Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Alex in France!

A quick note before starting: last week my phone broke and I lost all the photos I had taken up until that point. The only ones I still have are ones I sent to other people beforehand that they were able to send back to me, but this is a tiny percentage of what I took. Thus, I do not have any pictures with my honors dragon now, but I promise he is with me and, as far as I can tell, is having a good time in France.
A picture of Parc du Thabor located in Rennes

 A picture taken in Rennes most well-known art museum, the Musée des Beaux Arts de Rennes

Bonjour à tous! My name is Alex Williams and I am a senior geography major with a music minor, currently studying at the University of Rennes 2 in Rennes, France for the fall 2019 semester. While the experience thus far has been extremely positive, I did have my initial hesitations before and when arriving. Before coming to Rennes, I had never been outside of North America before in my life, nor had I ever been in a country where the primary language was not English. Although I did know a little French from taking classes in high school and university, it did not help ease my mind much knowing that I would be in the midst of native speakers who would probably know I was not a native speaker the second I opened my mouth. Nevertheless, I was also eager to be able to experience a new country and become familiar with a culture different from my own.
When I first arrived to Rennes 2, I was fresh off of an 8-hour plane ride and a 2-hour train ride, and in my exhaustion, I was unable to find the residence building in which I was to make my home for the next 4 months. In my desperation, I worked up the courage to ask a French student if he knew where I might be able to find the building I was meant to be in. Right away any notion of French people being rude or snobby (which is a stereotype I had heard of before coming) was immediately disproven for me. Not only did the student show me on a map where my building was, but he also offered to help carry my bags on the way there. As a first impression, this made me feel a lot better, however once I was alone in my room I couldn’t help but feel a little homesick already for my friends, family, and (perhaps most importantly) bed back home.
In class with two of my international friends, Kaito from Japan (who is holding the camera) and Neza from Afghanistan (who is in the middle)

A picture taken in Paris of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background

Regardless, I pressed onward with my journey, and as time went by and I began to settle into life in France. At first, even little things like ordering at a restaurant could be a bit nerve wracking, and I’d often have French people who knew English switch to speaking English after they quickly realized my skills were not the best. However, I was exposed to the language and culture more, I slowly found my confidence building, and now I am able to maintain communication in French in most any situation I find myself in.
While being exposed to French culture has been great and I have been able to eat bread to my heart's content, perhaps the best thing about being here has been the people I have met. On top of meeting native French people who have taught me some of the French way of life, I have also met many international students as well. I have gotten to know people from all over the world, ranging from Ghana to Japan to Italy to Brazil and so on. Due to this, I have been able to learn about little things about all sorts of cultures that are foreign to me, not just that of France. With the international friends, I have made I have also been able to find people with which to share the experience of living in a whole new country, and it has easily been one of the best things about studying abroad.
In my time in Rennes so far, I have been able to become familiar with many things about France, ranging from their cuisine to the way the university system works. However, I still feel I have a lot to experience before returning home, and I hope that in the 5 weeks I have remaining here, I can squeeze in as much as I can. Regardless, this experience has already solidified itself as being one of the most memorable in my life, and I am eager to see what the last stretch has in store.
Au revoir!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Vivian in Denmark!

My Story

It is not every day that someone can say they commute between two countries every day to go to school, but I can say with a newfound confidence that I have been able to navigate this challenge with only a few hitches along the way. I embarked on this study abroad with the mindset that I would reduce the costs as much as I could so that I could allocate money to seeing all of Europe. As I result, I am living with my Swedish aunt and her husband in a small village in southern Sweden and commuting an hour or more one-way into Copenhagen every day for class.

There are times when I still do not believe that I am here living the dream that I had only a faint picture of when I was a senior in high school. I have been saving money for the past five years to do something big with my life. I am doing just that, hopping on trains across countries, taking flights to countries that I had only ever seen pictures of, meeting people from across the globe, and opening my mind to the possibilities that are available to me. It felt surreal once my passport finally arrived with its maroon cover, gold crown pattern, and the words “Europeiska Unionen Sverige Pass”. All my new Swedish and Danish friends joke that I have a way to go before I am officially Swedish, but to me, this passport connects me to the side of my heritage that I do not know as well as my Irish heritage. It reminds me of how hard I worked to get here; all the frustration was worth it in the end.

Being here has allowed me to appreciate how much my parents went through as immigrants to the US. The cracks on their hands reflect the hard labor they have had to do every single day since their first day in the US, while my hands are less than half as cracked and aged as theirs. Every day I can see how they have sacrificed for my future success and happiness. Not too long ago, the idea of college was not a certainty. We were unsure if we were going to ever be able to afford it, but because of my parents’ immigrant attitude, “by god I was going, no matter what we have to do”. Ever since then, that spirit has burned within me and pushed me farther than I ever thought I could go. I am propelled by the efforts of my parents and the efforts of my Irish grandmother who raised 12 kids by herself after my grandfather died, propelled to be what they dreamed of being but were not able to fully achieve because life does not always go as planned.

I have traveled to Germany, the UK, parts of Denmark, and different cities in Sweden, and I have many more plans to visit France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, and explore Ireland even more than I have. I have learned so much about myself that has been buried underneath stress, self-comparison, and low self-esteem. Studying abroad is the best decision I have made in life, not just because of how financial aid relieved my worries about money but also because of the time I have granted to be a kid again and to be fascinated by the wonders of life. Here I can once again reconnect with my love for new experiences and most importantly reconnect with my love for myself. At home, the days go by so quickly that I do not get the time to do these things. I am so incredibly grateful to be here living my best life, and I will look back on this time fondly. Thank you LIHC for reminding me how wonderful the world and life really is, without this opportunity I am not sure I would be as happy as I am now.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Olivia in Australia!

“Olivia Alston can you please come to gate number 37.” I nervously got up and walked over to the desk.

The worker at the desk asked for my student visa, and that is when everything hit me. I am really going to live the next four months in Australia.

My name is Olivia Alston and I am a Junior Kinesiology major with a minor in American Sign Language. I am studying abroad at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia for their T2 semester. While having the chance to stay on campus, I pretty much have the best roommates. Can you believe the first night we all made a pie together?

Standing at the Deakin University sign on campus
Not only were my roommates nice and welcoming, but the residents of Australia were all nice. I was not the only one from UNCG who went to Deakin, but I still wanted to gain more friendships. I joined one organization, and a study abroad group, which led me to many great friends. I needed to keep myself busy because I only had school 2 days a week here. While I am here I have met many friends, traveled to other countries and cities around Australia, learned how to ride public transportation, has done some cool excursions, but the best of all is learning more about myself!!!

Usually, in a new environment, I am usually the person that waits to be talked to, an introvert. Being in a new environment has motivated me to come out of my shell. I have made friends in the study abroad group, in a Christian club, 2 churches and also in my classes. The friendships that were made here are genuine, honest, and encouraging. My friendships have encouraged me to understand their culture. I have met people from Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Kenya, Vietnam, Korea, China, European areas, and Australia. Having a wide range of friends have taught me a little bit about their culture. My favorite learning experience has to be the time when Christian Union had desserts from many countries. There was Pandan Cake from Southeast Asia, Ice Kachang from Malaysia, Gajar Ka Halwa from India, and Lamington from Australia. I had fun eating desserts and learning where they came from.

Melbourne is the second-largest city in Australia. They have the biggest malls I have ever seen and the best public transportation. While being in Melbourne, I have grown to be comfortable when riding public transportation because my sense of direction has been improving.

It was the first weekend in Australia, and the study abroad group decided to host a scavenger hunt around downtown. Once we made our groups, the scavenger hunt began. A few of my favorites spots were the AC/DC Lane, Melbourne Central and the many detours my group took along the way. Not only did I have fun with getting to know new people, but I learned more about how to get around the city.

My scavenger hunt group at one of the stops

At Deakin University, the students are less dependent on the school. There are no cafeterias, very minimal activities on campus, no sports team, and not a lot of residential housing. A lot of changes had to happen so I can adapt to my new norm. Cooking and creating desserts are starting to grow on me. My favorite so far is the honey bun cake I made. At Deakin University I also only have classes 2 days out of the week, Tuesday and Wednesday. I thought managing a busy schedule back home was difficult, but trying to make yourself busy is a lot harder. There is not much to do on campus, and downtown is about 1 hour away from our school. With much free time, I have gotten into the habit of working out, self-reflecting, and treating myself in my spare time.

The nature trail park near the school where I run

Being abroad has made me less dependent on my family and friends back home, it has helped me notice who I am becoming. Having more spare time has awarded me the time to self-reflect and notice how I have been changing, a positive change. Being here has helped me learn who I am without factors back home that could alter it. I love the transformation that has happened in Australia, I love the new me.

Lucas and I at the Queen Victorian Winter Market

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Katie in Italy!

   Hi! My name is Katie Moffitt and my dragon’s name is Antonio. I’m a junior majoring in Psychology with a minor in ASL/Deaf Studies. I embarked on a six-week, faculty-led summer study abroad trip in Italy this past summer with four other students. I was pretty freaking nervous to study abroad because I had never really been out of the country, let alone for six weeks without my family. But since studying abroad is such a unique experience, I was determined not to let my anxiety get the best of me. People would ask me what I was most excited about, and even though I couldn’t imagine what Italy would be like, I knew that I was extremely eager to see how this adventure would influence my personal growth and development!

St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City

Spanish Steps in Rome

We visited about 18 different cities, either living there for several weeks or going as day trips:

Milan, Padova, Bologna, Venice, Florence, Bracciano, Loiano, Verona, Rimini, Rome, Naples, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Ravenna, Procida, Amalfi, Modena, Marzabotto

My professors spoke fluent Italian and have even lived in Italy previously, which was really helpful when navigating the cities and conversing with other people. They taught us some basic Italian phrases, like different ways of greeting someone, and most importantly, “Mi dispiace, non parlo l’italiano” (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian”). Since Italy is such a tourist destination, especially cities like Rome, the locals are often forced to use the little English that they know to communicate. But if we put forth the effort and spoke the little Italian that we knew, the locals were more willing to speak a little English. In their eyes, there are two versions of Italy: the one that is shown to the tourists, and the real one that is kept private for themselves. We learned that by simply demonstrating some respect and interest in Italian culture, the Italians would often let us in to that private Italy. When I came back to the United States, I thought it was so weird that everyone around me was speaking English!
            Italy is known for its food, and let me tell you, what we call Italian food is not the real deal, nor a copy of the real thing. We were constantly raving about the gelato, cheeses, wines, breads, and meats! Even though my professors did an unbelievable job of scouting out the best places to eat, they also made sure that we knew what average and bad Italian food tastes like. Compared to American breakfasts, we barely had breakfast in the mornings because it usually only consisted of coffee or freshly-squeezed juice and a pastry, Yet, we ate too much at every other meal! We did research and asked for recommendations from restaurant owners to find the best local restaurants and gelaterias. Asking restaurant owners for recommendations is a great example of how our interest and respect for Italian culture let them feel willing to open up, and we were able to experience the authentic side of Italy. We learned how to differentiate touristy places from the places that are local favorites. A smaller menu usually meant more local, fresh ingredients for the few meals that they prepared. We got the opportunity to taste fresh lemons, oranges, mozzarella, olive oil, and so much more! We even attended a wine tasting, where we learned about how different wines are made, stored, and how they’re paired with different types of meals. There were tons of different meats that we tasted (or avoided), including chopped liver, squid, octopus, prosciutto, pork cheek, lamb, shark, intestines, calamari, and sardines. It was so hot that some days we got gelato or a granita two or three times. We also usually got dessert at the restaurant after every meal. We deserved it after all of the walking we were doing! We had wine during every lunch and dinner, at least one red wine and one white wine. It took until the last week that we were in Italy for me to find a wine that I actually liked. We considered it a miracle! 

Teatro San Carlo in Naples

Gondolas in Venice

        One cultural feature of Italy that was very obvious was how and when you ate meals. During breakfast, you rarely ever sat. While one reason for that is that you would have to pay to sit, the bigger reason was that breakfast wasn’t a meal to sit and chat over. You went to the cafe, ate a pastry, drank your coffee (usually espresso), and then left. During lunch and dinner, you had to expect the meal to take at least two hours, if not longer. It was extremely rude to rush any meal other than breakfast. Since Italians usually eat dinner around eight or nine o’clock in the evening, there’s essentially a designated snack time around 5 o’clock, called aperitivo. The purpose of aperitivo was to whet your appetite and hold you over until dinner. Even though we drank at most meals, including aperitivo, I found that I preferred the drinking culture much better in Italy than here in the United States. In Italy, the drinking age is 16 and everyone grows up with wine casually being at every meal. Italians don’t drink to get drunk. An aspect of Italy that I didn’t enjoy quite as much was the transportation. Public transportation in Italy, especially Rome, is a living nightmare! Unreliable, crowded, was rough sometimes. Over the course of the six weeks, I traveled by bus, tram, train, bike, taxi, boat, and my own two legs. But sometimes the worst experiences make the best stories, ya know?
Antonio looking out over Verona
Living in various hostels for six weeks was an experience, and sometimes it kind of reminded me of dorm life. Some of my best memories were from the hostels! Some hostels had air conditioning, some only had AC at night (if you asked for it, until they turned it off at around 5am), and some hostels had no AC at all. There were a few nights when it was so bloody hot, that we soaked our towels in cold water and laid them on our stomachs. Also, some of our hostel rooms were private, in which only our group stayed in the room, and in other hostel rooms we had to share with other travelers. During our one-week stay in Naples, we had three different roommates, from California, Australia, and Malaysia. Since we stayed in some cities for up to three weeks, we learned where the local grocery stores were. We were lucky enough to stay in a hostel in Bologna that had a giant kitchen, so we were able to cook our own meals when we weren’t out eating too much pizza and pasta. We visited so many different sites throughout Italy that creating a list would take too dang long. Not only did we see the most famous sites, like the Colosseum and Michelangelo’s marble statue of David, but we also saw so many more amazing things that weren’t crawling with tourists. We even attended several operas, in Italian of course, in the most grand theatres I’ve ever seen!
If someone were to ask me now what my favorite part was or what was the most exciting thing that I did, I wouldn’t be able to pick just one. By the end of the trip, I had collected a total of 60 postcards that I wrote for family members from every city that we stayed in. Of course I got some for myself too, and yes, I did write on all of them. I took about 4,000 pictures, which made it very hard to pick just a few for this post. There hasn’t been one day that has gone by that I haven’t thought about my trip to Italy. I learned so much about the world and myself while along that journey, and I still continue to learn from it every day. If I had let my fear of what might go wrong get in the way, I would have missed out on one of the best experiences of my life.

Hiking in Marzabotto

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Jordan in Uruguay!

        ¡Hola a todos! My name is Jordan Anderson, and I am a junior psychology and Spanish double major. I am spending this semester in Montevideo, Uruguay. It has already been quite an adventure, and I know it will continue to be until I return to Greensboro in December. Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine, so before I got here, I was mostly excited but also a little nervous. However, as soon as I stepped out of the plane and into Carrasco International Airport, I was mostly nervous and a little excited. That first day was both fun and challenging. My roommate Laci (a fellow International Honors student) and I were allowed to drop off our things at our apartment, but then we had to wait for a couple hours in a nearby indoor market while our landlord finished getting our apartment ready (keep in mind that this was after a 24-hour trip). So, we got to know a little bit of the city before we even got to take a nap. I continued to feel as if I were wandering a strange city in need of a nap for the first couple of weeks I spent here. It is never easy to be removed from your normal life and placed into one in which you don’t speak the language very well, and you don’t really know anyone. But, after only 2 or 3 weeks, I had started to adapt. My Spanish was already so much better (it’s amazing what practicing every day for hours can do), and I had already found some great friends in the other international students in my program. I think we all stick together because we’re all in the same crazy situation. I truly became aware of the quality of friends I had made when my birthday rolled around in August. I was a little bit sad because I wasn’t getting to celebrate with my friends from home. However, my friends here surprised me with a huge party, cake, and most importantly, crepes (made by my French friends.)

The usual Wednesday night out with a fellow International Honors student, Laci

Celebrating my 21st birthday with friends from around the world

            While the first few weeks here were life-changing, my journey definitely didn’t end there. The longer I’m here, the better my Spanish gets, the more comfortable I feel, etc. I’ve been here for almost 2 months, and I recently became aware of how much I’ve fallen in love with Montevideo. Last weekend, some friends and I took a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I was truly very surprised when I realized how excited I was to get back to Montevideo. I missed my life here while I was gone, and that made me realize that I’m beginning to feel at home here.

Montevideo sign located in Playa Pocitos

Enjoying the sunshine at La Plaza de la Bandera

Obviously, I’m learning lots of Spanish here. I learn new words and become more comfortable using the language every day. But Spanish is not all that Uruguay has taught me so far. There’s a word they use a lot here and it’s “tranquí.” Tranquí is a variation of the word “tranquilo” which means calm in Spanish. On the surface level, I have learned to adapt to the more relaxed schedules. By this, I mean that I no longer freak out if I’m supposed to be somewhere, and the bus doesn’t show up on time (or at all.) I’ve also had to find new ways to relax and be calm because I don’t have as many classes as I usually do in the US, and I’m the kind of person who can be stressed doing nothing because I feel like I need to be doing something. But I think the meaning of tranquí goes further than bus schedules and classes. Being here has also taught me that I don’t have to be afraid to mess up when I speak Spanish. The people here are so nice and just happy that I’m trying to learn. The best part is, I think I will be able to apply this to other situations when I go home. I think I’m learning that it’s ok to be wrong and to fail sometimes-it’s all part of the adventure.

Sunset from my weekend trip to Piriapolis

Los Dedos in la playa Punta Del Este 

            In addition to getting out of my comfort zone, I’ve been discovering new passions. My passion for adventure has been rediscovered and reinforced, but I also have discovered a new passion for languages and language-learning. As soon as I started to feel comfortable with Spanish, I thought, “What language should I learn next?” Languages to me are endlessly useful, and they can’t be taken away from you once you learn them, even though you may become rusty without practice. Upon returning to the US, I would like to find a way to incorporate linguistics/more languages into my studies and, hopefully, my career.

La Ciudadela (original gateway to Montevideo when it had a wall, back in the old days)

El Palacio Salvo (oldest skyscraper in South America, located in the old city section of Montevideo)
My dragon, Rodrigo posing in front of some of the "arte callajero" which is plentiful in Montevideo

            I’ll conclude by saying that I have almost three months left here, but I already don’t know how I’m going to leave. This place, the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met are unforgettable. It’s like I have just enough time here to start a new life, and as it begins, I will have to leave it. But I know that after this, I’ll be on to other adventures, so todo tranquí.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ella in Rome

Hi everyone!
I’m Ella Porter, a junior HDFS major with a concentration in Child, Youth, and Family Development and a minor in Classical Studies. This summer, I spent four weeks in Italy studying abroad as part of the UNCG in Rome program. During the time I was in Italy, I got to visit many historically and culturally important sites in both Rome and Naples while learning about the architecture, culture, history, and impact of the people and places in Rome, from ancient times to the modern-day. It was kind of unbelievable for me, being in Rome and in Italy every day, walking all around the city and having so much time to explore it, especially since traveling to Italy, in general, has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember!
Visiting St. Peter's Square on my first day in Rome
This is my dragon, Aurora! I named her after the Roman goddess of dawn.

Rome is such a fascinating city because almost everywhere you go, you’re surrounded by the modern city, and all of the businesses, restaurants, shops, traffic, graffiti and so on that entails, but you’re simultaneously surrounded by all of the thousands of years of history that exists in Rome by way of ancient ruins, monuments, and sites. It can make your head spin a little, seeing a grouping of ancient temples right in the middle of a city square. In Naples, it seemed to me that the ancient sites were further away from the city and not quite as intertwined with it as they were in Rome. However, both cities were home to some amazing sites and museums!
 In the Colosseum

While I genuinely enjoyed every place I was able to visit during my time in Italy, the highlights for me were probably visiting the Colosseum, the Vatican Museum, Pompeii, and Mount Vesuvius. The Colosseum is such an integral symbol of Rome. It’s amazing how much history it contains, and I will never forget the wonder I felt standing inside it and looking into the arena. The Vatican Museum is so huge that I wasn’t able to view all of the art and exhibits, even though I was there for hours. I absolutely love art, so much that at one point I seriously considered majoring in art history, so I was incredibly excited to visit the Vatican Museum, and I was not disappointed. It was so cool getting to see famous artworks like Raphael’s School of Athens fresco and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and I was also happily surprised to find works by van Gogh, Matisse, and Edvard Munch in the museum as well. Pompeii was a surprise for me because it was such a larger site than I was anticipating. I was also surprised at how much of the ancient city was still intact – you could still see roads, walls from houses, and the ruins of buildings and temples, so you could really get a sense of what it was like living in Pompeii in ancient times. Of course, you can’t really talk about Pompeii without also talking about Mount Vesuvius. I knew I wanted to be able to make it all the way to the top of the hiking trail on Mount Vesuvius, but I also knew it was going to be very difficult for me, as I am most definitely not a hiker and the trail was pretty steep. Getting to the top was quite the struggle for me, and honestly was probably the hardest thing I had to do during my time in Italy, but I am so proud of myself for pushing through and getting to the top anyway. The view was absolutely incredible and worth the hike.
Pompeii's Forum

On top of Mount Vesuvius!

At the beginning of my study abroad experience, I was pretty nervous. I wasn’t sure if studying abroad was the right thing for me. I had never traveled by myself or even really been out of the country before this trip. Plus, I didn’t know how I would deal with culture shock or the language barrier. It helped that my trip was faculty-led because I didn’t have to figure everything out on my own, but even so, there were moments that were confusing and hard for me, and I had to step out of my comfort zone. However, the experience of studying abroad really allowed me to grow as a person, become more independent and confident, have the trip of a lifetime, and make a long-held dream come true! I’m so glad I studied abroad this summer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eliza in Copenhagen!

   I woke up on March 27th to a text message from a dear friend I have known since middle school, notifying me of the times and dates for her trip to Sweden. This was during a time of immense homesickness for me, and the idea that a loved one would no longer be 4000 miles away was exciting. Even more exciting, though, was the idea that Kiruna, Sweden, is only a day’s train journey away from where I am staying in Copenhagen.
 Lærke visiting Nyhavn (Lærke is a feminine name meaning “lark” in Danish.
I furiously researched train tickets and hostels before calling my friend when I knew she would be awake to hear of my hasty scheme. The plan was that I would come join her to share in the experience of (hopefully) seeing the northern lights. She responded with excitement, so I packed my backpack, got some Swedish Krona, bought my train tickets, and began my long journey. -21 hours later- I arrived in Kiruna to see that the path I needed to take to my hostel had not been cleared of snow; instead, the pavement was piled high with snow that went up to my knees. Fortunately, I love snow; unfortunately, I hate when my socks get damp. I pressed on through the snow, using a compass and a map to get to the hostel; I felt very rugged. This ruggedness continued when I met my friend for dinner in a Lavvu (a traditional tent of the indigenous Laplanders, looks a bit like a teepee) made of reindeer hide and ordered a traditional reindeer dish with some hot lingonberry juice. The reindeer was great. It tasted a bit like steak, and the juice tasted a bit like a cranberry tea my mother will occasionally make for family holidays. 

   On the next day, April 1st, my friend and I ate breakfast while discussing the April Fools pranks we had seen so far before taking a taxi to the world-famous ice hotel. It’s built from the ground up every year using the ice from the nearby river and the talents of artists from all over the world. It was very cool (I do love a pun)!
These Ice blocks each weigh more than a tonne!

   We spent some time at the cafe, which was not made of ice, before catching a bus to go dogsledding. The dogs and their colleagues were really friendly. We put our things in the yurt we would sleep in before having a fish stew for dinner. I don’t care for fish, but it was quite nice. The mushers let each of us harness one of the dogs for the journey. The one I harnessed was named Nellie “the Pirate Dog,” nicknamed such because she is missing an eye. She was so calm and affectionate with me. She looked up at me and leaned against my leg as I scratched her ears with one hand and pulled her legs through the harness with the other. Once attached to the sled, each dog became instantly energetic. They were pulling, barking, and wagging their tails like mad. Luckily, the sled was anchored! The minute the anchor was released, we took off down the trail.

When the dogs get thirsty, they lick at the snow on either side of the trail

My time on that sled was magnificent! The sunset reflected softly over the snow as we slid over small hills and frozen lakes. It’s very difficult to capture what I felt while sledding. If you know me personally, you will know that I don’t cry very often. I cried no fewer than 3 times on that dog sled, overwhelmed by the beauty and strength of the dogs tearing through the snow-covered landscape as the stars emerged overhead. We did end up seeing the aurora, but it wasn’t with the dogs. We drove to a small town called Abisko to scope out a spot in the natural park away from the lights of nearby civilization.  We wandered for a few hours, coming across a stunning frozen waterfall, a tiny cave that I could barely fit into, and a bridge high over a still river, the perfect spot for seeing the aurora. 

The whole world seemed to calm down as we stood in the park.

   When we came back at about 10 pm, the lights were vibrant, streaking across the stars like performance ribbons. 
We watched the aurora for about 4 hours before it faded. 

I truly cannot put into words what this experience means to me. I am thrilled that I got to have this adventure with a beloved friend. Oddly, I am reminded of an epitaph I read in Pennsylvania graveyard, “What we keep in memory is ours forever.” I am honored to share this memory with someone I love.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Andrew in Costa Rica!

My first day in Costa Rica was one that I will never forget. When I got off the plane, I felt like I was hit with almost immediate culture shock. Almost everything was in Spanish. The airport employees were speaking Spanish, the signs were in Spanish, and the crowds of taxi drivers searching for new customers were yelling in Spanish. Of course, I knew that this would be the case but I did not know it would cause this “new-country” anxiety that I had never experienced. I knew basic Spanish, but I did not believe that I was near the level that was needed to be living in a Spanish-speaking country for a month. My group facilitator could see the worry on my face as we traveled to our first destination. I prayed about it, and I realized that this new feeling was a good thing. It was the start of me stepping out of my comfort zone. One thing that my study abroad experience taught me was that, in order to grow as a human being and educationally was to experience uncomfortable situations such as this. This realization was the starting thought that fueled my educational experience.

Enjoying the waterfalls at Llanos de Cortez.

My name is Andrew Council and I am a junior, studying Media & Communication Studies. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica for approximately 4 weeks. We lived in three different cities which included Monteverde, Flamingo and Heredia. Our first city was Monteverde, where we began our trip with fun excursions such as zip-lining and horse-back riding. One of my favorite parts about this experience was getting to meet my amazing host-families. They welcomed me into their homes with open arms, and I had the pleasure of being a member of their families. Some had pets, which I truly enjoyed, and the families treated me as if I had been their son for years. At the beginning of my stay with their families, the mother of the home, or my “Mama-Tica” would walk me to the bus stop, and send her good wishes for the day. From there, the students and I would be off to class.

A little hideaway spot our guide, Leslie, found for us!

I took Spanish-immersion classes with Centro Panamericano de Idiomas (CPI). Our classes were four hours a day, which frightened me before I actually stepped foot inside of my first class session. The instructors within the classroom knew little to no English, so they strongly encouraged us to only speak Spanish while in class. This is where I was able to practice my Spanish the most. We listened to music and did activities centered around Costa-Rican culture. We also learned the meaning behind “Pura Vida” and what it meant to the people of the country. Learning a new language was something that had been a wish of mine for a long time. There was an ease that came with being immersed in the foreign language. Learning the language here in Costa Rica came easier than it did with my classes back on campus. I enjoyed meeting and learning about the various professors that I encountered. They were always willing to listen and had a true dedication to teaching their beautiful language.

My dragon Joaquìn enjoying the beach!

We had the opportunity to participate in various service projects while abroad as well. We worked with many organizations and foundations that were created to serve communities and the youth in various areas. Serving these communities was something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I was able to meet so many people who were filled with so much joy. This experience helped me realize that I do not have to be the richest, or “most able” man in the world to be happy or content. As U.S citizens, we have such as ethnocentric view of the world and an “Americanized” view of what defines happiness. This study abroad experience helped me to find peace within myself, and it was definitely an enriching and humbling experience. I am so glad that I have the opportunity to share this experience with other current and future honor students.

My group serving a young man of the community.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Al in Senegal!

My name is Al Rieder. I am a rising senior at UNCG, a History major, and a double minor in Geography and Islamic Studies. I am currently on my 2nd week of classes in my summer session study abroad in Dakar, Senegal at the Dakar Institute of African Studies. Dakar is the capital, largest city, and westernmost city in Senegal, which itself is the westernmost country in the African continent. I am here abroad studying the Wolof language and the intersection of Africa and Islam. 

In Senegal, the two official languages are French and Wolof, and most folks also know conversational levels of their regional ethnic languages (Serer, Mandinka, and Lebe to name a few), as well as basic levels of reading comprehension in Classical Arabic to read the Quran. This means most Senegalese have at least some grasp of anywhere from 3-5 or even 6 languages (some people knowing bits of English or Italian as well). Wolof itself is one of the regional ethnic languages, however, it has become a lingua-Franca in the nation, alongside and mixed often with French. The religious makeup of the country is about 95% Muslim (mostly Sufi variants of Sunnism), 4% Christian (of which the majority being Catholic), and about 1% Buddhist (from Chinese immigrants who have come as sponsors by the Chinese government for investment in sub-Saharan Africa). Most people back home I talk to find that surprising, but most places in West Africa are actually Muslim and have been for many centuries, while the “traditional African religions” are mainly found to the south and in the interior of the continent. Given, the history of Islam here was one of gradual growth, starting in about the 1200s, and slowly building until near complete adoption in West Africa by the 1800s. All of which too was caused by gradual exposure to Islam via trade with Muslim empires in North Africa. 

Of all of the enslaved peoples brought to the Americas, the greater majority of them historically were from West Africa, as the sailing ships could get to the Western Cape of the continent easier within the Triangular Trade with North America and Western Europe than they could any point in the interior or south or on the east of the continent. Because of this, the enslavement economy of Western Africa colonial ports like Dakar (of which was handled by numerous Western European nation-states since the 1400’s until being kept by France until the 20th century), ended up being the most likely point of forced departure from the continent for the majority of the enslaved ancestors of modern Black Americans. 

This trip has been a first hand & on the ground exposure for me to the history of colonialism and enslavement in West Africa. Even though it is only our second week here, already I have been able to see the infamous “House of Slaves” on Gorèe Island (where the “Door of No Return” is located), the French train station & adjacent shipyard that extracted the wealth and prosperity from the interior, the Westernmost Point in Africa, and the African Renaissance Monument. Despite the many hardships that last to even this day surrounding neo-colonialism, Dakar is a sprawling 2nd world city that is leading the charge for economic prosperity in Francophone West Africa. (This is the reason that the massive African Renaissance Monument was built too, as a testament to this.) If the Statue of Liberty is to North America, and the Christ the Redeemer Statue is to South America, then The African Renaissance Monument is the equivalent in Africa. 

My professors here warned me about not painting a neo-colonialist view of Senegal, either that it is somehow a “terrible 3rd world cesspool,” or the “promised motherland of African peoples.” The reality here is the country of Senegal, and even more so the city of Dakar, is especially nuanced. On the one hand, Senegal is a former French colony in which Catholicism (a colonial enforced faith) is present, French (a colonial language) is still spoken, and the French military and private sector to this day still takes advantage of it to this day. But on the other hand, I was made clear to explain that the identity here is not French by any means, but a nuanced and relatively new thing; it is an identity that wholeheartedly admits its colonized past, and embraces its multicultural present. Also, I would be lying if I said that all I do is go to the beach and watch the sunset. There are plenty more bugs than I could ever care for, I’ve had to use a mosquito nest to sleep for the first time in my life, and the smog from car exhaust/kicked up sand/horse poo/and litter is ever-present in the city. But at the same time, there are skyscrapers, boogie boutiques, and artisan restaurants, beach resorts, wonderful saltwater air, and I can’t express this enough and mean it wholeheartedly- friendly welcoming people. (Matter of fact, there is a whole term for it, “teranga,” which is southern hospitality on steroids.) 

In completion, for now, Senegal is a complex country with a rich history and vibrant culture, full of Islam, Mbalax music (which I can only really describe as a much faster Ska), grilled seafood n’ veggies, and a multi-lingual and multicultural people. They don’t want to be seen as an idealized homeland for the African diaspora, and they don’t want to be seen as a poor third world country. Senegal is nuanced and complex, and it is beautiful that way, bugs, skyscrapers, and all in between.  

PS, I 100% forgot to pack my Lloyd International Honors College dragon, I’m so sorry, I hope the pictures without it suffice.

Best regards to all,
-Al Rieder