemed to have with his country.  I hope you enjoy it.

Let me start off by telling you how deeply misinformed I was about the number of exciting things Scotland has to offer.  I was told on no less than three Edinburgh tours about how human waste was dumped into the street with an unceremonious cry of “garde a l’eau!” (French for “watch the water”) which was bastardized into something like “gardy loo!” (the origin of “loo” being used for toilets).  As you explore the city, you can see how it developed to try and cope with this unsanitary problem.  Some particularly unsavory streets were built over, creating an awesomely creepy system of underground passages.  “New Town” was built in the 1700s, essentially doubling the city’s size and providing space for the crush of being who couldn’t safely cohabitate in the “Old Town.”  The rich moved into 4th story residences to rise above the smell without having to climb too many stairs.  See?  Exciting.

Okay, maybe that’s not the most convincing example.  But it’s definitely cool to learn about the things that have shaped a city over 1000 years (Edinburgh’s oldest building is a chapel built circa 1100).

From looking out over the city to driving through the highlands, I think this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

This is a view of and from Edinburgh Castle, built on a hill in the center of the city.  Though a palace for some of its life, the Castle was mostly used to house prisoners of war and Scottish military (not in the same quarters!).  It also houses the crown jewels, which they don’t let you photograph, and a stone which 100s of years of Scottish and English kings were crowned on.

This would be a panorama is I wasn’t a disaster at taking panoramas.

The Castle itself.

The highlands are simply stunning.  We got a little rain on that day, which felt authentic, and toured Loch Ness (no sign of Nessie, sadly), but my favorite part was just looking out over the countryside as we drove by, listening to great Scottish music courtesy of our bus driver.

Taken from the window of our tour bus (as evidenced by the blurry corner).

At one point I fell asleep on the bus and woke up to this fantastic view!

Ever since we left the buzz has been about how much we all loved Scotland—some of my friends are even planning to take a weekend and go back or attend grad school there.  We’ve been wearing our plaid scarves with pride and reminiscing about events only a week gone by.  I’m already planning a return trip.  In detail.

If I should become a stranger, it would make me more than sad.  Caledonia, I hope we meet again one day.

To Italy and Beyond

 

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Rome, Italy

Last week I had a vacation within my vacation. Studying abroad is just like an intense immersed vacation; I eat whatever I want, go wherever I want and spend way more money than I would during a regular UF semester, but there’s always the responsibility of class and homework lingering in the background. However, for 10 days I was free to roam any part of Europe without the obligation of going to class, even my best friend came from the States to explore with me. The plan was easy (not easy at all and took countless hours of planning to execute): we were going to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Split, Croatia. We were looking to get away from a month of dreary, rainy Paris and enter the world of much needed sun. This is exactly what we got. (In defense of Paris though, according to the news the current weather is marginally different from past summers.)

 

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Positano, Italy

Our first stop was a one night pit stop to Napoli, where the birth of pizza occurred; a late arrival, a forgotten fit bit and the dirty, dark streets of the city were not the welcoming embrace we were hoping from Italy but it could only get better from there. Once day broke, we quickly left to our first real destination, Meta, a town just outside of Sorrento. The long train ride took us to a very quaint bus stop and an amazing AirBnB. The view from our new home was amazing, a common theme of our entire trip. Everything about our trip to the Amalfi Coast was a challenge; we had to take a train to then wait from a bus to finally take us to the major attractions we were there to see. But even all the early morning and little sleep of those 4 days were all worth it in the end, especially swimming in the ice cold Sea. Positano was as beautiful as I imagined: houses on a hill, clear water, 600 step stair cases and ideal photographic moments. It felt very surreal to be there. The hidden gem of Italy though was Ravello, a town sitting on the top of a hill by Amalfi. The view as you exit the bus is absolutely breath taking, nothing I had ever experienced before.

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Ravello, Italy

Rome was the greatest surprise of them all. I had been when I was 9 years old and my only memories of it was how hot it had been, a universal truth about Italy in the summer. I loved the fact that walking through Rome was like walking through a museum. Everywhere I looked was absolutely beautiful, from the architecture to the solid blue sky that we were lucky to have. The Roman Forum was one of the most impressive things. The pictures I took looked like they were CGI, footage you could use in Game of Thrones. It was also amazing to think how long those structures had been there for. The history lover is me was very excited to have entered such an important city. We also had the opportunity to go to Vatican (Pro-tips: get to St. Peter’s Basilica at 7am to dodge the crowd and get beautiful people-less pictures). Our early arrival allowed us to painlessly enter St. Peter’s Basilica, an astonishing view welcomed us as we walked in. We then went up to the dome, something I learned from going up was that the 2 euro difference between the elevator ticket and the stairs ticket is NOT worth it. It was a solid 6 minutes walking up very steep, narrow stairs to get to a 360 view of the city, safe to say I had done my workout of the day in hopes of off setting all the gelato and pasta I was consuming.

 

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St. Peter’s Basilica

 

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Roman Forum

By the way, the gelato in Rome is even better than what people always rave about, especially the strawberry one (two a day gelato runs are definitely a thing). I left Rome wanting more, wanting to come back and spend day exploring each corner of the city, sitting at parks, consuming way more pasta and listening to the sing song chatter of its people. Rome, I will be back.

 

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The last leg of our trip was Split, Croatia. Everyone’s responses when I told them I was going there were all the same:what is there to do in Croatia? And to tell you the truth, when I booked it I wasn’t sure either, it just sounding cool to go to Croatia. The best part was that it didn’t disappoint. The beautiful historic area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it was a pedestrian only area of the city full of narrow stone streets and tiny family owned shops, it was very surreal to be there. The highlight of our trip however, was Krka National Park. A park just outside of split near one of the most well preserved medieval towns in Europe. The entire tour around the park featured waterfall after waterfall after waterfall and beautiful green waters. I was astounded as I walked around, I had never seen a park like that. We also swam in the waters of the waterfall, and while my phone even took a swim itself, it was worth the freezing swim in this very foreign country (update: after putting my phone in rice for two days it functions perfectly).

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Krka, Falls

I came back from this trip exhausted, needing a week of sleep to make up for the countless hours of walking, but I also came back happy. Happy that I had been able to see the parts of the world I had been dying to go to like the Amalfi Coast and experiencing a country I did not think I would be able to visit. While I wish I had more time in each city, and more money to spend on delicious food, I was happy to share a little bit of Europe with old friends and new friends.

Week 10: Hukkaputki Student Night

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This week I attended Helsinki largest student bar hopping event called, Hukkaputki! It’s basically an event where everyone registers for a team. Then each team is give a list of bars with discounted drinks to visit all over the city. The goal is to buy a drink from as many bars as you can before 11:00pm. Oh, and everyone wears these overalls which are color coordinated with the type of college each student attends. The first time I wore them I honestly felt a bit strange but then after seeing everyone wearing them it was really cool! I loved seeing other student’s overalls to see what kind of badges they had! I think the more badges a student has the more “social” a student is:)

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Our teams start was at 4:00pm which seemed quite early at the time however, when you’re hopping time goes quite quickly! We visited over 12 different bars having everything from cider to assorted shots to wine and then ending the night with some champagne. Luckily, not all the drinks were sized to standard! I think over half the bars created a special small size for this event, or maybe I’m just used to everything being bigger in the US😉

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At the end of the night you regroup with everyone else and get your event badges. The winning team receives a prize and then everyone heads over to the after party at some club. This year we went to Apollo. I really liked the set up of the club; there was an upstairs portion with a view of the lower level. Upstairs there were different bars where everyone could drink and watch the performers and then you go downstairs to dance. We had a couple more drinks at the club before calling it a night.

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I would compare this event to Gator Stomping in Gainesville. It is the same concept of bar hopping with friends. Hukkaputki’s competition aspect might have been the only difference of the two events making it more entertaining. Overall it was a great experience and I am glad was able to participate in it!

Capetown: A City of Contrasts

In a nutshell, the Economic Empowerment in South Africa, or EESA, program pairs teams of undergraduate and graduate student from UF, Texas A&M, Colorado, and the University of the Western Cape with entrepreneurs in Capetown’s townships,  or what we would call slums.  Most of the buildings are simply shacks made of tin or parts of old shipping containers.   The entrepreneurs we’re working with come from varied backgrounds, but most of them are struggling in the post-Apartheid era of South Africa, which still suffers from massive inequalities.

After our normal morning classes, we grabbed a quick lunch and headed out on the township tour.  We saw the inner workings of Langa and Kyhelesia townships which was sad and interesting just the same.

After returning, we had very little time before a meeting with Dr. Morris in his office, which turned out to be helpful.  Then we went to the campus bar, The Barn, for a Gatsby sandwich, which is massive sandwich with meat and fries.  I powered down half of one, which was a pretty decent accomplishment, while we worked on our case SWOT and talked out our client meeting agenda. Our time here is really constrained, and we are busy pretty much from 7am until 1 or 2am most days.

On the Friday of our first week in town,  we were whisked back to campus after our last client meeting (a township radio station) and immediately set out for The Business Center, run by a guy with the unfortunate name of Egbert, who seems to have a vision much like that of EESA, albeit with training, resources, facilities, etc to effect a more lasting change.  I got the sense he was looking for a more permanent partnership with EESA, that perhaps wasn’t going to happen.  Totally makes sense, though, to hand all EESA clients off into his program.  His point was that it takes 1-2 years to really make a lasting behavioral change.

So really interesting to see that this center exists and they have a steller location where Khayaletsha, Mitchell’s Plain, the N2 and other roads intersect.

From there, we set off for the Waterfront, the big retail/social development in Capetown.  Most of the kids ran straight for the mall, but I headed down the coast, and walked to the Mouille Point lighthouse to watch the sunset there.  Incredible scenery all the way to and from including an old fort, the Capetown stadium, Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles (hills) dog parks, and awesome real estate.  I will have to dig into the real estate situation here.  I bet there are opportunities.

Went back to the mall, and noticed Wessel and Chad (our EESA drivers) were stuck in the vans, so I offered and got them something to eat while they sat there.  Hope it helped break up the boredom a bit.  Wessel mentioned earlier that the KFC “crunch burger” (interesting branding) was has favorite, so I got them that.  They both seem like really good guys, so EESA is lucky to have them.  So far, they have been on the dot with our pickups.

The dinner at Mitchell’s Tavern was really nice, and I don’t think anyone passed up the opportunity for a free meal.  The filet with rice and spinach I had was top notch.  Beat the hell out of partially cooked pasta in a dirty dorm kitchen.   Got back around 10:30 and after a call home, I crashed about midnight.

June 18

Finally got in an 8 hour sleep night, the first in about two weeks.  Went with Aly to join the gym, which turned out to be a pretty nice facility.  Felt good to get in even a marginal workout.  Still having back soreness, but it’s getting better.

Got breakfast and put in my laundry.  Once again, it wasn’t done before we had to leave.  The appliances here seem to work incredibly slowly.  Not sure if the circuits in the kitchen are overloaded, or it’s just design.  The washer takes an hour.  The toaster and stove elements seem to take 15 minutes to warm up.

We shoved off again for the Waterfront for the trip to Robben Island.  We had a little extra time, which I spent upstairs reading the museum exhibits and watching the video about the reunions help on the island.  Really interesting to see some of the players I read about in “The Long Walk to Freedom”.

The island itself was pretty somber.  So powerful to visit a place about which you’ve read.  I wonder if it meant much to the students who didn’t really know much about the history of the Struggle.  My guess is no, since some of the comments afterward were that it was just “OK”.

Sadly, the racism is still pretty rampant, as there have been two big news stories in the past week about white women popping off with absurd racial rants.   One of them had just gotten robbed, so on top of that, she’s now of video as a complete racist.  I see the social vortex of public opinion and social media works here just as it does back home.  She’ll probably have to into hiding too.

Seeing Mandela’s cell was pretty amazing.  I even laid down on the mat they had in the F section to feel what it was like.  Can’t imagine getting any sleep (especially me).

Everyone was pretty wiped out after the trip and many fell asleep in the van on the way back.  Not a very wild Saturday night.    Once again, my laundry had be folded for me by the house lady (Victoria?) so I left her another 10 Rand the following Monday as a thank you.  Nice lady.

Some of the kids in the group are huge slobs in the kitchen, leaving unwashed pots and dishes in the sink, cutting boards with vegetable refuse on the counters, trash can overflowing onto the floor, crud all over the counters and tables.  Can’t be too too critical as I was probably the same way at that age.  They just aren’t used to cleaning up after themselves.  I feel particularly bad, because I know the other people sharing Theology are pretty appalled.  I saw one guy mopping who I think was a student staying here, and not an employee.  Shameful that we are not representing well.  I suppose being a 46-year-old grad student working with 20-something-year olds, I should have expected this type of thing.  We’ll see what the rest of the trip brings.

 

Procrastination Station

There is so much that I planned to do while abroad. I was going to travel, see monuments, experience different cultures, and have the summer of a lifetime. Somewhere in the middle of all of these plans that I made for myself, I forgot about the actual studying component of studying abroad.

The reality of the situation is that I didn’t really remember about the studying part of studying abroad until this past week when it all hit the fan. I suddenly got very overwhelmed very quickly. Two 3,000 word papers, an exam, and dealing with a foreign administration all within a seven-day period and I felt the full weight of the world. The worst part being that it was all fully my fault. I did not plan well at all. I allowed myself to get distracted by all of the enchantment of Europe and completely forgot about the academic component of the whole experience.

This blog post is completely dedicated to warning all future students of this potentiality. Procrastination, and more recently senioritus, have been haunting me for the summer.  That is not to say that I am a bad student, but rather that I have allowed myself to so easily get distracted by the wonders of Europe. After talking with program director, I was informed that this is a pretty common occurrence. My advice for future students? Get a great planner, use the calendar app on your phone, and avoid the last minute craziness!