Fabiana in China: The Last One

May 1, 2015

As we wrap up the month of April, I sit back and enjoy my last plane ride back to Beijing. I look at the blue sky and clouds, and remember I forgot to throw out the milk in my refrigerator before leaving (two weeks ago). Haha.

With approximately 1,400 photos in my camera (of which 200 are basically selfies), I feel as if it was only yesterday when this trip started. We had seen and learned so much, to the extent that I have to make an effort to remember what I had seen in each city. I could go on and on about everything that has happened, but instead I’ll briefly narrate my top 10 experiences.

(Because it’s too hard to rank them, I just listed them according to the order in which each was done)

Visiting the White Horse Temple (Luoyang, western Henan province, China)

The White Horse Temple is the first Buddhist temple in China. Established in 68 AD under the patronage of Emperor Ming, the temple is considered “the cradle of Chinese Buddhism.” The legend says Emperor Ming had a dream vision about a Buddha who established Buddhism in India. He then sent emissaries to search for Buddhist scriptures. In Afghanistan, they found two Buddhist monks that agreed to come to China to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. These monks carried their Buddhist books, scriptures and relics on two white horses. In their honor, the Emperor built and named the first Buddhist temple The White Horse Temple.  Creative huh?

Photo 1

Witnessing tens of thousands Buddhist statues carved into mountains (Luoyang)

The last time I remember feeling this amazed was when I saw the Taj Mahal in India two years ago. The view of the Longmen Buddhist Grottoes was simply breathtaking, especially because you never really know when you’ll reach the most famous sculptural site of the place. The construction of the grottoes began in 493 BCE, and in 2000, the area was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With around 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas, and over 10,000 Buddhist images at the site, it is one of the most impressive collections of Chinese art from the Northern Wei Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and other periods.

Photo 2

Touring The Terracotta Soldiers Site (Xi’an)

Ever since I saw an exposition at Epcot, Disney of the Terracotta Soldiers, my dream was to go see “the real-deal.” These life-sized statues of warriors older than the Roman Empire are located 1.5 kilometers east of the Mausoleum of the First Emperor, Shi Huang Di. Farmers found pieces of broken terracotta in 1974 when digging a well. This is how the 14,260 square-meter pit of terracotta warriors and horses was found. Today, more than 8,000 soldiers and 100 chariots have been excavated. However, because of the “limited technology” today, most of the excavated warriors have been buried again for better protection. There are only 1,000 terracotta figures in exhibition today.

Photo 3

Riding a Tandem Bike on Xi’an’s Ancient City Wall

There is truly no other way to wander this 14-kilometer city wall other than riding a bike. If you’re up for spicing things up, try renting the tandem bikes. From the top, you’ll be able to see the contrast between the old and new architecture: the old referring to the construction located inside the city wall, and the new referring to the outside. The city walls form one of the largest and most complete, ancient military systems of defense in the world. They were built on the fortifications of the Tang Forbidden City.

Photo 4

Eating in Xi’an: Arab Street Food

From fried bananas on sticks to spicy meat over bread: when in Xi’an this street is a “must-go” to eat. Half the time you will not know what you’re eating, but the lines of people waiting will depict how good the food being sold there is.

Photo 5

Roaming Around the Potala Palace (Lhasa)

This palace is truly astonishing. When seeing it from the outside, you see a combination of white on the bottom and red on top. These two colors correspond to two palaces built in different time periods, but connected to form one from the inside. Pilgrims walk around the Potala Palace for hours to pay homage, so as soon as you’re near the palace you can get a feel of how important this building is for Buddhists. The 13-story palace stands 117 meters high and has over 1,000 rooms. It covers an area of 130,000 square meters.

The red palace contains jaw-dropping mausoleums of previous Dalai Lamas and the white palace contains the living headquarters of successive Dalai Lamas and their tutors. The Potala Palace is full of precious sculptures, murals, scriptures, and Buddha figures accompanied by the hums of the Buddhist prayers. It has been considered one of the most sacred places for Buddhism for hundreds of years.

Photo 6

Having Tea by the Barkhor Street (Lhasa)

“入乡随俗,”by far one of my favorite four-character word sayings in Chinese means: “In Rome, do what Romans do.” After walking one of the oldest streets in Lhasha called Barkhor Street, one has to make an effort to find the famous teashops located on hidden alleys. Our tour guide took my friend and I to one of these for a big surprise. These places are not the ordinary teashops you’re imagining, where you sit in an ordinary manner and have a server ask your order. These are the type of places you sit wherever you fit: there are long tables and chairs everywhere. This is a type of place locals sit and chat, do business and meet total strangers. With a whole pot of milk tea priced at $1, this is the place to end your day’s adventure.

Hiking the Leshan Giant Buddha (Leshan)

The Leshan Giant Buddha is the biggest carved stone Buddha in the world (71 meters high). Located at the confluence of three important rivers, the statue was built to bring the water spirit under control. The falling stones during the carving would also help reduce the water force there. It took 90 years to complete the carving.

Photo 8

Visiting the Panda Research Base/Giant Panda Breading Center (Chengdu)

The research base, which has elements of a veterinary lab, a park, a panda habitat, and a zoo, is one of the best places to see giant pandas in the world. The research base, covered in trees, flowers and 14 species of bamboo, provides a pleasant escape from city life. Red pandas (closer-looking to a raccoon than a panda) are also sheltered there, giving a twist to the whole experience.

Photo 9 pandas

Walking through Jinli Street (Chengdu)

In ancient times, Jinli was one of the busiest commercial boulevards of the Kingdom of Shu. Today, visitors from all over China and abroad enjoy this renovated street, as there is a lot to see, hear and EAT. WARNING: eating some of the local specialties will literally make you sweat. If you’re not into spicy food, make sure you tell the vendor “bu yao la” 不要啦 = I don’t want spicy. They’ll look at you a little insulted (they love the spice), but will make sure you get the least amount of spice in it (if possible).

Photo 10

With the semester completed and a month left in Beijing, I wrap my last blog post with a BIG THANK YOU. I couldn’t have done anything without the support of my family, boyfriend, and friends I made along the way. I liked having this blog for my stay in China, who knows if I’ll have another independent one in the future.

There is still so much to see, touch and taste out there. I am young. I am hungry for experience.

Till we meet again.

F.


KyungSun in Scotland: Happy Graduation!

April 30, 2015
My teacher/Parliamentary program coordinator, Paddy, and the girls from my flat!

My teacher/Parliamentary program coordinator, Paddy, and the girls from my flat!

Last week marked the formal end of my internship. As I reflect on my time at Holyrood, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming mix of joy, accomplishment, and sadness. It takes me back to high school graduation. I remember down the red carpet with my diploma in hand, ready for the next step in my life, but also sad for the people I’d say goodbye to. The difference between then and now is that this time, I won’t be coming back to the same place. Scotland is and has always been the temporary home that my exchange friends, church friends, teachers, and MSPs shared. Now, I will be leaving this home in 6 days.

When I first arrived, I came with two main academic goals: to learn about the policy-making process and how Scotland delivers great healthcare through its NHS (National Healthcare System). I was expecting to just see and learn the formal processes in action, but instead learned in a much greater way.

My MSP, Richard, in particular created a very open space for me to learn and grow during my time at Holyrood. I initially was very nervous when I first came in and was immediately asked to write up briefings on research Richard needed. I thought it would be something that he would just skim or put aside for later, but was surprised to find out that he had sent out the reports to other staff members on the project. I was always diligent in my work, but of course I wasn’t perfect. I still had to get used to little things like the different spellings to the bigger things like not always knowing where to look for specific information. But being able to interact and bounce off these topics with Richard made me see how passionate he is about keeping people healthy. Something that struck me was when we were reviewing the percentages of waiting times and Richard, frustrated, had said something like this:  “Can you find me a number? I don’t like this report because it gives me a percentage and people are not percentages; they should be counted each as individuals”. I admired this statement; it reflects his dedication to bringing about change for the people he serves, and I’m glad to have been part of making the changes happen.

Richard

 Richard's Alcohol Bill Launch! One of the things he really pushed for is to reduce the alcohol/tobacco consumption in Scotland. Some of the measures in his bill include things like retailers not being able to sell packs of beer cheaper than if you would buy the same amount as individual cans.

Richard’s Alcohol Bill Launch! One of the things he really pushed for is to reduce the alcohol/tobacco consumption in Scotland. Some of the measures in his bill include things like retailers not being able to sell packs of beer cheaper than if you would buy the same amount as individual cans.

The greatest thing I admire about Scottish politics are the incentives built within the political system that enables the MSPs and their staff to focus on the work rather than the position. In Scotland, politicians have a modest spending budget limit for campaigns, which makes the position more accessible to the general public. It was both surprising and amazing when the other interns and I discovered that staff members of MSPs (Member of the Scottish Parliament) were running either as MSPs or as MPs! The other interns and I agreed that we would never see this in the States simply because you need a lot of money to have a good chance in the race. I certainly wish I could bring this feature of politics back with me to the States.

It initially didn’t hit me that it was time to say goodbye. I went into work as usual, had lunch with some of the other interns, and went campaigning on my last day as a final gathering with the team. The UK Election is now officially 1 week away and my MSP/staff have been busy campaigning for Gordon Banks, the Labour candidate running for MP (Member of the UK Parliament). I spent a very relaxing, fun day down in the constituency office in Alloa getting to know the other volunteers. I also got to share a car-ride chat with Gordon Banks about his work as an MP. I could see that he is someone who values the individual relationships he has with the community he serves and he told me that if he had the choice, he would choose to work from his constituency rather than spilt his time between London and Alloa. Even on my last day, I was happy to be learning more about the people driving change in Scotland/UK. But all too soon, the day ended, and I hugged everyone goodbye.

The Labour campaign team to re-elect Gordon Banks! He has served as an MP for the past 10 years already!

The Labour campaign team to re-elect Gordon Banks! He has served as an MP for the past 10 years already!

Where we were campaigning: in the quaint town of Alloa.

Where we were campaigning: in the quaint town of Alloa.

Initially, I had ruled out working in government simply because I saw it as a job that detaches you from the people you serve. But I am now re-considering the possibility of being involved in local or state government someday. I see it as a great incubator for change. I see so many possibilities as I enter my final year at University this upcoming fall. I see a long road of detours and discovery. But most of all, I see hope that I, although one person, can be a force of change.

With my Parliamentary Program diploma in hand, final research report submitted, and thank you cards given to the people who’ve given me this wonderful opportunity, the next and last thing to do is somehow begin preparing myself to say goodbye to Scotland and the friends I’ve made here. Till next time!


Becca in Hungary: Class Field Trip!!

April 28, 2015

In grade school, I remember the best parts of any school year were field trips, and even as an official legal adult, those are still the days I value the most in my school year. I guess there are just some things you can never change about a person! This past weekend, my program took a group trip to Lake Balaton. The goals of the trip were to 1) Continue to bond with our fellow AIT classmates and 2) See the countryside of Hungary and learn more about Hungarian culture. My goal now is to reflect on these goals:

1) If you recall some of my first blog posts, I noted that I first went to a two and half week language emersion program. About half of the AIT students participated in this program, while the other half waited to come three weeks later at the official start date of the program. This means half of the program got a jump start at forming new friendships and relationships. Ever since the others arrived, there has always be this divide between the language program students and the new students. For the first time though, I started to notice that the divide between these two groups was beginning to fade. No longer could I remember which people attended the language school or not. It was awesome to see more unity within my program!

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Group photo during a hike

 

A castle we visited

A castle we visited

2) I also learned that the countryside of Hungary is completely different than Budapest. In Budapest, I never really have trouble with my lack of mastery of Hungarian. However, in the countryside, no one really speaks English. Most people I spoke to use an “English-Hungarian hybrid language”, where they spoke in Hungarian with some key words in English. Not only do I see a contrast with the language, I also saw a contrast in lifestyle. In Budapest, it seems like people are always out and about, while in the countryside you see very few people roaming the streets. You do not see large supermarkets or stores, but rather small villages spread across a hilly terrain broken apart by large chunks of farms. While people in Budapest seem to be working in big corporate jobs, those in the countryside seem to be taking small local roles in their community.

Landscape of the countryside

Landscape of the countryside

For me, I found this countryside style of living to be very charming, and it reminds me that life is not always about the “hussle and bussle” but rather just enjoying the daily joys you receive in your life. It has been amazing to travel the world and experience all these new cultures, but at the end of the day what makes me happy are the basics of life such as having an amazing network of family and friends, being able to get weekly groceries, being able to workout and play frisbee, and so many more! I feel like many successful individuals, such as my fellow University of Richmond Spiders and myself, are always seeking for “more” whatever that “more” is for them (more money, more adventure, more friends, etc.). But this weekend trip, and this study abroad opportunity in general, makes me see that we don’t always need to seek for more, but rather enjoy what we have now.


Jackie in Switzerland: le mal du pays

April 27, 2015

Homesickness has hit. I have had the sense of missing my family and friends for this whole semester, and I thought that this was homesickness [the French call it “le mal du pays”]. It was only after my Spring Break trip that I learned what homesickness really is.

The French call it le mal du pays, which seems to be a better description to me. Obviously I have been having an amazing time studying abroad and I wouldn’t change my situation for the world, but that doesn’t stop me from missing my home. After seeing Snapchats, Instagrams, and tweets about socials, away weekends, and of course Pig Roast, I realized how much was going on in Richmond without me. After talking to my parents, I learned that my little cousin has started walking and talking. No matter how incredible it is to study abroad, it is impossible to not miss all of the things from home.

The snow is gone and Lausanne is brightening up! Even when I feel homesick, it is hard not to fall in love with this view

The snow is gone and Lausanne is brightening up! Even when I feel homesick, it is hard not to fall in love with this view

I had thought that the hardest part of studying abroad would be the classes, cooking for myself, and especially the French! But in the end, the balance between home and here has been the most challenging obstacle for me. I want to stay involved in Richmond and keep up all of my relationships with friends, but at the same time, it is hard to keep up at home and really immerse in life here in Switzerland. Luckily, I have the most amazing friends in Richmond and in Pittsburgh who make me feel loved and missed.

Even though sometimes I feel so far away from Richmond, I love staying involved in any way I can. It was so fun to take the pledge in support of the Start by Believing campaign halfway across the world!

Even though sometimes I feel so far away from Richmond, I love staying involved in any way I can. It was so fun to take the pledge in support of the Start by Believing campaign halfway across the world!

After talking to a lot of other study abroad students, we realized that there is this idea that we all want to show the very best side of study abroad. We want to travel to the coolest places as much as possible just to let everyone at home know that we are having a good time and that we are okay. There’s almost an invisible pressure to have an absolutely perfect study abroad experience that we forget to actually experience it without worrying about what our friends back home think or about what we are ‘supposed’ to think.

Me and Amelia

Me and Amelia

Me and Amanda

Me and Amanda

 I am so incredibly lucky to have met so many amazing people from all around the world!

I am so incredibly lucky to have met so many amazing people from all around the world!

I think that in my blogs, I have always highlighted the positive, once-in-a–lifetime experiences of study abroad, but there are also parts that are not so easy. I am getting better and better at really getting into the experience instead of worrying about what I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing (of course I learn this towards the end of the semester). That being said, I think that it is a skill that everyone has to learn, and studying abroad has helped me do it. It’s hard sometimes to do what you want to do, instead of what we are expected to do, but you have to do what makes you happy.

For example, some of my friends went hiking the other day, and despite my adventurous rock climbing and skiing skills, I really don’t like nature all that much. I almost went to the hike, just because I felt like since I am a study abroad student, I ‘should’ be out and about seeing the country. BUT instead I stayed in, watched Scandal, and ate Ben and Jerrys. Such an exciting study abroad life. In the end, I had to realize that studying abroad is an experience for me and no one else.

The less glamorous, but equally fun, part of any study abroad experience. And YES its totally okay to do this instead of jetting off to Paris for the weekend!

The less glamorous, but equally fun, part of any study abroad experience. And YES its totally okay to do this instead of jetting off to Paris for the weekend!

After getting over my wave of homesickness and eating way too much ice cream, I am getting ready for the last month of classes, which means lots of papers and tests. I haven’t mentioned this in a long time, but my French is actually improving! My hall mates are amazing and insist on speaking to me in French, and my conversations with them have helped so much.

Next week I have an hour long presentation on the Swiss Book as a vector of Cultural Diplomacy in the United States (thrilling, I know). Just before the trip, I will be visiting Gruyeres and the Cailler chocolate factory. Rumor has it that at the end of the factory tour, there is a 10 minute, Hunger-Games style all you can eat extravaganza.  This makes me happy, and you can expect a detailed blog about this as soon as I get over the sugar high.


Kyungsun in Scotland: The Happiest Country In the World

April 23, 2015
The iconic picture of Denmark: Nyhaven

The iconic picture of Denmark: Nyhaven

When I arrived in Copenhagen, I was more excited to see my friend Amaury than the fact that I was in one of the happiest countries in the world. I was just happy to be in the presence of a familiar friend. As expected, it didn’t take long before we skipped the small talk and dived into a discussion about how our study abroad experience has transformed us. It was a warm relief knowing that he had been sharing similar struggles of changing friendships and becoming more independent like me.

The next day, we spent the entire day exploring the city. The best part about having a friend show you around is that you get your own personal tour guide. It was astonishing just how much Amaury knew about Denmark. He knew everything from the current politics to the historical significance of the main buildings. Two places in particular held the most meaning for me. As expected, my pictures don’t capture the full energy of the moment, but I hope I can still convey the spirit as well of the beauty of the city.

Christiana

The first thing I noticed was the sign. Welcome to Christiana! Once we went under the arch, Amaury told me to turn around as if I was exiting. You are now entering the EU. Huh?

The second sign said that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.

The third sign said that I was supposed to have fun.

A taste of Christiana (we were only allowed to take pictures before entering)

A taste of Christiana (we were only allowed to take pictures before entering)

Walking into Christiana was like stepping outside of Denmark. When I first walked around the streets of the Copenhagen, I saw the traditional colorful buildings, comparatively clean streets, beautiful people, and places to shop everywhere. But Christiana is the part of the city that is still not developed and not developed by choice.

I asked Amaury where he had brought me to and he said that Christiana was a community that represented freedom of expression. Indeed, I saw graffiti and color everywhere. Any white space was anyone’s canvas. You can build your own house in Christiana. But no one owns anything. Rather, everything is owned by the community. You are only allowed to live in Christiana if you are accepted by all 850 members in the community. It is also a town that claims that it’s separate from Denmark (hence the EU sign), but not recognized by any formal body.

After moving past the initial front, I was overcome with a tangible sense of peace that filled the area. But when I looked at the various colors and shapes of the houses, I also felt an uneasy feel of chaos. Nothing conformed to the thing next to it. Yet Amaury told me that there is a deep woven bond of community in Christiana that allowed everyone to enjoy a harmonious life. I suddenly found myself questioning the value of standardizing everything from our houses to our education – do we do it for the ease or for the control?

Did I also mention that weed is everywhere? On what is known as Pusher Street, stalls are lined with people selling, smoking, or buying weed (hence, no pictures). The police know this. The government knows this. And the teens at the local high school across the street certainly know this. Yet it’s an accepted part of Danish society. Occasionally there are police raids (which is why you’re also not allowed to run in Christiana). However, my expert tour guide told me that overall, the Danes want to maintain the essence of Christiana for what it is because it represents a part of Denmark’s history.

I left dizzy with questions and confusion. It made me question a lot about the ways in which we as communities and societies achieve things like safety, individual expression, and justice.

Amalienborg

Denmark continued to surprise me. Thursday was Queen Margrethe’s 75th Birthday. All I knew was to be at Amalienborg Palace, where the Queen lived, by twelve o’clock. Amaury was unfortunately in class. The morning was pretty calm as I was exploring Rosenborg Palace. Then I saw the band and guards lining up and when I turned the corner, people were everywhere. Little did I know this is where the party started.

It was actually a relief knowing that the guards were kicking off the celebrations with loud fanfare and a parade through the streets. This meant all I had to do was follow them to the other palace rather than stand out as a lost tourist. My favorite part about the parade is that anyone could simply be a part of it. The police encouraged everyone to make way for the guards and band, but a swarm of people trailed alongside or behind the line.

 

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On my way to Amalienborg Palace, I was handed a flag and again, turned a corner and saw everyone waiting to enter. But for some reason we weren’t being let in and the police kept pointing people to the left. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying but I decided to trust my instinct and follow the crowd.

It was a good move because I found the actual entrance! What I loved about the moment even before the celebration started is how energized everyone was to see the Queen. Amaury had told me the day before that the people loved the Queen. When I also asked what the Queen did outside her political duties, I was surprised that Amaury’s host family knew the answer. She apparently makes costumes for plays and paints.

 

 

Close up with Queen Margrethe!

Close up with Queen Margrethe!

Front row view to see her pass by!

Front row view to see her pass by!

parade

It was an interesting atmosphere to be in – I felt like the Queen was approachable. Even the Palace didn’t have any gates or barriers. You could just walk right up to the front door and knock on it if you wanted. I was told that it’s because the Danish Royalty embody the strange balance of humility and pride that make up the Danish lifestyle.

Amalienborg Palace

Amalienborg Palace

These two places are sadly only two snapshots out of the near 700 pictures of what I experienced. Copenhagen is a city like Edinburgh in that it has a great mix of nature, history, and modernity. Unfortunately, Copenhagen is also much bigger than Edinburgh. I didn’t get to explore the city fully, but I know I have to come back. As you can tell, Denmark was a place that really made me think about how the country has become such a loved, happy, accepting, humble, yet prideful country and much more.

I think this is the value of traveling. It makes you realize that other people do it differently. They provide welfare differently. They view wealth differently. They deal with social justice differently. And most of all, it makes me appreciate the various ways we all strive for the same thing.

Rosenborg Palace and King's Gardens

Rosenborg Palace and King’s Gardens


Becca in Hungary: Small Town Hungary

April 20, 2015

First I just wanted to start with some fun facts about Hungary’s geography:

1) Hungary borders 7 countries and no bodies of water.

2) Before WWI Hungary was about 2/3 times bigger than it is today including all of Croatia, and Transylvania (now in Romania). At this time Hungary was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but due to the Treaty of Trianon after WWI Hungary lost most of their land. Today many Hungarians blame their countries recent hardships on the fact that Hungary has been split into all these smaller countries. When you travel Hungary you can find small stickers that say “big Hungary” in support of trying to regain these lost areas.

Map of Big Hungary before the end WWI

Map of Big Hungary before the end WWI

3) Some of Hungary’s most famous regions are the settlements on a long the Danube, Lake Balaton (the largest Lake in Central Europe), the plains below Budapest, and the more mountainous region in the north.

Map of current day Hungary

Map of current day Hungary

So why am I spitting off all these facts about Hungary’s geography? Well, my goal for my time left in Hungary is try to explore as many of these regions as possible. This weekend marks the beginning of this exploration.

On Saturday I spent time exploring the small town of Szentendre which is a quaint city between Esztergom and Budapest. Szentendre is that small, adorable town that you just can’t help but fall in love with. The town is full of winding cobble stone roads that roll by small stores, ice cream parlors, and restaurants. For me, Szentendre is the perfect place to explore because you can hangout in a park near the river and play frisbee, and then finish off the game with a wonderful meal along the water. All of this and more all in Hungarian prices aka not expensive.

The town of Szentendre

The town of Szentendre

Chilling along the Danube

Chilling along the Danube

On Sunday I took a day trip two hours north of Budapest to Miskolcs where you can find what is said to be one of the best thermal baths in Hungary. This bath is popular because it was built within a cave system, so as you whirl around the relaxing tunnels you are surrounded by beautiful natural rock formations. While I was there I was able to take a mud bath. I assumed that the mud bath would be bathing in some thick substance like you might see in the movies, but oh no in Hungary a mud bath in literally a bath tub of water with some mud and dirt in it. Definitely an interesting experience!

Inside the thermal baths of Miskolcs

Inside the thermal baths of Miskolcs

This upcoming weekend my whole program will be heading to Lake Balaton for some adventures up there! Stay tuned!


Jackie (Not) in Switzerland: Spring Break!

April 16, 2015

You have not done spring break until you have done spring break in Europe. A few weeks ago, all of my friends at Richmond were on Spring Break – at the beach in warm, sunny weather. Meanwhile, I was still wearing a winter coat here in Lausanne. But it was all worth it. For my Spring Break in Europe, I went to Nice, Monaco, Venice, and Milan and they were all amazing!

I am always happy to be back in France, and Nice was the perfect place to go. Heading from the cold temperatures in Lausanne and seeing people in bathing suits on the beach in Nice was a huge shock! I had another one of those “wow I am really here” moments as I took a nap on the beach on the French Riviera (!!). Other than the amazing weather, the city itself was incredible. It was definitely a touristy beach city, but it was very clear that only the wealthiest people actually vacationed there. I am proud to say that I had the time of my life, even living on a student budget.

This picture of the Cote d’Azur is iconic, I couldn’t believe how blue the water was!

This picture of the Cote d’Azur is iconic, I couldn’t believe how blue the water was!

While we were in Nice, we decided to head to Monaco for a day to see the Monte Carlo and more amazing clear blue beaches. While we thought that Nice was a city for the wealthy, it was nothing compared to Monaco. Everywhere we turned, there was a new luxury car or limousine. Every building looked like a palace, and the stores were all the best European designer brands. I’ve decided that I need to live there one day. I think my love for Monaco was quite apparent to my friends, as I repeatedly explained how I would become the future Princess of Monaco (let me dream!)

 Ayumi and I decided to recognize the fact that we were in one of the classiest cities in Europe. This was the result. Very mature.

Ayumi and I decided to recognize the fact that we were in one of the classiest cities in Europe. This was the result. Very mature.

After visiting Monaco, it was time to head to Venice. Before coming to Europe, Venice was the one city that I really wanted to visit, so I was unbelievably excited to see the city! I arrived at the airport and had to take a water taxi onto the island of Venice, which was one of the coolest things ever. What other city has water taxis and waterbuses? My friend and I stayed in an old, traditional Italian building that had been converted into a hotel, and that experience was amazing! The whole city felt so lively and filled with history, and there were hardly any modern buildings.

In Venice, it is hard to get anywhere. You need to take a boat to get to the mainland, and you can only get to some places on the island by boat. Still, it was an amazing place to visit

In Venice, it is hard to get anywhere. You need to take a boat to get to the mainland, and you can only get to some places on the island by boat. Still, it was an amazing place to visit

Of course I had to be a super tourist and take a gondola ride in the Grand Canal. Even though I knew I was WAY overpaying for the experience, it was totally worth it! We got to see a lot of the city from the water, which was a completely different experience than seeing it from walking around! Our gondola driver didn’t sing to us (which was probably for the best), but my gondola experience was amazing nonetheless.

The gondola ride was actually my favorite part! It was so cool to see the city from the water.

The gondola ride was actually my favorite part! It was so cool to see the city from the water.

After Venice, we made it to our last leg of the trip; Milan. This city was so totally different from Venice with its modern skyscrapers and sleek, new buildings. It was definitely the most cosmopolitan city that I have been to recently, and the change was nice.

We climbed all the way up to the top of the Duomo, the church in the center of town. The view was amazing and we spent about an hour just lying on the roof of the building.

We climbed all the way up to the top of the Duomo, the church in the center of town. The view was amazing and we spent about an hour just lying on the roof of the building.

As the fashion capital of the world, there were plenty of designer stores throughout the city. Prada was begun in Milan, and this is the first ever store!

As the fashion capital of the world, there were plenty of designer stores throughout the city. Prada was begun in Milan, and this is the first ever store!

And now for the bad news. I was being the most American tourist in the world, eating a snack in McDonalds. A few girls came over to our table asking for food or money and it was shortly after they left that I realized that my phone was missing! I went through the whole trip feeling like a savvy traveler, not falling for any of the tourist traps that would make me a target for pickpockets. In the end, I really was *that* tourist that doesn’t notice that their phone was stolen. I never thought that it would actually happen to me, and I thought that I would be smart enough to recognize what was happening, but it really is so easy to get caught off guard. I reported the theft to the police (who were DEFINITELY sick and tired of hearing of phone thefts from American tourists), but I know that my phone is gone.

I think that I handled my first pickpocketing experience pretty well, with minimal tears, but it still feels horrible to feel like something was taken right from you. In the end, the process of getting a new phone hasn’t been too stressful, so I really am just lucky that I didn’t lose anything more important!

In addition to the theft, our train home was almost 2 hours late and I didn’t end up getting home until 1am on Sunday night (before my 10am Monday morning class). Needless to say, I was so overwhelmingly happy to come back home to Lausanne! I really missed being ‘home’ and I’m really excited to spend some time going back to normal life with school and friends.

P.s. There was a slight delay in this post because while I had all of my pictures of my trip all planned out, they were all saved on my phone! I’m crossing my fingers and hoping against hope that all of pictures were somehow miraculously saved onto iCloud even though I have no clue what that even really is (I am clearly a tech genius). Stay tuned for the verdict on the state of my pictures, but for now, special shout out to Ayumi for letting me use her pictures of our trip!


KyungSun in Scotland: More Than Beauty

April 14, 2015

In my last blog post, I said that I didn’t want to just see pretty views. Somewhere along my abroad journey, I made it my goal to find deeper connection to what I saw.  I didn’t want to go home with just pictures to show, but with a story to explain what these views meant to me. Norway was my first test to begin fulfilling my goal.

By trying to see Norway in a different light, I’ve had the most meaningful trip – one full of learning, understanding, and connecting – in the three short days I’ve been here. The meanings I developed were also not forced. Rather, they are products of reflecting on the things I saw that moved me.

Below, I tell my stories in three parts: what I first saw, what I was intended to see, and my interpretation of what I saw. By explaining it in this way, I hope you can see how I found deeper meaning in the things that I took pictures of during my trip.

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Our first stop  in Oslo, the capital of Norway, was to see the 121 Vigeland statues in Frogner Park.

Here’s what I first saw: A lot of nude statues.

Frogner Park

Frogner Park

Here’s what Gustav Vigeland, the sculptor, intended for us to see: The many faces of human expression. Every statue has a clearly detailed facial expression of joy, sadness, anger, or love. His most famous statue is the Monolith, seen below, which depicts 121 people climbing and clawing on top of each other. This monument has been interpreted as Man’s Resurrection, the struggle for existence, Man’s yearning for spiritual spheres, the transcendence of everyday life and cyclic repetition according to Norway’s Tourist website.

The Monolith

The Monolith

Here’s what I saw: Me, my family, my friends, and how we interact with each other. I saw my dad protecting my mom, the sacrifices my mom made to give my brother and me the happiest future, the love that I’ve shared with someone, and my friend and I sitting together supporting each other in comfortable silence.

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I circled around the statues, once, twice, then a third, and fourth time. Each time, I thought about how perfectly Vigeland captured the many emotions that exist in every relationship. During my time abroad, I’ve been trying to understand the various roles in the relationships that I currently have. What does it mean to be a sister? What does it mean to be a friend? What does it mean to love? Although I don’t have fully developed answers to these questions yet, thinking about these questions have made me think of ways to improve the relationships I have with other people.

For example, before I used to think that a best friend is someone you had everything in common with, someone you shared everything with, and knew you inside and out. But during college, my closest friends have been people different from me – in interests and personality – and I’ve never had as many introverted friends as I have now. Being an extrovert, this meant that I’ve had to learn and develop my meaning of friendship. Not sharing everything doesn’t mean that we’re not close and no matter how much you think you know about them, they’re always changing, which presents opportunities for me to learn something new about them every day.

***

Next, we took an overnight train to Bergen, a small coastal city on the other side of the country. Here, I did the Norway in a Nutshell tour with my flatmate, Lucy. The main theme of the trip was to see the grand fjords, which are long, narrow bodies of water surrounded by cliffs.

Here’s what I first saw: Snow. Lots and lots of snow.

Mydral, Norway

Mydral, Norway

Here’s what I was intended to see: Small towns along the fjords that used to make up the heart of Bergen.

One of the many little towns with the best quality of water!

One of the many little towns with the best quality of water!

This town was originally where all the mail was sent for the people of Bergen

This town was originally where all the mail was sent for the people of Bergen

Here’s what I saw: Back in my Isle of Skye post, I mentioned that I love nature because it helps me realize that my problems are small compared to the vast land stretched out before me. This was especially true when I was looking at the grand fjords. I saw tall mountains with snow-capped tops with green bottoms, I saw houses buried in snow, and white that stretched for miles.

Among all this great scenery, all I could think was how often I missed what was right in front of me. I get so caught up in the future which lately consists of what I’ll be doing post-graduation, if my relationships with friends will change when I go back home, and what the summer has in store. But when I looked out, it suddenly brought me to the present. I saw the beauty around me, was cognizant of the fact that I was sitting here seeing this in person, finally seeing the pictures I had only seen on Buzzfeed’s “Top Cities You Must Visit Before You Die” articles, and feeling relaxed and peaceful. It made me realize how difficult it was to be mindful of the present and that appreciation, happiness, and satisfaction comes from being aware of where you are right now.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking that I think too much. I consider it both a blessing and a curse. But for an experience as important as this one, I know I’m not just on vacation. For me, it’s always been about growing in my perspective, mindset, and independence and that doesn’t come without some hardcore reflection. Of course, I couldn’t relate to all that Norway had to offer like its reindeer meat and obsession with bacon-wrapped hot dogs. But by thinking about what I’ve been doing just a little bit more, I’ve come to a better understanding of how my friends and family can relate to my abroad experience when I go back home.

Feeling so small!

Feeling so small!


Fabiana in China: Adventure Awaits

April 13, 2015

As I finished writing the last sentence of my essay this morning, I realized one thing:

I was done.

I had finished my final exam.

3 months went by, just like that. And now I look back, and I’m like: “Fabiana, that wasn’t that hard, or was it?” It’s funny how when we’re facing challenges and difficulties, it’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re like, “Man, I just can’t do it anymore.” We fight with ourselves. We cry. We want to give up. But when it’s all finally over, when you’ve been on the go for days now, you look back, smile, and say “Agh, that wasn’t that bad.” Haha.

Although I have seen my roommates start pilling up their papers filled of Chinese vocabulary words written over and over again, corrected homework, and not-so-pretty exam grades, I just can’t make myself start doing the same. Yes, I am done with the semester, the grades are all in, and I do feel like a weight has gotten off my shoulders. But nevertheless, I do not want to get rid of my Chinese books or tests, or those laborious and tiny “study tips” I like to do with a pink pen on top of my already summarized study guide. Yep, welcome to my world.

Although I have finished this semester, I have not finished learning Chinese.

I think to it as a never-ending project. It’s been a while since I started learning Chinese~ as soon as I start to feel comfortable with the language I realized, “Wow, I know this much. If only I knew THAT much more.” Chinese just keeps challenging you. I love it.

In retrospect, I now look at those 5am morning coffee sessions I had with my Chinese book everyday. I see myself there working, listening to that one “The River Flows in You” Pandora radio station. No one’s up and I am just there absorbed by the new vocabulary words. I smile and laugh for no apparent reason. I’m in my medium.

People often look at me and say, “how do you do it?” The truth is that I simply enjoy studying. I enjoy waking up at 5am knowing that by the time my 9am class starts, I’ll be prepared to answer every question and feel happy with myself. I have truly tried my best.

It’s not very practical, I confess. But it’s what makes me, me.

Now, I sit on the high-speed train making my way to Luoyang. The trip has finally started, and I’m starting the “gaining new eyes” part of my study abroad.

2 weeks of discovery and new landscapes.

Fabiana

A real voyage of discovery

A real voyage of discovery


Becca in Hungary: Experiencing Faith Abroad

April 13, 2015

Easter weekend is probably one of my favorite times of the year! In fact, I have been planning this past Easter weekend way before I even arrived in Budapest. For Easter I went to Sevilla, Spain where they have huge Semana de Santa (Holy Week) parades. Each day of Holy Week a couple brotherhoods (groups of religious individuals) will a host a parade that will wind through the city of the Sevilla. The start of each procession is a alter boy carry a large cross. The parade continues with many individuals from the brotherhood including some children passing out candy and also large city bands . The star of the parades though are the pasos which are large, ornate, wooden floats.  Typically these floats depict images of Jesus’s crucifixion or the Virgin Mary.

Some of the floats of the parade

Some of the floats of the parade

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Now if the floats themselves aren’t stunning enough for you, if you look below the float you might be able to make out some feet. What are people doing under the float? Well for almost 10 to 14 hours these one ton floats are carried by over a dozen men! UNBELIEVABLE!! These men (woman are not allowed to carry them… yet 🙂 ) are only allowed to carry this float once in their lifetime making a very big honor for the people chosen to carry the paso.

These parades are certainly nothing like the Macy’s parade I am use to seeing around Thanksgiving or local parades in my hometown. While most parades have a more upbeat presence, the Semana De Santa parades are much more somber. They really make you think about your faith and religion. Not only do you see these beautiful depictions of various scenes, but beneath the scene you see many shuffling feet slowly jerking the float forward. Religious or not, it is amazing to witness these men’s testimony to God and their ability to overcome tremendous physical pain for the sake of their beliefs.

On top of the eye opening experience of the parades, I was also able to attend two separate services in Spain. The first was an Easter Mass in the Cathedral of Spain.

My failed attempt to get the whole Cathedral into one picture

My failed attempt to get the whole Cathedral into one picture

A picture from the tower of the Cathedral

A picture from the tower of the Cathedral

As you can tell this Cathedral is more of a fortress then a simple town church. Throughout the Cathedral there were several side chapels so at one time there could be multiple masses going on. This mass for me just didn’t spark my spiritual heart. It was very much a “get them in, get them out” approach rather than an in-depth spiritual experience.

On our way to dinner that night, though, I wanted to stop into one more small chapel, and that is when I found a group of semi-cloistered nuns partaking in a small worship ceremony. The nuns are behind a gated area meaning that they have limited interaction with the public while the priest were in the front leading the service. Within the chapel there were only maybe 5 benches for visitors to stay. The service was the complete opposite of the one I went to in the cathedral. While the cathedral was filled with thousands of people this service had only 4. What amazed me the most about this service was even though I did not understand one word that was being said (it was all in Spanish) I was still so moved by what he was saying. It really showed me that faith can transcend the barriers of language. If you keep your heart open to the message, you can hear the message through your faith rather than through your ears. Going to this service was definitely one of my favorite experiences I have had abroad!

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Now that I have returned from Spain and trying to get back into the swing of school, I am committed to staying within Hungary for the rest of the program. I have loved visiting all these new places, but the next month and a half I plan to focus my energy on Hungary.


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