Driving on the left hand side of the road…

Good morning, everyone! (Sunday morning, that is…) The majority of you are probably waking up Saturday right now… crazy! I was thinking about dates the other day, and realized that if I were to have been born at the exact same moment, but here in New Zealand (or anywhere else past the dateline) I would have been born a day ahead… I’d have a completely different birthday- not to mention Zodiac sign! (I knew what being on the cusp meant before, but now it makes even more sense).

So this is an incredibly brief blog simply with the intention of keeping eveyone on the edge of their seats. You see, as one of only a couple other kids who is of vehicle renting age, I have to wake up early early tomorrow to go rent a van for myself and 6 others who I’ve known for barely a week- one that I have yet to meet even! We then are heading up North and road tripping/camping a big loop to just about the top of the North Island and back down before classes begin on the 27th. To give you a small taste of what this road trip entails: I will be the first person in our group of people to drive on the “wrong” side of the road! (I have enough trouble remembering which direction to look before I cross the road on foot!) We then are going to hike, camp, sky dive, go to white, sandy beaches, hike, camp, etc… until next Saturday! So goodnight, my friends… and you will be hearing from me with stories apleanty soon enough.

:o)

…PS. I have indeed been paying close attention to the direction of flush in every toilet thus far… Unfortunately, they all seem to just go straight down. I can assure you that I have not yet given up on my mission to find a circular-directional flush.

From an entirely different sky…

I’m here! And it’s beautiful, and sunny… and a city.

The trip over here went much more smoothly and was much more relaxed than I expected it to be. I drove up to Rochester airport in a snowstorm, checked my luggage, handed off my winter coat to my parents, and went through security… up until I went through security, I had all kinds of nervous knots in my stomach and wished that my parents could hold my hands through everything. But as soon as I got to the other side of the scary metal detectors, I suddenly felt completely independant and ready for whatever was to come. I waved to my mom across the glass walls who was easily spotted in her bright green fleece and arms waving back and forth like a flourescent traffic flagger… :o)

I gradually met up with different people going over to New Zealand throughout my 22 or so hours spent through airports and the air, and was able to sleep the majority of the overnight 13 hour 15 minute and 5 seconds of airborn time across the Pacific Ocean. (On the coolest Jumbo Jet I’ve ever seen…)
Our jumbo jet!

Once we finally all got here, we were dropped off at our halls and greeted quite kindly by the Kiwis who ran our building. They later took us around town to some of the good places to know (such as the grocery store- as we are on our own for food while living in the Stafford apartment building. Living here is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

Window view to the left Window view to the right

My window overlooks, well, a city. There are tall buildings to one side and to the other a big green hill covered in trees. Because it’s all so new, I’m waiting for the moment that I feel like I really do live here. I imagine it will be once classes begin and I have a daily schedule to follow.

I have been here only three days and things all ready feel totally familiar, as the result of getting lost in the city countless times and then finding my way back with everybody. I’ve been able to befriend quite a few really cool people all ready- mostly other Americans so far, but I can’t wait for the other local students to move in so that I can start meeting Kiwis as well.

For now, I’m learning what it’s like to live in a city, because it is very much one. The streets are lined with coffee shops and cafes. Wellington supposedly has the second largest number of cafes and coffeeshops in the world next to Manhatten! It great having things so close- we walk everywhere that we need or want to go, and though I’ve been running (I’ve signed up for a 7k road race this weekend!), it feels great being so active all of the time. We have found a local farmers market up the street that happens every Sunday, and the produce is great! (And much less expensive than a grocery store). Wellington is a fairly decent size, but very clean, and beautiful buildings. The architecture here is very unique, yet EVERYTHING compliments one another in a fantastic, harmonious way. Another thing that I’ve noticed is the amount of sculpture and artwork throughout the city- the sidewalks are decorated in tiling, there is sculpture everywhere, and even the manhole covers take part in the decoration! What’s unique about the artwork here compared to that of NYC or any other city that I’ve been, is that it all relates to one another and tells the story of the New Zealand culture.

Decorated manhole cover

Just yesterday some of my friends and I went to the beach and had our first swim in New Zealand ocean water, then my friend, Aurora and I dug a great big hole in the sand… topping off the complete beach experience! I all ready got a minor sun burn on my face… (I was luckier than others.) I also just found out that we are under a hole in the ozone layer, so sunscreen is even more my friend that it ever was before! Some of the foliage here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen! And the sea life- we found a starfish yesterday thinking that it was one of the greatest treasures that we would find in this water! Then we looked around the bottom of the clear clear salt water and counted nearly 20 more only around our feet.

Aurora and I in our super deep hole (we The starfish that we found

Orientation starts tomorrow for us, so I’ll be meeting even more people, and get to know even more of the city and what’s going on. Random brochures and flyers for events can really only do so much…

There is a rugby game coming up that some of my friends and I are going to check out- get a taste for the city’s rugby pride (which seems to be pretty significant), and sometime before classes begin there is a small group of us who hope to go camping and hiking for a few days further up the north island. so hooray!

I hope that everything is going well with everyone!

STUDY Abroad…

“It’s called Study Abroad. Although you are here to be abroad, you’re primarily here to study,” said Dr. Philip Woods, teacher of British Life and Culture.

Knights Park

Yes, school has begun! I’m enjoying my modules a lot (modules are what we call classes in America) and my tutors (professors) are great. I’m taking “Parisian Art World”, “Italian Renaissance Archticture”, “Art of Renaissance Florence”, “British Life and Culture”, and “Shakespeare: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.

Next week, I will be presenting an actual Monet painting to my “Parisian Art World” class at the Courtauld Institute of Art in central London! What a humbling and daunting task! I have presented slides of paintings before, but never the real thing! Perhaps I’m on my way to a career as an art museum tour guide?

The Italian Art History modules are exciting as well. During spring break, I am going to Florence for an onsite Art History course! I’m really looking forward to this opportunity having studied Florentine art and architecture in depth for so long.

“British Life and Culture” is full of study abroad students like myself. Our tutor is a lovely man who slightly resembles Paul McCartney. We discuss our cultural similarites and differences, and also take field trips to other parts of Britain. This weekend, we are going to Oxford, the oldest university in the English speaking world!

“Shakespeare: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is great to take while in England! It seems so authentic here and I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare than I previously knew.

All of my classmates are very friendly, as are the tutors. It is funny that the British accent isn’t as noticeable to me anymore, perhaps because it is no longer a novelty but the norm here. One of the great rewards of my experience so far is that now I can finally listen to what British people say rather than how they say it!

Three days and counting…

It wasn’t until just this morning that I realized how little time I have left here in America before I head down to live with the Kiwis for five months! Three days and whole wonderful medley of excitement, nerves and lists lists lists. Lists of what I have yet to do, to pack, people to contact, blogging… However, throughout the listing process, I’ve realized that there is only so much that I really need to bring with me, and only so many times that I can say goodbye to people before it seems like I’m never going to leave.

My excitement is on-going as I’ve spoken with people about my upcoming journey, hearing about other’s experiences in New Zealand- or abroad in general, and gaining associations and connections one after another! It’s the times that I talk with people about my trip that I forget about every one of my nerves, and then I just can’t wait to be down there- living in a city for the first time in my life! It’s rather the times when things are more quiet and New Zealand is not the first thing on my mind that provokes a feeling of nostalgia of what I‘m going to miss before I‘m even gone: playing with my dog, eating dinner with my family, hanging out with friends in familiar places here at home…

This past weekend I was in New Paltz for four days to visit, say goodbye to some good friends before I leave, and to go through Orientation. Goodbye, New Paltz! It was so strange (and made me feel so lazy) to hear people talk about their classes and work, and what the semester feels like so far and to know that I’m not and won’t be a part of it all! It’s those times that I’ve found it’s best to consider how much I will be experiencing soon rather than what I will be missing out on here. It makes for a much more positive outlook on the distance I’m soon to be traveling.

So overall, I can’t wait to arrive to the land beyond down under, but as it’s gradually gotten closer, the nerves have been growing and the trip itself has been feeling more and more real. But to think! The next time that you hear from me, I’ll be a day ahead of you and all ready have New Zealand experiences to share!

Keep in touch!

“An American Student in London” and my own “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

Hey everyone!
Me in London

This past Friday, I ventured into the great city of London along with some of the other study abroad students. The train ride in only took about twenty minutes! We wandered through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus before heading east to see the Tower of London. I was surprised by how quickly I remembered my way around the city from my trip last year (London Theatre Seminar). The group somehow established me as their tour guide, which made me feel silly yet proud.

Although the entire day was great, there was indeed a highlight: a usually stone-faced horse-guard broke into a slight smile! Such a rare occurrence, indeed! A couple of the girls decided to take a picture in front of the horse-guard, when the horse proceeded to nibble and tug at one of the girls’ jackets! It was such a funny and absurd sight that even the horse-guard could not help but stifle a laugh. So, the guards do have a sense of humor after all!
Horseguard

The next day, all of the visiting students took a bus ride down to Brighton, the popular seaside resort city. Brighton is the equivalent of Atlantic City, but with more history and elegance. We took a tour of the Royal Pavilion, the residence of George IV, established during his days as Prince Regent. The building is like none other in Britain, as it resembles the Taj Mahal. George IV’s fascination with Eastern art and architecture resulted in a home with a glorious, illogical and inventive mixture of Indian and Chinese styles. The tour guide was this enthusiastic Viennese woman who was almost as much of a character as George IV himself.
Brighton Pier

After the tour, I explored the Brighton Pier. Complete with rides, games, and a fish-and-chip shop, it is the boardwalker’s paradise. Even in the cold of January, the Pier was bustling. I can only imagine what it will be like when the weather gets warmer! The Pier really offers amazing views of the sea and the shore that I took advantage of with my camera. Only an hour from London by train, I plan to visit Brighton again.

I plan to visit you all again soon as well!

Over 4,000 miles and more than a month later

It’s been over a month since I returned home from the Czech Republic. It’s been a rather drastic change for me and I have to say that I miss Prague a lot.

One of the first major differences I was confronted with coming home was volume. I first encountered this in Frankfurt, when I was waiting for the flight to JFK to board. The waiting area was packed and loud. Not just loud, but noisy. The majority of people on the flight were Americans returning home after a short visit to Europe. It’s a marked difference between Americans and (what I can only assume) the rest of the world. Americans are loud. Even now, I am amazed at how loud some people can be when there is no call for it.

I had gotten to the airport in Prague with entirely too much time to spare. Better safe than sorry I guess. I took pictures of the airport while I was waiting. Just bored pictures, nothing special. Something to occupy my mind while I waited for the counter for my flight to open up. I took all sorts of pictures throughout my Prague airport experience. Nothing of interest, really, and I didn’t think anything of it. Nobody cared. When the plane arrived in JFK and we all queued up in the massive customs lines, I saw a sign that made me think of my flight over to the Czech Republic as well as my flight down to Rome. The sign had to do with the added security measures that non-residents had to endure. Fingerprinting and mugshotting or something. I can’t recall exactly, and I lack a photo of it because right above the sign, but below one of the TVs showing a Giants game, was a sign yelling “No Photography” and a big picture of a camera with a big red X through it. When I flew down to Rome, I walked from the plane, straight out to the waiting area. The first person I talked to was Mike. I didn’t need to have my fingerprints or mugshot taken, and, if I wanted to, I could have taken a whole bunch of photos of Mike waiting for me. It got me thinking about what we, as a nation, are so afraid of. Here I was, returning from a former Soviet bloc country, and right away, I couldn’t take pictures. If I were Czech, I’d be booked before I could enter the country. I realize that there are justifications for these measures, and I don’t want to turn this into a political post. I’ve made it an entire semester without being political. But comparing my experiences flying into the Prague and flying into New York, I really wonder what sort of impression people get when they come in to America.

I miss smazeny syr. That fried cheese delight that (in my opinion) is best served on a bun, on a little rectangle of paper, in the middle of the night.

I’ve definitely grown from my experiences abroad, and plan on returning to Prague for some extended period of time. It’s not just that I miss the fried cheese, but I miss the city itself. All of the decent guidebooks will tell you that while Prague has a couple of big interest sights (Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge) the true magic and beauty of the city is found just by wandering. Prague isn’t about a single attraction. You can’t have a single photograph and say that it defines Prague. The attraction is the city itself. The experience is what makes Prague worthwhile. The tourist attractions are nice for a short visit, but I miss the side streets, the alleys, the basement bars and crowded trams. I even miss waiting for the night tram at five in the morning as the wind off of the river makes it feel like it’s only a few degrees above absolute zero. That is what makes Prague for me.

I never got to Prague Castle.

Greetings From London, Mates!

Well, I’m finally here! It’s my third full day in Kingston and it has been quite an experience so far. The flight on Virgin Atlantic was great; I had a row of seats to myself, watched Wallace and Gromit, and had an amazing view of the atmosphere. My arrival at Heathrow aiport was smooth and I got to my place residence in Kingston rather quickly.

Middle Mill

I live in a student housing complex called Middle Mill which is in a great location. It is close to the town centre as well as my classes. There are eight people to a flat in my building, and all of the rooms are singles. I live with two other American girls, two British girls, and three British guys. They are all very friendly, inviting and good company! I have joined them on social outings to the pub where we’ve played pool and discussed our humorous cultural differences.

These past few days have been a lot to take in! Still somewhat jet-lagged, I’m slowly getting settled in. My emotions have been up and down, as they should be, with such a life altering experience. The concept of “Study Abroad” suddenly became a reality. I’m not just in London for a visit, but here for five months. That realization, often called culture shock, was a little bit frightening at first but I’m becoming more comfortable with it.
Talk to you all again soon!

Freebird

Earlier this week, it hit me that I leave Europe on the 17th. Which is next week.

Kind of scary.

I still need to get over to Prague Castle. I’m a bad tourist. But in my defense, I knew I’d be here for four months, so I spaced out my tourism.

This past week has been filled with school work. Of the End of the Semester variety. I still have a few more papers to do and then an actual exam in Czech Music.

On Wednesday, Jeff and I made the executive decision to make it an evening of differences. Mainly, the difference between TGI Fridays and the National Theatre’s Opera. (Note: My rationale for going to TGI Fridays, McDonalds, Subway, KFC, etc is that they are Czech businesses… I see them as part of the offerings of Prague, even though they are American companies. I do not frequent them often, but see no reason to avoid them like some might be tempted to do)

Tickets for Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” at the National Theatre: 40 Kč (approx $1.60)
My Drink at TGIFridays (Long Island Iced Tea, just for kicks since I am from LI): 170 Kč (approx $6.90)

There is something delightfully wonderful about a city/country where tickets to the National Theatre’s production of a national opera costs less than a drink in some schmoozy restaurant. If, somehow, the production was magically transported to NYC, it would cost me more to get there ($2.00 for a Metrocard) than it would to see the show. And this is not some community theatre, this is the National Theatre. Just as basis for comparison, to see Les Miserables at the National Theatre in Washington DC, tickets comparable to ours would have cost $36.25. You have to love federal subsidization of the arts.

The visit to TGI Fridays was a nice little visit into “Americana” but I wouldn’t want to stay there. It was by and far the most expensive meal I have had in Prague, and though I enjoyed the food, it wasn’t that great. But the experience was worth it.

No big plans for my last week… just do some last minute Christmas shopping in the Christmas Villages that have popped up, and hit up Prague Castle. Beyond that, no objectives beyond making the most out of the next seven days.