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. 

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.


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:





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

The Land of Ice Chronicles: Heading Home

(A quick sorry for the late updates; I’ve been busy here at home spending all my time with family & friends)

It is almost time to head home now and if I am being honest, I couldn’t be happier. This whole vacation has been a learning experience. It has been a pleasure to learn (even if it was THE HARD WAY) that negativity can bring your whole world crumbling down the same way that positivity can illuminate all of the darkness before you. It has been wonderful exploring the small town of Limerick these past few weeks. I’ve found beautiful flower beds, creatures, and greenery in places I walked by everyday and never noticed. Positivity really does open doors. It was a wonderful month of exploration BUT:

You can bet your ass I'm ready to go back home.

Like I said… it has been a great past month here. However, nothing beats the happiness one can obtain in the comfort of their own home. I’m excited to be home with my very best friend (my mom). I’m excited for my Abuela’s tasty food. I’m excited to hang out with my friends again. I’m excited for everything in NYC to be honest.

Now… Flash forward to my plane ride home

The plane is about to leave Shannon Airport and I am finding myself thinking about the boy with the pink and green aura. Just the thought of him dancing at the Stables Bar/Club bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. It just makes me so happy that Ivon came into my life. It is as if all the bath experiences I had in Ireland never happened; whenever I think of the lovely country… I think of his beautiful soul.

Listen to that voice. LISTEN! HE IS A LEGEND! (And, he just won a kpop talent competition. SUPPORT IVON! STAN IVON!

As the plane left Shannon Airport, I thought of how a piece of my heart would always be with Ivon. Thank you for everything that you do and everything that you are.

Fast Forward to arriving at JFK Airport

That flight felt like it lasted forever. I was slightly groggy but excited to see my mom. The minute I saw her, I dropped everything I was holding and threw myself on top of her. God, I missed her so much. I missed my mom so much. I felt so safe in her arms; I hadn’t felt this safe since the last time I saw her and I really missed the feeling. We headed to my Abuela’s house and has some delicious food. My entire family was also there to hug me and hear of my entire journey. It was one of those nights that I’ll never be able to forget. I love my crazy silly loud Spanish family and I’m really happy to be back with them.

Home Sweet Home

(Written July 26th, 1 month since Australia)

At last, I’ve made it through this long journey to make my way back home. Months of agonising have led to this point: return to the states, return to home, return to family and friends and the great wonders I once took for granted here. As the one chapter of my life has drawn to an end, it has shifted and made way for the beginning of another. Of course, I was extremely anxious about it all at first, when I only had several weeks in Australia left. But as I mentioned before, a certain calm came over me in my final days that everything would be fine, a heavenly reassurance that I could do this. Months of change had made me a new person, but how would that person adjust to a sudden return to “normal”?

All in all, I adjusted a lot quicker than I thought I would. Some things just didn’t seem right at first: cars driving on the right side, adding tip at the diner, and the surprising lack of accents I now deeply miss, all hitting me within about an hour of landing in New York. But overtime, I settled back into normality, and only made the mistake of driving on the left side of the road once or twice. The big things that define life here came back pretty quickly, but there’s definitely small parts of me that are still tuned to living in Melbourne. A month ago I could find myself taking a random trip into the city (Melbourne) within half an hour. Now, if I want to go the city (New York), it takes three hours (I could just drive a half hour to Albany, but Albany isn’t much compared to either Melbourne or NYC). I still find myself using slang and lingo that my family and friends don’t quite understand (“Macca’s” should be self-explanatory, but it just isn’t I guess). Living at home, oddly enough, has been the hardest thing to deal with. Having spent so much time on my own, instinct tells me to make food when I’m hungry, or that I need to clean up after my dirty roommate. But now, I don’t have to make, plan, or buy my meals, and I don’t have to worry about running the place all by myself. I wouldn’t say I miss buying groceries, cleaning toilets, and doing the dishes, but it just doesn’t feel quite right to not be doing it anymore.

My family was the one thing that I didn’t need much getting used to again. I’d been in pretty close contact with my parents and sister, and occasionally reach out to my grandparents or cousins, so for the most part I didn’t have to go telling everyone every little detail of my adventures. Of course, everyone wanted to see all the pictures I took, and there’s still the occasional story to tell, but overall it didn’t take much time to ‘catch up’. That’s the wonderful thing about family, I think: five months apart and you come back and you pick up the same conversation you had five months ago. That’s not to say things haven’t changed; they certainly have, and in more ways than I expected. My grandparents’ kitchen has new floor tiles, my one cousin’s voice has gotten deeper with hitting puberty, and my youngest cousin now looks more like an actual person than like a baby squish (to quote my sister). My sister’s graduated high school and is kind of an adult and I’m still not sure what to think of that. But all the same, we’re family and best friends, and that feeling of reuniting with her and my parents was so insanely heartwarming I can’t stop smiling when I think about it.

I’ve done quite a bit since being back: I’ve gone to car races on the Fourth of July weekend, gone camping, watched a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, and went to Massachusetts, among other things. Slowly but surely, I’ve been adjusting and returning to normality. Like I’ve said though, there really is no true return to ‘normal’. There can’t be. There’s a lot I miss about Australia. I miss friends, and random outings either with them or just by myself. I miss seeing the library and walking along the river. I miss the birds and the food and the locals. Getting off at Flinders Street, a milk run at Coles, grabbing some chips of ‘Lord of the Fries’. The independence, and no worries attitude. The ability to explore something new and unseen. But I guess, every day is a new day, with something unseen on the horizon. It’s all a matter of perspective. Maybe I’ll make it back to Australia. Maybe there’s more planned for me here. But whatever is on that horizon will be a beauty. And I can’t wait to see where it’ll take me.

Goodbye Australia

(Written 26th June, 1 hour before flight)

Well, I suppose this is it. I sit here now, with only an hour to go until I board flight AC038 to Vancouver. It’s a 15-hour flight, followed by a 5-and-a-half-hour flight to Toronto, and finally 54 minutes to La Guardia. I found the gate. I made it past security. I made it to the airport, and out of UniLodge. I have overcome every obstacle, every barrier preventing me from coming here and shaping me into a new and better person. I have climbed mountains to get to where I am today, and now, after many months of living a new life, I return to my life of old.

Australia has changed me in more ways than I can even imagine. I expected something big, finding the key to a grand treasure chest or the filling of a slot I’ve yearned to be truly full again. But instead, I think I’ve changed in many, little ways; ways that may not seem all that significant on their own but together have made me a new person. Amongst the great and many adventures and life changing events, there’s one calm moment that I believe shaped me the most. May 8th, around 9:30 at night, I stepped out of the rental car we took to the Outback. We’d come to see the Outback at night, watching the stars in a world without man’s interference. I knew the sight would be incredible, but I never expected it to be so full of light. God, you could see the entire galaxy out there. One star still pointed out to me, one brighter than all the others.

It wasn’t just the Outback, though it was easily most visible there. Walking through Salamanca Place in Hobart, or Circular Quay in Sydney, if you looked hard enough. The first night in Cairns, right after the rain had cleared. Philip Island, as penguins swam ashore, and on the beach along the Great Ocean Road after a semi-successful surfing lesson. On the walk back to UniLodge from the city, or laying in the grass on the Maribyrnong River. That one guiding light, always with me. I have to believe wholeheartedly that the same light that guided me through Australia will also guide me once I come home. It always has. Why wouldn’t it now?

The experiences I’ve had here may have been short, but their impact on me will last forever. I like to think that my time in Australia has made me a better person, that who I am leaving is a stronger, more confident person than the one who arrived. That the same light that guided me here will follow me home, and that I’ll continue to do everything possible to keep shining the light. I may not know the future, but I know my potential to make it the best it can possibly be. In truth, I’ve been fearful of return to normal ever since I first landed. But I guess, when you think about it, there is no return to my old life. Life doesn’t move you backwards; it moves you forward. Maybe I don’t know what’s beyond this airport. Maybe I do. But whatever happens next will help build an even newer life, a new chapter even greater than this where finally, I find out who I really am and what I’m meant to be.

Australia Study Abroad Video!

I have never been one to really express my self through words however I think this video does a nice job of summing up my time in Australia. Beautiful, spectacular, and life changing.



Australia- Expectations vs Reality

(Written from 19th June, final week)
Unlike my other posts, this is going to be more of a list of the biggest 5 things I learned while studying abroad, followed by an explanation. They’re in no particular order.

1. Expectation- Everything while I’m abroad is going to be exactly the way I want it to be, and it’s going to feel like an extended, worry-free vacation. Australia is going to be the problem free resort I had hoped it would be.

Reality- Not everything is going to be the way I want it and it’s not going to be 100% peachy keen. Although a different life, life in Australia comes with its worries, struggles, sadness, and down right annoying moments just like it does in America.

I think I learned rather quickly that despite everything, my ‘plans’ don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Even as I situated into my room, I realised maybe this wasn’t how I expected it with my small and dirty room. Homework, as easy as it is compared to home, is still a nuisance, especially when it piles up all at once. The train gets crowded at times and it’s hard to find a spot to sit when you really want one. Your friends make plans to go out and you don’t always make the cut. Your roommate stays up until 2 in the morning talking to his father on the phone while you’re trying to sleep. It rains when you run out money on your myki and have to walk home instead of taking the bus. And then, sometimes, even in paradise, life just gives a bad day. There’s never going to be a truly ‘worry free’ world wherever you go. But you roll with the punches, make the best of everything, and in the end it turns out alright. All in all, the good stuff far outweighs the bad.

2. Expectation- The big trips I do and big accomplishments while here are going to make this trip great. I’ll do tons of life changing things that few back home will ever experience, and these extraordinary feats will shape me into a giant.

Reality- The big stuff is nice and all, but in reality, it’s the small, everyday things, that will make me remember Australia the most. The ordinary, mundane things are what really shapes this world as something unique and special.

It’s not an understatement to say I’ve done a lot of big things here that few people get to experience. I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, saw the stars in the Outback, cuddled kangaroos, and sailed across Sydney and Tasmania. But while those memories will last forever, I think the little things are what has made this trip stand out to me. The sounds of the ravens, parakeets, and magpies that are still so unfamiliar to me. Long walks along the river taking it all in. Cooking dinner with friends and a game of pool afterward. Walks to get milk from Coles, or getting ice cream from Flinders Street station. Weird plants in the gardens, beautiful buildings in the city, the trams running through the city day and night… it doesn’t all sound like a lot, at least, not just one of these things. But all together, it makes this place special, and I’m truly going to miss (almost) every bit of it.

3. Expectation- My family is going to miss me while I’m gone, but our relationship will change for the better as I’m gone. Still, my family will grow and prosper as it always has without me in the picture, and they’ll adjust as I become further from home.

Reality- My family REALLY misses me, and while our relationships have changed for the better, they need me. Our closeness can’t be changed and despite everything, family always comes first.

My family was certainly hesitant as I told them I was thinking about studying abroad, in Australia at that, for the first time. I’d only just gotten away from home at New Paltz, and now I was going from an hour’s drive to the other side of the globe. We’ve always been close, and although so much was pushing me to go, my closeness to my family was the major thing holding me back. I’d be leaving at a critical moment for my sister: her last semester of high school, and I’d miss her birthday, prom, and graduation, among many other adventures. I’d miss my step mom’s birthday, Father’s Day, and their anniversary. And although we’ve adjusted and are doing well, we still need each other. A lot. I’d call my dad at midnight because I was having an emotional night and needed someone to talk to. My sister would confide in me about her friends and high school drama as always. I’d ask my step mom how to make a certain dish or accept my student loans next semester (uggghh…). Some days are hard without family by your side. Maybe I don’t know where my future will take me. But if it’s five minutes from home, or the other side of the world, my family is always going to be there no matter what, and no distance or time will ever change that.

4. Expectation- I’ll make a lot of close and lasting friendships here, maybe even find a girlfriend, and they will be the beginning of a new social life I always wanted. My connections with my friends (and girlfriend) will make me happier and better off than I would be alone.

Reality- Despite having built friendships here, I’ve learned how to be happy on my own. I don’t need dozens of friends, I don’t need a girlfriend, because I’ve learned how to make my life meaningful to me.

This may sound like a cheap excuse for why I’m not bringing back a beautiful Aussie sheila back with me like a lot of people (including myself) were expecting. Believe me, I wanted to. But one thing I definitely realized while here was that happiness doesn’t come from anyone or anything but yourself. Don’t get me wrong, being with cool people in an exotic place having fun adventures is great. But I don’t need any of that to make me happy, I need to make myself happy by choosing to be happy myself. I made great friends during this trip, and I’ve become close with many of them. But many I won’t see again after this, and there’s some who have already left. The places I’ve been are fantastic and beautiful and something straight out of my imagination. But again, the likelihood of seeing some of these places again, at least in the same way, are slim. So all in all, it really comes down to me. What I make of this life, and how I chose to live it. People and places change, and as sad as it is to say they don’t always last forever. Only you last as long as you do. Your memories, your character, your happiness.

5. Expectation- I’m going to find out what my purpose is in Australia and be fully ready to take it from here onward. It will be an eye-opening experience on my way to discovering how my life will unfold.
Reality- Being in Australia has made me question even more what my goal is in life or where I’ll end up. I have even less idea what my plan is, if I have one, and I’m seriously questioning absolutely everything, including myself, going forward.

This was indeed the biggest expectation I had for Australia. That I would find answers to the many questions I’d begun to ask myself while here. What do I do after school? Would I find a partner, a home, a career? Would I discover who I really am, find my true purpose in life? The short answer is, no. At least, not yet.

While being in Australia has truly been a life changing experience, it seems I now have more questions than answers when it comes to figuring out ‘life’. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s better to have unanswered questions than wrong answers. But if there’s one thing I learned here, it’s that this world is so much bigger than I imagined it to be. There used to be one path that I thought I would follow, and it didn’t take me out of my comfort zone or very far from home. Then I started looking at path A and path B, path B being more of a dream than a plausible direction. Now I see there’s thousands of paths, and no single path is the ‘right’ one. There is no right answer, and it kind of scares of me because with only one year before graduating I need to figure things out soon.

Maybe, you never do. Maybe we all just drift around through life, hoping for answers to pop up along the way. In time I guess all things work out exactly the way they’re supposed to. They did when I came to Australia. They did when I chose to go to New Paltz. They even did when I lost my mother to cancer four and a half years ago. So, I guess I’ll just have to trust that it’ll all work out one day exactly the way it’s supposed to. I’ll find what I want to do after school. I’ll find a girl and a home and a career. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find out what my purpose is along the way.


(Written 12th June, two weeks remaining)

Like a good book, my time in Australia has seen its beginning as something intriguing, new, and fascinating. It has seen its rise: becoming accustomed to life in Melbourne, as a city, as independent, as a new world. The climax, of course, the giant adventures across this massive continent, taking me into fantastic and incredible new worlds and having an absolute blast doing so. But now, of course, we approach the denouement, the beginning of the end of this great adventure called Australia. Finals are done, classes over, and I now find I have about two weeks left here with no plans whatsoever. A good number of friends are already packing their bags, and soon enough I shall follow suit. 4 months in this world are seemingly slipping away as the reality of my life at home returns each day. But as any good story, there is always that plot-twist that keeps things interesting.

To be honest, a great part of me doesn’t want to go home. Some of me even resents it. Of course, I want to see my family again, I want to see them above everything else. I want to taste home-cooked food, drive my car, and take a walk to the falls with my family. But the other things I miss, I’ll have become used to again in two weeks. In two weeks, everything I idolise about home now will be ‘normal’ again. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe a little normal is what I need after so much time away, to get my head back in the game and on top of my world. But my question now is, what game am I playing? What does life back home mean for my future? What is ‘home’? What is the future?

Coming here has made me realise a lot. I’ve learned how wonderful life is, from the little things that make it comfortable (or not) to the big adventures you embark on and those you go on those adventures with. I’ve learned to take opportunities when they come to you, and to not hold back from things out of fear or uncertainty. I’ve seen that I am capable of living in a new world and conquering it, making it my own. In a great sense, this is home. And what I worry is, what if what I had here is it? The opportunities I’ve had, friends I’ve made, things I’ve done and places I’ve been have been surreal to me, like a great dream come true. But what if it is just a dream? I don’t want to lose that adventurous spirit that has compelled me to explore and see the world. I don’t want to lose the friendships I’ve made here and them all simply fade away over time. I don’t want to lose the opportunities I’ve had here, to change the world.

Australia wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. But I think, maybe it was better. Maybe this is what I needed it to be, from dumpy Footscray to the great friends I’ve shared many journeys and laughs with. But soon enough, all that will disappear and I’ll be back to ‘normal’. How do I take what I’ve learned here, and apply it back home? I guess that’s something only time will tell. Going back home means uncertainty, and that’s something I’ve been scared of since losing my mother 4 ½ years ago. But then again, so was Australia. So my hope, is that once home I’ll be able to make new opportunities, become closer with my family and true friends, and continue to explore my world. And it may take some time to truly conquer it like I did Australia. I have some serious questions to ask myself about my future and my life. But undoubtedly, I will rise back to the top again, wherever my future ends up taking me. I want to keep the lessons I’ve learned here, the confidence I’ve gained and spirit I’ve shined and apply it back where it really matters most. I may not be one hundred percent excited to go back, but whatever happens, Australia will help me build the best me I can be.



Back in the USA

There is a lot that I already miss about Australia. The kangaroos, the accents, the metro, however being home is somewhat refreshing. I readjusted to home faster than anticipated and did not experience reverse culture shock the way many people told me I would. I guess it is just very different for everyone.

My time abroad in Australia was amazing. So much planning went into it but with the help of Samantha it was made possible. I am a bit sad to be home since if I am being honest I have no idea if or when I will make it back to that end of the world. I saw amazing things from the Great ocean road to the Great Barrier reef. I realized really just how little of the world I have truly seen. Even in the U.S I have only been to a handful of states and now I am more inspired than ever to travel and explore!

Being home has been a little underwhelming but I am grateful for all the experiences and people I met while abroad. I look forward to hopefully visiting Australia again in the near future. While my big adventure has ended I am looking forward to next one!