Gearing Up for My Next Adventure

This summer I will be traveling to….

LONDON!!!!

I know. I know. I did Europe. So, why am I going back?

This summer I have been accepted to the London School of Economics summer program to study Genocide, Democracy Building, and Politics of International Development. This program is honestly a dream-come-true as I have never been to the United Kingdom before. In a blog post I wrote last year, I mentioned 21 things I wanted to do before I turned 21. Most of the things on the list I was able to complete. However, there were obviously things I was not able to finish in the short 365 day span and (as my birthday is next week) I don’t see them getting done any time soon. A lot of those yet-to-be-checked- off things can be completed in the good ole UK. So, without further ado, here is my:

London Bucket List

Sky Dive

maxresdefaultThis is something I was never able to complete due to insufficient funds (please give me money) and I have been wanting to do it for YEARS. Who’s to say that this year, 2017, won’t be my time?

Send a Message in a Bottle

message-in-a-bottle-1200Okay. This isn’t much of a London thing as it is just a thing in general. But the UK is surrounded by water, why shouldn’t I take advantage of that? Here’s to hoping my message in a bottle is picked up by someone who will actually read it.

Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Express BW

Harry Potter World obviously isn’t in London. But you know what is? The studios where Harry Potter was filmed, the pub where J.K. wrote the books, and platform 9 and 3/4. I am expecting this summer to be an amalgamation of me realizing that the places I’m seeing have all been featured in a Harry Potter film.

Visit Scotland

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Something definitely on my weekend travel list is visit Scotland. Castles, greenery, ocean, hills – what more could a girl need? Hopefully, a few of the friends I make will want to take a train up to the land of pubs and beauty.

Now that I have my list, I’m ready to be on my way. Luckily, I won’t be leaving until halfway through June so I have plenty of time to add more things to do. Let me know in the comments if you have any must-dos for the British Isles.

 

XO

Forum on Democracy

Amid controversy about the travel ban by President Trump and then struck down by a Seattle court and later by two federal judges, the University of Okahoma hosted a “Forum on Democracy” which was headed by the College of International Studies. The Forum was a collection of individual academics and panelists speaking about a range of issues from corruption, populism, checks and balances, public schools, and many other topics. I was able to attend a talk by presenter Dr. Meta Carstarphen focusing on journalism and then the panel discussion afterwards. The journal consisted of Dr. Carstarphen, Rick Tepker (OU Law), Dr. Justin Wert (Political Science), and Dr. Waleed Mahdi (historian). What most interested me of all of the programming was the question and answer portion that was held directly after the panelists finished their talks. A nice young woman went up to the microphone and said, “I’m of the school of thought that there needs to be destruction before real change can be made…”

I’m not sure what she said after that because I tuned it out. I’m not one for anarchy, and this girl had already begun her sentence with a statement that was cause for concern. Apparently, the panelists felt the same way I did. Dr. Mahdi stepped up to answer her question. But then he began speaking about my generation of Americans. He spoke about growing up in Yemen surrounded by war. He talked about how, children that have grown into adults without having to experience conflicts, especially in places such as the United States that have a representative democracy, begin to forget the values of freedom and democracy because they do not know a time without it. They do not know real destruction. He spoke about how that ideology of destruction and then rebuilding is dangerous to the preservation of democracy. And, although what he said might have been hurtful to the girl brave enough to ask questions, I couldn’t help but side with him. There reason we learn about history in school is so that we will not repeat the atrocities of the past. However, there is a difference between reading about atrocities in a book and experiencing them first hand. If we do not emphasize the good that comes from our current system, then we will forget about what we have and long for destruction. This ideology is dangerous in the wrong hands. It can lead to civil wars and terrorism and pain. If we do not continue to educate people daily on why the United States runs on a democratic system (as flawed as it may be) then we will fall into the trap of allowing history to repeat itself.

 

Arabic Flagship Talent Show

I have been a member of the Arabic Flagship for about three years now. At this point, I have become acquainted with performing at the annual talent show. At the end of every spring semester, the talent show commemorates what each club has worked on throughout the year. Fortunately, I did not have to do a live singing or bellydance performance this year. My Egyptian colloquial class got together to create a wonderful rendition of “Arab’s Got Talent.” Attached is the video of our creation. For my talent portion, I sang “Akhbarak Eh.” I have performed this song before for a talent show, but never in this singing style. Watch the video to view my cringeworthy talent.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1fQ1Ny48Jsvb3ZPbHM0TmJLSmc/view?usp=sharing

The College Girl’s Guide To: Radical Right Populism

Populism. It’s not the study of popularity or a famous pimple popping compilation. It’s not anything fun at all actually. Some would say it’s a political ideology. Some would say it’s a mobilization mechanism. Others might call it a political style. One thing that populism truly is? On the rise in the West.

I first gained insight on populism during my time studying Fascism in Italy. A portion of my studies was focused upon researching women in radical right populist parties. Something I noticed from my work was that there are really no ways to compare populist parties that are gaining political traction. Many of them have different ideologies and issues that bind them. However, the leaders of these parties all have one thing in common: they are loud, outspoken, and target the common working man, the “forgotten people.”

To brush up on my knowledge of populism in the year 2017, I decided to attend “Into the Mainstream” a lesson on the radical right populism sweeping over the world. The talk was given by Reinhard Heinisch, a professor from the University of Salzburg. Although he specialized in Austrian studies, Dr. Heinisch gave excellent perspectives on how to categorize and understand populism. His lessons are as follows:

In the early 2000s, populism concentrated in two or three European countries, namely France. It gradually spread to rest of Europe in different manifestations. These days populism takes on two main looks:

  1. Parties that call principles of liberal democracies into question (checks and balances, judiciary, media, etc)
  2. Parties that break taboos, discriminate against political minority, nativist/nationalist

These parties tend to draw in young, male, blue-collar voters. These voters are susceptible to populist ideology because of the potential economic losses they see from immigrants taking their blue collar jobs. Furthermore, women are less likely to support these parties because of the anti-feminist language that the parties boast. However, this does not mean they are not without leadership. There are many populist parties that have female leaders, people like Marine Le Pen who just recently lost the French Presidential Election. These parties tend to prioritize security, whether that means protecting their nation from immigrants (Western Europe) or protecting themselves from radical Western ideals (Eastern Europe). Even more interesting to note, is that Russia is funding many of these movements in ways that it cannot support mainstream parties. These mainstream parties are too afraid of the repercussions that come with having Russia back them. However, populist parties are all about breaking taboos, not only in speech, but also in behavior.

The talk by Heinisch gave an overall picture of what populism looks like in the West. But each party is unique in its views and thus takes lots of research to understand. Because of that, I have linked some articles below that give further insight into the political issue that is radical right populism:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/11/europe/uk-election-labour-manifesto/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/populism-what-is-it-explained-rise-donald-trump-marine-le-pen-politics-economics-a7704196.html

 

The Impact of Study Abroad

As I write this final blog post, I am sitting on a train watching the sun set illuminate the Tuscan mountains as we fly by. This place is beautiful, not only because of the scenery, but also because of the memories I will forever share with this place. It’s all so bittersweet. It’s like the saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” And for every tear I have shed this past week and for the ones I know are to come in the spirit of nostalgia, there were many more laughs and tons more smiles. So, as hard as it is for me to write this post, here are all the ways studying abroad has made an impact in my life.

Friendship

A place is only as great as the people in it. That is what has made Italy so special for me. Every day I was able to wake up with endless possibilities about what Italian-ism I would learn that day all the while knowing that there was a support group of people there to back me up or scream at the top of my lungs with or binge watch Stranger Things. Those people I got scammed with in Paris, those people who were lost in Berlin with me at three in the morning. Those people who traversed a fun house in Amsterdam with me like children. Those are the people that made this place so special and noteworthy. It would not have been the same experience without them.

Thankfulness

I did not get here on my own. I realize fully that me being here is fully through God. He laid a path and he has a plan for what this will do to my life. He spoke to those people who gave me words of encouragement or funding to get me through the semester. Every night walking home from babysitting, I would just ponder over the amazing state of my life. I would wonder how God could make something as small as babysitting children have an impact on me. I would wonder how he could create such beautiful oceans and mountains and cityscapes. The most breath-taking moments I had were realizing how thankful I was to get to see the world. I am so grateful and humbled to have had this experience.

Ethnocentrism

I know this may come as a surprise to some people, but America just is not the best. Now, I’m not saying it’s horrible (that would be a polar opposite instead of a logical opposite – LSAT where you at?) but there is just such a big wide world out there with so many different great ideas. There are so many things I will miss from Europe that I just cannot get back home. That being said, there are so many things and people I missed from back home that I could never get in Europe. You win some and you lose some. My point being, open-mindedness is essential. It is so important to appreciate the world and different cultures for what they are. Comparison is the killer of progress. Near the beginning of this trip, I had a difficult time adjusting to Italian life because I kept thinking about life back home and wondering which I liked better. You know what? Neither place is best. I just had to accept Italy the way it is and I am so glad I did.

Be Present

We live in a finite world. Our lives are precious. Every second that passes is one more that we should be thankful to be on this gorgeous planet with incredible people. But we do not always see that because we grow complacent. I’m that way. There are so many times that I have stayed in bed all day just because I can. But that leaves me with one more day gone away from my very finite life. Study abroad gave me a timeline. I was given four months to explore Europe and learn more about myself. Something I learned in the very beginning of this journey is the importance of taking it slow. Instead of looking forward to the coming day, I was able to relax and just enjoy the present. I was able to take in my surroundings and get to know people and try new things.

Calling

The most nagging feelings I had while abroad was the suspension that I do not deserve any of this. I still wonder if I do. It is hard to feel comfortable being truly happy knowing that there are people out in this world starving or people who will never be able to afford going to college let alone study abroad. And maybe it is non-PC for me to feel guilty. I’m really not sure. But I do know that privilege got me here. That being said, the realization that my privilege plays an integral part in my life really made me understand that it is important to make a difference. Today I might be a broke college student, but tomorrow I could be a lawyer helping defend human rights or the mom of a child that was left without a home. The possibilities are endless. But knowing this privilege and seeing it in action, whether it was passing refugee families in the street or seeing men struggling to sell roses just to get by, really shows me that I cannot be complacent. I came to Italy to learn more about the world. Now I can go make a difference.

 

And that is all folks. My time in Arezzo has come to a close. To see more about my adventures, follow me on Instagram or give me an email shout out.

Arrivederci!

A Brief Description of Arezzo

Although Arezzo appears to be a small untouched Tuscan town, there is a rich history that makes the city what it is today. From the architecture to the art to the medieval and fascist history, many factors contribute to modern day Arezzo. This creation of Aretinian culture cannot be defined by a stereotype because every person is individual. However, the more one knows about the history of a city, the more one can integrate and understand the mores of its people.

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Arezzo has been ruled by many different groups: The Etruscans, Romans, Florentines, Medici and fascists to name a few. Throughout time, the city was built upon itself. This explains why the architecture throughout Arezzo varies from place to place. In one quarter you can find a Roman amphitheater, in another a medieval fortress and in yet another, fascist statues. This architecture is frozen in time and gives us a glimpse of what life was like in Arezzo at any given point. The presence of this architecture in everyday life is important to understanding the community. Architecture makes Arezzo stand out from different cities and reminds citizens that they are tied to the past. The history of the city permeates, not only architecture, but also, traditions. When I first came to Arezzo, all anyone could talk about was the Saracino Joust. After observing the pomp and pageantry of the event, I understand that it is the main bonding event for the city. Even though the quarters battle for the most points, everyone from Arezzo can share in parades and food and the joy of the event. Even more important are the historical ties. The event began in the Middle Ages as an actual battle training against the Turks. The event was reconstituted under Fascist rule to bring tourism to the city and promote Italian camaraderie.
This event is a part of a rich history that explains Tuscan life and Italian culture. Because Arezzo was on its own on top of a mountain, the city was ruled by particular groups for long periods of time. This seclusion from the rest of the Italian peninsula caused Tuscans and, more specifically, Aretinians to have a strong sense of local pride as opposed to Italian pride. Furthermore, the late unification of the province of Italy perpetuates further the variations in not only Italian regions, but also Italian cities. As expected, Italian cultural stereotypes cannot exist in a reality outside of movies and television. The differences among Italians from different regions proves that Italians have unique histories that shape who they are; they cannot be put into a simple one-size-fits-all box that stereotypes create. Needless to say, the Arezzo I expected before I arrived is not the Arezzo I have come to know and love. Even more interesting is the fact that Arezzo is so different from other cities that I have visited outside of Tuscany.
I have learned that every cultural norm in Arezzo is not the same throughout Italy, but that everything is attached to history. There is no mafia crime in Arezzo because of the history of wealth in the city. Citizens are learning English in droves due to the growing tourism industry fueled by architecture. Parents bring their children out late at night when they drink or visit with friends because the prominence of wine in Italy takes away the taboo of alcohol that would be present in the United States. In the recent past, Arezzo took in major economic gains from the gold business; this span of wealth gave the city a reputation for being the “new rich.” Americans I have talked to outside of the University do not appreciate the “new rich” lifestyle and attitudes. However, I have found Aretinians to be nothing but accommodating. Learning about the history and architechture of this city has opened my eyes to why the people of Arezzo have such a complete sense of culture.

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Three Days in Paris: tips from a 20-something

Bonjour!

 

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As you may know from previous posts, this semester I am studying in Italy to finish up my minor in International studies and fulfill a study abroad requirement for the Global Engagement Fellowship.

One of my recent weekend trips was to Paris (Cinque Terre, Genova and Sienna/Capri posts coming soon). In order to give a steady rating system for every major city I visit, I have created a ranking with sub – scores based on categories I find important for the 20-something traveler:

Transportation, Helpfulness, Affordability, Sightseeing, and Overall Opinion.

Below you will find my brief review of Paris within these categories that includes things I wish I knew and helpful tips.

Transportation – 9

Getting to Paris from another European city can be rarely cheap if you play your cards right. If you are in France already or a country pretty close, you can overnight train for a low price.

Because I am all the way in Tuscany, flying seemed the most practical. If you haven’t discovered skyscanner.com you need to check it out. You can enter a destination (without specifying an airport or with specifications) and it will scan the web for the best flights for cheap. I flew out of Pisa to Paris for 24 Euro through Ryanair.

Paris has an insanely efficient metro system. There are pretty much stops every three to four blocks. Maps in the subway are easily navigable and most lines cross over at some point so getting anywhere can be reached by only a few stops or none at all.

If you are spending a few days in Paris, it would be useful to buy a daily metro pass that can be bought down at the ticket machines in every station. At busy times, scammers will try to take advantage of mass amounts of tourists by “helping” them buy tickets. These people look official. They work in teams and wear badges. Let me save you the trouble of being scammed out of 37 Euro and tell you that ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP. Buy your tickets on your own. Tickets can be bought in zones. The zones range from 1 – 5. 1 – 3 can be considered the main tourist/sightseeing areas of Paris. Zone 5 will get you to the outskirts of Paris to places like Versailles.

Tip: anyone under 26 years of age is considered a child. Buying children’s metro passes can be the difference between 17 or 8 Euro.

Metro is the best form of transportation in my opinion. Trains are always on time and run pretty close together so do not fret if you think you missed a train. The busiest hours are weekends and then weekdays around 9 am and night from 5-7.

Other systems are pricy and less efficient than the metro. If you want, you can uber, taxi or rent a bike.

When it comes to walking, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. I know the Parisians are fashionable and you want to fit in, but your feet will thank you if you wear tennis shoes. A lot of places are cobblestone which can hurt if you don’t have proper arch support, and you will climb a lot of stairs if you visit museums and monuments. On my first full day in Paris I walked more than 30,000 steps.

Always beware of pickpockets no matter how you travel around the city. Keep a hand or eye on your bag at all times and keep important items tucked away. People may ask you for help to distract you or “bump into” you.

When walking you will run into persistent people trying to sell you items on the street. You can give if you want, but know that everything is overpriced and you may be contributing to an underground business. Just say no or keep walking.

Helpfulness – 3

It is probably not a surprise to most people that Parisians are not the friendliest or most helpful. It isn’t that they mean to be rude, but Paris is one of the biggest cities in Europe with a plethora of annoying tourists. For them, it is easiest to tune you out and keep walking.

What worked best for me was asking other tourists for help or asking police. Don’t be surprised if you get attitude from people who are supposed to help you, though. I was ignored by airport workers and told to learn French by desk operators at important sights.

Only three people helped me the whole trip (which is why I gave “helpfulness” a 3 out of 10): two youths we asked for directions to Notre Dame, our Air B&B hostess who let us store our bags for free (great location and price here) and the metro worker who printed out a google translate document saying we were scammed on tickets (still bitter).

If all else fails and no one will help, do what everyone else is doing, but (and I will emphasize this until I die) ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP.

Affordability – 1

I came into Paris not really knowing what to expect. I was so accustomed to small Italian destinations that I didn’t think about how costly Paris would be. Unfortunately I need to save up and really buckle down for the rest of the semester because of how much money I spent. Below is a breakdown of what I spent and tips on how you can save.

Train to and from airports (two trips) – 46.10 €
Hotel in Pisa for one night – 25 €
Taxis to and from airports (three trips) – 8.5 €
Flights – $92.43
Bus from airport to city & vice versa – (two trips) 34 €
Food – 83.10 €
Scammed for metro pass – 37 €
Metro pass for three days – 33 € (didn’t know about Child’s pass until day three)
Paris museum pass – 48 €
Souvenirs – 12 €
Air B & B – 58€ (split five ways)

For a grand total of 467.57 €

Yikes. Looking at this list of prices pains me. I only spent three days in Paris (four days traveling) and spent more than 100 Euro each day. Spending money in Paris is inevitable, but there are so many things I learned that could have made the trip so much cheaper. Don’t be like me. Here are tips that could save you money:

Early morning flights may give you more time, but overnight stays in small cities to accommodate your flight may cost you. Save yourself the cash and get one at a later hour.
Pack snacks! I really went cheap on food if I’m being honest. 84 Euro for Paris and four days of travel is not a lot. Look for hole-in-the-wall restaurants with low prices and then splurge on one real Parisian meal. I saved my money for macaroons from La Duree. Some of my meals I bought from a local grocery store and farmers market for around 5 Euro. Remember that water costs a lot in Paris, so bring a water bottle and (I know it sounds gross) fill up in the sink.
Don’t get scammed. I could have saved myself 40 Euro if I had been vigilant and seen through the situation. Always know where your money is going and question every person who offers to help you. ANY UNSOLICITED HELP IN PARIS IS NOT HELP.

If you are under 26, get a children’s metro pass. It is significantly cheaper. I’m talking 5 – 7 Euro cheaper which can make a difference.
The museum pass from the tourism office can be great if you are into history and art like I am. It is 48 Euro and gets you into pretty much every thing you could want to see in Paris. (Check it out here.) However, I wish I had known that my student visa gets me into most places for free anyway. The website is confusing and makes it sound as though only EU students get in for free, but flashing my student visa got me in plenty of places and I’m from the U.S. The museum pass is also a waste of money if you are only wanting to see a few select places that may be free on weekends. Between free weekends and my student visa, I could have skipped the pass altogether.

Sights – 10

Paris is a 10 out of 10 when it comes to sightseeing. Not only is the cityscape beautiful from all angles, but the amount of rich history and arts contained within its borders is unmatched. Below are the top things I think everyone must see in Paris.

Arc de Triumph

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It might seem obvious, but your mind will be blown by the sheer size of the arc. It looks tiny in pictures, but from the top you can see all of Paris and take beautiful pictures (plus it’s free to enter on Saturday).

Eiffel Tower

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This is also obvious. Tourists love it here (and so do pickpockets) but standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower and looking up makes you feel so small. The amount of time people took to make something so magnificent possible is unreal. Pictures don’t do it justice either. My recommendation is to skip going to the top if you want to save money and just view the tower and the city from the arc, but make sure to have a picnic at the bottom of poo champagne.

Musee de Louvre

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Ever wanted to see the Mona Lisa and Venus in one place? Then the Louvre is the place for you. A museum pass will get you in for free to see some of the most famous artworks in the world. The Louvre is something I wish I had slotted more time for. It is massive. To see it all would take a full day at least. It is worth the time though to see pictures you’ve only seen in history books right before your eyes. Not only is the art gorgeous, but the building is a work of art itself. If you go on a Friday, the museum is open until 9:30 so you can stay a bit longer taking in the art. Here is the website:

Musee D’Orsay

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Smaller than the Louvre, the D’Orsay is an old train station converted into an art gallery with famous Monet’s and Van Gogh’s. Originally this wasn’t on my bucket list for Paris, but I’m glad my friends dragged me along because I can finally say that I’ve seen some of the most famous works of art.

Musee de Picasso

Although Pablo Picasso was originally from Spain, he lived and worked in France for most of his life which is why the Picasso museum is home to many famous works of his. The museum has a free guided audio tour that takes you through the background of his art and tells you more about the phases he went through as an artist.

Palace of Versailles

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This is an obvious choice for any tourist. During tourism season, Versailles can be packed and less than luxurious. We went on a cold and rainy day at about eleven in the morning which was perfect. The line to enter was not too long and there were a lot of tourists, but not so much that we couldn’t get around to the important areas. The palace is even more beautiful than in pictures. A guided audio tour can give you the history of every room through the centuries. To fully see the palace and gardens would take a full day. Museum passes will not get you into the garden if there is a show. If you are not using a museum pass, you have to buy two separate tickets to the garden and palace. Take a look at the fountain homes, Marie Antoinette’s estate and the royal family’s summer home.

Overall Opinion – 5

I begrudgingly give Paris a 5 out of 10. It might be my fault. Honestly, I feel as though I needed more time to appreciate the city without feeling overwhelmed and annoyed with all the people. It would have been much better if I had gone later in the winter with fewer tourists. The city has a ton of downsides. The people are mean and it’s expensive and dirty. I just could have spent time in a better city and spent less money. I would like to visit France outside of Paris so that I could have a better opinion of the country as a whole. The only reason I even gave Paris a 5 is because the metro system rocked and the amount of history and art I was able to see is unattainable anywhere else. Someday I plan to visit Paris when I have more time and more money to blow.

Until my next adventure ~~~~

 

xoxo