Lucca Bike Tour – and Other Thoughts (Tara Lovdahl)

Pictures for this blog post: This past Friday my study abroad program hosted a free excursion to a city about 15 minutes away by bus called Lucca (population 85,000). We went on bike tour which made me feel like a little kid. The city was once entirely surrounded by military walls because aparently Florence was trying to conquer Lucca by cannon–didn’t expect that. Florence was also once surrounded by military walls to keep out invaders, that is why both cities are so compactly arranged–for so long they could only build within the walls. On Saturday I went with a friend to Fiesole, a city hanging on the mountains just outside of Florence. It is a small town and was captured by Florence in 1125. There were Roman ruins to see, but we weren’t prepared to pay for a museum entrance. Instead we hiked up the steep hills and found great views of Florence in the valley below as well as a couple of Romanesque churches to explore.

One of the study abroad coordinators brought her dog along to Lucca. I love dogs, but Italians make it obvious they LOOOOOOOOVE their dogs. Dogs are welcome in bars, trains, buses and pretty much anywhere. One day I was in the grocery store and someone tied their dog to the inside handle of the door. It was wagging its tail and occasionally barking and its presence seemed very commonplace for the locals. The cashier at the line I was standing in and the customer being waited on were chuckling and pointing to the dog. People let their dogs run and play in piazzas and parks and people are always happy to see the dogs just be dogs. I love it when a dog isn’t cooperating on a walk–standing in firmly in protest–and the Italians (often old women) calmly talk to the dog, urging in her mother tongue for the dog to budge. Anyways, I mentioned to one of the coordinators that I’ve noticed how Italians love dogs more than average. Americans love their dogs but Italians LOVE their dogs. She completely agreed. She said the people in her office send pictures of their dogs to each other at the end of emails and treat their dogs as if they were their children. She laughed as she went on to say that when they hear other people’s dogs are sick people basically mourn and wear black for days. I asked if they feel the same way about cats. She said of course it varies from person to person, but for her there is no other animal that gives back love quite like a dog. She told me she loves all animals though–she won’t even kill mosquitoes because it would make her “feel sorry”.

Another small thing I’ve noticed is that Italians whistle a lot and I now whistle more when I’m walking on the street. One time I was whistling and I turned the corner and there was a guy reading a newspaper who whistled back. That totally made my day. Speaking of making my day: a week or two ago an Italian-speaking woman asked me for directions. With my complexion and fashion sense (or lack thereof) I never expected to be asked for directions. Luckily I knew where to direct her. That was very exciting.

A few weeks ago I went to dinner with my roommate, Kait and two of her Italian friends (I should have taken a picture, but I had just met them… oh well. Hopefully I’ll see them again). I asked the girls some of the questions that have been eating away at my brain. I wanted to blog what I learned before I forgot.

One thing I was surprised by is the dominant presence of American pop culture in Italy. I never realized it was so global. Not only our pop culture is popular here, but the American flag decorates a lot of clothing and merchandise. In the United States, I don’t see a lot of people wearing the flag unless it’s July–but here I see Italians and other Europeans wearing shirts with the American flag on it, sunglasses, shoes, backpacks, etc. Sometimes it’s just the flag, but othertimes it’s distorted in a way that is hard to decipher. For example, I have seen a few shirts with skulls replacing the Stars next to the Stripes. Does this mean they think the United States is like death? Not exactly knowing what to expect, I asked Kait’s friends to tell me what the Italian attitude is towards the United States and they smiled brightly and said they love Americans. I explained how I had seen our flag displayed and how it confused me and they said Italians may gently tease the United States, but overall they have warm regards for the U.S.

Italians are more physical in general. One day a friend and I were looking for a place called Gusta Pizza because it has a very good reputation. All we could find was Gusta Panini and they didn’t have pizza on their street menu, so we went inside to ask someone. I asked the man behind the counter if they served pizza and he laughed and slapped my shoulder and then shook me saying: “Ah! That’s'a miye brother! Down’a de street’a!”

On Saturday we needed to buy a bus ticket back to Florence from Fiesole. It was 2pm and of course, not a lot was open at that time. We saw where our bus was sitting–the bus was wide open–the driver was no where to be found. Some American tourists were standing outside the vehicle curiously inspecting it as if it were a UFO, unsure what to do. My friend and I trotted over to a food stand to ask where we could buy a bus ticket and the man directed us to a Tabbachi shop across the street. With no indication when the bus driver would return, we booked it across the street and up the block to the shop. When I asked the woman for “biglietti del autobus” she leaned over the counter to point out the door: “Okaaaye, you go a’down de block’e…” and we were already out of breath from hiking through the hills and now running around for the bus, our faces just dropped. Then she smacked my shoulder and started laughing “Ahahahaha! I’m'a just’a keeding!” If I had a euro for every time an Italian slapped my shoulder while I’ve been here…

Tara Lovdahl is studying abroad at Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy.

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Remembering the Luck & Love (Rachel Gintner)

It’s been a little under a month since I’ve blogged, so I’m a little overdue for an update on my adventures. I have my friend Maira Rodriguez to thank–she reminded me that taking the time to reflect through blogging is one of the best ways to sort out emotions, so I am indebted to her for this post.

This past month has been a whirl-wind of emotions. In some ways, my lifestyle here matches the lifestyle I juggle at home: going to class, trying and failing at homework, meals, hanging with friends, socializing, calling family, going for a walk or run when I find the time. However, being in a new environment and discovering more about who I am as a person has forced me to reevaluate how I spend my time.

For one thing, being so distant and wholly removed from family has made me realize how grateful I am to have such a constant, loving, and generous support system back home. My parents, aunts, extended family, and neighbors are some of the people I truly miss and ache to be around, and I understand how much of a presence they have been in my life.

I’ve noticed that family is really a corner-stone of Czech life, as well. Whenever you are in a park in Prague, or walking the sidewalks, riding the tram, etc.–you will see mothers with strollers, taking their children out and about into this bustling world. The other day I was sitting in a kavárna, or café, and I happened to be witnessing  a birthday party in the other room for a little girl–her mother running around, organizing things and pestering the waiter to bring out the flaming birthday cake. Needless to say, moments like these are precious and only remind me of how the love is embedded in all cultures. And–how lucky I have been to have a family just like the one gathered in the other room.

Because of my family, and the support they’ve given me financially, emotionally, and …in every other way imaginable, I’ve been able to do such incredible things with my time here.

I was able to go to an actual fotbal, or soccer, game with some friends:

I had one of the most emotional and memorable experiences of my life, traveling to Poland and seeing the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, and hearing a survivor, Bernard Offen, speak:

I’ve also gotten to do many cultural activities, seeing a play, ballet, going to a jazz club, or just stumbling upon some beautiful music in the streets:

All in all, I know my experience here has been, and is, wonderful. I’ve made new friends, experienced a unique culture, tasted some very delectable things, and enjoyed getting to live in a different country. I am remembering home and the love back home–but I am also very aware of how lucky I am to be in Prague. It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

Nashledanou!

Rachel Gintner is studying abroad at Anglo-American University in Prague, Czech Republic.

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Family (Allyson Bills)

Family is a big part of most cultures around the world, included Irish culture.  This past weekend I spent time with an Irish family that has a little bit of modern and traditional Irish culture mixed together.

One of my friends here at UCC that I met in my Early Start Program has a sister who married an Irish man.  She moved here this year from Iowa and is not living in Duress, West Cork, Ireland.

One Friday, a friend of the family drove us to Rob and Amy’s house in West Cork about an hour and a half drive.  The exterior of the house was much like other houses I have seen.  Cement and cream colored.  The windows and doors had wood trim and there were no screens on the windows.  In the yard, they had ducks and chickens that were fenced in but seemed to be enjoying the raining, cloudy day.  I stepped into the house and was surprised at how open the entrance was.  Although this house was originally built as a cottage for visitors, it looked a lot like an American style house.

I walked around to discover that each room had a door that lead into it.  There were no open entryways.  Each room has a door because of the unique way that an Irish house is heated.  A woodstove burned in one room only heats that room not the whole house.  This stove also heats the water used to the shower/bathroom.  This saves on heating costs but also does not allow each room to be warm.  This is very different to an American central heating system that makes each room generally the same temperature.
Another observance about the house is there were only wood and title floors.  No carpet unless it was a rug.  Modern houses do not have carpets to keep it cleaner but traditional houses in every room except for kitchen and bathroom.  Without carpet, the house had a cold feel but eventually rugs will be placed throughout the house.

After settling into Rob and Amy’s house, we visited Mount Gabriel.  We drove to the top of a huge hill/mountain and could see out to the Atlantic Ocean and into Dunmanus Bay and Roaringwater Bay.  It was a beautiful sight and the sun was shinning which made it easier to see everything around us.  We also explored Sheep’s Head and even got to stick my feet into the Atlantic Ocean.  My friend even went swimming in the ocean.  It was a pretty decent temperature because we had a fairly warm September.

Sunday came very quickly with all the fun things we were doing.  Sunday morning I woke up and joined Rob and Amy at there church.  They are Christians but not Catholic.  They had service and called themselves Nondenominational and Rob descried himself as a bible believer.  The service was much different than mass.  A member of the church (who is different each week) chose to focus on following what Jesus is telling us to do and nothing more.  She brought out songs that were all about that and readings.  She quoted bible verses and told stories of her own life.  Than the preacher talked about how God works through us all.  The service was very interesting and really focused about what the members of the church wanted to get out of it.  Being in a different country it is neat to experience new things.  Going to a Nondenominational service was just another experience I am glad to have had the opportunity to attend.

When the service was over, we went over to Rob’s family’s house and enjoyed a traditional Irish lunch.  Rob’s mother cooked lamb and we had carrots, corn, rutabagas, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chips (French fries) salad and of course butter. All this food was delicious and worth not eating breakfast.  When we were all served, she kept asking us if we wanted more.  I am told this is very “Irish” to do. Many mothers will serve the family and than after the family has eaten, sit down by themselves and eat alone when everyone else has had their fill.  Thankfully she ate with us.  It was a wonderful meal with such nice company.  An interesting thing about the way many Irish families eat is how they put things on their forks.  When I eat I have the prongs of my fork turned up right towards the ceiling. I put one or two things on the end and eat it. When Irish families eat, they have the fork prongs facing down and use their knife to put one of each thing on their fork.  They almost create a little meal on the fork than eat it.  The knife is used to gather everything together.  It was funny watching American’s eat next to Irish and see the little differences in how food is consumed.

A ride back to Cork brought was back to reality after a wonderful weekend away.  I felt at home in these houses and I am planning on visiting again.  They were all very welcoming, giving hugs as a greeting, smiling, laughing and cracking jokes.  It was just what I needed as the third week of classes starts.  Being away from your own family definitely makes you more appreciative of your own family and the little quirks you love about them.  Experiencing a different way of life was amazing and perhaps I will bring some of their traditions home to my own family.

Allyson Bills is studying abroad at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.

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Falling in Love (Mary Holz)

Two weekends ago, I spent a weekend on the Dingle Peninsula.  This past weekend, I took a weekend trip around the Ring of Kerry.  If I hadn’t already been so in awe of Ireland already, these two trips would have definitely left me speechless.  I now know why they call County Kerry the most beautiful place in Ireland.  The landscape was truly amazing.  During my tip around the Dingle Peninsula, I remember at one point just looking up into the sky and saying to myself “Thank you God for making such a beautiful place.  I realized at that moment I had fallen in love.  Some people fall in love with their careers, with religion, with other people, etc.  I had fallen in love with a country.  Ireland is everything I had ever dreamed of and yet so much more.  All those pictures you see of Ireland’s beauty are only a slim comparison to the real thing.  Nothing beats seeing things first hand.  Yes, I have fallen in love with Ireland; its land, its people, and its culture.  The land is amazing, the people are welcoming, and the culture is beautiful.  While I have heard recently from so many people that they are starting to miss home, I on the other hand, am dreading leaving Ireland.  Yes, I miss my family, friends, and especially my little dog Fox, I can honestly say I don’t want to go home.  I have found my place here in Ireland.  It truly is a magical place to be.  Littered with stories of ancient deities, faeries, saints, and legends, I can feel the energy of this magical land flowing through my veins and it has given me great inner peace.  So, I have decided that one day, I hope to remain here permanently.  I want to come back for grad school so that I can focus even more on Irish studies and thus focus my intended career in museum work with a specialization in Irish history and culture.  This decision will most likely mean I will have to live and work here in Ireland indefinitely.  I am fully aware of how fantastical this decision sounds.  However, I do not live in a fantasy world with unattainable dreams in my head.  I know full well what I am reaching for.  I understand the risks involved with picking up and moving to another country.  I am completely aware of how dangerous the world can be.  I have seen first hand the type of violence man can inflict on his fellow man.  However, I REFUSE to allow the fear of what COULD happen to impede my progress of attaining my goals and dreams.  Fearing the world we live in will only inhibit our lives and keep us from reaching new heights.  That is not a life I want to lead.  I think too often people allow fear to rule their lives and I believe society and the media plays into that fear.  I used to watch the news everyday, multiple times a day.  Now, I watch it only on occasion because it is mostly filled with violence and evil.  When you are constantly inundated with that, you slowly become poisoned by it as it fills you with fear, anger, hatred, and despair.  That is not a reality I wish to dwell in.  On the other hand, I am not naive to think that there is no evil in the world.  I believe that you must keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings as you continue to move forward.  I have met some really wonderful people in Ireland and have had great experiences here as well.  This would not have been possible if I had closed myself off out of fear.  I would not have fallen in love with Ireland.  My stay in Ireland has been the happiest time of my entire life.  The love I feel for Ireland is like a couple who have just begun dating and can’t seem to spend enough time with each other.  The very thought of being apart is painful to them.  When I think of leaving Ireland, I feel like a cold hand suddenly grips my heart in an icy grasps and squeezes until I can’t breath anymore.  I have choked up a quite a few occasions when I think of leaving.  I have finally found my place in the world and in a short time, I must leave it.  Yet, I know I will be leaving my heart and soul behind here in Ireland.  So I have decided to return in the near future.  That’s all there is to it.  When you have finally found true happiness and your place in the world, even though you may leave for a time, you work constantly to return.  Such is my relationship with Ireland.  Yes, my friends, I am in love.

Mary Holz is studying abroad at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.

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The Rural Experience (Austin Plier)

I am back from my rural experience and living in my quiet room in Cato Manor. Although it feels good to have my own bed, and to have a bath every day, rather than a bucket of hot water every other day, I had the time of my life at my rural homestay in Dokodwini. I, along with two other SIT students, lived with the Mjadu family, which consisted of Baba (grandpa), Gogo (grandma), Mama, and children Spha (14), Andile (7), Nqobile (6), Olwethu (4), Lindo (4), and Hlanhla (2).

The family was absolutely amazing—extremely accommodating and friendly. I grew especially close to Olwethu and Lindo, who called me “Maluma” all week, which means “uncle” in Zulu. Spha, the oldest child, and the parents knew a bit of English, but the rest of the kids didn’t know any at all. They then became wonderful Zulu teachers throughout the week as I asked them over and over again, “Yini le isiZulu?”—meaning “what is this in Zulu?” Running around the yard with the little ones, playing soccer and giving piggy-back rides until dark, became our favorite nightly entertainment.

This is me hanging out with Lindo in sunglasses on the left, and Olwethu on the right.

As for living accommodations, there really isn’t any service delivery other than electricity. Water was gathered via a river or by collecting rain water—and then boiled in a tea pot to make bath water. SIT provided us with bottled water throughout the stay, so I didn’t drink any water that wasn’t boiled first. Since there is no running water, there is an outhouse for going to the bathroom, and another small structure to take your bucket of water to when you need to bathe. Bathing was a bit harder, but ultimately wasn’t much different than here in Cato Manor (which I have described before). As for meals, the family gave us cereal or eggs and toast every day, and had rice and chicken pretty much every night. We ate dinner while watching the same gospel concert DVD that consisted of five songs…every…single…night. The words to the song “I am More Than a Conqueror” will forever be in my head! Although one night when Baba and Gogo were gone at a church conference, the kids put in “The Karate Kid” which seems to be their favorite movie (Andile loves to say “Wax on, wax off”).

Living in the rural homestay was a stark contrast to living in Cato Manor, for reasons that I didn’t expect. In an odd way, living standards are higher than they are in the urban setting of Cato Manor, despite the lack of basic services such as running water. The family was clearly happier: they had more food, more free time, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company more. I think this was a product of the fact that they lived off of subsistence farming. Since they grew most of their own food, they didn’t have to work 10 hours a day to scrape out a living, and actually could afford a more luxurious lifestyle in terms of quantity and quality of food (we were treated to KFC one night!). They relied on themselves, and they seemed happy about this. Having cheerful young kids around I think also changed the dynamic of the household, and made for a lot of fun as a guest.

I think the fact that the Mjadu family was so separated from the rest of society also played a huge role in this happiness that was so apparent. In the urban setting of Cato Manor, there is a distinct Western influence, and everyone is trying to fit a mold that they can’t quite afford. In this effort to keep up with the materialistic lifestyle that is seen as “the norm”, it seems like people in Cato Manor always feel down about what they don’t have—something that I think is very similar to the materialistic life we all live in the U.S. (whether we like to admit it or not). We are always looking at what others have that we wish we could afford. However in the rural setting, Baba and Gogo worked all day on their garden and land to make the essentials happen. And with only three TV channels that delivered local news, they seemed oblivious to the materialistic world outside their household that they were supposed to be keeping up with. I think this was the biggest reason they were so happy—and I think there is some insight there that we can all benefit from.

This is my homestay family’s home, nestled in between hills of sugar cane with the Indian Ocean in the background, just a short walk away.

Even though I spent a ton of time with my rural homestay family, I still had SIT activities during the day throughout the week. These activities were also extremely rewarding, and are worth reflecting on…

Monday and Tuesday of my week in rural were spent with an organization called Pheonix Zululand, which reaches out to prisoners in South Africa to help them reflect on themselves and turn their lives around. On Monday, I met 14 male, juvenile prisoners (they were all about my age), and spent the entire day—as well as Tuesday—doing reflection activities with them, as well as sharing our life stories with each other. It was so humbling to hear their stories, and hear their ambitions in life. Almost all of them were working on a degree in prison, and all had high hopes for when they returned to “the outside.”

All of the individuals I met said repeatedly something to the effect of, “I am so happy that you are here to spend time with us” which made the trip rewarding right away. I became especially close with Bongani, Sifiso, and Mfundo, who all made impressions on me as extremely bright individuals who had a lot to offer the world. Mfundo is working on a degree in education, and says he will write to me when he is out, which I am greatly looking forward to. Since there was a significant language barrier with many of the prisoners, we ended up learning a lot of Zulu throughout our time there. I think depending on the prisoners to teach us Zulu gave them a lot of pride in helping us out, and actually helped build relationships, which was really neat to see.

Tuesday ended with a rousing traditional Zulu song and dance by the prisoners that they performed for us. It might be one of the most awesome things I’ve ever witnessed! The guards—which are notoriously brutal in South Africa—were swept away by the performance and joined in mid song. I got chills. Needless to say, we felt pretty inadequate with our follow-up, closing performance of “Wagon Wheel”.

Thursday I spent my birthday touring a local high school, then playing soccer on the beach with friends and local kids, which was a lot of fun! Friday we were back in the school, but this time to take the school’s netball team and soccer team on in a school-wide competition. The competition was kicked off in a really cool fashion, with every nation represented singing their national anthem. There were obviously performances representing South Africa and the U.S., but also an SIT student from the Philippines and an SIT student from India that sang their national anthems solo to represent their country. It was one of the cooler things I’ve ever been a part of. We held our own in netball, but predictably got clobbered in soccer—I contributed by completely missing the goal on a penalty kick. It was a fun time though, and I think the school enjoyed our company.

Although I was ready for clean clothes and a shower, leaving my homestay family in the rural area was hard on the following Monday morning. We took pictures and said goodbye, and were told we were always welcome back. I hope I can take them up on that offer someday in the future. We then set out for the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, and our accommodations waiting for us at the Isinkwe resort. The game reserve was great—we saw lots of elephants and water buffalo, and some zebras, giraffes, and rhino. The landscape was absolutely beautiful as well. Once back at Isinkwe, we grilled out and celebrated making it through our rural experience. Although it feels good to be back “home” in Cato Manor, my short stint in rural South Africa was an experience I cannot fully describe and will never forget.

Now that I am back, I have a feeling I will be blogging a lot more, so hopefully there is some quality stuff coming in the near future. Zulu lessons came to a close today with our final exam, and we are closing in on our impending ISP proposals! More on that to come…

Until then, sala kahle, and Go Pack Go!

Austin Plier is studying abroad in South Africa with SIT Study Abroad.

Posted in Cultural Norms, Traditions, & Lifestyles, Host Family, Language, Social Issues, Change, and Policy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Surfies. Brah. (Hillary Hubertz)

A month ago, yes a whole month ago I went on a surf trip. We left the last weekend in August and spent four lovely days living it up as Australian Surfers.

It was a Thursday afternoon at one o’clock that we departed Uni for a seven-hour bus ride south to Spot X in Arrawarra. Once we got on the bus I was ready for some R&R but that did not happen. Our bus driver (who was not your typical bus driver- he was attractive, and a surfer, and funny, and attractive, and a surfer…) ANYWAY our bus driver made us play a game so we could all get to know each other aka we had to play an icebreaker game… my favorite—NOT. The game was get up in front of the entire bus, walk to the front, speak in the microphone, say your name, where you are from and—what turns you on and what turns you off. I said what everyone said because on the spot with 40 some eyes starring at you it is hard to think of something witty and true to say. Turn on: Good weather. Turn off: Bad weather. Original huh? After being about 4 hours into the trip and the game far over with I FINALLY thought of something that I SHOULD have said- I mean yes who does like bad weather of course that is going to be something people do not like but something that I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY do not like—Swooping Birds. Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda said that. Anyway, after that riveting game was finally over we got to watch a movie on the bus and enjoy the drive through Australia’s country. We arrived at Spot X camp at around 7:30, just in time for dinner. Then it was time to ‘get loose’ and scope out who our surf instructors were.

After an evening of fun, going down to the beach at night with lighting in the far off distance, and a brief swim in the sea we had to go to bed because our first surf lesson was at 9:00 o’clock am sharp. During our first lesson we all placed our boards on the sand and had a lesson on land before heading out to the merciless sea. We were taught how to paddle, and to embrace the art of catching a wave before we try to stand up. Once we all understood the importance of catching a wave we were taught the pop-up. Holy smokes, the pop-up is not so easy. When the instructor showed up how to do it he made it look so incredibly easy- it is so incredibly not easy. Then we learned the number one rule—always look cool.

Our land and sand lesson was done so it was time to hit the waves, brah. I could not count how many times I broke the ‘always look cool’ rule… I was an embarrassment out on the waves. Although, saying I was an embarrassment might be an extreme understatement. One of our instructors was… a surfing god. I mean, to put his looks into perspective he was a man that EVERY female and I would not be surprised if every male wanted to marry. Well, this lucky lady got him behind her board (the instructors hold the back of your surfboard and push you into the waves so you have a better chance at standing up) he pushed me into a wave, I was all geared up to do my pop-up and impress him so he knew I was a true surfer chick until… My pop-up turned into a fall backwards onto the dreamboat’s face… Leave it to me honestly. So, for day one we had a session that I spent more time under the waves than on top of the waves. Then we had an afternoon session that I spent more time under the waves than on top of the waves… again. Spending a full day [attempting] surfing, we were all rather knackered (Australian for tired) but that did not stop us from having yet another evening of fun. Surfers truly do have the best lifestyle. We had to awaken early again the next morning because we had one more surf lesson to go- one more opportunity to prove that I am a surfer that I can stand up on a board. My friend and I were not sure we wanted to go to this last lesson though. We were cold, and tired, and did not want to bother with putting on a wet wetsuit (optimistic aren’t we?) BUT we went anyway. I mean, we did not pay for a surf trip to not go surfing. Our last session was the best session I will ever have surfing- I stood up… three times!

Now, I cannot take full credit for my amazing surfing skills. I had a quite a good coach- by that I mean he was the only surf instructor that did not give up me and my amazing talent of falling into the waves. This coach was just as determined as I was to get me to stand up and ride a wave. My hero, I mean, my coach pushed me into a wave and yelled ‘pop-up, pop-up’ so I went for it and I SUCCEEDED! I was officially a surfer (in my mind anyway). We celebrated because I believe he was just as surprised as I was that I ACTUALLY stood up, then it was time to give it another go! He pushed me into another wave and BAM! Stood up… again. Just call me Kelly Slater from now on please. Needless to say, I was really happy that my friend and got rid of our grumblie status and decided to go for that last lesson. We even got great photos taken of us because in the words of my friend ‘if you make enough of a scene they take your picture!’ we made quite the scene!!

After our last lesson- the lesson that I officially became a professional surfer, it was time to peel our wet wetsuits off, fight for a shower stall and get ready for our departure to Byron Bay!

Byron Bay is one of the best places I have ever been to. It is a nice quaint village rested right by the sea. It is also the most east you can get in Australia. There were many streets of shops, cafes, and bars. I am probably going to live either in Byron Bay or very near to Byron Bay and become a beachcomber (I smell a new major- hope it SNC offers it). When we were in Byron Bay we went out with all the people on our surf trip plus the instructors. We had dinner at this one place then after dinner our plates were cleared and the table we had just ate off of became one of the hot spots to dance on… pretty nasty when you think about it. There was a market going on the last morning that we got to spend away, I was able to find some goodies there. I personally believe that some of the best treasures can be found at a market. After the market we walked the streets of Byron Bay a little more then went to lunch at a burger place (Bayger) and digest our delicious meal on the beach while gazing out to the ocean blue.

It was a quick four days that we got to live through, full of partying, fun, laughs, travel, and a lot of time in the ocean! I was able to leave that weekend saying I am Kelly Slater and with a new place to live.

Hillary Hubertz is studying at University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia.

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The Parsely Massacre (Hannah Loppnow)

Yesterday after class our group headed off for a last-minute excursion to Dajabón which is an area that sits right on the border of the DR and Haiti. We crammed into the gua-gua (bus) and went on our merry way blasting some music, taking some naps, and giggling about how sweaty we were. I was able to read 2 articles on the Massacre of 1937 on the way there to learn more about the reasons we were going to Dajabón.

Here’s what I understand from the massacre: in 1937 the dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo ordered dominicans to kill as many haitians as they could on the dominican side of the border.There are many different hypotheses to why Trujillo ordered his men to go through with a mass-murder but from what I understand, Trujillo was threatened by the amount of haitians that were on his side of the border decided that he wanted to “whiten” or “cleanse” his side of haitians.

The massacre is referred to as the Parsley Massacre because in order to determine whether a person was truly haitian, Trujillo made his men ask everyone they saw to say the word Parsley (Perejil) in spanish. By the way the person pronounced perejil, the soldier was able to tell if a person was dominican or haitian. Haitians speak creole and french and generally cannot trill their r’s like dominicans can. This way of determining race resulted in the demise of up to 20,000 haitians in 5 days. The haitians were killed at the border with machetes and knives to make it seem like they were killed by farmers who were mad at the haitians for stealing livestock. There were many ways Trujillo tried to cover up this horrific massacre. If one of his soldiers was lucky enough to have been given a gun, he was ordered to bring back an ear of every haitian he killed with it to keep tabs on how much ammunition was being used in relation to how effective it was. Soon the river between Haiti and the DR flowed red with blood and it is known as the Massacre River to this day. Many dominicans have never even heard of the Parsley Massacre because it is such a taboo subject and there is still lingering racism towards haitians in the DR.

The event that we participated in was called Border of Lights where we began at a park where we met passionate people, filled out postcards with what we knew about the massacre, and then had a discussion to better understand what happened. From there, we went to a church service specifically celebrating peace which was our first connection with the haitians. Across the border, haitians were celebrating the same mass in creole-connecting us in spirit. After the service, we were given a prayer sheet, a white daisy, and a candle. Soon the flames were being spread and everyone was ready to walk from the church to the border with their candles. When we made it to the border, I was astounded at how beautiful it was with a couple hundred candles lit as a symbol of peace.

Just across the border, I could see a flicker of the river and soon after flickers of candles being held by haitians in solidarity with us. Immediately, chills soared through my body and I couldn’t help but smile. It was pitch black across the border with the exception of those candles, uniting us in peace. Three white balloons were let go at the beginning of the ceremony and floated to the other side of the border, we all threw our white daisies over the border into the river, and people shouted, “we love you!” in french to the haitians and they shouted back. Soon, the whole border fence was covered in lit candles and it made for a truly memorable experience.

Being able to be a part of the vigil was something I could have only dreamed of. Seeing so many people stand in solidarity to remember the violation of human rights and to have hope for peace in the future was incredible. I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to stand up for the dignity of the haitians and to bring them the justice they deserve.

Hannah Loppnow is studying abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic, with CIEE.

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An Irish Wedding (Danny Carpenter)

My Aunt Sonya’s cousin Emer was getting married here in Galway and I was invited along since my uncle was not able go with my aunt.  So early Saturday afternoon I got dressed in my new dress clothes from Penny’s and my aunt, her brother Michael and his new bride Colette collected me from my flat and we drove to Sonya’s mom’s house.  By the time that everybody else was dressed and ready to go, it was about 12:45; fifteen minutes before the start of the ceremony.  As is typical in Galway, traffic was horrible with streets full of cars going through the multiple traffic lights, multiple lane roundabouts, and even the roundabouts with traffic lights.  When we finally arrived at the church in Knocknacarra it was almost ten past one; however, this was an Irish wedding so the guests were still standing outside the church chatting amongst themselves.  My aunt told me that the wedding does not begin until the bride arrives at the church, which in retrospect is probably a good reason to hold off on starting the mass.  I walked up to the church doors with my aunt, her brother and her new sister-in-law and was introduced to their relations.  When people found out I was from the states, they immediately asked if I had ever been to an Irish wedding before.  When I replied that I had not, they would smile and say that I am going to have a lot of fun.  All of the guests were dressed so elegantly; and I could not help but feel surprised at how many of the women were wearing small intricate hats that I have never seen anything comparable to at any function that I have attended back stateside.

We were finally told that we should begin to find a seat, and at about twenty to two the bride arrived at the church and the ceremony commenced.  The mass was conducted very similar to how a catholic matrimonial mass would be back home with a few exceptions.  First, the whole mass was said with the incredible Irish accent that enhances any event that I have thus far attended.  Second, like almost everything here in Ireland, the mass was bilingual-which I often times did not think much about until I would begin to start saying the Our Father, or other responses, in union with the congregation and very soon realize that what I was saying followed the same rhythm as the rest of the congregation, but did not in any way match what they were saying.  My aunt’s brother would nudge my arm after an occurrence and whisper to me that it was in Irish. Thanks Michael. Third, as is the case back home, the bride, groom, wedding party, and the couple’s parents were the first to receive Holy Communion.  However, like all other masses here in Ireland, the communion process for the rest of the churchgoers was every man for himself.  The process is very archaic and unsystematic where you stand as you please and just nudge your way into the queue as it processed towards the priest standing at the front of the alter.

After the mass was complete and the photographer had their way with the wedding party and priest, we all filled out of the church to congratulate the happy couple.  I felt a little awkward going up to shake Emer and Dermot’s hands and to wish them well since I have never really been introduced to either of them in any sense at all. This hesitation increased even more so when I became separated from my aunt. However, Emer took one look at me and said “You must be Robert’s son.  We are so glad that you came.” Alas, my curse of being immediately recognized as a Carpenter has spread from the streets of Horicon Wisconsin to this church in Galway.  I met Aunt Sonya and she smiled said “See, it pays to look like your father some times.”

Danny Carpenter is studying abroad at the National University of Ireland – Galway in Galway, Ireland.

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Trust Your Struggle (Claire Westlie)

Note: The formatting of the post is intentional.

I was sitting on the stinky, crowded MagicBus looking at the floor.

My poor hand was touching the disgusting and germy rail and my body was pressed up against this middle-aged Indian man.

I looked out the window at the sketchy “Curry Mile” and I saw that it was raining…again.

Feeling tears well up in my eye I noticed something scribbled in Sharpie on the bus wall.

“Trust Your Struggle”

I stared at those words expecting them to become alive and slap me in the face.

If someone told me I could go home I would jump on the next plane to America. I would just run and leave behind everything in my dumpy room.

I would leave this city and never look back.

My dream has become a nightmare and I just want to go home.

Home to the beautiful and safe Wisconsin.

I felt a tear slip down my cheek and the Indian man gave me a sympathetic look before exiting the bus. I sat in an empty seat.

I have to trust that this is worth it.

I’m sick of always being lost.

I’m sick of being hungry ALL THE TIME (probably from all the walking and not eating well).

I’m sick of the bus.

I’m sick of missing B.

It’s just hard right now and it will get easier.

This is life.

Studying abroad isn’t a magical time when you don’t have to worry about anything.

Studying abroad is an experience which some undertake and take something away from it.

My honeymoon phase is over and now I’m settling in to life here.

Life is very different here.

I don’t know where those words came or who wrote it, but they were so comforting to me at that moment in time.

I got off the bus in front of my accommodation.

There were a lot of people walking around the streets and I started quickly walking towards my building.

I managed to look up and notice that the sky had cleared and the moon was peeking through.

I smiled as I brushed off the solicitors which constantly mill in front of the gate and headed to my room for a  cup of tea.

I do enjoy an English cup of tea.

“Trust Your Struggle”

Claire Westlie is studying abroad at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England.

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Race and Identity in the Dominican Republic: A Complex Topic (Hannah Loppnow)

One piece of advice that really resonated with me from the first day of orientation was “put yourself out there.” We were also told to step outside of your comfort zone when interacting with Dominicans in Spanish and to carry yourself confidently.  Having only been in the Dominican Republic for less than twenty four hours, I was very conscious of my every move and legitimately terrified to show my true colors to the program staff, my classmates, and the Dominican population. What will they think about me? Am I different than what they are used to? What do I think about them? First impressions are nearly impossible to prepare for because you simply can’t know what to expect. Have you ever thought about changing your appearance to please someone else? This is something we all have at one point or another. In our Poverty and Development class, we have been discussing how Dominicans identify themselves and all of the factors that play into their self-identity placing a strong emphasis on the history of the DR.

It is important to get a better understanding of how someone self-identifies and their reasons why. The racial diversity of the Dominican Republic was largely influenced by the colonization of the island in 1492 by Christopher Columbus.  After the colonization of the Island and the mixture of European and African blood with indigenous Taíno blood, the new mulatto, the Spanish word for mixed race, soon became the dominant race of the Dominican Republi6c, making it a melting pot of light to dark skin tones. Walking around Santiago, the city I currently live in, I can clearly see the diverse mix of races and backgrounds of the Dominican community. Dominican’s have different body types, facial structures, eye colors, hair colors and textures and skin tones. I think their varied skin tones are beautiful, adding even more dimension to their multi-cultural community, but this is not the mindset for many Dominicans.

During the reign of Rafael Trujillo, the infamous dominican dictator who took control of the DR from 1930-1961, the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic turned deadly. Trujillo attempted to “whiten” the Dominican Republic by killing thousands of Haitians, who have predominantly dark skin and created a racial barrier between light-skinned Dominicans and dark-skinned Haitians. Today in the DR, Haitians are often ridiculed because of their race. A unique example of the complexity of races in the DR is the record of a person’s skin tone on their identification card. Each card has a description of their skin tone, for example, Blanco (white) or Indio (darker skinned). There are many different words to describe the color of someone and many ways to define your ancestry. A person’s skin tone is determined by the person issuing their card. Before coming to the Dominican Republic I had a very “black and white” mentality on race. I am accustomed to clearly defined backgrounds and races which is not what I have found to be the case in the DR. The fluidity of race in the Dominican Republic took me by surprise and I am just scratching the surface to understand the complicated background of it all.

It is possible that even after the four months I spend in the Dominican Republic I will still have questions about race and identity. With such a big emphasis put on separating Haitians from Dominicans, is it really worth the trouble in the long-run? Why do we as humans create these categories of race and self-construct differences between our fellow humans? There is so much history that has affected the current opinions on race and identity and it will take me some time to sort through it all.  It will take independent research and direct contact with dominicans to get a better grasp on the topic of race.  It is fascinating that by talking about one aspect of race in the DR, you can open countless other doors to talk about different facets of race. I am grateful to have learned everything I have so far and I look forward to uncovering more of the complexities of race as the semester moves forward.

Hannah Loppnow is studying abroad in Santiago, Dominican Republic, with CIEE.

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