This year I am on the executive board of the Arab Student Association, and this past Tuesday we held our first event of the semester: a night featuring games from across the Arab world! These included tawla, the Arab version of Backgammon, dominoes, cards, and several physical games led by other ASA members.
No cultural event is complete without food, and there was a spread of hummus, pita chips, dates, and almonds for attendees to snack on as they made their way from country to country through participation in the games native to them. Tea and Arabic coffee are also staples of ASA events, and I got to see the process of how Arabic coffee is made as one of the other board members prepared it during setup (it involves a really cool little pot).
There was also live music that featured several iconic instruments native to the Arab world: the oud, which is a string instrument that looks somewhat similar to a guitar, and the tabla, which is a small drum used to create the rhythmic base of much Arab music. I took a class called Middle Eastern music several semesters ago where I learned about these instruments among many others, and the opportunity see them performed live and truly get a feel for the vibrant sounds they produce is amazing.
One of the gifts of modern technology is the ways it changes travel. Here is a list of the apps I used (very) frequently while studying abroad. From messaging to travel and navigation, these applications helped make traveling in other countries a much smoother experience.
VRN Ticket (the local transportation schedule and tickets)
Deutsche Bahn Navigator (as a student, DB provides discounts on their Bahn25 and 50 cards that make traveling much cheaper)
FlixBus (the best of budget travel)
Student Universe (best for longer flights)
Omio (overall best for figuring out whether bus, train, or plane is cheapest/fastest)
SkyScanner ( keeps an eye out for really cheap flights)
Trip Planning/ Navigating
Visit a City (gives an overview of what to see in the city)
Rick Steves Audio Europe (didn’t use that often, but gives lots of history)
Mapy.com (good hiking trails)
MarcoPolo (Great for communicating with family in a completely different time zone)
WhatsApp ( just a must. It’s the communication method of choice)
Skype (calling on Wifi)
Zoom (conference calls)
If you need a bank account in Germany, the online company N26 was reccomended to us. It’s completely digital, so also an app.
I have finished my summer course studying Russian at Polytech!
I’d like to say that I’m basically fluent now, but alas, that is not the case (yet). This past month, I navigated a steep learning curve in more ways that one, but I’d like to say that my language skills have experienced the most change since coming to Russia. I had a lot of practice with phonetics and intonations, and I certainly have a larger vocabulary than when I began. I have gained a greater understanding of verbs of motion (though they can still be quite tricky to manage), and I’d like to think my case endings have been hammered down a bit better. And while, my ability to hear, comprehend, and respond in a timely fashion still requires a lot of work, I think participating in Polytech’s summer school has given me a greater confidence in my Russian language survival skills.
Finishing the summer school also means that I’ve reached the one month mark of being in Russia. During this time, I have definitely struggled with homesickness. As classes back home began and everyone settled into their new routines, I kept getting notifications about all the cool things that were happening. It made me ache for my family, friends, and home. But I am beginning to learn not to dwell on my homesickness by using my spare time to explore St. Petersburg and appreciate the beauty and history of this city. Even though I do miss home, I have an incredible opportunity in spending this semester abroad, and I am going to make the most of it.
Overall, my greatest achievement over this past month has been learning how to move past my fear in talking to native speakers. I still have a long way to go in this regard; navigating business transactions or asking a question about transportation is one thing, and holding a true conversation is something entirely different that I still have trouble with. I’ve scaled the first mountain though, by acquiring the courage to actually engage with people when I’m at the store or at restaurants. Trying to talk to native speakers is always terrifying, but if you can find it in you to at least make an attempt, it is so rewarding.
Thus ends my first month of my time abroad. Next week, we start our class again, and I am excited to see what September and the rest of the semester brings.
This weekend was extremely incredible because we spent it exploring Mexico City. Each day there was something exciting and interesting to learn. The first day we explored Teotihuacan, which consists of pyramids where the aztec civilization inhabited. There were 3 pyramids: the Quetzalcoatl, the Sun, and the Moon, and they were extremely detailed and a sight to see. We then went to many basilicas, including the Basilica de Guadalupe, which was so beautiful. The next day we went to the National Museum of Anthropology, learning more about different civilizations like the Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan. After that we visited the Frida Kahlo museum and then we went to see the musical “Mentiras,” which means lies. I never thought I’d like musicals so much, but that one really hit home. It was so comical, engaging, and had a very interesting story line. That’s a musical I would see again! That night we went to a restaurant with a mariachi band, and we danced. I felt so free and happy because it’s moments like these that are unforgettable. Finally on our last day we visited the Zocalo of Mexico City and watched the Folklore Ballet performance. Once again, I was extremely amazed by the performance because it was so lively and well performed. Overall this weekend was so fun, and a memory that I will never forget! Viva Mexico!
The past two weeks here in New Zealand have been very exciting, so I’ll try to keep this short but I’ve got a lot to say. We just had our mid-trimester break, which comprised the university giving students 2 weeks off of school just to let us have a bit of a mental and physical holiday after the first 6 weeks of class. Crazy, right? Well, it is for me, who is used to having just one weekday off for Labor Day in the first 15-ish weeks (depending on when Thanksgiving Break falls; this year it’s 17 weeks), then 3 days off for Thanksgiving, then continuing through until finals with only a weekend between the last day of regular classes and the first day of final exams. Here, the academic semester is much shorter and students are given more frequent and longer breaks, a 1 week exam preparation period WITH NO CLASSES, and 2 weeks to take final exams so that students generally will have no more than one exam per day (rather than, say, 1 test on Tuesday, 3 tests on Wednesday, and an essay due on Thursday). The new system has made my stress levels drop exponentially, I look forward to class much more than I did at home, and I feel like I actually have time to study outside of class so I am able to more adequately prepare for tests.
That’s a bit tangential though; I actually want to focus on what happened during the break, not just the fact that we had one and it’s unusual for me. My New Zealand Flora and Fauna class went back a week early, so I was only able to travel for half of the break, but my 8 days of holiday were definitely not wasted. I spent the week in the South Island, traveling from the northern tip all the way down the west coast before flying home. Here are the places I visited along the way:
This was my first taste of the South Island. We took the ferry over on a chilly, rainy, windy day but the scenery was still breathtaking.
Me with Markus, Thijs, and Luiza on the ferry
Welcome to Picton, South Island!
Nelson was the first city we visited. The town was completely dead on a winter weekend, but felt cozy nonetheless. We wandered past a beautiful Gothic cathedral…
And went to the “center of New Zealand” (which is not actually the geographic center; it was a point designated to make surveying easier… which we did not know until AFTER the very steep climb to the spot)
We watched the sun set over Nelson to end our first day.
Abel Tasman National Park:
We took a short day trip into the national park for our second day. The weather was absolutely stunning as we hiked through the trees and along the beach
We could clearly see the Southern Alps on the horizon all day, which only added to the beauty of the scenery
A few of us got lucky and were able to get up close to a very cute and very curious endemic flightless bird, the weka!
Punakaiki was our least glamourous stop on paper, but ended up being easily one of my absolute favorites. We stayed in a beach hostel with this view out our back door… not bad, eh?
Franz Josef Glacier:
Next stop, Franz Josef! The hike to the glacier was an easy climb through the riverbed where glacier runoff has carved a path over centuries.
Although the hike and the glacier were both beautiful, it was also a sobering experience. There were pictures and signs along the way reminding us of what the glacier used to look like and how much the ice has receded. We walked over ground that was once covered by the ice of the glacier for almost the entire 45 minute hike. Franz Josef is one of the places I have seen climate change at its most visible, and it has spurred me to be even more conscious than I already am of our impact on the world and the immediacy of the need for action to prevent further damage.
We got lucky to be at the glacier on a relatively calm day; there is a small reflecting pool near the trailhead called Peter’s Pool, which provided a stunning mirror image of the mountains
Queenstown was our last stop. The city has very modern, upscale vibes and was full of skiers and other winter sport enthusiasts. It was also the first place I’ve had a GOOD burger in this country (sorry New Zealand, you’ve got a lot of things going for you but just can’t do a hamburger like we do), so that definitely swayed me in the city’s favor. If you go there, make it a point to stop by Fergburger. It’ll be busy, but don’t worry; they move quickly and it is worth the wait! While most of the places we stopped were pretty quiet since it is the off season for South Island travel, Queenstown was bustling from morning until midnight. We spent two days there, and the group split up to do various things: skiing, hiking, wandering around the city, and for a few of us, bungy jumping
This past week was extremely fun, yet tiring. I met so many international students and learned so much about Mexican culture. Los jovenes les gusta la musica reggae y beben mucho tequila. Mexicans definitely know how to have fun and they love to party. Just in the first week there were so many parties that I couldn’t even keep count of. I only went out once because partying isn’t really my scene, but they definitely went hard! We were in a party bus then went to one club after another, ALL FOR FREE! How crazy is that? They treated us like family. The students here are so nice to us, and it makes me feel very comfortable. They are always willing to help us, to speak to us, and to just be a great resource/friend. I have had many conversations with native speakers, and I feel like I am already getting better at holding a conversation. Yesterday I went to watch wrestling, se llama “La Lucha Libre” en Espanol, and it was so funny. Getting to see something like WWE live has always been a dream, so that was very fun. My classes are extremely fun, and I cannot wait to learn more and understand more. Lastly, this past weekend we went to Angelopolis, it’s like a mall area, and we rode the ferris wheel. I had a great time being in the city, but soon we will be taking more trips. I can’t wait!
During my time abroad I visited Madrid, Spain. I was in awe of the beautiful landmarks in Madrid as well as in its surrounding cities. Downtown Madrid has so many historic buildings and statues that I was lucky enough to see like El Oso y el Madroño. I also enjoyed that I could speak in Spanish with the locals which helped me find more places to visit. After visiting downtown Madrid I went to Toledo which is the former capital city of Spain. It has many medieval buildings and it is also fortified. After visiting Toledo I also took a trip to Segovia which is home to a former royal palace and a Roman aqueduct. Spain is a great place to visit as it has a lot of history and beauty. I would tell anyone going to Europe to make a stop in Spain!
During my time in Denmark, I took a day trip to Copenhagen with friends I made in my course. We took a bus and then ferry to Copenhagen which is the most affordable method of transportation for students! During our time in Copenhagen, we visited Nikolaj church, the Little Mermaid statue, and we took a boat tour. We did not plan anything before we went so everything we did was spontaneous and it was so much fun. I recommend a trip to Copenhagen to any student studying abroad.
Another social activity I participated in was a trip to the old town located in central Aarhus. The old town is an open air museum that opened in 1914. It is a museum of urban history and culture that even has original homes from the 1860’s. It was a beautiful museum that taught me a lot about Aarhus and its people.