Trip Reflection: Humility (6/28/18)

This entire trip has taught me so many things that I don’t even know where to start. I am so glad my mind was open to many different things, and I learned an abundance of materials to utilize and take back home. The main thing I feel like this trip helped me develop is becoming more humble. It’s very hard in life not to have a moment to think about yourself, but when you only have a group of people to trust and look after, you began to become selfless. This experience taught me that it isn’t about me, it’s about the group. For example; though I may have been exhausted during some part of the trip, i needed to push through for my group or if someone needed something, I would give it without hesitation. This allowed me to learn how to truly put others first because we needed to take care of one another.

There were so many things that Italians do differently than Americans, such as walking everywhere or saving electricity so the lights aren’t used when we aren’t at home. I took a lot of these things for granted just because of me being close minded and privileged. This trip made me humble myself and realize my privilege. I couldn’t just hop in a car and drive down the street to a grocery store, or I couldn’t leave my computer in my room to charge when I’m not there, and I realized that it’s okay. Cars affect the environment and so does the electricity and the economy, but I never realized that in American because I didn’t care to look at the overall picture. I saw so many people without homes, so much poverty, and it broke my heart. It really made me realize that even though I may not have much, there’s always someone who has it worst, so you give. I tried my best to give to those in need because I believe if you can do it, then do it. After many times I find myself being ungrateful, I have to remind myself of my privilege.

This trip made me develop my mentality to thinking of things as an opportunity and not an obligation. When we’d go to these incredible places, walking miles, tired, and thirsty, we still got the opportunity to do this and that is rare. When you think of things as an obligation, you began to think negatively and forget the value of that thing. I was blessed to have experienced everything, and grew more humble through the experience. I got the OPPORTUNITY to go to Sienna, I got the OPPORTUNITY to see beautiful art, and I got the OPPORTUNITY to be here because people were selfless and gave to me, so my debt is to mirror that image and be selfless in the world. No one is perfect, and I am still a work in progress, but this trip definitely allowed me to diminish myself and enlarge others. What an amazing time<3


Farewell Rome (6/27/18)

Today was our last day in Rome, and it was a sad, but joyous day. It was so cool to reflex on this experience and see how close I got to people, without even thinking I would. Today was so fun because we got to see the Colosseum and the Forum. Walking around Rome one last time was bitter sweet because i honestly grew to really like Rome, despite its busy city and crowded area. It was so interesting to learn about the Colosseum, and its rich history. Learning about the morbid things that happened in the Colosseum were fascinated, yet disturbing because it was insane how people could be treated that way just because they were different.

There were dog fights, boxing matches, animals mauling humans, and more that went on in the Colosseum. They didn’t have the bottom of the arena cover up, so we were able to see where the animals and prisoners were kept underneath the Colosseum. The seating arrangements were interesting, starting with the first level being the most important emperors and superior, next was the senate, the third level were for Roman citizens, the the fourth was for everyone else. The ones closest to the arena (the emperor) were the ones with the most power over what’s going on in the arena, or who called the shots. It wasn’t what I expected for some reason, and I think it was just because the bottom part was open and didn’t have sand covering it.

We then went to go see the Forum, and that was pretty cool. Honestly, by this time, my feet were killing me so I was kind of checked out. For the most part, I was listening and I learned that the Forum is the center of Rome and that it also had buildings with different purposes, like a senate chamber, treasury, and more. To end the day, we had our farewell dinner, and it was so sad. I’m truly going to miss everyone. This was such an incredible experience, and I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. I almost teared up a little when everyone was giving their speeches. Lastly, It made me happy to see and hear people talk about their growth, and I can’t wait to see what PCS can bring back to Norman to make a change. Chao! Italy for life!!!!!!!!!!!


Farewell Rome (6/27/18)

Today was our last day in Rome, and it was a sad, but joyous day. It was so cool to reflex on this experience and see how close I got to people, without even thinking I would. Today was so fun because we got to see the Colosseum and the Forum. Walking around Rome one last time was bitter sweet because i honestly grew to really like Rome, despite its busy city and crowded area. It was so interesting to learn about the Colosseum, and its rich history. Learning about the morbid things that happened in the Colosseum were fascinated, yet disturbing because it was insane how people could be treated that way just because they were different.

There were dog fights, boxing matches, animals mauling humans, and more that went on in the Colosseum. They didn’t have the bottom of the arena cover up, so we were able to see where the animals and prisoners were kept underneath the Colosseum. The seating arrangements were interesting, starting with the first level being the most important emperors and superior, next was the senate, the third level were for Roman citizens, the the fourth was for everyone else. The ones closest to the arena (the emperor) were the ones with the most power over what’s going on in the arena, or who called the shots. It wasn’t what I expected for some reason, and I think it was just because the bottom part was open and didn’t have sand covering it.

We then went to go see the Forum, and that was pretty cool. Honestly, by this time, my feet were killing me so I was kind of checked out. For the most part, I was listening and I learned that the Forum is the center of Rome and that it also had buildings with different purposes, like a senate chamber, treasury, and more. To end the day, we had our farewell dinner, and it was so sad. I’m truly going to miss everyone. This was such an incredible experience, and I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. I almost teared up a little when everyone was giving their speeches. Lastly, It made me happy to see and hear people talk about their growth, and I can’t wait to see what PCS can bring back to Norman to make a change. Chao! Italy for life!!!!!!!!!!!


When in Rome (6/26/18)

Today was the day we’ve all been waiting for: miles of walking. I didn’t believe it would have been bad until I took the journey myself. I really do love to walk and run, but when there’s so many people and too much commotion going on around you, it gets very hot and overwhelming. Rome is so packed, it’s ridiculous, so I was always on the edge about my stuff. The walk to the Vatican Museum was so long, but totally worth it. On our way there, we made a few stops and one of those stops had to be the Museo Frati Cappuccini Cripta Ossario. This Museum was so cool because it had a hall of bones. We also saw the San Rocco Di Montpellier sculpture, momentos, and Cappuchos (a tunic with a hood).

The Hall of Bones was so neat because the bones were in different sections and were neatly organized to look momentous to the viewers. It was a very symbolic area that represented the many lives lost because the mortality rate was so high, death was and still is inevitable. As Kirk said it best, “No matter how much we try to control our own world, death will always have the last laugh.” The Hall of Bones had a very powerful message behind it, and that’s why I liked it so much. After that, we continued our adventure to the Vatican Museum. It was incredible to see how popular this site was due to the extremely long lines, but also crazy because of the wait. These vendors that kept walking by to sell stuff were so persistent, it was insane.

The Vatican Museum was absolutely amazing. It was huge, beautiful, symbolic, and so much more. We saw a lot of things from the Laocoon sculpture to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Losing Her Son sculpture. Before the Vatican, we saw many fountains that you could drink from! I was so shocked because I felt like that would’ve been very gross to drink from, but Kirk said they’re actually the cleanest water in the city, so I gave it a try. It was actually really good and cold too. I just hope that doesn’t cause any complications later down the road, haha. To end the night, we had a family PCS dinner at this amazing restaurant, with the best service ever, then all of PCS went out for a fun night at a lounge. It was Karaoke night, and you know we blew that stage up. I’m truly going to miss these nights.


Les Vacances, part 2

After leaving Leo and his lovely family behind in Bordeaux, I took a series of planes to Rome to meet Ariel and Madison, who had been traveling together in Italy while I was still in France. They’d gone to Venice, Milan, and Florence and finally had spent one-and-a-half days in Rome. My flight had been severely delayed, by hours in fact. In Rome, you have to take a train from the airport to the actual city. My friends were originally going to meet me at the station, but since my flight was so late, they went to the nearby mall to waste time in Victoria’s Secret.

I’ve never travelled abroad before, and so I didn’t understand the importance of light packing. There’s a reason people “backpack” through Europe, instead of “two-pieces of luggage-ing” through Europe. The whole continent is basically made for pedestrians, at least the high-traffic tourist-y areas which we were determined to see. So, carrying both a full duffel bag and a full backpack through the narrow, uneven, crowded streets of Rome at 9pm was a horrific struggle. Still, I huffed and puffed and kept up as best I could as they filled me in on the horrible bunk-mates they’d encountered at their previous hostels and led me to an authentic Italian restaurant. I was a little nervous because I still had all my luggage, but the owner was nice about it.

We had a four-course meal for a very reasonable price. Appetizers, an entrée, desert, and coffee—though there was a little mix up/translation issue with the entrée. It had been translated into English, but the translation said “scallops” but we were served chicken. Which was delicious, but I think they meant “escalloped” which is a method of slicing chicken. So, we were kind of shocked when we didn’t get any seafood. No matter, everything was still great.

After that, Ariel and Madison led me to the hostel, where I had to rent a towel for 2 euros because despite filling both my backpack and duffel bag, I had neglected to bring a towel. This was also my first time in a hostel, and I don’t know what I was expecting. It was like camp sort of—four bunk beds, eight girls, and one small bathroom. At the risk of sounding “other” I’ve never had to share a bathroom with white people before. I never realized how much stray hair they produced, especially since with was all over the walls and floor and shelves. It was super gross, to be honest, but I guess they can’t really help it. After a shower, I took a while getting dressed—mostly because I refused to try to dress in that damp, claustrophobic, hairy bathroom so I had to hide my nudity from the other girls by hunching over and turning my back. I don’t have a problem being naked in front of other women, since it’s not like there are any surprises, but I’ve learned that other women are sometimes super weird about it. This was honestly the worst twelve hours of my spring break, because not only did I not get to see Rome (besides the restaurant and train station, of course) but we had to catch a 3am flight to Greece the next day. Therefore, having arrived at the hostel and gotten ready for bed around 11:30pm, we had time for what basically amounted to a nap before we had to wake up and book it to the train station, so that we could catch a 6am flight to Athens.

I took forever to wake up, because I’d travelled all day, had a large dinner and only 3 hours of sleep. But we made it to the airport in time for our flight, early in fact, and our arrival in Athens went off without a hitch. I was stupidly shocked to see actual Greek letters, and hear people speaking Greek. It’s such a niche language—I’ve never heard anyone speaking Greek outside of Greece, and again, it’s one of those countries where most people have a pretty good handle on English (at least in Athens, one of the metropolises). I carried my heavy duffel bag through the city and vowed to never take more than a backpack anywhere in Europe again. We arrived at the hostel, and after the last hostel I was skeptical, mostly because I hadn’t known anything about our lodgings—Ariel and Madison just sent me links to the hostels and flights, and I booked it. But the Athens hostel was beautiful—huge windows, a giant bathroom for the floor, a balcony, plus free breakfast.

On our first afternoon, which thanks to the 6am flight was also the day we arrived, we explored markets and had lunch. Greece, despite its economic problems in recent years, is a country where a little money goes a long way. Or perhaps the cost-effective nature of the place is due to its recent fiscal struggles. Either way, the travel to Greece can be pricey, but once you’re there the prices are not only low, but everything’s negotiable. Then we went to a cooking class that we saw on a flyer at the hostel. We learned how to make dolmas, which is rice, meat, and herbs wrapped in grape leaves and steamed, roasted eggplant, tzatsiki sauce, and a chocolate-ice cream-graham cracker dessert made with masticha liquor (very strong, very sweet, guaranteed hangover if you drink it straight). We met a cute older Canadian couple who’d immigrated to the Netherlands, and a brother and sister on “holiday” from Manchester, England. It was very nice, and our chef even emailed us the recipes when we were done.

The next day, we went to all the historic sites of Greece, which was a huge treat for me. We went to the Arch of Hadrian, then the Acropolis Museum and then we climbed the Acropolis. I don’t generally enjoy climbing or physical activity of any sort, but it was so worth it to see the view, the Theater of Dionysus, and the Temple of Athena Nike. In addition to my International Studies major, I’m also a Letters major—mostly because I’m interested in history and its effects on the present. The Greek and Roman civilizations are not only iconic, but they’ve had an incredible impact on Western civilization, from philosophy to entertainment to government. It was amazing to just stand where hundreds of Greeks stood, making pilgrimage to the temple at the top of the hill—though I doubt they had to pay ten euros just to climb it. I don’t think that my friends were having the same reaction that I was, mostly because they don’t have as keen an interest in history as I do. Madison is an Engineering major, and Ariel is a French Lit major. I just stood there taking in the view and tried to imagine what it looked like back when it was first built. I nearly cried, just to be touched by so much history.

After that, we went out to lunch and somehow managed to find a restaurant that tourists know nothing about. We were commended on our choice of restaurant by three older women from Israel. Lunch costed 4 euros, and it was both filling and delicious. Unfortunately, it then began to rain, and we decided to try to wait it out in our hostel. Once the rain stopped, we went shopping. Silver is one mineral that is apparently plentiful in Greece, so we were able to get authentic silver jewelry for far cheaper than we could have bought it anywhere else. I bought a ring with the Greek “meander”—the iconic square-ish swirl pattern. Then I bought presents for my sister and my friends and I bought “friendship bracelets” with the evil eye. After dinner, we decided to have a calming girls night. We found a make-up store, bought masks and nail polish, then wandered around looking for a bottle of wine. That was one of my favorite nights, just laughing at stupid jokes and planning our next day in detail like it was a life and death scenario. We made fun of each others’ accents (I’m from Texas, so they pointed out that I say ‘y’all’ more often than I’d like to admit; Madison, despite living in Tulsa her whole life has a touch of a Valley girl accent; and Ariel, of course, is Canadian, so we laughed about her pronunciation of ‘about’ and ‘garage’).

The next day, we went to Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Roman Agora, the National Gardens and the Temple of Hephaestus. It sounds like a lot, but most of these sites were right next to each other. After lunch at the same hole-in-the-wall restaurant from the day before, we shopped some more then took a cab to a bus station. We were trying to go to the Temple of Poseidon, which is on a cliff far from Athens’ city center. We caught the bus on time, despite being very confused about where it would pick us up and wondering if we had time for a quick bathroom break.

The Temple of Poseidon was our last stop. We were taking a plane out the next morning, and I have to say: the gorgeous sunset, a centuries old temple at our back and the expanse of ocean before us—it was 100% worth it.



Les Vacances, part 1

Spring break in France was amazing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had two weeks off, rather than the standard one week in the United States. Frankly, I didn’t know what to do with so much free time. But I’ve always been something of a homebody, I prefer to amuse myself with reading, drawing, watching Netflix. I can be just as entertained in my pajamas as I can be dressed to the nines and out with a group. So, for the first week of my spring break, which were simply known as les vacances, I did absolutely nothing.

Of course, I did somethings—like catching up on commissions for my tattoo design business and watching American series’ that I’d fallen behind on since arriving in Europe. I finished Artemis, a sci-fi/futuristic novel about a colony on the moon. I actually Facetimed my parents, which I have been neglecting—partially because of the time difference, partially because either party is always busy, and partially because I just hate Facetime. I slept as late as I wanted, left my shutters closed all day and had a movie marathon of cult-classics that I’d always wanted to watch but never had time to, like Trainspotting and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was sinfully relaxed, especially because there were a few minor projects that I was to complete during the break. But I figured I could simply leave them for the next week.

This would turn out to be a mistake because the second week of les vacances was to be dedicated to traveling.

Leo is my friend who spent a semester in Norman, right before I came to France for my semester abroad. He lives in Bordeaux and insisted that I come to see him once I arrived. I promised I would and booked travel accommodations both to spend time with he and his family, and to meet my friends Madison and Ariel in Athens, Greece for the second half of the week. I took a bus to Bordeaux, where Leo and his mother Isabelle met me. His mother took my bags in their car back to their apartment, and Leo showed me around Bordeaux. He was really excited to see me, and I was glad that he was. The last thing anyone wants is to go half-way around the world to see a friend and have nothing to say to them.

We walked around, crossed a bridge over the river that splits the city in half. He talked about a few pubs that he’d visited with his friends, told me stories of places he’d gone with his family. He insisted that we take the boat back to the main part of the city, where the old ports, theaters, and restaurants are. Even though the boat was nearly an hour late, we waited and talked. He insisted on speaking English, which was both a relief and a little frustrating for me. I think that coming to America to practice English is probably the same, but in a different way. In Europe enough people speak English that if you find yourself unable to speak French, German, Spanish, or whatever, you can still usually accomplish your goal. But in the United States, so few people speak a second language that you have no choice but to struggle through your English until an understanding is reached. But Leo said that he was losing his ability to speak English, and he wanted to practice.

We took the ferry back to town, and Leo showed me the old Roman theater, the opera house, the fountain that commemorates the end of World War II and Germany’s occupation in France. He showed me the three-story indoor-outdoor mall, Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant, and his favorite kebab shop, where we got dinner. We took the bus out to the suburbs, and I don’t know why I never thought of there being suburbs in France. Probably because no one ever talks about the ‘burbs in well-known cities like Paris or Bordeaux. We arrived at his apartment building around midnight, and everything worked out perfectly because Leo’s younger brother, Hugo, was spending the break in Amsterdam, so I was able to sleep in his room.

A quick sweep of Hugo’s room showed me that if I ever met him, he and I would be great friends—assuming I would be able to communicate with him. Fact is, I would live in Hugo’s room. He had posters of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, a record player with Nina Simone still under the needle, his ‘wallpaper’ were stills from American movie classics like ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Thelma and Louise.’ His books, scattered all over the desk, were French translations of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Plato’s Republic, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; there was a three-tiered chessboard on the bookshelf. I felt right at home.

The next morning, we woke up incredibly early because Leo and his mother wanted to show me the Basque country, or Le Pays-Basque. It was during the car ride that I realized Leo and his family are communist, as we sang lots of songs about ‘the people’ on the way. I tend toward more socialist political ideology myself, so I wasn’t concerned, just surprised that they didn’t have a hint of shame when telling me their political views. We drove to a hotel that Isabelle is able to stay in for free, thanks to her job in French government. They simply had to call ahead a few days in advance and schedule their stay. It was a nice hotel, with a view of the ocean. It occurred to me that it was the first time that I’d seen the Atlantic from the other side.

We explored Basque-country and it was beautiful. The ocean, the large ornate buildings on the waterfront, the little shops selling unique wines, artisan chocolates, and dainty porcelain souvenirs. We had crêpes for lunch, and then I bought a hand-painted thimble for my grandmother, who was seamstress. We then had dinner at the home of Pascal, who was a comrade of Isabelle and her husband. I learned that Leo’s parents, alongside Pascal, were communist protestors who fought against the French and Spanish government for the liberation of Basque country. Pascal had even gone to jail once in the name of independence. Now, though, he is a professor with a swanky home full of authentic African statues and masques, a living room (which is the only one I’ve seen in any of my friend’s French apartments), and reggae music in various languages pouring out of every window. He cooked dinner for us, which was delicious, and poured us glasses of champagne, which he kept full. I thought it was very generous of him, especially since champagne is such a luxurious item in the United States. Only later when Pascal popped the fifth bottle without hesitation that champagne might be much cheaper and more plentiful in France.

There were six other people there, who were also once soldiers for Basque independence, and they hadn’t seen Leo since he returned from the United States. They asked him lots of questions, and then they turned to me. They asked me about universities in the States, and when I told them that many students go into insurmountable debt in an attempt to better themselves and earn a fighting chance to find meaningful employment. They all looked so shocked and I was just insanely jealous of the incredulity. For us, it’s a harsh reality. For them, it’s unthinkable.

The next day, we drove to Spain. And there was no border checkpoint, and hardly any signage. They simply tuned down Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe and said: “We’re in Spain now.” It was a small town that we went to, with a big, beautiful, domed church. We went to a cave that doubled as both a natural formation and a burial place for las brujas, women who were burned alive for being “witches.” It was gorgeous, enough to override any lingering creepiness that you’d think would come from such a place. That night they found out that I’d neglected to eat several quintessential French foods, like rillettes du canard, which basically a duck that’s been condensed into a can. It was surprisingly good.

The next day we went back to Spain, this time to a beach-town. We had tapas and wrote our names in the sand; Isabelle bought me so many snacks, drinks, and trinkets that I felt like I belonged to her. I told her as much, and she gladly said that she would be my maman, my ‘French mother.’ Apparently, I’m the daughter she never had. When we drove back to Bordeaux that same afternoon, we found that Leo’s father had returned from a business trip to Paris and had cooked dinner for us. Roasted chicken, foie gras, and a good Bordeaux wine. Leo said that he and his father had been planning the dinner for me for the past week, and that they wanted to make sure that I had the best that Bordeaux had to offer. I was so touched at how welcome they made me, and I was so glad to have met Leo at OU.

He showed me around Bordeaux for my last night and took me to the roof of one of the colleges at the University of Bordeaux—which I don’t think was strictly legal, but I got a lovely photo out of it anyway. Then I met some of his friends, and we went for drinks throughout the city for my last night. Even Leo’s friends were kind and inviting, and even though I didn’t understand all the French slang that passed between them, they would see my confusion and try to slow down, or sometimes switch to English all together. I had to field a few questions about Trump, which always sucks, but in the end, I was so happy to have gone.

The next morning, Leo and Isabelle took me to the airport to catch the series of flights that would take me to Rome to reunite with my friends before going to Athens. Isabelle told me to come back and see her before I returned to America, and I agreed to try. She kissed my cheeks and gave me a pain au chocolat—which is apparently known as a chocolatine in certain regions of France—and Leo handed me my bags. He waved and promised to tell me if he ever came back to the U.S., and I promised to meet him (if he wasn’t too far from wherever I end up, since flights in the States are not like Europe, where you can fly to a totally different country for the same price it takes to fly over three states.)

I hefted my duffel bag and headed off toward my next adventure.


Siena and Rome (6/25/18)

After a long and relaxing day yesterday, we woke up early today to leave behind Arezzo forever and head to Rome for our final days in Italy. The best thing, however, is that I and a couple of other people were selected to do the extended stay, helping at a kids camp in Arezzo, so I’ll be seeing Arezzo soon again. I am excited that I get the opportunity to stay a little longer and serve the kids. Our trip to Siena was about an hour and a half long and as soon as we got there, I fell in love. The city was so clean, the air was fresh, it wasn’t as crowded, and it was overall just a beautiful city. The only bad thing was that it was so sunny and beautiful at first, and then it started to rain so bad, so we couldn’t really enjoy the city as much. We also tried some really good pizza and sandwich places that was definitely worth the money.

The first place we explored was the Basilica Cateriniana Di San Domenico, and it was so amazing. Kirk talked about how Mary became this idol to many people through her path of Christ. Virgin Mary defied all the things that women were suppose to do and followed the path that Christ was leading her. She denied marrying a man and instead said she was married to Christ, she made herself look less than herself, starved herself, became a nun, and performed miracles through the works of Christ. She was an ambassador to speak for us through God. I learned that Roman Catholics pray to Christ and Virgin Mary, but venerate relics, which are evidences of a divine hero on earth. Way back when, Siena was losing a battle and the only hope the soldiers had was to pray to Virgin Mary, which brought them to victory. After that, Virgin Mary became the Queen of Heaven and of Siena and was worshiped greatly.

After learning so much about the Duomo in Siena, we had a little free time where I bought a gift for my aunt. We finally left to get out of the rain and headed to Rome. After like four hours, we made it to our hotels, and they were so beautiful and spacious. Rome is such a big and crowded city, so I’m a little nervous, but I think it will be a fun experience. We went to dinner together, and it was so good to have everyone together laughing and having a good time. We were informed that we’re doing a lot of walking tomorrow, so we have to be prepared. I’m very anxious to see what’s to come and to make the best out of these last days with everyone here.


Free Day: Viareggio Beach (6/24/18)

Today was such an exciting day because I was finally getting able to go to the beach. I’ve only been to the beach once in my life, and it was when I was younger, so I wasn’t able to fully understand an experience like that. This was a once and a lifetime experience that I didn’t want to miss out on. We woke up early to catch the trains and surprisingly from there and back the train process was smooth and easy. No one was left, and we made it safe and on time. When we got to Viareggio, the town was very pretty and tranquil. I loved all the palm trees and beach vibes because it was so soothing. The beach was so pretty, and so was the areas that we sat in.

It was so funny because the first thing we did was go take pictures. It was like we were having our own personal photo shoot. The people kept starring at us, smiling, because we were taking so many pictures. Eventually, we wanted to enjoy the moment, so we tried hard to stay off of our phones and interact with one another. The water was so cold and a pretty blue color. The view of the mountains from the ocean was so beautiful that we kept wanting to take pictures with the view in the back. I couldn’t help but stare out into the ocean thinking about what amazing opportunity I just embarked on. After awhile, a few of us went to eat and man that place was incredible. One thing Italy never fails at is having delicious and juicy watermelon, and I ate a lot of it.

The best part about this trip was just being in the moment and enjoying good vibes. It was very peaceful to just sit and relax without any worries in the world. It felt good to lay down and forget about responsibilities for once, to be stress free, and to treat yourself. I feel like everyone truly deserved a day like this from everyone’s hard work and dedication to PCS. It was a beautiful moment to be around everyone, joking around and getting closer. With the chill music in the background, the sun beating down on my skin, and the breeze blowing, I thought about nothing but myself and the moment. It felt good to think about your own peace of mind. Overall, today was a much needed and relaxing day.


Guide to Being a Student at the City University of Hong Kong: First Two Weeks


What to Pack:

Having been to China before, I can tell you that when you are packing, only pack your luggage 85% full. I say this because you would not believe the amount of things you are going to want to buy while you are in Hong Kong. They have clothes that are like $10 in US dollars! It is also difficult to not be tempted to buy souvenirs for families and friends. There are a lot of cute things that you can bring back. Only bring one carry on item with you. Put the larger luggage under the plane, but make sure it under 50 pounds so that you do not have to pay for it. When you are in Hong Kong, you can buy another purse or backpack to fit more of your stuff when you come back! Pack enough clothes to wear for a week and bring a swimsuit for when you feel like you want to relax at a beach. Bring two towels, one for the shower and one for the beach, although I suppose you can just buy a cheap towel when you arrive. Don’t worry about bringing school stuff; the stationary available here is amazing. Please pack an umbrella, you may or may not get drenched when you walk outside the airport, luckily I was not. I also bought a video camera and a Polaroid for this trip. You only get to travel out of the country so many times, am I right? Bring an ethernet cable that is at least 2 meters long that can be plugged into your laptop, trust me it will save your life. Also, do not forget that Hong Kong does not have the same outlets at the US, you can choose to buy one before getting there, or you can go to the Computer Arcade in Sham Shui Po and get it for CHEAPER. I am assuming that people know to bring their own essentials, but hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Bring light bedding and maybe a pillow because there will not be any in your dorm.


What to Expect/Do:

I was having a lot of troubles with deadlines. Make sure you read the emails carefully and ask a lot of questions. Almost every required document of mine was late. And although I will take responsibility for some of them, there were definitely some forms that were unclear. When they send you the email after you got your acceptance letter, do the Hong Kong visa application immediately and pay for it then too because it will impede your approval. Get your Residence Hall accepted by the University by going into your AIMS account. They should have told you how to log in to that. Pay the Residence Hall bill immediately, this is harder to find, so you may have to ask your advisor. Email the department that you want the credit to be transferred to so that you know you will get credit for those classes. You also need to fill out an EVF form and bring it the Academic Office once you get through the first week or so because OU needs that to confirm your course Equivalency. The form can be found on the education abroad website. Pay for insurance, I did not know how to until they told me I was late on it and then sent me the email for it, so ask your advisor. Print off everything that the City University of Hong Kong sends you if you think it is important, like your acceptance letter and the paper from your approved student visa sticker.




About to Land

What to Expect/Do:

The plane ride, depending on who you fly with, usually offers television and food. I would suggest buying some food at the airport before you departure in case you get the munchies. Also grab a water bottle or energy drink. Unless you would like to sleep, maybe consider taking some sleeping medication to help with the long flight. To be honest, I was falling in and out of sleep the entire flight. If you have never been on a long flight before, let me tell you that flights get crazy cold. You are up at high elevation and you will be freezing, so either pack a sweater/hoodie/jacket in your personal bag or wear it when you leave for the airport. If you get cold easy, bring two just in case. It also helps to bring two because the pillows are not the best so you might want to use the other one as a pillow too.



Arrival in Hong Kong / Departure from Airport to University

What to Expect/Do:

Walking Off the Airplane

No matter what time of the day it is, you will be walking into humidity. I hope you are not wearing jeans because they’ll suffocate you and make you feel disgusting. Grab your things and walk towards the Immigration gates. They are in the same direction as the baggage claim. Read the signs before going through and do not go with the crowd, most people are local and do not have to go through Immigration. Once you get to the Immigration Officer, have your Passport ready and turned to the page with your Hong Kong STUDENT visa. I saw this girl get a hold on her account at the Academic Office because she got the wrong paper at Immigration. They told her that she needed to ask for a student visa slip. After Immigration, you should first know what number your baggage claim station is and then head towards it, but stop by an ATM and pull out some cash. After grabbing a sufficient amount of cash, have enough for the Taxi which is almost HK$235, but have extra just in case. Get some instructions to grab an Octopus Card. It is HK$50 for the card itself and HK$100 minimum for the first time on the card. Hong Kong uses this card for everything, not just the modes of transportation. Head towards the taxi area, you are on an island, but you do not need to take the ferry. Take the red urban taxi and show them the address of your residence hall or the security office for the residence halls on your phone or on paper. Sometimes they talk to you, sometimes they do not.


Arrival to University

What to Expect/Do:

You will be taken to the front of all the residence halls that has a security office by the entrance. Go to the security office and show them your passport and the copy of your Residence Hall. They will ask you to fill out some paperwork, which is pretty simple, but your paper does not tell you which bed you have if you are living in a double room. Take #1, just in case you beat your dorm mate, but if not take #2 and all of the furniture in the dorm with whatever number you have is yours and your responsibility. I did not have my Student ID at the time, but you need the Student ID to get into your dorm. However, since I got there on a weekend, they said I had to knock on the residence hall door and show them my passport. Sometimes he/she will have you write down your name and room number. Show them your residence key if that helps. You share a bathroom with another room, but the dorms are nice to live in. The common area has a shared fridge and cooking equipment, but use with caution. You never know how clean the stuff actually is. There is WiFi in the common area, but there is no WiFi in your room. The login for the main WiFi across campus is your EID login information. There is a site that you need to use to register your WiFi, you can potentially get that part done before you get there, but it might be wrong until you get to your dorm. You need the Ethernet IP address in your room for you to register to get WiFi. It takes a working regular day for the WiFi to work if your IP address was rightly inputted. Ask your IFC buddy to give you the site for WiFi. There is no bedding, nor is there a pillow on your twin size mattress. It is hot in your room, so use your Octopus card on the First Floor and pay for it. It’s not that much.

Laundry is generally on the last floor of the building. For mine, I went all the way up and there was nothing there. It turns out that the laundry room is out the door that says do not push unless of an emergency. Push the door, but not the sign and you will find your way outside and see a greenhouse type place on the roof. That is the laundry room. Apparently there is a small gym on one of the floors, but you can ask the secure officer which one.

When you are trying to go find food after you have settled in to your dorm. First look at the options on the CityU website. Look at a close map of the campus. Nearly every single academic building is connected to one another. I knew them by name, but everyone seems to use the abbreviated names for them. Go towards the city area. There should be a bridge connecting to the campus from the residential halls. Look around and venture off. You will need to find ways to get back to your dorm easily and being the most indoors. Trust me the heat will get to you. There is a gate that will sometimes be closed on the bridge (midnight to maybe 7 in the morning), but you can exit the dorms through a button on the right side. If you are trying to enter the dorms, use your student ID. Be warn that buildings are closed at 11 p.m. unless there is a space that is open 24 hours for studying then that one little area will have doors for you to enter. I say this because you’ll have to walk uphill outside in the humidity and you will be wondering if it is worth it to walk all the way up. There are escalators and lifts in and out of the buildings. The entire campus is almost shut off if it is a holiday.

If you are trying to go an event outside of campus, bring your passport. This may be one of the only times you truly need to have it with you. A lot of clubs and such require ID by passport, but I have heard a Driver’s License is acceptable. I would check up on that one though.



The food on campus is actually decent and really cheap. However, you will get sick of it. Not everything is great. You can try it out if you like, but their roast duck and chicken are pretty good. I use and abuse the fact that the MTR is so cheap to go around and try quality Hong Kong food for cheap prices. Use OpenRice; it is generally pretty accurate and you can probably find a menu. Festival Walk across the street has some great options too, but a lot of their food is pretty expensive for one person. Bring friends with you to eat at those places. There is a grocery store (Taste) in Festival Walk if you need to bring snacks back to your dorm. Although keep in mind, you live up a hill and you should have a backpack to put the stuff in because you will have to pay a very small fee for every bag you want. Grocery bags cost money here. Any bags cost money here. Shopping has the same idea. Please try different things and look places up! However, I will have a food blog up soon. There is also a boiler in the kitchen, so you can grab some ramen just in case you do not feel like exiting the comfort of your dorm when it is raining cats and dogs outside.

View of an Academic Building from Festival Walk. Residence Halls are the blue and white tall buildings in the background.

I Get Around: Transportation Abroad (and a Beach Boys Song)

How do I love thee, tarjeta transporte? Let me count the ways…

If you didn’t know, I am currently in the middle of a six week trip to Spain studying abroad in a city near Madrid called Alcalá de Henares. There are a few things that I’ve found or learned since I arrived that have made a HUGE difference in my experience, especially related to traveling within Spain so I wanted to compile a list of some of them in the hopes that they might be helpful to someone else. I know that before my trip I spent weeks scouring the internet for anything and everything related to travelling or studying in Europe/Spain, and even after that I still feel like there was a lot that I missed. So, without further ado, here are my biggest recommendations for getting around in España.


Most cities in Europe, especially in Spain, have some sort of transportation pass for students under the age of 26 that allows you unlimited access to the public transportation system for one month. In the Madrid area the tarjeta transporte gives you free rides on the city buses, the metro, and the train. It costs 4 euros for the card and 20 to charge it for the month and in my 3 weeks here I have gotten my money’s worth at least 5 times over. (For instance, one round trip on the train from Alcalá to Atocha, one of the biggest stations in Madrid, costs around 8 euro. I’ve made that trip at least 10 times now, and that doesn’t even factor in the money I’ve saved on my trips on the bus and the metro). It has made traveling back and forth between cities and within Madrid such a breeze for me. Also, the public transportation in Spain is actually wonderfully clear and well-run. It’s easy enough for even the most clueless of travelers to figure out where they need to go before they miss the next train. And that leads me into my next piece of advice:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help

People, for the most part, are generally good and helpful. And when you’re in a country you’ve never been to trying to navigate trains and buses and confusing streets and strange buildings, someone who knows the area can be a huge help in setting you on the right path. I don’t know how many times I would have walked for miles in the wrong direction, hopped on the wrong train, or stood around helplessly for hours if I hadn’t decided to ask someone for help. It can save so much time finding a friendly face to tell you that you need to take the C-10 train to make your connection to the bus station (which is actually just now pulling into the station so you’d better sprint if you want to catch it), or that the cell phone store is actually completely opposite of the way you’ve been walking aimlessly when your foreign SIM card has locked you out of your phone (again). I’ve asked people on the street, popped into stores or restaurants to ask workers, and even stopped and chatted with a couple police officers; across the board, everyone I’ve talked to has been amicable and extremely helpful. And even though I’m not great with strangers and don’t particularly like asking for help, it has made a big enough difference that I don’t even hesitate to do it now.

  • Use the language (or learn it!)

I love languages. Like, LOOOOVE them. So for me, being able to use what I’ve learned over 6 years of Spanish classes in the real world to communicate with people is just awesome. I don’t think my experience would be even half as beneficial and memorable if I didn’t have the ability to hold conversations with store owners and neighbors and people on the bus, learning about their lives and their country and their culture directly from them. It has also made my relationship with my host family much stronger than that of some of the other students who don’t speak as much Spanish. The ability to talk about topics that go beyond surface level, or even just to be able to make jokes with each other has allowed us to become more comfortable around each other and form a solid relationship. Plus, the vocabulary I learned in the classroom is nothing like the words I’ve needed in real life, and if I hadn’t come here I never would have known how much I was missing by only using the language in the classroom.

But even if you travel to another country with a beginner’s level or no knowledge at all of the language, learning it while you’re there can still make a huge difference. For the most part, people respect that you’re trying to learn and use their language and will help you out if you’re struggling. It’s also a sign that you respect them enough to try to speak to them in their language. Plus, the best way to learn a language is by immersion. What better way to become immersed in a language than by travelling to a place that speaks it and learning from natives in a real-world setting?

  • Find people to travel with, but also do stuff on your own

Meeting new people in a country you don’t know can be slightly terrifying. But finding a group of friendly faces who also love traveling and are excited to go see places and experience new things can really enrich your trip. Having people to explore the city and take weekend trips with, or even just having a group to go to a restaurant or the bar for a night of talking and laughing instead of sitting at home has made my experience a lot more fun and helped me to feel more comfortable here. But I also spent last weekend alone in Valencia after I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t already have plans, and it was honestly amazing. I didn’t have to depend on or wait for anyone and I got to see and do only and all of the things I wanted to (well, the ones I had time for). I also felt very independent and really enjoyed solving my own problems and making my own way around the city. The memories I made over that weekend are something that I will always have, and something I’ll have that I did for myself and myself alone. It was really liberating and almost relaxing in a sense, exploring on my own. I also would never have been able to visit Valencia had it not been for me going by myself, and Valencia is AMAZING. I loved the city and the sights and the beach and the people, and I definitely would have spent at least a week there if I could have. All this is to say that it’s great to meet people and travel in groups, but I also now see the merits of traveling solo and definitely understand why so many people take trips alone around the world*.


Well, I think that pretty much covers the main tips I think people should consider when thinking about transportation abroad (even though I know there are plenty more things I could talk about that would turn this post into a novel). Above all, I think the most important idea connecting these tips is to not be afraid to go somewhere new and explore as many places as you have the chance to. You have the rest of your life to stay in for the night or sleep late. Use every minute you have abroad wisely. It will be over before you realize it.

Just a note from the title: “I Get Around” is an old Beach Boys song that got stuck in my head while writing this post. It has nothing to do with Spain but it’s very catchy 🙂


*little disclaimer: I do not want to discount the potential dangers of solo travel, especially for women. When I was in Valencia (and really the whole of my time here) I definitely stayed very alert the whole time I was there and had plenty of lines of communication with people both here and back home who knew where I was at all times, as well as having the emergency number for Spain (112) and the US embassy’s information on me at all times.