Brooke Goes Global: Jaipur Travel Weekend

September 21, 2018

I have been on my abroad trip for 5 weeks and in India for 3 weeks.  I have told you ample about my classes and experiential learning.  However, I have dropped the ball on providing information about my touristy, free-time experiences.  Last weekend, IHP, our abroad program, gave us the opportunity to have a travel weekend.  A large group of students decided to go to Jaipur, a popular city in Northern India.  

From New Delhi, we headed on a 5 hour train ride to the city.  After many hours of staring at the “touristy Americans” throughout our transportation experience, we finally arrived in the city.  That evening we arrived at our hotel, the Anuraag Villa.  Consider this post to be a Yelp review for the Villa.  Every employee was kind and helpful, allowing their guests to make the most of their visit.  When we stepped inside the hotel, you were transported to a time when India was under British rule.  British colonialism seemed to be the decor theme of the hotel with their light blue bedroom walls, with adorned doors and large sliding locks.  Also, helpful tip: hotels are deemed some of the best places to eat authentic Indian food.  Professional chefs are hired by hotels, and because hotels cater to tourists, the food’s cleaning and cooking process is safe for a foreigner to enjoy.  Anyways, back to my Yelp review.  I certainly got the most bang for my buck at this hotel.  I shared a room with another girl in the program, and for two nights we paid $1,300 rupees.  This in terms of USD comes to about $13 per person for both nights.  It was not the most extravagant hotel I have ever been to, but it certainly contributed to my exciting time in Jaipur.  

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Me eating breakfast at the Anuraag Villa, enjoying the feeling of eating like a queen in India

Unfortunately, our time in Jaipur was too short to see everything the city had to offer, but I certainly saw a lot over the two days.  Our first stop on Saturday, was to an elephant farm in the outskirts of the city.  Our group was very concerned about the well-being of the elephants, but we were assured by the staff and reviews of the farm that the animals were treated humanely.  We had the opportunity to meet six different Asian elephants, each with their own individual handler.  Elephants are some of the smartest creatures in the world.  In the four hours we were with the elephants, we are able to make such a strong impression on them that if we came back three years later, they would remember us.  It was such a fascinating and invigorating moment to spend time with such large, yet gentle animals.  

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Playing with the elephants has been a highlight of my time abroad so far

 

After, we took off to the historical and iconic city of the Pink City.  The rumors are true.  Every structure within the boundaries of the city is pink.  Shops and vendors align the streets with colorful food and clothing.  The rainy weather caused a thin layer of mud to form on every inch of every sidewalk.  The bumper to bumper traffic caused a symphony of car horns.  And on occasion, a camel or an elephant made an appearance as a form of transportation.  We stopped for lunch at a rooftop restaurant.  We were able to eat some amazing food while enjoying some amazing views of the city.  The juxtaposition of the rolling hills against the building structures of the city created a sight that took my breath away.  Is there a better location to build a city than in the valley of a hill? 

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The beautiful view from our rooftop restaurant

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The Hawa Mahal in the Pink City

We spent the evening at the Amber Fort light and sound show.  The hour long performance gave a detailed history of the royal fort through narration, lights, and song.  The Amber Fort sits at the top of a hill, with a view of the city below.  With the mountain breeze sending a chill down your spine, it was a refreshing night to a long, tiresome, and hot week in New Delhi.  

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Amber Fort lit up at night

And to end the weekend, we spent Sunday morning at two historical sites including Jantar Mantar and the City Palace.  Jantar Mantar is a culmination of thousand year old sun dials that are able to tell the accurate calendar day and time of day based on the light from the “universe’s goddesses” — better known as the sun and the moon.  The City Palace constituted incredibly detailed buildings that showcased textiles, a royal and political meeting space, and chandeliers triple my size.  I appreciated the time we were given to experience a different part of India.  

PICTURE 7, 8, 9: The above three pictures depict the City Palace, a structure with exquisite detailing and architecture.


Brooke Goes Global: Globalization

September 13, 2018

Disclaimer: This post is not my attempt to make a blanket, political statement about capitalism.  Instead, this post is an attempt to illustrate the institutional systems role in perpetuating poverty, which is stimulated by globalization.  As a result, there are structures put in place that advance the middle and upper classes while inevitably hindering the lower class. 

Globalization

This picture depicts the common life of a child in the rural area of India.  Despite his isolation from the city, globalization contributes heavily to his life.

Starbucks — a franchise recognized across the world.  It’s a caffeine boost.  It’s a free wifi hotspot.  It’s a familiar logo of home.  Because Starbucks is such a recognizable part of many people’s lives across the world, it is an ideal artifact to study in relation to globalization.  The local is the global and the global is the local, and the Starbucks franchise fits into both the interdependent categories perfectly.  

According to a news report by CNN, the first Starbucks cafe in India opened in 2012.  This change to the environment and culture of India has its foundation in globalization, utilizing the ever connectedness of countries, corporations, and markets.  India’s new economic plan in the 1990s — encompassing liberalization, privatization, and globalization — paved the way for the multi-billion dollar company to open its doors within India’s borders.  Studying the key fundamentals of the larger corporation and its individual cafes will help understand the structural oppression that is shaped to advance the health of only a portion of India. 

In order to analyze the effect of this artifact further, Starbucks industry’s source must be identified.  The headquarters are located in the United States, in the state of Washington.  There are over 27,000 Starbucks locations across the globe; more than half of these locations are in the United States.  Comparatively, there are around 100 Starbucks cafe locations in India.  The chain store began in the western hemisphere and migrated to India 41 years later.  Nonetheless, this flow of business, capital, and frankly, Starbucks coffee is relatively new to the area — considering its first store opened only 6 years ago.  The chain, however, quickly spread.  For each year since the opening of the first Starbucks in India, another 17 stores were opened annually.  

Additionally, the business’ motivation for spreading is a key element to its global flow.  This motivation is fundamental to understanding its health effect on the overall population of India.  For example, the first Indian Starbucks was opened in Mumbai, a location specifically and strategically chosen by the corporation.  Mumbai was discussed in class as a relatively wealthy area.  It is a movie producing hotspot.  It is a tourist destination.  These aspects of the city point to a particular lifestyle — a lifestyle of luxury and expense.  The citizens of Mumbai have a disposable income that can be spent on breakfast sandwiches and overpriced coffee.  Starbucks chose Mumbai as a location that would bring in revenue.  Mumbai chose Starbucks as a business that would benefit the city.  The global is interacting with the local and vice versa, each contributing to the worldwide spread of people, goods, and services.

In addition, the meticulous placement of Starbucks is emphasized by my personal experience in India.  Our homestay is in the wealthy neighborhood of Greater Kailash; and down the street is a Starbucks.  People come to reap the benefits of clean water, free wifi, a sewage system, and nutritious food at the cafe.  These are basic elements of the Starbucks franchise.  Therefore, wherever a Starbucks is built, these factors of wellbeing are built into the neighborhood as well.  

However, this strategic and revenue maximizing business plan further stretches the gap of social capital between the rich and the poor.  The rich live in areas like Greater Kailesh and Mumbai which have stores like Starbucks.  The poor live in areas where Starbucks and similar businesses would refuse to open a location.  To demonstrate the contrast, two illustrations must be drawn. 

Example one: A local of Greater Kailesh decides to go to a nearby Starbucks cafe for a cup of coffee.  There, they have the opportunity for free wifi, aiding them in their studies.  They have the opportunity to get a cashier job, benefiting their finances.  They have the opportunity for a hygienic social environment, benefiting their mental health.  Therefore, it is fair to say Starbucks indirectly provides resources that advance life for only a portion of the Indian population, its customer base.  

Example two: This information is gathered from our class’ recent visit to a New Delhi “slum”.  Within the group of small and connected houses, I noticed two places the families of the particular neighborhood could purchase food.  Both places were small snack stands.  The vendors provided bagged food — processed and high caloric.  No kitchen for fresh meals.  No bathroom with running water.  No wifi to help complete homework.  No hiring opportunities.  The food “cafe” of this neighborhood is merely a provider of unhealthy junk food.  It provides no additional advancements to the community.  

With this stark contrast in mind, Starbucks in India — a product of globalization — provides resources that advance life for only middle to upper class individuals.  Therefore, the artifact of Starbucks demonstrates a motif of the larger problem of systemic oppression.  For those living in low-income neighborhoods are not able to reap the benefits of a Starbucks cafe because they don’t have access to one.  Outsiders seem to be ignorant of the institutional oppression that creates this perpetuation of poverty.  It’s a cycle with outside influences, influences that flow from the home country and the entire world. 


Justine in Russia: City-As-School

February 15, 2018

*Title is inspired by a high school in my city that I wish I went to, just because of the name. (City-As-School)

My study abroad program (CIEE) puts a big emphasis on getting us involved in the community and the city as much as possible, through excursions, interest groups, and even our classes. On Sunday, we all went on an excursion to the The State Hermitage Museum. The State Hermitage Museum actually has many buildings/parts, but we only visited part of the Winter Palace that day.

Here are some pictures from the excursion (note: none of these pictures are edited, it is actually that amazing in there)

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All taken inside the Winter Palace.

 

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Well, I did not want to post any faces of my peers without their permission, so this photo is edited.

 

This weekend, I also had the opportunity (and the excuse) to explore the city to my liking without having worry about to calling my host grandmother because she went skiing for half the day (yes, you read that correctly). I took the metro to Petrogradsky District (one of the “islands” in Saint Petersburg) and explored a bit. My first stop was the Saint Petersburg Mosque, which has been the top place on my bucket list for the past five years. The fact that it was snowing that day, made the experience even better. There is something about the snow that makes this city a lot quieter. Places like the Saint Petersburg Mosque and the Winter Palace really make me stop and think about how lucky I am to be able to be studying here. As for the snow, it does not really bother me as much as it does when I am at home.

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The exterior of the Saint Petersburg Mosque on Petrogradsky Island.

 

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The Neva River, which is currently iced over and covered in snow.

As for my classes, my electives started this week and I have only been to each of them twice so far, but I am really looking forward to the rest of the semester (as cliché as it sounds). My electives are: Russian Civilization: Popular Stereotypes and Social BehaviorGender and Sexuality in Russia, and Intercultural Communication & Leadership. 

In one way or another, all the classes overlap since they all discuss the culture of this city and country. Even outside of my classes, I feel like I am learning a lot about the culture of this city, when it comes to things like the metro, restaurants, etiquette, body language, etc. This city and country is not as stone-cold as depicted in the media, which I really wish put this country in a more positive light. Even with my extremely limited Russian, I have only had positive interactions with locals and am really feeling at ease with my life here so far.

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My host mother, Luda or Lyudmila (Люда or Люмила) preparing tomorrow’s supper.

My understanding of my host mother also increases each and every day because there are words she constantly uses, but I am too shy to ask her to repeat. Also, she notices when I newly understand the meaning of how to use a word and she’s pretty happy with me. I was a little worried about living with just one person, but I actually really enjoy it. She’s really patient and really nice, but sometimes I wish I could help her around the house! She does not let me do dishes and every time I ask her if I can help, she tells me how I am a guest in her home. She says her job is to take care of the home, while my “job” is to study, explore, visit museums, etc. One of these days, I’ll finally do the dishes when she is not home and I’ll talk all about it. However, that wasn’t today, so I will see you next week around the same time.

P.S: for the people who are curious about the weather here….

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До скорой встречи (see you soon).


Justine G.

Жюстин, not Джастин

 

 

 


Meghann in Argentina: Trip to Córdoba

July 31, 2017

Due to the fact that we have almost two weeks of down time between the end of my three-week Spanish pre-semester course and the first day of orientation, some friends and I decided to use this time to our advantage and take our first trip outside of Buenos Aires. We opted for Córdoba, a city located about 10 hours northwest of Buenos Aires by bus (this distance is considered short by Argentine standards—until I looked at the length of bus trips, I didn’t fully realize just how massive this country is!). Córdoba is home to beautiful Spanish architecture and amazing Jesuit churches, and is the second biggest city in Argentina. Don’t let that size fool you, though—Buenos Aires still has about 12 million more people, so in comparison Córdoba seemed tiny.

 

It was refreshing to get a short break from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. We spent the majority of our four days exploring the city, walking through the cobblestone streets and taking in the colonial architecture. We even stumbled upon a baptism in La Catedral (the oldest church in continuous service in the country) and a mass in a beautiful Jesuit church—although I couldn’t quite keep up with religious services in Spanish, it was still a cool experience to witness them.

 

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The Jesuit church where we sat through part of a mass on Sunday afternoon.

 

By far the best part of the whole trip, however, was a daylong biking tour through the Sierra mountain range. Our awesome guide Juan (who we discovered on TripAdvisor and were drawn to due to glowing reviews) drove us about an hour outside of the city to a small pueblo where we began the tour. Although parts of the trip were fairly grueling for most of us (Juan was the only one who had no trouble zipping up the steep hills), the views of the mountains and the historical sites we stopped at were well worth the workout. My favorite stop was a small Jesuit church in the hills of Candonga, an area where travelers coming by mule from Buenos Aires to the north of the country would stop after weeks of travel and switch out their mules—Juan told us that in some older and more colloquial form of Spanish, Candonga translates to “tired mule.”

 

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Juan very much enjoyed taking GoPro pictures of us throughout the trip.

 

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The one-roomed Jesuit church perched quietly in the Sierras.

 

Our day ended back in the small pueblo that we began in. Juan invited us onto the porch of an old couple that he got to know because he biked by their home so often; he told us that their friendly “holas” quickly turned to friendship, and now every one of his biking tours ends with the couple welcoming strangers into their home for mate (a classic Argentine tea that is shared by passing the gourd it is served in around in a circle) and pastries. If this isn’t an example of how friendly and gracious Argentine people are, I don’t know what is. Elsa, the cute old woman, served us delicious cookies and prepared mate for us as she chattered on about how much her pueblo has grown and changed since her childhood.

 

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Talking with Elsa on her porch.

 

Overall, our trip to Córdoba was very refreshing; the small-city feel and our interactions with such kind people like Juan and Elsa made me excited to see what other cities in Argentina have to offer. That being said, I am excited to be back in Buenos Aires and for university to finally start!


Janus in Singapore: Kuala Lumpur

April 17, 2017

Finally got around to a trip to Malaysia. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t happen – all but 1 of my flat mates had been before, and the rest of my friends in Singapore were already busy reviewing for finals at SMU, which apparently is a bit of a colossal affair. My roommate Loic and I sat down one day and found a three-day period that we were both free of obligations, though, and decided to take a rather spontaneous trip to Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. In hindsight, given that I have four finals in a five days as opposed to the usual two week spread, it probably wasn’t a great time to go. But I wasn’t about to go back home after spending a semester in Singapore without a Malaysian immigration stamp on my passport.

A view from the bottom of the Petronas Towers. Inside are a series of malls full of luxury brands, like fifth avenue or orchard road compressed inside a city block.

The trip was absurdly cheap. I spent just under $120 or 3 days without really worrying too much about my budget, either. Roundtrip bus tickets cost about $30, two nights at a nice hostel were another $30, and the remaining $60 afforded me the opportunity to try anything I wanted from the famous Jalan Alor Street Food Night Market, a 90-minute massage, uber/grab transportation, and a few drinks at the local bar.

A view of Kuala Lumpur from the top of the KL Tower. It’s no New York, but it’s impressive that you can still see tall buildings in what seems to be miles away from the city center.

The hostel was probably the price that shocked me the most, as I expected something much cheaper. My classmates who had taken trips to other Southeast Asian counties like Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia, found similar quality or better lodging for around $5-10 a night, whereas even the luxury villa we booked on our earlier trip to Bali cost about $50 for 4 nights for much more extravagant lodging. But it was ultimately worth it – the hostel was right in the middle of the food street, and was at most a half hour cab ride away from the sights we wanted to see.

One of the many food stalls in the Jalan Alor Food Street. Like in Beijing and Xian food streets, nothing beats the lamb skewers in both taste and value.

When Loic and I found ourselves complaining about the price of the hostel as we sat outside the hostel eating lamb skewers and drinking sugar cane juice, we stopped for a moment and laughed at the absurdity of it. Back home, $15 a night for housing, especially of this quality, was nothing. We felt like living in Asia had given us a different conception of cheap and money. It was a realization that my classmates from the first semester and I had, too, towards the end of our stay in China. It’s probably one of the things I appreciate the most from spending so much time abroad – you get a better appreciation of money. If people can live off of x amount, it’s harder to justify spending at the rate you do when you’re back home in the U.S. on luxurious things.
There were five big places that we experienced – the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower, the Batu Caves, and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, and of course the Alor food street. If TripAdvisor and my flatmates’ advice were to be heeded, these were the must see spots in Kuala Lumpur.

The outside of the Batu Caves. There are about 250 steps to get to the caves, with perhaps just as many wild monkeys to greet you on the way up.

The towers were absolutely gorgeous, though to be honest it felt like they didn’t fit in their surroundings. What I liked about Kuala Lumpur was that that there was a very nice and not too stark contrast between the old and the new. Like Manila, there were many worn down and dirty buildings, and interspersed among them were newer, cleaner, taller buildings that served a variety of purposes, from government buildings to corporate headquarters to residential areas. But they were never TOO clean, TOO new, TOO tall, so as to be strange – it just seemed like a city that, like many others, was growing up. Like Singapore, there was a lot of greenery in the metropolis that helped smooth out the edges of old and new, too. Parks flowed seamlessly into untamed jungle, and this somehow made the abandoned shacks or construction sites next to bank buildings seem natural, too.

We were wondering where the lights came from as the inside of the cave was well lit, and we were treated to this view after about a minute or two of walking inside.

But the Petronas Towers were just… too different. It wasn’t just the fact that the Towers (and the 30m shorter KL towers) were over 100m taller than the next tallest buildings, though that definitely played a big role. There was something about how the towers looked that made it seem distinctly not-so Kuala Lumpur. Its metallic silver color and the layered outside texture gives it an almost violent feeling that makes it seem like a ripple in the much more relaxed and low-key set-up of the rest of the city. Maybe that’s why it’s such a famous building – not just for its size, but for the emotions you get when you look up from the earth in Kuala Lumpur and see something so alien.
The KL Towers, unfortunately, didn’t impress quite as much. It wasn’t so much the fault of the building – it, too, is quite tall, standing at 420 meters, though aesthetically it’s quite plain outside of the sphere-like structure at the top of the tower. It was the fault of the view, really. The sky and observation decks of the the tower, which are its main attractions, offered a great vantage point to view the rest of the city. But that was just the problem – there really wasn’t that much to see. Besides the Petronas Towers, most of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is quite unimpressive, though it was surprising to see just how far out the city stretched. The view, though, did cement the contrast that I talked about previously – sometimes you would see two buildings next to each other that looked identical, only one was a cleaner, newer, and taller version of the other.
The Batu Caves were the the highlight of the trip, for sure. The site’s main attraction is the series of cave and Hindu temples inside. When my flatmates who had been before talked about it, it sounded like they weren’t too impressed: they said they didn’t really understand the religious significance or what was so impressive about a bunch of caves. To be honest, I don’t either – it seemed just like any other Hindu temple that I’d seen. But it’s one of those things where once you walk up the stairs, past all the wild monkeys eating fruit and drinking from bottles left behind, and into the damp, naturally light caves and see the monuments and altars scattered around, as if they were just left behind by their creators, there’s a really strange and almost magical feeling you get inside you. This place just seemed so remote, so far away from society, so serene – and especially in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the moment of quiet is special.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Currently under renovation, so we couldn’t go inside – but the outside served for a good enough background photo.

The Sultan Abdul Samad building was just a pretty thing to look at, to be honest. We didn’t spend much time there at all, but my flatmate and I did end up relaxing in the green just across from it. It had a very country club feel to it – there were a few fancy restaurants and a beautiful white marble forum right next to it – but somehow, there were very few people in the green itself, even though we were there during what I would imagine to be peak hours, just after people would start getting out of school or work and just before it got dark.
A really interesting place. I don’t think Kuala Lumpur is a must-visit by any means, but I’m really happy I made the trip out .


Olivia in Scotland: How Far I’ll Go

January 12, 2017

Hello everyone!

I’m back in the United States now. There are times when that’s still not real to me yet; you could say that my head carried some of the fog home from Edinburgh and it hasn’t quite cleared yet. In the midst of the readjustment and the holiday season, however, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from my past few months abroad. Here are ten things I’ve learned about travel, about myself, and about life, in no particular order!

  1. I love discovering new places more than I ever realized I did. I found out that the walking and navigating aspect of travel is really fun for me; I like learning where things are and feeling like I’ve at least sort of figured out how to get around a city before I leave it. I never traveled to a place I didn’t like while I was abroad. There were things to enjoy everywhere I went.
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    Here’s a picture from one trip that I didn’t get to talk much about in my blog posts— I took a day trip to Stirling, which is about an hour away from Edinburgh. It’s a pretty small city, but it has an amazing castle and is surrounded by beautiful hills. It actually reminded me of a mountain town where some of my family lives back in the States.

    Like other study abroad students, I feel that this time away has given me the travel bug. It will be hard not traveling as much in the spring, but I also think it has expanded my horizons as I think about my future. Seeing new places helped me see new possibilities for my own life and helped me see how much I like traveling.

  2. I would always rather travel with other people than travel alone. My 4-day sojourn in London taught me that. I love being along for shorter periods of time, like my last morning in Paris, for instance, but I do not enjoy being alone for extended trips. It shaped how I traveled for the remainder of my time abroad and I’m glad of that.
  3. I love living near hills. This is a bit of a random one, but it’s true! To me, living near a big hill or a mountain feels like having something to rest your back against. I might feel connected to hilly places this way because my family has roots in the mountains. Ideally, though, I would love to live in a city like Edinburgh that has both hills and sea so close together.

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    It somehow felt comforting that Arthur’s Seat and the Crags were so close to where I lived this semester (those are the hills you can see behind the buildings). I don’t totally know why, but ut made it feel even more like home. 

  4. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world. When I think about the tickets I messed up, the things I forgot, the transatlantic flight I missed, and so many other things, I am surprised that I made it home. More often than not, though, I found that there were things I could do to clean up the mess I made. That doesn’t mean that my mistakes didn’t cause me trouble, but I think that I learned more about being a responsible adult through my mistakes. When you’re on your own, you do have to clean up your mess yourself—but it’s more doable than you might think.
  5. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but you survive. Nope, I didn’t accidentally make the same point twice. This is about the things that happen that you can’t control. So many things happened that were abroad that were beyond my control, whether that had to do with sickness, relationships, or deaths. Life hit me hard while I was away. But, every day, the sun came up. I saw over and over again that the circumstances of my life do not stop the world from spinning. They make life painful, they make it a struggle, but they don’t have to define everything about you. For me, this meant giving each day to God and asking Him to help me through. Today, by the grace of God, I’m still here.
  6. You can go through the most difficult time you’ve ever gone through and still come out of it with amazing memories. Even as I look back through my various journal entries and blog posts and clearly see how much pain I went through, I also know that I legitimately enjoyed so much about this past semester. I know that it was absolutely worth it for me to go abroad. The people I met and the places I got to explore were truly unforgettable, and I feel so privileged to have gotten to experience all of this.
  7. Travel means encountering the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll be happy with the results, and sometimes you won’t be. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when I hardly ran into any rain during my travels through the stereotypically rainy U.K., but a little disappointed when my trips to Italy and France weren’t much warmer than Edinburgh (and sometimes substantially colder!). You might enjoy some major tourist sites more or less than you expected to. That’s all okay—it’s part of what transforms your travel from a mere trip into an adventure.

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    I didn’t enjoy learning about Loch Ness as much as I expected to and I didn’t like the ultra-touristy atmosphere there. However, I also didn’t expect the loch to be quite so beautiful! I ended up getting one of my favorite pictures from the trip there. 

  8. You can find family all over the world. These might be people with whom you share a common background or interest, or it might just be people who are going through something similar to you with whom you find understanding. Either way, these people are the ones who bring warmth and light to your journey once you find them.

 

 

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Here are two of those people for me! My Friends Gianna and Tyler and I share similar faith backgrounds. As brothers and sisters in Christ, that gave us a strong bond and helped us be there for each other when we needed it. It makes saying goodbye harder, which is what we were doing in this picture, but it’s still a treasure to know that I have these family members praying for me in their own corners of the world.

9. Feel what you’re feeling and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that. I’ve talked a lot about this, but I’m still learning the importance of this now as I go through culture shock returning to the US. Wherever you might be, don’t tell yourself what you’re supposed to be feeling or not feeling; think, talk, create, whatever helps you to process and understand what you’re feeling, rather than become desensitized or let emotions build up. That will only hurt you and keep you from growing!

10. Travel makes some things less scary than they were before and does the reverse with other things. Before studying abroad, I was much more scared of traveling alone or living in a city where I didn’t know anyone than I am now. So many of the logistical things that intimidated me so much before no longer do so. To explain the scarier things, though, I’ll tell you a story.

On my last morning of my trip to Paris, I realized something. I had decided to go to Notre Dame before flying back to Edinburgh. I had already been inside once, but it was just so beautiful, and it seemed like a good place for sorting through all the things I was feeling on that particular morning. I walked alone through the streets, over the bridges, past the cotton candy clouds, until I got to the imposing cathedral. As I sat inside, it hit me: I’m less scared of staying here, in a country where I don’t even speak their language, than I am of going back home.

It seemed so strange. I could never have seen myself saying something like that just a few short months ago, and why should I be so scared to go home? Well, there were a lot of reasons for that—I was terrified of how I might feel while readjusting to life at home—but so much of that fear was because I’m not the same person I was when I left the United States back in September. I have become someone new. This new person is more independent while simultaneously knowing how much she needs people; she’s not afraid of traveling alone, she’s experienced so many new things, and she’s been through the refining fire of heartbreak. That morning, much of what weighed on my mind was how to be this new person in the old, familiar places, around people I already know. Would I be able to be a new person and still keep the friendships I had before? I knew that this was something many study abroad students face, but in that moment it still felt impossible.

I sat in the cathedral for a few more minutes, soaking in the atmosphere of the sacred space. I pulled out my phone to read a little bit of Psalm 84, which talks about the sanctuary of God’s presence and how blessed those people are who trust in Him even through the difficult times of their journey. What came to me then was a glimmer of peace: a sense that, while it would be difficult, I wouldn’t be alone. I recalled my belief that the same God to whom this awe-inspiring cathedral was built would actually be with me all the way across the ocean. If anyone can handle the impossible, it would be Him. As I walked back out into the rosy morning, I felt the strength I had drawn from what I believed to be God’s presence in that place stay with me, pushing me forward and into the unknown. With Him beside me, I can face the old and the new, and there’s no telling how far I’ll go.

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Beautiful Paris Morning, walking into a hopeful future 🙂

That’s all for my life lessons, folks! We’re coming to the end of this final blog post. If you want to hear a playlist of all the songs from my blog post titles this semester—because all but one of my titles were from songs—you can listen to that here! (Good on you if you caught on to the song titles trope already.)And now, I’ll close this post with a few pictures from my last days in Edinburgh, where I took pictures of some things I would miss about the city. I loved living here so much and will definitely be back someday soon.

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Bustling Princes Street and the majestic Scott Monument, with or without the Christmas Market

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The colorful door to my flat!

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The Georgian architecture and general feel of New Town, where I spent a lot of time with my church.

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Lovely Old Town and the lights on Edinburgh Castle at night!

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Possibly most important: THE TEA!

Thank you for being a part of my journey this semester! I hope you’ve been encouraged to explore, to feel, and to appreciate the people and places around you, whether you’re at home or abroad.

As the Scots would say—cheers!


Emily in Samoa: Return to Return to Paradise

March 24, 2016

This weekend, my friend got married.

We got a call from a Peace Corps volunteer, formerly in SIT, telling us that the Return to Paradise resort was looking for “travel-savvy, foreign-looking people” to feature in its new website and advertising campaign. They offered a free night, all expenses paid, at the resort as a perk. We were curious about what we might be getting ourselves into, and a group of us agreed to go.

 

Mastering the spontaneous smile over cocktails

Mastering the spontaneous smile over cocktails

 

We were told to expect bikini photos on the beach. However, when we arrived, the photographer told us that the clouds made that plan impossible, and that we would instead have a wedding. We started by shooting photos of the bar, sipping specialty cocktails and showing the camera how much we were enjoying ourselves. Next, we moved to romantic dinner photos, and the chosen couple sat out in a private fale on the rocks as a drone flew around them taking candids. The rest of us were supposed to be continuing our background bar banter, but were peeking out at the couple and the photographer.

 

Spying on the newlyweds

Spying on the newlyweds

 

Things really heated up the next day, when we shot the wedding. Our poor friend who was picked for the bride spent the whole morning posing for photos: sitting, standing, looking at a wedding dress, getting makeup done, having a head massage (only enough for photos), and…getting married. Barefoot on the beach, we surrounded her and the Peace Corps volunteer, looking down at a heart made from hibiscus flowers.

At the last minute, the photographer realized he’d forgotten to find a pastor, and snagged a nearby gardener. “Here,” he said. “Open the bible and pretend you’re reading.” Various romantic photos were taken, but my favorite is the one of the kiss, chiefly because of our gardener/pastor, who has his eyebrows raised and mouth open.

 

Capturing the wedding vows

Capturing the wedding vows

 

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After the wedding, the photographer ordered us to go out to the rocks, and we danced as the drone flew above us. I think these are some of our best photos, though also our strangest.

This was one of the most unexpected, bizarre experiences I’ve had in Samoa, but it isn’t the first time that SIT students have done something like this. Samoa’s foreign tourism is not big yet, numbering only around 20,000 non-Samoan tourists per year. And young, foreign-looking people are few and far-between; besides Peace Corps, SIT, and actual honeymooners, options are minimal.

But the biggest question arising out of this whole ordeal, for me, is “is this culturally OK?” Overall, I have my doubts, but I’ve decided to try to argue for a yes for this specific case. The Return to Paradise is owned partly by locals (not part of Hilton, Marriot, and friends), and has a policy of hiring two members from each household in surrounding villages. These higher hotel wages are a huge stimulant for the local economy, since minimum wage in other job venues is a dismal $2.33 per hour, under $1 US. And because of low wages and little surplus other than that sent in remittances, it makes sense that the hotel would be catering to wealthier New Zealanders and Australians, a population that is largely white and “foreign-looking” to the Samoans.

 

The coastline by the Return to Paradise

The coastline by the Return to Paradise

 

The next factor that leads me to a “yes” is the movie Return to Paradise, which was filmed on the site and which gave rise to the hotel. This film starred Gary Cooper, and was shot in the 1950s. Return to Paradise marked the first instance in which local indigenous people played leading roles, and parts were not filled by white people in blackface. The female lead was played by a bank teller from Apia, and if you watch the film with people in nearby villages, most will point out a number of aunts and uncles. So, the film is looked upon positively by locals, as it promoted their culture more positively than other films would have, and encouraged local involvement.

Finally, there is Us. Were we right to do this? The hotel probably spent over $600 Samoan on each of us, so the owners really wanted our pictures. And afterward, they plan to put my friends’ wedding photos on billboards and foreign advertisements. So there was definitely a lot of people-using-people going on here. But, if we had not come, they probably would have found someone else, someone who would not reflect back on the experience, taking the perks and moving on with life. I think that is the most dangerous scenario, and so I am glad that a group of students studying cultural issues in the Pacific agreed to the shoot.

The conversation about this should continue, since I’m still not sure what to think. I certainly enjoyed my first beach wedding, and will never look at the people in hotel photos the same way again. And I hope that this weekend of cheesy photos and questionable ethics will do something positive for locals in the end.

 

Our bride mentally prepares for her ceremony

Our bride mentally prepares for her ceremony

 


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