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By lizzhart

After 24 hours of traveling I finally arrived at Bangkok, navigated the airport, and found the CIEE program directors. The protests in downtown Bangkok had caused the program to switch to a hotel outside the city and limited any late night exploration. Honestly this was fine with me as I was wiped and most of the other people on my program had already arrived and were sleeping off the jet lag.

The next morning we set out early for our trip to an ambiguous “orientation site”. On the way we stopped for a hike/nature walk at a Khao Yai national park on a mountain outside Bangkok. When the guide zipped off ahead half us got separated and lost in the Thai wilderness. With no phones or understanding of the scribbly looking Thai characters on the signs at forks in the trail it was pretty awesome. There were monkeys all over the place, it seems kind of like monkeys are to Thais as turkeys are to New Englanders. They are bothersome, and not intimidated by speeding/beeping cars, and only interesting to visitors.

The ride up to Khon Kaen was long, tiring, but interesting. Almost every strip of the highway was lined by shops and markets selling Buddha statues, or lined with rice patties. We finally arrived at the orientation site, a “resort”.  The place has elaborate Thai architecture arranged with a hodgepodge of sculptures and shrubs around a manmade pond. Over and around the pond is a maze of walkways and floating buildings and docks.

Thus far orientation has been busy but enjoyable. We are here for 5 days and each morning starts with intensive Thai class from 8-12 followed by workshops specific to the two programs under CIEE, Public Health and Development & Globalization. Everyone in the program is incredibly nice and accepting, as are the administrators and the staff. The Thai staff are particularly enjoyable, full of smiles and so friendly.

Today we went over our syllabi and course descriptions. It looks like we will have 3 homestays this semester in varying communities such as the Burmese immigrant communities, urban slums, rural farming communities, etc. I’m excited to learn about the specific needs of the Khon Kaen communities and explore topics for my community health project!

As far as food I have made a huge effort to eat everything offered. I’ve been eating fruit regularly!!!! Huge. I’m trying all the dishes and enjoying them! Though I still tend to stay safe with the “mai pen” (not spicy) stuff. The staff bought us American snacks and candy last night. God. Bless. Them. And God bless Cheetos.

By billienkatz

The word 'orientation' is defined as "the determination of the relative position of something or someone, especially oneself." This is essentially what the first week of my Barcelona experience has been. My program through IES Abroad began with a planned orientation period for all of the students in the program, which consisted of different discoverIES programs such as trips to the open food market, bicycle tours, hikes, and more to help us integrate ourselves into the Barcelona lifestyle. However, in my opinion, the free time outside of the program, the time my roommate and I ended up walking in a giant circle wandering home from class, and the time I found my new favorite place (for now) in a strange city, is what aided the most in my adjustment to life here in Spain.

While my program (and most study abroad programs) designate certain days or weeks as part of "orientation" to the experience, I view orientation as a semester long commitment. Yes, I've seen some of the typical Barcelona sights - I've been to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia, I've found Passeig de Gracia (the equivalent of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan), and I know how to navigate the Metro system; however, I know that my time here is just beginning.

This experience is about integrating myself into a different culture, country and language, and I view this task as both the most rewarding aspect and most challenging aspect of this semester all in one. I want to make Barcelona feel like home, but I also want to use it's easy access to Europe as a way to travel and to explore the world and various cultures and countries.

I hope to provide you with an insight not only into my personal experience, but the lifestyle of Barcelona, the city and it's people. This past week has been one of the most exhausting, incredible, and confusing weeks of my life, but I am so excited to continue this journey, which I know is just beginning.

Adios, for now!