Departing for the land down under

FINALLY the time has come where I will soon be leaving for my study abroad program. I have been anticipating my departure for the last few months, and especially throughout these last few weeks. I have had a bit of an extension on my winter break since my University begins later than my home institution. With this extension on my break, I have had way too much free time to say the least.

As I prepare to leave in about a week for my study abroad program, it is slowly beginning to feel real. I have my two luggages and my carry on book bag that I have started to pack some of my life into. I have read many articles that say Melbourne, my destination can experience all 4 seasons in 1 day which makes it a little tricky to decide on what clothing I should pack out of my very large wardrobe. I have been watching Youtube videos of other students that have studied in Melbourne which has definitely helped the packing process.

I have also started saying goodbye to my friends and family members which of course is hard. I know that I am going to have the time of my life while abroad, but I am of course scared about getting homesick. As a commuter student, I have never really been too far from home other than a week long vacation. To help the homesickness that may arise, I am currently thinking of things I should pack that remind me of home. So far I have printed out some of my favorite photos with my loved ones off of my phone.

The rest of this week, I will continue packing, seeing friends and family, and making sure I have everything I need to fly to the land down under.

As a person who absolutely loves the warm weather, I am so excited to leave the cold, snowy New York weather for the hot sun in Australia.

See you on the opposite side of the equator!

The Real Truth

I have been living in Florence for about one week and let me tell you, it has not been easy.  You always see people’s study abroad pictures on Instagram and you hear amazing stories from their trip but something no one talks about is the feeling when you first step off the plane in a brand new foreign country.  I don’t want to scare anyone out of studying abroad because everyone should most definitely study abroad at some point in their college careers. I am just shining a light on the fact that study abroad isn’t always smiling and happy go luck travels.  Sometimes it’s scary and stressful and you get homesick, and that is something no one speaks about.  

However, there’s a reason no one speaks about it, not just because no one likes talking about the times when they felt defeated but also because studying abroad has so many more positives than negatives, you just have to make it through the first week to find out about it.  

They tell you all about culture shock before you leave New Paltz but for some reason, I thought that it wouldn’t happen to me.  Well, I was wrong. I was “culture shocked” from the moment the airplane landed in Italy. I desperately needed a coffee and when I went up to the coffee counter there was no menu.  People were just drinking out of ceramic cups on the counter…nothing like the Starbucks on campus. I asked for a normal coffee and I got an espresso that maybe took two sips to drink, and I had to pay with Euros!  

I’ll be the first to admit that I cried on the phone to my mom almost every night this week.  I was extremely jet-lagged but most of all scared. This was so out of my comfort zone and everyone was new to me.  The people studying abroad at Lorenzo de Medici are from all over the USA and some from other countries, so even my classmates are part of a different culture than I am.

However, I keep reminding myself just how lucky I am to be able to have this opportunity, and I know that once I get more comfortable here, this study abroad experience will become incredible and I will never want to leave.  

It has already been one week and life here is getting much better, I am fully adjusted to the time difference, and I have explored already so much of the city of Florence.  Florence is absolutely beautiful. In order for me to get to class or anywhere in the city center, I have to walk over a bridge with has an amazing view of the famous Ponte Vecchio.  Also, I have to walk past the Duomo to get to my classes which takes my breath away every time I see it.  

I am living in an apartment with 3 other girls studying abroad here.  None of us knew each other beforehand, so it’s really cool to get to know them.  Also, my apartment is so huge and decorated in an old Italian style. There are brick arches, Italian patterned tile, Italian books on the bookshelf, and paintings of religious figures. I have all of my belongings unpacked and it is already starting to feel like home.  

My transition to living in Italy was not as smooth as I thought it was going to be but that is okay.  Change is difficult and this was a huge change for me. Going to a foreign country not knowing anyone, not knowing the language, and not knowing the culture is so scary but, it is such a great learning experience.  

In just one week I have learned so much about myself and I am so proud of myself for embarking on this journey across the world.  

I can not wait to share the rest of my 4-month Italian journey with you guys! Ciao!

24 Hours Left…

Flight from New York to Rome, Train from Rome to Florence, Check-in at the University, get apartment keys and walk with my luggage to my apartment.  This is my travel itinerary that I keep repeating to myself as if I’m afraid I’m going to forget a step.  

Right now there are about 24 hours until I begin my journey to Florence, Italy to study abroad for the Spring 2020 semester.  I have never been outside the country besides driving to Canada a few times and going on a cruise to Bermuda when I was eight.  

I am full of so many mixed emotions, I am nervous yet so excited.  Some of my current worries that are on my mind are; Am I going to be able to make friends?  Am I going to be able to budget my money efficiently or am I going to run out of money and not do the things I want to do?  Am I going to stick out like an “American” too much with my horrible Italian skills and my non-mistaking Long Island accent?  Am I going to get really homesick? These are all questions that are spiraling through my mind as I pack the last of my things.    

However, not all of my thoughts are worries, I have been preparing and researching a lot for this and I can not wait to experience everything Itlay has to offer me.  I am most excited about all the traveling I will be doing. I have always had a sense of wanderlust but I never really had the opportunity to travel before this.  

When I’m studying abroad I want to take advantage of it all.  Go on as many weekend trips as I can, see things that I may never be able to see again, and eat as many new foods as possible.  Thankfully I have a ton of friends and family that have traveled to Italy before me and they all recommended so many restaurants and foods to try.  When I say I have a lot of recommendations, I mean I have a ten-page typed list of places to try, there are so many places on my list that even though I will be living in Florence for a whole semester I am not going to have the time to try them all.  

Even before I got to Florence I learned that the culture is very different than New York.  I have been a New Yorker my entire life and that being said, I live a pretty fast-paced life and always plan things months in advance.  At New Paltz, we get our schedule for the next semester and our On-Campus housing arrangements before we even finish the current semester.  

At Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Italian University I will be studying at, they do things a lot differently.  I got my schedule of classes about a month ago and I got my apartment location and the names of my three random roommates four days before arrival!  

Of course, as soon as I got my apartment address I looked up where it was on Google Maps and I toured the surrounding area using the ‘Google Maps Street View’.  My apartment is very old and beautiful and is attached to a Gelato place.  I can walk out of my front door and get fresh Gelato every single day. This will be so tempting but I’m sure after about a week of eating Gelato for breakfast, lunch, and dinner I will soon realize I need to maybe make it more of a treat item.  

Also, when I found out where my apartment was I messaged my friend from my hometown on Long Island who is currently studying in Florence through a different University, to see if we are going to live close to each other.  Turns out, we are living even closer than we do back home (and we live three blocks away), our apartments in Florence are literally 700 feet from each other! What a small world! Having someone there from back home definitely is making this huge transition a lot more comforting.  

I have been saying my goodbyes to my friends and family for weeks at this point, every time I’ve done something over winter break someone always found the opportunity to say “this is the last time we’ll…”  But, I just have to remind them and myself that this isn’t the “last time” I’ll ever see them, I’ll be home in approximately 3 and a half months. However, this is the longest amount of time I’ve ever been away from home and away from my family and friends. But, I’m glad that didn’t stop me from applying to this study abroad opportunity.  

This experience will most definitely make me step out of my comfort zone but I’m ready for it.  I can’t wait to make Florence, Itlay my new home across the globe.

Arrivederci!

Missing Colombia

I AM BACK AT NEW PALTZ! I am excited to be back but I definitely miss Colombia. I am surprised because I did not think that I would miss Colombia like I do.

While I was in Colombia, I had a great time learning about the culture and conducting research. I did have minor problems that I blew out of proportion when I was in Colombia. I was homesick for the most part. Not homesick that I missed the United States or New York or Queens but I missed the people I had left at home. I was seeing my family and friends and talking to them but it was not the same. Every day that I was there I wished that I had my friends in Colombia. In hindsight, I realized that I should not have focused on that and should have enjoyed being where I was. However, something good came out of missing my friends. My friends and I have decided that within the next two years we will be visiting Colombia. I am excited because I will get to show them the culture and the places I was shown!

Now, I miss all the beautiful places I visited and the people I met. I also miss the daily life of Colombians and their great food. My advice for those studying abroad that miss family and/or friends is to remember that they will be there when you get back but this opportunity won’t be. Take advantage as much as you can. I am extremely glad that although I was home sick I pushed myself to meet new people and explore new places.

I find myself talking about Colombia any chance I get. I have become the study abroad that only talks about their study abroad experience. I can’t stop talking about it because Colombia made me realize what I am capable of and made me so much more interested in research around the world. Lastly, for anyone considering studying abroad please do so and consider Colombia. It’s a great choice!

Alone but not lonely

So far, this trip has already taught me how to be okay with being alone.

I have always liked meeting new people and making new friends. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that easy for me to do that here. It’s not because the people are rude or anything. Everyone here is really friendly. I just can’t seem to find people that I can relate to. I feel like I keep having the same small talk conversation over and over, just with different people.

“Hey my name is Angelina, I am from New York. Where are you from? Awesome. What are you studying?” ..it gets repetitive and tiring.

I feel like this has caused me to become more introverted but that’s okay. I have been spending a lot of time alone and I am learning more about myself. It’s okay to enjoy your own company.

I actually pushed myself to go out on a hike with a few people from my hall to the Wind Turbine in Brooklyn. Yes, there’s a Brooklyn in New Zealand!

…but it didn’t go so well. They were walking up really fast and it was hard for me to catch up. I often felt left out which caused my anxiety to kick in. I ended up leaving the group and having to find my way back down and to my hall. It took about an hour but I made it back safely!

Honestly, I enjoyed myself a lot more by taking that adventure alone! I was able to go at my own pace and really appreciate the views. I don’t need friends in order to have a good time here and I am finally accepting that. 🙂

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! 🙂

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. Caleños (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 Peñol 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. Doña 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
Doña Alba

The next day we took a tour of Guatape and El Peñol. Guatape is a very colorful town in Medellin. It is right next to El Peñol. El Peñol 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 Peñol

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. 😉

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 Patriño, 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 Patiño 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 Patiño 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 from peripheral blood samples. I have gotten to use a pipette filler and serological 5ml pipettes. The pipette filler was very hard to use and took practice. I’m glad that I got the experience to work with a new machine! These mononuclear then go through the process of RNA extraction and PCR amplification. I have worked with Yhensy 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 it’s all been a part of the same day. It’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 wasn’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! It’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.