Interview 3: Joni Keaton; Barcelona, Spain and Edinburgh, Scotland

I sat down for dinner with Joni Keaton, a Ballet Performance and International Area Studies double major from Rockville, Maryland (DC) to discuss her experiences with Dance in Barcelona, Spain and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 

L: Where did you study/travel?

I studied abroad in Barcelona and I danced at the Edinburgh fringe festival for two weeks in August of 2015 and I got to perform with a semi-professional ballet company. I studied in Barcelona in the summer of 2017 for four weeks.

L: Describe your experience/journey with Scotland

There’s a program called Brooklyn Ballet Theater that is a summer program for dancers. They take a group to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. It runs the entire month of August; we were there for two weeks. We rehearsed here in the States first and created a ballet performance and then brought overseas. We did Alice in Wonderland and I got to play Alice which was really special. For me, one of the most amazing parts of dancing is acting within the dance and getting to embody a character, and getting to do it over there was really cool because y’know Lewis Carrol obviously. We performed every morning for two weeks straight at a little theater, the zoo theater, a little black box. Everything was very self-generated. All the costumes we brought over ourselves. We had these really cool portable panels and they’re painted back and front so we could flip them to make different scenery really easily. It was amazing. It was my first time getting to live a more professional company sort of lifestyle.

L: Why did you go to Barcelona?

OU School of Dance takes a group of dancers every summer to study at Centre de Dansa de Catalunya, a studio there. The dancers there are wicked talented. The kids are between 13 and 18 and they’re just like prodigies. It was one of the most intense, focus driven environments I have ever been in. These kids were hungry for ballet. How it works in a ballet class is the teacher gives combinations and we go over them. A lot of times we’ll go over it once and then the teacher would correct, maybe we’ll do it again. But I mean these kids would just, again and again, keep going and the music would keep playing, and I thought wow, I need to rise to their level. The classes there too would go on for a very long time. Here there’s obviously a very strict schedule at OU. People really don’t have more time than we’re given. We have an hour fifty class three times a week and an hour twenty class two times a week and we stop then because everyone has to run off and do other things. But the nature of this program is that all these kids are really training to be professional dancers, and, because it’s the summer, they don’t have anything else to do. But these classes were technically supposed to be…I don’t even know how long they were supposed to be, but sometimes they would go for three hours. But the teachers there were some of the most incredible teachers I’ve ever had. I would go back to Barcelona just to take a ballet class from one of them. The way they taught was also a little bit different, because here you might repeat combinations throughout several different classes. There  They actually gave us a class at the beginning of our time there and wed did that same class for weeks. All of the combinations were pretty much exactly the same. It really helped me tune into my body and get a deeper understanding of the movement they were giving us. It really pushed me in a way I hadn’t really been before

The class was also really cool because it was taught In a bunch of different languages. In Barcelona, they speak Spanish, obviously, but also Catalan, which is a local dialect. The steps of ballet are always given in French. The language of ballet is universal, ballet is codified. If you want to do a Tendu it’s always a Tendu, always in French the teachers would talk or give corrections in Spanish or Catalan. They luckily spoke some English, not a whole lot, but enough to be able to kinda correct us. A lot of times they would be giving Corrections to their students and I wouldn’t necessarily understand what they were saying but because ballet is such a physical art form, you can get the gist of what they’re trying to communicate based on how they move and how the people they’re correcting are shifting their bodies in response to what the teacher is saying.

L: Did you notice any difference between the teaching philosophies or focuses of the United States and Spain?

In a lot of ways, they were a lot more hands on with their students. They would often get really into their space, increase flexibility, somewhat forcibly, definitely more hands on. I don’t know if that was a reflection that people are just kinda more hands on in general in Spain. I think people aren’t as afraid to touch each other; there’s not as big of a space bubble as in American where people tend to give each other room. I don’t know if it was a reflection of that, but it could have been.

L: What besides dancing, what was your interaction with art in Barcelona and Scotland?

I was  fortunate enough to spend a lot of my time exploring the different art cultures.  I think every artist needs to experience the fringe festival because it is life changing, to be in an environment for a month where there’s just so much happening; there’s everything from professional performances to experimental performances to street performances. There’s visual arts, there’s music, there’s dance, there’s theater. There would be days when, after we would perform, we would see four shows in a row and just hop from show to show because the tickets were relatively cheap. There’s just so much happening all around you, it’s not difficult to find a music performance or a comedy performance that’s going on. To just see so many different kinds of people doing so many different kinds of things, I’ve definitely never experienced something like that in this country. This was informal, we were all just artists there to support each other and create our art together in a safe space. The appreciation for the art there was beautiful. The fact that everyone wanted to be there and be in this environment was really cool.

In Barcelona, we got to go to some art museums and see old churches which I consider art just because of how beautifully intricate the architecture is, the carvings, the attention to detail. I think churches definitely tell a story in the arts since the beginning of time because people were so invested in the church, they put a lot of money into making them beautiful and it was one of the first places that art had true expression and people have the ability to create things there.

L: What was your average day like in Barcelona?

We would wake up and start with Pilates, have a modern class with the OU professor, have lunch back at our apartment, and then come back for ballet class. Here I take ballet at 9 am every morning, in the US it’s very traditional to take ballet in the morning and there I was taking it at 3 pm, which, personally for me, I get very lethargic in the afternoon. It was a good push to experience dancing at a different time of day because as a performer, you have to be able to perform at any time of day.

Ballet class went on. Sometimes you get bored (I love what I do but sometimes there are classes that aren’t really engaging) but it really was an intense experience for me in terms of just wanting to dance. There wasn’t a single class where I was like, okay I’m ready to stop. I think a lot of it had to do with the teachers and how motivating they were. It’s hard to describe what makes a good teacher in ballet, but I just loved the combinations they gave and the way they delivered them. I really wanted to work hard in class and I would just push myself. It was just a really pivotal experience for me in my dance journey.

L: How would you describe the artistic culture of Spain?

It’s a really interesting mix of old and new. Barcelona is obviously a very touristy city, but it’s also a very ancient city, so you have the contrast between the more modern contemporary art there and the old — churches for example. Even just seeing murals on the street and then going into the Picasso museum. It’s an urban city, it’s growing it’s changing, but there are pieces of art and history that are still important. People are still going to the Picasso museum to learn about his life and see his work but people are also wanting to create new work, new art in different ways.

I got to see a Flamenco show and obviously that’s something that’s very important to Spain. The dance is culturally theirs and getting to see that was very cool for me because I’ve seen flamenco dance in the US, but seeing it there, being in the place where it was created gave it a different feel.

L: What were the ways you could see the artistic culture influencing daily life, the people, the culture, anything?

It felt like there were stories in the walls, the architecture, walking down the streets, the whole city was the art. The city is so historic and so much of it has been preserved. You get the Gothic architecture, the buildings that have been there for centuries that people have made new, it’s old but it’s alive. The whole city, everyone is living in a constant state of art. People are closer together most of the time and that creates more interaction between people and I think there’s more spontaneity. This one street performance, a woman was dancing, doing this weird movement, and someone joined her, and then someone else, and then families, and kids. That was my impromptu dancing in the streets in Barcelona.

L: How would you describe the artistic culture of the United States?

I would say there’s a really great desire to be innovative. I think a lot of people are looking for new ways to express themselves and are also using art a lot of times for social change or making a statement about things. I think it’s become the trend in art is this country. I think that sometimes it can be incredible, but I think it can also be good to spend time focusing on the past. There are people, in dance specifically, working on old repertoire and classics. It’s important to acknowledge where you come from but I like the fact that people are trying to go in some new directions and move art forward.

L: How do you think artistic culture influence daily life for people in the United States?

I think it depends on where you live. Where I’m from, I was exposed to a lot of art growing up. I was lucky. I feel very fortunate to have grown up going to art performances and I have my parents to thank because they love art and they took me to things. They were the ones who signed me up for ballet. If I had grown up somewhere else, I think my perspective might be different. In certain places in the US, there’s not as much of an opportunity to see professional theater, but that’s not to say local cultures don’t exist, Norman is a great example actually. I would hope that people would make an effort to know what’s going on in the arts, that they would want to participate in it. I think for a lot of people, it’s not a priority though, and I wish it was because I think art has the power to create change and I think people are trying to get the attention of the public with what they’re doing. They’re trying to communicate, not just art for the sake of art.

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Interview 2: Ryan Gaylor; Arezzo, Italy

I sat down with Ryan Gaylor over coffee to discuss his summer study abroad experience. Ryan is a junior Dramaturgy and Journalism double major from Atlanta, Georgia.

L: How do you identify as an artist?

I consider myself as a theater artist, as a Dramaturg. Overall, I consider myself a storyteller and the uniting thread between my two majors (dramaturgy and journalism) is my interest in stories, and how they’re told, and how to tell them well.

L: How much of your life in the United States is influenced by art/dedicated to art?

A large portion of my time is spent thinking about art in one way or another. My journalism stuff I don’t consider art as much because it is inherently more functional, but there’s definitely an art to it, and an overlap between the things I do as a journalist and a theater artist.

L: Where did you study Abroad?

I studied abroad in Italy, in Tuscany. I spent a few days in Rome and spent the majority of my time in Arezzo. I also traveled to Florence, Cinque Terre , Pompeii, and other cities along the Mediterranean Coast. I was there, altogether, for a month in the summer of 2017.

L: What was the purpose of your trip? Why did you decide to go?

I traveled with the Gaylord College of Journalism through OU. The program was Marketing and Advertising and Documentary and Film. We had two projects that we worked on: we created a documentary about Arezzo and we helped a museum in Arezzo re-brand to reach a modern audience in Arezzo. It was a veey project based program.

I knew I wanted to study abroad somewhere. I have traveled all my life. It was something my dad instilled in me as being important– that experiences are more important than material things, that it’s important to broaden yourself. I was attracted to this program because it seemed interesting, especially the hands-on project based work.

L: What were ways you specifically/intentionally interacted with art while in Italy?

We visited the Uffizi Mueseum in Florence. I studied art history when I was younger and I knew the significance of many pieces to the narrative of art history, and it was extremely cool to see in person the pieces that I had studied. Having that background knowledge was cool. I sought out pieces I studie: Birth of Venus, Primavera. Going to Vatican was insane. I’m not religious but I’ve always visited European churches because they are so intrinsically linked with the artistic history of Europe. So going to the Vatican, with its sheer quantity, was incredible. I am an artist but I did not go there as an artist.

In Arezzo, worked with this dead man’s collection of antique items. He was one of the founders of Arezzo’s famous antique fair. It was neat to see through the lens of this collector to see what was artistically and historically valuable. His house, Ivan Bruschi House Museum was converted into a museum.

Overall, I was interacting with historic art more than contemporary. Florence was where the Renaissance was centered so everything I was exposed to was very connected to that and the Renaissance in general.

L: Based on your experiences, how would you describe the artistic culture?

I think one of the biggest differences between the artistic culture there and the artistic culture here  is that is has such deep historic roots– most of the art I saw there was older than our country. There’s a much deeper sense of history, and coming from something, and continuing a tradition, rather than creating something knew. Now, this is all based on my own experiences, and I’m not the expert, but this is what I noticed in general.

L: How do you think their artistic culture has affected their culture in general in their day to day life?

There’s a sense of connection to the past. There are buildings that have been around for a couple thousand years, whereas in the US we don’t even have that a little. Common root, the ties to history, etc.

L:How would you describe the artistic culture of the United States?

There’s a big cultural emphasis on what’s happening next and, y’know, what are we going to do that’s new? What are we going to do next? I didn’t get that impression, and it might have just been because it wasn’t the scene I was interacting with. In the United States, art from different locations feels different and is different, but there is not as much sense of place in the art itself. There isn’t as much of a sense of coming from the place it’s coming from or history informing art.

L: How does the artistic culture affect US artistic life?

I think it’s reflected a lot more in industrial design, and there’s a lot more exposure to art in the work place than their used to be. I also feel like our art is very loud and opinionated, which is a reflection of our culture. If you look at a lot of US contemporary art, it’s a lot of “We’re making a statement. We’re making a point.” American art is as loud as we are and it could be that one just fuels the other.

L: How would you say your experiences abroad have affected you as an artist back in the US?

More than anything, I would say it has given me a greater sense of context and the ability to place where we are now (in terms of “Western Art History”). I’ve been able to see where we fit in and experience things that we’ve been discussing, artistically, for centuries, and the ideological connections that go with them. It’s been very powerful to see how the ideology of places affects the type of art that’s created and the ability to see how time, thoughts, and art have progressed have been beneficial.

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Interview 1: Bianca Bulgarelli; Arezzo, Italy

Bianca Bulgarelli is a junior Musical Theater and History major from Los Angeles, California. We sat down in a coffee shop to discuss her recent study abroad trip!

L: Where did you go?

I studied in Italy. I went to Rome for 4 days and then we took a train to Arezzo. We took a two day trip to Florence and I also took a day trip through Luca and Pisa. I went from May 13th through June 2nd of the Summer of 2018.

L: Describe your program/ who you went through

I went with the musical theater program and we took the musical theater history class, which is required for my degree. There was one faculty member and a group of less than twenty students and we just studied over there pretty much. In addition to that class, we went to museums and learned nothing to do with musical theater, and it was a great excuse to just study in a beautiful place.

We did study and watch some relevant musicals. We watched A Light in the Piazza, which is set in Florence. A lot of the musical is in Italian and we were quizzed on that. Our quiz for the musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum we took in the Forum.

We really got to experience the night life [in Rome] and in Arezzo, we got to experience the smaller city life, and see a lot families, a lot of children, and a lot of dogs. I swear, everyone has their child our and their dog out on a Thursday at 10pm. Night time was socializing time. So many young people would go out and just eat and drink with each other. Eleven and midnight were early there.  Food and drink is a way to come together and bond. I feel that that is so valuable in a culture.

Here we drink to get drunk. There you drink for taste and for socializing. I’ve been reading a lot about the loneliness epidemic in this country. For some odd reason we want to be incoherent with friends and drunk with friends and not remember things. It seems as if we don’t value our time spent with friends because of that; we either need our phones or alcohol and we don’t connect with each other. We are constantly trying to distract ourselves, but we already have connections that we could just strengthen.

L: Do you think that’s an American thing?

I haven’t been to a lot of places. I have been to Japan (my cousins are half Japanese) and my Dad is from Costa Rica, so I have experience with those cultures. After travelling to Italy and also experiencing their lifestyle, I honestly think it is. I can’t say for the rest of the world, but in Costa Rica the way they socialize and touch each other — you know how they talk about how no one has personal space there, its’s true: my grandmother did not want me to close my door when I was there. My aunt moved back in with my grandparents and that wasn’t weird it was normal, it was family. But here in America, it would be like “Oh. You’re not an independent lonely adult? What’s wrong with you?”

In Italy, I thought that social media was a generational thing, but I really think now that it’s a North American problem. Here you could walk into a room and everyone is on their phone. But there, I never experienced that. When people talk to each other, they were very expressive and very engaged with whoever they were talking to.

In Japan, I went to a public bath from traditional Japanese culture. Women aren’t timid about their bodies in a women only bath house. In our culture, I feel like there is a stigma around our bodies, platonic physical touch, and connection. Our culture is very sterile. We want to be sterile and fascinating.

L: What art did you interact with during you time in Italy?

We went to the Academia, the Uffizi, the Vatican, the Medici palace, and more, but I can’t remember their names. Actually what’s super interesting right now is I am taking Renaissance Art in Italy for my Western Civ. So all these paintings we are studying now, I saw in person. I remember spending a lot of time looking at the progression of the enthroned Madonna with the Christ child and the transition from Byzantine style (Cimabue) to more Realism and Naturalism (Giotto). And after seeing all of this, I get to come back to Norman and actually make connections that will actually stay in my brain. It makes the class so much more interesting to say that I saw that, I stood in front of that and took it in in real time. It really makes things stick and makes me so grateful for my textbook, knowing that it’s real life and not just a textbook. The guides we had were amazing and I’m so glad I paid attention because now I actually get to write papers on it. There are frescoes that I saw, even in Arezzo, that are in my textbook.

Artists were so valued. They were such a big part of life. With the Medici family and the Strozzi family (which was actually even more influential but no one talks about them), they were the only reason that a lot of this art is around.

We also took commedia classes, which is an Italian drama style with masks and center around archetypes and old comedy. They were taught by a student of commedia who was from the United States. We had groups that developed our own commedia scenes and characters. We rehearsed for a showcase that we put on in the community of Arezzo in a small theater there. It was kinda outside our comfort zones. The physical body is emphasized, and we explored how it is used to build character. Our teacher took us through these exercises and then we went through different archetypes in commedia and then used improv to create and then perfect scenes.  If you imagine a really good acting class that was what it was. It was goofy. Commedia is very sex joke oriented, a lot of dirty jokes because it was for the common people and common people weren’t posh. They didn’t care about class so it was just to entertain people and make them laugh. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do as an actor, to just let go.  You don’t have any lines, you just have to come up with something. That was hard for me, but it was cool.

L: How would you describe art in relation to the culture of Italy, or the artistic culture itself?

I think that art is embedded in their culture. I don’t think you can separate it out. What I’m learning in my class is that this idea dates all the way back to the 1300s, when artists started becoming valued and commissioned by churches. A lot of the work was didactic for the church so the only way the people who couldn’t read knew what was going on was through the artists. They needed these artists. I think from then on, they still just value art so much and art is everywhere in the city. Even with the architecture. Everything was planned and thought out. We go into the artists’ ideas and motivations behind why they did what they didn’t and its really intention. Those are things that people are looking at every day and honestly all the buildings are just works of art. Art is just in the air.

Whereas here, there’s an extra effort that needs to be made to make something artistic and it’s a little bit less important. Function is  prized more over artistry. Function and efficiency.

L: How would you say that the artistic culture affects the people in their daily lives?

I don’t think they are as aware of how beautiful everything is. But even in the way people dress — I think art in their society has influence fashion, not just in Milan fashion week, but just everyday people wanting to express yourself through clothes. I feel like in the United States, unless you’re in LA or New York, you aren’t going to see as much self-expression through clothes– or just people being like “I don’t care I’m just going to wear this because it’s cool, not because it’s the trendiest thing.” I didn’t see one trend there. There was a lot of individuality and that’s probably influenced by the art they see around them all the time.

L: How would you describe the US culture in relation to art/ the artistic culture itself?

Here it is kinda separated. Either you’re rich enough to be part of the art culture and experience art and have taste of you’re not and then it’s not cool to want to go to museums. I’ve been to a lot of museums because my mom loves it, and I hated it as a kid, but now I’ve grown to love it. I feel like art is like “Here is a museum, That’s where you can find art.”

We’re a new country. In antiquity, people didn’t seem to be as invested in that. There are gems here and there, but in Italy it was overwhelming with the amount of detail and embellishment in every single building. I think, when this culture was founded, we just weren’t concerned with that at all. To my understanding artists were never valued like they were in Italy, not even for the church. Puritans didn’t value art at all, I think they actually hated art and dancing. That’s where our country grew up from. So it’s not surprising that we don’t value it enough. There’s a small community of people that are art lovers, but they are usually more wealthy. I like modern art and I like contemporary art, but I don’t think they compare to the historical values that some of these masterpieces have and the significance of the artists behind them. They are so important. They have very different roots from us.

How would say that affects how we live our day to day lives?

As I said before, we value function and efficiency over everything else. If you look at the way we live, we want to be the most productive versions of ourselves but I don’t think we need to be the most efficient versions to be great humans. We are more concerned about productivity than happiness. There’s a certain kind of shame that we pride ourselves on when we’re not 100% productive and that’s part of our culture. I don’t know if art… Art is something that you have to just stand and take in. You need time to just view it and not do anything. We don’t like just resting and looking at something. We get bored or our attention spans aren’t long enough, that’s why we have social media. Our country is just not that old and we don’t come from the same roots.

L: What do you do as an artist here and how would you say your experiences have affected you here and now?

I am a musical theater and history major. A lot of what I do is performance based. I am singing and dancing every day, constantly trying to improve technique but also my artistry and remembering that I have something to say through these skills. Going to Italy fueled more of the history major in me, the intellectual, the art lover, and the traveler in me. It fueled me as an individual rather than me as a performer which was very much needed because here it’s 24/7 nonstop perform perform perform. It was nice to just be a person taking in the world. It reminded me of how much more there is beyond musical theater.  This is a bubble and we get so focused and we are so hard on ourselves if we mess up one. This year , I am way less hard on myself and I think it’s because of this trip. I realize that I am just a human who wants to travel and see the world and experience art and joy. I don’t want to be a musical theater robot. I do care about my career and my work, but there’s so much more to life. I love learning about art, how art relates to things that have happened in history. I am going to go to New York city, and even if I don’t perform, I know that I want to be there, which is really comforting. I know, no matter what, I’m going to go to the right place, at least. I can write, I can do other things. I don’t have to put all my value on how casting directors see me because I know there’s so much more to my brain. The trip reminded me of that and I think that was the biggest take away.

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The Interview Project

In these upcoming posts, I will be posting interviews from artists who have studied abroad. These interviews center around their experiences and their perceptions of different cultures through various artistic lenses. While their observations and opinions are honest, accurate, and true to their own experiences, the interviewees are not professed experts on the history or culture of the countries they studied in. Assumptions and perceptions are just that, and might not be absolute fact.

These interviews are an attempt to understand art as it functions in culture on an experiential level and they are a first step in comparing the United States to other countries around the world. It is also a glimpse into the effects that studying abroad has on artists as they return to their work in the United States.

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Culture Shocks

Unsurprisingly, the various cultures I encountered on my trip to Europe were all very different from the United States. This post will probably be an ongoing edit of the things I’ve noticed.

By traveling Europe, I actually learned more about American culture and what defines our lifestyles and our mindsets. It’s hard to recognize anything distinct when it’s all you’ve ever known, but exploring elsewhere has really opened my eyes.

In Europe, overall there is a slower pace of life. This was a common stereotype that I’d known, and being in Italy, the epitome of this idea, only ____ it for me. It goes beyond taking hours to eat dinner; it’s about appreciating the little things. For us, our entire culture is built on what’s next. Improving our lives, our jobs, improving technology, improving our salary or position. Everything is moving up, up, up which is why we have been one of the leading innovators in the past couple hundred years.

However, in Europe, I found far more people who were content with their job or their life. They didn’t need anything big or bold. There seemed to be much more respect for someone who chose to be say, a bartender, for their profession. Those choices of simplicity were normal and respected. Perhaps someone just wanted to live in a small flat in a city and run a coffee shop and nothing more. I think we could learn something from this mindset as a country.

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Adventures in Budapest!

My day in Budapest was filled with one adventure after another! I took an overnight bus from Krakow to Budapest and arrived around 8:00 in the morning. I decided the best way to get an overview of the city was to take a free walking tour (these are very popular throughout Europe. They are super interesting and convenient but always remember to tip!). I couldn’t check into my hostel until 2:00 so I carried my backpack with me for the 3 hour tour across the city. I was worn out by the end but it was worth it!

Budapest was absolutely beautiful! It was the city that was most comparable to a US city — just with a lot more history.

Some notable sights were the ruin bars. After the removal and execution of the Jewish people during the holocaust, a large section of the city was left empty and dilapidated. People decided to make creative use out of the area and it is now home to dozens of bars! The one’s I went into had holes in the wall, didn’t have roofs and were just hodgepodges of rooms connected to create a fun environment! There was music dancing, creative decorations throughout the whole place! It was an ingenious way to bring life back to this part of the city while still preserving the history. They also had great food! I got to try some traditional Chicken Paprikash and I love it so much I’ve been looking up recipes since I’ve been back!

I also went to one of Budapest’s famous bathhouses. This historic houses have been frequented for centuries and are absolutely gorgeous! I went to the  Széchenyi bathhouse which has numerous indoor and outdoor pools. I was taken away by the architecture and expanse of the place. I also loved how I heard all different languages while sitting in the baths. People from all over came to this bathhouse! It was a much needed relaxation break.

At night, as I walked along the riverfront, I came across a watch party for the World Cup. I have LOVED being in Europe for the World Cup because it was a commonality between every country I went to. We were watching the England Colombia game and there were people from all countries rooting for both sides. It was a beautiful and powerful moment of community as hundreds of people from everywhere sat together watching a makeshift screen. The unity was beautiful and overwhelming and I have loved being a part of it. It was a great way to end my adventures in Europe.

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Historic Krakow!

After my wonderful program in Italy came to a close, I was able to travel to Poland to visit my cousin in Krakow, and later spent a day in Budapest.

Traveling through the city of Krakow, I remarked on how Urban it was, especially compared to the ancient buildings that populated Rome. However, I only had to walk through the entrance to Old Town to find myself in a picturesque, historic plaza.

I took a walking tour of Krakow and learned a lot about their rich history. Krakow, former capital of Poland, used to be a major center of European trade, connecting the East and the West. Their central market is one of the largest in Europe and is centuries old. What used to be filled with merchants of all types is now home to restaurants, street performers, and souvenirs.  The city itself is also home to many universities. The original architecture is absolutely beautiful through the older parts of the city.

Krakow is a resilient city. It has survived multiple fires, Mongolian Invasions, and multiple occupations, including Austrian, German, and Soviet. It has even survived the worst account of genocide in modern history, the Holocaust.

It was actually very unexpected how much the cities in more Eastern Europe were still affected by the Holocaust. For Americans, we learn about it in our history books and we can watch the movies and go to the museums, but it did not have a permanent, visible effect on our country or our day to day lives.

In Budapest as well as Krakow, there are entire sections of the city that are historic ghettos where hundreds of thousands of people– Jewish people — were removed from their homes. There are empty buildings. There is a hole that might always be there. The effects of this horrific tragedy are still present throughout the city; people still remember. In Italy and the United Kingdom, there wasn’t the same impression and there was not clear mark, so the difference was very evident. It was very striking and very humbling.

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Journey to Auschwitz

Today, I visited Auschwitz. It was one of the most powerful experiences if my life and something I don’t know if I can translate to words. We traveled through the concentration camp, visiting the spots where, 70 years ago, people walked — barefoot and cold — to their death.
From execution walls to suffocation and starvation rooms to the infamous gas chambers, Auschwitz was a terrifyingly efficient death camp. While you learn about it in schools, seeing the rooms where real people died every day was extremely difficult to process.  I never understood the true scope of the operations.
I gasped when I walked into Bier canal because the size of the camp was enormous.  The remains of barracks stretched on for what seemed like forever, each holding hundreds of people.  We walked the path to the gas chambers where thousands of people walked, thinking they were going to a shower. People squeezed the hands of their children, parted from their husbands or fathers or boyfriends; they huddled together with their school friends before being told to undress and prepare for disinfecting.
I met a survivor of Aushvitz that day, Hannah Moses. She was a twin who survived the experimentation of Dr. Mengele. These are some of the most memorable things she told us.
Throughout my trip, I was filled with sorrow, horror, and anger. Human beings systematically killed, stripped of dignity, forced to ensure suffering purely based on their religion, race, sexually orientation, etc. I am also terrified.

Image result for auschwitz plaque english

The last thing our tour guide said to us was ” I hope you take what you have seen here and you are more responsible” And I immediately thought of our current political state in the US. It is truly incredible that there are people in the US who are so privileged to be separated from this horror that they have the privilege and there audacity to call themselves NeoNazis.  This recent trend shows a serous lack of understanding of what happened during the war- the families and communities that were obliterated. When I was growing up these were universally recognized as human atrocities.  We will not forget. We will remember the horrors and make sure they never happen again.
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Cheap International Flights: Travel more for less

This summer I traveled to Europe and spend time in London, Italy, Poland, and Hungary. I flew on 9 planes and spent less than $1200 on flights. So many people have asked me how, so I decided to write a post about it for those intending to travel abroad.

Three tips: Start early, be willing to spend a lot of time searching, and be patient!

First of all, if you are a student traveling, be sure to look and sign up for student discounts wherever applicable. There are many sites that offer lower rates, like STA travel. You can also get a student traveler card which makes you eligible for more discounts.

Go directly to foreign airlines directly. Many US travel websites do not include flights by smaller airlines, which can sometimes offer better fares. Airlines will differ by country so you will have to do a lot of digging depending on where you want to go. Skyscanner is a great resource for searching cheap flights and they tend to include more airlines.

If you start early enough (about 8 months before), you can set alerts for when the price drops on multiple flights. They usually say the sweet spot to buy international flights is usually between 4 and 6 months out from the departure date and this will give you plenty of time to watch the price patterns. Shorter flights do not require as much time, but you should buy at least a few weeks out to avoid price surges.

If you want the best deals, you will have to get creative. It might be joining together different flights on different airlines. Be willing to be flexible in your destinations and connection locations as well. In order to get to Italy, I took a flight to London on one airline I had a 20 hour layover until my flight to Rome. I spent the day exploring London and visiting museums. I even saw a show at the Globe Theater! The cheapest flight home was through Lyon, France 5 days after my program ended, so I used the extra days to travel. I ended up in Budapest, Hungary and the cheapest way to get from Budapest to Lyon was to fly first to Brussels, Belgium. I had a few close calls and I ran through some airports but that leads me to my next and most important piece of advice.

CARRY ON. Carry on carry on carry on. I would not have been able to travel as much as I did if I didn’t. if you read the fine print of many discount airlines, the can saddle you with hefty fees for bringing a checked bag. Not only are checked bags more expensive, you will add a significant amount of time to your journeys. If you want to switch airlines you will have to wait at baggage claim and then recheck your bag (not to mention customs if you’re switching countries). While packing a month’s worth of supplies into one bag may seem impossible, it will be well worth it to cut time and cut costs. Good luck and safe travels!

Packing Tip: Remember liquids must only be in 3 ounce bottles. Also, try to find hostels with laundry options and pack clothes that you can mix and match. If you want to reduce your food costs, pack some snacks. By the end of the trip you’ll have eaten your food and you will have room for all of your souvenirs!

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Voices of a Changing Middle East: Part 2

The second installment of the Voices of a Changing Middle East Theatre Series was entitled I Shall Not Hate.

This serious has continued to blow my mind and months late, I still find myself thinking back to these shows.

I shall not hate centers around a Palestinian male doctor who traveled between Israel and Palestine serving as a medical doctor. He grew up in a refugee camp and trained at Harvard,, leaving behind his wife and his children. He came back and was the first Palestinian to serve in an Israeli hospital, helping Israelis and Palestinians alike.

*Spoiler Alert*

The play centers around the many struggles that he has to go through- crossing borders, suffering abuse and discrimination, and dealing with the pains of war. Throughout all of the injustice that he faces, he does not harbor any anger or hate. He continues to advocate for peace and to work against prejudice on both sides.

At the end, an attack on his house kills three of his daughters and a niece. He witnesses the tragic and graphic destruction and wails in agony. One daughter survived, her eye hanging out of her face and her fingers split from her hand. Despite this extreme pain and loss, he still amazingly forgave the Israeli war power.

Theatrically, it was absolutely beautiful. The actor himself switched between Hebrew and Arabic (English subtitles were projected onto a screen) which gave the minimalistic one man show an authentic feel. The simple artistic elements powerfully illustrated the emotional turmoil he experienced. In one memorable scene, while the doctor was trying to cross borders to get to his dying wife, he carried a suitcase across the stage with him. The suitcase leaked sand through a hole in the bottom like sand falling from an hour glass. As he was sent from place to place trying to get clearance, the sand left trails all across the stage, lines here, piles there. The sound echoed on the ground, cutting through time and powerfully illustrating the urgency of the incredibly frustrating situation. The piece was a very acute reminder of the horrors happening right now in the world, but also of the incredible humanity. His power to forgive was astounding and resonated deeply with me. Peace in the face of violence, love in the face of hatred. It’s impressive and admirable and honorable — it is something I will carry with me and aspire to in my life. I was incredibly impressed with the production, with the story, and with the power of live theater.

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