Strong as a Mountain, Quick as the Wind, Calm as Water and Fierce as Fire

IMG_1873 IMG_1880 IMG_1881 IMG_1872 IMG_1875There have been many incredible, fascinating and unique things that I have done in the two months plus since I arrive in this great land. I have climbed mountains, collected the seals of countless temples and shrines throughout the nation, traveled from the rural countryside of Chiba; all the way down to Hyogo bordering with the Sea of Japan, seen museums filled with trains, art and Samurai possessions, went to various local and national attracting and even went to the legendary grand castle of Japan, Himeji; and I still have a little over two months till I am to return! Has it been absolutely exhausting on both my mind and body? YES, it has, but it has all been worth it, I have done so many things that I did not believe that I would ever be able to and will treasure those memories and memorabilia for the rest of my life.

I have collected and came into the possession of many fascinating treasures, some common and local, while others are unique, exotic and can only be acquired from specific locations. Among these great treasures, one was a request from a friend, her request being a Shelly-May teddy bear, that can only be purchased at an Asian Disney park, so I had to go to Disney Sea to get it, but I love amusement parks especially Disney ones and would have been there even if not asked. Another friend of mine actually gave me a 150 year old hand written Japanese book from Tochigi prefecture, where apparently these kinds of books are viewed as useless as they cannot be read and can be bought at gift shops for cheap, thats just astonishing. I also bought some Anime figurines and giant robot models that you could never get directly imported outside of Japan, literally some of the models are only sold at one or two locations in the world and another was a special 7-11, yes the convenience store, robot model that was sold at the stores for a limited time a few years ago, making them highly sought after and I had to hunt one down for like the last month, but the feeling of satisfaction from getting my prize was incredible. I have came into the possession of a gigantic assortment of shirts that I have collected from all over place varying in theme from Japanese Baseball, to Disney, to Meiji University and Sumo, they are all so cool! Of course, I have gotten items with a more spiritual nature to them from the various spiritual sites that I have visited. Aside from the seals, I got a good luck keychain, a good health charm, a cat statue to draw in good fortune, a red cow statue to ward off illness and a protection charm with an adorable anime girl on it to put on my bag. The shrine I got it from made the anime girl officially a Shrine priestess and as if promotes tourism, its encouraged. Due to my family`s love of the Chinese Zodiac, I got a ceramic monkey for myself, a snake for my dad and a dragon for my mom. I also, got a Japanese summer robe called a Yukata, its pretty cool with dragons on it and I think I will find some good use for it!

As I mentioned before, I went to Himeji castle and spent the night as the trip was three hours. Of course, I traveled there by the greatest form of transportation there is in Japan by Shinkansen Bullet Train! I had always want to ride one, but they are very expensive and you have to have a trip planned out to make the most of it. How expensive, you may ask, at least a 100 dollars one way. I really enjoyed ride on it as I got to see the magnificent Japanese countryside and many amazing cities like Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie with a sleek polished white body shaped like a rocket and a large blue racing stripe down the middle. The train`s name was Nozomi, which means Hope in Japanese, and gives it a graceful aura to itself. With a record of 52 years in service and no fatal accidents, the Shinkansesn have a safer record than even walking!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have like a three day mega week planned with Sumo, Baseball and a grand festival on the list. The Sumo tournament was great and my group had a amazing seats to watch it from. Sumo is an easy sport to understand, two men wrestle and who ever either tosses their opponenet outside the ring or makes him fall wins. When the Yokozunas, the Sumo grand champions, appeared the audience went crazy. Yokozunas are the best of the best in Sumo, with there only usually being one individual worthy of the title at a time, but currently it is a great rarity with there being three, all whom are Mongolians, though they are given Japanese Sumo names. They are revered in Japan as Divine warriors as Sumo is closely related to Shintoism, the national religion, their very aura asserts might and grandeur. Then on Saturday, I went to Tokyo Dome, where the Yomiuri Giants faced their crosstown rivals, the Yakult Swallows, the two teams are perfect Japanese equivalents to the Yankees and Mets, so it was a great match-up. The Giants won, which made me happy as I am a fan of them since I got a hat last time I came to Japan, and the cheering section was just amazing with them waving a full-sized team flag and even waving a giant banner like the ones you see at European Soccer games, the cheering section was so dedicated, that 20 minutes after the game ended, they were still cheering even though all the players left! Then I went to the Sannja Matsuri Festival at Senso-ji temple, the largest festival and temple in Tokyo, the festival was fun, but Senso-ji is always full of people, so it just felt like a very crowded day at the temple. I also went to Kamakura, which is an old coastal city, that once was the capital and has a lot of really amazing site to see!

I have my trip to Kyoto coming up soon, so that will be something to look forward to, but until then I probably will not be going on any huge trips, though there is a great black castle that would make a great day trip in Matsumoto, but we will see. I really love this country and I am still excited to see what tomorrow will bring! Of course, I am looking forward to seeing my friends, my family and my homeland again, but I really am enjoying myself here and the internet allows me to keep that distance feeling not too far. In all honest, I really am going to need a plan as to how I am going to bring all of my stuff back, I am allowed a second full-sized suitcase for free on my flight, but even that may not be enough.

The Experience of a Lifetime (on a backpack): 12 Day Countdown!

The fact that I will be going to Asia for the first time ever has been slowly sinking in, but it has not quite hit me yet. Perhaps it will all register once I board the plane to Japan and commence my overseas experience. Nevertheless, I can not wait to take off! To say that I am excited to study abroad would be an understatement; I am exhilarated. I have been dreaming of going to Asia since I was about 8 years old but never the resources or opportunity to go until now. This will be the first time I ever travel across the world (with the exception of a few trips I’ve taken to the Dominican Republic to visit family) and I plan to do it all on a backpack.

Wait.. did you say, “a backpack?!” 

That’s right. And here is the very backpack that will take me around Japan and South Korea for the next two months:

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(It’s much bigger than it seems, I promise!)

I want to travel and make the most out of this learning experience, so packing light is my best bet. I’ll be staying at a hostel in Osaka, Japan for 9 nights before going over to South Korea to begin my official study abroad program. Afterwards, I will head down to Jeju island, a densely populated tropical island just south of the South Korean mainland, where I will spend 5 nights exploring the island and learning it’s history. Did I mention that I will be taking a tour of the Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area in North Korea?! (Nope, not a typo, refresh the page if you don’t believe me). This opportunity is offered through my host institution as a cultural immersion experience and believe it or not, I am looking forward to it. Since I want to experience as much as I possibly can in South Korea, I ended up signing up for nearly all of the cultural activities. A few of the one’s that I’m most excited about are: Making Kimchi, Temple Stay, and South Korea’s annual Mud Festival event!

So, how do I feel about all of this? Scared? Nervous? Excited? Well, to reiterate, I am ABSOLUTELY EXHILARATED. It is invigorating, yet surreal to picture myself on the other side of the world with my life in a backpack. Nonetheless, I am prepared, both physically (maps, bus routes, travel equipment, etc.) and mentally.

I will be sure to keep you all posted on my travels/experiences. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave it as a comment below!

 

 

Pre- Departure Bits and Pieces

I begin my journey to Madagascar in just two short days. I have been dreaming about this adventure for an entire year. Now that it is approaching so rapidly, the reality of it is starting to set in. I have traveled abroad before. I spent a semester in Siena, Italy after I graduated high school, but I can not even begin to compare my feelings then to what I feel now. I have received many comments from those around me such as, “Madagascar!?!? Why would you want to go there?” or “Yeah, I hear there are a million diseases you can catch over there, good luck” or my personal favorite “You couldn’t pay me enough money to get on a plane these days.” Although, I am always one to welcome feedback whatever form it may come in, I think that I could have survived just fine without these opinions.

The fact of the matter is that Madagascar would have never crossed my mind if I had not stepped in to Patricia Wright’s lecture last spring. She is a primatologist, conservationist, anthropologist, and a professor at SUNY Stony brook. I spoke with her after the lecture and told her that I was a psychology student and was deeply interested in her study abroad program in Madagascar. She was extremely encouraging and told me that if I had any interest in cross- cultural comparisons in psychology, I may be able to form some type of research while being there. I was drawn to the fact that she was interested in letting me create my own path during my time abroad and in the end this is what made me decide to go for it.

My feelings have fluctuated from feeling like my heart is on fire with excitement to feeling absolutely terrified. I think that this is pretty normal and if not, I have a 25 hour flight to work it all out. I feel so unbelievable blessed and I am ready to immerse myself within this beautiful culture.

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Faces of New Paltz: Ethan Fogg

Student drawn to black studies, overseas learning

Ethan Fogg ’16, a sociology and black studies major, graduated this month and will soon head to Florida to participate in City Year, an AmeriCorps program that partners with schools in high-poverty areas.

Ethan studied abroad on the Jamaica Service Learning Program and New Zealand Program.

 

Read more about Ethan here.

Read more about study abroad opportunities through SUNY New Paltz here.

‪#‎NPsocial‬ ‪#‎NPabroad‬

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Better Late Than Never

It has taken quite some time to write this final blog post, as I’ve been back in the U.S. for about ten days now, and I’ve started this post in my head many times over.

To begin, I would like to say just how grateful I am for this entire experience. In the end, I began wishing it wasn’t just an “experience,” rather, that it was my life. But there any many things between here and there and I wouldn’t miss my last year at New Paltz for anything!

Anyways, I truly lucked out, being able to travel throughout Europe and to live with my two best friends (yes, best), who have become my sisters, for the past 4/5 months. Many people had told us that maybe travelling alone was better and that I’d want to meet new people (which we did!). Being with these two lovely ladies who know me best was the smartest choice I could have made – especially when you’re taking naps in airports, dropping your phone in the middle of the street, dancing into the night, really missing your puppy and much much more.

Upon my return to the states, someone asked me, “What was the craziest thing you saw?” I had no answer at the time, and I’ve been thinking about the question since. I still have no answer, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it was truly about all the little things. The tiny details that you don’t really take note of until they’re no longer there. The people, the fashion, the Youtube ads (in Dutch, and quite hilarious sometimes), the cobblestone streets, the trams, the square-shaped trees, the French being spoken all around you – of course, the chunky red roofs, the Carrefour and Proxy Delhaize both right down the block coming in handy for our desperate after-dinner peanut butter runs, the French-press coffee each morning… the list goes on and you get the point. There were definitely some crazy things that happened to us and some crazy sights seen, but one thing was always greater than the next and I don’t think I can pinpoint one moment of astonishment that wasn’t topped by another great moment.

All in all, I fell in love with Brussels, its people and its culture; I am only dreaming of my return. The week or so before our flight back to NY, I wasn’t sleeping well. At the time, I blamed it on the new and unusual heat that Brussels was being treated with in early May, but during the long long flight home, I realized that I was nervous to return. I suddenly felt like a foreigner coming back in – would I be able to re-assimilate? Did I really want to? The answer is still no, but America has a way of sucking you in, putting you right back into its heads-down cycle of human contribution and output. I am happy to be home, to be reunited with my family and friends. But I am also sad, and I feel that parts of me are missing.

Lastly, and it’s probably not the last because I’ve been all over the place with this post, but how can one really structure such a thing (I don’t want any answers to that question).  Anyways, lastly, I want to say how grateful I am for the friends we’ve made. I didn’t plan nor expect to be sad to leave so many wonderful people, nor did I expect to miss them. Yet, I constantly think about what everyone might be doing at certain times of the day (six hours ahead, of course), and I often wish I was with them – unless it’s going to class. I am going to miss nearly crying of laughter, having two group DJ’s, and listening to non-stop talk about rap and stories from home about once or twice a week.

Moving forward, Ema will be interning with Target, as some official position that I’ve forgotten the name of (sorry Ema), Becca will be running the country club in Forest Hills, and I will be interning with Panthera – an environmental magazine for wildcats, in the city and living with Conor. Luckily, Les Trois Femmes de la Belgique can remain close over the summer and hopefully have some more fun adventures together before going back up to New Paltz for our senior year!

I am unsure of how to end this, as I don’t believe there are enough words to express what this past semester truly was to me. I am unbelievably grateful, especially for my parent’s and grandmothers’ support in the entire venture. Thank you. I would wish this experience upon anyone and everyone.

Until next time Bruxelles <3

I’m Home!!!

I can’t believe that I am already home. Its been an unforgettable 5 months and I miss England so much! It was such an amazing experience and I encourage anyone who can to study abroad.

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Leaving

I just finished packing my suitcases and cleaning out my room, and it still doesn’t feel like I’m leaving in almost 12 hours. How did I go from having months ahead of me to only having half a day? I have never fallen in love with a place more than I have fallen in love with Granada. I know everyone falls in love with where they study abroad, but I have never felt more at peace in a place than I do here.

I’m so grateful and happy I had the experience of living and learning in this city, and I wouldn’t change anything about my time here. As much as I missed New Paltz while I was abroad, it was hard to be sad in a city as beautiful as Granada. I’ve meet so many people that have become such good friends here. It’s a different kind of friendship that forms with people abroad because you go from strangers to travelling for the weekend a lot faster than may seem normal.

I’m so sad and heartbroken to be leaving this city that I fell so in love with. There are so many things I’m going to miss when I go back to New York. The main thing being the difference in lifestyles and the pace of life in general. It’s a stereotype that things are slower in Spain, but I think it’s even more true in the south of Spain. The “no pasa nada” attitude is truly engrained in every aspect of life here. I love how relaxed everyone is and how people are just focused on the here and now.

Saying goodbye to this city tomorrow morning is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a while. Knowing that I won’t be able to watch the sunset every night on a balcony or from a mirador is going to take some getting used to. As sad as I am to leave, I’m forever thankful that I had this experience which has given me the motivation to work and continue learning Spanish that way I can return and hopefully live here.

I know it’s going to be difficult going home and adjusting to a new normal in New York, but nothing can stay the same forever. I’m excited to see my friends and family and do the things that I have missed while in Spain, like use a dryer instead of hanging my clothes on a line. I haven’t even left Granada yet and I’m already thinking about what I will do when I come back.

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To Plan or Not to Plan

Like almost everyone told me before I left, studying abroad has taught me a lot of things about myself and the world. I think one of the more practical things I learned about myself is I need to plan ahead more. My way of planning is to not make a plan. I was never really a fan of planning ahead or having every hour of my day scheduled. However, I’ve realized that there are times when planning is essential so you don’t end up missing a flight, not having a place to sleep, or running out of time.

This semester I lived with a host family, which was really just one woman, and another sophomore from New York named Katie. We get along really well despite the fact that we are a little different from each other, with the main difference being Katie is an expert planner. I admire the way Katie plans everything so that she is certain what will happen and what she needs to accomplish.

I’ve learned a lot watching her plan weekends, assignments, and just day to day things that need to be done, but I’ve also learned about planning from many “lessons” I was forced to learn. One lesson being you shouldn’t wait until the morning of your trip to buy a bus ticket, because chances are the tickets are sold out or they’re incredibly more expensive. The same goes with flights, booking in advance is key to saving money and getting the best deals.

Speaking of transportation, it’s also important to know how you are getting to or back from the airport that way you’re not stranded airport with no way to get back home. Although I found myself in many situations that could’ve been avoided if I planned ahead, I learned that when things go wrong it’s easy to get mad at yourself for not thinking, but it’s easier to let the experience teach you a lesson.

As necessary as planning is to travelling, I still believe that in some situations not planning is better. Some of the best trips I’ve had was when my friends and I decided to go the morning of, or go somewhere and wander and not plan anything. I think the key to a perfect trip is finding the balance between planning and just living in the moment.

When people told me that studying aboard will change me and that I’m going to learn so many things, I honestly didn’t believe them because I found most of what was being said to be cliché. However, these past five months have been some of the best months of my life filled with experiences I am eternally grateful for and places I only dreamed of visiting.

TONGARIRO

It’s been a while since I posted! I’m not as attached to social media as I probably should be to be a proper blogger! There is so much to catch up on, and I feel the only way to do this to give all my experiences the attention they deserve is to break up my travels into a series of blog posts!

This blog post will cover seeing the beautiful Tongariro!

So on one of the first weekend’s here in New Zealand, a few friends and I decided to journey across what is known to be New Zealand’s (and subjectively the world’s) finest day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We also wanted to try white water rafting in the Tongariro River!

After a disaster picking up the rental car (that could be a blog post on it’s own), we decided instead of leaving late Friday night, we would wakeup super early Saturday to be better rested to drive. HAH! Try getting 4 girls in their early twenties to wake up before 8 a.m and you have performed a miracle. We did our best though!

We arrived just in time for our white water rafting adventure! After dressing in our Scuba Steve uniforms, it was off to the river! The girls and I were on our own raft with our tour guide Anthony, a kiwi who was our age which made it a bit more fun. After almost dying (not really but kinda) twice, and a jump into the cool crisp water off a little cliff, we successfully made it down the river alive! It was easily one of the most fun experiences I ever had. Not what I’m use to, the safety and security of the “River Rafting Rides” at any given theme park.

The next morning, it was time for what would be the greatest shlep of my young life. A 9 hour hike on the Tongariro alpine crossing, past Mt. Doom. Mt. Doom is a very famous volcano that was featured in Lord of the Rings. Some insane people enjoy taking an extra 3 hours to climb up and down it. NOT ME. Two of us wanted to, but my friend Naomi and I decided against it. OH HOW RIGHT WE WERE. Not only was the crossing itself challenging enough, but one of our friends who climbed Mt Doom tried texting us a “final text” in case she actually died. I cannot believe they just let any old person climb that mountain without any warning of how terrifying it gets, especially with falling boulders!

After what seemed to be an eternity of walking through the dessert, with beautiful New Zealand scenery to remind us we weren’t actually in hell, we finally made it to the GLORIOUS Emerald Lakes! The Emerald Lakes get there gorgeous green/emerald color from minerals mixing with the crater they are perched on top of. The smell of hard-boiled eggs filled the air, thanks to the sulfuric pools, as Naomi and I tried to enjoy our under packed lunches. Don’t let my sarcasm fool you, shlepping the 4 hours to get to this point was TOTALLY worth it. As my pictures will show you. A little further down the way was Blue Lake, the biggest of all the pools. So gorgeous!

On the way down to the end of the trail we had a GORGEOUS overview of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake!

As with most things in New Zealand, words are far to simple to capture how beautiful these places are, so please enjoy these pictures to paint a far better picture!

Overall, the trip was wonderful. I feel very proud of myself. I don’t consider myself unfit, but if you were to ask me before that weekend if I would be able to do such a hike, my answer would have probably been no. 12973516_1139061516114426_2146832173456360466_o-1 IMG_4160 IMG_0247 IMG_3957 IMG_4061 IMG_4187

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Happy Birthday to Me and the King!

It’s Sunday night and my program ends in less than a week. I cannot believe that I have spent almost 4 months in Europe! Time has gone by so quickly and it is is crazy to think about everything that has happened. We had a reflection week where we went to programs that my program director put on which was good for really thinking about what it will be like to be back but I am still in denial! It will feel real when I step off the plane and I’m in the USA. Everything will immerse me. Everything may be the same but I’m so different and I feel like it will be different. I feel like I’ve grown so much.  I have so much to say about my journey and how much it has impacted me overall but I will post another in-depth post about my journey.

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This week has been so hectic- I had the majority of my finals due and on top of everything, it was my 21st birthday! However, I didn’t get to spend it going out with friends because I had so many finals due this week… The perks of being born on finals week. This weekend though I went to a wine festival which was right next to the beautiful Vltava River. There was music and everyone was just hanging out and having a great time on such a beautiful day. Spending the day, just enjoying my last weekend was friends was exactly what I needed to recharge after a long week. We even went on a boat across the water. I didn’t realize that it was included in our transportation pass!

 

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charles bridge letna

 

So this weekend was King Charles IV 700th birthday!! (He was King of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperor. The university I’m attending this semester is named after him!) So, I decided to just celebrate my birthday with him and made his party, my party!! There was a huge party for him in Letna Park, which is known for it’s huge metronome (There was a statue of Stalin that was there instead before the Velvet Revolution when it was torn down). It’s one of my favorite parks in Prague because it overlooks the city and it’s a great place to get out and go for a walk. During the celebration, there were fireworks, bands, djs, and just people hanging out and dancing. There was a huge project of the wall where someone was drawing cartoons of King Karel doing random things as well as other cool forms of art. And LASERS! They fanned out from the metronome to different buildings around the city! Everyone was there to celebrate and have a good time! A perfect way to spend my last weekend in Prague, among the locals!

So Happy Birthday to me in this beautiful place called Prague!