Brussels

I spent a few days in Brussels, and it was a really awesome experience. My hostel was right near Grand Place, which was really convenient, and it’s beautiful. I went to some museums and really enjoyed taking in the surroundings. One museum was the Royal Museum of Art, which is really cool, and quite huge. I also went to a small town called Bruges, which was a train ride away. It’s very small, but so unique that it was so worth it to spend a day there. I had amazing food and delicious chocolate. Brussels definitely has a lot to see and do, and of course eat, and I think I would definitely like to go back and get to see even more of it.

Preparing to Go Home

I have loved it here in England, but I am so happy to go home. I have missed my family’s home cooked meals. And our junk food! England’s junk food is healthier than ours. It isn’t as greasy and as yummy. I want New York pizza and bagels and our sweet chocolate! It isn’t just the food that I have missed. I have obviously missed my family, but I just saw them a little bit ago, so I’m still excited to see them, but not as excited as I would have been if I didn’t see them during Thanksgiving. But I am so excited to see my cat. I have missed animal affection so much. I will be hanging out with my cat the entire day I land. I will play with her and hold her even if she doesn’t want it. My room is another thing that I have missed deeply. I miss my bed. Being able to take a nice shower once I get home will be amazing. The shower here is very small and can have its good and bad days.

But even though there are things that I make me wish these last days to pass by quicker, there are a lot of things that I will miss. I will miss being only twenty minutes from London and having the ability to just pop into Central for a day and come back. I will miss being forced to exercise and walk places to get food or to do something that I want to do. I will miss walking down the street and seeing all the houses right next to each other and thinking, this is just like the movies depicted it. No humidity has been great and my curly hair is not ready to go back where it is humid every other day. The weather has been very nice while I’ve been here. It has been low forties yet it hasn’t felt that cold. I will probably get to New York and be very cold, but I am enjoying not having to bundle up so much here. And the museums in London! There are so many that I have gone to, yet I haven’t been to nearly half of them.

I will definitely come back to London, but for vacation. I have enjoyed living in a city that is bigger than New Paltz, but I can only live in a big city for so long. I like the small town vibe. London has been a great experience, but I am happy to be going back to a small town. I will be back London—and Florence, and Rome, and Dublin, and Galway, and Munich, and Bruges.

A Must See: Aushwitz

The German phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” means only work can set you free. This sign is visibly seen as you enter the former concentration camp in Aushwitz, Poland. Oh the irony…

It was a six hour overnight bus ride from Prague to Aushwitz. We departed at midnight so naturally none of my peers or myself got a good nights rest. There was one unpleasant and ironically unforeseeable misfortune that backtracked our trip there: a thick fog. This fog caused a lot of traffic as drivers could quite literally not see the road. However, this didn’t stop Eva, our wonderful tour guide, from rushing our breakfast in order to make it to the camp by 7am. It was important to get there at the very beginning of opening hours as typically Aushwitz is extremely packed, ultimately taking away from the experience.

It’s easy to lack empathy when you learn about the history of Jews in a middle school history class. After visiting Aushwitz, every single one of my peers, Jewish or not, shed a tear. I saw the actual gas chambers bodies were disposed of in. I saw thousands of shoes and suitcases that belonged to actual people who were murdered. I walked through an underground tunnel built for the prisoners. I witnessed some of my friends search through a massive book of names of the victims killed; many of whom found their relatives and cried with grief.

What I saw in Aushwitz was terrifying, horrifying, unjust, but necessary to have witnessed. Yes I knew about the atrocities that went on at this extermination camp, they were unfortunate, but distant. They were stories, statistics, numbers, and seemed very far away. Truth is, not very long ago, had you lived in Europe, you could have been a part of this brutal history. What if this was my family? My sister or brother? My cousin? My child? My friend? My neighbor? Visiting Aushwitz makes it personal for you, regardless where you come from.

For all my traveling enthusiasts reading, traveling with the intention to understand the history of a place will make your experience much more worthwhile. It will forever change your perspective of the world and the people that reside in it.

“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.” Aushwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945

 

Family Trip Abroad

The past week, my family came to visit me. It was very nice to see them, but it was even better to travel with them. My family has traveled a lot of the East coast of the United States, but we never traveled abroad together. My sister is the only one that ever got out of the country and that was because she studying abroad. We stayed in London for a few days where I took them around to the museums they wanted to see and the stores they wanted to go to, but then we were off.

Our first stop was Florence where my sister studied abroad. I have studied Italian for 6 years, but I never got the chance to actually go to Italy. Florence was by far my favorite city I have been to. The town is just so cute and small, yet so Italian. I am definitely going back there with my sister in a few years. The food was also very delicious. Also, for future reference, the streets are all cobblestones so don’t wear heels or shoes you care about because they will most likely get ruined. There are so many museums there and so many famous artworks there. I highly recommend everyone see Florence.

The final stop on our trip was to Rome. Rome was very different than Florence. Rome has historic sites very spread out where it is a long walk to each. We didn’t do much while we were there since everything is spread out, but what we did see was amazing. We went to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. They were all beautiful, but we walked so much while we were there. If you go to Rome, make sure to pack sneakers and make sure you have a break at the hotel/hostel during the day.

A Milano Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday- it’s a holiday that my family goes all out for. When I was younger, we would sit around the dining room table on Thanksgiving eve and write out gratitude leaves. My mom would make so many dishes- main and side- all from scratch! I always admired her hard work on this holiday. Then, on Thanksgiving day, my grandma, aunt, and cousins (all 20 of them), would come in the afternoon and we’d spend the day eating delicious food and watching Star Wars. Being away from home on Thanksgiving was going to be tough, so I decided to throw my first Thanksgiving with my flatmates and friends who I made abroad. Half of us are American, so we celebrate Thanksgiving every year. But for the other half of us, this was their first Thanksgiving! It really was special to me that I got to share one of my favorite holiday with people of all different backgrounds.

Another thing about me- I L O V E cooking. I made chicken cutlets (because here in Milan, turkey is REALLY expensive), corn, green beans, gravy and an apple crisp. Others brought mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, veggie lasagna, tiramisu, chocolate cake and lots and lots of wine. It definitely was a Milanese Thanksgiving haha.

We spent hours playing card games, eating good food, chatting and more! It was one of my favorite Thanksgiving’s that I’ve spent so far. I am so grateful for all of the people who came- and some who couldn’t make it 🙁 These people are unapologetic and kind and intelligent. I’m so glad I had this opportunity to be here in Milan. I don’t want to leave just yet!

Traveling on My Week Off

Half way through the semester Kingston has what is called Enrichment Week also known as Reading Week. This week is supposed to be where you get ahead on the work for the next half of the semester, but no one does that obviously. It is like spring break at New Paltz. People are supposed to do work during it, but that barely happens (unless you have a paper or test right when you get back). Since they barely give work here most kids either go home or go on trips. As a study abroad student, I obviously made plans to go somewhere during this break.

My first stop was to see my friend who is studying abroad for the full year in Munich. She was kind enough to let my friend and I stay in her apartment the few days we were there. She was a huge help in showing us around and the fact that she understood the language really helped. She was a great tour guide and showed us everything we wanted to while we were there. We even were luck enough to see a Russian opera in Munich. It was so nice to catch up with her and talk about everything and anything with her. Munich is such a pretty city and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going.

My next excursion—after a day or two of rest and exploring London—I was headed to Amsterdam with a tour group. We didn’t have much time in the city itself, but it was still a lot of fun. We had two nights there and the days were either traveling or seeing some of the cities around Amsterdam. We saw Edam and Volendam, which were both beautiful and worth the visit. I also got to go to Anne Frank’s house. That is definitely something you want on top of your list when you go to Amsterdam. You do need to get tickets ahead of time, but it is worth it. You walk through their hiding space and walk in the same space they lived in for two years. It is a moving experience and is definitely a must see.

I had a great time seeing different countries during my week off. I wish I had more time to explore more countries, but that just means I need to return to Europe in order to see more countries that I wanted to see. The week was a lot of fun and made me want to travel more. I highly recommend traveling to as many countries as you can while you study abroad because it is so easy to get around—as well as is very cheap to travel.

A Weekend in Sale

This past weekend, my good friend Christine (who attends my Italian university full time), invited me to spend the weekend at her family’s home in Sale, Italy!

About an hour outside of Milan, Sale is in the Piemonte region. Compared to Milan, Sale is completely rural- there are huge masses of land where people tend crops, raise chickens, goats and other farm animals, with only 4,000 inhabitants. For my whole life, I’ve lived in an urban setting. I’ve visited rural parts of the United States but never had a experience actually living in a setting like that- the closest I’ve gotten to living in a rural setting is by being a student at New Paltz. But even then, I still never experienced living on an actual farm.

I was thrilled when she extended the invitation. In the past year, I’ve grown a huge passion towards agriculture and living a sustainable life. Farm life has begun to intrigue me and I felt that going to Sale- even if its only for a weekend- could give me a tiny glimpse onto what it is like in a pastoral landscape.

It truly felt like a home away from home! Her family was warm and inviting, and it was nice to be somewhere that was so opposite of what I’m used to- not only in the states, but here in Italy as well!

Sale will always hold a place in my heart- and I’ll definitely be back at least once in my lifetime!

London, Venice and More Oh My!

While studying abroad, I have been fortunate to do a ton of traveling- both in and out of Italy!

My first trip was to Cinque Terre. It was my birthday weekend; my friends and I visited each of the towns in one day! Each offered a different experience but they all had one thing in common- an amazing view. Cinque Terre was only a 2 hour train ride from Milan, making it a super accessible but fun trip!

After that, I flew to Prague and London! My sister had planned to travel to Prague coincidentally during the time that I’d be in Italy, so we thought it was a perfect weekend to meet up. My sister is 6 years older than me and lives in another state, so seeing her had made me so happy- who knew we’d be in Prague, TOGETHER?! It truly made my heart full.

London has to be one of my favorite cities I have ever visited! It was so metropolitan, and nostalgic. Everywhere I went felt sophisticated and chic. There, I visited shops and pubs, walking along townhouses in Notting Hill, while stopping to drink tea or eat falafel pockets (which were SO yummy). Being in London made me SO happy. I definitely will go back to visit one day.

And lastly, my most recent trip that I did happened to be with my dad! At my university, we just had our mid-semester break and my dad was lucky enough to get some days off so, he flew all the way to Milan and we took a “road trip” of Italy. We went to Lake Como, Venice, and Florence. All of the places were so different from one another; it is mind-boggling to me how you can be in the same country yet certain parts are so vastly different from each other! All were beautiful in their own unique way. Visiting all 3 places were truly enriching, especially with my dad by my side.

Citizen of the World

I have not written a blog post since I have arrived. Why you may be wondering? The experiences I have been through in nearly the two months I have been studying in the Czech Republic have been so incredibly life-changing that it’s evoked a feeling of lethargy. Thats weird isn’t it? I expected the opposite to occur; I thought I’d feel alive, empowered, ready to overcome procrastination, and be the best most productive version of myself. But the truth is that it has taken some time to process everything I have been living day in and day out while abroad. I had to give myself time to truly reflect on my experiences here before being able to write about them. So without further adieu, I share with you the insights I’ve gained from my journey here.

 

For starters, arriving in Prague was like a fairytale. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world. The architecture, the history, the theatre and arts are only some of the various things Prague has to offer. Don’t take my word for it see for yourself:

Brunch in the sky

 

 

The view from my classroom makes it hard to focus sometimes

In the beginning, everything was so fast paced it was truly hard to take it all in. One day I’d be visiting Terezin, the former Jewish ghetto where terrible, horrible atrocities occurred, and the next day I’d be hanging out at a pub with people from all around the world. Now that I have a firm grasp of my surroundings, I have finally been able to settle in and reflect on my experiences. I travelled pretty much every weekend since late September up until late October. I visited Germany, Holland, Greece, and Poland. Each and every single country I’ve visited has somehow taken a piece of my heart. The history I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have undoubtedly changed my perspective on life. I no longer label myself as only being Colombian or American but rather a citizen of the world.

My point in saying this is to emphasize that we are all one human race and identifying ourselves with being of a certain nationality, many times creates a division to understanding people from other backgrounds.

Let me ask you something. What do you see in this picture? Look closely… You see a group of women of different ethnicities and even ages. The woman all the way in the back was my Airbnb Dutch host in Haarlem, Holland (right outside of Amsterdam), which I learned as I arrived is a rich white neighborhood. Now I don’t know how a group of six very different women were able to break the walls within us all, but the openness of our conversation was truly something beautiful.

Our Airbnb host opened up to us about the preconceived stereotypes she had of us when we first walked in. She wanted to express to us the shame she felt just because she was experiencing something she wasn’t used to. We spoke for what felt like hours about racism and thanked each other for destroying many stereotypes our very different societies had instilled on us. Connecting with people in such a raw and real way is what makes traveling so worthwhile.

 

Hiking For The First Time

Hello all! I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Assignments all started piling up on top of each other. But now that a bunch are done, I can finally get back to blogging. Since last speaking, I have officially hiked. I hiked in the Comeragh mountains. I’m not going to lie, it was actually really difficult. I had never done an actual hike before. Or, one that was that challenging. We walked through a lot of grass and mud, I learned. My timberlands went through a lot that day. The views are beautiful. The mountains overlook green pastures and see a lot of sheep. The sheep are dyed a bunch of different colors. The ones I saw were either blue or pink. Then we got to a spot for lunch. There was a pond and the mountains were in front of us, and they were covered in patches of fog. It was really cool to see, and pretty unlike anything I’d seen before coming to Ireland. By the end of the hike, I was exhausted, but I am really glad I did it. It was really hard, but I have to admit, looking back, it was rewarding.