My Journey through India

Blog by Angela Wirig, Society, Ethics and Human Behavior, Gender, Media and Human Rights in India

Angela Pic

Namaste! Meera nam Angela hei, and welcome to my blog! A little background about myself, I’m a Society, Ethics and Human Behavior major in my last quarter here at UWB, and I love everything about traveling! Packing, boarding the plane, arriving to a new and foreign destination…it’s all so nerve-wracking but exciting at the same time. I still cannot believe I was selected to participate in this life changing program through this beautiful country, AND become a Study Abroad Ambassador! I will use this space to talk about some of the key moments I experienced before, during and after the program. Stay tuned for more!

Santiago Bernabéu

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The day before class started, we checked into our hotel and had some time to explore the area. Gladys and I went to lunch across the street from our new hotel and had some tortas. The waiter quickly noticed that Spanish was not my first language and began speaking to me in Brazilian Portuguese (?). After, we met with a few classmates and visited a few places such as the Spanish National Library.

Spain

Beautiful building outside of our hotel

National Library

Nat Lib

Spanish National Library

 

First day of class and we got to visit the stadium of Real Madrid: Santiago Bernabéu. When we first arrived, there was a special event happening so we had a few hours to stall before coming back and getting tickets; unfortunately the tickets were first come first serve with no previous reservations… this place must be quite popular.

Santiago Bernabeu

Waiting outside of the stadium

In the meantime, a few of us decided to head back and visit a fruit market that we had seen the day before. I bought some cherries and a small fruit tray of mango, apple, kiwi, strawberry, and dragon fruit.

Fruit Market

Fruit Tray

Of course the fruit had a different taste being from a place that I am not used to. The apples and kiwi  tasted especially different from normal and not in a good way (makes sense for the apples, being from the apple state of Washington and such (; ). The mangoes, strawberries, and cherries on the other hand were incredible! This was also my first time trying dragon fruit. It tasted pretty plain, but fairly delicious. While adventuring around and trying fruit, we also went to a Starbucks and learned a few new things: First, Starbucks cards do not work in Spain. Second, iced coffee does not exist here either! The best they can do is provide a hot coffee and a cup of ice.

We headed back to the stadium where I witnessed an escalator pile up for the first time… not pretty. We headed to the top of the stadium and worked our way through the floors, from the museum to the locker room.

Real Madrid
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Throughout the tour there was a strong sense of pride. The trophy displays were dramatized, videos replayed Real Madrid victories and best moments in time, favorite players were highlighted. It was also extremely crowded and many visitors wore jerseys. By the end of the tour we were all exhausted and hungry. We still had another tour to go on: a walking tour of Madrid.

A storm hit during the second tour. It was raining, not like Seattle raindrops, but raining pennies. We finished the tour at a chocolateria for chocolate churros. Afterwards we headed to dinner and had paella; a Spanish favorite. This was my first time eating paella and certainly not my last.

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4 Things That are Completely Different in Spain

  1. Drinking Gas – Yes, people drink gas in Spain… but not the kind of gas that you are probably thinking of. Gas is what people call sparkling water and it seems to be a big deal. In some restaurants, they will automatically give you sparkling water if you ask for water, unless you say agua del grefo (free water/tap water).
  2. Clubs – If you plan on going ‘clubbing’ as in dancing and bopping around with friends, don’t go to a club in  Spain. You may be surprised to find yourself in a brothel instead. If you’re looking for the dancing kind of club, use the term discoteca (or disco for short).
  3. Coca (Cola) – In America, we ask for Coca-Cola and think nothing of it. Ask for Coca-Cola in Spain and you may get some strange looks. People normally just say “Coke” or “Cola” because coca is slang for cocaine in Spanish (which makes sense given the notorious history of Coca-Cola).
  4. Preservativo – Many Spanish and English words sound similar to each other so I now have a tendency to think that if there is a Spanish word that sounds like an English word, they are likely to mean the same thing. Therefore, preservativo must be the same thing as preservative, right? Not right. Preservativo actually means condom, not those things that keep your mayonnaise and ketchup from going bad.

Cultural Differences: Milk

One of my biggest worries about going abroad is the possibility of getting sick in any shape or form. I feel like I have prepared for the most worst case scenarios imaginable, yet I still worry. Especially when it comes to food.

When Gladys and I went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for the hotel, one of our grocery list items was some milk for cereal. We started looking for it and couldn’t find it anywhere in the refrigerated/dairy sections. Do Spaniards not drink milk? Well, they do. Just not the same way we drink milk in America. Gladys came back to the cart with a cardboard box of milk. But that’s not necessarily the strange part… The milk wasn’t in the refrigerator; it had been sitting in a pyramid of milk just in the middle of the store. Room temperature.

Even “Silk” isn’t refrigerated.

I don’t know about most American households, but at every one I have gone to the milk is tossed if it sits out for just a few hours. So how is it that milk in Spain can sit out indefinitely and still be good? Apparently, there is such a thing as ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) milk. Aseptic processing is used to sterilize the product and use sterilized packaging. The difference is that the milk is heated to a higher degree for a shorter amount of time than traditional milk in order to sterilize the product. UHT milk has close to the same amount of nutrients as traditional milk, but has a shelf life of about 6 months!

If you would like some more information, here are some articles to start with:

How UHT Milk Works” – Milk Unleashed
Why does organic milk last so much longer than regular milk?” – Scientific American

 

The Study Abroad Application Process From Start to Finish

I was asked to write this guide outlining the study abroad application process, but I got a little sidetracked and it ended up taking a lot longer than I expected. Sorry for the delay! All of this information is from my experience applying for the Osaka University Exchange, so it might not be applicable to all UW study abroad programs, but hopefully you still find it helpful.

Why Study Abroad?

Before talking about how to apply for a study abroad program, the first thing we have to talk about is why you should apply. If you’re someone who is interested in learning a language or visiting another country, you probably don’t need much convincing when it comes to this, but there are plenty of other great reasons to study abroad even if you don’t fall into this category.

One of the biggest reasons study abroad was a valuable experience for me was that it placed me in an environment where I was able to reflect upon and evaluate myself. When you’re in a foreign country with brand new people and a brand new day to day life, you’re able to contrast this new life with the one you’re used to. This gives you a certain appreciation for what you had, but it also helps you rethink yourself and your life. I would highly recommend study abroad to anyone who feels like they’re lacking direction, either in their education or in their life in general. In my case study abroad, definitely helped me in this regard.

For more convincing, there are about a thousand “Top 10 Reasons to Study Abroad” lists out there. Even if you’re not quite convinced, if you have the slightest interest in studying abroad, spend some time reading about some of the programs here. I was on the fence about study abroad for years before it occurred to me that I should read up on what programs were out there. When I finally did do some research, just reading about a few programs was all it took to convince me to apply.

Before Applying

Before applying, it’s important to think about how study abroad will fit into your academic calendar. In general I would say the more time you have left until graduation, the easier it is to study abroad without having to delay your graduation. Then again, if you feel the experience is important enough, you might want to consider delaying your graduation in favor of study abroad. In my case, I could have graduated about 2 quarters earlier if I didn’t study abroad, but the experience was well worth the delay in my graduation. It’s also worth mentioning that many programs require you to be at least a Junior, so the earlier you start planning for study abroad the better.

You also need to think about what sort of credits you can get from studying abroad. Typically, general electives are very easy to fulfill abroad, while core requirements are difficult or near impossible to take through a study abroad program. This is also the reason why planning ahead and applying early is important. If you apply after you have already taken care of all of your general electives, you might have a tougher time making the most out of your program; however, don’t feel discouraged if all you have left are core requirements. Many programs have open ended courses which satisfy core requirements and can be very easy to fulfill through a study abroad program. The worst case scenario is that the credits you take while abroad don’t help you at all towards completing your major, and while this isn’t ideal, I would still highly recommend study abroad even if this is the case.

After doing some research on these topics on your own, you will want to meet with advisors both in the study abroad department and in your major. To make an appointment with a UW Bothell advisor go here. It can also be useful to take a trip over to the Seattle study abroad office if you have any questions about specific programs. Definitely keep in touch with these advisors because you will be emailing them constantly throughout the application process!

The Application

The study abroad application can be daunting, but make sure to start it as early as possible. Each application is a little different, but most (all?) applications include a of statement of purpose. The prompt is usually something like this:

“Please write a statement (750-1,000 words) indicating your background and qualifications for studying and living abroad, your reasons for choosing this program or exchange, and the projected benefits of this experience to your course of study and long-term plans. Include any other information that you feel is relevant to your application.”

The statement of purpose is the most important part of your application and it is where you introduce yourself and your motivations. It is also where you convince the study abroad office that you really want to, and deserve to study abroad. The best advice I can give for writing a great statement of purpose is to emphasize your future goals and sell the fact that the study abroad program you have chosen will further these goals. Beyond that, you have all written several essays by this point so I won’t bother explaining how to write a good essay.

Some programs also require two letters of recommendation from professors or faculty members who know you well. Requesting a letter of recommendation is done directly through the application website, but make sure to contact the two professors beforehand so they aren’t caught off guard by an automated request from the study abroad application. This is also the most time consuming part of the application and you should allow at least two weeks from the time you start contacting professors to the time your second recommendation is submitted.

There are also a few other documents you need to fill out and submit before your application is considered complete. Once you have completed everything, all of the boxes on your application should be checked as “Received” and you should be all set.

Some programs also include a second application stage involving a group interview which takes place after the application deadline. The interview sounds serious, but it’s nothing to get nervous about. For my interview, about five or six other applicants and I sat around a table with a study abroad program advisor. We then took turns answering questions about our motivations, as well as parts of our application that needed clarification. It was interesting to talk to other applicants and hear about their motivations, and overall it was a pretty fun experience. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the time the other applicants are applying to completely different programs, so don’t worry about trying to compete with other people at the interview.

Pre-Departure Preparations

If all goes well you receive an email informing you that you have been accepted into the program. At this point, the first thing to do is to either accept or decline participation in the program. If I recall this is first done digitally through the application but even after accepting you can back out without penalty. Later on, you are required to sign a payment contract which initiates a financial commitment to the program. If you decide to leave the program after signing the financial agreement you have to pay a certain fee depending on how much time is left before the start of the program, so it’s important to make sure you are committed before you sign anything.

After committing to participate, there are a few more documents that you need to fill out and submit on the application website. Some exchanges also require a secondary application to the host university. This application is similar to the initial study abroad application and can require another statement of purpose and more letters of recommendation, though I found this application to be a little bit shorter.

You also now need to take care of applying for a passport if you haven’t already done so, applying for a visa in some cases, and purchasing your airline tickets, though I’m sure some of these things vary from program to program. You have a lot of time to get these things done but they are definitely not something to procrastinate on.

Funding Your Study Abroad

Study abroad is often viewed as an expensive endeavour, and many people are discouraged from participating at all due to the cost; however, there are a ton of ways to acquire funds for your trip.

If you already receive financial aid for normal tuition costs, often this financial aid can be applied to your study abroad trip. This depends on the program, but typically if you participate in an exchange you should receive financial aid as usual. There is also the Study Abroad Financial Aid Revision Request Form, which you can fill out in order to inform the school of your additional need for finances, and sometimes receive additional financial aid.

The real focus of this section is to talk about Study Abroad Scholarships which can be an extremely good source of funding if you choose to apply to them. The scholarships available to you depend on your financial aid status as well as your program, but every student should have at least one or two scholarships which they are eligible for. Applying for scholarships can be a lot of work, but if you are participating in study abroad do yourself a favor and apply to EVERYTHING! If you put the work in and apply to enough scholarships, even if you don’t receive all of them, there is the potential to fully fund your study abroad with scholarships.

Applying for scholarships is a lot like applying for study abroad programs in that most of them require a personal statement and a few letters of recommendation. For the personal statement I will reiterate the advice I gave above: sell the fact that your study abroad experience will further your future goals. Each scholarship is looking for something slightly different in a student so try to tailor your essays to each specific application. Lastly, sometimes you have to really convince yourself of your ambitions before you can write a convincing personal statement about your ambitions.

Here is a good place to start when applying for scholarships. SERIOUSLY THOUGH, APPLY TO EVERYTHING.

If all else fails, working part time to save up for your trip, or even working part time while abroad can be an extremely rewarding experience and is definitely worth the effort. Also, depending on your situation and which program you apply for, study abroad can actually be cheaper or the same price as living in the US and taking classes as normal. This is especially the case if you’re living by yourself and paying rent while here at the UW. In Osaka for example, the average rent in the dorms was something like $250 a month, and food was much cheaper than it is here in the US.

The Trip!

The study abroad application process is a massive endeavor, especially if you apply to scholarships, but I can’t even even describe how valuable the payoff is. I titled this section “The Trip” but I don’t think it’s accurate to just think of study abroad as travel. Study abroad to me was like a whole new life. While I was there, I wasn’t traveling, I was at home, and the US was some foreign country across the ocean.

As far as advice for going abroad, it depends on what you’re looking to achieve. If you want to learn a new language or improve one that you have been learning, the best advice I can give is to make friends native to the country you’re visiting. I made the mistake of hanging out with too many study abroad students and I rarely got the chance to practice my Japanese while in Japan. If you want to see as much of the country you visit as possible, I would recommend buying a bike and just going for random rides. I went on plenty of trips while in Japan to famous landmarks and other cities, but the most fun I had exploring the country was when I was just biking around. If you want to expand your experiences academically I would highly recommend joining some clubs or seeing if you can participate in any research while abroad.

Obviously these things are specific to my experience abroad, but I feel like they’re definitely applicable to many of the other study abroad programs. Also, don’t just take my word for it, read some of the other blogs!

If you have any information you would like me to add to this guide, or notice anything I wrote that is incorrect please let me know. Thanks for reading!

What Study Abroad has Come to Mean to me

12/15/2015, Blog by Ashley Potter, American and Ethnic Studies , Comparative Literature in Paris, France

I had waited my entire life to be in France; it’s been a huge dream, turned into goal, turned into reality. One day, I stopped waiting. I saw an opportunity, one that seemed so unattainable on so many levels, and I dove at it. When I finally did, my life had already changed. Even four months before I would embark, the one choice I made one day to study abroad had a domino effect on every aspect of my life—professionally, academically, and personally. There is no better way for me to describe the entirety of my adventure than to use the cliché term, “life changing.” As a result, I have come to know me as someone who welcomes change, someone who isn’t afraid to make sacrifices to work towards my dreams. Along with those things has come a strong sense of self agency and excitement about exploring not only the world, but all the opportunities I have in life.
Before my one hour conversation with Natalia Dyba, I was convinced that I was not going to study abroad anytime sooner than a year to three years. And honestly, I wasn’t even convinced that I would ever make it to France. But what she did is open up doors of opportunity, even when I would shut them. What about the cost? Will I have enough time in my academic schedule? I haven’t studied French in years. She buried each doubt with solutions. I was sold. We looked at each study abroad in France for each quarter, and when I saw this one, Comparative Literature Paris in the fall, I knew. That was the one I wanted, with a host stay and classes that I knew I would enjoy in Paris, the heart of France. The deadline for application had already passed. All doubts came back until I was relieved to hear that I could still apply.
After that, everything fell in line because my determination to go was so strong. Following your dream is a strong motivator, and I had never been so ready to do what it took. Sometimes that meant hours in each of my three counselors offices, piecing my senior year together around this two month program slightly outside of my framework. Sometimes it meant biting a couple of bullets and taking a summer class on the Seattle campus, or spending a couple of hours in finals week working on my scholarships. However, the most monumental change came when I had to have the courage to let things go that weren’t a part of this new path, jobs and relationships that had become just space fillers. The months leading up to my adventure made me realize that the changes had already been seeded, and this was the beginning of an experience of exponential development and growth as a young adult.
By time I got on the plane to Paris, I had already transformed my sense of identity and self-agency. The wildest realization was that the real journey had not even begun. I was just reaching the peak of a mountain after a long hike. But all of the hard work I had put in to make it to that day prepared me mentally to take on the rest of the trek. I went in excited for this amazing opportunity, but even more excited for the obstacles I was about to face living in a foreign country with people I had never met who spoke a language I did not yet fully understand. With my new found welcoming attitude towards big changes, I was curious to see what changes I could trace in my identity through one of the most life changing events I could have. I was attaining a goal that I had thought was impossible through my own will and individual agency, and that was already such a life changing realization about myself. But also I remembered all the people who pushed me, prepared with me, and were excited to share these life changing events with me. Many of which people, I’m proud to say, are a part of my UWB community. After realizing I could take on Paris, France, I’ve come home and thought about taking on the world because I know I could.

How to be Cheap When Traveling Within Another Country

Traveling can be quite expensive, especially when working with a college budget. I’ve gathered a few tips on how I have tried to save money while traveling abroad. But forewarning, this doesn’t work in all countries and all instances.

1. Choose a hotel with complimentary services

A travel tip I learned from my mom is to always choose a hotel with a complimentary continental breakfast and airport-hotel shuttle. What would I do without my mother…

The Holiday Inn Express is fairly well-known for breakfasts as well as a few others. Tourist areas tend to charge a lot more for meals so a complimentary meal can go a long way. Especially if its all-you-can-eat.

The free shuttle is a big one, even more so if it goes to the city center where most activities will be. It saves a lot of money that might otherwise be spent on a spendy taxi. 

2. Shop at the grocery store instead of constantly eating out

Eating out is a large part of cultural experiences, but the food from the grocery store can contribute to new experiences as well and even cost less. Gladys and I decided to gather food from the grocery store for a few meals and snacks for the three days we would be at our hotel before the program started. It costed less than 25 euros for both of us during the three days and we only ate out once.

3. Wash your clothes in your own hotel room

Since we had a few days in hotels before meeting our host families, the limited amount of clothing that we all brought had its fair share of wear. In other words, it needed to be washed… and who wants to spend money on ridiculously priced hotel laundry service? We also didn’t want to show up meeting our host families and say “Hi it’s nice to meet you, now I have a full suitcase of laundry for you to wash”.

The only other (viable) option was to wash our laundry ourselves in our hotel rooms (tread lightly on this one because there are multiple variables that go into making this tip successful). Before I left for Spain, I did a whole lot of reading blogs, Google searches, Pinterest posting, etc. to find the best tips I could. One that I found was to buy single-use Tide packets (good luck finding these in the stores because I didn’t). Instead, Gladys and I washed our clothes in the sink and bath tub with shampoo. Now our mistakes were 1) we didn’t have much time for them to dry and 2) the ratio for clothes that needed to be hung and spaces to hang these clothes to dry effectively were about 10:1. Hence, most of our clothes remained damp for quite some time.

My advice? Try to find single use laundry packets or just use shampoo, make sure you have enough time and space for your clothes to dry, and don’t wash too many clothes at the same time.

4. Cost-efficient flights

If flights seem to be outrageously priced at your nearby airport, try flying out of another destination. Since I live in Washington state, it isn’t a great hassle to fly out of Vancouver, BC… especially when those flights cost about $300 less (~$850 roundtrip) than those coming out of the United States. It was even easier because Gladys lives in Bellingham which is a lot closer to the Canadian border than the Tri-Cities (or even Bothell) is.

You also really have to weigh your priorities as well. Our trips to Spain and back were both about 30 hours (longer than average) with about 3 connecting flights and long layovers because our flights were so cheap. If I were to do it again, I would consider paying a little extra for a more comfortable trip.

5. Apply, apply, apply

Honestly, there is no way I could have studied abroad without financial aid or scholarships. Fortunately, my financial aid covered the cost of tuition/housing. That just left the travel expenses, insurance coverage, food/activities, hotels not covered in program and some of the miscellaneous costs. I applied for about 3 study abroad scholarships for this trip and received one for about $1,600 and the only conditions are that I promote study abroad as a Study Abroad Ambassador (talk about my amazing experiences abroad and encourage others to join? Easy!). With an $850 airfare, the rest of this really helped me with food and paying part of the program so I didn’t have to take out as much of a loan.

Scholarships can be very discouraging, especially when you are someone like me who doesn’t receive many. The good thing about study abroad scholarships is that there is a much smaller pool of applicants because not as many students study abroad and apply for scholarships compared to the larger amount of students who apply for general scholarships. There are even program/location specific scholarships that give you a shoe-in. Still can’t afford to study abroad but want to travel to another country? Try an internship, working, or teaching English abroad.

6. Buy travel insurance

One of the best investments I made for studying abroad was buying the comprehensive travel insurance for students (okay, it was a requirement to go on the trip but still…). If anything, it gave me a piece of mind that if anything at all happened I would be covered. And something did happen. I got sick and ended up in the hospital for some time. No worries though because everything was covered and it only costed $75 (the cost of the insurance)!

8. Negotiate

Something Americans don’t do enough of. Many times we go to a store and think that the sticker price is the only price (which isn’t always necessarily true). Different countries have different customs, but I found haggling in Spain easier than I ever have elsewhere. I actually talked a guy down for a backpack that was $15 to $10 (so proud).

9. Convert currency before leaving (including any change)

I learned this one the hard way. I simply didn’t make enough time to go to the bank before leaving and thought I would be fine. Boy was I wrong. So much hassle could have been avoided if I had just converted currency beforehand… plus conversion rates may be more expensive in other countries.

10. Find a bank that has the lowest withdrawal fees possible

I heard of some companies charging crazy fees for withdrawing money abroad. I also didn’t want to carry all of my money with me in fear of losing it all and having nothing. Fortunately, I had a BECU account and was able to use this abroad with only a 10% fee.

The overall themes for being cheap in another country is doing your research beforehand and knowing when to spend a little more money for protection/comfort. It may not always be the best idea to go with the cheapest possible everything because you’ll get what you pay for: cheap. You still want to enjoy your time and feel protected… but if you are someone whom is okay with that, than by all means go for it!

9/20: Last Day in Cusco

Luckily, things were mostly packed from when we left for the Urubamba Valley so I didn’t have to do too much in the morning. A big group of us had all agreed to meet at noon to coordinate the rest of the day together. As we waited, I hit up the cafe/bakery next door with three other girls. Sitting there, sipping on espresso, it was weird to think about going home because it no longer felt like we were in a different country–Cusco had started feeling like home already. I can imagine how much stranger it would be if we’d spent a whole quarter or half a year abroad.

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I’d been carrying all this around in my ‘day pack’ for the last month

At noon, we all took taxis to the Plaza de Armas because that’s where all our hostels were. Me and 3 other people were staying at the same place, Pariwana Hostel, so we traveled together with all of our stuff. It was a very cool hostel with nightly activities and lots of cool services, and I wished I was staying there longer. At 1pm we all met up and some of us went to the market for more souvenirs. I went to exchange money then Tristan and I took a stroll to find food. We stumbled on a street fair type event happening in front of the college of sciences and we bought chicha to drink. The plan was for everyone to get back together at 3:30 to go to the football (fútbol) game that started at 4, but when we got back together we learned that the game had actually been at 11:45 in the morning! The rest of the plan was to watch the Seahawks game afterwards at Paddy’s Irish Pub (yes, an Irish pub) so we all just agreed to meet at 7pm for that.

Having slept barely 4 hours the night before, I went back to the hostel for a nap. I got about an hour of sleep in between people coming in and out of the room. At 6:45pm I headed over to Paddy’s, met the group, and we spent the next 4 hours hanging out and watching the slightly underwhelming game. I was falling asleep in my seat by the time it was over and promptly returned to the hostel to pack my last minute things and get as much sleep as I could. I had to get up before 5am to check out and get to the airport. It would be weird spending the next day traveling all by myself but I had grown comfortable in Peru and confident in my Spanish. Plus it gave me time to reflect on the last month and get ready to jump back in to my regular life again (I’ll never be ready, but who is?). On the 8 hour flight from Lima to Los Angeles I discovered that they had two Bob Marley albums available, which was the music I had been craving the most. It’s funny that being in Peru made me love Bob more than when I was back in Seattle. Now this was the perfect way to send me back home.

* * *

9/19: Last Day of the Program

This time we could see on the train back to Ollantaytambo. Most of the group was asleep, though. I, having gotten 7 hours of sleep the past two nights, was able to stay awake. I spent most of the time finishing a drawing of a mandala that I had started on the bus ride back from Wayqecha. We got breakfast at a cute cafe that had a poster of Bob Marley so I immediately liked it. A couple of Colombian botanists that had been on the train with us (and apparently were also at the pizza restaurant the night before) walked in to the cafe about a half hour after us–I don’t really have anything to say about them but the coincidence is worth pointing out.

We got on our friendly bus back through the Urubamba Valley and visited a giant white Incan corn farm. The corn is known as giant white corn. Ever buy “Inka corn” from Trader Joes? Well they farm and make it at this place. We heard about Incan agricultural traditions, watched the uncanny trotting practice of the Peruvian horse (“the Cadillac of horses”) and were sent on our way with bags of dried corn products. Next we stopped at Ursula’s parent’s weekend house for an outdoor lunch. Again, I ate the leftover pizza from the night before. We had a long discussion to reflect on the second half of the course, and the course as a whole. It was a very empowering sharing of how each of us saw something new in terms of conservation and new ways to be once back at home. As an absolutely perfect ending, the universe and powers that be graced us with the appearance of 4 Andean condors flying around the nearby cliffs. The Andean condor is the world’s largest non-seafaring bird, worshiped by the Incas as representing the realm of the sky, featured in statues around Peru, and is also incredibly rare due to hunting and poisoning by humans. Basically, it was a really big deal that we saw them. I actually almost cried.

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The Andean condor

As another witty play by the universe, our next stop was a wildlife rehabilitation center for injured and mistreated wild animals, many of which were kept as pets at one point. There were Andeans condors there, too. Up close I was stunned by how truly giant these birds are–they stand over 4 feet tall and have over a 9 ft. wingspan–which we witnessed as one of the workers chased the birds to get them to fly. All in all, the center was heartbreaking to see but is an accurate depiction of the harsh reality that exists between humans and wild animals.

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The magnificent birds in [artificial] flight.

On the bus from there to Cusco, we were all in a somber mood. But again fate came around to provide us with the most stunning sunset I’ve seen in a long time. We all got off the bus and withstood the cold evening air to watch the day change to night. We were mostly silent for the shear beauty of what we were seeing. The perfect way to end our program.

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Sunset on the last day of the Exploration Seminar: from Andes to Amazon

But we weren’t done yet; we still had the last supper. We had a little under an hour at Alfonso to put our stuff down and relax before catching a taxi to Ursula’s brother’s restaurant. It was a fancy place that played smooth jazz covers of very not-smooth-jazz songs. We had the whole back section to ourselves which was good because there were several toasts and speeches (I actually started off the set). We spent almost 3 hours there talking and laughing and generally enjoying being all together before going our separate ways. But eventually things wound down and people started heading back to the hostel. It was around 10:30pm, and being the last night and all, I was going out dancing.

Others had gone out on various nights and I’d been waiting for the last night this whole time. I walked directly to the plaza from the restaurant to hit the town. It was Latin night at the place we went to, which I was happy about because it fit with being in Peru. The club also had a poster of Bob Marley (brownie points!). That night I danced non-stop for 4 hours and by the time I got back to Alfonso I could barely make it up the stairs because I had no leg muscles left. But I made it to my room and spent my last night at Alfonso.