But What About My Visa?

But What About My Visa?

When I was looking into the different German-speaking countries that offered semester study abroad programs through OU, one of the aspects about Austria that appealed to me was that it was a more unusual choice. Even compared to other European countries, Austria is pretty small at 32,000 square miles and a population 8.7 million people; Germany is about 138,000 square miles with 82.6 million people. For further comparison, my home state of Colorado is 104,000 square miles and has a population of 5.5 million people!

Size Comparison(The map shows Europe, with Colorado overlaid for a scale comparison.)

In my experience, most people don’t think of Austria very quickly when they talk about Europe. It’s fairly small and doesn’t have the international fame of the larger countries like Germany, France, Spain, and the UK (which I find ironic, given that it had one of the largest empires in Europe only a century ago). This made it feel more unique and off-the-beaten-path as a study abroad destination, while still allowing me to study in German for a semester.

However, something I never considered was that visiting such a small country might have some drawbacks on the administration side of study abroad. In order to live in Austria for five months, I needed to apply for a visa–no problem, right? Fill out some forms, hand over some cash, and I’d be good to go.

Except that for a visa to Austria, those forms include a fingerprint scan, and therefore the application must be conducted in person at an Austrian embassy or consulate. And since Austria is so small, there are only three such locations in the United States: in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. A visit to one of these cities on such short notice would have been way too expensive and impossible to fit into my school schedule, and a bit of research showed me that I couldn’t apply for a visa once I was in Vienna or Graz, so I started to panic.

Luckily, my Education Abroad counselor informed me of one other option: students from the US and Canada can enter Austria without a visa, and then within their first 90 days in the country, visit an Austrian embassy in either Slovenia or Germany to apply in person for a visa. So in order to stay for a full semester in Graz, I had to take a weekend trip outside of the country to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia!

This ended up being a really fun adventure, since Graz’s branch of the Erasmus Student Network (an organization that arranges fun activities and local student “buddies” for study abroad students all over Europe) put together a trip for everyone who needed to go through this rather convoluted application process. We piled into a tour bus to drive to Ljubljana, where we handed in our paperwork and did the fingerprint scan, and then continued on to Trieste, a coastal town in Italy. Altogether, it only took us three hours of driving, yet by lunchtime we had already spent time in three separate countries!

Although there were some unexpected complications in choosing Austria for my semester abroad, I am so glad that I found a program to suit my unique sense of adventure! Obstacles like applying for a visa actually turned into wonderful opportunities with plenty of support both from the OU Education Abroad counselors and local groups like ESN. Don’t let administrative details dissuade you from finding a study abroad program that fits your interests!

Israel, Part II: Digging

My team and I found some cool things on this dig. For three weeks, I was assigned to an area near the headquarters of Legio, the home of the Roman VI Ferrata Legion (the “Iron Legion”).

Even though the pieces of pottery (called “sherds,” not “shards”)must remain in the lab or on site, I did find some intangible things that I am allowed to take home with me. Perhaps the most important finding: it’s all about context. There’s no use in finding objects without knowing where they came from. So, here’s a bit of context for what I did for three weeks in Israel.

See the teeny white dot near the trees in the distance? That’s our dig site!

Each day I was woken by a 4 a.m. alarm. In a semi-conscious state I’d get dressed, lace up my boots, apply the first coat of sunscreen, stumble downstairs to the kitchen, flip the switch on the electric kettle, and make a mug of tea with two teabags for extra caffeine. Then outside in the darkness I’d grab a few buckets from pottery washing the previous day to bring back to the dig site and wait with everyone else for the 5 a.m. arrival of the bus. We’d all board the bus and depart for the site, eating granola bars, listening to music, and silently savoring our last few moments of rest before the day began.

When the bus dropped us off in the field south of Megiddo that became so familiar, we’d immediately station ourselves tent posts and work together to raise the tarps that would shield us from the sun later in the day. After waiting a few minutes for adequate light and grabbing pickaxes, hoes, patiches (mini pickaxes), trowels, and a variety of brushes, we’d start to work.

The difficulty of the work varied depending on the contents of our square each day. If we were lucky enough to have some architectural stones in our squares, we’d use light tools to articulate their surfaces to make them nice and clean for the photographs. But most of the work was breaking ground and clearing away as much topsoil, sediment, and rocks as would fit in the buckets and hauling those buckets down to our pile of dirt, either to sift them in search of material culture or to dump them unceremoniously in a growing dirt-mountain.

Breaks came as a relief after hours of work in often-humid air or deceptive breezes that felt refreshing but actually dehydrated us. The first break of the day was breakfast, when we’d sit on grass mats and eat vegetables, eggs, hummus, bread, hazelnut spread, and peanut butter with dirty hands. The next break came closer to the end of the work day at 1 p.m., and often our supervisors would be kind enough to supply us with watermelon and popsicles.

The work, as I have said before, is not easy. I have never experienced such muscle pain before waking up on morning two after learning how to properly pickaxe on day one. Injuries are common. Though I luckily escaped with only one bruised fingernail, two scraped knees from two graceful falls while carrying buckets, and one head wound, I have heard stories about past volunteers losing fingers. And the combination of the heat, humidity, sun, and inhaled dust drained everyone and made early bedtimes a necessity.

Downside to head injury: blood. Upside: free bandana!

I gave up my sole for archaeology.

But despite the challenges, there were things that made the long work days fun. Herds of cows routinely visited before breakfast to keep us company. The more curious of them even hopped the fence to join us. The stunning sunrises, which came slightly after 5 a.m., more than justified our 4 a.m. alarms. And in my area (nicknamed “Lollipop Valley” by the second area, who often complained about how hard their supervisors worked them) we were seldom without good music supplied by one of the students or Dr. Cline.

The cows got too close to our squares, so we had to tell them to moove back.

Sunrises like these were usually accompanied by The Circle of Life from someone’s phone.

We found pottery. Lots of pottery that we’d have to wash back at the kibbutz later in the day. Many of us have experienced haunting dreams about washing pottery sherds. We also found lots of tiles that would have covered the roofs of the buildings in the camp, and bits of glass and shell.

Smiling through the pain

The long days of work made me appreciate things I often take for granted, like air conditioned buses, food, naps, a pool to take a dip into, clean laundry.

I did find some cool material culture on this dig, and I learned about archaeological techniques and skills like taking elevation points, keeping a field notebook, and keeping track of finds.

I would definitely return to Israel for another season to gain more knowledge and archaeological skills, but I’d especially want to come back for the camaraderie. Yes, digging brings people together.  It’s hard to spend a week with someone in a 1.5 meter deep hole brushing dirt off rocks without emerging friends.

Why Do I Melt in the Heat When No One Else Does?

Why Do I Melt in the Heat When No One Else Does?

Most people have heard the stereotype that Americans dress far more immodestly in the summer than many other cultures around the world. But it wasn’t until I studied abroad in both Japan and Austria that it really hit me how differently our country dresses when the weather turns hot.

For both of my study abroad programs, I packed clothes that were dressier or more fashionable than my typical American college student attire of jeans and a unisex t-shirt. I knew that I wouldn’t always blend in with the locals (especially in Japan, where my red-blone hair was a beacon in any crowd), but I wanted to try as much as I could.

I was successful to some degree, but… Kyoto in July is SO. HOT. And it is humid, every single day. And that was where the real difference came into play, because no matter how much dressier my wardrobe was, I couldn’t compete with the locals who somehow managed to wear nice, more fashionable clothes than me, and also not collapse in the constant, oppressive heat.

Even this felt like so much clothing!I would put on a nice shirt and matching shorts and head out into the day, and immediately feel my face turn bright red (yay for pale Irish skin) and sweat start dripping. As I mentioned in a different post, pretty much everyone carries a sweat towel to wipe their faces off, and I jumped on that bandwagon right away, along with carrying an umbrella for sun protection.

And then I’d get to campus, and notice all the female students and professors walking past looking perfectly put together in a silk blouse, cardigan, skirt, tights, and sun-protective gloves, with no visible signs of distress at all those layers. Men wore suits and button-up shirts and looked similarly unaffected by the heat and humidity, while I just stared in amazement and slowly melted into a little puddle.

winter-attireIn Austria, I ran into a similar problem. When I first arrived in Vienna I was quite proud of my “camouflage” attire: at least half the people on the subway wore jeans, boots, and a grey or black wool coat, just like me. I gave myself a mental high-five at my success, and throughout the semester enjoyed the fact that people would mistake me for a local fairly regularly. Even traveling to other countries in Europe, I continued to blend in (at least, until I had to ask for an English menu) because everyone was wearing wool sweaters and hats and scarves.

And then the weather in Graz started to change, becoming lovely and warm and a bit more humid than I was expecting, and I started shifting to a more spring- and summer-oriented How are you alive?wardrobe. And yet the locals just… kept wearing all those winter layers! It was MAY and 70°F girls were waiting for the tram in knee-length coats and oversized scarves! Which of course left me with an uncomfortable choice: do I reveal myself as an American by wearing actual shorts and tank tops, or do I once again melt into a little puddle as I try to keep wearing jeans and sweaters like everyone around me?

The similarity between my experiences in Japan and Austria is pretty surprising, and makes me wonder: how are people in other countries able to continue wearing so many more layers when the weather gets hot? Do they just have more practice, or is there some deeper reason behind my heat intolerance as an American?

Amy Eats Weird Food!

Amy Eats Weird Food!

Why, yes. Yes I do eat weird food. It makes life interesting; my motto has long been “I’ll try at least one bite of anything.” (Unless it is still moving. In which case, no. Not going there yet.)

As I have mentioned before, I am an adventurous person both in my travel experiences and in my everyday life. One really easy way to be more adventurous at home is to eat new foods–and I’m not talking about just having a strawberry smoothie instead of a banana one. No, it’s time to be weird!

I am lucky in that living in Colorado, I have easy access to a wide variety of unusual foods: my family grills bison burgers as often as beef, and it’s easy to find elk, venison, and quail at the supermarket. I’ve even had prickly-pear juice and rattlesnake (although just at a restaurant, not at our family friends’ house, where they catch the snakes on their property and then keep them in a cage until dinnertime!).

But traveling or living abroad provides a wonderful variety of weird foods, many of which you can’t find in the US! Here are the five weirdest foods I’ve eaten abroad (in no particular order):

fish-in-a-leafFish in a Leaf: quite simply, I ate fish and plantains out of a banana leaf while visiting the Embera tribe in Panama. This traditional food was cooked over a fire and then served; while not as shocking as some of my other food adventures, the phrase “fish in a leaf!” has become a joking catch-all phrase in my family for unusual or unique food.

squid-on-a-stickSquid on a Stick: thankfully labeled with a small “ready to eat” sign, since I didn’t know how to tell if it was raw or not. I did eat raw fish while in Japan, but in general I prefer my seafood to be cooked. It was a surprisingly great street-food snack! (I had another experience where a raw fish was served at a breakfast buffet, but I thought it was already cooked. This lead to a rather mortifying exchange with the hotel employee trying to explain, at my basic Japanese level, that it needed to be cooked on a small table-top stove and therefore should not be on the same plate as my scrambled eggs. Lesson learned.)

Haggis: made, as I had to confirm before I ate it, of sheep organs, onion, and oatmeal, and traditionally encased in the sheep’s stomach. A lovely description, I know, but it tasted surprisingly… normal. Like any other meat pastry. But with so many more interesting reactions than other pastries 😀

ginger-rice“Ginger” Rice: which seemed tasty and neutral, especially compared to my first experience with sashimi (hint: raw fish tastes better if you dip it in the provided sauce instead of just… eating it). Then I looked at my rice bowl a bit more closely, and discovered that the rice was full of tiny fish that still had their eyes. And it is extremely rude in Japan to not eat everything you have been served, so… Yeah, finishing that was a bit tough.

black-puddingBlack Pudding: which you can’t actually make in the US, since it is illegal to buy or sell blood here! Yes, black pudding is made with blood. So is blood sausage, both of which I ate on my recent trip to England and Ireland, and both of which are actually delicious. As was the lamb liver that my black pudding came with. Who knew? 😀

Eating weird food is an easy way to be adventurous in my everyday life, plus I’m always finding new things I never would have guessed I enjoy. And even if it doesn’t turn out to be my favorite dish, I always enjoy seeing my friends’ reactions to my culinary forays!

Mis restaurantes favoritos en Valencia

During my time in Spain, I found my go to restaurants after a month or so. These places were all really close to my apartment and were all reasonably priced, especially with the menu of the days. I absolutely love that Spain does menu of the days. The menus always have amazing things for cheaper prices and it comes with a dessert, which is arguably the best part half of the time.

First there is the food on campus. There isn’t exactly a specific restaurant, but food on campus is so inexpensive and always pretty good. The cafés in the Agora, the main square, are where I always get my cortado and tostadas. For both of them, it costs around 1.75. It is great. There is also a place across campus that has huge bocadillos for only 3 euros and you can get a 3 course meal for 5 euros, bread and drink included. Not sure how they make any money, but gotta love the cheapness.

Pan de Azúcar is a good place to eat at because it is pretty cheap and is directly across from my apartment. I can see people going in and out from my window. This place has great crepes and appetizers and is always a fun and lively place. The prices are also student friendly, so this has always been a good choice.

Shish Mahal is another restaurant that is probably a 2 minute walk from my apartment. This place is a little nicer and therefore pricier, but if you go during a week day lunch time period it isn’t too bad because of their menu of the day. I have never really had Indian food until this place and I am constantly surprised with how good the food is.

100 Montaditos is actually a chain throughout Spain that you can find in any decently sized city. The thing about this restaurant is that it has deals of Sunday and Wednesday when their entire menu is €1. I think in the end it only saves you about €3 euros per meal, but the amount of times we have ended up going here I am sure we saved quite a bit.

Bastard’s Café. My one true love. Ok maybe I shouldn’t be that intense, but this is hands down my favorite restaurants in Valencia. This is again a 2 minute walk from my apartment, which is so good yet so bad because I go there so much and spend money. It’s now basically the end of the semester and I think at least half of the staff recognizes me. I always take my visiting friends here when they visit and they all love it. I will miss you Bastard’s.

 

Ciudad de México ➸ Norman

Today we are heading back to the United States. I have had such an amazing time here in Mexico. I am absolutely amazed with the culture, cuisine, and beauty of this country. Here is a list of some things that I wanted to reflect on as I head home to the United States:

  1. First of all, I highly encourage going on a study abroad trip without any of your friends. I had one acquaintance, Audrey, who I knew was also coming on this trip. We decided to share an apartment and it was such a great opportunity for us to get closer and make close friends with the others in our group.
  2. Mexico has these little stands that they put by your table in restaurants to hold your purse. America needs those.
  3. Always keep a blog while traveling. I totally wish that I had kept up with mine in Italy. Blogging helped me reflect and remember each day that I was abroad.
  4. Don’t be afraid to sound silly when speaking in the language that you are learning. You will improve so quickly when you are trying to speak with people everyday.
  5. True Mexican food is entirely different than what we are used to in the United States. I thought I knew this coming in to the trip, but there is still so many culinary differences that I was unaware of.
  6. There are lots of things that should be on this list that I am forgetting…..

Woo! This was a trip of a lifetime and I am so excited that I got to share and remember it via this blog.

Lastly, check out the Talavera that I painted in Puebla! I think it turned out pretty well!

El Último Día en México

Today was our last full day in Mexico and boy was it a good one! This morning we went to a Mexican Folklore Ballet. It was unlike anything that I have ever seen before. There were Flamenco dancers, dancers with huge paper mache masks, Mariachi bands, etc. It was so much fun and definitely one of the more “traditional” experiences that I have had while here.

After the show, we went to the museum that was located inside the same building as the theatre (it is called the Palacio de Bellas Artes). They currently have a special exhibit called “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time.” The exhibit has many works from both of the artists and discussed their stylistic similarities (especially cubism). It was a great and impressive exhibit. The Palacio also had several Diego Riviera murals. How cool is that?!?

A piece by Rivera.

After we finished up at the Palacio, we went to the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. This museum was truly spectacular. It was decided up into 2 parts. The first part was designated to help visitors remember the genocides that have occurred in the past. The second part of the tour was designed to encourage and promote tolerance of other cultures, ideas, and people. This museum is a must-see for anyone who finds themselves in Mexico City. I could not recommend it enough.

Part of the “tolerance” section of the museum promoted the understanding of migrants. This mirrored screen showed clips of our current President and American crimes targeting undocumented immigrants from Mexico. It offered an interesting and important perspective.

After the Museum of Tolerance, we had a late lunch at a huge restaurant inside a hotel. It was lovely! I had some tacos and a fruit / cheese salad. My amiga Audrey tried a traditional dish that actually originated in Puebla. It is called Chilis en Nogada and is a stuffed pepper with a special sauce and pomegranate seeds. It was yummy for sure!

Chilis en Nogada

After lunch, we were supposed to go to the mall for a couple of hours. Audrey and I decided that we wanted to check out the nearby Museo Jumex, that had a temporary Andy Warhol exhibit. The museum had only 3 galleries and they were all filled with spectacular Warhol works. It was fabulous and I had so much fun strolling through the brightly colored modern art. It was a nice change from the (equally beautiful) European art that I have been staring at all summer.

Vacas

We stopped by “the Mexican version of Starbucks” for a quick treat before heading back to the hotel for the night. What a great last day here in this beautiful country. Mexico, I love you!!!!

Ciudad de México

Some flowers in the greenhouses in Xochimilco.

Today was our first day in Mexico City. I love it here! It feels just like any big American city, honestly.

We got up this morning after a beautiful slumber in our nice big hotel beds and headed to breakfast. The place where the OU faculty goes for breakfast (aka it’s free to us) has both traditional Mexican breakfast and more generic American alternatives. Today I opted for the Huevos Rancheros, but tomorrow I’ll definitely be eating pancakes. I’m ready for a good old bowl of cereal and yogurt for breakfast. Not that I don’t love the bean / egg / salsa dishes that are usually served here.

Anyways, after breakfast we drove to the Xochimilco (the city of flowers). This is an area that was once a Mayan civilization. It used to be a city on water, but now it is an area with manmade islands. There are tons of small wooden boats that visitors can rent out. Once you get on the water tons of vendors, also in boats, that try to sell you things including food, drinks, and souvenirs. There are also marriachi bands floating on boats. If you pay them, they will come sing on your boat. It’s pretty cool! In the middle of our boat tour, we stopped at a greenhouse to take a peek. There were tons of beautiful flowers and plants for sale.

A picture of the boats. The tops of the boats are all decorated with women’s names.

After our boat excursion, we headed to the Frida Khalo Museum. The Museum was everything that I imagined. I feel like I have read so much about the Museum throughout all of my Spanish classes, and today I finally got to see it.

We had lunch and I took a brief 2 hour naps. Then, we departed for the El Rey León. It was amazing!! I had seen the musical in London this past summer, but it was more fun in Spanish. It was so special for me to be able to see that again.

I loved this show!!! So much!!!

Puebla ➸ Mexico City

The largest largest pyramid in Teotihuacan. This is the one that we climbed.

Today we left Puebla bright and early to head to Mexico City. We stopped along the way at Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city that is located about an hour out of Mexico City. While we were there, we got to climb one of the huge pyramid and learn a little about the history of the ancient civilization. Most importantly, I got the most delicious paleta (popsicle with fresh fruit) I’ve had while here. It was so good that I got another one!

Shameless photo of myself at the top of the pyramid. There were so. many. stairs.

We have just arrived in Mexico City and I am so excited to explore. First, a quick rest period before dinner. Today has been exhausting!

What I learned in Europe so Far

  • I felt that some French people did not necessarily want to speak English, even if they were able to. They are French, they are in France, and they would rather speak French. Since I was traveling with my parents, we sometimes spoke Chinese. I felt that when we did, people were not as upset that we didn’t speak French but were happy that we at least spoke English.
  • It’s a small world. I talked with some Indian New Zealanders in Paris for about 10 minutes, then three days later I ran into them in London as they were getting on a bus I was leaving.
  • It’s much easier to be present in the moment when you don’t have any cellular data and normally suffer a bit of a snapchat addiction.
  • In David Foster Wallace’s speech “This is Water,” he says that culture is all around us but we don’t notice it much. I do know that America has a culture and has customs, but I think it is easier to notice them when you experience a culture that is different than America’s. I’ve now realized how enthusiastic, outgoing, and loud us Americans are compared to Danes.
  • Travel is not an itch you can scratch and have it disappear. Traveling to new places makes the desire to travel to even more places burn even brighter.
  • Religion isn’t so much just a religion. Sometimes it’s more of a culture. I’ve met Catholics who never attend mass and don’t believe in hell. I’ve met Lutherans who don’t believe in God. There are barely any Mormons in Aarhus, and I suspect that a part of that is because how irreligious most people are, but many people religiously smoke and drink. The tour guide in Copenhagen said people drank an average of 80 liters per year there.
  • I thought I was different in Oklahoma since there are not  many Chinese people. But in my class here in Aarhus, I am the only American. I am one of two STEM students. (The other one is an engineering student from Singapore, and was the only other Asian funnily enough.) Most people there are Danish, blonde, and study prehistoric archeology. One Dane kindly pointed out that there was a Canadian in the class as well, but I am fairly sure that he lives 30  hours away from Oklahoma. I like being the only Chinese, the only pre-med, and the only American. It helped me feel how the United States really is only 5% of the world’s population. It’s hard to realize that when I’ve grown up in the US my whole life.
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