Homesick already?

Today marks my third week here in New Zealand. Time is flying!

I have yet to make the amount of friends that I imagined I would have by now, but that’s okay! Although, it does make me miss my friends back home.

They warn you about getting homesick and you don’t really worry about it until it starts to happen. I find myself spending a whole lot of time in my room watching Instagram stories of my friends back home in New York enjoying their hot summers. Meanwhile, I am here in “Windy Wellington” with random rain.

As much as I would like to be in a pool somewhere soaking up the sun with my best friends, I have to remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am on the other side of the world! I am blessed to be here!

By shifting this mindset, I was able to go on my first hike up Te Ahumairangi Hill!

By doing so, I was able to meet three sweet young women who are also studying abroad. I now have some friends to go on random hikes with! šŸ™‚

Also, the hall that I live in has a dog named Millie that you are able to go on walks or hikes with whenever! She is the cutest hiking buddy.

I am hoping next week I can push myself past my comfort zone and meet more people who I can go on more adventures. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I want to make the most out of it!

Getting to Know Colombia

Since I have been in Colombia, I have not stopped traveling. The more I travel, the more I realize there is so much more to see! I’m always shocked when I think of all the beautiful places I have yet to visit.

On a friday, my roommates, my parcera, her friend and I decided to go to Rio (river) Pance. CaleƱos (people who live in Cali, Colombia) frequently visit Rio Pance during the weekends, so my parcera thought it was a spot that I had to go to. At first, I didn’t think it would that impressive given that it is only a river. I was shocked!

To get to Rio Pance, we stop a bus called “Recreativos,” which is a bus that takes you to fun places and that you can take at any point along it’s route. The Receativo took us to the town of Pance and from the town we hiked up to Rio Pance. We hiked for like two hours. (We later realized that the Recreativo could have taken us to a spot closer to Rio Pance) The hike up to a good spot to bathe in was beautiful. There were so many mini-waterfall, bridges, small towns, and scenic nature spots. When we finally got to Rio Pance, I was more impressed. The water was freezing but once you got in, you didn’t want to get out. I spent most of the time playing in the water and also laying down on rocks and admiring the sky and the view of the river. The water was so clear and it felt so refreshing to bathe in such a scenic area. The river looked straight out of movie!

Rio Pance

My roommates and I also got the chance to go another city in Colombia: Medellin. Since we didn’t have much time (only three days), we decided to do tours of the city, Guatape and La Piedra del PeƱol to be able to see most of Medellin. During the city tour we got to see many parks and important places of the city. The places that stuck out to me the most were Plaza Botero, Pueblito Paisa and Comuna 13. Plaza Botero is a park where the statues of the famous artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero, displays his statues of fat people and shows them in a beautiful light. I really liked Plaza Botero because it made me think of the body positive movement. Fernando Botero was ahead of the game with this movement. I am also very glad that Botero decided to depict fat people as beautiful as they are to remove the sigma against them and show that they can be just as beautiful as someone who is skinny.

Plaza Botero

On the same city tour with Sercoltour, we got to see Pueblito Paisa. In Medellin, they say if you go to Medellin and you don’t visit Pueblito Paisa, then you haven’t been to Medellin. Pueblito Paisa is a small town on top of a hill. It is a very colorful and pretty pueblito. It is also filled with a lot of places to eat. I enjoyed Pueblito Paisa a lot!

Pueblito Paisa

Next, we went to la Comuna 13. La Comuna 13 used to be a very dangerous town that became a tourist attraction. This happened through massive transformation because la Comuna 13 used to be a very dangerous town. The town was full of drugs, violence and gang activity. It was such a dangerous town that even the cops refused to go there! After a two battle between the gang members in the community and the government, the gang members surrendered. They agreed to stop causing havoc on the civilians and in return became a very touristic spot. Comuna 13 is filled with many beautiful murals painted by famous Colombian and other international artists. These artists painted their murals to applaud the communities transformation and to help them continue to be a very touristic town. La Comuna 13 has a very good spot to get hand made crafts, naturally flavored ice creams. DoƱa Alba has tons of flavors and since I’m very brave I decided to try the cheese flavored- ice cream. To my surprise it tasted great! It tasted like sweet cheese with guava inside.

Comuna 13
DoƱa Alba

The next day we took a tour of Guatape and El PeƱol. Guatape is a very colorful town in Medellin. It is right next to El PeƱol. El PeƱol is a gigantic rock that seems to just appeared near Guatape. It is a touristic place because people go to see the rock and climb its 740 steps. Trust me, I was just as worried of climbing that many steps to see the beautiful view from the top! But, I was way more determined than worried. I believed I could do it. While I was going up the steps, I quickly realized why not everyone climbs. You easily loose your breath and it is very straining to climb that many steps. I definitely used my water bottle! After a whole lot of sweat, drinking all the water in my water bottle and my trembling legs, I finally reached the top. The view was worth all those steps! I felt so accomplished and happy that I got to see such beauty first-hand.

El PeƱol

So far, my favorite place so far has been Cristo Rey which is the second largest Christ of King statue in the world. I went at midday, so I was able to see it light up. I was also able to see the amazing view of Cali from Cristo Rey. I saw the sunset on the city. It was an indescribable view! The Cristo Rey area is also known for its delicious pizzas. I got to try the famous Cristo Rey pizzas. I tried a Samba (sweet plantain, corn and bacon) flavored pizza. I fell in love with that pizza flavor! I do

Lastly, I have enjoyed traveling around Colombia so much. I am surprised that there is still so much more to explore. I have made good friends here who want me to return. So, I can’t wait to return and explore more places in Colombia!

Slowly settling in..

It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand. Wow.. time is flying by!

I am slowly starting to get used to my environment and know which spots have the best price for things like groceries, clothes, nails and bars. You know.. the necessities. šŸ˜‰

I find myself spending a lot of money because I am just so excited of all the new things I am seeing but I need to slow it down. The US dollar is worth more here so that is also why I am spending a lot because I feel like everything is “on sale.”

School.. or shall I say.. Uni has started last week. The Kiwis over here call the classes/courses, “papers.” That awkward moment when someone asked me if I enjoyed my papers and I looked at them all puzzled because I thought they meant actual papers, as in assignments. Welp.. something to get used to.

I have not been able to explore as much as I would like to but I have been to one place that I had beautiful views! Thankfully, my hall organized a trip to go to the Matui/Somes Island.

Views from the ferry

It took about 30 minutes to get there on a ferry. I have been on ferries before such as the Staten Island ferry and Ellis Island ferry but the views are incomparable. I could have just taken a ferry there and back and I would have been satisfied.

Here are some pictures from the actual island:

But wait.. there’s more!

Did I mention there are more sheep here than people? Crazy.. isn’t it?

I am very grateful to be here and I can’t wait to explore more!

Virology Research Abroad

I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity that I have to do research with the group Virus Emergentes y Enfermedad (VIREM) in Universidad del Valle sede San Fernando! My mentor Dr. Beatriz Parra PatriƱo, a virologist, and other mentors have been so helpful and open to teaching and showing me new techniques and knowledge.

I chose Universidad del Valle because I wanted to learn more about public health and the different aspects involved in research. VIREM prides themselves in investigating diseases that affect the Colombian community and that piqued my interest. Specifically, the research being conducted about diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and zika interested me. Dr. Parra PatiƱo is conducting researching that involves establishing and confirming the epidemiological trend of people with the aforementioned diseases having neurological health issues after being infected.

I have been very lucky because Dr. Parra PatiƱo is allowing me to participate and see various aspects of the research. I have been learning the ins and outs of having your own research team and the many aspects of research that are not talked about. I am so glad that I am because I am getting the complete picture of what it’s like to be a researcher conducting their own experiment! I have gone to meetings that discuss the research project. It was eye-opening to see the amount of people that work on one research project and their different specialties. I also packaged kits to send out to the areas in Colombia that have been affected by these diseases. I helped the VIREM group make kits for a control group, an experimental (affected) group, and follow up kits for old and new patients. Lastly, I had to read and setup a summarized procedure for the laboratory and for my future work with enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent (ELISA) kits. I did not know that when kits came, the instructions were not as clear as I am used to in my laboratory manuals.

Kits for the Affected Cities in Colombia

In the laboratoy, I have also gotten to work with Liliana, an immunologist, who taught me to extract mononuclear cells fromĀ peripheral blood samples. I have gotten to use a pipetteĀ filler and serological 5ml pipettes. The pipette filler was very hard to use and took practice. Iā€™m glad that I got the experience to work with a new machine! These mononuclear then go through the process of RNA extraction and PCRĀ amplification. I have worked withĀ YhensyĀ Zuluaga, a bacteriologist, extracting RNA and conducting RT(reverse transcript)-PCR in real time from two blood samples that were received from various hospitals.

Obtaining Patient Serum to use in real time RT-PCR
Preparation to Setup a 96-Well Plate for Real Time RT-PCR
First Steps to Separate Mononuclear Cells from Peripheral Blood Samples

My mentor noticed that I am really good at laboratory work and wanted me to get more theory behind the laboratory techniques that I have been doing. She also wanted to prepare me for the ELISA technique I will be doing this coming week. My mentor is allowing me to audit the immunodiagnostics class. I was surprised that I understand the experiments and the reasons for each step of the reactions being realized. I realized that I have a very strong laboratory basis and biochemical understanding of each of the reactions! I just need to learn a lot more of the immunological aspect of research conducted in public health. This class has made me more confident in my ability and has confirmed that I do want to study diseases in the future. I realized that instead of epidemiological work, I want to do research and laboratory work involving public health. 

I made it to New Zealand!

Isn’t it amazing how..

Around this time, last year, I was preparing myself to go to SUNY New Paltz as a transfer student. I had never been to a college away from home and I was nervous about being away from my family.

..and here I am.. in New Zealand! *mindblown emoji*

I wrote this the night arrived in Wellington:

” Today was quite an eventful day. Or shall I say, weekend. I left my house on Friday but here I am in New Zealand on Sunday. It feels like itā€™s all been a part of the same day. Itā€™s almost as if I time traveled. Thankfully, I was asleep for most of the 16 hour flight from Los Angeles to Australia. I think that made the rest of the traveling a lot easier. The disappointing part was that my luggage did not arrive with me and surprisingly, I wasnā€™t even mad about it. I was just glad that I made it here safely.

To be honest, the hall that I have been placed in is beautiful but my flat is not what I expected. Neither was the hall I lived in at SUNY New Paltz but I ended up living with amazing people. So I know that everything happens for a reason so I am going to make the most out of it. Also, my room is huge! Itā€™s really nice actually but a little plain and boring so I want to get some LED lights to make it feel more cozy.” – 30/06/19

Since that day, I have been able to explore the city a bit and meet a few other international students. I start my classes next week and I am looking forward to meeting ‘Kiwi’ people and hearing their accent. I have been told that it may be difficult to understand. In that case, I hope my professors don’t speak fast.

Beautiful big trees everywhere!
I got to get used to these hills… makes me appreciate flat streets back home.

More Delicious Food and Small Trips

Before I start talking about the small trips I made so far in Colombia, I want to mention all the delicious food I’ve tried so far. I have tried a marranito, lulado, champu, arrequipe, empanada colombiana, papa rellena, dedo de queso, and chicken flavored chips. A marranito is is a plantain snack stuffed with chicharron, pork rinds. A lulado is is a drink that mixes lulo, a fruit, with water, ice and sugar. A champĆŗ is a drink made out of a mix of corn and fruits. The only thing I did not really like was the champĆŗ . There was too many different flavors in that one drink for my liking.

We went to so many place in the span of two weeks. I’m impressed and glad that we got the opportunity! We went to Las tres cruces, El museo la terutlia, El gato del rĆ­o y sus gatas and el zoologico de cali.

My housemates and I have traveled and explored Colombia a lot. we hiked to Las Tres Cruces. It was a long hiking route that lasted two hours. I was completely exhausted and pushed to hike under the sun. I had hiked before, but this was a lot more stamina based. It was necessary to stay hydrated at all times. I did find it interesting that whoever we encountered on the hike would say hello to us. Once again, the people are very friendly and respectful in Cali, Colombia. 

Las Tres Cruces

We went to el Museo La Tertulia, a well-known museum in Cali. In the museum, we saw a lot of Colombian art and one of the curators gave us more information about the art pieces. My favorite artist was Hernando Tejada because he created very controversial art pieces that went against the beliefs of the church. You can see one of his paintings below.  

Inside Museo La Tertulia

We also went to see el gato del rĆ­o y sus gatas. It was really cool to see so many cats. I found it cool that there was one cat at first (el gato del rĆ­o) and then there was Cali competition where they chose the other cats (las gatas). The big brown cat is el gato del rĆ­o. The yellow cat is one of my favorite cats. All the cats have a biography describing their personalities. Specifically, this cat represents the culture and folklore of the Colombian people with pre-Columbian designs.  

El Gato del RĆ­o
Gata Ceremonial

I was also able to visit the zoo this week. I saw a lot of animals that I had not seen before. Honestly, I cannot rename them because they had weird names. I also saw flamingos pictured below. I noticed the zoo had its own cat too. I found it awesome that the zoo was not only about seeing the animals. The zoo has a lot of displays that explained global warming and the destruction of animal habitats in a fun and informative manner. I also went into a place where they had all the butterflies and they were all so beautiful and colorful. It was an amazing experience. 

Flamingos in the Cali Zoo
La Gata of the Zoo

Beginner’s Luck and Great Food

I don’t think I realized that I was going to be in Colombia for two months until I arrived in the Cartagena airport: Rafael Nunez International Airport! This was my first Colombian airport out of the three that I would stop at on June 02, 2019.

Cartagena, Colombia

As I was looking down from the airplane window, I noticed that this was not NYC anymore. From the sky, I could see the beauty of Cartagena. There were several umbrellas laid on the sand but not so many umbrellas where the beach seemed crowded. When I looked further from the coast, you could see urban business-like buildings but in some areas you saw towns with colorful and small houses. When I saw that I knew I was landing in a whole new place and I was thrilled!

I stepped out of the airplane and legitimately gasped. At that moment, it finally hit me that I was in Colombia and would be here for two months. I was so excited to start this new journey and explore this new country! I could not believe that I actually got the opportunity to travel, explore, and research in a new country. Then, I took an airplane to Bogota and finally an airplane to Cali. I didn’t get to see Bogota much but the Colombian culture was extremely present, even in the airport. While I was waiting for my flight to Cali. A crowd of passengers surrounded this one television that was showing a soccer game between Colombia and another team. The crowd made me feel the excitement and I felt like I was at the stadium and not at an airport. Even those who weren’t watching the game asked me or others around them if Colombia had made a goal or what happened in the game when the crowd made any type of noise. It was a feeling that can only be explained when you see Colombians watching a soccer.

I arrived in Cali at night, so I was not able to admire the city. However, I got lucky because the next day was a holiday and I was able to explore the city! June 3rd is a national holiday in Colombia called Ascension Day. That’s when I noticed that Colombian culture, government are really tied with Catholicism.

A week before arrived, I was assigned a parcera, a Colombian student who is supposed to help you with your transition into the country, the city, and Universidad del Valle. On this holiday, I got to meet her! She took my housemates and I to Unicentro, a popular mall within walking distance from where we live. We got food ans we started talking, She told us more about Colombia over some delicious Colombian food.

At Unicentro, I tried a Colombian arepa called la montaƱera. A montaƱera arepa is corn dough stuffed with chicharron (pork rind), lettuce, tomato, beans and rice. I had not tasted an arepa like this. The arepas I was used to only contained one ingredient. My parecera explained that since neither Colombia or Venezuela knew where the arepa had originated they added more ingredients to compete for which country had the best one. With the montaƱera arepa I had aguapanela, a traditional Colombian drink. It is made from hard sugar cane juice. It was just as a delicious as the arepa!

MontaƱera Arepa

SIDE NOTE: We ate the arepa and aguapanela for lunch. It was a really big meal for me but I noticed that was common. In Colombia they take lunch very seriously and they ate well and in big portion. I finally came to the right country to a good amount of delicious food šŸ™‚

After we ate, we decided to walk to el Parque del Ingeniero, which was also at walking distance. As my parcera describes it, it was their Central Park. I defineitly agree. There were tons of people there. There were games for children like mini trampolines, ball pits, and the hamster balls. Children and adults also played soccer. Others were sitting eating food and drinking juice or beer. I got to try one of the foods they were eating a cholado. A cholado is a shaved ice blueberry juice topped with different fruits, condensed milk, and sometimes sweetened coconut shavings. You will not believe how ddelicious it is! You also will not believe how fresh and delicious fruits in Colombia are! I was delightfully surprised.

Cholado

Overall, I noticed that Cali, Colombia was very similar to the two homes I have had and loved: New York City and the Dominican Republic. It was a mini version of New York city because of the public transportation, crazy taxi drivers, apartment complexes, malls, many stores, and large amount of people. Cali reminded me of the Dominican Republic because the people are so friendly, speak Spanish, the city is lively, and everyone loves dancing and eating plantains and cheese. I’m excited what this lovely city will bring me!

Pre-Departure Anxiety

It’s two weeks before I head out to New Zealand an I can feel the little girl in me bursting with excitement.

I always described my anxiety as a little girl stuck in my chest doing jumping jacks. At first, I thought she was a afraid. I realized that she is just excited for what’s to come.

After shifting my perspective from believing that I was anxious to excited, it has become much easier to get through my days. I’m not going to lie though, sometimes I randomly cry.. but I’m fine, I promise!

I guess it’s just the thought that I am about to be across the world… in a new country… by myself…..

Like….. who told me this was a good idea? Who said I was capable of living on my own for four months in a new environment?

I guess it’s the little girl in me.

Heading Out of the Country to Colombia

Hi! My name is Yohely Espiritusanto. I am currently conducting research at an international research in Cali, Colombia. The international research is Universidad del Valle Sede San Fernando. I am researching the correlation between viral diseases (Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya) and Guillain-Barr syndrome. Small side note: I am a Gilman Scholar and obtained a SUNY New Paltz scholarship to be able to do this study abroad program. On this blog, I will be recounting my adventures. I want to start this blog by explaining the process of preparing to get to Cali, Colombia.

I was worried, nervous, and confused! When I was packing for Colombia, I was not sure what to bring to Colombia. I had not studied abroad before, so I did not know what would be provided and what I had to supply. Also, thinking about all the things that I used in a day really worried me because I did not know how I was going to fit my life into two luggages. (In hindsight, I was one of the luckier people because two 50 pound luggages can fit a lot.)

I realized that I could not pack by myself and decided to ask advice from a friend that I knew that studied abroad for a year. My friend took me to several different stores and made sure that I had clothes for every possible weather that still reflected me. She also told me not to bring things such as sheets, hangers, towels, dishes, and etc. She mentioned that those would be provided. However, because I was stressed I brought sheets, hangers, and a towel. I regretted it! When I got to the apartment that I am staying with for two moths, I saw all of those things. Honestly, I ended up wasting luggage space by adding those extra items.

So genuinely, my advice would be to ask your friends who have studied abroad to give you advice on what to bring and listen to them. If your friend does not know, then shoot the people you are staying with an email. Lastly, another resource is to ask the international office to allow you to meet someone who has studied abroad and/or someone who has studied abroad in the country you are going to. The study abroad office at New Paltz is super helpful and I would not doubt that they could help ease your worries with things such as packing and other preparations before you go. Make sure to ask for help while preparing and ask as many people you know that are from the country about it. Do your research and ask questions to those who know!

PS. Do not forget to visit your friends before you go abroad. I assure you will miss them. But also remember they are one Whatsapp text, call, or video away.

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Final Chapter

It’s been about three months since I came back home from Ireland and a day hasn’t passed that I thank the lord I had the opportunity to go. I’m so happy with everything that I have learned. I have grown so much and learned to not let the small bad things affect me. It is ALWAYS better to look on the bright side of things.

I think we should walk the Earth every day as if we just arrived to it’s soil. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in NYC your whole life; act like your a tourist and I’m sure you’ll find something new you never knew existed.Ā 

I say this because the truth is that we take for granted a lot of the great things that we have going on in our lives. [Take me as an example] I went to South Korea and fell in love with all of it’s wonders (I never ever was depressed or sad in the sparkling land). However, that left me feeling upset I did not live there. I began to hate the NYC subway and complained endlessly about how MY country was a trash can. I began to annoy all my friends because I was always BASHING the place they’d known to be amazing their entire lives. To be honest with you, I’d become a bitch who disliked everything that made her who she was, everything that even gave her the opportunity to go to South Korea in the first place.

Then I went to Ireland, and suddenly…. everything back in NYC was where all the hype was. I found myself missing the dirty old smelly subway. In the vein of honesty, the only that changed when I got the Ireland was the location. I was still just a bratty kid complaining and spreading negativity everywhere I went. And at some point…. all that negativity will come back and deck you square in the face.

And let me tell you from first-hand experience….that shit feeling you get when the negativity you’ve spread finally makes it’s way back to you is extremely painful and all-consuming.

So here’s a little trick I learned after I began my meditations in Ireland:

Whenever you start complaining or feel the urge to complain, splash some ice cold water in your face and come back to reality. There are people that are in worse situations than you are! Be grateful that you are still on the Earth alive and breathing. Go out for a walk and become one with all around you. Do what you gotta do.. just don’t be a dumbass like me and complain about things that you shouldn’t be complaining about. Take a shower, ya dumbass.

100% RAW TRUTH

So to recap for everyone…..

My experience in Ireland was a life-changing one that needed to happen. Now, to answer some questions I know you may have:

Do I miss the easy academic courses? Yes

Do I miss the fun musical courses I took? Yes

Do I miss Ivon Roberts and his amazing soul? YES

Was Ireland an overall good experience? Yes

Would I go back there?

In the words of my wise and beautiful aunt… It is a good thing to have been there and learned that I could never live there. It is a good thing to know when my future man & I are ever thinking of re-locating to a different country. If he ever suggests Ireland, I’ll give him a strong NO. I think that countries with large amounts of sunlight are locations that I could move to and happily survive. Being in such a cold place has its perks but it just ain’t for me y’all. If you are dead-set on exploring Ireland though… I’d say to go in July and stay for a week. There isn’t much to do (in Limerick at least) so a week is enough to get everything you want to do done and have a fun experience. A 4 MONTH SEMESTER IS TOO LONG FOR THIS NYC GAL.

Long Story Short:

STUDY ABROAD! IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

 

 

 

This has been “The Land of Ice Chronicles”.

I hope you enjoyed every minute of it. Thank you for listening.

This is Sammi signing off. I love each and every one of you