Week 3 in San Sebastian: Lisbon, Madrid, and more!

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The say­ing time flies when you’re hav­ing fun could not be any truer. San Sebas­t­ian really feels like home to me now. I have set­tled into the dorms, unpacked, and really have a basic feel for the city. Hard to believe this is my third week here. The weather has been on our side so far, only one day of rain which the locals say is very rare! Usu­ally Spring is the rainy sea­son, keep­ing my fin­gers crossed that the rain will stay away. Although I have been in classes for 3 weeks now, it still seems like I am trav­el­ing on one big vaca­tion. Our home­work mostly con­sists of read­ing many arti­cles, books, and essays related to Basque cul­ture and nation­al­ism. The course­work has all been very inter­est­ing so far, I had no idea there was so much his­tory behind these North Spain ter­ri­to­ries. Span­ish class has been the most dif­fi­cult for me, but being around the lan­guage con­stantly means I have been learn­ing very quickly.

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My favorite things to do in San Sebas­t­ian are walk­ing along the beach, eat­ing ice cream, and going on hik­ing adven­tures. The town is very wel­com­ing to tourists and there is always some­thing to do. Below is a pic­ture of me and a few other stu­dents at the top of our hike to Monte Urgull with a great view of the beach behind us:

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Below is a panoramic shot I took while at the top of Monte Igeldo on the one rainy day so far:
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There is a tra­di­tion in San Sebas­t­ian where locals go out on a Thurs­day night for Pinxto-Pote. Pinxto is a Basque word that means small snack, or treat. The rule of a pinxto is that it has to be con­sumed in 2–3 bites. Most com­monly pinx­tos are a small piece of bread with meat on top, usu­ally ham or fish. Tor­tilla is also a famous type of pinxto, it is almost like a quiche with eggs and pota­toes. These small bites can be hot or cold food. The con­cept of pinxto-pote is get­ting one of these treats with a drink for 2 euros which is very cheap. The entire town likes to take part in this tra­di­tion, it is a great time to social­ize with your neigh­bors. The food in San Sebas­t­ian is deli­cious! This pic­ture is an exam­ple of pinx­tos that we made at a work­shop the other day:
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It is impor­tant for me to make sure I travel and visit other places in Europe while I am here. Last week a large group of us from the UW pro­gram trav­eled to Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal. I have only great things to say about Lis­bon. It was rain­ing and over­cast while we were there, but being from Seat­tle this was not a prob­lem. The build­ings, mon­u­ments, cas­tles, and cathe­drals in the city are breath­tak­ing. The build­ings are all white stone with red clay roofs and long wind­ing alley ways with shops hid­den among them. Most of the peo­ple in Por­tu­gal could speak Eng­lish which was great because none of us knew any Por­tuguese. The locals were so wel­com­ing and always helped us when we looked lost, or were plan­ning our day trips. I highly rec­om­mend vis­it­ing Lis­bon if you have the chance, it is one of the most beau­ti­ful places I have ever seen!
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I got back yes­ter­day from a week­end trip to Madrid with another group of stu­dents. Madrid is the cap­i­tal of Spain so it is HUGE. I would have loved to stay there to explore more, but had to come back for classes. Dur­ing our time in Madrid we vis­ited Botin (the old­est restau­rant in his­tory), the Plaza de Mayor, Par­que del Retiro, the Pala­cio de Cristal, and the Pala­cio Real de Madrid. The weather was sunny and warm which made it even more enjoy­able. Below is a pic­ture of the Pala­cio Real de Madrid, or the Royal Palace:
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This upcom­ing week I will be trav­el­ing to Sevilla and Granada for Sem­ana Santa (Easter Break). Word on the street is that Sevilla has some of the best Easter Fes­ti­vals in the entire world! Look out for an update of my Sem­ana Santa com­ing soon.

Thanks for reading!



The Golden Triangle!

The past two weeks have been crazy! After one week in Bangkok we trav­eled to Chi­ang Mai, Thai­land which is in the north­ern part of the coun­try. We were able to be in the city for Songkran which is Thai New Years! Songkran con­sists of city-wide water fights and many bless­ings and prayers for the new year. For about four days you can­not walk around the streets with­out get­ting soak­ing wet! We had the awe­some oppor­tu­nity of par­tic­i­pat­ing in this fes­ti­val. The water rep­re­sents cleans­ing for the new year.

After four days in Chi­ang Mai full of water fights, ele­phant camps, and zip-lining through the jun­gles, we trav­eled even fur­ther north to Chi­ang Rai. Here we met with a friend of the group, and she allowed us all to join her fam­ily for din­ner in her vil­lage, and also allowed the women to spend the night at her house. This time spent in the vil­lage has been the most incred­i­ble part of my time abroad thus far. In the morn­ing we woke up before the sun and par­tic­i­pated in the cer­e­mony at the tem­ple. We were all blessed by a monk and given a bracelet from him as well.

After this amaz­ing expe­ri­ence, we were very close to the bor­der of Burma, and had the oppor­tu­nity to cross. I did so, and spent a cou­ple hours in Burma vis­it­ing another tem­ple and par­tic­i­pat­ing in another prayer with a Burmese influence.

This trip just keeps get­ting bet­ter! We are cur­rently stay­ing right next to the Golden Tri­an­gle which is where Laos, Thai­land, and Burma meet.

More sto­ries to come!:)





Pre-Departure Spain:

Blog by Shada Shomali — Study Abroad Spain

Try­ing to fig­ure out what to bring on my 3.5 month adven­ture abroad has been very over­whelm­ing! I per­son­ally am an over packer and have a bad ten­dency to bring every­thing with me. Here are the top seven essen­tial tips that helped me out:

1.      You don’t need to nec­es­sar­ily worry about buy­ing a sep­a­rate phone for abroad. Every­where you go mostly has Wi-Fi and What­sApp, Viber, and Skype are the three essen­tial apps to down­load. If you have an Iphone you can send Imes­sage for free with Wi-Fi (just make sure your phone is on air­plane mode the whole time so you won’t be charged).  Any­where you have wifi you can text/call/facetime in the world for free. So don’t stress on buy­ing a sim card or new phone just for abroad, it’s not necessary.

2.      Make sure to buy at least two con­vert­ers! These are a MUST because the plugs in Europe are dif­fer­ent than the ones back at home. You can order them for around $5 on amazon!

3.      Look into get­ting a BECU debit card. They only have a 1% trans­ac­tion fee and most banks usu­ally have a larger one. Research on what banks don’t have high for­eign fees and get one of their cards! Also, you don’t need to bring cur­rency with you. Once you get to the air­port of your arrival des­ti­na­tion you should just with­draw money out of the ATM. That way you get the best rates there. Don’t for­get to call your banks telling them you are going abroad or else they will block your card.

4.      Make copies and have doc­u­men­ta­tions of your pass­port and credit cards you’re bring­ing. This is impor­tant just in case any­thing gets lost or stolen you will be prepared.

5.      Bring com­fort­able shoes!!! I can’t stress enough how much walk­ing I have done already in the past week. Your feet will hurt and com­fort­able ten­nis shoes are def­i­nitely an essential.

6.      Pack light and pack smart. Be pre­pared for dif­fer­ent weather, but don’t bring too much. You will def­i­nitely do a lot of shop­ping when you are study­ing abroad and you don’t want to carry too many suit­cases with you.  It becomes a has­sle. Also, bring a small carry on suit­case you can take with you on week­end trips. Since all the coun­tries are so close together you will be trav­el­ing a lot and a small carry on will be per­fect for week­end adventures!

7.      Get in touch with the stu­dents in your group before­hand. That way you guys can travel together and buy the same tick­ets. It will be great to have a heads start meet­ing your peers you will be study­ing with!

            As my adven­ture abroad has started, I have landed in Lon­don for 10 days before my actual pro­gram in San Sebas­t­ian, Spain starts. I highly rec­om­mend tak­ing advan­tage of the break you have before the pro­gram starts so you can travel more! Lon­don is absolutely breath­tak­ing! The city is gor­geous and there are so many things to do! I per­son­ally rec­om­mend doing all the touristy things you can. You will get a feel for the city and learn so much his­tory! The Lon­don Eye is a must, you can see all over the city! Bor­oughs Mar­ket has such amaz­ing food from all dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Try­ing a tra­di­tional mash and pie in Lon­don is also a must. With my 10 days in Lon­don I made it to Dublin, Ire­land for two nights.  It’s only around a 50 minute flight to Dublin and you can find cheap tick­ets online from Skyscanner.com. The city is filled with the nicest peo­ple I have ever met. They are always will­ing to go out of their way to help you out. After being in Dublin for a full day I went on a day excur­sion to the West Coast to see the Cliffs of Moher. I highly highly highly rec­om­mend this excur­sion to any­one going to Ire­land! It is by far the most beau­ti­ful place on earth I have ever been. You can sit on the cliffs and watch the ocean for hours and still not get tired of your view! Through­out my time in Lon­don and Ire­land it was a great way to start my jour­ney abroad! In both coun­tries peo­ple drive on oppo­site sides of the road and dri­vers are on the right hand side. Be care­ful cross­ing the streets! It was extremely con­fus­ing for me. But over­all, I was blown away with how much there were to do in both cities and how beau­ti­ful every­thing was!

shada2     Big Ben Clocktower     The London Eye

Coastline     Coastline

One Week in Bangkok!

I have offi­cially spent one week in Bangkok, Thai­land! The past week has been crazy busy! The city itself is insane. The streets are always full of cars and peo­ple, and the city is always alive. We had a team amaz­ing race scav­enger hunt around the city a few days ago which was an awe­some way to learn about the city and how to get around. A few days ago we took a boat ride on the Chao Phrya river which was amaz­ing. It was great to see the river parts of Bangkok. On this trip we vis­ited the Tem­ple of the Dawn which was incred­i­ble. We also had the chance to visit the Royal Barge Museum as well as the Grand Palace which is home to the Emer­ald Buddha.

We finally started Thai lan­guage class as well as our other two classes as well. Thai is a dif­fi­cult lan­guage to learn but so far it has been super fun!

Tomor­row we leave Bangkok and head up to Chang Mai in north­ern Thai­land! My next posts will be from there.



Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Temple of the Dawn

Tem­ple of the Dawn

River Boat

River Boat

Week one in Spain!

Blog by Eleanor Wort — Study Abroad Spain

The first few days in Spain have been sur­real and amaz­ing. It is hard to believe that all of this is actu­ally hap­pen­ing! I never thought it would be so easy for me to apply to a Study Abroad Pro­gram and have the oppor­tu­nity to travel across the world with other UW stu­dents. I came to Europe a week before my pro­gram began to visit fam­ily in Eng­land. I had a great time explor­ing all of the tourist attrac­tions in Lon­don, espe­cially Big Ben and the London Eye!


It was great to visit my fam­ily in Eng­land before my Pro­gram began, but my mind seemed pre­oc­cu­pied as all I could think about was San Sebas­t­ian. Now that I have been in San Sebas­t­ian a few days I have finally unpacked my suit­case and explored the city. Our res­i­dence hall is called Res­i­den­cia de Olarain and is located on the West­ern side of the city. We take classes at the Uni­ver­si­dad de Deusto which is a 35 minute walk to the other side of town. I love walk­ing to cam­pus because the road goes along the famous San Sebas­t­ian beaches with the best view I have ever seen.


I have expe­ri­enced a bit of cul­ture shock within my first few days here. The lan­guage bar­rier is a bit dif­fi­cult because I am not flu­ent in Span­ish. I am still able to commu­ni­cate with hand motions and sim­ple Span­ish words, and have already learned a ton of new things about the language.

It is part of the Span­ish cul­ture to have “siesta” every day. Siesta in Spain is when most stores close between 1:30 and 3:30 PM for a break in the day to eat lunch. This is cus­tom­ary because lunch is seen as the most impor­tant meal of the day to spend time with fam­ily and friends. A lot of the Span­ish peo­ple also use this time to take naps before going back to work in the evening. Dur­ing this siesta time the streets of San Sebas­t­ian which are usu­ally filled with peo­ple become empty. Only the tourists and for­eign­ers are on the streets at this time of the day. It has been hard to adjust to siesta so far because I am not used to eat­ing lunch so late in the day. Also, it is dif­fi­cult when the stores all close in the day and you have to buy food. It is also com­mon to eat din­ner at 8:30 PM or later. The sched­ule is much dif­fer­ent than what I was used to in America.

Classes began this week and have already proven that the aca­d­e­mic work load will be the same cal­iber as reg­u­lar UW classes. We are tak­ing a Span­ish class in order to gain more knowl­edge of the lan­guage we will be using. There is also a Cul­tural His­tory class about San Sebas­t­ian, and a nation­al­ism class which dis­cusses the Basque peo­ple and the Basque nation. It is very inter­est­ing to be study­ing about a cul­ture dif­fer­ent from that in Amer­ica, while I am also liv­ing in it. 

One of the most dif­fi­cult things about the trip to Spain was plan­ning and prepar­ing for it. The hard­est part of my prepa­ra­tion was pack­ing. How am I sup­posed to fit three months’ worth of cloth­ing into one suit­case? The answer to that ques­tion is to use dis­cre­tion. If you don’t wear a shirt while you are at home, you prob­a­bly wouldn’t wear it abroad either. The weather will be chang­ing a lot dur­ing my pro­gram as the sea­sons will tran­si­tion from Spring to Sum­mer. I made a list of cloth­ing to bring and nar­rowed it down to one suit­case worth by pick­ing cloth­ing that was neu­tral and easy to pair with other items. Pack­ing comfy walk­ing shoes was also a must for me because I walk to class every day and want to explore the city.

Another source of hard­ship dur­ing my prepa­ra­tions was fig­ur­ing out how I should use my Cell Phone while in Spain. The most viable option for me was to bring my phone from home and use it to con­nect to Wifi. Through Wifi I can use apps such as What­sApp and Viber to con­tact my friends and fam­ily back in the States. I also made sure to get a wall plug con­verter for my cell phone, cam­era, and lap­top charg­ers that can work with the volt­age and out­lets in Spain.


So far, I have loved every minute of liv­ing in Spain. The cul­ture through­out the area is so unique from any­thing I have ever expe­ri­enced. Every road I walk down there is another beau­ti­ful build­ing and site to see. This week­end I will be tak­ing a trip to Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal with a few other stu­dents in our pro­gram. I will make sure to write another post about my expe­ri­ences in Portugal.

Adios mis ami­gos, and thanks for reading!

My Very First Blog Post!

Blog by Jamie Clark — Study Abroad, Thailand

Only five days left until I take off to Thai­land. Cur­rently, I’m just try­ing to get every­thing together. Finally started pack­ing and get­ting my last neces­si­ties taken care of. It has been sur­pris­ing how much stuff there is to do prior to this trip! Time is just fly­ing by. I have been work­ing on our pre-departure research paper and learn­ing quite a bit about the coun­tries we are going to be trav­el­ing to. Safety is some­thing that we are tak­ing very seri­ously and so we have been learn­ing all about the coun­tries and how to stay safe while still hav­ing an awe­some time. Only a few more days to get things done and then it is time to take off! My next post will be from the ground in Bangkok, Thailand!

Jamie Clark 


Women’s Empowerment in Mfuwe, Zambia



Writ­ten on July 14, 2013 by Shau­niece Drayton

Before com­ing to Zam­bia, we had to do research on one out of three top­ics to focus on while in Zam­bia. There were three cohorts and I chose to be a part of the women’s empow­er­ment group because that is where my pas­sion lies. I have been a part of activ­i­ties aimed towards women’s empow­er­ment on cam­pus, so nat­u­rally I grav­i­tated towards this when I was given the oppor­tu­nity. What I expected to do, and what I have expe­ri­enced so far couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. I am learn­ing new things about their cul­ture and soci­etal beliefs that are dif­fer­ent from Amer­ica and other west­ern nations. In Zam­bia they do not use the term “empow­er­ment” because it’s seen as an aggres­sive term. Instead the girls from Mfuwe day school said to call it women’s encour­age­ment, and they really want to focus on improv­ing girl’s confidence.

Some of the ten­sion with using the word empow­er­ment comes from the strong tra­di­tional beliefs that exist in Zam­bia. There is a gen­er­a­tional gap in beliefs and val­ues between the old gen­er­a­tion (grand­par­ents) and the youth. The old gen­er­a­tion is more tra­di­tional and the youth are bring­ing in new ideas of thought. For exam­ple the elder gen­er­a­tion val­ues mar­riage and believes that it is the women/girls job to take care of the house chores. This can cause fric­tion because some girls who really value school may not have time to study due to these responsibilities.

We part­nered with Karin and Dave who run the NGO Project Luangwa, and started a girls club at Mfuwe day school. We have met the girls once and will meet with them two more times before leav­ing. We also planned a girl’s day cel­e­bra­tion for the girls at Mfuwe day school. The whole day was packed with activ­i­ties, ice break­ers, and get­ting to know each other. We ended up hav­ing about fif­teen girls there! The girls arrived in the morn­ing, and we started with some ice breaker games out in the yard. We played some games we learned pre­vi­ous to com­ing to Mfuwe such as Seven, and I Pe-pe-ta. The girls had a lot of danc­ing and singing games they taught us such as I do what I do, and Send a Let­ter. After warm­ing up and get­ting to know each other a lit­tle bet­ter we went inside to start a dif­fer­ent activ­ity. We decided to make friend­ship bracelets with the girls. We had dif­fer­ent col­ored string laid out and each string rep­re­sented a word. For instance we had strength, con­fi­dence, courage, pas­sion, deter­mi­na­tion, and wis­dom. To make the bracelets we just used a sim­ple braid­ing tech­nique and let the girls choose three dif­fer­ent col­ored strings to cre­ate their friend­ship bracelet. This activ­ity felt spe­cial to me because there was so much mean­ing in which strings you picked. The rest of the day was filled with bra fit­ting (we mea­sured the girls bust sizes and gave them bras to take home), lunch, and more games. At lunch we had a dis­cus­sion with the girls about top­ics they wanted to talk about. They asked us ques­tions about boys, edu­ca­tion, and things they wanted to know about the U.S. The thing that struck me the most from this day was the fact that these girls have their own agency, they don’t need us (Amer­i­cans) to come in and save them, or tell them how to live. Instead, we were there as friends and men­tors shar­ing knowl­edge and frus­tra­tions that we all expe­ri­ence. I feel like this day is some­thing that I will remem­ber for the rest of my life and I feel blessed to have had the oppor­tu­nity to meet these girls.


For more infor­ma­tion on Project Luangwa like them on Face­book: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Project-Luangwa/101212036590238


While liv­ing here in Paris, I find myself often dis­cussing – with both other for­eign­ers and French peo­ple – the com­plex­ity and frus­tra­tions with the highly struc­tured sys­tems that exist in France. More specif­i­cally, with the edu­ca­tion and work sys­tems, and most impor­tantly, their crossover. Although I tend to look at The United States with a crit­i­cal eye, I’ve always appre­ci­ated the flex­i­bil­ity and value placed on cre­ativ­ity and indi­vid­ual choice. I think that these cul­tural val­ues man­i­fest them­selves within our edu­ca­tion sys­tem. For exam­ple, even at the high school level stu­dents have a choice of elec­tives, sports, clubs, etc. Then fur­ther, at the uni­ver­sity level, with the plethora of degree pro­grams – even within them­selves hav­ing course choice options. Then after stud­ies, the idea that your degree doesn’t have to cor­re­spond pre­cisely to your work field(s), because it’s impor­tant to have a diver­sity of indi­vid­u­als within a team who can each offer a unique perspective/input.

I think that this con­cep­tion of flex­i­bil­ity and ‘inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­ity’ in degree and field of work shows how our cul­ture empha­sizes the impor­tance of look­ing at the entire his­tory of an indi­vid­ual in a broad, yet crit­i­cal sense. While prepar­ing my mas­ters appli­ca­tions for French uni­ver­si­ties, and speak­ing with peo­ple already work­ing here, I get the impres­sion that this same flex­i­bil­ity isn’t as preva­lent. For exam­ple, hav­ing changed courses of study, or hav­ing stud­ied mul­ti­ple sub­jects, is often con­sid­ered as a lack of focus, or mak­ing a wrong deci­sion. Fur­ther, it can be hard to inte­grate into a new field of study, since even at the high school level, the final diploma has a spe­cial­ized men­tion. Even more dif­fi­cult is to change career fields. This also puts a lot of pres­sure on stu­dents at a young age to com­mit to a spe­cific sec­tor, when later they may come to real­ize that they are bet­ter suited for another domain, yet can­not nec­es­sar­ily go back to get the appro­pri­ate training.

While there are cer­tainly French uni­ver­si­ties and French com­pa­nies that break beyond these severely struc­tured sys­tems that seek for­mu­lated, spe­cific, and sim­i­lar indi­vid­u­als for program/career place­ments, it doesn’t appear to be the norm. There are sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties that appear to actively seek inter­na­tional stu­dents, and in these cases, I think they rep­re­sent a more mod­ern, cre­ative, and flex­i­ble sys­tem than the ‘old French edu­ca­tion sys­tem.’ This idea also makes me won­der how glob­al­iza­tion – both within edu­ca­tion and work – will impact the French sys­tems. My pre­dic­tion is that it will slowly alter France to become more open and mal­leable, to the ben­e­fit of both native French and for­eign­ers. After all, how can we know what we want to do or who we want to be with­out hav­ing a vari­ety of expe­ri­ences – edu­ca­tion­ally, pro­fes­sion­ally, and per­son­ally? Maybe it is because I’ve gone down paths in all sorts of direc­tions, but with­out hav­ing done that, I think I would be lost.

Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Oh My!

Writ­ten by Shau­niece Dray­ton on July 7, 2013

Marula Lodge in Mfuwe is a spe­cial place. It is located in the most rural area of the coun­try along the Luangwa River. I remem­ber when we first arrived and I had no idea what to expect as we piled our dusty bags on top of each other. The owner of the lodge took us on a quick tour of the prop­erty. She showed us where the out­door bath­rooms were, the com­mon area, and the beau­ti­ful river that we had front row access to. Hav­ing only been to the more urban parts of the coun­try we had not seen many ani­mals. She informed us that the large “rocks” in the water were actu­ally hip­pos, and we even saw croc­o­diles bathing in the sun. She informed us of the rules of the lodge one being if you run into an ele­phant, you must freeze, and not make any sud­den move­ments. That was a lit­tle wor­ri­some for me con­sid­er­ing I had never seen a wild ele­phant before! Funny enough that very night I had to prac­tice that rule, and believe me I did not move a mus­cle. Another rule was that at night we had to use a flash­light and staff had to escort us when walk­ing around. Appar­ently the hip­pos, and ele­phants came out to graze at night and you wouldn’t want to star­tle one of them unexpectedly.

When we were get­ting assigned to our rooms I was pray­ing that I wasn’t in a tent. My biggest fear was that I would get smashed by a hippo or ele­phant who was try­ing to graze on the trees above the tents. Luck­ily, I was granted a room. Although a cou­ple nights ago I woke up from a strange drag­ging sound. I climbed out of my mos­quito net secured bed and peeked out the win­dow, that’s when I saw a huge hippo walk­ing slowly right past my room! That was some­thing I’ll never for­get because it was so close, and I was the only one awake to wit­ness it. It’s silly, some­how the only emo­tion I could feel was fear, like the hippo would sense me star­ing at it and come stam­ped­ing through the win­dow. I have had to make a habit of wear­ing ear plugs to bed because of all the strange sounds. Ele­phants rip­ping leaves off the trees, and mon­keys run­ning around on the ceil­ing above to name a few. One thing that really sur­prised me about the ele­phants is the fact that they are extremely quiet when they move. Unless they are pulling branches off a tree they are very light on their feet, which seems strange for an ani­mal of that size.

Marula lodge has become a kind of home for me, we are stay­ing for two weeks, the longest amount of time in one area since arriv­ing in Zam­bia. While we are here we get to work with dif­fer­ent schools in the area, go on safari rides, and work with a non-government orga­ni­za­tion (NGO) called Project Luangwa. My favorite part of the safari rides so far are the sun sets and the sun rises. The way that the fiery red sun rises and sets in the sky is noth­ing like I have ever seen. It is absolutely mag­i­cal against the back­drop of the trees and vast plains. Not only do I get to expe­ri­ence beauty in the form of nature, but I have already learned a lot about the ani­mals in the South Luangwa Park. Yes, park, not a zoo these ani­mals roam free and I feel like the intruder on their ter­ri­tory. I got to see so many large ani­mals that I had only ever seen on TV or in a zoo. Lions, giraffe, hippo, zebras, ele­phants, leop­ards, hyena, warthogs, bison, and gazelles. I learned that zebras travel in a heard because their stripes make it harder for preda­tors to catch them, and that you an tell the age of a giraffe by the light or dark color of its spots. Last night we went on an evening safari ride and we stalked a leop­ard, hop­ing to see it catch a gazelle. Although we did not get to see it in action, the night was excit­ing enough, a bumpy ride in an open safari car at night, ani­mals on the hunt, no wor­ries right? Well I’m still here and enjoy­ing my time. This place feels sur­real to me, like I am in the great­est dream of my life.

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Chapters Reopened

On August 29th, 2012 I wrote my last blog post about liv­ing in France for a year as a study abroad stu­dent. In that post, I wrote, “I think I’ll be back to France one of these days, maybe short-term, maybe long-term. But for now, I am going to enjoy the U.S. more so than ever, because I have learned more about myself, and about my coun­try, thanks to being abroad.” Just about one year later, in the begin­ning of August 2013, I moved back to Paris. It’s been about six months and the expe­ri­ence has been dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent then when I was an exchange student.

My project upon return­ing was to improve my French enough in order to apply for a mas­ters at a uni­ver­sity in Paris. But, my project was not as con­structed as when I was an exchange stu­dent. I enrolled in lan­guage classes, took a job as a nanny, and moved in with my boyfriend (at the time). But, for the most part, I was on my own, with­out a net­work, with­out a solid step-by-step plan. I wasn’t scared, but maybe I should have been.

After six months, my one net­work was ended when my rela­tion­ship ended. His fam­ily was my fam­ily here, his friends were my friends here. I was left feel­ing com­pletely iso­lated and ques­tion­ing why I was here in Paris.

It’s been one month and I’ve remem­bered why I’m here: liv­ing in a for­eign coun­try is a chal­lenge in inde­pen­dence and strength. You have to work harder and more in order to suc­ceed; sys­tems aren’t designed for you, the for­eigner — they’re designed for the national. Every­day can be a lit­tle com­pli­cated with the lan­guage, with the peo­ple — things are dif­fer­ent. But that is why I am here, it’s why I returned. What bet­ter way to explore who you are, what you want, than to be con­stantly sur­rounded by dif­fer­ences and adversity?

Don’t get me wrong, liv­ing abroad is just as much of a priv­i­lege as it is a chal­lenge. But, it’s a priv­i­lege and an oppor­tu­nity that tests us to con­stantly seek who we are and who we can become.