I just returned back to Barcelona from a weekend trip to Paris and I have never felt more at home as I do at this very moment. Maybe it had something to do with having to navigate Charles de Gaulle airport and the bus/metro system alone with no working knowledge of French, aside from croissant and crepe. On the other hand, maybe it was being scrutinized by Easy Jet as I stuffed my carry-on bag into a too small metal been to make sure it was within the correct dimensions and restrictions - isn't flying budget airlines a ton of fun?
While I had yet another incredible and moment worthy trip exploring a major European city, I found myself ready to return to the comfort of Barcelona and Spanish speakers and my metro system. The comfort in the Spanish language factor is ultimately what has lead to the reflection of this post. When I first arrived to Barcelona on January 7th I was terrified to have to speak in Spanish because while i knew my colors really well, my not so extensive vocabulary stopped there.
This is one of the most obvious ways I have grown over the last three,intend that I have been here. Not only am I fumbling through countries where I don't speak the native language, but I find myself being so ready and excited to seal and hear Spanish again once I know its time to head home to Barcelona. This makes me realize that despite the fact that this experience has gone by way too fast (I have exactly one month left), I'm proud of myself for not only
making Barcelona, the people, and their language feel like home, but for recognizing how far I have come in the last three months.
Here's to one final month that can maybe top the last three,
It is beginning to feel unreal that this is my second to last week of class at LSE. I’m not anticipating my six week study period here will be too adventurous, especially considering I have to take my exams in New York. What this means is that I have to really make the most of the next few weeks, because before I know it I will be studying for 12 hours a day. This sounds all gloom and doom, but it could be worse—a few of my friends at other schools have their grades at LSE counting towards their GPA, while I only receive a pass or fail. With that in mind, it looks like next week will be a night out on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the week after I am hitchhiking to Croatia. So I suppose that I cannot complain too much.
I know that a rant about the greatness of the city of London is a surefire way to deter all readers immediately, but bear with me quickly. Today my friend David and I took a trip to Regents Park, which is North of my neighborhood (Holborn) and only about a 25-minute walk. I think for the first time in my history of blog writing that I will actually attach a photo to this post because the beauty of this park is indescribable. It felt as though I was no longer in the city of London, because everywhere we turned there was either another waterfall somewhere, or another pond where you can go paddle boating. I haven’t taken the time to look into why yet, but every park in London has a wide array of different species of birds, each one more beautiful than the next. They have the usual mallard duck and annoying pigeons, but the swans and other exotic birds add the perfect touch. Of all the people in the park, I would say half were probably sleeping in fields today because the weather was impeccable. In a city where it typically rains 6 days out of 7 a week, the locals definitely make the most of the sun.
In many ways, London reminds me of New York, not just because each are major developed cities, but because of their geography. Last weekend we took a trip to Chelsea and Kensington, which one could say is the equivalent to the Upper West Side of New York, and the neighborhood had an entirely different smell and feel than mine does. I mentioned in my last post that I would be spending significantly more time exploring the city than I have previously, and I suppose that that explains the contents of this blog quite well. I may miss a blog post while I am traveling to Croatia and then to Switzerland, but I will do my best to find a computer and type something out! I hope you enjoy the photos I’ll try to attach.
It probably will not come as a surprise to most, but there is no culture shock in London. If there is and I have overlooked it, it cannot compare to what some of my other friends are going through in countries like Africa and Asia. So as I made my way this past week from Budapest to Prague through Hungarian cities which I cannot pronounce, I had my first, “I’m seeing the world” moment. History has not been so kind to some parts of Eastern Europe, but during my 7-hour bus ride to Prague I appreciated looking at the influence of the former Soviet rule on the dimly lit cities we rode through. Since my bus ride was overnight, I looked at the people getting on at 3 am from Bratislava and other far away cities and wondered why on earth they were getting on here and now. But they probably thought the same of me, and so it goes.
When we first arrived in Budapest and somehow negotiated where we were going to a taxi driver, I was practically in tears to see how cheap everything was. Two dollars for a beer? In London, I can barely find one for six, and I was almost sure that this was a little piece of heaven on earth. But then we came to Prague and beers were fifty cents and I nearly kissed the ground of the grocery store. Although Prague and Budapest are not too far from one another, the differences between the two are like night and day—in Budapest you can find a smile only so often, whereas Prague had far more of an uplifting spirit to it. This was a great pace of change for my friends and I, especially considering a bomb scare at the hostel in Budapest that had us shivering in the cold, wearing next to nothing, from three to six in the morning. Fortunately, when you don’t plan your days you have the luxury of waking up at noon, and this surely helped.
Without going into too much detail of either city, it will suffice to say that I had a fantastic six-day vacation that, to me at least, was much needed. It is a strange feeling coming back to London after a week away, because in a sense it felt like I was coming back home, but nothing can replace that feeling of actually coming home, and I missed my real home then. For better or for worse, I have only three and a half months left in London, and I am surely making the most of it before I head to New York for a much busier summer than the life I live here. My next two countries to visit are Croatia and Switzerland, and I will provide a more in detail blog when I return in about a month from them.
Sanibona from Sarasota, Florida! I’ve been home from South Africa for almost a week now, and I can definitely say that I miss that country and my program. As we finished up our Independent Study Projects (ISPs), all of the students on my trip were proud of our productions and we presented our papers to one another as a final part of the program. My paper ended up being around 40 pages, yet all of us felt we could have written much more on our topics!
Reflecting on my time in South Africa as a whole is difficult as there were so many eye-opening experiences throughout the semester. The completion of the ISP was definitely an accomplishment that everyone on my program was proud of; we’d spent the entire semester building up skills to accomplish a small bit of research, and then had the ability to execute our plans. As my project was centered on PMTCT of HIV, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to know about the topic, and hope to craft a senior thesis (when the time comes!) about HIV.
There was a question that came up when we conducted our projects: “will we actually be making an impact on these communities we are studying?” The short answer, to the shock of my fellow students and I, was no. The three-week research period left much to be desired in the reality of helping the communities we studied as a whole. However, through our projects, we were able to affirm the individuals we worked with and were able to tell their stories in our papers. We can use our ISP experiences as a kick-start to investigating topics in the future that can really make an impact on communities. For me, my ISP really opened up the world of research on HIV and PMTCT, and has given me a paradigm through which to view HIV problems not only in the South Africa, but worldwide.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read about my studies in South Africa. Sala kahle (stay well)!
Twitter: A #GWU student wraps-up her studies in South Africa #GWAbroad