After being in Asturias for the past month, I can confirm that Northern Spain is one of the most breathtaking places that I have visited in my lifetime. The views are amazing here. It is impossible not to look out the window while on the road and be awestruck by the mountains, open green pastures, and quaint villages. Even the cities are able to maintain this cozy and whimsical feeling. I have taken advantage of my time here by attending weekend excursions through my program. My favorite excursion was Picos de Europa, which is part of a large national park. I walked up mountains, dipped my toes in the lakes, and watched cows and horses wander around the open pastures. It was so peaceful to hear the cow bells chime in the breeze. This park’s untouched beauty was absolutely striking. After this, we went to Covadonga, where a battle between Christian and Muslim troops took place in the 700’s. Here I saw a beautiful and ancient cathedral, an unbelievable chapel (named “Santa cuerva”), which was delicately carved into the side of the mountain, and I drank water from a very special fountain. This fountain is located under the chapel in the mountain, and it is said that if a you take a sip from each of the seven spouts of the fountain, you will be married within the next year! Even though I have no plans to be married within the next year, who know
Before beginning my courses here in Oviedo, I had no idea what to expect. I wondered if the classes and the style of teaching would be similar to what I experienced in the US at SUNY New Paltz. The courses that I am taking in Spain are Advanced Spanish and a literature/art history module. We begin class at 9:30 am and work until 11:30 am. During this time we work on perfecting our grammar by doing excerieces out loud from packets. Although grammar in Spanish can throw some curve balls (don’t even get me started on the subjunctive tense!), speaking and reading out loud in class is such great practice for perfecting Spanish grammar and speaking skills. There are about twenty other students in the class, mostly from the US like myself. At 11:30 classes pause for a half hour snack break where students arrange afternoon plans over a café con leche and a bocadillo. At 12 classes resume and we continue working on grammar. At 1 pm we switch over to another classroom for the module course, which we had the option of choosing. I decided to take the literature and art history module since there is so much fascinating history and culture of Spain to be learned through the art and literature. During this class we observe, read and discuss various paintings and poems that pertain to whichever author or artist we are studying. Most days we are not assigned homework beyond a small writing assignment and review of class notes from that day. The professors want us to work hard in the classroom but also encourage us to take advantage of time outside of class by exploring and being present within our time here in Spain. Overall, I really enjoy these classes. From my experience the professors are very kind and informative and are very accommodating to international students. I really appreciate how they bring cultural references and vocabulary into the classroom, like incorporating traditional Asturian recipes and festivals into our lessons. I had a lot of apprehension before beginning classes abroad (who doesn’t?), however here is my one piece of advice to anyone considering studying internationally: your professors abroad want to see you grow and succeed. Whether that growth may be in terms of language skills, knowledge, or world experience, your professors abroad want to see you grow from this experience because they know you can. Learning a language by immersion is such a natural way of language acquisition that you’re barely even aware that it’s happening! To think that I struggled my first few days here while simply ordering a coke to being able to hold long conversations with native speakers is truly amazing. In conclusion, I am very grateful to be learning as much as I am both in and out of the classroom.
It’s been just shy of a week being home from New Zealand, and I couldn’t be more mixed with emotions. It’s been very bittersweet to say the least. On the good side of things, my boyfriend pulled a fast one on me and had me under the impression that I would not be seeing him for a couple weeks after returning home. He lives in New Paltz and works so he made it seem very real. However, when I arrived at the airport, I got a tap on my shoulder waiting for my luggage. To my SHOCK, my boyfriend was standing there with a bouquet of roses and a huge smile. I bursted into tears. On the car ride home I couldn’t let go of him. I have to say, to all my fellow people studying abroad who are in relationships, it’s NOT easy. However, please do not let it hold you back! Distance does very well make the heart grow fonder.
When I arrived home, there was a car with pretty red bows sitting in the drive way. I asked my dad who’s car that was, and he responded “Yours”. ANOTHER CRY FEST! My first car! So much positive. So much yes!
Unfortunately not all the news I returned home to was good. Actually some of the news was quite terrible. While away my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer. I have no words for this news other than I am very upset. My parents found out a month ago and did not want to tell me while I was away. It sucks, and I’ve been quite down for the past week. However, as I myself have fought through cancer, I am very happy to be home with my mom now.
Reflecting on my experience in New Zealand, I will be very honest, I am happy to be home. New Zealand is a place filled with absolute beauty and grace. Home to landscapes not found pretty much anywhere else in the world. However, as far as society goes I began to feel homesick about a month before coming home. Wellington is a super cool city, it reminded me of what I pictured Greece to be like. However, spare Auckland and Wellington, there are only a few other major cities in the entire country of New Zealand. Being a city gal, I found myself missing this aspect of myself. I love New York. I love how I can live in New Paltz, a quite little Hudson Valley town, and than drive two hours south and be in the big apple, or my home Long Island. I love how I can drive 2 hours north and be in places that resemble the beauty of New Zealand. I felt like New Zealand got a little small after a while of being there. However, being abroad in general has taught me how to travel, and not to be scared to. This new skill I’ve gained has inspired me to travel within my own country, as there is so much I haven’t seen here in America! I also grew to appreciate many of the freedoms I have as a woman here in New York, as New Zealand’s regulations on abortion turned me off a lot.
Many of my kiwi friends broke the myth that New Zealand is some magical place free of problems. In fact many young kiwi’s around my age are planning on leaving New Zealand, as the wealth gap is becoming so terrible that starting a life there is not an option.
I chose to study in New Zealand because as a cancer survivor, I was attracted to the very clean environment. However, it’s soothing to know that as messed up as the USA seems sometimes, every country has there issues.
One of the most striking features of northern Spain is the unique culture and how different it is than that of New York. On the first day of the program, a speaker told our class that we would constantly be comparing and contrasting the culture in Spain to the culture back home. She was certainly right. First of all, it seems that people here are very economical and practical with everyday products. Almost everything seems to be recycled or reused, which is very smart and eco-friendly. In addition, the style of dress is very different than how we dress back in the US. People here seem to get more dressed up no matter the day or occasion. Men tend to wear long pants and women wear skirts, dresses, or long pants. It is not out of the norm, for example, to spot elderly women in their Sunday best strolling through Campo de San Franciso on a weekday afternoon. The residents of Oviedo also seem to be extremely connected to local traditions and religion. Walking through the neighborhoods one can overhear the locals converse about the multiple festivals and saint celebrations that occur in the region frequently. Listening to locals converse also helps to pick up on regional vocabulary, such as “¡Madre mía!” and “no pasa nada”, meaning “oh my!” and “don’t worry about it” in English. Another aspect of Spanish culture that I have happily acquainted myself with is the food. This region of Spain is known for its rich, hearty foods consisting of sausages like chorizo, beans, cheeses, and plenty of bread. Paired with a glass of freshly poured cider, there is no need for late night snacking with this kind of food, since only a few bites will leave you feeling full and satisfied for the rest of the day. Thank you to everyone who shared their images with me
Sitting in the desolate airport, I wait for my flight to be called. I keep repeating to myself that this is it but the words hold no meaning. The actuality of the situation lingers passed me, and I watch it from a far. The flight attendant yells over the speakers that boarding is beginning, rows 12-20 can now board. I look around, sadness eliminating from my face, my eyes fixated on the doors, my legs unable to move. I feel numb, and wonder what that means. Still, I dissociate from the idea that I am leaving a place that I made and call a home. I am going back to New York, but what is that place now? So much has changed for me, and so much has changed there. What is my place there now? I do not know.
The flight attendant grabs my ticket, wishing me a safe flight. I mutter up a “thank you” and smile politely back at her. I look ahead at the passengers boarding, and those still behind me. I want to run out of the airport and back to my apartment but my legs keep moving my forward. This is it, I am going back to New York, I am going back to my parent’s house on Long Island. The words now stick to me like glue, the numbness dissipates into the air.
Tears build in my eyes as we begin to take-off, I hold them back not wanting to make scene. I look out the window, taking one last look at Australia, and whisper “see you later.”
For my last two days in New Zealand, I decided to pack up and spend a little time in Auckland. Auckland is one of two capitals in New Zealand. Wellington, the more up and coming one, is where I’ve spent the last 4 and a half months so I thought it only fair to see what’s up in Auckland. I arrived on my own, a little solo adventure. I was meeting up with my best friend later that night. I decided to check out the sky tower, one of Auckland’s most symbolic features. It was absolutely gorgeous! It reminded me a lot of the sky tower in Toronto Canada, but I also went for sunset so that was super cool.
Aukland resembles New York City to me. The people are all in a rush to get somewhere, the nightlife is a big club/bar scene, and the buildings and streets all looked so familiar to me. My friend felt the exact same way. To some, this might be a disappointment. For me, however, I was extremely excited. After 4 and a half months away from home, I was happy to feel the NYC vibe again.
The bars were AMAZING. Super awesome themed bars and clubs, nothing like I’ve seen in New Zealand so far. I was a little upset that I wasn’t going to get to spend more than a night in Auckland, as I feel it was definitely my speed.
Tomorrow will be my flight back to the states, a bittersweet feeling!
Last week I hit up Hot Water Beach in the north island on New Zealand. This extremely unique experience is a must do for any future New Zealand explorers. Basically, this beach is set upon active magma, making the water underneath the sand extremely hot. That is, if you don’t know where to dig! During low tide, tourists and kiwi’s alike all dig up a hole big enough for how ever many people they’re with! The water beneath the sand closer to the ocean is the goldilocks temperature for people to enjoy a man made hot tub!
In my experience, hot water beach was a bit challenging! Myself and the 3 other friends I was with went just end the end of low tide, and in the rain! Not to mention during the middle of winter! We were forced to dig higher up, so the water we were digging up was too hot to enjoy, and cold wet rain and air was making it too cold to sit in our bathing suites on the beach! Oh and there was also the rising tide constantly washing away our hard work! Making us even colder! You can say it was a bit of a miserable experience. However, we met two locals who had there stuff together, and asked us to come join them. They dug a perfect little pool. What was crazy is part of it was scolding hot while the other part was totally do able.
I’m happy I got to experience this, as it was on my NZ bucket list!
I wish I also had pictures to share but due to the weather I couldn’t bring my camera!
Kaikora is one of New Zealands little hidden treasures. A very small town, originally named for the surplus of cray fish that were harvested in the area. Kaikora was one of my favorite spots. Not just because it sort of reminded me of home, but also because I got to live my long term dream of swimming with dolphins!
The Dolphin Encounter Kaikora is an amazing company that not only serves as a tourist attraction but also play a huge part in serving environmental conservation around the area. Three of my friends and myself suited up and took the small class that showed us how to get the dolphins to swim with us. It was kind of funny how ridiculous we had to make ourselves look to get the dolphin’s attention.
Once out at sea, we found a bunch of a different dolphin colonies and plopped into the water right near them. I was scared at first, realizing I had no idea what I was jumping into. It was difficult to see the dolphins at first too, but eventually they came SWARMING by.
I had a very adorable moment swimming in a circle with two dolphins, they actually saw me! It was kind of crazy. That moment you realize there not just animals, there living seeing breathing beings. Which is common sense, but I don’t think it truly hits you until you interact with them.
To add to the excitement, we were lucky enough to find a little family of orcas on the way back. We even saw a little baby one!
It was truly an amazing experience, by far one of my favorites so far!
I’ve been home about a week now, and finally recovered from the jet lag (I think)… It’s hard to believe this adventure happened. It all feels like a dream.
Seeing the ruins of the ancient Greeks was awe-inspiring because so much of the civilized world still utilizes their technology. I was most impressed by the wall paintings at Pompeii and Oplantis (a nearby city, a little better preserved and less touristy than Pompeii). As a painter, it was a real treat to observe these. I know that some restoration of the wall paintings has occurred as they are so vibrant, but I found myself deeply impressed by the sophistication of the mark making, and perspective. We think we invented it all with the Renaissance, but in truth there is much technology in the visual arts that we have lost. I believe that ancient people were smarter than we give them credit for.
On another note, I feel a difference in myself after this trip. I seem to have a thicker skin — much less is bothering me lately. For example, I was a person who would feel extreme anxiety at just taking a drive into New York City for a day (understandably) but had to do this recently for a business meeting, and found myself nearly unphased by the stressful traffic and careless drivers. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it feels good to feel calmer in general, and that I can handle stressful situations a little better than before.
It’s also difficult to describe Southern Italy to friends and family. They seem to think I was on some fabulous vacation. While it was beautiful, it is also a wild place in the sense that we traveled through some very rural areas before reaching the big cities. Survival became paramount in ensuring I had enough simple things like water and toilet paper (things I ended up carrying around in my purse consistently). Getting to a doctor or pharmacy was difficult when I had the flu for two weeks in the middle of the trip.
I feel very fortunate to have seen this part of Italy, that tourists would not likely stumble over. In some of the archeological parks, the only others there besides our class were other archeologists (mostly British, from what I gathered) studying the ancient ruins.
I’d recommend this study abroad experience to anyone who loves western art history, and is curious to explore the wild, beautiful places of Sicily.
Being home again feels good. I got my studio organized and have been drafting ideas for my final project for the semester (a painting inspired by the trip). I look forward to a productive summer and hitting the ground running by fall.
So it has been a week since I landed in Ecuador. I first landed in Quito, which is the capital of Ecuador and the second I got off the plane I saw the Andes Mountain Range. That was breath-taking. I am from New York and the Catskills are the biggest mountains I have ever seen. The Andes were like monsters that were in the clouds with us during the plane ride. The terrain is so different here. Bridges do not go over water they go over valleys and concrete houses are built on steep hills.
The first day here I meet the group of student that were doing the program with me all were nice and from different places in North America including Canada. There are about 20 students We traveled through Quito and Otavalo by day. We saw waterfalls, the equator, an artist museum, we toured quito and went inside old medieval style churches. At night we explored the area around the hotel on our own and Ramon taught us to play a fun card game called sandwich and we played every night. So far we have all been having a great time getting to know each other and the beautiful country of Ecuador. We arrived to the campus of UEES and it is beautiful and I can not wait to start classes with all the students. I meet my host family and that was a huge shock at first. They only speak spanish and I know very little spanish. However, they have a lot of patience and love to talk to me and we are learning to communicate sufficiently. I am very excited to see what next week brings.
This picture is of the four students from SUNY New Paltz in the UEES Program this Summer. See that red line on the floor that is the Equator.