I’m Back.

I’ve been back for 3 weeks and it was HARD to be back. Where do I even start? Change is weird but it’s good. Especially this kind of change. I gained new friends and a confidence that I cannot explain. I’m happy where I am in life and that’s what studying abroad did for me. Everyone who has a remote desire to study abroad should do it and this is my humble opinion. Do what you need to do, talk to your advisors, go out there because the world is waiting for you.

I will not be where I am if I did not go abroad, so if you crave to know the unknown, trust me you won’t regret it. This is why it took me a while to write the last post on this blog because I knew that writing this meant that I was done with my experience. But, that’s where I was wrong. My experience does not have to stop here, that was only a little taste and now I’m ready to conquer the world.

One of my biggest fears was returning back but I’m not scared anymore. I have such an amazing group of friends and family at home that made it easy for me to transition. Of course, I still think about Sevilla every day but we are human beings and we adapt quickly. Look at me? I’m back in New Paltz, ready to take on my last semester and finally graduate. I have new goals in life and I can’t wait to reach them all.

Thank You SUNY New Paltz.

Cheers to life and Cheers to making new experiences.

-Estefany Lopez

Goodbye Sevilla

Perfect people

Home sweet home and that means every night is taco night.

Reflective Perspective: Living After London

It’s amazing how much bigger the world feels after coming home.

One thing I noticed was that I didn’t forget how to drive, not did I forget the way to my favorite places. I walked around my home campus today, and knew all its secrets like old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The new Wooster building that had been a process for most of my college career, which I will meet properly in a few weeks. The old round nook by the Student Union, where if you stand in the center you can hear your voice coming in from all sides. The wide canal of stones between Humanities and the Library. It was all there, much like I had left it, but it all felt just the slightest bit bigger.

I remembered all the codes for my favorite fruits and vegetables at the register at work. I remembered people who had left, and met people who had arrived. I remembered how the potato salad used to taste, and how it was just the slightest bit different now. I felt very at peace with the changes, and with the things that remained constant. Nothing overwhelmed me – I had perspective.

Perspective isn’t something you can take for granted – in fact, it comes from moments where you can’t take things for granted. I swam in different water for a while, and it gave me a renewed sense of moving through different spaces. I’ve developed an even deeper fondness for the space I know best.

Soon classes will begin again at SUNY New Paltz. I’ll find myself mentioning stories about England, either to peoples’ chagrin or delight. I’ll be grateful for the familiar class structure and the chance to work with old friends. And because I’ll be graduating, I will probably cry. A lot. Because I will be so happy and grateful, and so proud of myself.

Even so, I recognize, that even this year, which feels so thrilling and lucky and revolutionary, is probably not as big as the biggest things I will experience in my life. Reflecting on how much my mind has changed, and on how my vision of the world is even just this much different, gives me the perspective that the world I live in can be as big as I could possibly dream – and is potentially even bigger.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Reflecting on London

It doesn’t feel like it’s already been three months. While I was abroad, time seemed to fly because I always had something to do. Italy this weekend, Brighton the next, then maybe Sweden the week after that. The friends I made in other countries, who are outside of this study abroad program, are people who I still keep in touch with. I met so many people while travelling and staying in hostels, and I never believed I would be able to become that social. Study abroad has boosted my confidence in myself in a way that I never expected, but is an obvious welcome change. By the time I left London in December, in the city truly felt like home.

Coming Home

I’ve been home for about 3 weeks now. I started back up at my job, since London left me with a negative amount in my bank account. I have an apartment to move into soon once I go back to college. Life is moving on. I wish I was still in London, with the family I stayed with and with the friends I made there. Going from living in such a big city to a small town in Nowhere, New York is hard to adjust to. Camouflage print everything is considered to be the height of fashion here, yet I never saw it once in London, and I didn’t miss it. The quiet, small town life is leaving me restless. I miss being able to go into central and walk around for hours. I miss being able to casually go to another country for a weekend just because I felt like it. I can’t wait until I can go back to London, maybe more permanently.

Twenty Four Hours of Goodbye

I can hardly believe that in just over 24 hours, I will be back on a plane heading back home. After watching the unbelievable transformations and crazy happenings in my country from a distance, on the news, through my British and European friends, hearing about several feet of snow in my home state when it’s practically balmy here… Home almost sounds like a foreign country. It’ll be strange to hear snow crunching under my feet again.

It’ll be strange to come home and not see my dog bounding and singing at me, because she passed away just two weeks ago. That’s been hard… but I know she passed doing what she loved, and she’d want me to keep looking ahead. Little bugger.

It’ll be strange to be the me I’ve become, in the home I haven’t seen in so long.

Some things I’ll bring home with me:

Minimalism: I’ve been inspired during my time here to try to live with less. I’ve found that I can live happily without lots of the things I keep around at home – so one plan is to purge the house of unnecessary extra things, to make moving around easier. I want to travel again, and the less I have, the easier that will be.

Teacakes: I couldn’t bear to leave without stocking up on the beautiful teacakes that Lani showed me in Scotland! And they go perfectly with…

Sainsbury’s Fair Trade Black Teabags: These are brilliant. They are better than PG Tips or whatever else fancy, the extra pound cost does not make them taste better, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Citysurfing skills: I can now maneuver around a city I’m unfamiliar with, with minimal confusion and sometimes even beating the ETA on my phone.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Yes, the original version of one of my favorite books of all time. With the original cover art (not quite a first edition, but for 2.50 pounds at a used Welsh bookstore, I am not complaining at all).

British slang: Bril. Bonkers. You Alright? Ta! Cheers (I guess I already had this one, but I’m still bringing it back). Mental. Quite. Every little helps. Calling cookies biscuits, chips crisps, and fries chips… I can see the confundery even now.

Memories: Of some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen, the sweetest people, and the most educational and inspiring adventures.

My landlords left me a note before their trip this weekend, thanking me for being such a great tenant – I was surprised and thrilled that I don’t suck at adulting, and that they liked me. I wished I had a chance to spend more time with them, I’ll never forget their scathing and hilarious comments while we watched The Great British Bakeoff. I also had my last rehearsal with the Kingstones A Capella group this Wednesday, and my last D&D Session on Sunday. My friends have all been inordinately sweet to me, and I’ll miss them so much. I have never liked goodbyes, but it seems like I have no choice but to get used to them, since I’ve absolutely fallen in love with traveling.

Maybe I should just not put so much weight on the goodbye part, because honestly, it’s the time I spent with them before goodbye thatI’ll love and remember the most. There’s facebook, and there’s time. Life is long, even if it’s short.

One thing I am relieved about, is to be done with finals – If I can give one really solid piece of advice to anyone studying abroad in the UK, it’s this – do not put off your finals to the last minute. Ask your classmates what is generally expected from an academic research paper well in advance (for instance, I learned by accident that it’s only acceptable to go 10% over the word limit, and that a proper academic paper has anywhere from 10 to 14 citations for 3,000 words – these were rules I did not follow for my first two essays). And make sure to do the work bit by bit, so you don’t find yourself pulling an all-nighter before a final during your last week abroad. Trust me, you’d much rather be walking around and saying goodbye to things than stressing about university.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to my home-away-from-home: I’ll visit the Christmas market in Surbiton, have lunch with some friends in Kingston, and then Dennis and I will have our last pints with fish and chips at the Albert, down the road from my house in Norbiton. And then that’s it – the next day, after a six hour plane ride, I’m back home…

Funny how home is so relative. How it changes over time. And how you can accumulate so many different ones, all of which speak to a different version of you. Eventually it’s like you learn to carry home with you wherever you go, and it adapts to the space you fill. Maybe that’s what growing up means.

I’ll miss this home and this time here in London… as my landlady Judy would say, it’s been absolutely “bril.” 🙂

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Reflections on Visiting a Sikh Gurdwara in London

Let’s jump back in time to October, when I went to a Sikh temple, the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sab. My British Life and Culture class had a field trip there after a lecture from a local pastor about religion in the UK. At first I was not sure what to expect. I was curious and excited to see an eastern religious practice that I had heard of, but never really understood before.

When we arrived at the Gurdwara, all of us put on head coverings out of respect for their beliefs. There was one entrance for women and one for men. I wondered briefly where gender-neutral people were supposed to enter, and then suspended my indignation for a minute to try to better understand the cultural significance of the separate entrances. We entered a room full of cubbies, through which we could quite clearly see the outside hall and even into the men’s identical cubby room, and here we took off our shoes and stowed them before entering a bathroom, where we washed our hands. It reminded me of the passage from the Bible where the burning bush asked Moses to take off his sandals, because he stood on holy ground. After this point, women and men walked through the same space again. My boyfriend Dennis was given a proper head covering to replace his makeshift scarf hat – they insisted.

 

When we first arrived, we learned a little about the history if Sikhism and its origins in India before heading upstairs to the actual Gurdwara temple. Gurdwara means “home [or door] of the Guru,” and is a place where Sikhs congregate, learn of spiritual wisdom, practice their beliefs, and contribute to their community. The temple itself is a wide, almost circular room with skylights all around it. At the end was an elaborately decorated alter with a canopy suspended over it, and behind this, musicians played and sang cyclical Indian music. We stayed in this room for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes. I wanted to stay longer just to hear the music. On the alter, though I didn’t realize this at the time, was the Sikh book of scripture, the only object of reverence in the Gurdwara. The Sikhs would approach along the center of the room, bow before the alter in an almost fetal position, and then go to sit cross-legged in the seating area. This struck me as even more humble than the Catholic practice of falling to one’s knees before the alter – nowhere in any religion had I seen such a full physical embodiment of humility.

 

 

After the temple, we sat and listened to one of their leaders talk about principles of Sikhism. Referring to the kitchen downstairs, and to allegories from life, he told us that charity, hard work, respect, and cleanliness are integral to their religious practice and bring them closer to God. They worship no idols, only the scripture and wisdom of their founding Guru. One thing that particularly struck me was that that their two most valued traits are Sweetness (not just kindness or goodness, but sweetness) and Humility. Everyone is equal, regardless of gender, race, or age, and they recognize other religions and beliefs as equally valid paths towards God. Their tolerance overwhelmed me.

 

Our last stop was at the kitchens, where volunteers prepare free food for anyone who comes in, regardless of whether or not they are Sikh. Most gurdwaras only have the resources to do this once a week, but this Gurdwara, one of the largest in the UK, offers free meals every day. The leader had told us that no matter where in the world we travel, if there is a Gurdwara nearby, we can get a free meal there. The food, served in sectioned metal cafeteria trays, was delicious and filling despite its humble presentation. I left feeling very uplifted and inspired by the ability of an organized religion to be so inherently kind, and good… and sweet. What a beautiful religion and culture.

 

I’m so glad I came here, met practitioners, heard their music, had a delicious meal, and learned about Sikhism.I loved seeing this side of the UK, and remembering that there are so many people who are underrepresented and marginalized in mainstream culture, who are nonetheless part of the country and contribute beautiful things to our world. Maybe we should give them more credit.

Exposing ourselves to other ways of life, and being open and honest about our own, is SO important… Especially nowadays, we need to better understand and learn from each other. I worry and hope for Sikh communities back at home in the US – because they wear head coverings, I fear that they could be profiled and discriminated against by the President-elect and/or his supporters in the same way that Muslims are. My hope is that I can help spread some understanding about anyone who wears a head covering, whether they are Sihk, Muslim, or Orthodox Jewish or Christian – they are distinct peoples, each with something valuable to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Turbans and headscarves are not evil: in Sikhism a least, they further embody the wearer’s humility.

I am willing to stand up for those who are targeted and profiled because of how they look, and I hope that after reading this and learning a little more, you might be more willing too. I hope we will not become like France, banning burkas. I hope that people who claim to be Christian will actually try to follow Christ’s tolerant example. I hope that we will open up and see people who believe something different, and practice their love for the universe in a different way, as just following “a different path towards God.”

…If you ever have the chance to visit a Gurdwara, do. They are lovely people, and they are ready to feed you, teach you, and accept you as just as good as they are.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Finals Week

There’s only one more full week of classes after this one, and I don’t feel as stressed as I normally would. Maybe it’s because I’m a production major, but all of my final assignments are my finals. I have one more video to create, a full 1,500 word script, and a 1,000 word screenplay analysis of a movie of my choice. I only have one test that I have to take, and that’s for my British Life and Culture class. The British Life and Culture class is the only one that I actually have to put a lot of intense academic thought into. The classes have been somewhat worryingly easy, and they’re very independent.

The professors post reading lists, but they never test anyone on whether or not we’ve read it. It seems like the professors are a lot more relaxed here, which is odd. I don’t feel like I’ve done a ton of work, and I’m unsettled by it. I’m not freaking out like I normally am over studying for finals, mainly because I don’t really need to.

It’s weird, and I’m not sure I like it.

Going Home

I have exactly 11 days until I board the plane and head back to the US. I’n torn about that– on one hand, I desperately want to go home. Turning 21 without my family was rough. Spending Thanksgiving alone was rough. Finding out my cat at home died was rough. I miss my friends, my family, and my pets so much.

But at the same time, I don’t want to leave. I’ve always known I was suited for living in a big city, and staying and traveling around London has only driven that thought further for me. My family didn’t think I would be able to handle the changes, since I got so homesick living away from home last year, but showing them wrong was one of the best parts of this experience. I can live away from home without getting too homesick. I can live in a big city on my own, and thrive while doing so.

Either way, I’m going to go to Heathrow and board that plane home to New York whether I want to or not.

Journeys Just About Everywhere

One thing I’ve learned is that, much like the United States, there are a thousand “UK’s.”

Here are a few that I’ve traveled to, with a dash of the Republic of Ireland to boot!

Stonehenge – Neolithic Britain

I’ve taken several field trips with my British Life and Culture module, including a trip to Stonehenge. We weren’t allowed to walk among the stones, but it was so exciting to be so close to these slabs of rock that were hauled thousands of miles, thousands of years ago, for reasons celestial.
On a slightly less mystical note, our group left just a few hours before Michael Bay filmed a scene for the new Transformers movie at the site.

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Scotland – Three Cities in Three Days

Don’t try this at home (not like you would, because.. traveling… anyways).

My boyfriend Dennis and I planned our own excursion over the weekend to Glasgow, Stirling, and Edinburgh in Scotland, right at the neck connecting northernmost UK and its southern half. We learned the joys of taking a nine-hour Megabus ride overnight… and also the value of booking budget plane tickets early, to save both time and money.

Glasgow was as bleak as we’d imagined, given Peter Capaldi’s quotes and its depiction in Trainspotting. We visited an old friend of mine there, Lani, and together we explored the Necropolis – The City of the Dead, overlooking Glasgow Cathedral.

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Stirling reminded Dennis and me of Markarth, a city from the fantasy video game Skyrim – all aslant stone buildings nestled in a hillside. We stayed in our first hostel here (The Willy Wallace), and the next day we hiked through the fall leaves up to the Wallace Monument – Scotland’s tribute to the fierce hero of Mel Gibson’s film, Braveheart… William Wallace (in case you didn’t notice, he’s kind of a big deal around here). This was my favorite city, because it was so compact, cobblestoned, and well-steeped in the history of Scottish Independence.

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Finally we ended the tour in Edinburgh, where we explored the majestic Edinburgh Castle. Right after, we dashed over to Calton Hill, a vantage point dotted with monuments overlooking the city. Racing the sunset, we then sprinted through a graveyard, past Scottish Parliament, and up the geological marvel of Arthur’s Seat.

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By the end of the day we were very proud of ourselves, and very, very exhausted.
Lesson learned: Don’t try to pack too much into one weekend. Also, Scotland has the cleanest water I have ever tasted.

Wales – 3 Days in Whoville

Two days after Scotland (this was on our Enrichment Week, when we really ought to have been studying), Hannah, Dennis and I all went to Cardiff, Wales to explore the town and see the Doctor Who Experience! After the tour, I had a sonic screwdriver and we were all eating at Eddie’s Diner, at the very booth where the Doctor and his Companions sat in “The Impossible Astronaut” episode. Cardiff was full of vintage shops and charm, even in our hostel, “Mrs. Potts.” We eschewed the expensive castle tour.

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Ireland (Known to Some as Hybernia) – 6 Days of Adventure!

The Romans didn’t invade Ireland, because it was too damn cold. In fact, they named the place Hybernia, meaning “Land of Eternal Winter.” We learned this on a tour after we had already experienced it for ourselves – by late November, the wind was high and the air was full of frost. Yet the island was still, inexplicably, as green as we had imagined it.

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Dennis and I set up our base in Central Dublin, and stayed in two hostels and a B&B (hostels are more expensive on the weekends there, so we had to hop around). The evening we arrived, we went straight to a pub and had a delightful meal with Irish Cider and Guinness.

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On our first full day in Ireland, we took a tour around Dublin and learned about the history of Dublin Castle, several notable women in Irish history, and how Guinness’ black color was originally due to the silt from the River Liffey (later they realized this might not be sanitary, so they changed it up a bit). I was amazed to learn that the Leprechaun motif was originally designed as a racist caricature of all Irish people, which they later reclaimed as a national symbol and incorporated into their culture as a pushback.

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The next day, we went on a tour to Newgrange, Trim Castle, and the Hills of Tara. Our guide focused on the more mystical and religious aspects of each location’s history. We actually got to go inside Newgrange, which for me as an anthropologist was SO EXCITING to see all of the neolithic carvings and spirals and geometric patterns that meant something to people long ago. I was equally thrilled by the Hills of Tara, where we played with dowsing rods and walked between passage burials to reach the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation site of Ireland’s High Kings. Our last stop was a Fairy Tree (a Hawthorne at the foot of the hills), where we threw oatmeal and made a wish to the Tuatha De Dannan (the Tribe of Gods, the original conceptualization of fairy folk). I was geeking out.

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The day after that, we went on a long bus ride through Northern Ireland to reach the Dark Hedges (where Game of Thrones filmed the final shot of Season Two), The Giant’s Causeway, and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I had been wanting to see the Giant’s Causeway for years. It was unreal, clambering over the geometric shapes created by volcanos – sorry, by the legendary giant Finn MacCool – and seeing the ocean waves crashing over it. The adventure continued as we crossed the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (the site of an old fisherman’s crossing from ages past), waves crashing underneath us, the air crisp, and the grass greenly tufting the dark basalt cliffs.

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Our final tour was a long bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher in Western Ireland. We saw tiny famine houses and imposing castles as we passed through the Burren National Park, a spooky landscape of bare limestone mountains and deeply grooved bedrock. We stopped at the Baby Cliffs of Moher for a few minutes before visiting the real place. This was where they filmed the Cliffs of Insanity scene for The Princess Bride film, and it was fitting – the wind came in from the sea so strong, it threatened to bowl us backwards. The experience was nothing short of breathtaking.

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We finished up Dublin the next day with a trip to the Museum of Archaeology, where I geeked out again over the well-preserved bog bodies and the ancient treasures and artifacts of ancient Ireland – and one more pint of Guinness (which hasn’t tasted quite as good since we left Ireland). Then, back to London, another nest of adventures in itself.

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Back at my Home (Away From Home..)

Seeing all of these incredible places has made me truly grateful to be alive, and to have had all of the support from friends, family, and my college, to come out here and fill the cast of my lifelong dreams with real, vibrant memories. I will never be the same – I can tackle anything now.

#NPSocial #NpAbroad

Where to?

Portugal?  Italy? Madrid? Cordoba? Granada? ok ok ok . ….. Yes, I’ve done A LOT of traveling. Where do I even begin? My life here is different, i finally have the opportunity to fulfill my passion for traveling. When I first arrived here, my mind immediately began to plan every weekend that I had free to travel. However, three months or to make it easier, twelve weekends is not sufficient for my long list of places I want to go.

But an important factor that a friend of mine told me was that, i must remember that I will be back. I can’t keep thinking that this is my last time in Europe and hearing this, my entire outlook changed. I decided to take a break from traveling and to stay four weeks in Sevilla. This allowed me to get to know my own city and actually make some Sevillano friends.

I never thought I would fall in love so quickly with a city and all the hidden gems within it. A lot of people don’t think about sevilla when they think of Spain. Rather, people with go straight to Madrid or Barcelona. But why? We have everything here! History, Culture, night life, tapas (food), ancient architecture, and the list goes on. Trust me, if you need a tour guide- I got you! I love that I don’t get lost here anymore and that’s because I decided to say here. Tons of my new friends especially in my classes are gone every weekend making it impossible for us to go out! But don’t get me wrong, I understand why being in Europe can entice you to travel wherever, especially since it’s so cheap.

However, I did save some big trips for the end of the semester! In my last three weeks I will be in Morocco, Amsterdam and closing off my trip in Paris. I can’t believe it. I’m going to Paris. I cried when i booked the flight because Paris is very special to me, I always thought I would go when I was way way older and a had a career. But, no. I’m going now in my 20s, my prime years, exactly when i feel invincible.

I am throughly looking forward to my last weeks living in Europe.screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-10-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-04-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-22-51-pm