These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
The 14th was technically our second day in Zambia, but it felt more like our first because we were pretty jetlagged when we got in and didn't really leave the campus/compound of the local college we're staying at. After learning a little bit about health and safety in Zambia, we began our scavenger hunt.
The scavenger hunt was a really good way to gt to know Lusaka. The public transportation system here is sort of crazy. You basically flag down a blue van (only on Sundays- apparently traffic during the week is too ridiculous to get on one if you value your life) and hope it takes you where you're trying to go. Your options are basically north or south, but we still managed to end up on one that took an entire loop around the area to drop off the driver's wife and baby. You never know what you're going to get.
I really liked the girls from the University of Zambia we were paired with in our group, and I was shocked to learn that both of them had lost both of their parents already. They also talked a lot about how common extramarital affairs and gender based violence are, and that was really hard to hear. I can't imagine living somewhere where I didn't have the ability to get a divorce without being shunned by my family and blamed by my community. Still, the scavenger hunt was a great way to get to know Lusaka. It's everything I imagined it would be. The streets are bustling with people, and nobody is shy to say hello. I can't imagine trying to navigate the city on my own, as transportation is a little crazy, and having everybody trying to hustle you in a van crowded with people at once is a little overwhelming. All in all, it was a great day, and I am super happy to be in Lusaka. I can't wait to learn more about my service learning placement, which I start first thing in the morning.
One of my favorite parts of our program here in Beijing has been all of the Chinese students I've gotten the chance to become friends with. Here's a profile of one of them.
“I don’t think she has any fun at all! I’ve known her three years now, and not once has she stayed out anywhere past 8 pm. Not even the library!” Li You is gesturing emphatically as she describes a roommate who she finds particularly boring, laughing at how dull the girl is.
Li talks rapidly in perfect, unaccented English, with no trace of hesitation or uncertainty. Her silver Tiffany’s bracelet jangles as she adjusts her green flannel shirt; both are souvenirs from her recent trip to America. Her black hair is cut in a sleek, stylish bob that sways with her as she explains how different she is from her roommates at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics.
“I’m not normal, I don’t want you to think all Chinese students are like me or that they all think like I do,” she said. “I’m different from most UIBE students.” It’s true that Li seems to have little in common with some of her classmates. They’re majoring in engineering while she dreams of being a journalist; they are homesick for their parents while she longs for American adventures; they refuse to even go out to a bar for one drink while Li loves going clubbing on occasion.
Even at birth, Li was already different from her future classmates. In a country of only children, she was born in the Fujian province as the second daughter to a Xiamen businessman and his wife. “My parents really wanted a son, so they had to pay large fines for violating the one-child policy when both my younger brother and I were born,” Li explained. She spent much of her childhood fighting with her older sister and younger brother, an experience very different from her northern roommates’ solitary upbringing.
Once she started school, Li’s gift for academics continued to differentiate her from others. Even in elementary school, her teachers recognized her exceptional intelligence and eagerness to learn; she was constantly being encouraged to consider more advanced classes. She was only in primary school her father gave her a biography of a Chinese girl who had traveled all the way to America to study at Harvard. Even as a child, Li was a voracious reader and finished the book in a matter of days. From then on, she said, America was her dream.
Knowing that she would need top grades to do all that she wanted to, Li continued to impress her teachers. She tested into her province’s most prestigious middle school and high school, which was more than an hour away from her family’s house. Because she lived on a boarding school campus from the age of 13, she said she became used to being away from her family at a young age.
Neither of her parents went to college, because they grew up during the Cultural Revolution when all schools were shut down. Though her father became a successful businessman even without university training, Li said, “My parents made it a priority to give me and my siblings the opportunity to attend university.”
When it came time to pick a university to attend, she knew she wanted to go even farther away from home than her high school. She had originally wanted to go to a university in America, but her dad deemed that to be a bit too far, so she settled on Beijing instead. Li loves her family, but like many 21 year-olds, she appreciates the freedom that being so far from home gave her. “If I had stayed by my family, I still would’ve had a curfew,” she said. “They would have their own opinions about people I was dating and everything else I was doing.”
Out of the realm of her parents’ supervision, freshman year of college was a time of exploration for Li. “That was my first taste of freedom, so I did a lot of rebellious things I would never have done in high school,” she said. “I even learned how to smoke cigarettes, though I only do that every once in a while. I enjoy my life here in Beijing, I can do what I want.”
It was her junior year of college when Li finally got to fulfill her dreams of visiting America. She spent half a year doing a study abroad program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale that broadened her views of the world. It didn’t take her long to adjust to American culture. Shortly after her arrival in Illinois, Li was learning American idioms, partying with American friends, and even dating an American boy. She said she found that some of her views changed during her time in America.
Li said, “I began to question small parts of Chinese life that I’d never thought of before.” In China, it’s fairly common to see a guy walking around carrying his girlfriend’s purse; it’s simply considered the polite thing to do, similar to the American tradition of men holding doors open for women. Li was confused at first when the American boy she was dating didn’t carry her purse, but her roommate explained to her that American boys didn’t really do that. Li said, “I got used to it, and now I just think it’s so weird when I see boys carrying their girlfriend’s purses here in China. I never would have thought that before.”
That was a minor example, but Li found her perspective on bigger issues changing as well. Her whole life, she was taught that proper Chinese girls follow certain societal rules. In America though, Li discovered that it’s hard to have any fun if you follow all of those rules. Her face flushed and she became visibly irritated as she lists off things her roommates and most Chinese girls consider taboo. “They won’t drink any alcohol, not even one drink,” she explained. “They would never ever get drunk. They don’t dance. They don’t wear makeup. They don’t stay out late. They don’t have sex before marriage. They won’t do anything fun!”
Although she had been starting to feel annoyed with her “boring” roommates even before she went to America, Li’s time in Illinois solidified any doubt she had. “I want to continue to travel and learn more about the world outside of China now,” Li said. She is currently studying for the GRE and plans on applying to American schools for graduate programs in journalism. Her father was hoping that she would use her accounting major to move back home to Xiamen and get a job there after graduation, but that is not what Li has in mind.
“He didn’t want me to pursue journalism because he doesn’t think I can make money in that,” she said, but Li said she told him that she was determined to do it and wouldn’t change her mind. Finally, her father relented, saying that if she was set on doing it, he wanted her to “try her best” at it.
Although she wants to go to graduate school in America, Li says that she plans on returning to China after graduating. Unless of course, “I fall in love with an American or something crazy like that.” Then for a moment, Li’s perpetual cheer turned serious and she said, “China will always be my home. I want to see the world, but I know I’ll still want to come home in the end.”
*Note: The student's name has been changed to protect her privacy.
On the next chapter of my adventure I arrive in Vienna by train. The ride here was quite pleasant; much more enjoyable than riding the trains in France. I find the hostel very easily using the emailed directions, and I am greeted at the front desk by a kind woman speaking fluent English. She checks me in, and I'm given the keycard for my room. It's a nifty little card that works on a radio frequency, so no need to insert it into the door. She says this also works for the locker in my room. It's cool to only have one thing to keep track of.
After a quick shower I crave some exploring. There is still plenty of light left in the day and I intend to use every second of it. I grab a map from the front desk and then walk out of the hostel and take a right turn. With no real destination I just walk in the direction that interests me at the time, and keep walking until another interests turns me.
The first place I come across is the Vienna Opera House. It is made from tan-colored stone and has a beautiful copper roof that has turned green over the years. I next pass a couple of wonderful parks that are filled with lush, green grass and plenty of picnickers. They look to be fantastic areas to spend a warm afternoon. Vienna seems to be filled with beautiful parks. Soon after I walk through the Hapsburg winter palace without even realizing it. The palace itself is so large that it seems to be just a normal city block of buildings. In truth though it is one large palace that the royal family used for living during the winter months. It amazes me that the Austrian monarchy was in power until the end of World War 1, and these wonderful old palaces are still kept in good condition. I continue walking, passing a couple of Gothic cathedrals, some wonderful buildings, and the town hall. At the town hall I stop for a while. An entire ice skating area has been set up outside the building, so I watch the skaters glide through the winding courses of ice. I notice they are selling tickets and rental skates, but I decide to pass this time. The sun is going down now, and I am so tired from the train rides and the walking. I make my way back to the hostel and immediately go to my room to fall asleep.
When I awake the next day I remember being told that Vienna has some excellent museums. After I eat breakfast I leave the hostel and head for the Natural History Museum. The admission is cheap, so I grab a site map and head in. The museum is laid out in a winding spiral from bottom to top, so it is very easy to make sure you have seen everything.
The exhibits start out with minerals and stones. I believe there is nearly every variety of mineral and stone in these first six halls. Once done with the mineral halls I move onto the fossils and bones section which I find much more interesting. They have ancient fossils and skeletons from present day animals as well as long extinct ones. The one bone that stood out to me the most was the portion they had of a blue whale. It was only one bone. Just half of the lower jaw. It was propped up in a corner, for good reason, and went from the floor to the ceiling. It must have been at least 25 feet long. I was really impressed by the size, and I wish I could see a whole skeleton. I walk through the rest of the exhibits that mainly contain stuffed versions of animals, extinct and present day, and make my way to the end of the museum. I grab my coat from the coat room, leave a couple of coins in the dish, and walk out and go back to the hostel. The museum was really worth the money, and I am happy as I took the time to enjoy it.
The following day I decide to visit another one of the iconic tourist attractions of Vienna, the Schönbrunn Palace of the Hapsburg family. It is very easy to get to and even has its own metro line station. When I get there I am astounded by this monstrosity of a palace. It must take up at least ten city blocks, and it's four stories high. The intricate details on the outer walls are beautiful. I pay my entrance fee and start my tour of the palace. The audio guide playing through my iPod headphones describes to me all of the different rooms that the tour goes through. All together the palace is amazing, but I also find it somewhat boring to look at gold and family treasures. I don't stay for long in any of the rooms and finish the tour. The real attraction for me here is the Vienna Zoo in the backyard of the palace.
Since I bought the winter ticket at the palace I was given access to the zoo for no additional charge. Lucky for me it was not very busy either. Also it was feeding time, so that meant plenty of opportunities to watch cute animals eat. I spend at least 30 minutes alone at the red panda exhibit watching the staff feed them pieces of apples and pears. Too bad you can't have one as a pet. The rest of the zoo is amazing. It is situated on the palace land. There are plenty of forests and hills containing different exhibits within the zoo as well. In the forest there is even a suspended walkway where I was able to walk from tree to tree and look down on the wildlife underneath. When I get to the end of the suspended bridge I find myself in front of the rainforest exhibit. As I walk in I am immediately stunned by the heat and humidity compared to the chill air outside. My glasses fog up completely and render me near blind. Once my vision returns to normal I follow the path in the exhibit and come across a vast assortment of really awesome animals. There is even a python exhibit that has the python's sleeping quarters situated, including a glass floor, right above the walkway so you can see it as you go by. This is quite freaky as it looks like there is an enormous snake that is going to drop on you if you look up. My favorite place though is the otter exhibit. There are two lively otters that have made their home here. Both seem very hungry, and when I come close to the barrier they run towards me thinking I have food. I grab a small leaf and toss it over the fence. They promptly grab it and wrestle with each other for a short while until they realize it isn't edible. Reluctantly I leave the otters and wander through the rest of the zoo. Nothing really tops the otters as far as entertainment goes though, and I leave the zoo soon after.
By this time I am getting pretty hungry. I've heard so many good stories about the food in Vienna, especially the schnitzel, so I must have some. After a quick search on the Internet I find out that there is a famous restaurant for serving schnitzel close by called Figi-Mueller's. They are supposed to be one of the first places to start selling the schnitzel, so they have to be good. The line is long when I get there, but with me only needing a table for one it doesn't take long to get seated. I order a schnitzel with a side of their potato salad and some white wine. The food arrives quickly, but I am still drooling at this point. The reviews were right. This is absolutely spectacular. The bread crumbs on the meat is wonderful. It has just the right amount of salt to add to the flavor of the meat. And the potato salad is downright delicious. They add a corn oil sauce to the potatoes that gives it just the right amount of flavor. Washed down with a sip of white wine, this is one of the best meals I've had in a while. It's really filling too!
After the meal, and with my stomach thoroughly stuffed, I walked back to the hostel. There I laid down and relaxed in the common area. I met one of the guys that I was sharing a room with named Unai. He was from Spain and traveling in the same way that I am. We had some good conversation about the differences between Spain and the States. Soon after my full stomach started taking its toll on me and my body was telling me to get some sleep to digest. I kindly obliged the commands and walked back to my room and climbed into bed. As I lay there waiting for sleep I played over in my head the things that I experienced these few days in Vienna. It put a smile on my face as I drifted off.
Each language class starts with one basic principle: conjugation. Verbs are the building blocks of a sentence, and in order to make any sense at all you must know how to conjugate them. I started taking Spanish in third grade and to this day I still have those six boxes that make up the basic conjugation table burned on my brain. You take notes, you learn, you memorize but then something happens in the third box down: the formal you. I’m sorry, the formal what? What is this nonsense?
The idea of formality in language is something I have been faced with more than once during my travels as I have struggled to switch through plenty of dialects including Dutch, Spanish, and Italian. Now, thinking of being polite is not a new concept to me being that I come from the very state that is known for its kindness, and have a Grandmother from Alabama who has ingrained manners in me since I was little. But then I encountered two separate situations that got me thinking.
Within the first month of living in Italy I had an awesome talk with the housing coordinator of my program about the differences between Italy and the United States, and she was quick to open discussion about formality. She mentioned how using the formal “tu” in Italian creates a space between you and the person you are talking to, which consequently makes it much more difficult for conflict to arise. Usually this form is used in the office or when a person is talking to an elder or professor. It all started as a way of maintaining a sense of social separation but it is now just considered poor manners if you pass an older woman by saying “scusa”(informal “excuse me”) instead of “scusi”(formal). I sat opposite from my housing director trying to think of an equivalent separation in English but could only come up with “sir” and “ma’am” which are rarely used in the mid-west. It was an interesting concept to me—can we establish this verbal separation in English? Or are we losing our formality?
A few weeks later I had the amazing privilege of staying with my friend at her aunt and uncle’s home in Utrecht, Holland. Our ultimate destination for the weekend was Amsterdam, but I gained so much in Utrecht just through simple dinner conversations with her family. The second night of our stay we got into a discussion on the formal you in Dutch—“u”. Once again I was faced with another exchange where my conversation partner was confused with how we convey politeness in English without a formal form. Having a bit more experience under my belt (and wine in my system) at this point I launched into a sermon about how my generation is losing its formality because of the internet. Now why am I openly admitting this on that very medium? Because my trip to Holland was a month ago and, as niave as it sounds, I have changed a lot since then.
So here I am again, pondering how we establish formality in English, and it clicked: it is through the structure of our sentences and the way in which we carry them out. Now stay with me, because though that sounds like a concept that is going to take me a while to explain, it is something we are all aware of. When you run into your friend after class you say: “oh hey girl, what’s up? That psych lecture was cray, am I right?” as you simultaneously stare down at your smartphone trying to think up a word loaded with points for your Words With Friends game (my apologies for assuming all of you are as annoying as I am). But this scene plays out much differently when you walk into your professor. You yank your headphones out of your ears, maintain eye-contact to the point of a staring contest, and formulate a sentence fit for a presentation: “Professor Smith, what a fascinating lecture on attachment and how integrated it is in family systems theory. I definitely want to read up more on Mary Ainsworth’s work—do you happen to have any of her books?”. Communication is 20% words, 80% body language and it is the combination of the two that separate the way in which you talk to all your bros that go by their last names from the astounding educators that populate college campuses like my own. But I have to admit, it is going to be hard to go back and address a professor after lecture without conjugating up as many formal verbs in my head as I can beforehand: "Professoressa--scusi, I mean scusa, I mean excuse me."
Yes, I did just throw a 90’s-esque “not” into the title of this blog. And yes, it was completely necessary because the three days I spent in the coastal plain region of Barcelona were absolutely beautiful; people, sights, culture, and cuisine included. While, in my opinion, three days is simply not enough to take in all the beauty that is Barcelona, I will try to list my top 5 in Barca if you find yourself pressed for time.
1. GAUDI. Are you surprised? In all honesty you cannot walk around Barcelona without catching sight of at least one of Gaudi’s beautiful buildings, but why wouldn’t you want to? His innovative style is enough to make you feel like you are living in a fantasy world. I would go so far to say that I felt the same in Sagrada Familia when 21 as I did in Disney World when 6.
2. PAELLA. And you are hearing this from a vegetarian! Though, the classic seafood paella consists of shrimp with their eyes budding out at you which is quite a treat. Whether it is meatless, drenched in lemon, or a combination of meat, seafood, vegetables and beans, you are definitely rewarding your taste-buds with this dish. I won’t judge--order a whole pan for yourself.
3. PICASSO MUSEUM. I probably sound like a scratched CD (do you like my new-age metaphor?) talking about art all the time but I can guarantee a good time for all in the Picasso Museum. Not only is seeing his work displayed in five adjoining medevil palaces an experience in itself, but the museum is laid out in a fashion that allows you to watch his art evolve. We all know about the amazing contributions he made to cubism, but don’t lie and tell me that style hasn’t made you wonder if you could give a piece of paper to the five year old you babysit and get something similar. No offense P! You are a saint. And I now have an immense amount of respect for the styles that brought you to your final masterpieces.
4. NIGHTLIFE. Now I am not one who insists on getting belligerent in each country you set foot in, nor am I suggesting that for Barcelona but the nightlife is definitely something to at least experience. The main spot I would suggest is along the boardwalk simply because you can sip on your magarita right next to the beach while listening to 80’s American Pop (which is pretty big in Europe right now by the way).
5. WALK DOWN LA RAMBLA. Or just walk in general. At the end of La Rambla is an enormous monument of Christopher Colombus himself (fun fact: he is facing America. How cute). If you are lucky enough to get weather like I did, walk as much as you can. The metro is easy and convenient, but there is nothing quite like the energy flowing through this city. I would even suggest sitting in Placa de Catalunya for a good hour as you soak in the sun and simultaneously freak out/become mezmerized by the amount of pigeons doing the same thing.
I have come across most of these tips by accident. But in general that is precisely what travel is; a bunch of unpredicted experiences that can stir you in ways you never knew possible, good and bad. Travel can make you rich and is something I would suggest to everyone for I have grown more in the past 5 weeks than one year of my life (except for my first year of life. That was a pretty major one. You know, walking and being born and stuff.) But yes, we are in college and we do not have the largest disposable income despite the fact that you managed to score that debatably sweet parking attendant job where you can surf Facebook for hours. I hear you, and I am here to say: a few minutes of reading between the lines of reviews on hostelworld can end up saving you a lot of money in the long run. And sometimes the experiences you are going to treasure happen when you are too engrossed with your first sight of the Collosseum to understand the map and find your way to your apartment or on the bus from the Eindhoven Airport to Amsterdam where you get to take in many sights of Holland that you would have missed with a simple flight and taxi ride to your hotel. So without further adieu, here are a few tips to help you save some loot.
WHERE YOU'LL STAY
Yes, it would be awesome to stay in a 5 star hotel with a breakfast buffet and pool, but honestly do you need it? No. Because all you need is a place to lay your head at night after you've walked 20 miles around a foreign city, which is probably 10 more than you needed to because you got lost. So keep it simple because you're going to pass out whether the pillowcases are silk or scratchy cotton. Therefore:
• Look into hostels. Websites like hostelworld.com and tripadvisor.com are great resources as you can adjust the search to fit your needs. Find hostels with a high rating and more than 2 reviews. In the end all you are going to want is clean sheets and a place to go to the bathroom. You can live without privacy for a few days. Though some hostels do have the option to get a private room with a few friends in which case you can feel free to let it all hang out, if you so please. Generally hostels will have lockers where you can keep your valuables. If you are extremely concerned you can bring your own lock for some peace of mind.
• Research apartments. This is something that is extremely overlooked but definitely a great option! If you are traveling with more than 5 people, you will save a ton of money by getting an apartment together as you will be able to go to a supermarket for enough groceries to last your trip and save yourself from the overpriced restaurants us tourists fall prey to often. (Not that you shouldn't eat out. Definitely treat yourself to the countries native food at least twice.) If you just Google "apartments" in whatever city you will be traveling to a ton of options will come up, and once again you can change up the search to fit your needs. Do keep in mind that you will be splitting the price between however many people are staying there so the price is not as intimidating as the big red numbers you see on the right hand side of the listing.
When it comes to transportation, I tend to just make sure I can get to the country/city and then go from there. When traveling within Europe it is pretty simple to find cheap airfares on ryanair.com and easyjet.com but after some frustrating minutes with your friends where everyone is making the "that's-too-expensive" face you just have to bite the bullet. If you want to go to London and the first weekend in April is your only option then go! Just get there. But of course, there are ways to save once you find yourself starring dumbfounded at Big Ben:
• Walk! Plenty of cities are small enough to walk around. It may take you about 40 minutes to get across all of Edinburgh but then you can get in enough pictures of the sights! I'm learning more and more each day that it is just part of European culture to walk. The streets aren't built for your average SUV, plus traffic in general is crazy. It isn't that difficult, you just need to plan accordingly. Take the bus/metro/tram out to the part of the city where you're going to spend the majority of the day and finish activities there, and then move on to a new area the next day.
• Public transportation. I cannot stress this enough. Taxis are ridiculously overpriced. They do make sense to take if you have a ton of luggage or your heel is bleeding, but try to use them sparingly. Do as the locals do, as it is much cheaper otherwise they wouldn't do it. Cities like Paris and Rome have extremely convenient metro lines that are very easy to use once you figure them out and if you purchase a pass for a few days at a time you'll save in the long run.
• Safety first. Seriously. Even if you aren't a travel novice it is smart to always be aware of yourself and your belongings. Where there are tourists, there are pickpockets. Believe me, I learned the hard way. And I was completely aware of my bag and belongings during the moments leading up to it. That being said, I probably could have thought things through a little more. If you have a credit card be sure to bring a backup and keep it in a different place than your original. That way if you lose the latter you won't be without money for 2 weeks in a foreign country while you wait for your replacement to be shipped across the sea. Also, consider getting a money belt. You might feel silly with a pouch under your shirt but at least you know your belongings are close.
• Always have a map on you. And memorize the address of your hostel or apartment. That way if you do end up getting separated from the group you're traveling with (as I did at a very large Dutch market) you will have a map and thus knowledge on how to meet back up with them. Maps really don't cost that much as plenty of airports, train stations, and souvenir shops have them but if you're really feeling a hole in your pocket I have learned that if you go into a hotel and say you're lost and trying to find a certain landmark, you may end up getting a free map. Of course don't expect to be treated like royalty or even receive one, but it's worth a try.
• Stay positive. Most of your time will be spent mesmerized and in love with the country you're in, but sometimes you'll come across situations that leave you confused or uncomfortable. Don't panic. You're just experiencing another culture, and it is completely normal to feel whatever it is your body decides to. In moments like this though, just stay positive and keep going. It's easy to get homesick or over-analyze the intentions of that street vendor but you don't want those moments to be the ones of your trip you remember. So look up and realize where you are and that this may be your only chance to be standing in that spot.
• Be decisive. It's easy when you're traveling with others to fall victim to the crowd and do the awkward dance that is "I don't know, what do you want to do?" "I don't care. How about you?". If you know you want to see something, don't be afraid to go off by yourself and see it. Just make sure you set a meeting spot. You're not going to please everybody, so sometimes you're just going to have to figure out what it is you want to do and do that.
Traveling can definitely be exhausting mentally and physically, but in such a great way.
Everytime I go home (or back to Italy) from a trip I feel so full of life, and I'm not one who normally attributes such a corny saying to myself. But you can't really help it. I kind of feel like I'm turning into my mom as I Google inspirational travel quotes, but I'm going to leave you with just that: "the world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page".
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