Oliver in Spain: Busy Weeks Call for Relaxation

October 23, 2014

This week I have been putting my nose to the grindstone as it is midterms week. It has pretty much revolved around studying for these exams, however I was able to find some fun in between chapters.

Last weekend my program offered a free (that’s right free!) excursion to a small town in the Valenciano province known as Xátiva. In Valenciano it is pronounced sha-ti-vah, for those of you who were interested. We were given a tour through the city which included a look into its famous church. This church is permitted to bear the symbol of the Vatican because it is one of the only cities in the world that is the birthplace of two Popes.

Collegiate Basilica, built in the 16th century

Collegiate Basilica, built in the 16th century

The catholic history isn’t even the most interesting part of this city. On the cliff tops that protected the city from invasion lies a castle. Lucky for us, we were given the opportunity to hike up to this castle and explore. I took that opportunity to heart and frequently went off the main road to make the trek a little more interesting. When we got to the castle we were rewarded with incredible picturesque views of the rolling mountains that surround this small city.

Castle of Xátiva, built in the 11th century

Castle of Xátiva, built in the 11th century

In addition to this “field trip” my friends and I decided to embrace the European culture and get haircuts. We went to a local peluquería (salón) in Valencia and showed them pictures of popular soccer players while asking the hair dressers to make us look like them. This resulted in the shortest haircut I have ever had, but also resulted in the best game of soccer I have ever played with 4 goals…there’s no way that was just a coincidence.

A shorter version of Paco Alcacer!

A shorter version of Paco Alcacer!

Since this has been one of my longest, uninterrupted, stints at home in Valencia, I have become a lot closer with my host family. My host sister has moved to Zaragoza, about three hours north by car, so she is more or less out of the picture for now. My older host brother, Guille, has been busy with late classes so I do not see him very much either, other than the late night movie watching. That leaves Mark. Mark and I have been spending my downtime playing videojuegos and watching dibujos (cartoons). He is a funny little guy who has become very comfortable with me being around. I look forward to coming home so I can beat him in Fifa. He may have Spanish blood but I trained all last semester to play Fifa with the best.



I have big plans for this weekend that include going to see my favorite tennis player, Andy Murray, play in the Valencia Open this friday, going to a home soccer game at la Mestalla on Saturday night, and the beach on Sunday. Even in the midst of a busy week this place never ceases to make me smile. I absolutely love it here and am a little sad that I only have…what…8 weeks left? Gotta make the most of it!!

Oliver in Spain: This place is starting to feel like home

September 22, 2014

I’m finishing up my third full week in Valencia, and this place is starting to feel like home. I have become very comfortable with my family, and Mark and I frequently play FIFA and other games together. He’s definitely starting to look up to me, and is practicing his English with me too! Coming back to the house after a long day out feels very relaxing too.

I feel lucky to have an awesome friend group of about 15 people on my program with me. Friendships strengthen very quickly when everyone is put into a new culture with a new language. It’s nice to know that everyone is going through the same transition and that we have come to rely on each other a lot.

Valencia vs. Espanyol

Valencia vs. Espanyol

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to a Valencia football (soccer) game. I went with a few other friends and the atmosphere was like nothing in the United States. These people live and die by their football team. The stadium, La Mestalla, crams almost 60,000 screaming and jumping fans together for 90 minutes of pure enthusiasm. I have to be honest, I’m getting very attached to this team and will be picking up a jersey very soon. ¡Amunt Valencia!

Celebrating a goal! Final score: 3-1 Valencia

Celebrating a goal! Final score: 3-1 Valencia

This was also my first weekend of travel outside of Valencia. Along with 8 of my friends, I went to the island of Ibiza off the East coast of Spain to celebrate my 21st birthday! Needless to say, we had a blast. We rented an apartment through Air B&B which we used as a base and as a place for family meals.

Spaghetti with a Chorizo and tomato sauce

Spaghetti with a Chorizo and tomato sauce

Ibiza has a great nightlife, but it also has amazing beaches and cliffs. It was not at all what I was expecting going into it but we all had a great, and tiring, time.

Incredibly clear, blue water

Incredibly clear, blue water

Next weekend I’ll be crossing off another box on my bucket list by going to Oktoberfest from Thursday through Saturday. I’ll have another update next Sunday to let you all know how that goes!

Jack in Czech Republic: Netherlands vs. Czech Republic

September 18, 2014

As I mentioned in my last post, I am a passionate sports fan. I knew I would see at least one soccer game football match while in Europe, but I did not expect to see the greatest sporting event I have witnessed in person on my second night.

A quick description of who was playing and why: qualifying for Euro 2016, which is like a World Cup for European countries, began last week. Teams were placed into six-team groups and will play a home-and-home round-robin schedule that determines who makes it into the tournament. The Netherlands, who lost in the World Cup Final, played at the Czech Republic in both countries’ first match of qualifying. Both countries played close to their best teams, since a good start in qualifying is crucial.

Following an orientation session, four other adventurous soccer football (I’ll get it eventually) fans and I navigated our way to Stadion Letná, despite not having tickets or knowing what to expect. Worst case, we thought, we would see the stadium and find a nearby pub to watch the game.

We ended up getting off the tram a stop early, because we saw some festival-looking event that seemed worth checking out. We made a great decision. This event turned out to be a large public tailgate for the match. Let me tell you, the Czechs know how to tailgate. There was a huge screen playing highlights of former Czech matches, lots of games, and, of course, excellent pivo (beer).

These tents surrounded the games and the viewing area

These tents surrounded the games and the viewing area

As kickoff neared, we walked a couple blocks to the stadium, so we could get a greater idea of what the atmosphere would be like. Let’s just say the rundown Stadion Letná would not pass any NFL team’s requirements to serve as a home. But it’s the fans that make a stadium great, and the passion both the Czechs and Dutch had around the stadium was unparalleled to anything I have seen. The closest comparison I can think of is SEC football fans, and that’s still a stretch.

We made some Dutch friends outside the stadium

We made some Dutch friends outside the stadium

One other thing that struck us was the amount of people selling tickets. We never intended on attending this match, but after we did some asking around to gauge prices, collectively, we said let’s do it. And so we did.

Buying tickets can be hard when both sides speak the same language, so buying them with some people who spoke little English was a struggle. But it all worked out. After each of us found a ticket, we regrouped and expressed our shock in what was transpiring. Our tickets were not together so we made a meeting plan and went through the gates minutes before kickoff.

All the hype of the atmosphere that surrounds a European football match is actually not hype at all. It is an accurate description of all the madness –Constant cheering, never-ending singing, clapping for good plays, yelling at the referees– that goes on for 90 minutes. And when the home team scores, all hell breaks lose – especially when the goal is this good (Only watch the first minute).

This singing seen in this video went on constantly. Because I didn’t know what they were saying, I contributed by clapping.


The Czechs clung to a 1-0 lead at the half, but a Dutch goal felt imminent. Four of us regrouped at half, still full of shock, and managed to find some seats near each other for the second half. Sam, who bought the cheapest ticket, couldn’t watch with us because his seat was actually so good that he couldn’t leave his section. Go figure.

Sam’s seat wasn’t terrible.

Sam’s seat wasn’t terrible.

Not surprisingly, the Dutch equalized early into the second half, and looked to be on its way to a come-from-behind win. But the Czechs defense fought off attack after attack, and even created a few chances. If the Czechs continued to hold tight, it looked like they could cling onto the tie, which would have been considered a success.

And then this happened. If you’re too lazy to click on the link, here’s what transpired: In stoppage time, a Czech player fired in a cross, which a Dutch defender tried to head to safety. Instead, he headed it right off the post, and it redirected to the wide-open Pilar who easily tucked the ball in the back of the net. GOOOOOOOOL! The stadium absolutely erupted. Screaming, cheering, high-fiving, hugging, kissing – it all happened. And it happened all the way through the final whistle, which came just moments after Pilar’s game-winning goal. And it carried outside the stadium as well. I truly have never seen anything like it, and I am sure I never will again. And this was my second night.

A video that shows the moments after the winning goal.

Thanks for reading!

Selfie of the week: Because I am an egotistical millennial, here is the selfie of the week:

Two of my three female roommates and I in our new kitchen. That’s right, I am the only male in my flat. More on that to come.

Two of my three female roommates and I in our new kitchen. That’s right, I am the only male in my flat. More on that to come.

Austen in Ireland: Animals, Softball, and the Parents

May 6, 2014

After St. Patrick’s Day, I had a week to relax and attempt to start working on my copious amounts of assignments due in April.  Once school started again, it seemed apparent that the second half would be more intense with the large number of assignments, finals worth up to 70% of my grade in some classes, and on top of that, trips to see more of Europe.

The weekend following the break, a friend and I went to the Dublin Zoo.  I hadn’t been to a zoo in about eight or so years and Dublin had a great zoo supposedly so I figured I had to go.  I was amazed by the size of it, as you could easily spend a whole day there.  They had so many different types of animals, but I was disappointed that they didn’t have sloths as well.

After this, we went to a Gaelic football match in Croke Park where County Dublin took on County Mayo.  It was one of my favorite experiences of the semester so far because the sport was really fast-paced and entertaining.  It ended up being a draw with Dublin staging a come-back and also having a chance to win it at the end.  I wish I could see a hurling match (the other sport big here) but I don’t think I’ll get a chance to.

Croke Park

Croke Park

The first weekend in April the UCD Softball Club had their “Intervarsities.”  Intervarsities is a tournament where other softball clubs around Dublin and Ireland come for the weekend and we play.  It was overall some great fun.  I played seven games over the course of the two day tournament, so I was exhausted to say the least.  It was great being able to meet people from other clubs as well as getting to know people from the UCD Softball Club better.  My UCD team ended up losing the third place game, but the UCD 1 team ended up winning the tournament.

The next weekend my parents came to visit me in Dublin.  I really enjoyed taking them around and being able to show off my knowledge of the city was definitely rewarding.  I realized how much I had missed them.  I showed them some attractions in the city of Dublin, such as Temple Bar with all of the pubs.  My dad really enjoyed having traditional Irish food and Guinness while in Dublin.  We also went to the Jameson Distillery that Friday which was a fun experience.



I showed them the UCD campus and they were amazed at the facilities and the size of the campus.  I wanted to see a UCD soccer game before I left so my parents and I went to see them play Dundalk right on the UCD campus.  Unfortunately, UCD lost but the fans were definitely entertaining.  I showed them around the city and we saw the Dublin Castle. My mom and I also had a chance to go inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a very impressive cathedral.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

The next day, we continued our tour of Dublin and I showed them around Trinity College in the city center of Dublin, the National Gallery of Ireland, and the Natural History Museum.  Needless to say, I had a very long weekend.  The last day before they left, they helped me prepare for the long trip back in less than a month and then we took a walk along the River Liffey and then up O’Connell Street.  I wish I had time to show them some of the Irish countryside but it was an overall fun weekend getting to see them.  It didn’t hurt that the weather was beautiful!

Austen in Ireland: From Comedy to Softball

February 24, 2014

So my first major assignment in a class is due tomorrow and it’s a group assignment.  It was about applying Freud’s psychoanalysis concepts to a specific case.  It was pretty straightforward; hopefully all assignments will be this simple and short (it was only 1000 words for a group of 5 people).  I have a bunch of assignments due in March though, including a midterm in one of my classes, as well as essays in two other classes, so March will be a much more hectic month.  I like the majority of my classes, even though lecturing can get monotonous over the course of an hour, especially since I’m used to more class participation from Richmond.  I’ve learned that Irish is a lot tougher of a language than I thought it was!  I’m not even a foreign language person to begin with.

The weekend after my Edinburgh trip I laid low for the majority of the weekend, catching up on applying for summer research opportunities and running errands for the apartment and my room.  Then on Monday, my friend mentioned a free comedy show in town at the Woolshed Bar (an Australian/American bar that is humongous and has many TVs).  I ended up going with him and it was a great show, with a couple different comedians.  The greatest thing was that it was free, pizzas were half priced, and pitchers of beer were cheap.  The greatest moment of the night was that an American woman got kicked out for heckling.  She was not happy with the host’s hilarious impressions of Americans so she called him out for it.  She then proceeded for the rest of the show speaking under her breath and occasionally calling something out until she got kicked out about halfway through the show.  Unfortunately, she didn’t give Americans a very good name but my friend and I were reassured by later comedians that they like Americans because they thought we acted much nicer.

Comedy Show (1)

The Comedy Show

One of the great things about UCD is that they had a “refresher’s day”, where tons of organizations and sport clubs tried to get people to sign up for their respective groups.  I signed up for many clubs but only really followed through with one; the softball club.  I really wondered about playing softball co-ed because it’s not really popular in the USA for males.  I have a few years of experience of baseball under my belt, so I decided to give it a try.  I’m so glad I did because it’s a great group with a mixture of Irish, Americans, and Canadians.  They don’t really take softball very serious at all so it’s more of the social aspect that’s important.

For example, we went BYOB bowling on Friday night.  I was stunned that a bowling alley would let you bring in your own alcohol because that would never happen in the USA.  All the games you could bowl for 10 euros as well.  It was a really fun night and our group went to the bar across the street after bowling and it was a lot of fun hanging out with them because they’re a fun group.


Glenomena, where I live on the campus of UCD

The next day I spent mostly in my room watching Premier League soccer (my wish is to be able to travel to England at some point this semester to see a game), Six Nations rugby (Ireland lost to England) and Richmond basketball, who won!  Today, I knew I had to go to a fish and chips place because I somehow haven’t had them here in Dublin yet.  A friend and I went to Beshoff’s for fish and chips, and the fish was really crispy just how I like it.

I have a field trip tomorrow with one of my classes to counties southwest of Dublin, including County Kildare and County Carlow.  Looking forward to it!


Rainbow seen from my room

Alpsolutely Amazing! (posted by Pierre en Suisse)

March 1, 2013

Okay, so quick confession: I have been to the Alps so far about three times and I have yet to actually write about it. When I say I have been to the Alps three times, I am talking about skiing. What’s it like here in Europe? Well my title says a lot, because it is just incredible!

I had always planned on doing some skiing while in Switzerland, but I honestly had no idea what to expect, aside from huge mountains of course. I have skied my entire life but mostly on the East Coast, and have been out west before as well. As many of my friends know, I could tell you basically anything you would want to know about North American skiing, but Europe was a mystery! Someone had told me once that Europeans spend more time just relaxing while at the mountains and skiing every now and then. Someone else had also told me that in Europe you spend half the day going up the mountain and the other half actually skiing down. Both of these myths have not ended up being my actual experience. However, I can happily report that skiing here is better than I could have ever imagined! I’ll do my best to actually describe it, but I warn you it is difficult to put into words.

Because Switzerland is a country completely connected by rails, the ski day starts for us with a train ride into the mountains. The first morning I went, I was on the train at 6:30 in the morning while it was still completely dark. About an hour later, when the sun began to rise my view from the train window was just the silhouettes of the jagged summits and snow-covered peaks of the mountains. Once off the train, we always have to take a connector bus or an additional train to get to the actual mountain. I won’t lie, Swiss engineering is impressive. The first place that I went to, or “station” as it is called in French, was really far from the train and required a bus ride to get there. The roads are a continuous series of windy turns as you head up the steep sides of the mountain. In many instances, there need to be tunnels to get around. Whatever the case, I couldn’t help but wonder how people were able to live in this country before the modern technology that was put in place to simply move around. It was impressive to see what people are capable of doing! This may be worth looking into more, but hopefully it is done in the most environmentally conscious manner possible.

The actual skiing is completely different than what I am used to. As soon as you get to the top of one of these mountains, you are above tree line. That means it is completely wide open, unlike what I am used to where there are trees lining the trails. You can also be at the top just looking at glaciers all around you. These can be quite scary but at the same time amazingly impressive to just see the blue crystallized ice that has been there for such a long time! It is also deceiving for me of how high these mountains are. Because everything is in metrics here, I’ll be at the top of a mountain and everyone around me will be gawking at the fact that they are 3500 meters in the air! The first time this happened, we literally rode the highest mountain subway in the world. It was an actual train to carry skiers through a tunnel to the very top of the skiable area. When we got to the top, we had to walk up a set of stairs to get out of the “metro.” It hit me just how high we were when I got light headed and had to sit for a while to adjust to breathing the thin air. While waiting, I looked on my phone for the conversion and realized that we had started out at 5,905 feet at the base of the mountain, and by the time we were at the top, we were almost 11,500 feet high. Like I said, the elevation really hit me when we were at the top. But the views are unreal! Everything at the top is so open! From one of the places, I could see Italy at the top! At another one, I could see France (even though I can see France every day just across the lake). It is simply a magnificent scene; pictures cannot do it justice.





Skiing adventures will keep coming, and I will say I am especially excited for next weekend, when we will have a three day trip planned by the exchange student association here in Lausanne. Because skiing is literally such a part of the culture here in Switzerland, they said it was necessary for them to host one. I’m excited! But that’s all for now! Until next time, à bien tôt!

Barbados, Week 11: Joining the Tennis Team

April 23, 2012

When I first came to Barbados for study abroad, joining a sports team on campus was literally not even on my priority list.  I hadn’t played any sort of organized team sport since high school, and it didn’t seem realistic to me that I would start up again on a Caribbean island three quarters through my collegiate career.  But mid-February rolled around, and a couple things began to happen:  I started to become socially and physically complacent, and I started to put on some pounds.  Luckily, one of my hall-mates walked by me one day, tennis racket in hand, and a solution began readily forming itself.  Eager to figure out what opportunities there were to play tennis on UWI campus, I discovered that there were Intermediate level practices every Monday.  Recognizing that joining the tennis team would solve both of my current issues, I told him I’d be there next Monday ready to go.

I cannot speak for all of UWI sports, but from what I have experienced and heard, sports practices are a bit different at American colleges as opposed to the University of the West Indies.  If you want to play sports on the varsity level in the United States, you’re going to most likely have to be recruited, regardless of the sport.  Practices are generally everyday, with strict workout regimens and rules about attendance and conduct.  If you play football for the University of Richmond, for example, you’re more or less eating, sleeping, and breathing Richmond Spiders Football.  Here at the University of the West Indies, multiple exchange students have just shown up at practice and walked on the basketball, field hockey, and volleyball teams.  The sports facilities on campus consist of a field hockey field, the cricket oval (duh), cricket batting cages, an indoor “coaching center”, one tennis court, one basketball court, and a soccer field down the road.

Now one thing I need to make clear before I continue is that I am in no way saying that UWI sports are a joke compared to collegiate sports programs in the United States, but rather that they have a refreshingly laid back approach toward most of their sports programs.  You won’t find UWI students having meltdowns or burn-outs over sports-related stress (save cricket, maybe), like many United States’ students will have before they even get to the collegiate level.  I find most students with which I talked about their experience playing sports for UWI love it, and some even get the chance to play in games throughout the Caribbean.

Tennis practices, however, are tough.  If I had managed to convince myself that I wasn’t out of shape before I joined the tennis team, well, that changed fast.  The Intermediate level team is composed of about 10-12 students, about 9 boys and 3 girls, on any given practice day.  Needless to say the coaches have a tough job trying to get 12 players sufficient playing time on one court, but they do a great job of creating a program beneficial for everyone.  They’ll have four stations, for example:  One station will be a ground-stroke or volleying drill, another two will be some sort of cardio exercise (think burpees or frog jumps), and the last might be hitting against “the wall” (the tennis court is right next to the indoor coaching center).  The Intermediate group was a great bunch of people and I made friends quickly, but one of the coaches, Raymond, decided I needed a bigger challenge.  Thus about three weeks after joining the team I was bumped up to the Advanced group.

The multi-sport court used for our tennis practices.

Now, I’m a competitive dude and was  thrilled about getting more playing time with the Advanced group, but I was also pretty nervous.  What if I showed up on Wednesday and just got absolutely thrashed?  Well, it turns out a little bit of pressure can go a long way when it comes to motivating me.  I crushed a red bull after my Wednesday night class and headed over for my first practice with the Advanced group.  This was a smaller, more intense group, with only about 4-6 players per practice day, and it quickly became apparent that they were good.  But as I said, I was extremely determined not to embarrass myself, and I played my guts out for two hours in an attempt to win their respect.

A month later, and I am like a giddy child before Wednesday and Friday night tennis practices.  The coaches really want to see us improve, and are extremely constructive in their advice.  One of them even plays on the Davis Cup Team for Barbados!  I feel incredibly fortunate that I am more or less getting semi-private lessons twice a week for free.  And my teammates are awesome- we’re all extremely competitive but it doesn’t take much for us to break down and start laughing when someone shanks a ball over the fence.  It’s not uncommon for us to stay an hour later after practice hours and just hit around, even though we’re all exhausted from the two hours of drills and cardio beforehand.  There have been many incredible things that I’ve done and seen in Barbados, but I would say joining the UWI tennis team has had the biggest impact upon my study abroad experience thus far.

Barbados: In the Land of Fish and Cricket

January 23, 2012

As I bounced around in the back of a jam-packed ZR (pronounced Zed-R), which is more or less an industrial mini-bus, with loud Bajan music blasting through the air, the stark contrasts of Bajan versus American life were definitely in the forefront of my mind.  Minutes earlier, 20 exchange students managed to cram into the mini-bus on our way to Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, with an older Bajan women and her son, unfazed by the apparent invasion of everyone’s personal space.  When you’re forced to nearly sit on a relative stranger’s lap, becoming comfortable around the other exchange students has been comparatively easy.  All things considered, however, the ZRs are a great way to travel, as they’ll take you anywhere on their respective routes for a mere US $1.00.  I joked to the only other American male exchange student, Glen, that I should start one of these ZRs in America, but he shook his head, responding, “they would never let this many people in a vehicle this size in the states… too much of a safety hazard”.

Transportation, though, was just one of the many great unknowns I faced as I stepped out of the taxi and onto campus at the University of West Indies.  It became clear to me that my first few days in Barbados would consist of a less severe state of survival mode.  After I moved into my on-campus single room, my goals for the afternoon broke down to 1) find an ATM to get money 2) find food 3) find my way back to campus.  Part of the studying abroad experience, I suppose, is not always figuring out things the easy way, as I ended up walking for two hours in the rain in my search for a local restaurant; I ended up getting bread, chips, and Sprite from a local mini-mart, which sufficed for my first night’s dinner on the island.  Being the American that I am, I assumed there would be at least five different types of restaurants on every corner, especially near a University campus.  Evidently, Bajans are much more self-sufficient and opt for the cooking at home option rather than spend their hard-earned money out on the town.

My fortune changed the next morning, however, as I discovered at our foreign exchange orientation that the typical exchange student here at UWI was Canadian, female, and very friendly.  Facebook was able to quickly unify everybody in our coordination of daily plans, and after a day of touring campus and doing the mandatory meet-and-greet, we decided to head down to the famous Friday night Oistins Fish Fry for our first cultural experience.  The fish fry is exactly what it sounds like: a ton of small food vendors and restaurants all lined up in between the beach and the road with local bands or DJs providing some background music.  It was packed full of tourists fresh off the cruise ship, so we all settled down with some food and drinks and continued to figure out who’s who, where they live, and other basics.  I hadn’t met so many new people at one time since freshmen year at Richmond, so it took all my brain power to keep names and faces together.

The first truly cultural event I went to, as the beach does not count (in my opinion), was the Caribbean Cricket Championship at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown.  If you want to get a good perspective on how important cricket is to Bajans, just know that the entire UWI campus is literally centered around the “Oval”, which is baseball’s equivalent of a diamond.  A US$10 ticket got us great seats for not only the 3rd place match between Barbados and the Windward Islands, but the championship match between Trinidad and Jamaica.  The group who went consisted of 19 girls from Canada, the United States, and Finland — oh, and me.  Being in a fraternity back at Richmond, and thus hanging out with a lot of guys most of the time, this was definitely a different scene.  While I grappled with figuring out the rules of cricket as the game progressed, the girls were busy discussing future baby names and how they wanted their dream weddings to go.  I cracked up laughing as the conversation turned to which cricket player they thought was the cutest.  Unfortunately, Barbados had a terrible day and only scored 101 runs after 10 batters — a very poor showing, I eventually discerned — and they lost to the Windward Islands in the 3rd place game.  I actually really enjoyed watching the game and the reactions of the crowd, who were a lot of fun — there was a ragtag band of percussionists who played from time to time, and we ended up doing the wave numerous times.  After nearly five hours of cricket, however, I was pretty saturated and ready to head back to campus, where I fell asleep streaming the Giants vs. 49ers playoff game on my computer.  I guess after a weekend of pure exploration and discovering new people and places, an NFL playoff game was too familiar an entertainment to keep me awake.

The rowdy Bajan crowd cheers on the national cricket team.

Swinging from the rope swing at the Boatyard Beach Club.

Batt’s Rock Bay Beach — just a five minute walk from campus.

Soccer at San Siro: Forza Inter!

January 3, 2012

Maicon brings it across midfield on the right side, makes a quick move around his defender, lays it off to Zanetti, who crosses into the box for Milito, and GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!

Never before have Americans been so entranced by soccer as 3 of my buddies and I scream at the top of our lungs celebrating in Inter Milan goal surrounded by 80,000 passionate Italians. An experience unlike any sporting event I have ever been too, Italian soccer (calcio) is truly incredible.

With fans that reach crazed levels of fanaticism screaming aggressive chants, numerous catcalls, and loud whistles (the Italian form of booing), when you find yourself comfortable in the atmosphere it can become many things, but most of all, it is fun.

While in Milan I had to use my small amount of European soccer knowledge to select a team to which I would pledge my allegiance. With two powerhouse teams both playing in the San Siro Stadium home to 80,000 seats and a large amount of history I had to make my decision between supporting AC Milan or Inter Milan. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Italy I was already being grilled about which team I would support my locals, cab drivers, and fellow students, with the city of Milan being split almost down the middle with fans of each side. After attending one AC game and one Inter game it was clear that I was driven to support Inter… so I embraced it. With one of my best friends already being a huge supporter of Inter (which he claimed was his biggest reason for studying in Milan) we went to a number of matches and truly embraced the Italian sporting culture. Over the course of the season thus far I have attended 5 Inter games… all of which they have won.

Now if I tried to claim I was a good luck charm you all might doubt me. And I will grant that one American in a knock off jersey and a European soccer scarf may not ultimately be the deciding factor for Italian soccer.  However as any avid “Serie A” fan can tell you Inter is having an uncharacteristically disappointing season and has only won 8 of their 15 games up to date. Which means that the probability of me attending 5 winning games out of 8 is quite low (I told you I was taking statistics), so there must be some kind of magic going on.

After 5 games at San Siro I felt like quite the loyal fan. I knew where to buy my ticket, I knew where to sit in the stadium, I knew the players’ strengths and weaknesses, I even knew where to buy the best street vendor food outside of the stadium. Attending Inter Milan soccer games became a way for me to truly blend into the Italian culture and feel like a bigger part of the country I was living in. So for your next European adventure whether you are a sports fan or not, see a unique side of European culture, feel connected to the people of that culture, and have an amazing time doing it. Go see a soccer game.

The Last Supper

December 14, 2011

The semester was coming to a close. At this point, finals were done, summer had begun (remember, Australian seasons are backwards from the US) and, sadly, many people, like myself, were preparing to go home. That meant that a plethora of last hurrah’s would have to be packed into the few days remaining before I would return to a cold winter.

Study abroad is filled with expectations. Some are met and, conversely, some are not. But sometimes, maybe even more often than not, it is the things you least expect to meet your expectations that do. Sometimes it is the events you happen upon by chance that leave a firm imprint in your memory.

And sometimes, it is the things you go to out of obligation that become the moments you’ll never forget. I remember getting a text message from my friend coaxing me to come out as it was his last night in Australia, the same night I had already said yes to my final taekwondo dinner. This would be one of my last opportunities to hang out with the taekwondo club, the club that helped me to find my place here. At the same time, this would be my last night in Australia to hang out with a close friend I had made. So, I figured we could just put the night plans on hold and at least go to the team dinner first. They had made a tertiary reservation for my friend because, after spring breaks shenanigans and my midlife taekwondo crisis, he decided he would come to the last few practices that were left. And so we decided we would both go to the dinner and put our plans on hold until later.

What proceeded were the shenanigans and inside jokes I had loved come to live with and would soon have to learn to live without. I could easily say we were having a great time. Soon the dinner was coming to a close and final speeches were made for graduating presidents and jobs well done by coaches. And then a speech was made…for me. A speech was made and a gift was given to the exchange student who had been a part of the club for barely half a semester. People applauded and thanked…me. I was dumbfounded. I was speechless. Most of all, I was touched, sincerely. At that point I didn’t know what to say, but I had to say something so I stood up and spoke. I thanked everyone for being so welcoming and really making me feel like a part of the team. I thanked everyone for treating me like a family and really being my closest friends while I was abroad. And, as I was talking, I realized that all these things that rushed to my head that I just repeated without hesitation were completely true. In a nutshell, these people really helped to make my experience what it was and I can confidently say it would not be the same otherwise. Even days before I left, days after finals, I was still learning. And thus, things you expect to occur do not always do. However, sometimes, those expected things that don’t occur, or the expected one’s that do, make your situation better than you could have possibly imagined.

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