Terrorism Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foots-crazy (cray)

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

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

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

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

 

With love,

Brianne

Map on My Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Leaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for the Unknown

The other day my friend said to me: “I can’t believe you won’t be here next semester; I remember two years ago when you told me you were thinking of studying abroad and now you’re really going.”

Ever since I was young I would daydream about what it would be like to live in a foreign country: to live in an old city and be one like the locals. And now here is my chance: this is actually happening. All those extra hours I put into my summer job, all that research, all that paperwork is now going to show for something. I could not be more excited— I chose to study abroad in Prague because people only raved about all this city has to offer: the culture, the history, the location, the beauty. And now here I am, sitting at my kitchen table in New York, wondering how I am going to make the best of my four months abroad. How much traveling is too much? What do I need to make sure I do? Will I truly be able to integrate into the local culture and be seen as more than just a tourist?

             These are questions I constantly think about, but I also have way more immediate concerns, like, how am I going to pack my entire life in two suitcases? Not only how, but what do I pack to be truly prepared? What can I expect to happen during my time abroad?

The answer to the last question is nothing. I can expect nothing. No matter how many travel blogs I read or Rick Steve episodes I watch, I will still experience a few shocks I could have never imagined. Living in Prague is going to be completely different from the American suburbia I lived in for the last 19 years; and with this one fact in mind, I know I need to keep an open mind during my time abroad.

And that’s kind of the fantastical part of studying abroad, right? You’re really not too certain what you are getting yourself into, but you know you will learn so much in the end. What you will learn is yet to be determined, but you know it will make you a better person. It will turn you into the person you are meant to be.

Once I get off the plane in Prague I’ll have my two carefully packed suitcases, a couple of Czech korunas, and the uneasy feeling of not knowing what I will be doing in the next month, week, or even that night.

Anything can happen and anything is possible. And in my opinion, that is the true beauty of adventure.

#tbt: Amsterdam

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I visited Amsterdam. It was my last trip until I headed home to New York. I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam. I remember my aunt going all the time and bringing me back souvenirs. It was great to finally have the opportunity to see it for myself.

In order to explore Amsterdam we used transportation and walking. However, we soon realize that walking was the best way to get around. I realize the bus pass we got for the four days we were there was not worth it. Lesson learned!

Tip #1: Research! If you don’t need transportation, don’t be pressure to buy a weekly pass or etc. 

Also it’s very important to pay attention. Not only are you look both ways for cars, but bikes make up most of the transportation around Amsterdam. I had to constantly look back and forth just in case.

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The highlight of my trip was visiting the Anne Frank House. I’ve heard about this place for such a long time. I grew up learning about Anne Frank and the holocaust that I had to check it out. The whole time I couldn’t believe I was there and learning about new things I didn’t know. I left that place feeling inspired and grateful for the life that I live.

I also learned that you have to be patience because you have to wait about two hours to get inside. That didn’t stop me from wanting to see the museum. I’ve waited for concerts longer than that!

Tip #2: Be patience and arrive to places early. 

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Another highlight was visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Gogh was another person I grew up learning about. It was great to be surrounded by his art and other artists that were inspired by him or that he was inspired by. It was great to see his famous work and learning more about his life.

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It was also the beautiful scenery that Amsterdam has to offer. There was beautiful canals, flowers, and weather all around me. It was a great time to go to Amsterdam. Although I didn’t get to go on a canal, I was able to experience riding a bike around Amsterdam. It was very nerve wracking at first, but then I got the hang of it. I would definitely ride a bike again in Amsterdam if I have the chance.

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I got visit the famous I Amsterdam. I watched people climb the letters with so much ease and I wish I had the strength. Maybe next time!

I miss all the travel places I got to visit. I can’t wait to experience it again one day.

Back To Reality

It’s been exactly ten days since I left Wales. It felt like just yesterday that I was walking the streets of the lovely country and creating a life there. I remember the people, the food, and the place I called home. There are small moments when I think back to the six months I spent abroad. Sometimes it feels like a dream and I just woke up from it. I still can’t believe I got the opportunity to travel and study in UK.

I think over the past six months I developed a greater appreciate for the world and where I live. I started taking a closer look of my surroundings and feel grateful to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. Since I was away for six months, I feel like a foreigner. I have to start falling into the familiar patterns and rediscover my city.

Two days after returning, I went to Manhattan and I couldn’t hide the smile from my face. It was great to be back and call home, home once again. One thing that I started paying more attention is the tourists. I have a better understanding of what goes through their minds when visiting a new place for the first time. Now, I have patience when it comes to being surrounded by tourists because I was a tourist for six months.

I wouldn’t mind being a tourist in my own city. There are still so many things I haven’t seen and I lived here all my life! I still have places in Europe that I want to visit in the future or even return to places like Wales once again. With studying abroad, it made my love for traveling increase. I want to travel the world and grow my appreciation for the world even more.

Aside from seeing the differences between UK and US, I think I’ve become a better person and student. I have learned to take on new responsibilities and skills. I’m on my last year in SUNY New Paltz and I’m ready to take on the upcoming tasks with the new skills I learned. Studying abroad helped my growth and helped in redefining my goals I set in the beginning of the year.

I love that I had the chance to study abroad. It gives me the chance to talk about my experiences and hope that my brother would want to study abroad one day. I can also offer tips to my cousin, who will be studying abroad in two years. I think everyone should have the chance to study abroad and discover the world we live in.

Goodbye Cardiff!

In less than 24 hours, I will be returning to New York. I can’t believe that I will no longer be studying abroad in Cardiff University. For the past six months, I’ve been independent and experiencing a world I read in books and seen in movies.

I’ve made a life in Wales and I grew so much as a person. I have learned new skills and adjusted to being on my own. I have seen the differences in cultures and taught people about the how New York really is.

I never thought that a Puerto Rican from the Bronx will ever get the chance to travel the world. I never thought that I would get the opportunities to create memories that I will talk about for the rest of my life.

I’m excited and nervous to head back to the states. When I come back home, I have to remember that there’s no more Tesco and that I have to rely on transportation. I have to remember I can’t just hop on a bus to London or plan trips to Ireland or Rome when I feel like it.

But I’m excited that I will be reunited with my family after all this time. I’ve been away from my family before, but not to this extend. This was an experience for the both of us. I can’t wait to thank them for giving me the chance to study abroad. I can’t wait to tell them all about my trips and give them the gifts from all the countries I visited.

I can’t wait to provide my parents with the support they’ve given me. I want to be able to cook for them, clean for them, and provide just as much as they provided for me.

I know once I return, I need to start looking into jobs, internships, and start preparing for my last year of college. Vacation is finally over! :p

I’m sad to be leaving Cardiff, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I visit. One day!

Hello Ireland!

I have less than two weeks left in Europe. I thought it was be good idea to squeeze in two more countries before I head back home. My friend Lauren and I made a decision to visit Ireland and Amsterdam because those are two countries that we always wanted to visit. Spring break happened so fast that we didn’t get to include these countries into our travels.

So in the beginning of June, we headed off to Dublin, Ireland for three days. Out of all the traveling I’ve done, Ireland was the easiest and smoothest traveling day. We were able to explore on the first day with no problem.

Tip #1: Traveling can be fun, but it’s not glamorous all the time. There were moments that I was so exhausted and wanted to just sleep. You’re constantly on the move and alert. Traveling is fun, but it’s not always fun.

On the first day, we explored the city of Dublin. We even went to the Guinness Storehouse and learned how beer was made. It was really informative and I learned a lot about the industry. The highlight  of that day was that met three different people that either lives in New Paltz or went to SUNY New Paltz. It was such a small world!

Tip #2: You never know who you’re going to meet on your travels. The world made me large, but it can surprise you in the smallest ways.

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On the second day, we took a bus tour to Belfast which is in Northern Ireland. The bus tour ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. filled with so many things to do. First, there was a black taxi tour in the town of Ulster, where I learned about the troubles between Catholics and Protestants. It was interesting to see and learn about the history between the communities. It’s crazy to think it’s still going on after all these years. We got to visit the peace wall and I wrote a small note with the lines of “Love is love. Peace is peace. All lives matter.”

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While we were on the bus, the tour guide gave us information on Ireland and told us many mythological tales. There were even moments that we learned about Game of Thrones shootings, a show that I love very much.

Aside from that we visited the Giant Causeways and the Rope Bridge which I went over. It was amazing! The view of Northern Ireland is breathtaking. The water is a bright blue and there is so much green life around. I fell in love with the views of Ireland. By the time we headed back to Dublin, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and I knew that going to Ireland was a great decision.

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On the last day in Dublin, it was a perfect day to visit the parks. I got to see the Oscar Wilde statue. He is one of my favorite authors and the statue fit his personality perfectly. I also got the opportunity to visit Dublin Castle for free because it was the first Wednesday of the month. The day ended with a view of the state apartments as well.

Tip #3: Make sure you research the places you go to. There can be great discounts and free places to visit.

Ireland was such a great place to visit and I can’t wait to come again!

4 Reasons To Visit Cardiff

Cardiff has been my home for the past six months. I’ve created so many memories as a visitor and as a student of Cardiff University. I was fortunate to get to know my surroundings in the small city. I was able to visit places like the National Museum of Cardiff, Cardiff Castle, and soon the Millennium Stadium in June! If you (the reader) is planning to visit Cardiff, here are a few things you should do:

1. Walk everywhere! Explore your surroundings.

I’m going to miss walking everywhere. Although a part of me misses transportation, it was great to not rely on it. I was able to walk to class everyday and to the city centre when I needed something. I loved the shortcuts I found to get to places faster.

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2. So many food options. Try them all! 

I’m glad that I was able to try different restaurants, diners, and food joints all around Cardiff. There are even hidden arcades with even more food places to try. Whether it was brunch or a traditional Welsh dish, it was great to try different things each time. I enjoy brunch the most because who doesn’t love a good breakfast in the afternoon?

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3. Catch a rugby game at a bar or live. 

An exciting thing I was able to do in April was cheer on Cardiff University in a rugby match. Students traveled to Swansea to go against the university there. It was great to dress in red and represent Cardiff. I’ve never been to a college game before and it was exciting! There was school pride everywhere I turned with cheers and banters against the other team.

It was also exciting to go inside a stadium for the first time. I’ve never been in a stadium before and I never realized how huge it was! I’m pretty sure it’s smaller than most stadiums, but I like that even though I was in the second to last row of the stadium I was able to view everything. Rugby is still a confusing sport, but every time Cardiff scored a point, I cheered so loud! The day got even better because Cardiff University won!

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4. Visit Cardiff’s attractions. 

I got to visit the one and only Cardiff Castle. I remember seeing it the first time when I arrived in Cardiff and I was glad I finally got to visit. I got a Castle key (it’s great for three years) and all it had to offer. The Cardiff Castle has the best view of Cardiff. The breathtaking view brought a big smile on my face. I also learned the history of the castle and was happy about the sunny weather.

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I visited City Hall and although it was limited there was a lot of things I did get to see. I was able to see an art piece of Princess Diana and marble statues of important people from Wales. It was a very elegant place that many events are held there.

I also returned to Cardiff Bay and saw the difference between the first time I went to now. The weather was warmer, so many people were out enjoying the sun. I was able to go inside a building filled with history of the bay and Wales as a whole. It was perfect weather for a burger and walking around the bay. I even tried the best Welsh cakes in Wales and let me tell you that they were telling the truth!

Since I only have three weeks left, I decided to visit the National Museum again. It was a different experience since I was alone exploring it again. I was able to sit down and draw a few of my favorite paintings and statues. I also got to visit the new exhibits and fall in love with art all over again. I was glad to have the opportunity to just leave my flat one morning and walk to the museum for the day.

I can’t believe that I’m almost heading back to the states. I’ve been so accustomed to Cardiff and all that it offers. I hope that I have the chance to visit Cardiff again in the future.