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Hand sculpture at the Memorial da América Latina

Oi gente! Too many events have occurred during my first week here to put into one blog post (I have gone out more in one week here in Sampa than I do in a whole month in DC) and I don’t want to bore anybody to death by making a laundry list. So I’ll try to fill you in on the events and sites that really stood out for me from that first week. Let me forewarn you that in this blog and most of my blogs in general, I will talk A LOT about food so please forgive me if I make you hungry.

As you might recall from my first blog post, I arrived one day before the scheduled start of my program –CIEE Liberal Arts in Sao Paulo- as a precaution against any setbacks (i.e. flight delays).  The next day, July 2nd, I took the shuttle from the airport to meet up with the Resident Coordinator and the other students who would be participating in the program. I had no problem finding the group and after two hours (we were waiting for everybody in the group to arrive) we departed on a bus CIEE had rented towards the Bee W. Hostel, a hostel off Avenida Paulista where we stayed for the next two days –the duration of the on-site orientation.

We had about an hour to rest and were treated to lunch (by CIEE of course) at a restaurant next door called Segredos de Minas, which serves typical Brazilian from the state of Minas Gerais. As some of you might know, Brazil is a country blessed with an infinite variety of fruits and vegetables that are unknown in other parts of the world, so there is a wide variety of delicious fruit juices to sample. It was here at Segredos de Minas that for the first time I tried cajá juice, and let me tell you, I am absolutely in love with it! This juice is made from a fruit called cajá which tastes like the fruit lovechild of a passion fruit and a mango – it is quite glorious and I recommend you guys try it if you’re ever in Brazil.

After stuffing our faces with delicious Brazilian food we walked off some of the calories on Avenida Paulista, which is the Brazilian equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue. To say it is huge is a gross understatement: one million people pass by it every single day. The architecture of the buildings on Paulista is pretty varied: you can find anything from tall, glass high-rises to modern Brazilian architecture (best embodied by the MASP museum). However, by far my favorite building on Paulista is the Casa das Rosas (House of Roses) – it is the only remaining mansion on Avenida Paulista from Brazil’s coffee era (1800-1903). Originally, Avenida Paulista was built to house the mansions of the wealthy Paulistano (people from the city of São Paulo) coffee barons. However, over the years, these beautiful mansions were torn down to make space for high rises and the only mansion still standing is the Casa das Rosas, which is now a museum and cultural center.

We finished the day off by dining at a local pizzeria called Bendita Hora. Unlike the average American pizzeria, Bendita Hora serves both salty AND sweet pizzas. Yes you heard me…SWEET PIZZAS. We tried two different pizzas: pumpkin pizza and chicken pizza and finished off with the delicious Aphrodite pizza (what an appropriate name!) which consisted of melted chocolate, condensed milk, and strawberries. Oh and of course a cup of Brazilian coffee (it is pretty strong and resembles a three-shot espresso) with two cubes of gelatina de pinga (little gummy cubes made with cachaça).

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Sagui at Parque da Água Branca

Fast-forward three days later to Monday, July 6th: the first day of my intensive summer Portuguese language class. Class was interesting, but long –it is three hours of Portuguese for four days a week- so I am just going to skip over that and get to the good stuff: the after-class cultural activities! Monday after class we went to the Parque da Água Branca (Whitewater Park), a multi-purpose park near my house complete with a playground for kids, an aquarium, a gazebo where you can rent books to read, and even animals like peacocks and monkeys and chickens (yes chickens) running free. Miraculously the animals don’t wander off and leave the park. Here I came across an animal called a sagui, which is a little monkey the size of a squirrel.

Our walk through the park was short as our destination was the Memorial da América Latina (Latin American Memorial), a multi-building complex constructed by Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, to honor the culture, history, and peoples of the various countries that make up Latin America. In the main square (Praça Cívica), there is a large concrete sculpture representing an open hand in vertical position, with the map of Latin America painted in red. It symbolizes Latin America’s past of oppression and its battles for freedom, with the red map as a reminder of the blood from the sacrifices that were made.

Since it was getting late and afterwards we were planning to see the rehearsals of a samba school, we decided to grab something to eat at a restaurant nearby. Our guide, Viliane took us to a restaurant called Sabores do Nordeste (Flavors of the Northeast) which specializes in food from northeastern Brazil. You guys can already guess where this is headed haha. Anyways, here I was finally able to try acarajé, a dish from the state of Bahia of West African origin which is made from black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil. It is then split in half and stuffed with a paste containing shrimp, ground cashews, and coconut milk. However, that was just the appetizer; since the portions were so big, my friend Nashwa and I ordered carne de sol com baião de dois -rice with black eyed peas, fried meat, cheese, and pieces of yuca- and soursop juice, which is yet another of the many fruits that can be found in this wonderful country.

Pérola Negra’s rehearsa

Finally it was time to head out to Vila Madalena to see the neighborhood’s samba school, Pérola Negra, rehearse for Carnaval. The rehearsal was not at all what I expected: I had imagined that the rehearsals would comprise of us, the audience, sitting on some bleachers watching the dancers and the musicians practice on a stage in yoga pants and sneakers. That is what most people imagine when you hear the word ‘rehersal’, right? Well, it was far from that. First of all, the warehouse where the rehearsals were being held resembled a club more than anything else. As you entered the building, there were bouncers checking people and confiscating any bottles. By the way, you also have to pay a “cover” fee like you do at clubs.

Inside there was a stage where there was a band and later a DJ playing funk carioca -a musical rhythm originating in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Strangely enough, amidst this chaos, there were whole families -grandparents, parents, children, etc.- all partaking in this event. Some were dressed normally but others had Perola Negra t-shirts and jerseys, like one would of one’s favorite sports team. After about two hours of this, the rehearsal finally started. Most of the dancers and the musicians were already in costume as if Carnaval was tomorrow. The minority that wasn’t in costume were dressed like they were going clubbing; they had full make up on, sky high heels, and clubbing clothes on. You get the picture.

That’s all for now gente (everyone). Até a próxima! (Until next time!)

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Water Fountain in Nyon

If you read my last post, I said that I had my first class at 11:15am the next day. WELL, I was definitely reading my horaire wrong and actually had class at 9:30am. Wow. That’s early for a college kid! My first week of school is over and let me give you a rundown on the schedule of an SIT: Switzerland International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy student.

Every morning, I wake up around 8:00am. I get up, use the restroom, and put my clothes on. Let me tell you, it has been HOT here in Switzerland! Today it was 90F. So recently I have been cycling through my 3 pairs of shorts and 4 short sleeve/tank top shirts that I brought. I was really expecting it to be colder! If we have a speaker from an international organization then we have to dress business causal, and that is the worst because dressing up nice in this heat is annoying and stifling. After I get dressed, I make sure everything I need for the day is in my backpack and head downstairs to have breakfast. Every morning I eat yogurt and two slices of bread with butter and jam. Now, before I came here I never used to eat butter. Ever. I maybe had butter on my bread twice a year. But since I have been here, I have just felt très European by eating my bread this way. If you haven’t tried butter and jam, you’re living a half-life. After breakfast I quickly put my dishes away and make my lunch. Lunch has consisted of cheese, crackers, mini-sausages, a peach, and a yogurt. It’s like a grown up Lunchable! Finally I brush my teeth and race out the door.

For some odd reason I always think I am going to be late, however I always get to the train station at least 5 minutes early. Le gare is a 16 minute downhill walk from my apartment. The walk is beautiful in the mornings! I pass by the town hall, a grape vineyard, and dozens of small yet beautiful European houses. I also pass a few water fountains. But, unlike America where our form of water fountain is an ugly metal contraption that is dirty half the time and the other half of the time doesn’t work, in Switzerland, there are actual water fountains. As in, water comes out of a pipe (or multiple pipes) into big, concrete collection area, usually lined with flowers. Some are simple, and some are extravagant! In America, you would never drink out of one of these, because the water would usually be unsuitable. In Switzerland, however, the water is always drinkable unless there is a sign that says “Eau Nonpotable”.

The train comes at 8:59am and by 9:09am I am in Geneva! I have never gotten a seat on the morning train because it is so busy. Most of the commuters are business people going to work. Therefore, I usually stand in the entrance or sit on a staircase (it is a double-decker train) and look out the window as the train speeds on. It passes through the Swiss countryside, multiple farms, some big châteaux, all whilst lining the coast of Lac Léman. You can even see the majestic, Mont Blanc in the background! On lovely days with blue skies and minimal clouds, I feel as if I am staring at a painting

By allisonray94


My name is Allison and I'm blogging this semester from Amman, Jordan. Today was my first full day in Amman and the beginning of the Middlebury School's orientation. Orientation Week is particularly crucial for this study abroad program, as it's the only time during the semester that we will be allowed to speak in English. It's all Arabic after this.

Orientation was helpful, but by far the best experience of the day began afterwards, when we met our mentors (مرشدون) and began to explore Amman. We grabbed coffee at a local shop (where smoking indoors is still very cool) and talked for a while. The mentors are all University of Jordan students. It's really calming to talk to someone your own age who understands both Jordanian culture and that of American study abroad students. The mentors also give us some idea of what modern Amman is like. The female mentors all wore hijabs, but one of them cursed continually and talked openly about politics. Lara, my mentor, wears skinny jeans and loves Dan Brown books. None of this is particularly earth-shattering I guess, but every new detail about their lives feels like a small piece to the intricate puzzle of Jordanian identity.

So far, my only other source for extended interactions is my host family, who live in the house above mine and my roommate's basement apartment. We have the most contact with Eman; as the mother, she is in charge of the children (including us). She has four children, one live-in servant, and a husband who I have yet to meet. She's also in charge of feeding us breakfast and dinner, which is great because she's an excellent cook. Tonight's dinner was mansaf. The national dish of Jordan, it's lamb and rice soaked in a yogurt gravy. And it's delicious. IMG_2869

Overall, my first day has been filled with anxiety. Everything is different here, and that's a concept that my mind is having trouble accepting. Still, my interactions with Jordanians so far have taught me that, however different-minded we may be, at the end of the day people are just people no matter what country you're in. Maybe it'll be different once I start speaking to the mentors and my host family in Arabic, but right now the best cure for anxiety is a long conversation with another person. It makes everything strange or foreign melt away until I'm left with the warm, familiar feeling of getting to know a new friend.

That's all for now.

!مع السلامة

See the rainbow. Smell the rainbow. Taste the rainbow.

“Oh, it’s only about a 12 minute drive.” It was my first ever trip to France. And to think, I had only been in Switzerland for four days! I woke up later than I had planned so I had to skip the shower (oops). Oh well, I thought, Europeans shower less anyway, right? Okay maybe that part was wrong but either way, after I jumped out of bed I staggered downstairs, still half asleep. Finding my host mom and her partner, Noel, chatting on the balcony overlooking Commugny, Switzerland, I was greeted and shown breakfast. Now, in Switzerland, unlike America and unfortunate for me, there is no big, greasy, multi-plate breakfast that overflows with carbs and protein. Instead, what I have been eating the past few days has been an assortment of yogurt, oatmeal, bread (lots and lots of delicious, crusty, white bread), cheese, and deli meats. And of course jam and butter. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the backseat of my host mom’s red sports car and we were on our way!

When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was how people in France parked; they didn’t just parallel park on the side of the road. They parked their cars halfway up the curb onto the sidewalk because hey, there’s room there, right? We entered the market and Noel acted as my personal tour guide and showed me the many fruits, vegetables, and spices, and meats from around the world. Walking through the market was wonderful. I felt like I was a trader on the Silk Road, looking for the spices of life that would sell big back home. I saw buckets of vinegary smelling olives, stacks of sweaty socks smelling sausages, and blocks and wheels of cheesy cheese!

My favorite booth was the spice booth. It had all sorts of spices from all over the world and it looked and smelled like foreign and exotic lands. Surprisingly there were also many booths dedicated to bras, underwear, clothes, and purses! But like any farmers market, those weren’t too popular. The most popular stands gave samples, and boy did I take advantage of that! I tasted olives (bleh), ginger (very strong), almonds (meh), hazelnuts (not very strong), sweet brioche bread (mmm), sheep cheese (soft), and nougat (kind of like light fudge)!

By the end of the three hour trip I had seen dead chickens with their heads still attached, dead and skinned rabbits, a man playing accordion (a typically French thing to do), and the oldest running hydro-electric plant in France. We returned back to the apartment where I sat on the balcony and gave some quality “TLC” to Ronja, my host mom’s black forest cat.  Her balcony overlooks several other apartments, villas, a school, and the town hall. In the not-so-far distance you can even see Lac Léman! For reference, and to not sound like a tourist, Lac Léman is the actual name of the lake that is shared between France and Switzerland, not Lake Geneva. School officially starts tomorrow and I better go see if I have any readings to do. But I also may take a stroll around town… good thing class isn’t until 11:15am!

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Finding my way in India

Here in Telangana State, Southern India, the locals have been a bit unsettled about the weather. Although Monsoon Season technically started about three weeks ago from today, my 7th day in India, we have yet to feel a single drop of those mythical waters swinging in off the Arabian Sea. Monsoon is an essential part of life in India, bringing much-needed relief after three months of the brutal Indian summer. However this year more than ever, and particularly here in Telangana, Monsoon is crucial. An unprecedented heatwave enveloped the state in May and June, pushing temperatures upwards of 110 degrees Fahrenheit for days on end and claiming more than 550 lives. While temperatures have undoubtedly cooled off, the earth has become a dry, rusty red dust.

However unsettled they might be, however, the Indians remain unafraid. “The rain will come,” assures one local after the other with the gentle bobble of the head so characteristic of this country. I watch at the same time day after day as the blistering white sun quietly disappears behind a massive bank of dense, grey clouds that seem to appear over Hyderabad from out of nowhere. The clouds linger for a while, watching over the city like uniformed army sentries, and a hush seems to fall over Hyderabad as people take a seat on porch steps and wander into stores, heads turned toward the dense, swollen sky. And then, just as quickly as they appeared, the clouds vanish, perhaps off to bless some other thirsty city with the gift of rain. The sun reemerges and the city comes back to life, loud, bustling, and hot as ever.

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Cloud banks over my neighborhood, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, but no rain in sight.

Amidst all this, the constant heat is making me restless. Last night I tossed and turned for seven hours, unable to sleep for more than ten minutes in the oppressive humidity. When I finally sat up in bed at dawn, admitting defeat, I found myself to be literally dripping in sweat, as though I had just run a half marathon through Death Valley. Just the day before, a billboard advertisement depicting two tourists swimming in a pristine (not quite realistic) Ganges River sent me into a frenzy of trying to locate the nearest pool. I started daydreaming about being allowed to wear a swimsuit to orientation, or the international students’ dining hall serving huge bowls of mango ice cream instead of actual meals.

And yet the locals carry on, perhaps a little unsettled, but overall, unafraid, optimistic, resilient. Meanwhile, I lie awake in the dense, hot darkness of my room and stare up at the swirling fan for hours, terrified that I’ll never adjust —  not just to this stifling weather, but to anything about life in India. Everyday, it seems, a dozen new challenges await just outside my door from the moment I wake. On the first day of orientation, it was standing by the gate of my homestay waiting to be picked up, doing my best to shoot an imposing glare at the possibly rabies-infected stray dogs barking at me just feet away. Learning to cross the street a few days later meant silently praying to every deity imaginable and sprinting across the lane-less highway in a pack of my fellow petrified foreign students, dodging motorbikes, auto-rickshaws, 14-wheelers, and taxis before collapsing against a rusty sign post stuck in the dirt on the other side.

But the biggest challenge of all that had been looming over my head since the day of my arrival was learning to get to and from campus all on my own. The directors of my CIEE study abroad program had been mentioning the idea to the three girls living in homestays almost constantly since the first day of orientation, but we had been able to blissfully ignore the idea as a campus car reserved just for us would pick us up one by one and drop us right at the CIEE program building each morning, and would leave us at our individual homestays every evening. Our biggest challenge was waiting outside our houses and remaining calm as we were gawked at, accosted by stray dogs, and caught in the walking paths of cows. We all knew the day would come when we had to find our way to the University of Hyderabad without anyone to help us, but we had vehemently denied the idea in our minds. Unlike the eleven other girls living in the international students’ dorm on campus, each of us homestay students has been placed in a separate home, in three neighborhoods located in completely opposite directions of each other. We wouldn’t even have the comfort of tackling this challenge with another foreign student; it was each of us against the world.

I knew, at least at base level, what I was expected to do. The directors made the task sound simple. First, cross the two lane road outside the University’s main gate (a road which in the US we would probably be considered four lanes, but which here consisted of two massive hoardes of motor vehicles swerving around each other, making U turns without warning, and incessantly honking their horns at each other). Next, stand in the dirt path on the side of the road and wait for a seven-seater shared auto to come by. These “shared autos” are basically little rectangular boxes on four wheels, with two upholstered benches in the back and a shotgun seat up front next to the driver. About three people are supposed to sit on each bench, and one person would legally sit up front, hence the seven-seater concept. However, in most cases, about eight people will squeeze into the back, two more hop into the front with the driver, and at any given time the auto might stop to let two or three stragglers jump into the “trunk” area, an open section between the second bench and the back of the vehicle, about 2 feet wide, and open to the elements (these things pretty much never have windows). If he’s really feeling daring, the driver might let a friend cling to the back of the auto from the outside, so that the vehicle tumbles over the bumpy Hyderabadi streets like a barrel of monkeys with miscellaneous arms and legs hanging out of windows and women’s dupattas (head scarfs) billowing in the wind.

Just flag one of these things down and hop in, no big deal right? Shout your destination (in my case it’s Indira Nagar, a busy area for shopping and restaurants about a fifteen minute ride from the university) at the driver, make sure to tell him when to stop at the side of the road, jump out into the dusty feeder, toss him a ten rupee note, and swear your life away as you cross that river of traffic once more to your street. No big deal.

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Every truck in India claims to ‘King of the Road

I spent most of today wanting to puke. Nothing we did was remotely enjoyable because the idea of getting back to my homestay in the dreaded auto rickshaw wouldn’t leave my mind. The afternoon chai and biscuits break I loved so much was spoiled, as the tea turned into muddy street puddles and the biscuits transformed into spinning motorbike wheels before my eyes. Maybe the directors would change their minds and drive the three of us home one last time. Maybe I could stay over in the dorms tonight. Could I call my homestay parents to come pick me up? Anything to avoid literally sitting on top of complete strangers in one of those accidents-on-wheels. Even the mile and a half bike ride from the CIEE office to the university’s main gate seemed too short. I would have gleefully continued the cardio workout in the sweltering heat for another four miles if only I could postpone this journey a little longer.

But it was hopeless. My hands shook as I chained my bike to the gate and made my way to the main road with the other two homestay girls, Sara and Caroline. Caroline, the smallest of all of us but easily the bravest, lived close enough to walk home. She shot across the street in a flurry of flowing blue and green cotton before Sara and I could even catch our shaky breaths. Just like that she was gone, as another wave of traffic rushed by and blocked her from our view. Sara didn’t need to cross the street to take an auto home, but I stood with her anyway, letting countless opportunities to dodge my way across the street pass me by as I tried to steady my breathing and push back the metallic taste of fear rising in my throat.

But finally I couldn’t wait any longer. A split second of bravery washed over me and I shouted “I’m crossing, I’m doing it!” as I sprinted  to the other side, a hundred foot journey that felt like a hundred miles in my mind. Even so, I had only completed the first part of my task. Hailing a shared auto was a completely different story. Within seconds of reaching the other side, a swarm of smaller auto-rickshaws pulled up to me,  their drivers shouting various locations across the city or simply “Madam! Madam! Auto-rickshaw!” I shooed them away, my eyes flashing back and forth at the chaos all around me, craning my neck for some glimpse of the a little white box on wheels rolling by. Finally, I saw one, raising my arm as high as I could and waving it frantically so as to be see over the hoard of yellow, beetle-like rickshaws surrounding me. Instantly the auto pulled over to the side of the road and I ran through the motions: shout “Indira Nagar,” jump inside, and pray that if there is an accident one of the eleven bodies squeezed up on every side of you will prevent you from flying out the open windows, since seatbelts aren’t really a thing in India.

With a rumble and cough of thick black exhaust, we’re off. My hair whips into my face as we barrel down the street and the air rushes into the vehicle from all sides. There’s a baby practically sitting in my lap, someone’s stepping on my foot, my knees are touching those of the woman in front of me, and I’m pretty sure there’s a guy asleep in the trunk. Eight sets of eyes are trained on my face as I hold my breath and stare at the rush of life outside the window: barking dogs, herds of water buffalo, men with kerchiefs tied around their faces whizzing past on noisy motorbikes, honking trucks painted in a kaleidoscopic swirl of neon “Om” symbols and Hindu deities, patches of jungle that give way to crumbling sandstone structures next to glossy new shopping centers. Somewhere between desperately trying to avoid awkward eye contact with my fellow passengers and shouting “Yahan par rukiye!” (stop here) to the driver, I lose myself in that outside world and for the first time since I’ve been in India, it finally hits me: I’m really here. I’ve made it. This is India, and I’m smack dab in the middle of it all.

I’ve got two blocks to walk before home, and another, even busier, road to cross, but once I jump out of the auto and pay the driver, it’s as though I’ve left any fears I had right there in the backseat. I watch the little white auto haphazardly swerve back into traffic and I could almost swear that I catch a glimpse of that petrified version of myself from just a few hours ago poking her head out the window. She’s only a wisp of a girl, and she dissolves into the thick summer haze as I turn my back and head for home.

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The first time I saw the Ramanan’s house and it felt like coming home

As I trudge through the dust and cacophony of street noise toward my homestay, the Ramanan household, I chuckle to myself at how this terrifying experience somehow managed to help me finally place myself in India. It wasn’t the breathtaking tour of the 16th century Qutb Shahi tombs, viewing the entire city from the incredible height of the Mughal Era Golconda Fort, drinking chai on the promenade of Chowmahalla Palace, or even sharing the road with a few cows on my bike ride to orientation. It was this ride, this task that had filled me with so much terror, this smelly, noisy, bone crushing, chaotic trip, that somehow made me fall in love with India, that somehow made me realize that I had started to find a home here.

I turned the corner onto my street, catching a glimpse of the magnificent vermillion-blossomed Gulmohar tree that I so often gazed at from the balcony of my homestay, and felt a sudden change in the air. There was an iota of coolness, the tiniest breeze rustling through those lush green branches, the thick scent of dampness in my nose. I looked down, and there they were: dark spots, blooming before me in the dusty dirt road, appearing faster and faster. With a gust of wind and a wash of grey above me, the sky opened, and the rain began. Gentle though it was, far from any monsoon storm, I giggled out loud, beside myself with joy. I practically skipped down the road to my homestay, water droplets trailing over my sun-dried cheeks, wet hair clinging to my temples. The gate to the Ramanan household had never looked so beautiful as it did in the grey haze of Monsoon season, with glossy raindrops clinging to its black iron rails.

The rain continued on for the rest of the evening, picking up speed and spicing things up with thunder and lightning, a true Monsoon storm. Even now as I sit on my balcony typing away, I watch as the long-awaited flood rushes down my street, a river of moonlight flowing by in the darkness, and I poke my bare feet through the balcony rails to let India wash over me.

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Monsoon as seen from a bus window in downtown Hyderabad

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Pão de queijo: a small, cheese-flavored roll that is a popular snack and breakfast food in Brazil

Oi gente! (Hi everyone!) It’s been a little over a month since I first arrived here in São Paulo and it feels absolutely surreal! The 30th –the day I left- I was on an emotional rollercoaster, vacillating between feelings of excitement (to be embarking on this new journey), nervousness (over what awaited me), and sadness (about leaving behind my family and DC). The moments between when I entered the TSA Security Checkpoint to when I arrived to Gate C12 to board my plane are all blur. All I remember is arriving at the Gate and suddenly hearing virtually EVERYONE speaking Portuguese. I remember thinking, “Where did all these Brazilians come from??? Aside from those working for the Brazilian embassy there are few of them living in DC.”

I barely slept three hours during the nine and a half hour plane ride. The awful combination of my nerves and the small, cramped seats kept me wide awake. When we finally arrived at 9 am, I quickly made it through Customs and grabbed my bags. I was anticipating that my exit would be quick: instead it was long and mazelike. What seemed like the exit from the baggage claim was really an entrance to a bazaar-like shopping area of luxury, Duty-Free, international goods from Lindt chocolates to Victoria’s Secret lingerie to Givenchy perfumes.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally found my way out of that Duty Free tourist trap. I breathed a sigh of relief before realizing that I had yet to accomplish the daunting task of finding the shuttle to my hotel. I soon found an airport employee and in the best Portuguese I could muster I asked her where the stop for the Ibis Hotel shuttle was. To be honest, my question was more in Spanish than it was in Portuguese but somehow she managed to understand me and proceeded to direct me to the old airport terminal, which is where all the national flights land. “Obrigada (Thank you),” I told her in my heavily accented Portuguese before proceeding to cart around my luggage cases.

When I got to the old terminal, I asked the man at the information desk to direct me to the Ibis shuttle stop. With an expression of total and utter boredom, he waived his hand and pointed at a set of automatic doors that led to a street full of bus stops. To my dismay, there was no shuttle stop for the Ibis hotel shuttle anywhere in site, so I proceeded to ask another airport employee who happened to be walking by. This time, this employee directed me to the floor above where the Departures where.

For the next hour, I struggled to find the shuttle stop: everytime I asked someone, they would point me in a different direction. I was so frustrated that I finally settled on waiting on the top floor where the Departures were. Just when I was about to give up hope, a mini bus with the hotel’s logo plastered on it arrived. I quickly hopped on and buckled up for the ride.

During the bus ride to the hotel I noticed that Guarulhos, the city where the airport is located and which is part of the São Paulo metropolitan area, was poorer and underdeveloped. On some sides of the highway it was possible to see decaying factories and even what seemed like favelas in the surrounding mountains.

Thirty minutes later I finally arrived at my hotel. As I stared out the window of my room on the 14th floor so many tall, sprawling buildings. In that moment I was finally able to visualize and comprehend São Paulo’s magnitude: 12 million people lived inside the city itself and another 8 million people lived in the metropolitan area, thus making São Paulo the most populous city in Brazil, in the Americas, in the Western Hemisphere, and the twelfth largest city by population.

Throughout my struggle to find hotel’s shuttle bus, I noticed that many people had a thick accent where they pronounced the ‘r’ strongly like we do in English rather than softly as it usually is in Portuguese. I later found out that it was because most of these people were from the interior of Sao Paulo State and from the nearby state of Minas Gerais. No doubt many of them migrated here in search of better work opportunities.

When I arrived at the hotel nearly at noon, I was already starving. On the airplane they had served a light breakfast of bread, butter, and coffee –which could only do so much. Since they did not serve lunch at the hotel and the only thing they had was ham sandwiches (I do not eat pork so I could not eat the sandwich) I basically had to survive on water and Ritz crackers until dinnertime. However, it was so worth it. The feast of typical Brazilian foods in the buffet was absolutely mouth-watering. And of course the main star of these foods was pão de quiejo, a small baked, cheese-flavored roll which Brazilians love to eat ALL THE TIME. If you ever get a chance to eat it, you will see why it is a national favorite.

Well, that is it for now. Até a próxima! (Until next time!)

By kennatim

I have been eating a lot more fish here in Dublin. I have also been trying to do more swim workouts than usual. One of my goals in my study abroad experience has been to try new things and forge new habits. Most of the time, that involves immersing myself in some type of Irish culture. Swimming and fish are not exactly tied to Gaelic history, but nevertheless, engaging in different activities is overall what I came here for. That is why, when I received an out-of-the-blue, random email inviting me to teach retirees how to use computers, I was immediately interested.

The “Intergenerational Learning Programme” here at Dublin City University is a program that invites retirees (or “pensioners”) from the area to come to campus and receive free tutoring from students in anything from the basics of using a computer to how to trace your genealogy or write music using one. The program is sponsored by the Irish government and originated as a scheme to get older people to complete government services using the Internet.

I attended a short training session in our cozy classroom of nine PCs, which explained how many learners are on different levels of Internet proficiency. The volunteer coordinator established a schedule and explained the process. I have volunteer experience working with children, but never with adults. I was eager and a little nervous for the opportunity.

On our first day, we were matched with either one or two learners for the next four weeks. I was paired with two very nice ladies named Maura and Marie. They were friendly and eager to learn. Throughout our two hours, I taught them the bare basics: from turning the computer on, all the way to how to Google, use multiple tabs in Google Chrome, and save a Word document. Throughout the session, it was great to frequently hear them exclaim, “Oh, I always wanted to do that but didn’t know how!”

We talked about America and they gave me their recommendations on what to do while in Ireland. It amazed me how much we take for granted when using a computer: for example, when I asked them to go to the start menu, they asked where it was. They were here to learn, and I realized only someone who grew up on computers could know these things like second nature. It was a great practice of patience and understanding.

After leading a quick final review session, I promised we could work on using their personal laptops next week. They had very kind words about me for the volunteer coordinator, and remained very appreciative and eager to learn until the end. I knew it would feel good to help people out, but I had no idea that, as they say in Ireland, it would be such great craic (fun). I am happy that I continue to take the leap into trying new things because I have not had one regrettable experience yet. I am looking forward to my next seven sessions with Maura and Marie and watching them progress into computer wizards!

By makenadingwell

image (2)After five strenuous midterms I packed my backpack and met the group before dawn on Friday for our long bus ride to Galicia. I can’t sleep on buses, mostly because I don’t want to miss anything along the way. In Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux said he, “hated parachuting into a place. I needed to be able to link one place to another.” I believed in this principle wholeheartedly, and therefore saw the dry grass grow green and full in a dreamy daze.

We first stopped in Léon, a small, misty city founded in the 1st century BC, to see the Basilica of San Isidoro. Full of beautiful stained glass, a gothic design, and a crisp coldness, the Basilica was vast and impressive. The stop was concluded by a quick walk through the historic area of Léon and a hearty lunch, during which we discovered that a customary Spanish steak was barely cooked. image (3)

Finally we crossed into Galicia and arrived in Santiago de Compostela at sunset. Our excursion was filled with unique, yet refreshing plans for the rest of the weekend. On Saturday morning we arrived in O Grove, a quiet coastal town, for a small cruise around the fjord. We ate mussels along the way, occasionally feeding one or two to curious seagulls after our professor demonstrated how to do so. After a peaceful picnic by the water, we returned back to a walking tour of Santiago.

Before leaving for Spain, I hadn’t heard much about the Camino de Santiago besides a few musings from my friends. However we learned plenty during our tour of the famous Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, hearing all about the pilgrimage to the Cathedral and the religious significance behind it. We finally climbed the old steps to the roof to peer over the stretch of red rooftops in the historic part of the city and the ornately sculpted stone towers.

image (4)The most refreshing and unexpected stop was the visit to Las Médulas, the site of an old gold mine of the Roman Empire, on the way home on Sunday afternoon. After a quick stroll to the viewpoint we gasped at the remarkably colossal rich towers of red rock scattered along the landscape. We sloppily scuttled down the hillside trail through a blanket of fallen leaves and tall barren trees to draw closer to the towers and preserved caves.

While the previous excursion to Barcelona was glitzy and exciting, the visit to Galicia was unparalleled. Perhaps it was the relaxation after the stress of exams or the lack of expectations, but the break from Madrid and the escape to green hillsides and a sea breeze has been my favorite stop by far.image (1)image (5)

By anuhyabobba

The colectivo is a blessing but can also be a burden. Colectivos are the public buses in Argentina and my primary mode of transportation from place to place. To ride a colectivo, you have to buy a SUBE card (the equivalent of a Smartrip). Colectivos do not accept cash normally, and if you find a colectivo that does, it will only take coins. So a SUBE card is a must and that can be bought at numerous locations like major post offices. The SUBE can be used for both the bus system and also the subway (but I rarely use the subway).

Numerous lines run throughout the city, and so it can be overwhelming when you first enter Buenos Aires to truly grasp the system. But, once you gain a hold of it, you become highly dependent on it and will come to appreciate how cheap of a method it is for transportation purposes. A typical ride on the colectivo only costs around 3.25 pesos (less than a dollar). I charge my SUBE card for around 50 pesos (or less 5 US dollars), and that will last me for the week. You can charge your SUBE at what are called kioskos here. Kioskos are mini shops that sell snacks and drinks and are also places where you can recharge your SUBE or your cellphone. Just look for the sign outside the kiosko that reads “Hay SUBE” and go on ahead. While taking a taxi in Buenos Aires can also be cheap, the costs compound after multiple rides and will eventually be where you are channeling a lot of money to unknowingly -- a mistake I made in the beginning.

The website many of classmates and I use to know which colectivo to take to reach a certain destination is this: It will map out which line to take and from where and also if you need to connect to another line after a certain point. It is tremendously helpful and saves the trouble of getting lost in what is already a massive city.

Colectivos run regularly on weekdays, but becomes irregular toward the night. The same can be said for the weekends for the most part. But, the one major problem everyone faces with the colectivo is that there is no said schedule. You honestly will never know when a colectivo will arrive at your bus stop. There are times where I have waited for 25 minutes to catch one, and there are times where one arrives as soon as I get to the bus stop. It is really up to luck, and that can become frustrating when you need to be somewhere at a certain time. Also, during rush hour, people will be crammed into the colectivos. Maximum occupancy does not seem to be followed, so people just come and come until either the bus driver decides there is no more room or until there is physically no way for another person to fit. In these scenarios, do what you would do in the DC metro. Front pack your back pack or hold tightly onto your belongings. The less careful you are, the more likely you are to be pick pocketed -- this logic holds in DC and in general big cities.

Finally, one helpful bit of information: you can charge your SUBE up to negative 10 pesos or three extra colectivo rides in case you are running low and cannot find a kiosko that will recharge your card for you in time.

By clairemac93

I’m rather surprised that the subject of Tim Noakes would inspire me to write a blog entry. However, ever since I heard of the diet that Tim Noakes advertises I have been flabbergasted by how many people follow his plan here in South Africa.

The Tim Noakes diet entails eating no sugar, no carbs, but having a high protein-high fat diet. The people advertising the diet claim that new studies have shown no association between such a diet and things like high cholesterol or heart problems. Coming from a Western country, the diet seems nuts. I’ve seen TV advertisements here where they create a typically Tim Noakes meal in which butter on butter on butter is added and grease in encouraged. One thinks, “Who would actually follow this?”

Well, apparently a lot of people. In school, it seems as though everyone’s parents or they themselves are following this diet. Added to this, they are having results of massive weight loss. These success stories, like in the days of the Atkins diet, only spur more people to join.

It’s an appropriate diet choice for South Africans. South Africans love their meat, especially red meat, and tend to look at all vegetarians with a look of shocked curiosity. In fact, I know many South Africans who don’t consider it a meal unless there is meat on the plate.

There is also a huge market for dried meats, or biltong, as it’s called here, as well as dried fruits. This is out of the fact that in many places on the African continent, there is no electricity or refrigeration available. As such, they tend to dry most of their fruits and meats to reduce the flies and potential of spoiling. This became such a staple that even now that there’s refrigeration available- to some, dried fruits and meat are still a standard snack.

Anyhow, although it seems like a small cultural phenomenon, the diet of Tim Noakes is fascinating to me as it not only is catered specially to a South African audience, but is only an option for those who can choose what to eat and what not to eat- meaning predominantly whites. Meat is, all over the world, a luxury good, and most sugary items and processed foods are the staples of the lower income. A diet based purely off of vegetables and fruits, as well as meat and fat, is the most expensive dietary option that could be chosen here.

Though I myself would never start the diet, I’m curious to see whether the fad lives on and what the results will be. Truly shows a difference from the western mindset on diets!