Ella in Buenos Aires: Exploring BA

February 25, 2018

This week I took some time to walk around the city and explore. I’m feeling more and more at home every day. It really helps to walk around the different neighborhoods and start to get a feel for where everything is. People are always talking to each other on the street and always talking to me! Being so immersed in the language, I feel like my Spanish is improving exponentially. However, when people speak in slang or just talk really fast I can’t catch everything. Usually I just nod and don’t let on that I don’t understand everything they are saying!


This is the area that I think I’ve heard people call “El centro.” There’s cool places to walk around, restaurants, and shopping near here! Also, it’s super close to my university, UCA.


The “Pink House” is the Argentine version of the White House! It’s in el centro as well, and right next to the subway stop I use to get to school so I get to walk past it every day! Right now, they are re-doing the plaza that’s in front of the pink house, so there’s a lot of construction everywhere. I hope they finish it while I am still in Buenos Aires so I get to see the final product!


I did some exploring around the Recoleta this week as well, which is the area where I live. It is so pretty with tons of parks, restaurants, a couple malls, and an old cemetery in the middle! The restaurants are my favorite, they are all so cute and well-decorated. These ones are on a huge patio at a mall called Buenos Aires Design. I love the string lights that are always lit up at night!

I’m excited for my last week of Spanish classes, my semester is starting so soon!

See you next week!


Ella in Buenos Aires: Summer in the City

February 21, 2018

Finally, I have arrived in Argentina and started my semester. It is so crazy that in less than a day I’ve gone from snow-covered Minneapolis to the incredibly hot and humid Buenos Aires where it is close to 90°F every day! This city is truly overwhelming. Everything is happening so quickly, people always seem to be hurrying from one place to another. So far, I have bought an Argentine SIM card so that I can use my phone here  and I have learned how to use the colectivos (public buses) to get to my university. I feel pretty accomplished just to have completed these basic tasks!


My host mom’s apartment is so cute. Here’s her little balcony!


Yesterday my Spanish class got to go on a tour of Teatro Colón. Our Spanish class got to take a tour of the theater, and we learned so much about its rich history. Though it is now almost 110 years old, it is still considered one of the finest theaters in the world. The tour guide spoke to the incredible acoustics inside the main stage.


Here’s another part of the theater where the guests with the most expensive tickets would mingle. My favorite part of the theater was the fancy light fixtures that were in every room as you can see in this photo. While we were exploring this room, we learned that the theater took 20 years to build, and the creators had both Italian as well as French influences, and imported the valuable materials they used such as marble and gold from these places. This eclectic European style made me feel like I was inside a castle!


The sun was setting by the time we were done with our tour. Another beautiful summer day in Buenos Aires!

See you next week!





Jeanette in Morocco: A Weekend in Chefchaouen

December 8, 2017

Chefchaouen, known as “the Blue City,” is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Morocco. However, if you want to escape the city for a bit, less than an hour away lies the Akchour Cascades. It’s about a four hour hike with beautiful waterfalls and bouldering paths along the way. Here’s a short travel film of my trip with some friends there last weekend!




Naomi at Akita Week 8: UNI-eed to read this

October 27, 2016


Who has the bluest hair? Patrik and Isabella have a competition going on and Isabella is winning as of now. I don’t know why but in this picture, Patrik’s hair actually looks pretty blue compared to Isabella’s but in real life, Isabella’s is much darker. They have both dyed their hair twice in Akita. They both brought dye from back home…dedication, huh? Every time they see each other, the blue hair is mentioned at some point. You can hear Patrik’s heart break a little each time someone tells him Isabella’s hair is bluer. Lots of people on campus think they’re a couple too. It’s a great time.

I asked my mom to send me my heat techs (clothes from Uniqlo meant to keep you warm) that I left at home so she ended up sending an actual care package full of American and Okinawan snacks. I shared some with my friends. Well, mostly American friends and they were all excited and nostalgic with the taste of fruit rollups. There’s a picture of Tristan putting the fruit rollup tattoo onto his tongue! I don’t know why my mom sent me a package of fruit rollups because I never ate them growing up as a kid…she probably sent it because of the Halloween packaging. She also sent me a huge 240-piece bag of assorted chocolates – Milky Way, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Twix. Too much candy.



Over the weekend, our school set up another bus trip for us to the Oga Peninsula. We headed to the GAO Aquarium first. We could see the ocean and it was absolutely beautiful. I missed hearing the waves crash. Anyways, the aquarium also had some animals, in addition to all the fish, frogs, jellyfish, and eels. It was Patrik’s first time seeing a polar bear and penguins! There were seals awkwardly floating in the water. They looked like grandpas; it was so kawaii (cute in Japanese). There was also an exhibit with the fish that eat at your dead skin cells. The fish were in this container that had holes where you could stick you finger in so I did it and it felt…funny? The fish were nibbling away on my fingers. I bet if I stuck my foot in the container I would’ve never stopped laughing because of how ticklish it can feel. We also saw a vending machine that sold solely food and it was weird, as the food included hot dogs and takoyaki. Japan really gets invested in their vending machines. You can’t go 100 meters without seeing at least 3 vending machines. That’s not an exaggeration.


Really quick, there was a room with tanks on the side of different types of fish. In the middle, there was a big cage with two turtles in it. Isabella and I didn’t pay attention to what was in the cage because nothing was moving so we just went straight to the tanks. However, right as we were leaving the room we noticed the turtles inside the cage. It wasn’t moving at all. It was completely still. We both started staring at the turtle wondering if it was a toy. As we were staring, Isabella asked, “Is it real?” and RIGHT after she asked that question, the turtle blinked. Needless to say, we both freaked out and yelled a bit.


After the aquarium, we headed to Nyudozaki Cape, the northernmost cape on the Oga Peninsula, for lunch. All the food was too expensive for us college students, so we ended up just exploring the lighthouse and the ocean near the restaurants. Thankfully we stopped at a grocery store before the aquarium so we weren’t that hungry. The picture of the menu shows a picture of a bowl of rice topped with uni (sea urchin). I took a picture to send to my mom since she loves uni so much. I’m not a picky eater; I eat everything, but the only thing I cannot eat is uni. My mom plans on visiting me at the end of November and I’m sure she’s going to want to go to this cape solely to eat that bowl of uni. Delicious.

I tried taking a picture of Annabelle, Isabella, Tristan, and Patrik jumping but they could never get it together. Someone was always still on the ground. Tristan didn’t jump in one of the pictures. I ended up giving up and going to the coast. We found some stairs, stairs as in a bunch of rocks lined up, which led down to the ocean. There were a bunch of hermit crabs crawling in the water and a couple of small fish swimming around. We jumped from rock to rock to get deeper into the ocean. It wasn’t too cold, the wind felt nice against our faces, and the sound of the waves was relaxing. I can’t tell you how much I missed the ocean.


After the cape, we went to the Namahage Museum and Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum. There’s a story titled the Legend of Namahage: The 999 Steps. The Han emperor brought five demonic ogres with him to Japan that constantly stole crops and young maidens from the villages. The villagers decided to trick the oni (ogres) with a proposal. The villagers commanded the oni to build one thousand steps to the Goshado Shrine in a single night, if they could then the maidens would be offered to them, if not then they would have to flee the village. The oni made it to 999 steps before a villager mimicked the crowing of a rooster, making the oni believe it was the morning. They ended up running away in panic. We actually watched a short performance on the banter between the Namahage (oni) and the household head. Although we didn’t understand much of what was said, we found the Namahage to be hilarious with their sluggish/deep yelling. After the show, we walked around the Namahage Museum filled with costumes and demonic masks. We even saw a man carving the masks by hand!


The last place we visited was Mountain Kampuzan. There was a rotating observation deck at the peak of the mountain but we had to pay 540 yen. No one ended up going on it because the view was already beautiful enough. There was some performance going down below and you could hear someone banging away at the drums. It was a nice way to end our day trip. Once we got back on campus, everyone was too tired to do anything, despite it being a Saturday night. I pushed myself to finally do my load of laundry that I’ve held off for the past week. Isabella ended up cooking pasta for us so I didn’t have to worry about making my own dinner. She was worried the garlic red sauce tasted like seafood but it tasted just fine. We ended up watching Friends afterwards and called it a night.




Naomi at Akita Week 7: 肉人参

October 24, 2016

On Thursday, Patrick and I decided to go on a walk since I was stood up for my date. Just kidding, not date. I’m an LDIC (Language Development and Intercultural Studies Center) conversation leader. The LDIC is a self-directed language-learning center that provides several resources for students trying to learn a new language. They provide several computers and you can check out movies or TV shows. For example, they offer the entire series of Friends with subtitles for any student trying to learn English (I love Friends). I volunteer through the Foreign Language Conversation Support meaning any student can sign up with me to talk about anything in order to improve their English speaking skills. I had two appointments and my first one didn’t show up so Patrick and I went for a short walk before my next appointment. It was such a beautiful day but, unfortunately, our walk lasted only 20 minutes. Patrick asked to borrow my earphones so he could listen to music and continue walking while I headed back to the LDIC for my next appointment. You wouldn’t believe this but my second appointment didn’t show up either…いいね〜


This weekend, my high school friend from Okinawa visited me. Her name is Ami and she’s currently a senior at Osaka International School. She arrived Friday afternoon, so we both ate lunch at the school cafeteria then went on a walk to a shrine near campus. Unfortunately, it was raining but we took some umbrellas from Komachi lobby (one of the dorm buildings) and headed over. The shrine seemed randomly place and was very secluded. We had to walk up several stairs just to get to it. Ami and I bowed at the entrance, gave money to the shrine, clapped our hands twice, and prayed for a bit. Afterwards, we headed back to campus and took the bus to AEON mall. We shopped for a bit before Patrik joined us. He was very enthusiastic about going to the arcade and finding Dance Dance Revolution. I didn’t think they would have it but we ended up finding it and “dancing” for a bit. Ami played once and refused to continue so Patrik and I finished up our turns then we all headed to dinner. I forgot the name of the restaurant but wow…the food was delicious. Ami speaks Japanese fluently and knows the dialects of both Okinawa and Osaka so we talked about that for a bit, as Patrik was very interested. Ami actually thought the way people speak in Akita was very weird; apparently, understanding people with an Akita dialect is difficult for people outside of the prefecture.


On Saturday, we headed to a beer festival in the city. We took the bus from campus to Wada Station then the train from Wada to Akita. On the train, Ami interviewed Patrik for her article. She writes for her school newspaper and wanted to write about her visit to our school. While she was doing that, everyone was staring out the window at the passing rice fields and I was playing Sudoku on my phone. We actually ended up skipping on the festival because it was very small and expensive and instead we just hung out at different spots in the city. For lunch, we went to Lawson’s (convenience store) and bought riceballs/steamed buns/ramen. It’s common for people to buy cup noodles and eat it right there. Lawson’s actually provides hot water for you, so Ami ate her noodles on the street while we were all talking and hanging out.

On our way back to campus after hanging out in the city, we had an hour at Wada station till the bus arrived. So, naturally, we had a photo shoot…meaning, I took several pictures of Ami while everyone else sat on the side and snacked on pizza flavored chips. These are some of the pictures I snapped. She looks like a monkey in the one of her hanging off the pole. We ended up playing music out loud and dancing freely since there was no one in sight.

Screen Shot 2016-10-16 at 6.10.31 PM.png

I forgot to take a picture so I had to screenshot from Isabella’s snapchat story but later that night, Isabella invited us over for dinner. She made 肉じゃが (nikujaga) and we ate it with rice; it was her first time making it but it turned out amazing. Nikujaga literally means meat and potatoes; this is a common Japanese dish of meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, and konnyaku noodles. Isabella only had two potatoes left so she actually apologized to us because it was more of 肉人参 (nikuninjin), as in meat and carrots.

Sunday was Ami’s last day so we woke up early before she had to head to the airport at 12pm. We woke up and immediately went for a walk around the park near campus before even changing out of our PJs. She has a set pair from Uniqlo and I thought it was the cutest thing. She only brought one pair of socks with her (she forgot apparently), so she had to wear my socks. She also stole my shoes that morning so she was pulling off the typical Naomi look, as in mismatching with the striped socks and checkerboard shoes. Ami said it felt like Christmas with all of the green trees and her red PJs, so she ended up playing Christmas music; Mistletoe by Justin Bieber was played. Afterwards, we headed back to my apartment to change and went straight to the convenience store near campus to buy breakfast. Then, I gave her a tour of the campus. It took less than half an hour, as AIU’s campus is very small. She was mostly impressed with Nakajima Library, as is everyone. Our library was actually voted to be one of the nicest libraries in Japan, I believe. Whenever our school is written about in an article or posted in a handout, our library is always shown because of how beautiful it is. After the tour, my friend Toshi took us to the airport. Ami bought some お土産 (souvenirs) for her family and friends back in Osaka. I wasn’t too upset when I said bye to her because I plan on visiting her in Osaka one weekend before the end of my study abroad.


After dropping Ami off at the airport, Patrik decided that we should go on a walk to another shrine near campus. Instead of a 20-minute walk, like the shrine I went to with Ami, this shrine was a 55-minute walk away. We had no plans for the day and it was so beautiful outside so it was no problem. We walked through villages that were completely surrounded by trees and rice fields. There were several elderly people working in the fields and in their gardens. We saw two older men stacking huge bags of something (we couldn’t figure out what it was) and Patrik went up to them and asked if he could take a picture in their tractor. He’s not shy at all! When we finally made it to the shrine we gave some money and clapped our hands twice then prayed. The name of the shrine was八幡神社 and, unlike the other shrine I went to with Ami, this shrine was right next to the road and not as secluded. After our visit to the shrine, Patrik told me there was a river near us so we walked even further. The water was so peaceful. We saw someone canoeing in the distance. Also, while walking near the river, we both looked up and saw at least…AT LEAST 100 dragonflies just swarming around; I’m not exaggerating. After the river, Patrik said there was a temple nearby as well, so we walked even further than intended. On our way back to campus, instead of walking on the sidewalk near the streets, we walked on the pathways in the fields (there was a lot of poop). Our walk ended up being four hours and we got back on campus as the sun had set. It was a good time but our weekend ended with us heading to the library to work on our 作文 – essay for Japanese class about the AIU festival last weekend.


Jack in NZ: Screensaver

August 18, 2016

“Day, me say day, me say day, me say day

Me say day, me say day-o” – Harry Belafonte

“Excuse me while I kiss the sky” – Jimi Hendrix

“Nants ingonyama bagithi baba” – Tim Rice

“Tide goes in, tide goes out… you can’t explain that” – Bill ‘Papa Bear’ O’Reilly

I realize that posting a barely-edited 45-minute GoPro video instead of a blog might seem like a copout. In some sense it is. I didn’t have to work very hard on it. I just plunked a camera in the sand and enjoyed the view, no writing required.

But it’s better for both of us this way. I’m not sure I have the linguistic facility to adequately describe what you’re about to see. I didn’t have it after a few hours of tipsy sleep in the beachside cave Thursday night, and I can’t summon it now.

So rather than write a frilly, dramatic, dashed-off-at-the-last-minute description, I’m going spare you my “waking up with shorebirds” and “staring over Earth’s elegant curve at the sunbeams advancing over the horizon” and “utter inner peace” hippy nonsense and let you provide your own.

That being said, please enjoy last Friday’s sunrise at Long Beach:

Jack in NZ: It’s Always Sunny in Dunedin

August 9, 2016

“If we want to know what American normality is – what Americans want to regard as normal – we can trust television”—David Foster Wallace

“Let’s just plop them in front of the TV. I was raised in front of the TV and I turned out TV.” – Homer Simpson

“I don’t think I believe in ‘deep down’. I think that all you are is just the things that you do.” – Diane, Bojack Horseman

broadcast tower

Now I don’t recommend anyone drop out of school to join Netflix University (though tuition is considerably cheaper), but there’s a lot to be learned in a great deal of T.V. programming.

A few examples: Jon Stewart taught an entire generation of young adults that politics could be interesting, that it’s acceptable (even necessary) to call BS when it matters, and that relentless reason can prevail in the face of stupidity. Or consider The Wire: HBO’s crime drama used nuanced characters and a remarkable storyline to shed light on the personal side of drug prohibition and the relationship between police and the communities they serve. And what about Breaking Bad? Walter White forced us to examine our morals, he made us question what we would do if backed into a similar corner, and he ultimately reminded us to cherish our loved-ones.

I could go on.

The point is, when you plop down in a comfy chair to mainline a few hours of entertainment via the occipital lobe, you’re not just watching a bunch of colorful images flash by at 25 frames per second, you’re absorbing ideas, and the extent to which you do this is directly related to how closely you pay attention. If you want to really learn, you have to engage. You have to sit down and watch on a regular basis. You have to catch up when you miss segments.

This makes T.V. shows a lot like college courses.

And just as the first few episodes of a show give the viewer enough information to decide to keep their eyes glued to the boob tube or to log out of Netflix, the first few classes provide the college student with a decent impression of the course.

So here are my reviews of the University of Otago’s 2nd-semester programming:

Environmental Chemistry: This class belongs on HGTV. Very late at night. Guaranteed to bore all but the most enthusiastic viewer, sections of Environmental Chemistry are as about stimulating as watching beige paint dry. One can only hear ‘biogeochemical cycles’ so many times before tuning into a different program. The host is an inoffensive, well-dressed man who is primarily concerned with relaying PowerPoint information on the underlying chemical processes of the dispersal of various minerals in ocean water. I almost fell asleep writing the end of that sentence. That being said, the course is incredibly practical and is likely to impart fundamental information to the dedicated viewer, if they can stay awake through the entire 50-minute segment. Final verdict: Two thumbs way neutral. Enroll if you need it.

rainy view

Conservation Biology Lab: A nature-themed mockumentary set on an Otago peninsula overlook, this lab features the will-they-or-wont-they relationship between an American yellow-eyed penguin researcher, a local Department of Conservation ranger, and the 20 endangered birds they watch over. This week’s episode featured the daring repair of a penguin leg wound by our DoC ranger, and the consequent swooning of the researcher. In addition to awkward, hyper-realistic dialogue, the program treats viewers to wide-angle mountain shots, footage of craggy beaches, and effortless steady-cam recordings through sheep farms (the camera work is so immersive you can almost smell the sheep crap!). The cinematography and hilarious script make the 45 minutes of bus seat reel on either end of programming worth sitting through. Two thumbs way up, take this class!

night time view

Conservation Biology: This class is on too early in the morning for any young adult to watch consistently. Fortunately, episode summaries are available online and give morning-averse enrollees the basic gist. Dedicated fans that tune in regularly are rewarded with compelling (if incredibly depressing) plots about the condition of the environment. Taught by a rotating cast of knowledgeable hosts, this class is Otago’s NOVA: if more people could be bothered to watch it, the world would be a better place. However, this reviewer believes it would be a breach of journalistic ethics to pass judgment on a program he’s only seen twice. Review: N/A.

view from the roof

Creative Non-Fiction Tutorial: an eccentric host and diverse cast of contestants make this tutorial fit for Bravo. The earnest performance and genuine humor of host Paul Tankard make seemingly-dull program segments like ‘Let’s Outline All the Different Sources Consulted in Chapter 11 of Stiff by Marry Roach, I Found 25, See How Many You Find’ (or as some refer to it: LOATDSCIC11OSBMRIF25SHMYF) shine. This show promises to build toward an exciting climax as each student completes different challenges each week while working toward a final project. The only thing that could spice up CN-FT would be a weekly elimination round. Two thumbs way up, take this class!

melting snow

Creative Non-fiction: Long-winded dramatic monologs and Spartan use of technology make this class a treat for the writing aficionado. The verbose and enthusiastic Australian lead performs for an enrapt audience, providing advice for budding writers with sprinklings of endearing anecdotes from his bushy-bearded mouth. The Joy of Painting meets Hamlet. Take this class.

Environmental Chemistry lab: Fear not University of Otago Masochist Society, have we got a show for you! If you love the sound of a clock endlessly ticking amid keyboard clickclackery, the incessant flare of fluorescent lighting and computer screens, and the belaboring of basic statistics to the point of insanity, you will love 204 labs! To boot, it’s only on during Friday afternoons from 2-6! And get this: You get to watch other people driving home to have fun out of the meager classroom window while you clickclack away in Microsoft excel! Perhaps this is some sort of edgy, artistic, post-Lynchian program designed to make the viewer uncomfortable, to push their buttons, and to anger and confuse. If that’s the case, it succeeds on all fronts. Alas, it’s mandatory! Going to this lab feels like that one scene from A Clockwork Orange. Without any Beethoven. Two thumbs way down.

from the clouds

Overall, the University of Otago network offers great programming in a style totally different from its American counterparts, and if you keep your eyes glued to the screen, you’ll certainly learn something.

Just make sure to go outside and play in between shows.

Jack in NZ: Email

August 1, 2016

“I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit, and everything that followed in my life – the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or sex or some other new sensation – would all stem from this moment.” – Anthony Bourdain on eating his first oyster

“We’re the first culture in the world that puts 1,500 miles on average under each morsel of food” – Joel Salatin

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” – Proust

“’I do work,’ said Frederick ‘I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days.’” – Frederick by Leo Lionni

“Drink your tea” – Eastern Towhee

To: Parents

Cc: Sister

Subject: Re: Feeling like a Kiwi yet?


Unfortunately the weather this week is pretty lame, so I’m staying around Dunedin. I’m planning on doing a local hike and catching up on work and reading/writing.

So Much to See

Penguin colony was pretty neat, saw about 20 birds (~1% of the world’s population, pretty crazy), and the surrounding area was beautiful. It was a secluded spot, protected by farmland on all sides, difficult to get to without some sort of Department of Conservation/farmer connection.

Jack in New Zealand

I’ve resolved to feed myself from the farmers market as much as possible, got a good-sized and reasonably-priced haul yesterday, including some lamb chops, ground venison, whole walnuts, and a winter savory (a thyme relative) plant. Also went to an Indian grocery store and bought some whole star anise/cardamom pods/garam masala and cheap peanuts. The owner was there and we chatted about India (he was a Sikh from Delhi) for a minute.

Otherwise, I’ve just been doing work around here. I haven’t been going to my biology or chemistry lectures because they post them online, but I do sit down for a few hours each day to take notes/do homework etc. Working at home is pretty nice, I get to stick to a sleep schedule and snack throughout the morning, also no running back and forth between my house and campus. Chemistry is very dry (and the labs are soul-sucking, I almost wish I took the upper-level section), biology is much more interesting. My writing class is very enjoyable. I’m narrowing in on a topic for my major project (something related to the philosophy of farming/food, looking at it from scientific/social/spiritual/artistic viewpoints). More stuff about classes will be in the next blog.

A friendly reminder from the local ethernet port

I’ve also been making progress in Modernist Cuisine (the massive 2500pg (only 2319 to go!) cooking tome by a former Microsoft CTO) and On Writing by Steven King, and paging through Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, which is incredibly entertaining. I’ve been trying to sit down and write for an hour every day, but it’s been kind of hard to make it a habit, sometimes it flows and other times it doesn’t (I’ve noticed word output is generally proportional to my caffeine intake, though quality varies (I’m gradually learning that editing is a useful skill to cultivate)). The blog should be submitted by tomorrow, but it seems to take a few days before the abroad office publishes. I’m decently happy with this one. It’s a little funnier and lighter than the previous two. Sticking to the ‘ideally weekly’ schedule the office has set (but not enforced (so far)) is going to be difficult. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better for my sanity to put out something I’m happy with every two weeks than it is to rush to get something done that I’ll cringe at later, possible stipend reduction be damned (though as I continue to cultivate the writing habit I think it will get easier to churn out good quality stuff more frequently).

I’ve recently binged a bunch of Joe Rogan’s podcasts. He hosts a great talk show and has had guests like Russell Brand, Sam Harris, Eddie Huang, etc. on to chat about interesting things. My kiwi-host is a big fan of him and is a neuroscience student. He lent me one of Sam Harris’ books and we’ve had some interesting talks about, as Dewey Finn would say “your head, and your mind, and your brain too”, as well as nutrition and exercise (he’s a big weight lifter).

I’ve been running more regularly (5/7 nights this week), and I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’ve also been meditating regularly and highly recommend it (along with exercise) for everyone. I’ve been doing 15-20 mins a day and it’s been great for stress reduction, mood, general appreciation of things. Here’s a good video if you are interested in trying it:

Dan Harris has a pretty interesting story on how he came to start meditating. He had a panic attack on Good Morning America as a result of cocaine/ecstasy abuse related to anxiety/depression issues. He subsequently took time off to research happiness and discovered mindfulness meditation, and wrote a book about it called ’10% happier’ (which I have not gotten the chance to read yet). He had an interview on the Colbert Report that was pretty good.

The social scene around here has also been pretty fun. I went out to a party on Thursday with some new friends I met through a Richmond friend (his flat complex is the place to be), and I met a fun Kiwi girl who I saw again on Saturday night (don’t worry Mom, haven’t fallen in love yet (with a girl, at least (the country may be a different story))). I’ve been hanging out more with one of my flat mates who’s fun and likes to cook. I went to a coffeeshop after my farmers market visit on Saturday with her and some Richmond friends. We ate chocolate chip pancakes that were as delicious as they were overpriced and drank flat whites.

I’ve also picked up a book on hydroponics and intend to get a setup going soon (no fish allowed in flats, but I don’t pay for the electricity so I can get some grow lights). My fern is on its last legs, one day it was fine, the next it was withering, gave it some water and put it closer to the sun and it’s perked up a little (though I don’t have high hopes). The other plant is still hanging on. I’ve also purchased a pretty sweet-looking cactus. It’s about three feet tall and has badass spines. It is difficult to kill, so hopefully it won’t be joining the fern.


Overall things are going very well. I’m cultivating a fun and productive routine, taking care of myself, and enjoying the outdoors (whether I like it or not (last night’s jog through the botanical garden had an unfortunate sleet interlude)). I’m hoping to get a car or some other form of transport lined up to do more weekend traveling. I think spring break will be the next big opportunity, and I may go with some friends to the Abel Tasman track in the northern part of the South Island. I also don’t have to hurry to see things as much as I thought. I’ve got about 5 weeks of time during the finals period with only two finals to take (writing project is due before the period starts and counts as my final (and it’s also going to be fun to write)), so I’ll have a large stretch of uninterrupted time to travel while the weather is nice.

New Zealand

Hope things are going well at home. I wish I had saved up more summer memories (I think I appreciate Fredrick the more I meditate), still cold and damp here.

Lots of love and safe travels,


Tony in Switzerland: Approaching the end

July 25, 2016

My time in Switzerland is coming down to its final hours. It’s been a long semester full of traveling and learning to be independent as a francophone. I recently finished my testing on June 30th, and with the end of exams, I decided to explore more of Switzerland. I’ll show a few pictures of my most recent trips throughout the country.

“The Gate”

The Gate

First, I went to Lugano in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. This is a picture of a gate overlooking the city’s lake and flanked by the city’s park.

“Station’s Street Art”

Station's Street Art

The Lugano station also had some cool street art. The artist used a stencil over newspaper, which coated the entire walls of the station’s hallway.

“Dying Lion”

Dying Lion

Lucerne was next on my Swiss train travels. One of the city’s most visited sites is a monument of a dying lion, which commemorates the soldiers of the Swiss Guards who died in battle during the French Revolution.



The Lucerne Museum of Fine Arts was at once a refuge from the rain and a predetermined destination for my trip. They had little stations where you could draw, paint, and emulate the artists. I enjoyed this section of a book within their libraries on Anton Henning and his works entitled “Eva”.

“Swiss Rotation”

Swiss Rotation

The last leg of the trip: Zurich. I still had not visited the famous city, so I took the time to learn more about the Swiss German history. Inside the National Museum of Zurich, there were several different symbols of Swiss history.



It was a great day to travel in the city: good weather and a lively air. The municipality organized a huge festival throughout the city, which allowed for scenes like this to pop up in front of the traditional architecture.

That’s all for this time. I’ll be posting a summary of this semester soon, highlighting different trips and experiences. It’s almost time to head home, but until then, wish me luck as I clean my apartment and get ready to check out.


Emily in Samoa: An Average Day

May 18, 2016

I guess I should begin by saying that no day is really average here, but since we’ve stopped our classes and begun our month-long independent research projects, we’ve all begun to sink into our own daily schedules. We’ve also stopped island-hopping, which means we are spending a lot of quality time in Apia and its environs. Here is my daily schedule:

7:00- wake up. Drink tea, write journal entries. I check my email before the real action of the day begins, since with the time difference the day (well, yesterday) has already begun at home. Before this, however, I need to squish the ants that take up residence in my laptop overnight. Keyboards are prime real estate for colonially-inclined insects, and I have tried to discourage them from settling permanently in my electronics. However, the war can never be fully won.

8:30- head to town. Apia is about 10 minutes away from campus, and we get there by taking pink and yellow city buses. Luckily for us, they are not too crowded in the morning, though when schools get out they are packed, a phenomenon that Samoans deal with by sitting on other passengers’ laps, often stacking three people high. Many of the drivers like to blast reggae music, blending Samoan classics with revamped American pop.

In town, I go first to the headquarters of Women in Business (WIB), a local organization funded by the UNDP. My research project is focused on local farm to table initiatives, and WIB is running a project that is designed to better connect farmers and restaurants. I show up at around 9:00 to see what they have planned for the day, then tag along on any excursions they have. One day we set out on a tour of farms on the north coast, sourcing for weekly supplies of produce. WIB records what farmers have available, then sends a list of available foods to participants. Each sends an order list in return, and on Fridays WIB puts the orders in palm frond baskets. The idea is that farmers will not have to drive all the way to Apia, then sit all day in an open air market, only to return home without selling their produce. Farm to table will guarantee them a buyer, and cut down on shopping trips for restaurants and local consumers.

12:30- Since our research projects depend on surveys and interviews, I concentrate on interviews in the morning, and give out surveys in the afternoon. Interviews cannot be scheduled in Samoa, as executives and officials will often be two hours late, or postpone “for tomorrow” (which really means an ambiguous time in the future), or spontaneously leave for New Zealand for a month without giving notice. That said, it’s much easier to show up at the government buildings and see who’s around.

Surveys are the same as interviews: show up, don’t make appointments, and be friendly…but also be pushy. I have surveyed 50 restaurants (in a country of 180,000 people, this is fairly sizable), and the amount of time taken to fill them out ranges from two minutes to two weeks, during which I come back “tomorrow” five times, and listen to owners tell me to return some other time to get them. I now sympathize much more with people who hand out surveys…

Though it comes as a surprise to restaurateurs, my surveys are not intended to irk or inconvenience. I hope to gauge restaurants’ satisfaction with local markets and resources, as well as to assess potential problems with both local and imported foods. Once I explain this to restaurants, they are much friendlier. Some owners sit down with me to chat, making me a cappuccino and talking to me for hours about their hopes for their restaurant, challenges to business, where Samoa is headed, and the hot new topic of Why Trump Is Terrifying (their perspective). We often get on the topic of their favorite recipes, and they insist not only that they have the best recipe for fried chicken/pork dumpling/etc. in Samoa, but also that I must try said recipe. Similarly, farmers always make sure that I take samples of their best fruits home with me. This is my favorite part of my research.

Buses stop running at around 5:00, so after walking around town hunting down surveys, I head back to campus. Our group has a water boiler, a rice maker, a toaster, and a one-legged skillet, and we cook and talk as we trickle in from our daily adventures. Research can be exhausting, but it is also rewarding to make your own schedule, and reap the benefits of the efforts you put into a project. With only three weeks left of the program, it is essential that we all continue to put our all into our experience, in order to get the most out of our time here.

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