We Were On A Break!

(Written 3 April)

Ahhh break. Ten magnificent days out of school, with no worries whatsoever. I have the chance to see so much more of the world, so much more of this great country. Heading to explore the next great cities of Australia: Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, every site and building more magnificent than the last. Trekking west into the desert, admiring the great stars of the Outback at night, with a campfire to warm me and bush tucker to keep my stomach filled. Or perhaps north, to Queensland, exploring remote islands, at the merging point of the oldest rainforest in the world and the only natural site you can see from space. Tasmania to the south also appeals: I have several friends going already, and while I’m at it, might as well go to New Zealand. It’s right over there.

It sounds magnificent, doesn’t it? Having money? Now my position is not as precarious as it could be; I have money, and it should be more than enough to get me through the rest of my time in Oz, and then some. But there’s a difference between having money and being able to spend it freely, and spending money on expensive flights during break when I still have a fair amount of time here I decided was against my best interest. I’ll have nearly a month of free time at the end of my travels, and if I play my cards right I may still be able to make some of these big trips. I already do have two trips planned: one in Sydney for a long weekend, and another in Cairns right afterward. But in the meantime, I’m stuck in Melbourne, trying to do Spring Break on a budget.

The first thing to do in planning a break is planning who to spend it with. Seeing as two out three members of my immediate family don’t even have passports (cough cough Dad and Shelby), there’s no chance of spending my break with them as I usually would. Luckily (though maybe not so much for him), my mate Joseph was in a similar position as mine, so we decided we’d try and do what we could over the week together, seeing parts of Melbourne yet to be seen. On a budget, we wanted as many as possible of our excursions to be cheap, and surprisingly there’s a lot to do in Melbourne that is either cheap or offers student discounts.

That started with a trip to the Melbourne Aquarium, one of the few places we ended up going that came with a price tag. I’ve been to the aquarium in Boston several times, as well as the one in Mystic, Connecticut, and in Baltimore, so I had an idea of what to expect and thought it would be very similar. I mean, fish are fish, and even if I love going to the zoo and aquarium, well, fish are fish. Fortunately, the aquarium didn’t disappoint. Starting off by going on a glass bottom boat tour was lots of fun, if not slightly terrifying seeing reef sharks, sawfish, and giant stingrays (two meters long!!) up close. After disembarking to walk through more of the aquarium, I got to see a wide variety of fish, turtles, and even penguins I’d never seen before. I’ve loved this sort of thing since I was a kid, and I was as thrilled to watch the marine life swim about in the waters as my five year old self would be.

The next days were used to explore various sights around Melbourne we hadn’t yet seen (although many of which, I had and just decided to go again. It’s free so why not). The Shrine of Remembrance, a relatively easy trip from the Melbourne CBD was a beautiful sight, modeled after great Greco-Roman architecture which is something I very much love. Commemorating the soldiers who fought and died for Australia, the building really is larger than life, and somehow we managed to spend several hours out there taking pictures and watching as the sun set over Melbourne. Building off of my love for history and cool looking buildings was a trip to Parliament, exploring the building which only two weeks earlier I stumbled into on accident, somehow breaching security and causing a LOT of apprehension (maybe you should try locking the gate and making your directional signs a little clearer). On a welcomed visit, however, the building was nice, and I gained a slight insight into how Australian politics works (extremely slight, mind you. I don’t think they know what they’re doing, much less a foreigner). The Old Treasury Building was another neat sight, though I was disappointed in the lack of real gold on display, though probably for good reason.

I saw various museums and exhibits foreign to me, and there was a lot of eye candy all around. The Melbourne Museum was arguably the best, with massive sections divided into science, Australian history, fashion, the human body, and even Aboriginal culture and art. The latter was perhaps the most intriguing, being genuinely foreign to me and knowing next to nothing about it (though fashion is a close second, at least in a personal sense). Of course, in general I spent much less time staring at paintings than I did staring at cool dinosaur skeletons, but I mean, someone is always painting something, and dinosaurs aren’t likely to make a comeback anytime soon. Still, I really was overwhelmed by how much there was to see no matter where I went: always something to discover, learn about, enjoy.

One of the last days of break was a trip down to Williamstown Beach, by far the best beach I’ve ever been to. The town is small and beautiful, and contains one of the best gelato shops I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on the grass by the harbor I reflected on how four years I was in a very similar situation with my friends in Salem for senior trip. For years I always wanted to go back to those days in high school, but for the first time in my life, I’m actually content where I am. I realize that while the memories were great, I can still make more now. Soon after I head towards the main beach, only to make a wrong turn. I’m at the water, but there’s rocks across the ground presenting a maze toward the ocean. Naturally, instead of turning right toward the beach I climb the rocks instead, like any five-year-old. Managing to get into the water to take a dip, I leave for the actual beach. There, I walk across the shoreline with the warm Pacific water against my feet and met with the softest sand I’ve ever set foot upon.

I may not be in Tasmania, or the Outback, or on some other grandiose adventure across the continent. But as I said, there’s always something more to discover, to learn about and enjoy. Something greater always around the corner no matter where you are. You just have to look in the right places, and you’ll find there’s so much more to life than you ever thought. Already I’m doing something most of my friends back home, family, or indeed most of the people I’ll meet have done or ever will do. In fact, no one will ever live their life exactly like mine. No one will ever see what I see or feel what I feel. Best to make it count.

 

The Best Study Abroad Class

Exploring your host country is arguably the best aspect of studying abroad. Everywhere has something new, exciting, and different to experience and learn about. With that being said, i’m unsure if there is anything similar to this at other universities, but Kingston University has a class exclusively for study abroad students that I would definitely recommend. It’s called “British Life & Culture” (BLC) and consists of a weekly 3 hour lecture plus field trips! It did cost a bit extra in order to pay for transportation and tickets to places, but it was 100% worth it.

If it weren’t for my BLC class, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing and experiencing some of the places we went. Even if I did, it would have been a complete different experience since we talked about the background of places we were visiting during lectures. For example, one lecture discussed the film industry in England, how it differed from the film industry in America, etc. before we took a trip to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios. Or learning about the cultural and religious backgrounds of UK citizens before visiting a Gurdwara.

What I got out of this class were some awesome experiences (and great pictures). Obviously all of the trips we took were fun, but going there for educational reasons also really helped me get a better grasp of British culture. One of my favorite places we went to was Parliament, and although i’m not a big political or history fan, I couldn’t stop holding onto every word the tour guide said. The UK government is run very differently from the US, and being able to walk through some of the chambers in which important meetings are held was so intriguing. We were shown where the Queen stands and waits before walking down a super long hallway and heard other cool stories.

Another place we visited was Bath, where we got to see and learn about the history of the city and the Roman Baths. We got a tour of some of the city’s historical landmarks and walked down the path Jane Austen writes about at the end of her novel Persuasion. Nothing about the city is modern, and it was a nice treat to see something so different from London. Very few things compare to the beauty of this small city, and it’s so out of the way from where I am I probably would never have visited on my own.

It’s sad to think about all the places I could’ve potentially missed out on seeing without this class. It also helped prevent a lot of culture shock considering our first class talked about English stereotypes and things we had noticed were different so far. Another thing that made it a great opportunity was that I knew who all the other abroad students were, so it opened the door for many to make new friends or at least see a familiar face on campus. We were just a bunch of foreigners in one big room.

The only con to this class was the workload. In my situation, this class isn’t transferring over as any other class for me. I took care of all my GE requirements freshman year. So it makes it quite annoying that I still had to put effort in so it wouldn’t negatively affect my GPA when it wasn’t going towards any class. I’m still unsure if it’s even gonna count for Liberal Arts credits because i switched into it after I got here, so I haven’t spoken to my advisor about it. I learned halfway through that I could’ve audited the course, meaning I would’ve been able to go on the trips but not worry about the work. So, if you’re thinking about coming to Kingston University, I highly suggest auditing this class if it won’t transfer over as a class you need. Definitely worth the 90 pounds.

Week:7 #TravelGoals

Australia. The great adventure. I came to Australia with many places in mind to visit. From iconic Sydney, to Uluru, to tropical Queensland and the Great barrier reef there is a lot Australia has on offer. What I didn’t expect however was how much there is to see in Victoria alone. From the moment I decided to study abroad in Australia (about a year ago) I knew I wanted to experience the nature in Australia. I would focus more on wildlife and natural scenery than I would the city.

Yesterday I accomplished one of my life goals and one of the reasons I chose to come here. I wanted to experience something completely unique to Australia… Kangaroos! It was just as amazing as I envisioned. I am sure that for natives of Australia they are not all that exciting but for a tourist like me they are incredible. I started the day by taking a 2 hr train ride to Ballarat. From there I took a bus and eventually arrived at Ballarat Wildlife Park. What I really loved about this place is that unlike some places where you pay to pet kangaroos within an enclosure all the kangaroos here were roaming free!

Over the past week I have seen some beautiful parts of Australia I never thought I would be able to see. I spend the first half of the last week in Sydney! I stood in a nice neighborhood called Surry Hills (Airbnb is the way to go). It was absolutely incredible. Finally seeing the Opera house in person was unreal. I walked the harbor bridge where just a few months ago they had the most amazing firework show I have ever seen… needless to say it was surreal. If you plan on traveling while abroad (which you should!) I recommend you plan things in advance because it will save you tons of money. While in Sydney a few friends and I hiked for about 2 hrs to go see the Figure 8 pools (picture below). Sydney was by far the closest to New York City I have gotten since getting here and I could honestly see myself living there. If you do make it out to Sydney do yourself a favor and go to Bondi Beach!

Later that same week I had the trip of a lifetime… the reason I chose Australia over every other program. I went up to Cairns and scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef! It was incredible! As a child I always knew I wanted to see the reef in person but never ever thought it would be possible. When I decided to go to Australia I knew I would have to visit Cairns which is about 3.5 hours north of Melbourne. It was worth every penny and again the earlier you plan the better! I planned my trip to Cairns about a month and a half before hand. I have been making it a point to do things differently here than I do back home.. to be adventurous. This trip was by far the highlight of my experience. I got there Wednesday night and on Thursday morning took a ferry 2 hours out to sea until we arrived at our first dive spot. Keep in mind I cannot swim (AT ALL) but I had come to far to not try it. I jumped in the water and while scary at first it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. Facing that fear in such a beautiful place was amazing. I saw fish swimming all around me and did my best to get some footage (see below).

The next morning I headed out on a trip to the Daintree Rainforest and had a 12 hour day in the rainforest. It was so much fun and I got to see some crazy Australian wildlife such as the spider pictured below. Our tour guide was as Australian as they get and i truly felt at times as if I was in the movie ‘Crocodile Dundee”.This trip is by far the most exciting thing I have done and I recommend it if you are ever in Australia. I have added photos below:).

 

Reef Snorkeling

Huge spider in Rain Forest!

Sydney Opera House <3

Fitzroy Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education Differences

When I walked into class my first day here at Kingston University I wasn’t really sure what to expect. There are a lot of educational differences between England and America, almost all of which took a few weeks to get used to. The contrast in our school environments have various pros and cons, and it really depends on one’s major to determine if there are more cons than pros and vice versa.

One of the first differences I learned was that no one is referred to as “professor” here, they’re a teacher or lecturer. Most of them aren’t addressed the way you would address a high school teacher either – many go by their first name. It’s a very informal environment, however it made the whole experience less intimidating. Back at New Paltz, I see a lot of familiar faces in my classes. Creative Writing isn’t the most popular major, therefore every semester when I walk into class on the first day there is a 99% chance I know at least one person sitting in the room. It’s been that way for me since fall of sophomore year, so coming here and not knowing anyone in my classes was a bit odd, especially since all the people in the class were already acquainted with each other from the semester before. It was sheer luck that my first class had another study abroad student in it, who ended up being in two of my other classes.

Almost all of the classes offered here are full year classes rather than semesterly. Since the classes began in the fall, it was a bit difficult playing catch up so I could understand what was being talked about in class. Thankfully, all of my teachers were very understanding. They told me the basics of what they had already discussed to alleviate some stress and gave me a better understanding of references made to the previous semester during class discussions. I also only had to do half the work that went towards the final grade since I physically wasn’t present the first half of the year, which was a huge pro.

Not everything is so simple though. I’ve learned that many classes here are only once a week, but English majors tend to have class twice a week. I didn’t think this was weird per say, it’s the equivalent to how English classes at New Paltz are primarily four credit classes whereas classes for other majors are only three. What was weird about this is that I had two different teachers for the same class. I’d walk in on Monday to Matthew, and walk in Friday to Fred for the same class. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing, but it did leave me to think I walked into the wrong classroom. This also made it confusing when I had a question to ask for an assignment. Which one do I email? Does it matter? Should I email both of them and see who responds first? Then when I did send an email, there was the anxiety of awaiting an answer. Should I have mentioned I wasn’t sure who to ask? Maybe I should’ve just asked someone in the class instead? It didn’t help that teachers here are not as quick to answer their email as New Paltz professors are. I understand that some professors are better at responding in a timely fashion than others, but like, imagine a professor you’ve emailed in the past and didn’t get a response for days, possibly not until right before the assignment was due. Apply that to pretty much every single teacher here no matter what your major is. I will admit there were a few lovely teachers who would respond in a timely fashion, though. Shoutout to Elly and Sarah!

Another thing is their citation format. Who the heck has every heard of MHRA? What happened to MLA, APA, Chicago? Were these just American things? Thankfully a few of my classes allowed myself and other abroad students cite in whatever format we used back home. Unfortunately, one of my classes required MHRA, a format I had never heard of and had to learn quickly if I wanted a good grade on my paper. The internet really is a beautiful place and I immediately found a bunch of style guides on how to use it. I’m not sure why I thought MLA and APA were universal formats, but just an FYI, they’re not. So be prepared to learn a new citation format in case your teachers don’t allow you to use what we’ve been learning since 8th grade.

Ultimately, there are about 10 pros for every little con. Just because things are very different doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad!

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Adjustment 101 [loss of interest, rise of negativity]

I have the flu now and I am bed-ridden. This meant that I had to miss all of my classes for about a week. I was forced to just stay in bed and watch Netflix. And in the beginning, I wanted to go out and go to class but after a day or two… I grew accustomed to my room and my ned. I grew too accustomed to them. On top of that, the flu caused my mindset to revert to one of complete negativity. That mindset caused me to look at all the things I hated in this country. I know what y’all are thinking; What could you possibly hate in such a green-coloured country said to be full of leprechauns? Oh, you’d be surprised. When you’re in a negative mindset, everything can be turned to shit and blown out of proportion somehow.

For example, the 15-minute walk from my house to classes started to feel like endless miles and miles of torturous walking. Every time it rained, I would have a mini panic-attack because of the hatred and lack of appreciation I had of rain. I got fed up with the Friday night parties at the stables bar because the DJ played the same music every single night and it was all crap. I hated the fact that now nobody would pay attention to me at the parties. I hated the weather for every time I’d get all pretty with makeup, the rain would mess it all up and cause me to cancel all plans and just stay home. I was upset because I couldn’t watch the things I wanted to on Netflix. I was tired of eating potatoes and having to put butter in my peanut butter because it tasted like a batter of wilting nuts. I was mad at the pizza because it wasn’t as good as South Korea’s, or even NYC’s. And the thing that always kicked me in the head was how small the bathrooms are here; It’s like they only think about the people with no fat in their body and no meat on their asses. Mama got meat all over her body; those tiny stalls had both sides of my hips colliding with either side of the wall. And if that wasn’t already annoying…

YoU hAvE tO pAy 20cEnTs tO TaKe A pIsS iF yOu’Re In ThE MaLL

Needless to say, since I was focusing on all these things, I was not getting better. After I was cured of the flu, I caught an ear infection that took about a month and a half to fade away. And once that was gone, I got hit with the worst of it. But… I’ll tell you about that later.

The big point here is that I was taking everything I had here for granted; I was just focusing on the negatives and creating imaginary negatives in the positives. I was lost in a sea of depression, darkness, self-loathing, homesickness and that contributed to making my physical body ill. It’s a funny thing, the mind. It’s a powerful thing, the mind. It’s this being that scientist haven’t been able to crack; it’s a thing that will heal a dying body when it is given a placebo pill, only because it believes it is being given real medicine. The mind is the thing that will determine what the physical body receives and gives off. It wasn’t until I learned this lesson, that my life in Ireland changed for the better. It wasn’t until I learned this lesson, that I was changed for the better.

Curious to see how my life changed?

You’ll have to wait until next week’s chapter of “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

[Also, sorry for the long wait between the publication of chapters. That’s why I published three in one day to make up for lost chances :). I hope you enjoy and learn from my mistakes]

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Adjustment 101 [The Party and The After-Party]

It’s Friday night and my hormones are raging. Tonight is the big night! Tonight is the night that I experience what the NIGHTCLUB on campus has to offer. I am beyond excited and I feel completely confident in the outfit I’m in. I’m wearing my tiara again and I feel and look like royalty. I walked to the stables club with the biggest smile on my face and a heart full of hope. Perhaps I’d meet my knight in shining armour at this shindig. Perchance I’d get to experience the feeling of someone else’s lips on mine (it’s been a while and mama wanted some sugar).

When I got to the stables centre, I saw people at every corner. Nobody was dancing but it still brought me joy to know that the room was full of opportunities to make new friends and meet people from all corners of the world. I specifically had my eye on a group of Japanese boys; I always tended to get along with Asians easily so the fact that there were some of them here brought me relief. Within minutes, I’d become immersed in conversation with this group of people; it was fantastic. One of the guys I met (Ko-Sato) had been there for a semester already and had somewhat morphed into an Irish Japanese man. He was honestly my favourite though. Dancing around with him and just talking to him reminded me of one of my best friends that I met at New Paltz.

After having spent a lot of time with Ko-Sato, I longed to meet more people and well try and seek a hot guy to dance with. That’s when I saw him; this caramel-coloured angelic being dancing in a corner. I went up and spoke to him and found out that he was actually born and raised Japanese with one of his parents being of American descent. The combination of the two ethnicities made a beautiful new form of species I low-key wanted to pounce on. Had me like:

Lucky for me, towards the end of the party, I did dance with the caramel-coloured Asian. We did kiss a bit and, yes, it was amazing to have my lips being stimulated again after 5 months of nothing. He was also just a really nice guy which made me happy. Before I left to go home, we exchanged information and he even said he wanted to hang out sometime outside of the club.

I smiled and said, “yeah, we should”. Then I was off to my home and screeching about the experience with my mom and my best friend from back home. I took this request of ‘hanging out’ to mean that this caramel angel actually wanted to date me; a thought that excited all of the cells in my body because I’d never really been on a date my entire 21 years of life.

I was intensifying everything for myself. THAT IS A BAD THING; NEVER AGAIN. I kept having all these daydreams and expectations of how it would feel to be on a real date for the first time. Wanna know what it was like? Sorry, I can’t tell you because

IT NEVER HAPPENED

After messaging this guy to try and pick the date and location to hang out, I realised he was just like all the other men. All he wanted was a piece of ass.

Don’t get me wrong, normally that fact wouldn’t upset me at all. I mean I walked into the club hoping for a hot make-out session; guys walk into clubs expecting that to lead to a steamy one-night. But that ain’t my type of thing- I can kiss a guy and dance with him but that’s it. My body is a temple and I’m not ready for all the drama that comes attached to the loss of virginity. The reason why I was so mad at the realisation that this guy was just like all other guys was that of the way everything happened. When I was clubbing in Korea, the guys try to get you to leave the club and get busy so you know right away exactly what they want. This caramel devil in disguise was so gentle and his request to hang out seemed so innocent and lacking any sexual innuendos. So when I found out the truth, I was heavily disappointed.

This realisation didn’t come until Sunday though. So for a whole two days, I felt 100% adjusted to this country and its newness and vibrancy. For two whole days, I was happy enough to forget about my longing to be home. It was the first time since I’d been in Ireland, that I slept through the night with no worries or fear. Hence, when I did learn the truth, I was propelled back down into this bubble of homesickness, self-pity, and lowkey-depression.

I tried to be as positive as I could be though. Tomorrow would mark the start of classes so I had to at least try and maintain a positive attitude. And I was somewhat successful. I was, slowly but surely, re-adjusting to being a college student living on UL’s campus in Limerick, Ireland. I was just about comfortable with everything right before I contracted the flu.

I CONTACTED THE FRIGGEN FLU

Interested in learning what comes next?

Then, continue reading “The Land of Ice Chronicles”

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Adjustment 101 [Week 1]

“Rise and Shine”, my alarm seemed to yelp at the top of its lungs at 7am on a Monday morning.

I smiled as I woke up; it was the first day of Orientation.

For some odd reason, I was excited for Orientation week. It was fun in South Korea and it was a blast when I was a freshman in New Paltz so I had high expectations. I put on a ton of makeup, put on my cutest outfit and even wore my tiara. I was convinced that today was going to be an amazing day and I wanted to feel like a queen while I experienced it.

I walked into the auditorium where all the orientation stuff was happening and was able to talk to people more easily this time than when I was at Eden the day before. I made a few friends and then we were all off to get our Student IDs and going on a tour of the school. Our tour guide was Edward and he was a literal ball of energy; he called me Princess the entire day (which I admit made me feel like royalty). However, there is one thing he said at some point that harshed my mood just a bit that day. We were all talking about reasons we decided to come here and when it was my turn, I told my truth “I’m 25% Irish so I wanted to see what I was missing”. Before I could finish my sentence Ed cut me off and said:

“Hah- Americans always going around saying things like I’m 3% Polish, 0.001%Irish, 4%African…”

That response caught me off-guard and I admit that, at the moment, I wanted to roundhouse kick Edward in the face. It enraged me so much; that was so uncalled for. It made me feel so unwelcome in the country I was in. Even though I let it all slide after it happened, I think that it was that moment that kept me in a negative mindset for most of my semester here at UL. On the low-key, I couldn’t stop thinking about that one moment. It always seemed to remind me of the untrue thought I had; “I don’t belong here. Coming here was a mistake”. And then I would make it worse for myself by comparing the journey I was having here to the one I had in South Korea. I’d tell myself things like “if we were only in Korea we’d be happy”. The fact is that in Korea, I’d say things like “I think my spirit is Korean” and Koreans would just smile, laugh, hug me, and invite to go to places with them. Yet, here, a country where I have an actual ancestral history with wasn’t accepting me as being a part of it?

I know. I know. I was being 100% overdramatic is what I was being. The truth is that happiness shouldn’t be placed on anything external. It should always be something that is within you. After all, happiness is an emotion and we are the people that control when and why we feel or don’t feel it. This is a lesson that I wouldn’t learn until months after my first week in Ireland.

But before we get to my moment of enlightenment, let me tell you about my journey of getting there. So after the tour, we all went out for a beer which was pretty great. That’s one thing I love about this campus; there’s a bar on it. A bar that doubles as a nightclub. So you could imagine my excitement for the International Students Party. And I’m not gonna lie, when I look back at the first Stables Friday Party, I like to think it was pretty amazing.

Why was it so amazing?

Continue reading “The land of Ice Chronicles” and you’ll find out!

A Day in the Life of Melbourne

(Writing from 28th Mar, 1 day until break and week 5 of classes)

I wake up to my roommate’s alarm at six in the morning. I pretend to stay asleep, indeed I wish I were asleep myself. Six is WAY too earlier to arise. He goes to get ready for his job distributing flyers, and leaves around 6:30 or so. I close my eyes to sleep once again, only to wake up to the alarm at 7:45. The Circle of Life blasts from my phone jumping me awake, as well as likely half of Footscray. I’m really not that heavy of a sleeper, but I need motivation to wake up. I don’t have it at quarter to eight on a Wednesday. Nevertheless, I have to get up, and by eight, I do. Opening my box of Froot Loops is a disappointment, they’re not as fun and colorful as they are back home and cost a hell of a lot more. The milkaholic I am, I chug down about half a liter of milk; telling myself I need to limit. It really has become a problem, not so much for my body but for my wallet.

It only takes ten minutes tops to actually get ready: wash my hair, put a shirt on, and brush. But like a blossom opening up in the sunlight, I need time to warm up. I listen to encouraging music, making me feel strong and ready for the day, and pray for my family back home, as well as the chance to brighten the world. By 8:50, I leave my room with my backpack for the dreaded class: Irish History. Not being Irish myself, I don’t exactly care much for the class, nor do I enjoy the long lectures. I still learn, today about emigration (seems the Irish didn’t care for Ireland either), and a good part of is somewhat interesting.

My phone accidently goes off in class, which I quickly silence. Morning is the best time for reaching home, and my sister texts me either some joke she finds funny or some problem she needs my help with. Surprisingly, I miss a lot less from home than I thought I would. The food and cheap prices mostly, but most everything can be compromised by something else here. But if there’s one thing I do truly and genuinely miss, it’s my sister. We’re best friends, and it really does suck being so far away from someone you love so much. She finished up her senior acting troupe show over the weekend, White Christmas, which I desperately wish I could have seen. Of course, I also want to see her get her driver’s license, decide where to go to college, go to prom, and graduate high school in June. But in the same way this trip is making me more independent and ready to take on the world, I have to believe is happening to her as well. I love it here, but I cannot wait to see the woman she’s become in June, and be able to share all our stories and adventures once again.

With class FINALLY over at 10:00 (can an hour really pass so slowly?) I have two hours free. The room is open and empty, so I head there. I grab my laptop and start editing some pictures I took from Saturday. I went with some mates out to Ballarat Wildlife Sanctuary, a long trip away but one well worth it. They had a good enough amount of animals to go and view, something which I love to do, but the main attraction is the free ranging kangaroos that come up to people for food and attention. We spent hours upon hours with them, feeding, petting, and cuddling the roos like you would dogs (stay away from the koalas, I’m told they carry STD’s). On paper, it’s not something that sounds overly exciting or thrilling, but it really is quite the quintessential Aussie moment that I’ll definitely carry forever.

Lunch was next on the priority list, and I heated up some left-over Mac and Cheese from the night before. I’d cooked dinner for myself and the other mates, and although this was my first time cooking it, it turned out surprisingly well. Being here has taught me a lot about how much goes into making food: having to buy it, prepare it, clean it up, and constantly repeating the process. I’ve also learned quite a bit about cleaning, which is that things need to be cleaned, often. And while I had to clean at home as well, it was not nearly on the scale of a whole apartment room (which in these moments seem much bigger than upon first arrival). Though I’m not a neat freak, it’s clear that I took the relative cleanliness, or at least organization, of home for granted, and that here I have to be more consistent and dedicate some effort to the task. Unfortunately, while I received this ground breaking revelation, it has yet to hit my roommate.

Class was to start again at noon, and after cleaning up lunch I made my way back to campus. This class, The World Before 1700, is probably my favorite: I like the professor, the content, delivery, and time frame. We learn about the Romans, a point of history that always fascinated me. The lecture goes on for longer than Irish History does, but I don’t mind. After this class, I head down to the river, finding a nice spot on the grass to spend the hour long intermission I have. I have no agenda, no plans other than be back at three. It’s special to sit here along the river, listening to and watching all the strange Australian birds that I’ve come to love. They’re much different than the ones at home, parrots and magpies instead of robins and mourning doves. I sit here reflecting on how special it really is for me to be here, in Australia. There’s more to explore over the mid semester break, which for me starts tomorrow with the aquarium. I certainly still have a tourist mindset, but I genuinely love it here. I feel new and transformed, like I have a new and special life here. I don’t know that I want to leave.

Of course, I must at some point. I head to class again, a continuation of the last one as a tutorial rather than lecture. I sit next to Matt, one of the Americans I came to Australia with and a good friend. Class is decent, although the quiz he’s given us appears to require a bit more effort than I’d care for. Discovering it easier to do the quizzes after class, Matt and I team up and head back to his place to knock it out before break. His suite is much bigger than my room, though not as ‘clean’ (clean being extremely relative). The quiz takes about 20 minutes, and afterward I decide to hang around a little and watch some TV and eat some cake. I get to talk to some of his mates, who although I don’t know well are all good guys, if a little crazy, and with a good sense of humor. But, overtime the introvert in me calls, and I make my way back to my room for dinner. I try to avoid spending much time in my room, there’s not much to do there anyway and I can easily do that at home. The oven is in the kitchen in the common area, so I head there with a pizza to warm up. I run into Joseph, another close New Paltz mate, and briefly discuss our plans for the aquarium tomorrow and break overall. While other friends of ours are doing adventurous trips to Tasmania or Queensland for break, due to our regard for our budget we ended up stuck in Melbourne (being responsible sucks!). But, I cannot complain, as there’s still much to see and I’m sure to have a rip snorter (great time).

In the evening, I sit on the terrace on the fourth floor (really the fifth, Australians number their floors weird). With pizza in my belly and a day full of excitement, I find inspiration to write part of my book, something I had been able to do less of at New Paltz but have been trying to pick up again coming here. The tales of glory such as that of Rome, of adventurous trips across the world, of calm moments on the water and laughs with friends molding into a beautiful piece which I can only hope one day I manage to finish and publish. I look as the sun sets across the beautiful Australian sky. It’s beautiful so far, but I still believe in more. I may not yet know where it will take me, or where it will end, but I am assured that this will be a damn good story. And I’m glad to be living it, watching it unfold before my eyes one small piece at a time.

Returning to the USA: The Home-Stretch and Missing Home, Part 1

It’s already April. Around this time, studying abroad gets even harder because it’s the home-stretch. End-of-the-year projects are creeping up. The end of classes is in about a month. Home is not too far away either. All is in sight.

So this month should be about getting on top of school work, working little by little on rounding out those projects, and making sure you’re giving time for yourself, and to see the rest of Spain.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to keep afloat before returning to the U.S.: Waking up with a good amount of sleep. Checking in on my planner to see what to tackle first. After 1-2 assignments, taking a break to write in my journal, or write a letter home, watch a short episode of my favorite TV series, or call home. Then, with a light snack and drink of water, I get back on my grind. After another assignment or two, I take a walk outside to get a late lunch and some fresh air.

Apart from academics in my mind, knowing that I am going home soon makes me keeping thinking about home more. But keep in mind that you will never get this experience back the way you experienced it now. So, enjoy it, relish in the good, the bad, and always reflect upon it. Be aware that a lot might have changed back home and at the university. For example, my friends might be moving off campus, and my brother and sister will be a year older than when I last saw them. You miss out on stuff, but you gain some stuff, too. That’s okay!

Around this time, I would also say to check in on your grades. University in Madrid, Spain isn’t the same as university at New Paltz. Not all my grades are online, and not all my projects are turned in back to me in the time I’d like it to be, or that I’m used to. So, check in if you are curious.

Also, hang out with people you don’t want to forget while being abroad. Friendships here can be pretty special. Hold onto those people, and create new memories. I’ve been really grateful for the relationship I have with my roommate here, and she’s leaving a couple of weeks sooner than me. So in an effort to see a bit more of Spain together, and cross things off our list, we are planning a trip to Valencia for our 5-day break in late April. Super stoked.

Last but not least, hang in there! Projects will get completed. Essays will be turned in. Exams will be over soon. It’s only a matter of time. And then, home sweet home.

I am ready to see my brother and sister, hear my grandma’s voice, eat home-cooked food from my Puerto Rican culture. I am ready to hear my Dad’s life-lesson talks, and my mom’s advice. I am ready for summer back in New York. I can’t wait to see my friends. Almost everyone has celebrated their”21st” and I cannot wait to celebrate life with them, too.

I am also really excited for my last summer before my last year of college. I can’t believe how my time at New Paltz is almost coming to an end as an undergrad. And yet, I am still here in Madrid, Spain, trying to live my best life, while thinking about how my life at New Paltz will be, too.

I am glad I chose Madrid to speak Spanish, learn about history, and get out of my comfort zone. But as of now, I am ready to come home. I just need to visit Barcelona and Paris (if I can), to feel completely gratified by my stay here. Even so, it’s been a good run.

I believe I have so much love and support from home while being abroad, so I feel really good about coming home. And will try my best not to talk about Spain, too much. I don’t want to overload them with my reverse culture shock. Plus, one day, I want to show them where I’ve been if I can.

I also know I need to enjoy Madrid, sweet Madrid, while I can.

 

So here’s to about 2 months to going home! Wow!

 

What Do You Mean “No Sweatpants!?”

I’m your average college student. I try to avoid 8a.m.’s at all costs, drink too much coffee, and sleep every chance I can get. I’m comfortable enough with myself to not care about how others think I look when I go to class. After all, who am I impressing? (If you said no one, you’re damn right.) I function by rolling out of bed 15 minutes before my 11a.m., throwing on sweatpants and whatever shirt I can grab first, and showing up 5 minutes late with a cup of Starbucks. About two years i’ve been going through these motions, arriving comfortably to class and not making my bed in the morning so I can crawl back into it once I return to my dorm. With all this in mind, you can just imagine the shock and disappointment on my face when I learned that this is a huge no abroad. No sweatpants to class? What?

I’m 100%, with every fiber of my being, a leggings/joggers/sweatpants enthusiast. Jeans? I don’t know her (unless i’m going out, then it’s jeans or nothing). I think I wear jeans to class once every semester, twice maybe. They’re just so uncomfortable, how do people concentrate wearing them? It’s a mystery i’ll never solve. Which leads me to the fashion culture here in London. Ladies (or gents, whatever floats your boat), tights are your best friend. There are atleast 20 different kinds at your local Primark from basic to patterned, extra small to extra large, all at a reasonably low price. Tights are paired with a skirt or a dress despite the freezing bitter weather and biting winds. Or, you know, just wear jeans instead. Guys dress relatively similar to those back home, but the one thing i’ve noticed is everyone has fashionable jackets. Whether it’s a bomber, a utility jacket, or some fluffy wool-looking coat – if they’re not wearing North Face they’re wearing something that looks really cool. Maybe it’s the fact i’m in a city school and everyone in cities tends to be more fashion forward, or maybe it’s a British thing.

Either way, my class outfits are nothing like the British norm. Making the switch from sweatpants and leggings to jeans every day was more than a little rough. I’m sure for most people this isn’t a problem at all, but everyone has their days – maybe even week – where they need to throw on comfy clothes for their lecture. I haven’t seen anyone here experience that. I swear, they don’t even own sweatpants. There is not a single time I can recall in the past 3 months that I saw someone in class or in the hallway dressed like they were ready to climb back into bed once their lecture was done. Further, I can’t recall not seeing a girl who didn’t take the time to do her makeup for class. Almost everyone looks like they’re ready for a night at Towers, like, 90% of the day. I’m not judging these people or criticizing them for wanting to put effort into their everyday appearance – it’s just crazy how different it is. I’m aware there are people at New Paltz who put effort into their everyday appearance as well, but that’s only a fraction of students. New Paltz also has people who don’t shower and walk around in 30 degree weather without a shirt, so. It’s not difficult to understand why literally every person around me dressed with such effort every single day is different, even a bit intimidating.

Honestly, I have respect for these students for putting so much effort in. They probably don’t even realize it, it’s become a social norm for them, the way sweatpants are a social norm for us. If you plan on coming here to study, just make sure you pack more jeans than leggings so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.