Milanese Withdrawals

After being home for about a week, I realized how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad. Just as my advisor said before I embarked on this journey, every day was not perfect. I had my ups and downs and days of missing home a little more than usual, but overall I am extremely proud of myself for following one of my dreams of studying in Italy.

I can’t help but be extremely critical of any Italian food I eat here in the States. No plate of pasta will ever compare to the many (too many?) dishes of pasta I consumed in Italy. Put simply, I was spoiled. I had authentic Italian cuisine at my fingertips for three and a half months and, I can assure you I took advantage of it. Of course, I miss the people there as well. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of girls from Chicago, but some of my friends are not as easy to reach. I’ve already decided that I need to return to Europe within the next few years. The withdrawals have set in and I need my Italian fix!

As much as I miss Europe and its ridiculously cheap flights to surrounding countries, it feels great to be home. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw my family waiting with open arms for me at the airport. I couldn’t wait to share stories and pictures with them from my many adventures. It was refreshing to return to the States and catch up wirh loved ones, especially for Christmas. But Italy will always hold a place in my heart. This semester was one of my best ones yet and provided me with everlasting memories, friendships, and life lessons. It was not an easy trip to make, as I went on my own and was filled with fear and worry but it was absolutely worth it. I honestly don’t know why every student who is able to study abroad does not take advantage of this outstanding program. There is so much more to this world than we realize until we actually go out and explore. I saw so much but, at the same time I feel as though I haven’t seen nearly enough! Looks like I’ll be making a trip back to my beloved Europe very soon…

Thanks to anyone who followed me throughout this journey!

Un bacione xx

This is not a goodbye.

Seville became everything to me and this includes the people that I met. My personal thoughts and personal development happened here in 3 months. For a long time, I have been struggling with my self-discovery as a person but all of my problems disappeared here. Seville became my safe haven, I could love who I wanted, I could dress as I wanted and I could speak my mind as I wanted. How could I not fall in love with Seville, when this place lets me be who I am— It’s a free zone of judgments.

My experience here will always be unforgettable. The people I met here are by far one of the humblest and happiest people I have ever met. The Sevillanos know how to party, cook, celebrate and everything else that makes a perfect place. Now that this trip is almost over, I booked a few flights and I decided it was a perfect way to say goodbye to this experience. Last week, I went to Morocco, Gibraltar and Amsterdam. They were 3 crazy trips in a week and it was by far one of the best experiences of my life.

Sadly, I don’t want to face my farewell to Seville. How do you say goodbye to your favorite place? Is not easy. Everyone keeps telling me that I’m coming back and I know I will, but it’s going to be different. I’m going to be at a different stage in my life and I’m afraid it will not be the same. About 3 months ago I was given an unforgettable opportunity and now I have to return everything. It’s not fair. No one wants to give up a world they have created for themselves. I’m not good at goodbyes either. I do not want to say goodbye to my teachers, friends or the lady I see every day in the cafeteria. Why should I? —I created this world and I can not talk to anyone at home about this because no one will understand. So my experience here in Seville is a secret. Between Seville and me.

Thank you, Seville. I love you forever.

 

 

Checking In


Buonanotte tutti! Or, I suppose it’s still the afternoon for my friends and family back home. The past two weeks have been filled with so much exploration and adventure and I am not complaining.

Last weekend I went on one of the most amazing trips of my life to Amsterdam. This city is so perfectly picturesque and even though all 165 canals look generally the same, I snapped a picture of every single one we passed. Despite the chilly weather, I immediately fell in love with Amsterdam. Every bridge and side street is filled with tons of bikes, as they are one of the most popular forms of transportation there. The people there were also extremely friendly and were always looking to lend a helping hand to a seemingly lost group of American girls. Though we were only there for a few days, we were able to see so many things. We visited the Van Gogh Museum and the infamous “I (Am)sterdam” sign because we obviously had to take the cheesy pictures in front of it. Afterwards, we took a tour of the Anne Frank house which left us feeling a bit emotional and uneasy, but it was an unbelievable place to see. We traveled about the city via tram and absorbed all of the beauty before us and tried to explore as much as we could in just a single weekend.

Today I returned from an equally as beautiful city, Firenze. Florence has been at the top of my list of places to travel to for a very long time and it did not disappoint me in any way. Unfortunately, the first night we arrived it rained. Hard. The entire night. After getting settled in our apartment and purchasing some umbrellas, we decided to make the best of it and braved the storm. We ended up at a great little bar/restaurant for most of the night recommended by my friend Erica who studied abroad in Florence last semester. It was a perfect place to spend a rainy night. The next day we signed up for an all day tour of Siena, Tuscany, San Gimignano, and Pisa! This was honestly a wonderful tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area(Best of Tuscany Walkabout Tour). We took a coach bus to all of these places and were given time to explore each area after the tour. The tour also included a delicious lunch and wine tasting at the Chianti Wine Vineyards(pictured) which is an organic farm that makes wine, olive oil, and other Tuscan treasures. Before leaving for Milan this morning, I stopped at the Central Market and purchased a few of Florence’s finest genuine leather goods, which was a perfect end to my trip.

Until next time….arrivederci!

Hola, Desde España!

Where do I even begin? Maybe Granada? Sevilla? The airport? The people? Or our advisors? I don’t know where to start. I fell in love with the views, the culture, the people, the history and everything else that España has to offer.

So, let’s start at the beginning. First, I have to say that saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. I definitely knew it was going to be the start of something good. But I still cried like a baby. To be honest, I’m crying right now thinking about it. Once I said goodbye, I knew I was going to be okay and that it was time to go on this adventure.

When I finally arrived at Granada, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! Our advisor, Miguel and professor Luis were waiting for us with a private bus. And, let me tell you, Miguel and Luis instantly became family to me. How is that even possible? How can two people that I’ve never met before feel like home to me? In a matter of three days, they showed me the wonders of Granada and won my heart. These places included the Alhambra, Dobla de Oro, Granada’s Cathedral and more.

I keep wondering, how did I get so lucky with this program? I know some people who were unlucky with their programs, but I feel loved and welcomed by everyone here. In Sevilla’s program you get the best of both worlds–we have our own apartment and amazing human beings like Miguel, guiding us along the way. Also, another cool thing was that we had Christian, our SUNY New Paltz advisor there. Do you know how amazing that was? I felt protected and I still do. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life.

This is where I belong. I’m ready.


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Okay. Breath in. Breath out.

So, I did an amazing yet emotional thing recently. I went to New Paltz a few days before going to Spain. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I let go of my comfort zone. So, there was a lot of crying. But, I will not forget what my friend told me that weekend. Which was to prepare myself for the best experience of my life and not to worry because things will be exactly the same when I get back. That’s when it hit me. He was right, I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. Spain. Spain. Spain.

Me? Spain? I was born in Honduras, I have 30 cousins and 100 tias and tios and I’ve only seen one person go to Europe and now me. AND now me. I’m 22 years old so I know what this experience means to my family. I’m Latina and proud, and everyone in my family is now completely involved. It’s crazy, I have my godmother buying me a purse because I have to represent Honduras, my other aunt bought me some films to take pictures, my cousin is showing me Spain bloggers, my uncle— well you get the point! Do you see what I mean? This is not only my experience anymore, it belongs to my family too.

Also, I can’t even begin to explain how lucky I feel and I owe this to my parents, myself and SUNY New Paltz for making this dream possible. On another note, I feel nervous too. Who’s going to be my roommate? Will she be nice? AND THE CLOTHES, am I packing correctly? How do I know when to stop packing? I’m a huge fashionista and I’m trying to fit my closet inside my luggage. It’s sad, I’ve watched so many tutorials on how to pack but it’s still hard because I want to take my top 100 shoes. haha. But, I’m serious. So many people are telling me that there are stores over there, mhm nope I don’t believe it.

 

Alright, I’m joking but still. I can’t help it.

 

 

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New Paltz


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Pre-Departure

A week before my arrival the nerves were setting in. I had a constant countdown in my head starting from the beginning of August right up until the day before my departure. As the numbers dwindled down to single digits I felt a combination of excitement, curiosity, and fear. I had only been to Europe once before for two weeks, but an entire semester abroad brought about a mixture of feelings I did not know I could feel all at once.

Studying abroad in Italy was my dream for as long as I can remember. I could not believe the time was finally coming when I would immerse myself in an entirely different culture in a place I had always wanted to visit. My trip did not seem real to me. I knew the reality of it wouldn’t set it until I was tucked away in my window seat of Alitalia. I did not know what to expect once I arrived in Italy. What would my apartment be like? Would I get along with my roommates? How many different schools were being represented at my new university? My head was spinning as new questions popped into my head every time I thought about my trip.

When I realized I only had a week to go before I embarked on this journey, I could not control my excitement. My suitcase was teeming with clothes I definitely didn’t need to bring (but when do I not overpack?) and my passport was ready to be stamped. Of course, I knew how hard it would be to say goodbye to all the people I love at home but I kept telling myself how amazing and memorable this experience would be.

Terrorism Abroad

In light of the attacks in Brussels yesterday, I feel that blogging about terrorism abroad might be prevalent.

I’m happy to report that I as well as all my friends are fine. Nothing is happening in Besançon, it’s been just like every other day, which I am more than thankful for. But as I was saying to my housemate earlier, even these small, less know, less popular cities like Besançon are on high (maybe high-ish) alert all the time. Everyday when I’m walking down the street there are the “vigipirates,” the soldiers/police who drive down very slowly, très lentement, in their white vans, looking closely at average people like me walking down the street to make sure nothing suspicious is happening.

A few months ago before I even arrived here, I had received an immediate notification about the attacks in Paris. It was Nov. 13. I was in my office with my boyfriend Jack, getting ready to prepare the night’s newscast. I remember both of us got the notification simultaneously. My heart sank a little when I read my update from The New York Times. Jack got the same one but from The Associated Press and he asked me, “Are you sure you still wanna go to France?”

I took the question as a half-joke because 1) of course I was still going to go to France, and 2) I didn’t want to psyche myself out. But of course, I did anyway.

Because when you hear about the kinds of things that happened in Paris in November and what just happened in Brussels yesterday, you get nervous, you get scared, you start to think too much. You hope to God that something like that will never happen to you but you never really know, because it can happen anywhere. It can happen in Europe, it can happen in the Middle East, it can happen at home in the United States, especially somewhere like New York.

But even though this is the current state of the crazy world we live in and things can happen anywhere at any time… they usually don’t. More often than not, it’s a case of wrong place at the wrong time. And to me, these circumstances make these violent attacks all the more sick and tragic. Are these terrorists bombing innocent people just to prove a point? To show that they are capable of such threatening and violent acts?

An article from CNN reported that ISIS tweeted a statement saying “What will be coming is worse” after yesterday’s attacks in Belgium. Now, we are not at that point yet, so I’m not going to continue to dwell on it. And this goes without saying – BUT – life would just be so much easier if these kinds of things didn’t happen in the world and if there weren’t people who felt the need to act in such extreme, horrific ways.

Obviously as study abroad students we are inclined to be traveling a lot – it’s just a part of the experience being here. We want to do as much as we can while we’re here, because we won’t be staying for long, and who knows when we’ll have the chance to come back. So this obviously makes parents, friends, family members, professors and the like nervous, as it should. But traveling abroad is a lot simpler and a lot safer than some people make it out to be. And it is especially safer after events like these happen. That’s also why we have the vigipirates in Besançon.

Everyone is on high alert, everyone is looking out, everyone is well aware. My thoughts, prayers and love go out to those who may have lost someone yesterday in Brussels and I hope I never live to experience whatever they may be feeling. And as I’ve said, this is just the state of the world today. It certainly isn’t ideal, but the important thing is just to remain cautious, aware and vigilant. It’s also probably in everyone’s best interests to stay away from dangerous situations, ie. major cities, riots, large crowds, religious gatherings of any kind. I know that these attacks are scary and frightening above all else, but they just can’t and shouldn’t stop everyone from living their lives. If we start to live in fear, then the terrorists win, don’t they? And we can’t have that happen. It’s plain and simple.

Foots-crazy (cray)

Today marks a week since I landed at Melbourne airport, and it feels like I’ve been here for months; time is an illusion here.

When I first arrived at my apartment complex, I was taken back by my overwhelming, and relentless anxiety. I was alone, and surrounded in an suburban area, plagued with graffiti; I felt uncomfortable, and dying to be near the beach or the city. I learned too quickly that the drug culture is immense here, and something different from that of New York’s. Where I live Aussies call “Foots-crazy”, instead of “Footscray”. And, I should be careful about walking at night. My initial reactions of this place were something that never crossed my mind when I daydreamed of Australia. I felt an underlining disappointed because Australia seemed like it was nothing like I wanted it to be.

But like I said, time is an illusion here. My initial reactions subsided as fast as they clouded my every thought. I now love it here, I love that just down the road there is a beautiful park that runs along a river, with the city skyline in clear view. I like how I’ve mastered public transportation, and can now get anywhere in Melbourne quiet easily. I love that after a hectic day at the city or beach, I can come back home to my familiar “suburban life”, and feel at ease. There’s a comfort in being surrounded by houses, that look so different from any I have ever seen ( especially when you live on the 12th floor). There’s an independence I’ve gained by finding the hidden gems in my area: incredible brekkie places, and quaint bars. I like the friends I’ve made here, and the many more I keep meeting; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Australia has been a dream, that was all it was, a dream. I fantasized what it was going to be like, and there was no ounce of reality in those dreams. But now, Australia is a reality, and I’m so happy it’s not what I’ve dreamt about. It’s different in ways I would have never expected like understanding most conversations here. Would you believe me when I say there is more of a culture shock here than you would expect? Because there is, and it starts with the slang. Not only is almost every word abbreviated, but one word can have five different meanings. It’s endearing, and confusing, and I feel out of my element. I’m learning slowly what things mean, and incorporating the words I like into my every day vocabulary. But I’m just getting started, and I’ve already fallen in love with Aussie culture.

 

With love,

Brianne

Map on My Wall

I’ve had a map on the wall of my room for as long as I could remember. As I glance at it now, I can’t help but trace my finger from where I am in New York to where I’ll be spending the next four months of my life in Prague. But the map is just a picture, a depiction of the world, a vast planet I have yet to explore. It’s just a flat, dull surface painted with fading colors. I look at all the lines, all the serrated shapes. I look at the distance, only a representation of what actually might be.

As I think about actually traveling and being in a bizarre, new, and exciting place, it feels overwhelming but essential. Ultimately, I’m in denial about this journey though and it doesn’t feel real. I’m going to be living in EUROPE!? WHAT!? It’s a dream. I can’t imagine my body actually being moved across the earth as simply as my finger glides across surface of my bedroom wall. As life is going on as normal at home, it really does hit me sometimes though, only in brief little bursts. (These flashes of feelings are mirrored in the random piles of stuff that are invading my floor that won’t fit my suitcase anyways; they are sudden and all over the place.) Reality is getting stronger as the days straggle on. I only have two days until lift off but somehow it feels like the day won’t ever come.

But I am in search of adventure. I crave it. I’ve lived the entirety of my life in Upstate New York and I feel like I’ve been in a droplet of protection, sheltered from the unknown, and unable to make fast, hard decisions for myself. I’ve never really traveled anywhere by myself before, so going across the map is going to fill my hunger and longing for independence. It will definitely be challenging, but definitely fulfilling!

As I think about leaving, the hardest part is saying goodbye. My friends and family keep looking at me like they’ll never see me again. In the back of my mind, I keep wondering if this is the right time to go and to leave everything to do something tremendously different. However, I know that if I don’t go now then I’ll just keep pushing it off or never do it and always think of what would have been. I’m glad I made the choice and committed to a life changing journey. Right now, it feels like perfect timing although it is hard letting go and saying goodbye to the people who mean the most to me. However, I’m hopeful that I’ll meet extraordinary people who will make me feel like I’m home away from home.

In an attempt to get prepared, I’ve been busy during winter break. I’ve been collecting all the important necessities like documentation and making copies. Many, many copies. Additionally, packing is something I’ve been working on but haven’t had the chance to conquer. It looks like my room exploded but I’m almost there. I just need to remember that I can’t bring my whole closet.

But in addition, there have been appealing aspects. I’m excited to learn the Czech language, so I downloaded an app to help with my Czech language. So far, I certainly know ‘grandfather’ (dědeček) and ‘pub’ (hospoda), so if anyone needs help with either, I’d at least be able to recognize what they’re talking about. But I don’t think that’s going to help me survive, so I’m going to be taking a 2-week introductory course and then I’ll continue on to take an intensive course with my other classes. I can’t wait to dive right in and start learning a new language!

In just two days, I’ll be waiting in the airport, trying to hold myself together while my heart is pounding crazy. As I get closer and closer to the beginning my journey, and as I get on the plane and take off, I feel like the map will become more and more vivid. Then, I might actually see myself floating across the ocean and finding land on the other side to the beginning of my electrifying and memorable journey.

On Leaving

I boarded AirFrance flight 0007 at approximately 6:50 p.m. on the night of Jan. 12. That day came way faster than I had expected. Or maybe it didn’t. I guess somewhere lingering in the back of my mind I had told myself that the day wouldn’t come so soon, I still had time to be at home with friends and family in my own bed, in a place that I was familiar with.

And then months passed in a time period that felt like mere days. And then I was hugging my friends goodbye and waving goodbye to my parents at the security check at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens with tears swelled up in my eyes.

The funny thing about leaving is you never really understand how fast the day comes when you’re scheduled to leave. It comes around the corner like a bullet and kind of just sweeps you off your feet. It’s a bit unsettling, but also a bit good for you, in my humble opinion.

The entire week or so before I left my home in Bohemia, New York to fly on a jet plane to Paris I felt like I had constant ants in my pants. I found time to spend time with my parents yet I was hardly home. I was trying to see every close friend I could before I knew the day would come where I would have to pack up my belongings and say goodbye for the next few months. I didn’t want to stop moving. I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that as soon as I got on that plane I’d be entering into a culture I barely knew, something unfamiliar to me. And it made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to leave for France. I started taking French classes my freshman year and immediately loved the language in a way I never experienced when studying Spanish. I loved the culture and the history and the music and the language on its own. Its complexity astounded me and intimidated me and I decided I wanted to continue studying. What I expected to merely count for a GE became my minor. And now that culture is my temporary home.

I knew that studying abroad would be the best experience for me. Getting to live in a different country in a completely alternate culture is the chance of a lifetime. To get to learn a foreign language firsthand is a dream. Or at least it had been my dream. Learning a different language always appealed to me. I was excited to dive right into a new experience, one few people take often. I kept telling myself that studying abroad would be good for me: a different environment, a different language, different food, different people. Everything different.

But I was scared. So absolutely petrified. I cried more times than I’d like to admit at the thought of leaving my best friends and my boyfriend and my family. The thought of having to speak a foreign language I’d only taken for two and a half years taunted me for the last month I was home. Going into the city to get my visa alone gave me anxiety. The thought of being without my entire support system made me sick to my stomach. And for all of those reasons, I had to push myself to leave. As scared as I was and as nervous as I knew I’d be, I had to leave. I had to get over the fear I had of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the things outside of my comfortable little bubble in New York.

That’s what I believe study abroad is for. It’s for students like me and you, reader, who feel a necessity to explore and try new things despite any sort of reluctance. Because although you feel that your human nature will defy you, it actually helps you. Your mind and your body learn to adjust. It just takes time. It’s still taking time. And while that might not have felt okay a few weeks ago, it feels okay now. You adjust to the unknown and befriend it. Suddenly the new world you’re living in isn’t so scary – and you learn new things every single day.

One final note before I leave you for now: if you are thinking about studying abroad but are doubtful for any reason, I push you and advise you to just do it and to just say yes. In my final column of the semester for The New Paltz Oracle, I cited a study from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IIES Abroad) that found that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity (97 percent), increased self-confidence (96 percent) and had a lasting impact on the students’ world view (95 percent).

Another study I cited from the University of California, Merced, reported that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment within the same time period. The same study found that 90 percent of study abroad alumni were accepted to their first and second choice grad schools and 80 percent of these alumni said their abroad experiences allowed them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

So don’t worry about the unknown or what’s going to come next, or maybe even about how you feel you might miss out back home. I felt the same exact way – I still do sometimes – but I know that being in Besançon will only help me now and in the future. And everything at home is waiting for me when I go back.