Marrakech

After I spent a night in the city of Casablanca, we got in a car and drove to Marrakech, which took about three and a half hours. I enjoyed Marrakech more than I enjoyed Casablanca because it was significantly smaller, cleaner, and there was more to do. The traffic, however, was a mess. There were motorcycles everywhere, horns could be heard 24/7, and I saw numerous individuals almost get into accidents or hit pedestrians. It was quite hectic.

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While making sure I didn’t get hit by a car, I spent time around the city, seeing mosques, and visiting huge street markets with thousands of vendors that had everything from fake Gucci shirts to silk carpets. I spent a lot of time trying local street foods along the way, which was incredibly cheap and very tasty.

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The following day, we ventured out into the Agafay desert, which is about an hour drive away from Marrakech. There, we spent time exploring a natural oasis and climbing rocky hills. We also took Camels out into the isolated desert for a few hours with the assistance of 2 guides who worked at a near by camp. I did not get a chance to go to the Sahara dessert during my time in Morocco, but the Agafay was still really beautiful

Overall, Morocco was a great experience. It was perhaps the biggest culture shock that i have ever personally experienced. It is a very intersting country with a lot of things to see. I only got to see two major cities, but I plan on returning and visiting Tangier and Fez. If you ever get the chance to travel to Morocco, do it.DSC01876.jpg

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Dinner in Casablanca

This past weekend I traveled to the country of Morocco in Northern Africa. It was one of the most intersting places I have ever been. I started my trip in the city of Casablanca, which is a huge city with 6,000,000 individuals that drives the economy of Morocco. We visited the Hassan II Mosque (which is seen in the featured photo of this post), which is the 3rd largest mosque in the entire world. It holds 25,000 people at once and is regularly used for large group prayers.DSC01699 (1).jpg

We only stayed in Casablanca for one night, but it was quite interesting. Our taxi driver, Hamid, spoke a very small amount of English, which created a firm language barrier due to the fact that we didn’t understand Arabic. On our way back to the hotel we were staying at, Hamid told us that we should go to his house for dinner with his family that night. We awkwardly laughed as we were unsure if he was joking since we had only known him for an hour or so. He told us that he would pick us up at 7:30 from our hotel to take us to dinner since we had made reservations at a local restaurant.

At 7:30, he picked us up and we told him where to take us. In his broken English, he seemed to understand us. However, we ended up in an unfamiliar alley where he parked the car. I asked awkwardly, “Hamid, where are we?” “My house” he answered.  My friend

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My family, friend Ryan, an Hamid (in orange)

and I looked at each other contemplating what to do, so we just followed him. Sure enough, we go upstairs and his wife had cooked up a classic Moroccan three course meal for us. The food was delicious, his home was beautiful, and he was incredibly hospitable. It was a very strange experience, but one that I will never forget.

Two Months Abroad- What I know for Certain Now

November 1st. Officially two months abroad and wow, it’s been eye opening. Not necessarily in the positive, stereotypical light that one would expect during their study abroad journey, but one that is still slightly positive. However, this trip so far has proven to be the most difficult thing for me to accomplish in my life thus far, mostly because this experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. Managing my expenses, doing all my homework on time and to the best of my ability, and trying to make the most of being abroad while still maintaining my sense of self is overwhelming, so overwhelming that in the course of two months, my need to go home is immense.

Before I left, around the middle of May, I got a knot in my stomach every time I thought about going to Ottawa. I just couldn’t even imagine myself living abroad by myself (not even any acquaintances from DU) and being able to have a decent experience. It was so great that I even considered pulling the plug on the application. But my parents and friends insisted that I go on this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to which I agreed, and buried my fears under a strong, artificial confidence that I broadcasted to everyone asking about my upcoming travels. As soon as I stepped in the airport, a few minor suitcase mishaps occurred and the next minute I was crying in the middle of the airport with both of my parents consoling me. It wasn’t over a dumb suitcase mishap, it was because I was going abroad and it was too late to pull out.

From the moment I left the airport, I tried to be strong and enjoy my experience. There were (and probably will be) some positive moments in my experience. Walking around Ottawa on my own time and seeing all my surroundings is fun. Eating poutine, my new local comfort food, for lunch every Friday has become my weekly routine. The occasional trips that the International Office conducts are interesting, too. But, other than that, this experience has been pretty tough for me so far at many different angles. I like the school part of UOttawa, meaning that my classes are fascinating to attend, but I think I ultimately chose the wrong timeframe and program. I think I would be better off doing a summer term program, where it is a little shorter. A fall semester is long, compared to the fall quarter at DU. Time goes by so slowly here and for me, it’s awful. I also don’t think I, as a person, am cut out for studying abroad. I get nervous traveling to a new part of Denver, why would I even bother going to a foreign city?

But I did, and I’m here, trying to make the best of this situation I put myself in. That, in itself, is the moral of my post: if you have any knots within your stomach, pay attention to them! Do what is best for you and not what other people think! Studying abroad is a great experience and one could look at it as a realization of sorts. Had I not come abroad, I would have never realized how difficult it was for me, thus determining how I will handle these experiences and travel differently in the future. So, study abroad was worthwhile for me, in that capacity. But it also taught me to trust my gut from the get go. There was a reason there seemed to be a billion knots in my stomach prior to me leaving. I wished I would’ve paid attention to that.

My ultimate goal is to finish my classes strong and start getting my belongings packed for my departure. I still have six-ish weeks left until I leave, but it’s never too early to start sorting through stuff to make the packing easier during finals.

I don’t know when I’ll write a new post, maybe when I leave in a few weeks. We’ll see. . . until next time!

 

 

Catalonia vs. Spain

For the 2 months that I have lived in Alicante, Spain all I have heard about on the local news channels is Catalonia. For those who may not know, Catalonia is a northeastern area of Spain that is known for being the most prosperous region and it’s Capital is Barcelona. Catalonia has motioned for independence from Spain, and has been fighting hard for that independence.

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Catalonian Citizens Protesting at the Police Station

On the 1st of October, Catalonians went out to vote for their Independence, but Spain deemed it illegal. In an effort to inhibit Catalonian citizens, Spanish police forces, known as Guardia Civil, became violent and were handing the situation very brutally. Citizens of Catalonia were beaten and billy clubbed solely for trying to vote.

From this situation, things escalated greatly, and the media continues discussing how violent Barcelona and Catalonia is. This past weekend, I was visiting Barcelona. The Catalonian government officials voted for independence, and the vote passed. However, once again, Spain deemed this action illegal and discredited it.

DSC01611.jpgBeing in Barcelona, I thought that things were going to become quite unsafe and riots would ensue due to the media’s portrayal of the events. However, things were surprisingly peaceful; there were massive protests in favor of remaining a part of Spain.

I ventured into the heart of these protests due to a growing curiosity of what they were truly like. I found that there were some violent and irrational people, but the majority of individuals were friendly, passionate, and peaceful. However, if you watch the news, it shows pictures and videos of the few violent individuals, making the protesters seem out of hand.

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Individuals Obnoxiously Blocking Vehicles

Yes, there were hostile individuals who seemed as if they might get into fights, and a group of extremist protestors were blocking cars and yelling at other citizens. However, I never felt unsafe at any point and saw more collective passion of a community than I did violence.

It was an eye opening experience to see one of these rallies firsthand rather than on the news channel of my household television in Alicante. Catalonia is in a torn state of individuals who seemingly cannot agree. They have a lot of things to figure out before moving forward seeing as many individuals are still fighting for separation. Perhaps the main streams of media in Spain and America should focus on the collective groups as a whole rather than the small groups of extremists who are acting violent and irrational.

Barcelona

I spent this past weekend exploring the capitalof Catalonia, and one of the most famous cities in Spain. Barcelona was very large with an abundance of famous art, beautiful architecture, and delicious food. To me, Barcelona felt similar to other big cities that we have in America with the exception of high rise towers.

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I found that almost every individual that I encountered spoke English quite well, which was important because a surprising number of citizens in Barcelona do not speak Spanish. They all seemed to speak Catalan, a language similar to Spanish but spoken mostly in Catalonia.

I spent the majority of my time exploring the numerous architectural phonemes around the city that were created by the famous Antoni Gaudí. As seen in the featured image of this article, we first went to the Sagrada Familia. It began construction in 1882 and will not be finished until the year 2026. It was truly the most magnificent cathedral I have ever laid eyes on.

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Unlike many cathedrals in Europe, the outside of the Familia is astonishingly intricate, compiled of beautiful works of art and sculptures. The inside, however, is quite simple. It is simple but beautiful. It is said to resemble an enchanted forest due to the long columns and colorful glass.

 

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I then spent my time roaming Park Güell, which is a 45 acre park that was also designed by Gaudí. The park was full of beautiful architectural works that are quite famous around the world. There were many basic works such as pillars and benches, and more intricate areas where there are colorful sculptures made out of recycled tiles.

There are many things to do and see in Barcelona, it is a huge city. I did not limit myself to the works of Gaudí during my weekend, but his works were definitely the most interesting things to see. I would love to return and do more in this city, but I really enjoyed the short amount of time that I was there.

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Sustainability in Tasmania

There is a large amount of skepticism in the United States about sustainable practices, both due to the financial aspects and the effectiveness. While I knew that there were many countries that had taken a number of steps towards sustainability and climate change mitigation, I’m not really sure what I expected of Tasmania.

I knew Tasmania was wild; a state of Australia which boasts an incredible appreciation for nature by preserving just under half of its land area. There are areas of Tasmania that are incredibly remote, rarely explored by humans.

Living sustainably on this dynamic, sensitive planet is incredibly important for the maintenance of vital ecosystems and Earth processes. The goal of sustainability is to ensure that future generations will have access to resources of the same, or greater, quantity and quality that our generation has access to. Being a Sustainability Minor at DU, I immediately noticed the steps that Tasmania has taken towards sustainability.

There were two things that really caught my attention in the first couple weeks of my stay: solar panels and rainwater tanks.  Every small town here has at least a few buildings with solar panels. In Hobart, the capital of the state, you can see solar panels perched on roofs in almost any direction, in every part of the city.  As for the rainwater tanks, I actually wasn’t sure what the tanks were when I first saw them because I had never seen a rainwater tank.  Moreover, I’ve never seen so many tanks of that size and abundance. There is even a Rainwater Harvesting Association of Australia, which promotes rainwater collection and works to maintain guidelines in Australia.  It doesn’t surprise me that rainwater collection is so popular, given the country’s history with drought.

What also caught my eye was the switches on the power outlets and the half-flush option on the toilets.  The switches on the power outlets allow you to cut off power going to the device that is plugged into the outlet.  This extremely useful, as it eliminates the wasted vampire power, otherwise known as standby power.  In terms of the toilets, during my time here (about 3.5 months), I have only seen two toilets that do not have the half-flush option.  Even some really old toilets have the half-flush option.  Yet another water-saving initiative implemented by Australian.

Aside from appliances, I have noticed that most homes are small in Tasmania. Granted, Tasmania is a small state comprising of just over a half-million people who like to keep it simple, but I personally believe that it is out of the ordinary to have such a great number of small homes.  Intentional or not, this practice is inherently saving energy and reducing the amount of building materials needed.  It is important to note that homes and buildings don’t seem to be properly insulated, which increases energy usage. After researching the subject, I found that there are several articles written recently about Australia’s insulation problem.

There are so many great sustainable practices in Tasmania, but I have noticed a few select items that could be improved upon.  For one, reusable water bottles are not popular here.  This may be due to the lack of public water fountains and bottle filling stations.  In fact, during one of my first days of class, I walked all around the Geography building looking for a water fountain to fill my Nalgene up.  I was surprised to see so many plastic water bottles being bought and used.  Interestingly enough, some people actually reuse their plastic water bottles for a few days.

Additionally, Tasmania is lacking an adequate amount of bike lanes.  When I first arrived, I bought a bike so that I didn’t have to take the hour walk from accommodations to my classes.  I’m not an avid bike rider, so I’m not always comfortable biking without bike lanes.  Despite this, biking around is a popular practice here, even with the massive hills.  But I do believe that more bike lanes, as well as the addition of bike racks to the buses, will encourage more people to bike to and from work and school.

Overall, I’d say Tasmania is a pretty sustainable state.  I think Australia, as a whole, has taken on a lot of sustainable practices.  There is definitely room for improvement, but that’s with every other country in the world, too.

Tasmania, give yourself a pat on the back for this one.

Ireland

This past weekend, the day after returning from the Camino de Santiago, I boarded a plane and flew 3 hours to the city of Dublin, Ireland, and met up with some of my friends from the University of Denver. Coming from Alicante, a warm city along the coast, it was a wonderful change of pace to experience some cold weather.

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Roasted Barley for Guinness

Dublin is a large, spread out city with a wide variety of interesting experiences and a lot of intriguing graffiti murals. On the first day of our Dublin trip, my friends and I walked around and went to some art galleries and shops before taking a tour of the Guinness factory; which has a rich history that is very important to the country of Ireland. We got to see how the famous beer is brewed and everything that goes into the brewing process. On top of the Guinness factory, there is a circular room made out of glass                                                                                       panels that offer a beautiful 360° view of Dublin.

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View from Rooftop Bar

The following day, one of my friends and I awoke at 6:00am for a bus tour that we had scheduled. The bus would leave from the center of the city at 7:45 and take us to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. Dublin is located on the very East coast of Ireland, and the Cliffs are located on the very West coast of Ireland. Interestingly, it only took three and a half hours on a bus to travel across the entire country of Ireland. That is less time than it would take me to get from Kansas City to St. Louis.

After a very sleepy three and a half hour bus ride, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, and they were even bigger than we had expected. The cliffs stand at 700 feet tall, and had a somewhat eerie feel to them due to dark storm clouds and stories we had heard about individuals falling off due to large gusts of wind. That being said, they are one of the more beautiful spectacles I have ever witnessed in person. Viewing the white-capped waves crashing into the rigid, mossy cliffs from 700 feet above was truly aw-inspiring. We explored the cliffs for a little less than two hours before boarding our bus to return to civilization.

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On our way home from the cliffs, we stopped in a small town called Doolin to try some local food and experience a rural farm town in Ireland. There, we learned that sheep outnumber humans four to one in the country of Ireland. It was really nice to travel from East to South coast by bus, because we got to see a lot of Ireland and what it looks like in the center.

Sadly, on day three, right before touring the Jameson factory, our trip was cut short due to hurricane Ophelia. Many of my friends flights got cancelled, so we had to go back to our Airbnb and book new flights. Mine happened to be in 2 hours from when we found out about the hurricane, so I raced to the airport and made it to my plane with 2 minutes to spare. Although our trip was cut short by a day, I am very happy I visited Ireland and hope to return someday.

Camino de Santiago

This past week, I walked the infamous Camino de Santiago. Throughout the Camino, we walked 104 kilometers all the way across Northern Spain; with nothing but a backpack containing: 1 change of clothes, my camera, a sweatshirt, a towel, and a blanket. On Wednesday, October 11th, we took a 3 hour train to madrid from Alicante, and then a 5 hour train through the night to Ourense where we arrived early in the morning and began our journey.

On day one of walking, we discovered a small house with food inside. We stopped in and introduced ourselves to the man inside, whose name was Caesar, and offered to buy some of his food. He insisted that we eat for free and try his homemade wine. It turns out that Caesar’s house is infamous for Camino travelers, and he had photographs with nearly 6,000 people who had walked the same path. He was so friendly, and provided us with some much needed food and water.

DSC00797After leaving Caesar’s we continued walking to our destination for the day: Dozón, which was roughly 28 kilometers of walking for day one. In Dozón, we stayed in a small hostel where we met many other individuals from around the world who were also walking the Camino. We hand washed our one change of clothes, hung them up to dry outside, ate some dinner, and passed out in our room of bunk beds.

The next morning, we awoke at 7:00am, grabbed our clothes of the drying rack, laced up our shoes, and headed out onto the trail once more. We walked an average of 25.5 kilometers a day, which is about 16 miles. We stayed in a variety of small towns such as Río Ulla, Silleda, and Estrada. In these towns, we stayed in remote hostels along the trail and tried many local foods and Galicia wines.

Along the trail, we picked fresh apples and grapes for snacks when we got hungry, and swam in rivers when we got too hot and sweaty. As each day passed, it became harder to continue walking at such a fast pace due to soreness, blistering feet, and all around exhaustion, but we persevered as a group and finally made it to the renowned city of Santiago de Compostela.

In Santiago, we stayed at a ministry where they provided us with a room full of beds, because, after all, the Camino de Santiago was originally a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Santiago. In the city, we toured cathedrals and got our certificates proving we

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Santiago de Compostela

walked the entire Camino.

The Camino de Santiago was a tough, week long journey, for the body and the mind. That being said, it was an incredible experience that taught me a lot about the beautiful region that is Northern Spain, and a lot about myself. I would absolutely do it again, and recommend it to anyone who is considering it.

Introverts and Studying Abroad

I am a shy and anxious person. I prefer being quiet in class and spend my downtime between classes eating by myself in the cafes. I like getting my chai latte or iced mocha and doing homework in solitude, listening to calm music with headphones.

I am indeed an introvert and keep my circle of friends very close to me. It takes me awhile to get comfortable in new situations and around new people. Studying abroad was an odd choice for me because embarking on such a huge journey was a shock to my comfort zone. I am way out of my comfort zone, which is nerve racking, but impressive all in the same. However, being a new situation, especially in a new college that promotes social activities within housing, your academic department, may be something that is too much to handle. It is for me, especially being in a new situation.

From my journey so far, here are some tidbits of advice for maintaining your introversion abroad.

  1. It’s okay not to go to parties, socials, etc., There are plenty of social gatherings within my housing, English department, the International Office, and all around campus. It may seem overwhelming at first to want to go to the events and try to “fit in” and talk to people. Getting to know people is fun and it is a great way to network, however, if you have trouble in large crowds (like me), evaluate yourself before you go out to the gathering. Do you actually want to go to this event? Is there someone you know there? Is there anything that you could be doing instead of going to this event? Often times, I skip out on events because I have homework or I’m not interested in the event. These are all valid reasons and no one should try and force you to go to something. This is YOUR study abroad experience and you can make it into whatever you want.
  2. It’s okay to do things by yourself. I have fond memories of myself during freshmen year freaking out that I couldn’t get dinner because no one would go with me. People have different schedules and times to hang out. If you want to do something, don’t let the stigma of being alone stand in your way of exploring your surroundings.  For me, I like to visit the city around me on my own time and by myself. You may be missing out on the city around you waiting for other people.
  3. Make your space your own. I do spend a lot of time in my dorm reading, writing, and watching Netflix. Feel free to dress up your dorm in things that makes you feel happy and secure. I have my favorite blanket with me to keep my comfortable and warm. Things like pictures of friends and family or any decorations that make your space a visual representation of you can definitely turn your dorm into a sanctuary of sorts.

This experience has been an interesting one for me so far. I have 67 days left, which is seven full weeks and one week off. The time here is starting to speed up and frankly, I cannot wait to come home.

Till next time!

 

Tragedy from the Homefront and All Around the World

I’m sitting in the third floor study room of Simard Hall, the primary ‘pavillon,’ or academic hall for all my classes. I am working simultaneously on a presentation outline and setting up software for wireless printing (finally!) when I receive a buzz from my iPhone.

I have CNN updates sent to my phone, mostly with U.S. political and breaking news, to keep in touch with what’s happening in America. It would be nice to completely isolate oneself from their home country’s news and be completely and utterly immersed in their country’s news, for me it would be the CBC, or Canadian Broadcasting Network. However, with Trump in office, major climate catastrophes, and terror incidents all around the world, I feel obligated to know what is happening back in the states. I say all this because this morning, October 2nd, I woke up to several news alerts about a mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. It happened yesterday while I was sleeping (Las Vegas is in Pacific Standard Time and I’m in Eastern Standard time, so it was midnight when the shooting occurred at approximately 10:00pm). It was a surreal experience, similar to those with the Pulse Nightclub and Manchester tragedies. This shooting also occurred after the terror attack in Edmonton, Alberta, which is in a province of Canada not close to where I’m staying in Ontario. Canadians are rightfully still mourning that incident.

One of things about study abroad that they, as in the International Office or OIE at DU, don’t tell you at these orientations and meet-ups is that there is a huge possibility of terror (either domestic or foreign) attacks. They are not necessarily in your specific destination, but perhaps near where you may be staying or back at home in America. This is most likely done to not frighten the students out of studying abroad. Studying abroad does present a risk of potentially being in a dangerous situation.

However, studying abroad is a worthwhile experience. That’s why the OIE creates several modules on safety abroad and gives it a great amount of time in orientations to discuss safety and security. Just some things I do to stay safe abroad include just being aware of my surroundings at all times, keeping in touch with my family/friends, and being aware of the news in my country of potential dangerous situations. Being aware in general is the most important things to do everyday in order to be safe.

As we mourn the victims of tragedies around the world, your ambitions to live abroad shouldn’t die either. Trying not to live in fear is easier said than done sometimes, but the effort that is being put into the journey from the day you apply to the day you leave for your destination will be worth it in the end. Follow your gut feelings and the ideas from the OIE on maintaining safety. Communicate with them if there is an incident! It will only help at the end of the journey!

Till next time! Stay safe.

 

Traveling While Abroad: Make It Easy on Yourself

I’d say, for the most part, that I’m a pretty organized, prepared person. I always have important documents in one place, I “measure twice, cut once” in every situation, and I’m the queen of “what if.” Extra socks? Check. Have I packed a reading book, music, cards, and a coloring book in case I get bored? You betcha – even though I’ll never get bored enough to get through all of those items. Usually, I’m prepared with items of actual importance too, i.e. a copy of my online visa.

Cut to mid-semester break. For the past month, I’ve been planning a two-part trip: 4 days in Cairns, Australia and 5 days in Dunedin, New Zealand. In preparation, I printed out all of my flight information, as I’m more inclined to have physical copies of things, rather than electronic copies. Although I had only printed these out to keep dates and flight times straight in my head in the days leading up to my trip, I decided to shove them in my bag as I flew out the door to catch my first flight. Technically, I didn’t actually need my flight information – these weren’t my tickets and I had my flight numbers on my phone ready for check-in.

My experience in Cairns and traveling to Cairns was delightful. No issues, lots of sunshine and warmth (finally – a day above 60 F), and a great reunion with a friend from DU. But leaving Cairns took a bit more effort and involved enough frustration for me to learn a little travel lesson.

My friend and I showed up to Cairns International Airport relatively early in the morning. Sleepy-eyed and deprived of coffee, I walked up to the Virgin Australia counter to get my ticket and check my bag. A few seconds after handing my passport to the woman at the counter, she began to ask me questions about my travels. I was a bit surprised, as I would only expect to be interrogated at customs, but nonetheless I answered. She asked me why I was in Australia, my plans for New Zealand, and other standard questions directed towards international travelers. Following this, she asked me for my flight itinerary. Perfect. My flight information will come in handy for this. But she then asked, “Ma’am, when will you be reentering Australia?” In my sleepy state, I struggled to answer.

“Um…I fly back on the 2nd”, I answered. She gave me a weird look and replied, “The 2nd of October?”. Shoot! *palm to face moment* This is when I wished I had gone to sleep earlier or bought coffee that morning.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that. I meant the 12th…the 12th of September. I guess I just forgot to put the 1 in front of the 2.” I smiled as my cheeks turned red in embarrassment. It was obvious she wasn’t very happy with me, and it didn’t get better when she asked for my visa and I told her it was an online visa. She then proceeded to make me pull up my visa on my computer and finally handed me my ticket.

I learned a few travel lessons from this. One, always have your flight itinerary – having that definitely made this situation better. Two, always have a copy of your visa, even if it’s an online visa. If you don’t want to carry that around, then you better be able to access it with your phone, computer, or tablet. Three, make sure your brain is awake when you go to the airport. This is especially important so you can remember the simple things, like what dates you’re reentering a country that has graciously taken you in.

In the moment, I was a bit flustered, but I know the Virgin Australia representative was just doing her job and enforcing the law. Thank you, Australia, for letting me be absent-minded every once in a while.

Go to the International Orientation!

I am three weeks into my program at UOttawa and things are going mostly well. I am inundated with work and being an English major means the majority of my work is reading large portions of several books at a time. I am exhausted, but my body clock is adjusting to the two hour difference, which is nice. I am also settling into my dorm and getting to know my surroundings. I meant to write this post a few weeks ago, but I had to hit the ground running when my classes started. But now, I have some time, so let’s do this!

I attended my International Orientation for all incoming exchange students about two weeks ago. It was mandatory for me to sit through the five hour presentation; however, my time was rewarded with a UOttawa reusable bag and a Subway sandwich, which I was totally fine with! I was wondering why they scheduled the entire morning for this presentation. What exactly did we need to know that takes five hours to describe? Well, it’s actually more than a few things. In fact, the International Office talked to us about a ton of things.

Before the presentation started, all of the incoming exchange students (including myself) packed into a 200, maybe 250, seat lecture room. The diversity of exchange students around the room was impressive, more than I had seen at DU. There were students from all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Sweden, Germany, Japan, China, South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast . . so many countries that are so different from the States. It was so cool to see! The International Office introduced themselves and gave us their contact information since they are all of our lifelines while we’re here. They talked about the school, gave us a campus map, and discussed registration details. We then had special speakers come in and talk about the Writing Center, Health Services, and the Fitness Center. It was nice that they showed us all these resources from the get-go.

Finally, they discussed the importance of plagiarism prevention and student-professor relationships, which was interesting to me that they purposely discussed these things. In terms of the plagiarism, I am not certain if other universities around the world do not emphasize citing sources or if they do it at all, because they showed us everything from how to cite sources and how to determine if sources need to be cited. Maybe some students needed a reminder to cite their sources in their work or maybe some students were learning for the first time. It’s interesting that the International Office emphasized a whole section of their presentation to academic fraud, but unfortunately they did say that at least one incoming exchange student is accused of academic fraud per year at UOttawa. DU makes a big deal of academic fraud and citing sources, so it was nothing new to me.

The other fascinating topic was student-professor relationships. The speaker, whose name escapes me right now, was saying that the American, Canadian, and Australian university systems are fairly similar and that students from these specifics countries would have little difficulty assimilating to the academic schematics of the lectures, discussion groups, etc., of UOttawa. Though, students from other countries, such as the Netherlands, may have some difficulty with the “new” look of academics in Canada. The speaker went on to say that here the professor isn’t viewed as “a god” (her words) and that the student-professor relationship is still formal in nature, but way less so than in countries where professors are viewed with higher authority. While this isn’t a problem, Swedish or Danish students may have trouble with the casual nature of the lectures and discussions. They may not realize that they are actually allowed to ask questions or go to  office hours to have a conversation with their prof. It is most definitely a cultural shift for those students. In my case, the concepts of office hours, lectures, and discussions aren’t as dramatic to me because DU operates in the exact same fashion. I am grateful in that sense that the adjustment to the academic system in Canada hasn’t been a hassle. Knowing how college classes operate here already allows me to dive into my work a lot faster than I would if I went something completely exotic. But if you’re up for that challenge, by all means do it!

Although the presentation was a little long for me, I’m ultimately glad I went. The speakers cleared up some concerns I had about various things and I became more confident in my new surroundings. The International Office said to email them if we had any questions at all, even if they didn’t pertain to International Office issues. For example, I emailed them about how to ship items back to my home and they helped me right away. There is a certain amount of autonomy that comes with this program and it certainly isn’t for people that aren’t confident being independent or doing things on their own.

But, the International Office will help if you ask them, which is a tip for anyone studying abroad anywhere: asking for help never hurts. Till next time!

 

Granada, Spain

The first official weekend trip of my study abroad experience was to Granada, Spain. I went with the other students in my program, and we took a four-hour bus ride to get to the city.

When asked what the most visited city in Spain is, most individuals would respond with “Madrid” or “Barcelona,” but the correct answer is Granada. Granada is a pretty small city with an estimated 235,000 people living there year round. However, it has quite a large feel and is full of street vendors, art, culture, historic sites, and tapas restaurants.

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The first stop upon arriving to Granada was the Christopher Columbus Museum. Full of historical information and artifacts (such as the hand-written diary of Christopher Columbus), it was incredibly interesting and I would highly recommend visiting.

 

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The second stop was at Granada Cathedral. A massive Cathedral that was finished in 1561 has a very impressive, intricate interior design as seen in these photos. It was built over the cities main mosque after the city was conquered and deemed a Roman Catholic area.

The last historical site that we visited is the most well-known attraction in the city of Granada. We visited El Alhambra. It was originally built as a small fortress in AD 889, but after Christian Reconquista (reconquest) in 1492, it became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella.

DSC00748.jpgThe fortress is absolutely enormous and full of buildings with elegant architecture, amazing views of the city, and impressive museums. If you only have time to see one thing while in the city of Granada, it should be El Alhambra.

Overall, Granada was one of the cooler cities I have ever experienced. There was so much to do and so much to see, that I cannot imagine anyone getting bored in this city. If you are ever in Spain, or even Europe, Granada is undoubtedly worth going to.

 

A Mishap my First Day at UOttawa. . . 

One of the biggest adjustments for me in maneuvering the University of Ottawa (UOttawa) schedule for the first time was realizing the classes will not take place in the same room, at the same time, on a “Monday/Wednesday,” or “Tuesday/Thursday” manner. It is completely opposite to the way DU schedules and conducts its classes. UOttawa may hold the certain course on two different days, at two different times, and in two different places. None of my classes are in two different places, however, all my classes that separated into two days occur among different days occur at different times.

Why go into so much detail about my schedule? Well, it’s context for this post.  More specifically, the fact that my class were at two different times caused me to mix them up mistakingly! Today , class started at 11:30a.m. instead of 1:00p.m., like it does on the other day it is scheduled. I only realized this maybe four minutes before the class actually started. Upon realizing my grave mistake, I bolted from my chair, grabbed my backpack, and literally ran out the door.

I briskly walked three blocks from my apartment on campus to Wilbrod Hall, the home of my first class ever at UOttawa. I hurried past people and glided up the cement staircase. I opened the doorknob gently and scampered inside, closing the door softly behind me. I quickly and quietly found an open chair and sat down trying to compose myself. Tardiness, of any sort, makes my anxiety go stir-crazy!

The class I was late for was my “Topics in Book History” course, a fairly new course the UOttawa English department created around the up and coming interdisciplinary field, but I’ll save talking about this specific class for another post. The professor of this course is super kind. Instead of reprimanding me for my two minutes of lateness, she smiled thoughtfully toward me and handed me the syllabus. I am so incredibly grateful for that gesture and it boosted my confidence during the rest of the remaining block.

What is the main takeaway? When you study abroad, you are bound to make mistakes. I guarantee you’ll make a mistake at some point in your study abroad journey. You may be late trying to find a classroom, accidentally switch up places and buildings, forget to do a reading or an assignment, something along those lines. Mistakes will happen, whether you want them to or not. Would have I liked to have been late today? Absolutely not. In fact, I would like to consider myself an optimistic person. I assumed that I would have perfect attendance on the stay abroad. Guess what? That didn’t happen and I was checkmated on that assumption my first day of class!

Making mistakes is human nature and learning from those mistakes is vital to your study abroad experience. Will I just assume my “Topics in Book History” class is at 1:00p.m. again? Nope. I even made a schedule and pinned it to my bulletin board on my desk to double check the correct timing of my classes. Case in point: you will tumble over some hurdles, which is okay, but eventually you need to get back up and keep going. The race of the study abroad journey will be over before you know it and nothing should stop you in your way.

Until next time!

 

Arriving In Alicante

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Upon Arriving in Alicante there was a strange sensation of fear mixed with excitement to start my journey. The excitement overshadowed the fear, but the fears of being in a foreign city are quite rational.

For someone like me, who has only taken basic Spanish classes, the most difficult part of being in Spain is communication. It is difficult when no one speaks your primary language, and you suddenly find yourself being a minority. Spanish communication skills take time to develop, but after spending 3 days in Alicante, my language skills have already improved as I continue having basic conversations with individuals around the city.

The other most prominent fear is consistently DSC00565.jpgbeing out of your comfort zone. Everything you are accustomed to seemingly no longer exists. You find yourself in a foreign environment surrounded by an entirely new culture, political system, and overall way of life. It can be overwhelming and sometimes frightening, but the best way to learn and grow as an individual is to put yourself in these situations where nothing is familiar.

The city of Alicante is a beautiful city with very friendly people, delicious food, and a very rich history. On the second day in Alicante, we climbed to the top of El Castilla de Santa Bárbara (which is where I took these photographs). The castle is over one thousand years old and has the best views in Alicante.

In addition to the Castle, I have spent a lot of time at la Playa de Postiguet (or Postiguet Beach). The city is full of possible adventures and sights to see. As I improve my Spanish and become more comfortable, things will hopefully become easier and more familiar. I have a lot of things that I want to do in the next three months, and I will continue writing about them on this blog. The next big step is moving in with my host family that speaks exclusively Spanish.

Preparing for Study Abroad

Studying abroad is a major life experience. You’re living in a new country, in a new culture with people you’ve never met before thousands of miles away. Living in a new country requires a big transition that can feel quite intimidating. Fortunately, there are lots of study abroad prepping you can do to secure a smooth transition and an incredible experience abroad. Here are some of the major preparation categories.

 

Expenses:

A major part of preparing for abroad is thinking about expenses: How much money will I need? How often can I spend money? Do I have the funds to travel during my time abroad? These questions can be easily answered with a budget. I created a budget with Microsoft Excel and it has really helped me manage my money abroad. I know how many big trips I can take while I’m here, how much money I can spend a month, and much more. You can tailor your budget to your wants and needs by looking at a daily, weekly, or monthly budget. Whichever option you may choose, budgeting is key to making the most out of your abroad experience without having to stress about money.

 

Communication:

Yes, your mom is going to want to hear from you as often as she can, and you’re probably going to want to tell her about all of the amazing things you’re doing too! But how will you communicate with her while you’re abroad? Researching how you will be able to communicate with people back home and people within your selected country is really important. Will your phone work in your country? Should you get a burner phone abroad or an international plan from back home? How good is the wifi in your country? These are the things you should be researching in preparing for abroad. Trust me, you’re going to need Google Maps on your phone everywhere you go.

 

Weather:

You will definitely want to find out what the weather will be like while you’re abroad. This is key when deciding whether you need to pack 10 sweaters or 10 tank tops or if you’ll ever get the opportunity to wear your sandals. This is especially important for people studying abroad in the Southern Hemisphere because it will be winter when you arrive. Depending on which country you study in, the weather may be regionally specific. For me, Australia is such a large and meteorologically diverse country that I had to specifically search “average weather conditions in Tasmania, Australia”. While the Northern Territory may be hot all year, Tassie has defined seasons.  I’m glad I packed my sweaters because it truly is “bloody cold”.

 

Mental Preparation:

Mental preparation is so important! You need to realize that you’re going to spend 4-6 months (or more if you’re going for a year) in a completely new place. Try to come to this realization a few weeks before your departure, rather than the day before (whoops). Mentally preparing yourself for the ups and downs of being in a completely different environment with new people will ensure the smoothest transition into your new life as possible. For some, realizing that they won’t be able to see their friends and family for a few months may mean taking lots of time out of their schedule to spend time with them before their departure. Do whatever you have to do personally to combat potential issues abroad. Personally, I worked up until the day before I left, which left me with very little time to realize that the flight I was taking the next day wasn’t to DU. Thus, I felt that if I had handled this aspect better, my transition could’ve gone a bit smoother.

 

Now, don’t let all of this overwhelm you. Studying abroad has been amazing and is an experience that I think everyone should have. It is just a big change in life that will produce a beautiful outcome, so long as you prepare for it!

13 American Customs that Offend People Abroad

I remember when I was going abroad that I wanted to be as “un-American” as possible. I wanted to blend in as well as to not offend any of the other cultures that I was going to be visiting.

So, I put together a list of American customs that can be considered rude in other cultures through some research and this Quora thread, I hope it is helpful, interesting, enlightening, and a little funny.

1. Tipping

In Japan and South Korea tipping is seen as an insult.

2. Sitting in the back of a cab

In Australia, New Zealand, parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands it is rude not to ride shotgun.

3. Throwing a thumbs-up

If you give a thumbs up in the Middle East, Latin America, Western Africa, Russia, or Greece, you are basically giving them the middle finger.

4. Laughing with your mouth open

If you laugh with your mouth open in Japan it is considered impolite.

5. Saying your from America, not the United States

If you say you’re from America while in South America, it is considered rude and that you don’t believe there should be another “America.”

6. Being fashionably late

In countries like Germany, not being on time is considered rude and a waste of your guests time.

7. Being on time

However, in South America, if you arrive on-time it is considered a sign of disrespect.

8. Using your left hand for actions

If you do anything in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, or the Middle East it is considered a sign of disrespect because they use their left hand for “bathroom duties.”

9. Opening a present immediately

In asian countries, if you open the gift immediately in front of the person who gave it to you it is considered greedy.

10. Wearing “athleisure” in public

Wearing leggings, sweatpants, baseball caps, or wrinkly clothes is a sign of sloppiness in Asian and European countries.

11. Showing the soles of your feet

In countries that are Arab, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist showing the soles of your feet is a sign of disrespect.

12. Drinking someone else’s alcohol

In Norway, when you go to a party it is rude to drink someone else’s alcohol. Only drink the alcohol that you brought personally.

13. Finishing your meal

If you finish your meal in China, the Philippines, Thailand, or Russia it tells the host that they didn’t provide you with enough food, and they will continue to provide more.

How to Survive the First Days of Study Abroad

Settling into your housing abroad has the exact same feeling as settling into your dorm freshman year of college. All of a sudden you’re sitting alone on your bed and the realization hits you that you know absolutely no one in this huge new country you’ve decided to live in for six months. Of course, you may know a couple of DU students who have decided to live in the same country as you, but you know nothing of the city, how to get around, how to order food, how to get to class, and the realization hits you that you are absolutely helpless. 

This was probably the scariest feeling of being abroad, I didn’t know the city of Dunedin in New Zealand. I felt like a lost puppy, absolutely dazzled and confused by my new surroundings, and the worst part was that I arrived two days early, so I was the first one to be in my flat and the first one from DU to be in Dunedin. 

I spent the first two days wandering around Dunedin trying to figure out where the grocery store was and trying to buy food in the store without looking like a tourist. I messaged people from DU that I’d never really talked to before, who I knew were going to Dunedin, and asked them when they were arriving and that I’d love to get coffee with them.

These first two days of abroad were incredibly lonely and isolating but incredibly empowering. I had taken a 13 hour flight, managed to make it to my flat, lived alone for two days before anyone arrived, and I survived, and I knew that if I could survive that I could survive anything.

The rest of abroad was absolutely incredible and I made friends that I’ve visited and have visited me in the United States.

But the point is, the beginning of abroad is scary and new and daunting but everyone goes through it and everyone finds their ground and their bearings, just like freshman year of college. So no matter how nervous you are, remember, if you survived being dropped off at your dorm room freshman year not knowing the campus, the surroundings, or any people, you can survive abroad.

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Group of Friends Hiking in Abel Tasman 2017

-Amanda Roesser Study Abroad Assistant 

Types of Coffee in New Zealand/Australia

In New Zealand and Australia when you go to order coffee and you ask for the stereotypical drip coffee you are going to be looked at like you are a crazy person this is because they have different names for their coffee. So without further ado, here is a list of the coffee types in New Zealand and Australia and an explanation for all of them.

Caffè Americano                                                                                                                   You can make this type of coffee quite simply by adding hot water to a shot of espresso coffee.

Café Latte (or Café au lait)

A latte consists steamed (or scalded) milk and a single shot of coffee, you’ll occasionally encounter cafes that don’t understand the difference between this and a flat white.

Cappuccino

The first is a shot of espresso, then a shot of steamed milk, and finally the barista adds a layer of frothed, foamy milk. This final layer can also be toppStarbucks_Flat_White_1-1.jpged with chocolate shavings or powder.

Espresso

To make an espresso, shoot boiling water under high pressure through finely ground up coffee beans and then pour into a tiny mug.

Flat White

The most Aussie coffees available are the long black and the flat white – as both originated in Australia and New Zealand. For a flat white, the steamed milk from the bottom of the jug (which is usually not so frothy, but rather creamy) is poured over a shot of espresso.

Long Black

Hot water is poured into a cup, and then two shots of espresso are poured into the water.

Irish Coffee

This type of coffee is brewed with whiskey, sugar, and a thick layer of cream on the top.

Macchiato (also known as a Piccolo Latte)

A shot of espresso which is then topped off with foamed milk dashed directly into the cup.

Vienna

A vienna is made by adding two shots of particularly strong espresso together before whipped cream is added as a substitute for milk and sugar.

Mochachino

A ‘mocha’ is just a latte with added chocolate powder or syrup, as well as sometimes being topped with whipped cream.

Affogato

A shot of espresso poured over a desert (usually ice cream)

Spring Break in New Zealand

Our spring break trip began at 6:00am on Sunday morning. We packed all 8 of our backpacking backpacks into the back of our van and drove 3.5 hours to QueDSC_0026.jpegenstown.

Once in Queenstown we explored the town, found our hostel, and enjoyed the evening at a local ice bar ( a bar where everything is made of ice and you have to wear special gloves and jackets) and a couple other fun dancing bars as well! That day me and the three others who decided not to bungee jump went and explored a ‘beach’ area in Queenstown, the ones who did bungee jump jumped off the highest bungee in the world!

The next morning we left around 7:00 am from Queenstown and embarked on the four hour drive to Milford Sound. Milford sound is in the Fiordland National Park and is a place where the ocean comes into a valley that was glacially carved. The mountains in this valley are beautiful and snowcapped at the top, and covered in rainforest and waterfalls as big as three times the height of Niagara falls  at the bottom!DSC_0173.jpeg

Four of us decided to do the Milford Sound boat cruise, which was absolutely amazing. The boat looked like an old wooden pirate ship and took us around the sound and under the waterfalls! After the boat cruise we met up with the three people who decided not to do the boat cruise at ‘The Chasm’ which is a rock formation where a waterfall goes in and out of rocks (there are parts where you can’t see the waterfall because there is a bridge of rock covering it).

While in the Chasm we all decided to do some ‘off-roading’ from the tourist approved track and ended up in this little valley where the waterfall ended. The water was crystal clear and you could drink from it, there were rainforest vines and trees DSC_0265.jpeghanging everywhere and in the distance was a snow-capped mountain. At the end of the day, we headed out of the Chasm to see the sunset at mirror lake, which is a lake that as you probably guessed, gives a perfect mirror image of the landscape. We then ended our day by driving to Te Anau and staying in a hostel before embarking on our three day backpacking trip through the Routeburn Track.

At 8:00am the next morning we set off for the Routeburn track, our van packed full with eight backpacking packs and eight people. The car was very heavily weighed down so it was a fun drive! We had to drive 3.5 hours to get there and we had a run-in with some sheep in the middle of the road. The sheep blocked our car for 15 minutes while being herded by two sheep dogs! We then finally made it to the base of the track and ate our bag of the PB&J’s we had made thDSC_0350.jpege night before at the hostel before setting out on our journey.

The first hour or two was hiking through jungle with a river to the left of us, at one point we stopped and refilled our water bottles in the river! There was one section of the hike that was only filled with giant ferns that looked straight out of Jurassic Park. After two hours of hiking we made it to the first hut and had a pit stop before continuing on to the second hut. The hike to the second hut was absolutely brutal, it was a steep grade the whole hour up, and I was at the back wheezing due to recently being sick. However, when we got to the the second hut we looked over the whole entire valley where the first hut was located and had a 48 person hut all to ourselves. We finished the night with wine and tin-foil meals of vegetables. 

The next morning we woke up and explored the second hut which was surrounded by over seven waterfalls and glacier springs. We then hiked back down to the first hut and stayed the night there. We were completely alone this whole trip until around 8:30pm when a man showed up in the pitch dark in the middle of rainstorm to sleep in the hut with us. (The weather was absolutely perfect the whole trip eDSC_0367.jpegxcept for rain on this day). The man had been climbing a glacier and had to leave due to gale force winds and decided to tramp the Routeburn to have a hut to stay in. 

The next morning we woke up with the intention of hiking the Emerald track, however, on our car ride to get there we had to cross multiple streams in the middle of the road, and we could only make it through one because of the weight of the car, and we did not want to risk not being able to return if it happened to rain that night, so we decided to stay a a nearby hostel and explore this little lake town. The owners of the hostel were very nice and had two children and two puppies! They allowed us to walk the puppies around the lake and surrounding area (one golden and one sheep dog)! We finished the evening with a meal, drinks, and a movie before falling asleep.

Our final day was the next morning when we drove 5.5 hours back to Dunedin to end the spring break trip! Overall, it was an incredible time and it was so amazing to hike my first backpacking trip and see Milford Sound.