These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
The next day we hiked back out to view Dún Eochla. It is yet another fort on this island used as a watch tower for invading ships. Again the spectacle was amazing as we were blessed with another clear day, despite a strong wind giving many of us wind burn. Soon we found ourselves walking back to the ferry as we were exhausted from the past days of adventure. We had to say farewell to the Aran Islands, but welcomed our warm beds waiting at our cottages.
I have arrived in Ireland, and thus far it has already been an adventure, from plane delays to getting lost. To any potential travelers to Ireland be sure to know how you are getting to your destination from the airport. We (my fellow students and I) were under the impression it would be easy to get a ticket for a bus that would take us to Galway. It turns out that “easy” turned into a hour-and-a-half of walking around trying to find some sort of booth that sells tickets. Finally we broke and decided actually to ask for help and our dilemma was answered quickly. Turns out you simply buy the tickets on the bus, it is brilliant! If only there was a sign to tell us this information.
That is right folks I am heading to Ireland, Spiddal to be more precise. It is an exciting notion, as well as frightening. This will be the first time I have truly been cut off from home, and by cut off I mean the entire Atlantic Ocean. Despite this separation I am invigorated with this extraordinary adventure put forth in front of me. Where will it lead? There is one way to find out, one ticket to Ireland please!
“Why Ireland?” Is usually the first question people ask me when they discover I am traveling there for a little over three months. My answer is simple really; it worked and heat is not my friend. Further persuading was found with the possibilities of this trip; such as an overnight stay at Inishmore (Aran Islands), seminars at the Hill of Tara, visiting the Rock of Cashel, etc. In addition to these excursions I also wish to further my understanding of people and various cultures, while Ireland is not exotic, it is certainly different then Minnesota.
With only a few days till my departure it has finally become apparent to me that I will indeed be living in a different country for several months. My days consist of check lists and last minute errands to ensure I have all that I need. Before I know, it I will be waving good bye to family and friends and boarding a plane. Let the adventure begin…
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.
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