See You Later

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.”

 

Last Night in New Zealand! :( (Auckland)

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!

Hot Water Beach

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

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!

Southern Italy, Part VI

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.

Standing in the middle of the world

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.

Southern Italy, Part V

I’ve seen Italy from all sides.  Places the tourists never see.  I have been very fortunate.  It has been humbling, and eye opening.  I appreciate more deeply now what my ancestors went through to leave it for America.

I think that a part of study abroad is to immerse yourself in a different culture, and open your mind to new ways of thinking and problem solving in a foreign environment.  I imagine that many students choose the countries they study abroad in based on their own ancestral heritage and a desire to connect with that. I imagine this is a big part of what study abroad IS.

I was fortunate to meet a cousin of mine in Rome during our free day.  We had never met before.  Though she spoke very little English and I spoke very little Italian, it is amazing how much you can communicate with a few words and hand gestures.  Somehow, we had a whole conversation and managed to connect as human beings.  It was wild to note the similarities in personality quirks.

I’ve never felt more American, than when I tried to immerse in my Italian roots.  I appreciate both sides of myself now, the American, and the Italian.  As American-Italians, we have clung on to this Old World culture for generations, as I noticed when some things I did at the dinner table closely resembled that of the Italians, and they noticed as well.  But I also noticed the differences, how as Americans we have evolved into something else, and are not this Old World anymore.

It is so strange, to recognize a place, a way of being, as so familiar, and yet to not belong to it.

Reflecting Back on Studying Abroad

It has been three weeks since I’ve been in the United States and coming home has treated me well. I thought that I would have reverse culture shock but I adjusted back to life surprisingly in a matter of days. Of course the glorification of coming home has faded and I find my mind wondering back to the things that I miss about Prague. My family asked me how it was and I just couldn’t answer it because SO MUCH HAPPENED! Where do I start? But I found myself talking about it in casual conversation. Then, they would get sick of it and I found that once I wanted to talk about my past 4 months in Europe, I couldn’t stop. I would just bring something up or something would remind me of that one time in Europe and they would just walk away or roll their eyes. That’s probably the toughest part-not being able to share the experiences with them.

After a week of being home, my mind was distracted from Prague because I was back on a plane on my way across the country for 2 weeks. I was in Washington State, all the way across the country visiting my Aunt and my cousins. It was great to see them. Then, after just getting back and settling once again back into home life, it felt like I never left. Everything looks and feels the same. But I can feel that I’ve changed. And although I’ve missed out on family and friend events while having my own adventures and have a substantially lower bank account, I have taken things with me that I will never forget.

I won’t forget the people that I’ve met on my journey- my friends, my tour guides, my professors, people on the street who saw I was lost and asked if I needed help finding where I wanted to be going. I won’t forget the support that I received from my family and friends who kept cheering me on along the way. I couldn’t have endured homesickness and my own self-doubt without them believing in me.

I won’t forget the places I’ve been and the drive to go to discover more places. Even if I’m driving down my hometown road and see something that fascinates me, I won’t forget that I learned that anywhere we go, even in our backyard can be an adventure.

And ultimately, I won’t forget the friend that I made with myself. On my journey, I learned so much about myself. I became more independent and I relied on myself even when I thought that it was hopeless and I couldn’t do it. I won’t forget to make peace with my weaknesses.

Studying abroad was tough and challenging but it was ultimately rewarding. I definitely recommend it to other students so it can open their mind and allow them to experience the world in a different way. I wouldn’t trade the past 4 months spent in Europe for the world.

 

A Few Opening Thoughts… (pre-departure)

Today marks the ten day countdown to my study abroad journey to Oviedo, Spain! I am more than excited to begin classes, meet international friends and my host mother, and to explore the city of Oviedo and surrounding areas. I am excited yet slightly apprehensive about this new experience. I know that once I arrive and get settled in with my host family, however, the nerves will pass and I will quickly get accustomed to the new lifestyle. In addition, I have been busy this past week arranging last minute details of the trip before I go. There is a lot of preparation and I know this experience will be well worth it. Overall, I’d like to set several goals that I hope to reach by the end of the program. My first goal is to improve my conversational Spanish speaking skills to a near fluent level. Secondly, I am eager to learn more about Spanish culture and the history of Oviedo. My third goal, though not as academic based as the first two, is to simply cherish this opportunity in every way possible by being immersed in a new culture and by meeting new people. I have a lengthy “weekend” list of places to go and landmarks to see, such as the rugged Picos de Europa and the breathtakingly ancient cathedrals. Obviously there is a lot to look forward to, so stay tuned, reader, as I embark on my study abroad journey to Oviedo, España!

Hasta pronto

-Nora

Southern Italy, Part IV

We visited the Giulia museum in Rome, dedicated to the ancient Etruscans (indigenous Italians).  The Etruscan culture is so fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed learning about the hand gestures on a particular statue-couple, found on an ancient tomb. They may have been holding small vials, but the Professor indicated that they might also be gesticulating, as Italians do, when they speak.  I like this theory.

In the evening, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. Aside from being beautiful and impressive as I knew it would be, I felt something touch me the moment I crossed the threshold. It was surprising. I’m not a religious person, but I suppose all those years of an Italian-Catholic family environment have made a lasting impression. I was at our “Mecca.”

In the Vatican Museum, my feet hurt so much from walking, all I wanted was to find the Sistine Chapel before I ran out of steam. I was so lucky to get inside while it was nearly empty. To hop around the floor like an excited little kid, “reading” the story of each panel, enjoying all the little brush strokes, reverse-engineering with my eyes the work of this great master. And, laughing at the Renaissance style given to the Israelites.

What makes this work special is the sheer amount of work put into it. The room started to fill after half an hour or so. I was so lucky to have had that time in the Sistine Chapel.