So long, South Africa!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been back in Seat­tle for almost a week now.  My time in South Africa felt like it lasted months.  There were so many new expe­ri­ences had, new foods to try, and new friends made.  When I left, it almost felt like I was leav­ing home.  It’s amaz­ing how such a short time in a place can make you feel so con­nected to it.

The lec­tures at the con­fer­ence were very stim­u­lat­ing, but the real immer­sive part of this expe­ri­ence was get­ting to know the peo­ple and cul­tures of South Africa.  I will always remem­ber my new friends try­ing to help me pro­nounce “Xhosa” or “Qwaqwa” with the cor­rect click sounds from the Xhosa or Basotho lan­guages, respec­tively.  I never did get it right, but I sure had fun try­ing!  I’ll always remem­ber the drums they wel­comed us with at the Qwaqwa cam­pus, as well as the spon­ta­neous danc­ing and singing that erupted every so often at dif­fer­ent events.  What a beau­ti­ful culture!

While I was in Bloem­fontein, many South Africans I spoke with rec­om­mended that I visit Cape Town while there.  I fig­ured, “When else will I be here?” and went for it.  Cape Town was amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful.  It was like step­ping into a post­card.  One of the great things about study abroad is that it brings you to these amaz­ing places, and often-times you have the free­dom to explore wher­ever else you would like to on your way to the place, or before going home.

 

On the flight home, I flew over the North Pole.  I never really thought about it, but it is actu­ally shorter to fly from Seat­tle to the Ara­bian Penin­sula (I had a lay­over in Dubai on both my out­bound and inbound flights) by fly­ing over the North Pole.  It was very cool to see the ice cov­er­ing that part of the world.  I almost half-expected to see some polar bears down there!

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It’s good to be home, but I left a lit­tle piece of my heart in South Africa.  I hope to return there at some point in the future.

 

Italy will always have a Pisa my heart

16/07/2015

Buonasera! (Good evening!)

I can’t believe how fast time is fly­ing by! This past week has been hec­tic due to tomor­row being the last day of class (Yay and Boo)! These past two weeks or so, I’ve been to the Colos­seum, seen the Statue of David, and many more. Flo­rence was INCREDIBILY AMAZING. Every aspect of it left me with want­ing to roam around more. Sadly, I was only there for two days. The fol­low­ing day, me and a few other stu­dents went to Pisa. It was a short day trip, but we were able to squeeze in some good food and of course, take silly pho­tos at the Lean­ing Tower of Pisa (pic­tures below). As the pro­gram is wrap­ping up, I am bit­ter­sweet about leav­ing Rome. I now only have 4 days left in Rome and then I will be trav­el­ing to France (Yay!!). Gra­zie (for reading) :)

Check out the program’s blog!Fun @ Pisa

Life in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The city I’m study­ing abroad in is called Bishkek. The city is beau­ti­ful. It has every­thing you can think of: beau­ti­ful tall moun­tains, lakes, parks, good restau­rants and malls. It’s a blend of a lively metrop­o­lis and beau­ti­ful nature.

The daily life for me is Russ­ian classes in the morn­ings, for five hours. Then, some stu­dents who live in the dorms (which are located inside the school’s build­ing) will usu­ally take an hour-long nap and then do other things. Some of the stu­dents work out in the gym after­school. Oth­ers will go to Sierra cof­fee shop, which is the most West­ern cof­fee shop around, to relax and study.

I live with a host fam­ily. Both of my host par­ents work Mon­day through Fri­day 8am – 6pm. They usu­ally get home by 7pm and we eat din­ner by 8pm together. Dur­ing din­ner time, they would ask me how school was, how were my classes and this opens up the chance for me to talk Russ­ian. Occa­sion­ally they would go out­side in the evenings, for a walk. They invited me and I went with them a few times. Those evenings walks are my favorite because not only do I get to prac­tice my Russ­ian, but I also get to know about their life and their cultural/personal beliefs.

The aca­d­e­mic expe­ri­ence is great as well. I thought, prior to com­ing to Bishkek, that I would be in a class with at least five other stu­dents. But, when I got here, my pro­gram coor­di­na­tor told me that based on my Russ­ian Place­ment Test, she orga­nized one-on-one classes for me. And this works great because the teach­ers teach by my pace and they focus more on things that I need help on rather than teach exten­sively things I already am famil­iar with.

Experiences…

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Where do I even begin? I’ve been so busy expe­ri­enc­ing the many won­der­ful things that South Africa has to offer that I can’t even decide what expe­ri­ence to share. For that rea­son, I will share a lit­tle bit of every­thing. The top two pho­tos are the Golden Gate Moun­tains located in Free State, South Africa. I was able to cap­ture these beau­ti­ful pic­tures on my way to Phutha­ditjhaba where the Uni­ver­sity of the Free State (UFS) QwaQwa cam­pus is located. The QwaQwa cam­pus is one of three UFS cam­puses, which requires me to write another blog post because I can’t even explain how amaz­ing that cam­pus is! The bot­tom left pic­ture is when I attended a TEDx on the Bloem­fontein cam­pus. Var­i­ous pre­sen­ters spoke on the sub­ject of ask­ing the ques­tion why. What made this evening mem­o­rable is that I expe­ri­enced load shed­ding for the first time of my life. For those of you who don’t know what load shed­ding is I will give a brief expla­na­tion. Load shed­ding is when the elec­tric­ity com­pany does not have enough elec­tric­ity to pro­vide to the demand of all their cus­tomers. In order to meet demand, the elec­tric­ity com­pany inter­rupts sup­ply to cer­tain areas dur­ing a spe­cific time. In my case, I expe­ri­ence load shed­ding on a Thurs­day from 6-8pm. Load shed­ding in South Africa is impor­tant in order to bal­ance elec­tric­ity sup­ply and demand, includ­ing to avoid the col­lapse of elec­tric­ity sup­ply. Even though load shed­ding hap­pened dur­ing the TEDx event, we con­tin­ued the pre­sen­ta­tions and had din­ner in the dark (pic­ture on the bot­tom right).

Tears and Tapas: Part 2

When Gladys and I woke up in the morn­ing, we real­ized that we prac­ti­cally fasted by acci­dent for 24 hours and started feast­ing on trail mix while we decided on break­fast. We ate at the hotel buf­fet and made plans to meet up with Jaynie and Amy, two other mem­bers of our group. The hotel shut­tle went down­town and appar­ently dropped us off in the mid­dle of nowhere. Gladys and I spent about an hour try­ing to fig­ure out buses to get from mid­dle of nowhere to mid­dle of some­where to meet Jaynie and Amy. To our sur­prise, the bus dropped us off in the mid­dle of some­where so we adven­tured around while we waited. We ended up at this beau­ti­ful palace. Pics.

Palacio Real de Madrid

Pala­cio Real de Madrid (inside fence)

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Pala­cio Real de Madrid (outside)

We got slightly lost then made our way to Plaza Mayor. I had paella for the first time and it was bomb. It was a tapa which is a huge thing in spain… Very afford­able and very deli­cious. I also had a fresa (straw­berry) juice which is always my favorite. We met Jaynie and Amy and adven­tured around some more get­ting very lost and lead­ing to naps in the park.

After the adven­ture, Gladys and I went to the gro­cery store to get some food for the hotel. As we exited, the streets were absolutely crowded. No one could move. Is this how it always is in Madrid?? Appar­ently there was a “spe­cial reli­gious per­son”. Gladys and I made our way out of the human wall suc­cess­fully and began our trek to where the hotel shut­tle would pick us up.

It was a long walk, espe­cially hav­ing to haul gro­ceries, so we took the metro for the first time which was fairly easy to nav­i­gate. We then had about an hour and a half to wait for the shut­tle. After many fancy dressed peo­ple walked by, wed­ding pho­tos taken, and a dis­cus­sion with a nice old man, we had about ten min­utes for the shut­tle to arrive so we kept our eyes peeled.

Puerta de Alcalá A popular place for wedding photos in Madrid, Spain. Also where Gladys and I waited 90 minutes for a disappearing shuttle

Puerta de Alcalá
A pop­u­lar place for wed­ding pho­tos in Madrid, Spain. Also where Gladys and I waited 90 min­utes for a dis­ap­pear­ing shuttle

A few min­utes later and Gladys spot­ted the hotel shut­tle. Leav­ing. It didn’t even go past us it just went to the other side and left with­out stop­ping! A lit­tle pan­icked, we decided to wait a bit to see if it came back. It passed on the other side of the round­about. And never came back. We decided that our only choice was to hail a cab. We didn’t even know how to hail a cab! Gladys and I finally walked up to a cab that was parked at a stop­light. Then we real­ized another prob­lem: we didn’t know where the hotel was. For­tu­nately, we had the phone num­ber and the cab dri­ver was kind enough to use his phone to call the hotel and ask for the address (even though we were being charged for that dura­tion of time. Ugh).

The next day we decided to just stay back at the hotel and relax. We went to the pool, did some home­work, and had much less stress.

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I’ve heard many things about study­ing abroad. For instance, it is a life chang­ing expe­ri­ence that may change a per­son as well as his/her views. Also that a lot of stress may come with it on top of the amaz­ing expe­ri­ences. Either way, I’m really look­ing for­ward to the rest of this adven­ture… As long as there are a lot less tears and a lot more of those tapas.

 

Tears and Tapas: Part 1

I’ll be hon­est, when I am extremely exhausted AND hun­gry, I become rather “hangry” (but who doesn’t?). Take both of those and add being com­pletely lost and not being able to speak the local lan­guage and well… Let’s just say its not fun.

That’s exactly what hap­pened to me when I got off of the plane and to say the least, I wanted to find a cor­ner and cry. For­tu­nately, I was trav­el­ing with another stu­dent in the pro­gram. And I was in luck… She speaks Spanish.

I’ve heard mixed things about hav­ing to know Span­ish in Spain. Some say I’ll be fine with Eng­lish and my lim­ited knowl­edge of Span­ish because they speak Eng­lish there. Oth­ers say I’ll learn Span­ish quickly because I will def­i­nitely need it. I would say that for the most part I would’ve been fine with my basic Span­ish knowl­edge, how­ever I would have been screwed if I were to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion that Gladys and I were in solo.

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First of all, we couldn’t find the bag­gage claim even though the flight atten­dant gave direc­tions in three lan­guages. Those lan­guages hap­pened to be Span­ish, Dutch, and what I assumed was French or Ger­man (those are noth­ing alike but please for­give me, I was half asleep at this point). We mean­dered around look­ing for our spe­cific bag­gage claim but “Brus­sels” was nowhere to be found. We finally asked for help and were sent on a wild goose chase around the air­port to “Lounge 6″.

We got to the lounge and there were slid­ing doors with human stick fig­ures drawn on them and red X’s cross­ing them out. Well what can this pos­si­bly mean being the only pos­si­ble entrance! No humans allowed? Limbs will be lost if you stand in the door? It ended up being the entrance and I still don’t know what the signs mean. When we finally found the “Brus­sels” bag­gage claim, it was closed. Awe­some. We then had to head over to the “lost bag­gage” counter and finally found our bags. Now to find the shuttle.

We asked the tourist info for help on this one. He kept look­ing at me and talk­ing as if I would under­stand him or some­thing (nope). Turns out the hotel shut­tle isn’t fre­quent and we have to call for it and ask some­one to come. There was a pay­phone around the cor­ner. Pay­phone. With coins. Coins that we did not have. Gladys and I spent about an hour (or what felt like an hour) try­ing to find dif­fer­ent ways to find change since there were no cur­rency con­vert­ers around. We finally found a vend­ing machine and got a Kit Kat and some coins. We waited even longer for the shut­tle. When the shut­tle finally dropped us off at a cute lit­tle hotel, we both show­ered and crashed at about 6pm. I was done with that day.

White water river rafting in Clarens, South Africa.

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Today I con­quered my fear! For those of you who don’t know me, I would like to tell you that I highly dis­like large bod­ies of water. Besides the fact that I don’t know how to swim, I have a huge fear of open bod­ies of water. I should back­track to tell you how I got into this sit­u­a­tion of white water river raft­ing. A few weeks ago when I was com­plet­ing my reg­is­tra­tion form to par­tic­i­pate in the Global Lead­er­ship Sum­mit at the Uni­ver­sity of the Free State, I was asked to choose three activ­i­ties. At the time, I decided I would choose two safe activ­i­ties that I felt com­fort­able with and one that went out­side my com­fort zone. Typ­i­cally, I par­tic­i­pate in activ­i­ties that I am famil­iar with, are con­sid­ered safe, and are indoors. So at the moment I had decided to be spon­ta­neous and choose white water river raft­ing because I thought, “When will I ever get the oppor­tu­nity to white water river raft in South Africa again”? That same thought is what got me into the sit­u­a­tion that I was in today. Con­sid­er­ing the luck that I have, I was given the activ­ity that didn’t fall into my com­fort zone. As much as I wanted to try some­thing new, I secretly wanted to get my safe choice activ­ity. Of course, I was given the activ­ity that in my opin­ion was most chal­leng­ing since it involved adapt­ing to the harsh weather con­di­tions while being men­tally and phys­i­cally active. On this par­tic­u­lar day, it was cold and windy and the water was freez­ing. Even though I was extremely scared through­out the ride and wanted to give up on numer­ous occa­sions, my group reas­sured me that I would be okay. I didn’t fully believe them con­sid­er­ing the wind was pick­ing up and our instruc­tor indi­cated that there was a high chance of falling over. But even with doubt and fear, I decided to stick through it. I will add that before going over the G4 rapid, I wanted to get off. I was scared and didn’t think I would make it with­out falling off. Well, I decided to stay on and fin­ish the last rapid and for­tu­nately I made it out alive. I can­not express how lib­er­at­ing it felt to have chal­lenged myself and in the end suc­ceed. Today I showed courage and I am proud to say that I white water river rafted on the Ash River in Clarens, South Africa. I would encour­age any­one study­ing abroad to try some­thing new and chal­lenge one­self. I will say, be care­ful on what you choose because even though I got such an amaz­ing adren­a­line rush, this has been my first and LAST time white water river raft­ing. It was super fun but you won’t catch me doing that in the United States.

Lions, cheetahs, ostrich, and baboons, oh my!

Well, almost a week has passed since arriv­ing in South Africa, and I have had some amaz­ing expe­ri­ences.  Since arriv­ing, I have seen ostriches, baboons, and zebras in the wild.  We also vis­ited a place where we could see cap­tive lions, leop­ards, and chee­tahs.  I actu­ally got to pet a live chee­tah, whose fur was rougher than I would have imag­ined, fluffy-looking as it was.

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The Global Lead­er­ship Sum­mit has been incred­i­ble.  We got to hear from Nel­son Mandela’s per­sonal assis­tant, Zelda Le Grange.  Nel­son Man­dela was the first black pres­i­dent of South Africa, and the first pres­i­dent after the Apartheid era.  His for­mer assis­tant shared some won­der­ful sto­ries about Mr. Mandela’s cour­tesy and respect for other people’s cus­toms and cul­ture.  We also heard from Can­dice Mama, whose father was mur­dered by the leader of the Apartheid government’s death squad.  She told the story of how she met with her father’s mur­dered, and came to a point of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and com­mon human­ity after many shared tears.  She was also kind enough to let me film an inter­view with her for the video project I am work­ing on while here.

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Today, we drove to the Uni­ver­sity of the Free State’s Qwaqwa cam­pus (pro­nounced with the clicks of the Basotho lan­guage).  On our way we passed a small town.  Just look­ing at the houses from one side of town to the other, it was strik­ing to see the vast gap in wealth that still exists in South Africa between those who were for­merly oppressed under Apartheid rule and those who were privileged.

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The rest of the drive was beau­ti­ful, includ­ing sev­eral rock for­ma­tions that were rem­i­nis­cent of pride rock in the Lion King.

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The Qwaqwa cam­pus (where I am cur­rently) is right on the bor­der of Lesotho, so it is very nat­u­rally beau­ti­ful.  I’m excited for some time away from the bus­tle of Bloem­fontein.  This area is much more moun­tain­ous and open.  For din­ner tonight, we were served Braai, tra­di­tional South African bar­beque.  My plate had Boere­wors (tra­di­tional Boere­wors), steak, a chicken thigh, and a filet of fish.  4 dead ani­mals on my plate at once!  That’s the South African way!  Until next time…

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