Goodbye USA

During my last week at home before I left for New Zealand there was a lot I had to do. Since it was my last week I had to enjoy the food offered here that I is not in New Zealand. This included eating at my favorite restaurants, such as Subway, Panera’s, Chipotle, and my local Jamaican restaurant. I was not sure if this type of food in New Zealand, but I was excited about trying new food with going to New Zealand. I believe that if you are not willing to try new food, then you are missing out a lot of opportunities to do something exciting (sorry picky eaters). Since I will be away from my family for awhile my mother  made my favorite meals of Moroccan stew and chicken soup with dumplings. It was low key but I enjoyed it a lot.
To prepare for my stay in New Zealand I have made a list of things I want to do. What I want to do most is visit my family that lives in New Zealand. My grandmother was born in New Zealand, so there is a rich family history there that I’m excited to learn about. My family was also very excited for me to explore my roots. They had lived together in New Zealand for five years before moving back to the United States. My mom was very excited and she kept helping with ideas to enjoy New Zealand, and also helped me improve my cooking since I am not relying on my parents in New Zealand. My sisters gave me tips on how to get adjusted based off their experiences studying abroad in Venice and Trinidad. My cat though did not seem excited that I was leaving. In this picture she was resting in one of my bags, which is something she likes to do when she sees a suitcase, luckily there was no cat hair in my bag. 10994946_1775983652627800_2941727022195500077_n

No Parlo Italiano

No worries!  Look who found fro yo in Milano

No worries! Look who found fro yo in Milano

My first pasta dish in Milan

My first pasta dish in Milan!

I cannot even lie.  Adjusting to the culture in Milano is still something I must work on everyday.  I don’t think I thought too much about it before arriving, but it is certainly something I think of now that I live here.  Things that you don’t even realize are a part of our American culture change instantly in Italy.  The first thing that came to mind was dinner time.  I get “hangry,” that I do.  I still remember the first night my roommate, Ashley and I attempted to eat out for the first time and we were starving at 6:30.  We could not find a single place open!  We did eventually find a place which to this day has served me one of the best meals of my life.  But I still have not gotten used to eating dinner so late.  I spent all of last semester in New York City eating dinner around 6pm, so this new nighttime dinner thing has proved to be a challenge for me.  Especially on a day like today that I didn’t eat lunch!

10628384_10153107071758921_1717626272852435863_nI am very fortunate to have attended such an open minded University such as New Paltz.  However, I can say another cultural adjustment for me has been attending a Catholic university.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Unicatt!  But it does take some adjusting for this born & raised Jewish girls to have Jesus staring at her from upon a cross whilst I am in class.  This university is beyond beautiful though, which has helped with my adjustment.  Beyond this though because Italy is a very religious country, we have found more places to be closed on Sunday as well, which was a big adjustment coming from New York City where everything is open 24/7.

10959911_10153107017133921_8953669135401091455_nMy body has had a tricky time adjusting to all the carbs this country loves to eat.  Italian pizza & pasta is unreal, but there have been many times where all I want to sink my teeth into is a salad, something that is only commonly seen as a side dish here.

The jetlag and time difference worked itself out within the first week.  As hard as it is, one really should try to resist naps within the first week.  I have adjusted well to the metro system here, which is not only easier then the NYC subway system, but is also cheaper.  Which is something I no longer take for granted in Milan!  The prices for things are mostly very, very reasonable.  Taxis and peanut butter are overpriced in this country!  Espresso and pasta are cheaper than I have ever experienced!  I also have been adjusting to not having a dryer for my clothes, paying per plastic bag at the supermarket, and sorting my trash.  Italy is very environmentally conscious.  I also have been adjusting to the lack of tap water served in restaurants.  Adjusting to an apartment wasn’t too tricky considering I have lived in that style my whole life.  The language barrier has been tricky, but manageable.  I will say I thought being in such a cosmopolitan city that more people would speak Italian, but after taking a two week pre intensive course in Italian, I do have a better grasp on fixing language gaps.  But I would be lying if I were to say I have not set off an emergency exit before, since I cannot read most signs.  I have been able to buy frozen yogurt, ramen noodles, and last night managed to order delivery Chinese, so those adjustments have been few and always make me feel at home.

Basically, yes in turn there are lots of adjustments to be made upon joining a new culture.  However, with a lot of patience, support, and acceptance I have taken all adjustments in stride and continue to bloom where I have been planted.  Thanks for reading!


Week 1 in Oz

Week 1 

From what I understand – my first week here in Australia was very different than they were for other study abroad students. This may be because I am not living in the student housing provided by the Uni I am studying at down here. I had previous arrangements set up to live off campus with some Australian friends I had met online about a year prior to my application to study abroad.

Within my first week here I had dealt with some serious jet lag, and homesickness (first day jitters), traveled the distance to my new college and explored around the campus, opened a bank account here so I was not sucked dry by exchange rates by using my American debit card, bought a prepaid cell phone to use while I am here as my personal cell is not international, signed up for a public transit card,  attended Uni Orientation, almost walked straight into a massive and I mean massive spider as it spun its web, (didnt leave the house for at least a day after that) traveled up to Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges and had the privilege of not only seeing the amazing sights – but being completely covered in cockatoos as they fought over the seed I held, completely oblivious that I was even a human. Their claws left quite the impression. That moment, although my skin was being pierced all over the place, was the first moment I realized how cool this place is – and how much fun I was in for during my precious time here. Little did I know – the following day (the last day of my first week) we traveled to Healesville to visit the Healesville Animal Sanctuary where I entered a massive Australian animal enclosure and was free to walk among the animals in their habitats. It was as if I was the one that was caged – in their natural homes, instead of them being caged and me walking by peering in. The entire experience was amazing, to say the least. Again – little did I know that this would not compare to my experiences to come.


Wow, its Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The first day in Brazil was spend walking up and down the beach of Ipanema, beautiful weather and amazing people 😀 I was so excited to be just walking around in Ipanema  and enjoying the beautiful beach and amazing weather.

Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach

Later in the week we visited Pontifica Univeristy of Rio de Janeiro and met with our professors, the view from our classroom was breathtaking.

PUC of Rio de Janeiro

PUC of Rio de Janeiro

The same night we decided to go to a Futbal (soccer) game, we did not know the teams and some of us were not even aware of the rules of the game; regardless, we had went of a game just for the experience. Well, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, I met so many people, got to learn more about different teams, cheered and interacted with the fans and the crowd and more than anything else, I bonded with the other girls in my group.

Fluminese vs Sao Paulo

Fluminese vs Sao Paulo

I will never forget this experience.

The next day was a site visit day, this day allowed me with the rest of the group to visit the financial district and downtown area also known as Centro of Rio. What a beautiful day was to be outside and to walk around Centro, on the corner of the street right after the visit I sat down with my friend Michelle to eat some corner street food. It was authentic Brazilian food comprised of: Chicken, Rice, Beans and Fries. Michelle and I had a funny time ordering food, since the vendor knew no English and us no Portuguese, we had to use the communicate through universal sign language. And this experience made me realize how thankful I am for recognizing other way to communicate with people even if I do not speak their language. So, I guess you have never eaten Brazilian food, if you do not eat chicken, rice, beans and fries.

Brazilian food

Brazilian Food

Continuing on with this week, the next was spend in our beautiful university. And I mean it, it is very beautiful, located inside a rainforest this university is much smaller than New Paltz, yet so beautiful. When we were discussing a regular day at PUC University with our professor in PUC, we learned that in a regular day, the students and professor take a break to go the beach and enjoy themselves. Off course not all students go out to the beach but long breaks are given in the day for students to focus on other activities. Now this concept is so foreign to me, yet very exciting. So, the long break that we did receive during the day, I decided to explore the campus with my friends and came across so many exhibitions and activities that PUC students participate in. We had lunch in the cafeteria and made a friend their by the name of Jennifer added her on facebook and will be in contact with her throughout this trip.

PUC University

PUC Univeristy

One of our trips also included the city tour, it was rainy and wet and most of us were not super excited to head out and take a city tour in this wet weather. Yet, we did and I am so happy I did because it made me realize that wet or dry this is my experience and the ones who came before me had a different experience and the one that came after me will have a different experience and with the in mind, I saw the Christo which was hidden in fog and cloud, saw the beaches which were experiencing high tide, saw the Rio Rainforest and saw the famous stairs of Rio, called Escadaria Seleron, which were wet. Regardless it was fun and exciting to watch famous place and monuments in Rio.

Rio Rainforest

Rio Rainforest

The Hostel that we live in Pasaduo Bonita has also been an experience in itself. Almost everyday I meet new people here, people who are friendly, want to talk, learn about USA and teach me about Brazil. Within a week I have made 12 different friends, some Brazilians and other non-Brazilians. And I realized its so easy to make friends here, the culture is to smile and make eye contact with the people you meet so, people approach you and you can easily approach them as well.

Far Away

With less than two weeks left here, I am trying to remain present and open throughout it all.  That which frustrates me one day easily brings me joy another day—like speaking Spanish.  At times I love deciphering what is being said and coming up with a reply, but then there are times when I wish I could just say things the way I wanted to and have someone understand me.

I thought I would come away from my study abroad experience feeling more direction—more guidance.  What I really feel is the confidence of knowing that I can be thrown into the unknown and sift my way through it all.  It is a confidence in not-knowing.

Having every second of every day planned out is not only boring, but it is depressing.  Why would I want to know how everything is going to play out?  Isn’t that the point of reading a story?  You wouldn’t start a book if you knew exactly what was going to happen on every page. Of course, there will always be that tendency inside of me—the part of me that wants to know how everything will turn out.  But if there’s anything I’ve learned from being here in Cusco, it is to surrender to the moment, really release into the flow.  It’s all right here . . .

Shamanic Sweat Lodge

Last Sunday I went to a sweat lodge with a group of friends.  Earlier in the year, my friend introduced me to a shaman, and ever since, I have been a frequent visitor.

We all met near San Blas on Sunday morning.  Kush came down to meet us and drive us up to his house.  Seven of us piled into the back of his white jeep and began the bumpy trek up the winding mountain– the houses growing more and more distant as we made our ascent.

None of my friends have ever met Kush before or gone to his house, so they weren’t sure what to expect.  I didn’t know what to expect either since I had never been to a sweat lodge.  When we arrived, Kush’s helpers were stoking the fire and setting up a canopy outside with a table underneath for lunch after the ceremony.

The actual structure in which we were going to sit was a circular stone bench, low to the ground and big enough to fit around 25 people.  The wall was about 3 feet tall.  Blankets and tarps strapped across the top, eliminating any chance for light or air to filter in.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to breathe at all inside.  When the stones were ready, we began the ceremony.  We lined up outside of the lodge, and Allen, Kush’s apprentice, was smudging with smoke.  He then told us that if we wished to connect with the energy of the Cosmos, to walk in a circle counter-clockwise, and if we wished to connect with the energy of the Earth, we could walk in a circle clockwise.

Most of us walked clockwise and ended the walk with a crawl into the darkness of our hibernation.  We filled up every empty space inside, and Kush brought in his 1 and 1/2 year old daughter–Cusi ( which means joy in Quechua).

In the center of the circle, there was a pit to hold stones that were going to be brought in from the fire outside.  The stones (known as abuelos or grandfathers) were brought in four groups of seven to honor each of the four cardinal directions.  Each group was brought in and handled with the antlers of some type of deer.  When the first group was brought in, Kush poured water over them, releasing steam over all of us.  Our breathing simultaneously grew louder.  We all had instruments and listened to the drumming of whoever wanted to play.  This was a space of opening and sharing, of being the primal human outside of the world of time and structure.  Everything inside was pitch black so insecurities could be shed with relief and without hesitation.

Tears started streaming and rolling.  Screams were let out–healing began.  We all recognized this as a safe space to let go of all the judgment and self-doubt we’ve been taught to accept since we were young.  Any vocal crescendo was contagious.  Pretty soon we were all howling like wolves in the night–releasing any past conditioning we were ready to let go of.

When the last group was brought in (after about 2 hours),  I knew that this was the last round I could stand to take.  My eyes were like jelly at this point.  I had to surrender into everything my body was feeling.

Kush shouted “Puerta!” for the fourth and final time.  Allen opened the blanket covering the door, as I crawled out I was met by his smiling face in the open air.   I said to him, “I feel like I’ve just emerged from the womb.”  He laughed and said, “I think that’s the point.”

I immediately crawled over to Lolo, the dog, and laid next to him and stared up at the muffled gray sky, listening to the stubborn thunder in the distance.  A light rain started to drizzle, and after everyone was out, we all gathered around a huge bucket of water and dowsed ourselves with it.  We then slowly moved inside to eat a delicious meal cooked for us by Kush’s family and friends.

The sweat lodge offered us a chance to realize a connection to our animal side–a connection to the place in ourselves that existed before we were ever told we weren’t good enough. That raw, creative, uninhibited energy.  And that energy still exists in all of us, but some are numbed by the constant repetition of  expectations of how one should act, how one should think, and so many more soul-depriving restrictions.

Those seeking redemption will find it.  It can be found anywhere–a sweat lodge in the Cusco Valley of Peru, the mountains of Montana, or the lakes of New York.  Healing is afforded to anyone willing to sit a little more quietly and breathe a little more deeply.

                                                     * * *

Hablando con confianza

When I got to the airport in New York City, no one spoke English.  I didn’t know anything anyone was saying, but there was a certain consolation in not knowing.  No unnecessary anxiety or problems were being filtered through my mind.  It was an exciting feeling but also an isolating one.  I still managed to get where I needed to go despite not knowing the language.  Something ironic about language is that it’s usually the context that helps communicate–whatever is behind the language rather than the words themselves.

When I landed at the airport in Cusco, I felt like a celebrity.  There were a lot of people holding signs, yelling names, and pushing each other.  My host mother was screaming and holding a sign with my name on it.  She immediately recognized me and pointed to the gate.  We got into the taxi.  She asked if I knew any Spanish and I said I knew a little.  The cab driver’s smile reflected in the rearview mirror.  The rest of the ride home was silent.

This was over a month ago.  And today, if you asked me how much I know, I would say the same thing.  But I’m not so sure that’s a true statement anymore.

There have been plenty of moments when I have told myself I don’t know enough to hold a conversation– and so I didn’t.  I felt safe if I didn’t try to talk at all, but I also wasn’t learning anything.  I find that the more often I go into a situation thinking that I am going to be open to talking and listening, the more often I actually do well in understanding conversations.

Learning a language is directly related to confidence. If you speak the language–even when you feel like you don’t know how–the worst that can happen is you leave the other person feeling completely confused, but at least you tried, and you probably made them laugh which is always a good thing.  Most often, they will correct you in an attempt to help you.

Two things to remember:

1) Push yourself to speak the language.  Try to use it whenever you can.  I often find myself talking more than I would normally just to see if I can find a new way to speak in Spanish.

2) Learn to be ok with all the words you don’t know, and learn to be ok with silence.  There are going to be moments when you simply just don’t feel like talking, as you would with people who speak the same language, it’s important to remember that if you have the mindset that you need to be talking at all times, you aren’t going to be enjoying yourself, and the conversation won’t flow naturally.

Learning a new language has given me a whole new appreciation for language.  Everywhere I go, there is the opportunity to learn.  I read billboards, advertisements, labels, flyers, and listen to people talk.  I might not have any idea what they are saying, but just hearing the words helps me become familiar with them.

To simplify, it’s really all about taking care with your words and not being too hard on yourself.

Forget what you think you know about changing the world

Today I walked into one of my classes to find a woman I had never seen before standing at the front of the room.  She was talking with my professor, and the level of her voice told me that she had something to say.  Something she wasn’t afraid to say.  Her confidence was apparent within moments of entering the room.  She had the piercing presence that effortlessly attracted the attention of everyone around . . .

When everyone (all six of us) came into the classroom, my professor introduced her as the founder of a project known as “Rainforest Flow.”  We had watched a video about this project the previous class.

Her name is Nancy.  An older woman from Connecticut.  A fashion photographer for L.A. and New York City.  She’s photographed Tyra Banks.  Cameron Diaz.  Anthony Hopkins.

She began talking about how in her late-thirties, after becoming a successful photographer, she wanted something more out of life.  She wanted to search for inner truth.  She came to Peru to find a shaman deep within the rainforest.  Along her journey there, she talked with the local indigenous people.  She asked them what they wanted most in their communities, and the response that was repeated again and again was WATERClean water.  She was inspired to help the indigenous people learn about santiation and hygiene and to help make clean water accessbile to those who asked for help.

She was a very empowering speaker.  She mentioned all of the opposition she faced when creating this organization.  People told her it would fail–that she was crazy for even thinking she could help–she only had a 2-year Art School degree and everyone else around her–the ethnobotanists, the medical anthropologists–all had PH.Ds.

After living in the rainforest for over a week, and being in Peru for three months, she came back to the States and created “The House of Children” and within 45 days it was registered as a non-government organization.

What she said during that hour was only secondary to how she made everyone around me, including myself, feel.

Something inside this woman knows.  Listening to her talk, I feel like the fog has cleared and a mountain has appeared through the mist–the question has revealed itself:

What are you going to do to help the world?

This question always seems so vague and lofty, and really, I don’t think there’s any one wrong answer.  Yes, throwing away your gum wrapper will in some way help the world.  But there is something deeper beyond it–it’s a daunting question.  Our insecurities and feelings of unworthiness rise to the surface.  When we think of it, most of our shoulders cringe and shrivel up–hearts caving inward.  We feel like we have to do a hundred things to make the world a better place.    Me? what am I gonna do to change the world?  How can I possibly help? I’m only one person.  (We like to think that the more we do, the better the world will be.)

Yes, you ARE one person.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Now you can either stop there, and sit with your arms folded and think how you aren’t “good enough” to change the world, how you don’t “know enough”, or maybe you don’t “have enough” to give the world, OR you can decide to walk straight into the fears holding you inside your own guilt.

I personally don’t “know” how I am going to help the world, but I can say, after hearing this woman speak, that something shifted in me today.  My journey to Peru has just reached a new level.  One quote that Nancy said that resonated with me:

“The only sustainable thing we have is human relationship.”

“Trying” to change the world just to “get somewhere” couldn’t be any more egocentric.  Our minds would like things to be the way we think they should be–that is rarely, if ever, the case.  Everything is always changing, and it’s frustrating to know that you may be of little help.  We shouldn’t underestimate the value of an open heart, an open mind, or an open ear.  Listening, feeling, talking, laughing, being in the present moment.  These are just a few things that every person enjoys.  Who doesn’t like to feel like they belong somewhere?  Ultimately for any change to really occur, we have to dissolve and rise above the barriers between ourselves and others that our minds have created out of fear and “individuality”.

We are all scared, lost, and confused in some way or another.  The most valuable thing you can give the world is your openness–your willingness to surrender and come down from the dark castle of your mind and into the warmth of a smile.



P.S. Here is the link to Nancy’s Project: