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Standing in the middle of the world

So it has been a week since I landed in Ecuador. I first landed in Quito, which is the capital of Ecuador and the second I got off the plane I saw the Andes Mountain Range. That was breath-taking. I am from New York and the Catskills are the biggest mountains I have ever seen. The Andes were like monsters that were in the clouds with us during the plane ride. The terrain is so different here. Bridges do not go over water they go over valleys and concrete houses are built on steep hills.

The first day here I meet the group of student that were doing the program with me all were nice and from different places in North America including Canada. There are about 20 students We traveled through Quito and Otavalo by day. We saw waterfalls, the equator, an artist museum, we toured quito and went inside old medieval style churches. At night we explored the area around the hotel on our own and Ramon taught us to play a fun card game called sandwich and we played every night. So far we have all been having a great time getting to know each other and the beautiful country of Ecuador. We arrived to the campus of UEES and it is beautiful and I can not wait to start classes with all the students. I meet my host family and that was a huge shock at first. They only speak spanish and I know very little spanish. However, they have a lot of patience and love to talk to me and we are learning to communicate sufficiently. I am very excited to see what next week brings.

This picture is of the four students from SUNY New Paltz in the UEES Program this Summer. See that red line on the floor that is the Equator.

Southern Italy, Part V

I’ve seen Italy from all sides.  Places the tourists never see.  I have been very fortunate.  It has been humbling, and eye opening.  I appreciate more deeply now what my ancestors went through to leave it for America.

I think that a part of study abroad is to immerse yourself in a different culture, and open your mind to new ways of thinking and problem solving in a foreign environment.  I imagine that many students choose the countries they study abroad in based on their own ancestral heritage and a desire to connect with that. I imagine this is a big part of what study abroad IS.

I was fortunate to meet a cousin of mine in Rome during our free day.  We had never met before.  Though she spoke very little English and I spoke very little Italian, it is amazing how much you can communicate with a few words and hand gestures.  Somehow, we had a whole conversation and managed to connect as human beings.  It was wild to note the similarities in personality quirks.

I’ve never felt more American, than when I tried to immerse in my Italian roots.  I appreciate both sides of myself now, the American, and the Italian.  As American-Italians, we have clung on to this Old World culture for generations, as I noticed when some things I did at the dinner table closely resembled that of the Italians, and they noticed as well.  But I also noticed the differences, how as Americans we have evolved into something else, and are not this Old World anymore.

It is so strange, to recognize a place, a way of being, as so familiar, and yet to not belong to it.

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Study Abroad In China

Hello,

As I’m writing this blog, I will be leaving to the airport in a few hours.
I would like to officially announce that I will be studying abroad in China this summer at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE). I’m so grateful for this opportunity to study abroad in China. Hopefully throughout the academic courses and the trip, I will gain experience in the business field as well as personal growth in adapting new environment and being independent.

I’m an introvert and like to stay in my comfort zone. It’s definitely hard to leave my home, friends and family. I try to tell myself that I’m only gone for one month. Yes, it’s not a big deal – it’s an opportunity. The thing that hits me so hard is time. I have been busy working since the finals were over. Along with that, I’m trying to keep up with my biology online course. I haven’t had time to enjoy the time left in America before I leave. Until the time comes so close that I realize I have to go and I will miss this place. The longer you stay in a place or spend time with a person, you develop a sentimental feeling for it. What I get from this whole process of preparing and going to study abroad is organize your time well for everything, emotionally and physically. Overall, take your time and enjoy every moment, don’t rush through the process as you will realize that everything is okay. There is a beauty in every trouble, as long as you see the other bright side of it.

Here are some pictures I put together between Shanghai and New York City. There’s no mean to compare two places but I just want to put them out there as a reminder of the places I’ve been to and experienced.

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Source: Photos are from Google Images.

Stay tuned for my next blogs as I will walk you through my journey in China.

A Few More Days

There are only a few days left before I’m in Beijing, China. It hasn’t set in that I’ll be arriving so soon.

I’m really excited about the company I’m working for. I mentioned E-Go to my coworker that used to live in China and she knows about the company. This is especially surprising because she lived in a completely different part of China. The projects on their website look amazing. I’m definitely going to learn a lot about graphic design that I would of learned in school. The company I’m working for seems excited, too. My study abroad adviser met with them recently and told me how much they are looking forward to meeting me. During the Skype interview, my interviewer seemed really excited to show me around.

My goal is to bring the smallest suitcase possible. This is a problem because I like clothes a lot. I’ve gotten somewhat used to this by taking the bus home from college during holidays, but in these situations there are already some clothes waiting for me at home. I’m going to wearing a lot of black because it matches everything.

I’m really looking forward to being in China and hopefully my very shy/quiet self will somewhat decrease the stereotype that Americans are loud.

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Waiting

It didn’t occur to me how close my trip was till my friend messaged me asking what else I was doing this week to prepare for my trip. Time really flies when I’m not paying attention… It was just last week that I was on a mini vacation with my family, and it’s like I blinked and now we’re here. I’ve wanted to visit London since I was a little girl, and now I get to live there for a month. Imagine that?

There are many words I can use to describe how I feel about the trip but as my friends can probably predict, the top two are anxious and excited.  Anxious because I can think of a million things I want and need to do before I leave, people I need to see, and the list goes on and on. I want to go walk around Manhattan and have dinner with my friends, see my cousin at her work and have lunch with her (see the food trend here?), and most of all I NEED to pack!

Some things at the top of my list that I needed for my trip is an adapter for my MacBook (I am going there to study after all!), good walking/rain shoes, and a good water proof jacket! One of my friends who’s been to England loves to remind me that the whole thing about it raining often is definitely NOT a joke.

As it gets closer, I get a little bit more excited, and a little bit more terrified each day. It’s different traveling with family or to see family as opposed to traveling completely on my own. Regardless, I’m excited to see what this next month has in store for me. All that’s standing in the way now are a few days, a 7 hour flight, and an empty luggage.

Takeda of Kofu, Mikasa of Yokosuka and Byodo-in of Uji

IMG_1910IMG_1918IMG_1930IMG_1937 IMG_1943Once again, I find myself writing about the various places that I have been to since last I wrote. Every weekend including Friday as I have that off too, I plan another exciting trip and then I charge at it with all my energy and passion. Most people including even myself a bit, thought that I would grow tired of Japan within a month or be so bogged by school that I would not have time to really get out of the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area and truly see Japan, but fortune smiled upon me and I have been able to give it my all. Of course, it is incredibly exhausting, which I have mentioned before, but the experience is once in a lifetime and I don`t know when I will ever be able to return to Japan again. I have literally gone to places that my Japanese friends have never gone to, despite living here, showing just how extensive my travels have been!

So, where have I been that has been so exotic to even the Japanese? Well, as I said that I would, I went to Kofu in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture, I took the same route as I had for Matsumoto, but the trip was at least an hour shorter. As well, for some reason the line to Kofu actually starts very close to my dorm, so it was an easy trip to get on the train. It was a beautiful day in Kofu and I arrived early in the morning giving me plenty of time to see all that Kofu has for the day. The city is most famous as the stronghold of the famous Daimyo, Warlord, Takeda Shingen. He is a legendary Daimyo that is frequently in works set during the Medieval period in Japan and most recognizable for his personal helmet having a long white mane to it. As each Daimyo wanted to show off their wealth and skill of their craftsmen, the helmets of Daimyos are well-known to have distinct, fascinating and even bizarre, one of the most impressive being an entire set of deer antlers mounted on a helmet. Like usual, when I arrive in a new city, there is something to greet me, instead of a sign or a banner, there was instead of Takeda Shingen mascot there to greet and take pictures with anyone, who asked including myself. Mascots are just like in America, a person in a big cartoon costume and they are very popular in Japan with all major cities, prefectures, companies and even smaller areas having a few, varying from a black bear with rosy cheeks to a peach fairy, who goes nuts in the costume, seriously look it up, the mascot is Funyassi and he is awesome!

After leaving the train station, I could see the surrounding the mountains, which were really beautiful as well as the forests in the distance, it reminded me a lot of New York, which is also filled with mountains and forests. I took a taxi to Kai-Zenko-ji temple, the largest wooden building in Eastern Japan, it was a really nice temple and had a very unique appearance. Unlike most of the countless temples that I have been to, this was at least 50 feet tall and that really gave it an impressive appearance. After that, I wandered around the city and saw there huge bronze statue of Takeda Shingen, showing even 400+ years since his death, he is stilled highly regarded and respected by the people of his prefecture. I also, visited the Takeda shrine/museum built to him that houses many artifacts of his clan including an impressive centuries old katana, still in pristine condition. The shrine was only in 1919 because the Emperor really liked Takeda and thought that he deserved a cool shrine, where he is enshrined as a deity. In Japan according to Shintoism, if someone was a really great person, victorious general, very wise scholar, great social contributor, they can have a shrine built to them when they die and people will pray at the shrine for this great person to bestow a gift upon them. Shinto shrines are a really amazing concept as Japan is the only country to have Shintoism and it has a very unique culture to it.

The very next day after sleeping in after such an exhausting day, I decided to take another train trip, though this one was a lot closer. I went to Yokosuka, which is a harbor city in Tokyo bay, famous for being where Commodore Matthew Perry and his fleet entered in 1853 to convince, with warships, Japan to open its harbors. It was about an hour south of my dorm, but no transfers, so pretty easy to go to. It is also well known for being where both the United States 7th Fleet is stationed with its super-carrier and as well, Japan has its Maritime Defense Force stationed there. I didn`t see any US ships, but as soon as we pulled into Yokosuka station, I saw the JS Izumo, aircraft carrier, very close by, so much so that I could see the sailors leaving the ship.

Despite how impressive the modern vessels were, I was there to see a far older ship, the Mikasa, the flagship, under Admiral Togo, of Japan during their successful war against Russia in 1904-5, which is credited as making Japan recognized as a world power. It is the only Japanese warship turned into a museum, so it has a special place in Japan and among its citizens. There`s a park attached to it, so there was an event going on with lots of kids, stands and people next to the ship. It was a cool experience as the ship is pretty interactive and has a ton of artifacts from its service. I even got to put on an old Naval uniform and get my picture taken, so it was a lot of fun. I had never seen a ship this old before, so I was very fascinated by its design. When I was a kid, I had spent a night on the USS Massachusetts, which is a WW2 battleship, but this ship was far older and smaller, making its historic contribution much more impressive. As well, Admiral Chester Nimitz was a big fan of Togo and had meet him after the war, years later when the ship was in disrepair, Nimitz had spearheaded the successful efforts to save the ship, so the Japanese are very grateful to America for its help in saving the ship.

Though both of these locations have a great deal of history, the city of Uji, which I visited last week has far more than both combined. Uji is an ancient city located near Kyoto, which itself was capital of Japan for over a thousand years, and is well-known for being the Tea capital of Japan and the location of the World`s first novel, The Tale of Genji. It is also, the home of Byodo-in, a 950 year old original Buddhist temple, that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its age. Its better known as the Phoenix hall as it is painted in a bright red and located in the center of a pond to appear like a Phoenix in flight. Truly, it was an incredible place to visit and not hard to get to from the train station on foot and was not crowded at all. Its also on the 10 cent coin here, so it was pretty cool to see the actual place and compare it to the coin.

My plan for this week is to go to Sendai, a city in Northern Japan, which was the stronghold of another famous Daimyo, Date Masamune. It will be the most north that I have been in Japan and I will be riding a different bullet train than before. This one is called the Hayabusa, which means Peregrine Falcon, and has a very sleek design in a distinct bright Turquoise color. The week after that is probably going to be Nagoya, Japan`s third largest city located in the center of the country and home of the shrine of one of Japan`s Imperial Regalia, a legendary sword of myth as well as a large collection of other blades; and yet another Daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, the legendary Demon Lord, known for his ruthless nature and well-known by all Japanese for his might. as well, one of friends here, had lived near Nagoya, in a samll city called Inuyama, which has one of the only five original castles in Japan as well as being a national treasure, it is not as larger as my previous ones, but it is one the same level of national value. Still, there are even more places to go if possible, but I am taking it one week at a time.

Reflecting Back on Studying Abroad

It has been three weeks since I’ve been in the United States and coming home has treated me well. I thought that I would have reverse culture shock but I adjusted back to life surprisingly in a matter of days. Of course the glorification of coming home has faded and I find my mind wondering back to the things that I miss about Prague. My family asked me how it was and I just couldn’t answer it because SO MUCH HAPPENED! Where do I start? But I found myself talking about it in casual conversation. Then, they would get sick of it and I found that once I wanted to talk about my past 4 months in Europe, I couldn’t stop. I would just bring something up or something would remind me of that one time in Europe and they would just walk away or roll their eyes. That’s probably the toughest part-not being able to share the experiences with them.

After a week of being home, my mind was distracted from Prague because I was back on a plane on my way across the country for 2 weeks. I was in Washington State, all the way across the country visiting my Aunt and my cousins. It was great to see them. Then, after just getting back and settling once again back into home life, it felt like I never left. Everything looks and feels the same. But I can feel that I’ve changed. And although I’ve missed out on family and friend events while having my own adventures and have a substantially lower bank account, I have taken things with me that I will never forget.

I won’t forget the people that I’ve met on my journey- my friends, my tour guides, my professors, people on the street who saw I was lost and asked if I needed help finding where I wanted to be going. I won’t forget the support that I received from my family and friends who kept cheering me on along the way. I couldn’t have endured homesickness and my own self-doubt without them believing in me.

I won’t forget the places I’ve been and the drive to go to discover more places. Even if I’m driving down my hometown road and see something that fascinates me, I won’t forget that I learned that anywhere we go, even in our backyard can be an adventure.

And ultimately, I won’t forget the friend that I made with myself. On my journey, I learned so much about myself. I became more independent and I relied on myself even when I thought that it was hopeless and I couldn’t do it. I won’t forget to make peace with my weaknesses.

Studying abroad was tough and challenging but it was ultimately rewarding. I definitely recommend it to other students so it can open their mind and allow them to experience the world in a different way. I wouldn’t trade the past 4 months spent in Europe for the world.

 

A Few Opening Thoughts… (pre-departure)

Today marks the ten day countdown to my study abroad journey to Oviedo, Spain! I am more than excited to begin classes, meet international friends and my host mother, and to explore the city of Oviedo and surrounding areas. I am excited yet slightly apprehensive about this new experience. I know that once I arrive and get settled in with my host family, however, the nerves will pass and I will quickly get accustomed to the new lifestyle. In addition, I have been busy this past week arranging last minute details of the trip before I go. There is a lot of preparation and I know this experience will be well worth it. Overall, I’d like to set several goals that I hope to reach by the end of the program. My first goal is to improve my conversational Spanish speaking skills to a near fluent level. Secondly, I am eager to learn more about Spanish culture and the history of Oviedo. My third goal, though not as academic based as the first two, is to simply cherish this opportunity in every way possible by being immersed in a new culture and by meeting new people. I have a lengthy “weekend” list of places to go and landmarks to see, such as the rugged Picos de Europa and the breathtakingly ancient cathedrals. Obviously there is a lot to look forward to, so stay tuned, reader, as I embark on my study abroad journey to Oviedo, España!

Hasta pronto

-Nora

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Finally

It was a long 14 hour flight to get to South Korea (although the food was pretty good so I can’t complain about that) but I’m finally here. I only slept for maybe three hours on the plane and then I slept a little more on the taxi ride to Dankook.

I was so excited to be in South Korea but at the same time, I was too tired to really take everything in because I mainly just wanted to get to a bed. I only got something from the convenience store to eat and then went to sleep.

Today we had orientation for the Global Village portion of the program and I am really nervous for this part. Although I want to teach abroad after I graduate and realize this is an amazing experience I’m still afraid. I’m not sure how I’ll conduct lessons, keep the class going and so on. I hope after the first couple of days I’ll warm up to teaching.

Tomorrow is our last day of orientation before Global Village starts and it ends early so my friend and I are planning to go to Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성).

Here are some pictures of Dankook University Jukjeon Campus

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The world through an airplane window

Anticipation

The past’s a convenient fiction. That’s all it’ll ever be. It lets us learn from mistakes and feel nostalgic for lost loves, yes, but memories about it’re malleable. They slip out and down like an erosion. We make of the past what we want. We’re constantly creating and forgetting where and what we’ve been.

The future’s pure fantasy, made solely of what we intend for it. The future’s never happened in the history of man.

So, today’s all there there is. Our lives are a series of todays.

In another week of todays, my today will begin with a summer study session in London. Anticipation fills me with dreams of Big Ben, Parliament, the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Saatchi Gallery, an endless procession of place after place. I’ll be taking two courses: Museums and Galleries, and London and Its Literature. I’ve done the pre-reading, and I’ve looked at all the websites.

The thing about today is, though, there’s no knowing what’ll specifically happen until that specific today comes. In London, there will be new friends never dreamed of, new places, new problems, new smells and sounds. Tomorrow’s todays’re unpredictable, and that’s their appeal. As much as I plan, plot, and look forward, each new today will offer something unexpected. And that – beyond the museums, galleries, and places – is what I can’t wait for. Tomorrow’s todays’re lined up in a row, ready to offer up the unexpected. That’s what I excitedly anticipate. That’s what I’ll be jittery about when I get on and off that plane in a week.