My semester abroad was a series of memorable moments. Traveling to different countries, eating new foods, and meeting new people has brought me a new sense of the privilege I hold. These new experiences also revealed the American bubble I have lived in for most of my life.
One of my favorite, most memorable nights, was attending Carnival in Sitges, Spain, a small town about an hour outside of Barcelona. Carnival is a celebration that occurs right before lent. Much like Mardi Gras, Carnival is filled with colorful costumes, parades, and specialty foods.
On a Tuesday night in February, my friends and I were herded into a large bus, draped in shimmery boas and disguised in a colorful array of wigs and masks. I had been given a lesson on Carnival in my Spanish class, so we knew what to wear and what food to look for when we arrived in Sitges.
An hour later, we arrived in Sitges to find a long line of locals dressed in elaborate costumes. Women wore bright leotards and large glittery wings, men were dressed as animals with large headdresses and face paint. They danced to Spanish music as they waited for their turn to walk past the parade’s starting line. This was something I had never seen. Rather than floats sponsored by corporations and parade participants in t-shirts with company logos, the Sitges parade had a cultural focus. The floats were hand-decorated and the participants danced to carefully crafted choreography. I was so used to the capitalist spectacle of parades in the United States, that seeing something so authentic was shocking. ...continue reading "Carnival!"
I never knew how to answer the question, “what was your best moment abroad?” until I went to Split, Croatia. My friends and I decided to go after finding cheap flights right between our finals and hoping for a fun adventure. Little did I know, that Croatia was going to be the best trip I had abroad and the one filled with the most wholesome memories.
We decided to sign up for a popular day long boat excursion that travels to five nearby Croatian Islands so we could meet youngsters like ourselves. But on the morning, we arrived at the dock and we found that an Indian family from Australia had signed up for the same boat trip that we did. At the time, I thought it wasn’t going to be as fun but as we went to the first destination, I started talking to the mom and she was telling me about her family, work, and daughters. More importantly, we were instantly able to connect as individuals because of our Indian background. They offered us the Indian family snacks they brought on the trip and even paid for our lunch at one the islands. It was then that I realized my culture has brought me closer to people and given me a way to connect with them. That day, the mom told us, “we have taken you girls in as our own daughters today.” She truly welcomed us with open arms because we connected with each other through our Indian background. After being away from home for a long time and experiencing this memory, I gained pride in the welcoming culture that I came from.
As I look back at this incredible semester, I experienced so many different things, met incredible people, and most importantly, learned about myself. I loved Barcelona—living and studying in the city is much different than simply traveling to it. It gives you a different perspective and experience that only you can understand. But on the other hand, I was able to experience other countries and cities that were eye opening. And, what I found was that it wasn’t just about the place that you visit, but about the people you go with, the people you meet, and the experience you want to make out of it.
Croatia will always be my favorite memory, but Barcelona will always have my heart.
My time in Barcelona has come to a bittersweet end! I will miss my host family, especially my host mother, Josefina. I will miss the beautiful, bustling streets on a sunny day. Most of all, I will miss the people and the culture surrounding food, family, and life.
Since returning to the United States, I have noticed how cognizant I have become about certain aspects of American culture. Little things that were frowned upon in Spain, like to-go coffee cups, stand out in everyday life. I have found that I am more aware of the value of my food and am trying to maintain this level of respect that I got a taste of in Barcelona.
Upon returning to GW in the fall, I will apply the lessons I learned while completing service in Spain to the community service in which I participate in DC. The emphasis on forming relationships within service, as opposed to treating interactions like a business transaction, is a value I will continue to emphasize when serving others. I am grateful for my experience in Barcelona, as it deeply broadened my understanding of community service on an international level. I hope to return soon!
A couple of weeks ago, my mom came to visit me in Shanghai. When she came she said, “Look, it’s not me who’s holding your hand and guiding you along anymore, it’s you who’s holding mine.” The entirety of her stay, she kept remarking on how well she thought I could navigate the city and how generally confident I was in myself in Shanghai.
In the moment, I mostly pushed those comments aside, but as the semester comes to a close, I’m realizing that I genuinely believe I’ve accomplished a lot this semester.
The semester has been full of just about every kind of exhilarating yet humbling experience. From being chased by wild monkeys through the forest in Zhangjiajie, to summiting five of the sacred peaks in China alongside grannies in heels and Gucci track suits, kayaking down the Li River, sprinting along the Great Wall in the frigid cold and heavy snowfall, fending off relentless market vendors (and harassing a few of my own), late night cramming for term papers and exams, experiencing the variety in night life, trying the most unique and somewhat terrifying cuisines, and making friends from all over the world: Shanghai has opened my world to a plethora of new experiences.
One of my favorite parts about Shanghai is how the enormity of the city makes me feel like such a small dot in this world. Despite that, I’m no longer scared to ride the metro home alone at night or to go on my own biking expedition across the city with nothing but a GPS for navigation and my music as companionship. In fact, I’m not afraid of embarking on any other adventure in Shanghai, or China for that matter. I welcome the opportunity for new experiences in addition to the roadblocks that might arise along the way.
Wow, I can't believe this wonderful experience at Oxford has come to an end 🙁 As a creative writer who loves literature and history, I'm really sad to leave a place that holds so much significance. Never mind that thousands of famous faces have sat under the same ornate ceiling of the Radcliffe Camera. I walked pass the lamp-post C.S. Lewis walked by and inspired the Chronicles of Narnia, and I visited in the same pub the Inklings discussed their stories at. My friend even had the luxury of having class in J.R.R. Tolkien's old office!
During my time I enjoyed visiting the little English villages and big palaces and castles, especially places with special literary significance. My all-time favorite trip has to be to Haworth, a tiny village in Northern England by Leeds and York. It's the village where the Bronte sisters grew up and produced their great novels. I ventured there for a couple days with a friend who was a hard-core Bronte fan.
It took a while to get there. We took a train from Oxford to London, switched to another London station, took a train to Leeds, navigated through the local train system and ended up in a village called Kheighly, and then finally rode the "Bronte Bus" until we reached Haworth. I know it seems long and grueling, but I actually enjoyed the journey. We got to travel through lands that contained crumbled factories and mills - remnants of the North's Industrial past. Haworth was such a small village that it mainly consisted of one long street. And I loved its washed-out stone buildings and flower pots.
As I enter into the last month of my time in New Zealand, unfortunately cut short by the summer classes I have to take back in DC, I'm doing my best to really get the fullest experience of this beautiful country. This was made a little easier with the arrival of the greatest travel buddy, my boyfriend Bryant, who flew the whole 30 hours from the District to NZ to spend the past 10 days travelling the country with me. The whole trip was jam packed, with way too much to write here, but we did hit three major spots which I'll go into: Rotorua, Wellington and the Marlborough Sounds.
Our first stop was Rotorua, where we spent a weekend taking in the alien geothermal landscape of this volcanic town. Rotorua is known by the locals as Rotten-rua, and for good reason; the geothermal activity that makes this town such a hotspot (literally) for tourists is derived from the sulfur vents that waft rotten-egg fumes throughout the area. The smell wasn't so bad in town, or in our nice secluded AirBnb, but when we got into the geothermal parks it was fairly sickening. The first day was spent bathing in Rotorua's geothermal pools, starting with Kerosene Creek, a naturally formed creek complete with picturesque waterfalls, about the temperature of a hot shower. The creek was enchanting, but after walking around wet in the winter weather we were more than ready for our second stop, the Polynesian Spa. The geothermal baths there drew from the creek water, but were filtered into large hot tub-esque pools overlooking the lake. The whole experience was as relaxing as promised, and well worth the three showers it took to wash the sulfur smell from my hair. We kicked off our second day in Rotorua with a walk around the Wai-o-tapu geothermal park, where the water bubbled at over 200 degrees and turned the landscape bright orange and sulfuric yellow. The alien landscape was a sharp contrast with the river we rafted down later that day, all silver fern and turquoise rapids. The rafting was a real high point of the trip, as we went down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world standing at 5m, plunging under the rapids before righting ourselves at the surface.
After a day of class for me and a day hiking the volcanic islands around Auckland for Bryant, we hopped on a plane to Wellington, where we spent the night in an AirBnb perched on a hill, whose glass walls overlooked the Pacific harbor. But we'll get back to Wellington in a second, because the next morning we were off to Picton, the charming town center of the Malborough Sounds, at the Northern tip of the South Island. After a 3.5hr ferry ride spent playing Gin Rummy and admiring the cliffs passing by, we touched down in this quiet town. The uphill walk to our third AirBnb greeted us with views of the Sounds so stunning that, as we checked in, we decided to cancel the trip we had planned to Abel Tasman and stay in Picton an extra night. Picton was shockingly sunny for an NZ town, a living postcard lined with Palm Trees and mountains. Over our three days there, we hiked the "Snout" peninsula, spent a day sea kayaking through the mountains and tried our hand at mountain biking the many trails hidden among the Sounds. Our day kayaking was undeniably my favorite, the cherry on top being the four fur seals that swam alongside us as we made our way through the channels of the Pacific. Mountain biking was both thrilling and terrifying, leaving us muddy but exhilarated, just in time for our second ferry back into Wellington. ...continue reading "Travelling for Two"
After a long week full of lab reports and looming exams, I needed a vacation. Luckily, that's just what I got, with a long weekend spent in Canberra, the capital of Australia. You may be wondering why I didn't venture into one of Australia's more well known cities, say, Sydney or Melbourne. This is because I went to Canberra for a very specific reason, to celebrate my cousin's 21st birthday. I had thought that, because by 21 in Australia you have already been legal to drink for 3 years, this birthday would not be as big a milestone as in the US. I thought wrong. For Australians the 21st is like a sweet 16th, obligating a huge party complete with family and speeches. This was a stoke of luck for me, as I rarely get to see my Australian family (whom I love dearly), and to have them all in the same place at one time offered a great opportunity to see everybody.
I flew for Berra very early Friday morning, a 4am wakeup almost made up for by the smooth flights that took me from Auckland, through Sydney to Canberra. While I have spent a fair bit of time in Melbourne, where my family is based, I have never visited the capital city. I was in for a treat, Canberra was a tight-knit college town with beautiful galleries and museums, specifically the National Gallery and War Memorial, which I had a great time touring. I also got a look at the Parliament House, an architecturally striking building and the meeting place for the Australian Parliament. The weather was unfortunately gloomy, and a good 20 degrees colder than Auckland, a fact I had not bargained for. New Zealand's small size as an island keeps temperatures stable, with summers in the high 70's and winters in the 60's. Meanwhile, Canberra is in the center of a large continent and experiences real seasons, with summers upwards of 100 and winters down in the 40's.
The weather didn't stop us from having a great celebration of my cousin Adela's 21st, and I had the best night dancing, drinking and having conversations that inevitably devolved into American politics. After an evening of reconnecting with the family I so rarely see, and reminiscing about the years past, us college kids made our way to the local dive Mooseheads. The joint is such a staple of the city, that the man I sat next to on the plane ride back, after hearing I was coming from Canberra, asked only "did you go to Mooseheads?". The next day was sunny and felt more like the country I knew, and was spent watching Adela play footie before I had to board a plane ride back home. All in all it was an excellent trip, and I hope I can make it down under sometime soon in the upcoming years.
It’s a beautiful thing to bring happiness to others through doing what I love. During my past few months in China, I have found that despite the major changes that come about from living in a different environment, the things in life that have always made me happy, continue to do so. I have discovered that the flame of a true passion is not easily put out- it may flicker and change with changes occurring around it, but passion runs deep enough that regardless of the circumstances, it perseveres.
As mentioned in my previous post, I have been volunteering at V Yoga Studio in Shanghai- helping out around the studio and teaching English lessons to the yoga teachers who speak Chinese. In my case, my passion for yoga has allowed me to connect with a specific community that shares my same passion. With this, I have been lucky enough to contribute to the studio’s community in sharing my perspective and knowledge of yoga, and have learned so much from the warm and welcoming women around me in exchange. In our time spent together, it is clear that we enjoy eachothers’ company. With different things to learn from, teach to, and share with one another, we constantly empower one another and have thought-provoking interactions.
One of the most interesting aspects of my time spent at the studio is that every interaction feels so meaningful and thought-provoking, even when no words are exchanged. With a large language barrier between myself and some of the women who speak only Chinese, our interactions are often oriented in gestures and involve translation apps. Nonetheless, we still find ways of understanding each other and learning from one another.
The studio describes itself as a family and welcomes anyone into its doors to practice. Employees are constantly looking for new ways to share their passion for yoga with the community around them. In an effort to expand and achieve their goals, the studio manager has decided to create an outdoor cafe space on the roof of the studio where people can enjoy the positive atmosphere of the studio, without feeling obligated to practice yoga. I have been fortunate enough to be able to contribute to this action of passion sharing- helping to renovate the studio space for the new cafe. I definitely didn’t feel qualified when I was asked to help paint the walls of the new cafe, but had a blast doing so anyways.
I am so excited to watch the community of V Yoga grow and transform, and will continue to use my passion to help fuel the community’s fire.
As part of my program, everyone was required to chose anywhere is Ecuador and conduct an independent study project, or ISP. For 4 weeks all my friends and I left Quito to head for the coast, the Amazon, the highlands - or in my case the Galápagos. As sad as I was the leave the group, I headed to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal, the capital of the province of Galapagos. Before I left, the topic of my study was unclear and I vaguely knew I wanted to learn about the politics of development and tourism. This was a scary endeavor, flying miles away from the host family and city that had just begun to feel like my home. I had only one contact on the island and I wasn’t unsure how I would conduct interviews or narrow down my topic. But after only a few days on the island, I was confident it would all work out - and having just come back to Quito, I can say for sure that it did.
Throughout my four weeks, I conducted dozens of interviews with politicians, fisherman, people in the tourism industry and activists. One interview lead to the next and I was overwhelmed with the generosity of the community to help me with my research. Soon enough, I began to see patterns within my interviews and common themes that could help me formulate my thesis. I heard from people from various sectors who all felt the same way - that the central and local governments were not representing galapagueños. I learned about how the construction of 5-star hotels, the cruise industry, and the weak migration regime are all threatening the way of the life of the people in San Cristobal and how the clash between development and conservation manifests within the governance structure. My findings were more fascinating and complex than I ever would have thought and turned into 44 pages of information, all in Spanish!
This experience was one I know I will never forget and one that has not only made me confident in my language proficiency but in my ability to connect with strangers and listen to their stories. I feel incredibly honored to have been invited into the homes of so many to hear about their lives and their inspirational tales of activism. Throughout my program, we spoke a lot about the idea of reciprocity. When going into a community outside your own for the purposes of gathering information, the importance of giving back is paramount. I have sent my project to all my key informants in hopes that it can be used as a way for the community to analyze the causes of the major issues galapagueños are facing today. But more than this, I hope to shed light on this issue in my community, whether that be in my home community or at GW. As I finish up my program in the coming weeks, I hope to have more time to reflect on my experiences in the Galápagos and how my time there will affect how I study and learn about development in the future.