I spent five months studying at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. It started out rainy. Well, actually it rained pretty much the whole time. It is Ireland after all. However, the rain by no means dampened my fun and my experiences. Cork is a medium-sized city with amazing Irish pubs that cannot compare to anything here in America. I long for the nights to sit in a pub and listen to my roommate join the Irish in a Trad Session. Studying abroad has made me more independent and open to new ideas and actually helped me deal with stress. There is so much more out there, and I was able to learn a lot about myself in those five months. I would love to be back in rainy Ireland, drinking Guinness or Murphy's, which is the Cork beer, and listening to Pat Fitz sing as he made his way to be one of the top four contestants in You're A Star (the Irish American Idol). All in all, I met amazing people, traveled around Ireland and Northern Ireland, spent spring break in Italy and Spain, and studied when there was time! If you have the opportunity or are thinking about going abroad, I have one word for you -- GO!!!!!! The photo was taken at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. Kylemore Abbey was a gift from Mitchell Henry to his wife, Margaret, and is currently a boarding school and the home of the Benedictine Nuns.
I spent my semester abroad in Athens, Greece and had a life changing experience learning and adapting to new customs. I lived in an apartment with three other American students, but my neighbors were all local Athenians who spoke very little English. On the first day, I was dropped off alone in my neighborhood with two large, heavy bags. I did not speak any Greek, and could not find the entrance of my building. I shuffled up and down the huge hill that my building was located on trying to find the entrance to the point where one of my bags broke and I was standing in the middle of the street sweating profusely. Needless to say, I ended up figuring out my way that day, and throughout the semester I continually learned how to work my way through challenging and rewarding circumstances. I traveled both alone and with new friends to the Greek mainland and to the islands, I also went to Cairo, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Amsterdam. By the end of my stay I could comfortably speak and read basic Greek, and I was able to navigate my way through the busy city with such ease and contentment that when I left I truly felt as if I were leaving my new home.
Last summer, I found myself in one of the world's most diverse geographical regions: the Amazon. Thanks to the generosity of the Charles Mayaud Award and the F&M Office of International Programs, I was able to carry out a research project that dealt with one of my favorite things in the world: chocolate! During my time in Ecuador, I worked with Kallari, a cacao cooperative, run by predominantly Quichua people who live in the Amazonian region of Ecuador. Kallari has 850 farming families who harvest organic cacao. My responsibilities varied widely during my time in Ecuador. I had to be prepared for anything. On some occasions, I sorted the drying beans for export to countries like Switzerland. The highlight of my trip was a visit to a remote Quichua village in the rainforest, where I lived for and worked with Quichua people who have been in the rainforest all of their lives without any electricity or running water. My homestay mother taught me how to harvest cacao pods, and I learned that sucking the beans out of the cacao pod is a delicious act. The Quichua family must deal with great poverty, but they are wonderful people who harvest some of the best cacao in the world. Thanks to them, I not only made chocolate bars, but I also ate delectable dark chocolate.
I studied abroad in Amsterdam, the Netherlands through IES. I studied Dutch Language and Culture, Colour & Culture, and Transmedialities at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and I also took the IES Field Experience course in which I did an Independent project about the Amsterdam gallery scene. I took advantage of the extensive bike path system in the city and used a bicycle as my primary means of transportation. I felt the pleasant effects of daily, functional exercise and also learned to ride side-saddle on my friend's bike, the Dutch version of car pooling! Throughout the semester I learned about the Dutch "culture of tolerance" and its consequences, including reconsiderations of friendly immigration policies because of anxiety towards the intolerance that many Dutch feel Muslims bring. I also learned about the government's actions to battle the international perceptions of Amsterdam as "seedy" (it is actually the safest place I have ever lived!) by taking public action against "coffeehouses" and prostitution houses. One of my favorite things about my experience in Amsterdam was showing visiting friends (and even my family!) around and seeing their stereotypes about the city break down as they saw how beautiful it was. Ik ben gek op Amsterdam!