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By kaandle

As much as abroad is about traveling to new places and experiencing new, wonderful things, it's important to realize that every place you visit will not be your new favorite destination.  For my programs second week long excursion we traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia. I undoubtedly saw impressive architecture, learned of a deep history and experienced a unique environment, but I also reentered winter (it was snowing significantly when we arrived and on several mornings) and ate the same mayonnaise covered foods for a week.  But hey - that's Russia for you.  A word to the wise - borsch and Russian salad are a reality of every meal.  Despite the dietary and meteorological challenges, here are some of the highlights of this educational excursion.

Hermitage Museum

This former palace will be recognizable to any person that watched Anastasia as a child. The exterior is covers it a distinct green plaster and the interior is covered with even more impressive paintings and sculptures. Among the treasures of this collection are two completed Michelangelo's, a Rafael sculpture and a recently destroyed painting that was thought to be lost forever from a vicious stack with acid.  Absolutely worth your time. Even if you don't enjoy art, the walls of the rooms are still ornately decorated from its time as the Winter Palace.

Erarta Museum

For those who enjoy contemporary art, interactive exhibits, or things off the beaten track this is the place to go. It's a bit out of the way but the large exhibit - including five floors of permanent and five floors of temporary exhibitions - is a unique approach to curating a museum as well as introduces you to more Russian artists than Kandinsky.

The Ballet

The Mariinsky Ballet is Russia's second most prestigious company, after the Moscow Ballet. It was a wonderful surprise for me that we were going to a performance while in Russia, especially as a dance major. This is definitely an event worth seeing, not only to experience the Russian style ballet in its native land, but for the beauty and experience of a classic performance art.

By zamorse

As I withdraw to my room to start studying for finals, I'm starting to look back at the amazing semester I've had. There are so many lists that I could come up with to commemorate my semester, five favorite foods, five top sites, etc, but since I had already been to Israel before, the five biggest surprises for me is the most important list. I thought I knew what to expect, so the list of my top five biggest surprises I think says a lot about my semester.

1) Israel is all about nature---national parks, beaches, mountains, forests, etc. It's such a small country, but you can literally do everything here, and Israelis are obsessed with getting out and about. From going snorkeling in the south, to going skiing in the north, to going mountain bike riding, you can literally do everything here.

2) Israelis are impatient. They always seem like they're in a hurry. Or at least that's what I thought. Maybe I got used to the fast paced walking environment of DC, but Israelis are really slow walkers. More like they stroll everywhere.

3) Israel is a small country, and if you look on a map of the world you know what I'm talking about. Even if you look at a map of Israel, you wonder how they fit a country of 8 million people into such a small place. And that's what I thought before I got here. But if you exclude the three big cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, the countryside has lots of empty spaces and big houses, not what I was expecting at all.

4) I did not remember how loud Israelis are. It's a fact of life here, if you want something, you have to be loud. But that adds an interesting dynamic to the culture here.

5) Lastly, and I think most importantly, Israel is not all about the conflict with the Arabs. You could get that sense from reading the news everyday, but its certainly not the case in the day to day life of average Israelis. They have jobs and go to school and have social lives, just like everybody else around the world. From studying international affairs and conflict resolution, the fact that this country is not just about the conflict can be hard to forget.