Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Elaina and Emily in Siena!

Ciao from Italy!
From John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to inside the medieval walls of Siena, we have jumped in and embraced the Sienese Italian culture, traditions, and languages. Embarking on this journey in order to learn our third and fourth languages while in Siena, we have grown so much both academically and individually. While studying at the Siena School for Liberal Arts we were able to learn LIS (Italian Sign Language – Lingua dei Segni Italiano), Italian Deaf Culture and History, and Italian spoken language. The two new languages we learned afforded us the opportunity to not only communicate with shop owners and locals but also with the local Deaf Community! We were really challenged to use our new languages on a daily basis.

Gi and Alfie meet Richie from RIT.

Our home for three weeks in Siena

Apart from local historical traditions such as il Palio, the Sienese horse races dating back to the 12th century, we have gained knowledge on the history of the Deaf community in Italy and the educational, cultural, and social changes that have occurred in the Deaf community since the 19th century. The building where the Siena School is located is rich in history itself. We learned about one of the pioneering Deaf Educators, Tommaso Pendola, who founded the School for the Deaf in Siena Italy in the 1800’s. His work in Deaf Education flourished in Siena until the 1980’s when the school unfortunately was shut down. We learned how the historically influential professionals in the American Deaf Community, such as Thomas Gallaudet, worked alongside the international Deaf education Pioneers. Learning about the history of the Deaf in Italy and being able to compare it to what we are learning about the history of the Deaf in America has been a wonderful and eye opening experience.

Piazza del Campo during the Palio

Palio horse and jockey

If studying abroad is something you are thinking about, GO FOR IT! When fellow students say that it is an eye opening, life changing experience, they hit the nail right on the head! Plus you and your dragon get to meet amazing people!

Elaina and Emily and Gi and Alfie arriving in Rome.

Elaina Gasparino and Emily Katella
Siena School for the Liberal Arts
Siena, Italy

Monday, July 18, 2016

Melissa in Hull!

Cheers from Hull, England!
Tribute to Graham the dragon, who got lost amidst all the packing.

Traveling overseas has always been a dream of mine, and now I don’t want to leave! Study abroad is one of the best decisions I ever made. Though I miss my family and teachers back home, this opportunity to make new friendships and connections has been invaluable to me.

Hull City Centre
View from my window

William Wilberforce statue
Big Ben at night

Hull is a small port city in the northeast side of England. Despite its size, Hull contains loads of history and little-known facts, including the home to abolitionist William Wilberforce and being the second most bombed city in England during WWII. The City Centre in Hull is chock-full of unique pubs, shops, and museums, making for fabulous weekend trips!

Tower of London

As a music student, I chose the University of Hull because of the performance opportunities it offered—and I was not disappointed! Besides performing solo works and collaborating with other musicians, I was also given the amazing chance to work as pianist with the cast of Urinetown the musical, a production which has spanned throughout most of my time here. Also as it happened, all of my classes fell on Tuesday (class once a week whaaaat), so most of my free time is spent practicing my instrument and traveling!

You can't tell but I'm holding my breath-these things smelled so bad!

Sherlock Holmes museum in London. I really wanted that pipe!  
I absolutely loved riding the London Underground!

Speaking of travels, I have enjoyed many of these outside of Hull! My first trip was a week getaway to visit one of my best friends studying abroad in Toledo, Spain. Though not my major, I have been studying Spanish since high school; I loved getting to apply this learning! I also made several trips to London. There I not only met friends for travel, but I also got to visit my aunt who happened to be in London on business at the same time! My most recent trip was to Edinburgh in Scotland, which is easily the most breathtaking city I have ever seen. For my three week spring break, my beautiful mother came to visit and travel with me! Together we made it to London and Bath in England, Amsterdam and Haarlem in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Paris, France. Navigating all the different transportation systems was incredibly challenging, but the experiences were totally worth it!

"The Hiding Place" for Jews in Haarlem, Netherland
Chillin with this hottie in an art museum in Madrid

Toledo, Spain

To those of you who are debating study abroad in the future, stop hesitating—say yes! You won’t regret a moment of it, and your time there will fly by way too fast. Step outside of your comfort zone and simply go on an adventure; I know I’m glad I did!

View from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland

Melissa Sultan
University of Hull
Hull, England

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Abbigayle and Little Red in Siena!

Ciao Tutti!!

Welcome to Siena, Italy!
Pretty blue Vespa and my apartment!
Social in an Italian garden with my fellow students!
This week is my THIRD week of studies, and also my last here in this amazing city! I have experienced an incredible amount of history, culture, language, and new faces during my time in Siena, and I'm not sure that I will ever be ready to leave.

The director of Siena School explaining the geological significance of Siena's buildings, and our lovely ASL interpreter!
Sunset views of Tuscany!

The Contrada of the Aquilla feasting and celebrating together before the Palio!

Street artists in action!
I am here at the Siena School for Liberal Arts, taking three classes in the Deaf Studies program. I have completed the Italian (spoken & written) portion of my program, but am still taking LIS (Italian Sign Language) as well as Italian Deaf Culture and History. Italian was taught verbally, but my other classes are taught in Italian Sign with a little bit of American Sign Language. Every day I am interchangeably using four different languages, which is a welcomed challenge! I have some wonderful instructors who are passionate about their culture and language, and learning from them is so enjoyable!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Alison in Uruguay!

Dear Reader, 

I have a confession.

I am a mutt. Yes, you read that correctly. I mean a mutt just like your precious pet “Maxi”, the one that you claim is your Poodle-Beagle-Rottweiler mix. You know exactly which one I am referring to. Your dog that has 4 differently sized paws, a mole in the center of his forehead which resembles a third-eye, and one ear pointing straight up while the other practically droops off his head. Please just admit it; you have no clue what breed Maxi actually is. Sometimes you doubt if he is even a dog. 

But I, too, am a mutt with my ancestry. Like many Americans, I claim to be a nice mixture of everything from Scottish and German to British and Irish. At times, when I consider my ancestry, I like to think that maybe, just maybe, a little “Luck of the Irish” was passed through my genes. However, at the beginning of study abroad here in Uruguay, I began to fear that maybe a warped, twisted “luck” was passed down to me instead. 

Now hear me out. I am not being dramatic. I would never be dramatic.

The Hollywood sign of South America. MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay

On my second day in the country, I rode the Montevideo city bus. This simple enough task finally came to an end after taking seven buses, wasting $10, and crying in front of bus full a strangers who had no clue what I was saying. My Spanish speaking abilities had failed me. 

A few days after the “bus incident”, I met the student who would be my flat-mate for the next five months. He had been in Uruguay since the previous semester and knew the town pretty well. Being the sophisticated and generous Brit that he was, he offered to take me for a walk around the city. It was one of the most beautiful, sunny days I have ever seen in my life. Not a single cloud dotted the sky. Not even a hint of gray graced the horizon. Suddenly, like something out of a movie - a horror movie- the sky began to laugh with its hearty thunder before pouring bathtubs full of water on us. “That’s never happened to me here,” he informed me in the most British accent possible. “You must have bad luck.” 

I knew it. 

Cabo Polonio: Most spectacular sea-side town.

Shortly thereafter, over the course of three days, I bought 3 different track phones, each of which broke. In order to replace each phone, I walked the entire city, crossing nearly every major highway.
My Dear Reader, I feel the need to spare you the grim details of my head-LICE infestation.
You don’t need to pity me too badly. (However, I will accept a little bit of pity if you are feeling generous). 

Then, one morning, as if the luck of the Irish had finally tossed a gold coin my way, I rolled out of bed and realized, “I live in South America!” SOUTH AMERICA. As cliché as it sounds, this experience is a dream come true. I had imagined this day since I was 15 years old. All during high school, I talked about one day traveling through South America and perfecting my Spanish speaking abilities. While studying in Montevideo, I’ve adventured up the coast of Uruguay, traversed through Buenos Aires, and will travel to a few more countries before returning to the USA.  It’s hard not to feel unbelievably blessed when I think about this stunning opportunity to see the places I have studied about for nearly five years now. I don’t think I will go home to good Ole ‘Murica (though my parents insist I have to come home regardless).  

Robin and I at Minas, Uruguay

The same morning this realization came to me, so did another. That two hour bus trip through Montevideo taught me how to use city busses and read a map. The rainy-adventure introduced me to one of my best friends here in Uruguay. We still laugh about that sunny yet rainy day. Likewise, the broken phones taught me all the major roads to use to get places quickly. But I know what you’re thinking, “How could head-lice have a positive spin?” Well, come on Reader; that’s just hilarious. The pharmacists who helped me were laughing hysterically as I, some random foreign girl, pointed at my head and screamed, “Help me! I have lice!” 

In addition to the crazy memories above. I’ve made friends from every corner of this earth who have forever left an impression on my life. Some of my favorite memories are the simple day-to-day lunches in the cafeteria with one of my Uruguayan friends who loves to talk politics. I’ll never forget the laughter and great fun we’ve had cooking traditional Polish, Russian, and Mexican cuisine. Nothing can beat the times arguing over which is better: a bucket of dulce de leche (sweet desert filling and spread) or a box of alfajores (traditional sandwich cookie). 

Learning how to make Polish Pierogies. Robin (Canada), Alexa (México), Justyna (Poland), Me

Having the ability to study in a foreign country is a gift and a blessing. Dear Reader, I am not going to lie to you. There will be bad days, but you will also make unforgettable, spectacular friends and memories. Whether you are a mutt or a purebred has nothing to do with your study abroad experience. You don’t need the luck of the Irish either. Only you can choose your attitude! So, choose to be thankful for the opportunity to have amazing adventures, enhance your language skills, and learn about life.

Lastly, My Dear Reader, if you get the opportunity to study abroad, (in the words of Nike) JUST DO IT!

Dancing the Tango in El Caminito, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Best regards from the never dramatic,

Alison Bean
Universidad de Montevideo
Montevideo, Uruguay

Monday, June 27, 2016

Robert in Rome

Hello everyone! My name is Robert Moody. I'm currently in Rome, Italy on a faculty-lead study abroad experience. Let me start off by saying this, I never had any interest in traveling to Rome. As my departure date drew nearer, I got increasingly anxious, even to the point where I couldn't sleep. However, I found that this adventure would be interesting as soon as I got off of the plane!
I've only been in Rome for about a week, so there isn't too much that I can say so far, but I already feel like I'm starting to navigate pretty well in the city. Sure, I've gotten lost almost everyday, but hey, when in Rome!

Altare Della Patria, or the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II
Because I'm on a faculty-lead trip, I and a group of other students are exploring Rome with a small group of professors. Even though I can speak less than elementary level Italian, communication hasn't been difficult, and the people are very friendly. I can already tell that some of the students are really starting to bond with one another. The food is about as amazing as you would expect, and the city always seems to be alive. My favorite part so far is probably the site-seeing. Being able to see some of the things I've read about in art history classes is almost indescribable.
There is just so much to see in Rome, and there's so much history. Sometimes, it can be a little overwhelming. But the gorgeous views make the heat and all of the walking worth it. The histories behind some of these buildings are mind blowing. All of the monuments, churches, and palaces have been stunning, and I'm so glad that we have three more weeks to see as much as we can while studying abroad. 

The eiling of the Church of the Gesù

Even though I hadn't anticipated studying abroad in Italy, I am actually beyond satisfied with my decision to study here. I'm excited to see what else is in store for this study abroad experience!
Robert Moody
Art in Italy (UNCG Summer Program)
Rome, Italy

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hannah and Kennin in Japan!

Hello! My name is Hannah Lee and I am currently studying at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, with my dragon, Kennin (named after the beautiful 建仁寺 Kennin-ji, or Kennin Temple).
Where does one begin with a tale that transforms a person? You can read so many novels, watch so many documentaries, but they never can prepare you for the journey you will go through both physically, emotionally, and mentally. The person that leaves home is not the one that returns. Even I, an experienced traveler before coming to Japan, have found myself still changing thanks to this trip. When I sat down to write this post I honestly didn’t know where to start, because I felt that I may need to write a whole adventure story, complete with legends, wizards, and even dragons, to fully express the experiences I have had here in this country. 

An old town on the Nakasendo road.

While that whole paragraph may have just freaked you out, there isn’t anything to fear. In fact, the only thing to feel is excitement, because the person you will become will be stronger, more understanding, braver, and wiser. Suddenly, things don’t scare you the same way anymore. If you are someone who would stop when you came across a wall, you will find yourself being a person looking for ways to get past it. 

My friends Laura from Germany and Isabel from Norway enjoying Hanami

There will be many feelings, going to a foreign country, especially one where you don’t look like everyone else, where you may not speak the language well, and where your cultural norms don’t match either. But once again, don’t worry, don’t fret, and let yourself fall in love in the country that may permanently become a place you can call home.

A tea ceremony sweet poetically named Fishbowl, created by Sefu.

When I first landed in Japan, my flood of worries honestly didn’t come till the next day. Wandering around Kyoto with all my belongings, standing out like a sore thumb, is when everything hit. How will I make my cash last till the end of the trip? How can I get official business done when my language is the level of a 5 year old? How hard will my classes be? Ah crap, I can’t fully read that sign, I hope it didn’t say something important….  

My Japanese friend Mao and myself at a soccer game.

But then, I found my dorm (thanks to coming prepared with my new address in kanji for the taxi driver to read) and soon settled in. A few days were quiet, until a whirlwind of events took me to Oz. Suddenly, I experienced Hanami (花見, flower viewing of the sakura trees), made friends from all over the world, saw and participated in the Moving Shrine Festival (Danjiri-matsuri), and other amazing events occurred in my life, and all those feelings melted away. Suddenly, this place was my home, and you quickly learn that even the strangest places can start to feel familiar. 

Hanami Festival at a local temple.

There is far too much to talk about regarding my life here, so instead I shall give some important tips and advice I think anyone coming to Japan (or any other foreign country) should bear in mind. When you first come, bring only what you need, and not what you want (you want room to bring stuff home, trust me!). Be a ‘yes-man’ and don’t hide away! Experience the land around you, immerse yourself, because if you don’t you may soon find yourself regretting wasting the opportunity you had. When you first come, bring a folder containing a copy of your driver’s license, passport, addresses and phone numbers of your home in your new country, and any other important documents. And finally, do not be afraid to ask questions, because even the simplest questions may make your life a million times easier. You may surprise yourself with just how much you can really do in the world.
I’m only half way through my adventure, so I have so much more to experience. But before I end this post, I have a lovely poem to share that I learned through my tea ceremony lesson:


‘An old pond
A frog
Jumps in
Sound of Water”

The famous painting on the large ceiling of Kennin-ji

Jump into a country of old or new, and enjoy the beauty, sights or sounds, that you will remember for a long, long time.

Hannah Lee
Ritsumeikan University
Kyoto, Japan 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anna in Spain!

This is it! The final week of my study abroad trip in Madrid, Spain has arrived. Most people think that five weeks seems to be an insufficient amount of time to become “fully emerged” in another culture. I am here to tell you to never underestimate your brain’s ability to absorb massive amounts of information in a relatively small time frame. If you read my classmates’ blogs about their experience in this program, you will read about castles and cathedrals. This blog post deviates from that slightly as I am concerned with giving some advice to those who plan to study abroad, but who also feel a bit of uneasiness toward the unknown.

Me outside The College for International Studies. While we were learning Spanish, there were other international students learning English in this same building.

Before I dive into my experience in Spain, I want to talk to the introverted, slightly neurotic individuals for a moment. When I got accepted into LIHC, I grappled with the fact that one day I would have to board a plane by myself and be dropped off in a country where I wouldn’t have the capability to even order a meal. The time leading up to this trip was filled with frantic thoughts. I am a planner, but there was no way for me to plan for such a novel experience. All I could do was brush up on some Spanish, pack a small suitcase, and begin my ambitious endeavor. There are many practical reasons to study abroad: It gives you a slight advantage in the job market as it makes you appear more culturally competent. I feel that most introverted individuals slow down and think of the practicality of what they are doing; however studying abroad is worthless if you can’t value the experience beyond its function on your resume. It is vital to package this experience in way that will make you competitive for a job or a graduate program, but remember to slow down and embrace the moments that will become treasured memories. Traveling as a student is an opportunity everyone should experience. You will not only learn about another culture, but you will learn to see the culture through the eyes of a local. Nonetheless, there will be a few bumps on this path to cultural wisdom. 

The Aqueduct in Segovia.

Most people around me did not experience culture shock…I did. Like I said before, I am a planner. I take great comfort in knowing exactly what is going on around me. Unfortunately, my Spanish skills did not stretch beyond a 102 level. Most of the students who lived in my house were Spanish minors. Needless to say, they were fairly comfortable talking to locals and could easily communicate with our host mother. I felt incompetent and juvenile as I sat silently at the dinner table while the “grown ups” engaged in meaningful conversation with our host mother. It was even worse when I tried to speak to locals. There were times when I just froze midsentence, indicating my lack of Spanish fluency and my failure to conceal the fact that I stuck out like a sore American thumb. This all sounds unpleasant….it was. As time went by, I broke through that awkward, uncomfortable silence to reveal that I could speak a lot better than I thought. The trick is to talk despite the fact that maybe your accent muddies the clarity of your speech or maybe you asked the lady at the market for “trash” instead of “bag.” In my defense, “bolsa” and “basura” sound very similar.  

The view from our host mother's balcony!

Aside from the obvious language barrier, the cultural differences were very manageable. Nonetheless, there are some worth mentioning for anyone who is thinking about going to Spain. For one, get used to the metro. Like any big city, the metro is the most practical method of travel, so it is normal to see a herd of people hopelessly packed into a tiny corner. As a southern American, I was raised to embrace the concept of “personal space.” In America, pushing your way through a crowd of people can lead to confrontation. In Madrid, there is a universal understanding that being pushed by someone does not indicate aggression, rather a genuine effort to get from point A to point B. 

The view from an overlook in Toledo

Additionally, Spaniards’ paradigm of food deviates greatly from our American mindset. A meal is only for a moment. In other words, you sit down and eat all of your food at one time; there are no to-go boxes. It is not that people here take pleasure in dumping out food; they simply do not see the quality in a leftover meal that demands to be thrown in the microwave. Not every person thinks this way, but this mindset is fairly common.  

Stopping for a picture as we walked through the streets of Segovia.

Making the decision to study abroad takes bravery and independence. Naturally, with bravery and independence come anxiety and fear…for some, at least. There are some people who never think twice about questing on a new adventure. They can board a plane and land in a foreign place without knowing where to go or how to speak the language. It is okay to feel scared and to shy away from locals at first. It is okay to crave that American familiarity. It is okay to feel out of place among people who belong. Earlier I talked about some individuals’ tendency to think about the practicality of their actions. This is such an adaptive strategy, but only in the right context. The art of adapting in a foreign environment requires you to ditch that safe practicality. Do things because you want to experience them (Nothing illegal). Who cares if locals are staring you down? Jump into a conversation with someone. Let go of the fear of appearing stupid when you don’t know exactly how to respond. Take the initiative to ride the metro somewhere new by yourself (during daylight). Explore. The moment you choose to untangle yourself from worry is the moment when you start to adapt to your new surroundings. In the last few weeks, I have started to speak Spanish more and more. I feel somewhat competent having a conversation with my host mom or asking for directions. I even mustered up the courage to explore the city on my own. I have realized studying abroad is not so much about how well you can fit into a culture; it is about how well you can adapt to the culture. Letting go of my anxiety of being viewed a certain way by locals has granted me amazing memories with some pretty awesome people. I am pleased to say that I have made the most out of my international experience. I hope all of you receive the opportunity to do the same.

Best wishes!
UNCG in Spain
Madrid, Spain