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Gap Year Abroad

23 posts categorized "Elena Palermo"

07/13/2014

Highlights

"Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but it is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." Pat Conroy 

 

Here are a few highlight pictures of the incredible people and places from my amazing gap year! 

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Viña del Mar, Chile 6a010536fa9ded970b019aff553fca970c-800wi Mom

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Whitewater rafting in Pucón, Chile 1463181_10151688730436486_1273598711_n

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CIEE Chile gap group in the San Pedro de Atacama desert Machu

Machu Picchu!!  Photo.PNG

Bario Santa Cruz in Sevilla, SpainIMG_0585IMG_3335 Photo-1.PNG

The Cathedral in Sevilla, SpainA

Amsterdam IMG_2181

Tangier, Morocco IMG_1337

Rome, Italy

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Barcelona!!6a010536fa9ded970b01a511a93108970c-800wi

CIEE Spain gap group in Sintra, Portugal 

 

C capture culture

I incredible adventure

E excellent opportunity to grow

E everyone should do it

04/25/2014

Para Resumir

"The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart." Julien Green

Quick update:

The last month has been pretty hectic. From the CIEE group trip to Portugal, to my trip up north to the beach with some friends, my parents coming to visit and Semana Santa(holy week), it’s been hard to make time to type out a blog but here are a few pictures to catch up! 

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Lisbon! IMG_2492

 

Palacio de Pena 

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the group outside Palacio de Pena, in Portugal

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la playa (the beach!) 

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friends in Alicante

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the parents in Sevilla! 

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mother-daughter picture! 

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one of the processions during Semana Santa

 

Figuring out a way to conclude this blog has been really hard for me to do. At this point I have about 2 and a half full days left here in Sevilla before my gap year program with CIEE comes to a close.  After this incredible year of exploration and growth it’s hard to find the words to sum up how I feel about it ending in just one blog post so I’ve decided to break it down into two questions. One, what my expectations were at the beginning of the year and two, how they were fulfilled throughout the year.  

 

What did I want to get out of my gap year?

My goals in taking a gap year were pretty straightforward: to become fluent in Spanish, participate in community service or volunteering, immerse myself in a completely new culture and to grow and learn more about myself as a person. The thought of college was overwhelming but it wasn’t the fact that I didn’t think I was ready. It was more that I felt that if I took this year to learn and grow more as a person it would hopefully have a positive impact on my success at college in the future.

 

What did I actually get out of my gap year? 

Language:

At the beginning of this year it was incredibly difficult for me to understand what my host family was talking about at the dinner table and even more difficult to jump in and express my feelings in general. I was a beginner. Now after almost 9 months of intense language classes I am more than happy with how much my Spanish has improved. I am no longer feel awkward or scared or lost conversing with citizens on the street, asking directions or sometimes even offering them. Conversations with my host family at the dinner table seem easy, and I feel comfortable jumping in and adding my two cents into the conversation.

Everyday I enjoy learning a new word or phrase and with my friends it has become almost second nature to talk in Spanglish. And yes, I’ve even had some dreams in Spanish, which of course is always awesome! My Spanish is not perfect and of course there will always be room for improvement but I am truly, truly, going to miss hearing the Spanish language throughout my house or in the streets everyday. Since language learning was a big part of why I took a gap year, I am so excited to go back to the States and see where this newfound love will take me!

Volunteering:

Each place that I volunteered at was such a different experience yet I take away one important lesson from them all. I’ve learned the value of giving back and helping others. Making time to think of others is so important, there is such an amazing sense of accomplishment after teaching a little boy a new English word or helping a little girl get up on a surfboard and ride the wave. I’ve experienced this year, these small gestures always have a way of coming back to you and bringing happiness into your life in different ways. Keep on volunteering!

Immersion:

Host family. I really couldn’t imagine another option when I thought about my gap year. I knew I wanted immersion and I knew living with a host family would do just that, but to be honest it was so much more than what I expected. Each and every person in my two families has played such a special role in my experience and without them it just would not have been the same. My Spanish never just stopped once my classes ended I had to constantly work to communicate with my host family, coordinating schedules or talking about daily news.

Every day I would try different authentic dishes. Every day I adjusted my schedule to be on Chilean or Spanish time to coincide with my host family. Every day I took part in daily activities around the city, going to the gym, yoga classes, park or beach days, trips to the grocery store to buy shampoo, really whatever! Although frustrating and hard at times, all these experiences contributed to reaching my goal, which was immersion into a culture completely different from my own. And although Spain and Chile are very different, they are both beautiful places that share the communality of having caring, helpful, cheerful, good-humored, intelligent people. Leaving me with a beyond wonderful impression of the two countries.

Personal Identity:

This last point is the hardest one to explain for me. Each time I would tell someone I was taking a gap year I would receive pretty much the same response, something like, “Wow, a gap year, that’s so amazing! This year is just going to be so great for you, you’re going to grow and learn so much about yourself!”

Although I really did believe and even agree with each of these people, I didn’t exactly know what growing and learning about myself was going to entail.

Now sitting here and reflecting over my year, I know exactly what they meant. No, of course, I haven’t figured everything out. Heck, I’m still not 100% sure what I want to study in college next year. But what I can say is as far as the person I am. I am so happy right here, right now. Each and every awkward, exciting, stressful, uncomfortable, new, and fun situation that I’ve experienced this year has taught me something new about myself and I can’t wait to apply it once I return back to the states. This all, of course, sounds immensely cheesy but all I can really say is if you don’t really understand what I’m saying maybe you just need to take a gap year to figure it out

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I LOVE MY LIFE!! 

A huuge thank you to the people who made this year possible. I love you all to the moon and back and truly cannot thank you enough! 

Ciao! 

03/25/2014

Marruecos

“Much progress, and much to be done.” the one and only- Lisa Margo Levine 

It is a wild to think that after only a 6 hour bus ride, I found myself in a new continent, new country, and completely new colorful, captivating, culture.

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We were only in Morocco for the weekend, so it was a very short amount of time to truly understand the culture, but here are a few of my initial thoughts. The first thing I noticed was the extremely high ratio of men to women. It was something like 75: 25 for the people I came into contact with. It could have been more or less but it was enough for me to notice something was very different. The whole weekend seemed to be run by men, hotel workers and shopkeepers, tour guides, servers at the restaurant, people helping us onto the camels, showing us silk blankets and explaining natural medicines…all men. Occasionally you see a woman in the street selling her fruit and vegetables but that is about it. 

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Another difference was the few women who were out in the streets were covered up completely, usually in a traditional piece of clothing called a djellaba, a long dress with sleeves and a hood. A few men in the streets were wearing djellabas but there were also a lot of men in shorts and t-shirts as it was a beautiful day at least in the 70’s. It seemed so out of the norm for women not to be completely covered that I even got a few stares by having just my ankles showing.

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Before going to Morocco I knew that praying was a big part of the Arab culture and as the guide explained people are summoned, by bells, to the mosques 5 times a day and if you are working, like our guide for example, you can go at a different time or pray on your own time. But he also explained how although men and women can pray in the same mosque they are not allowed to pray next to each other.

 

As we were walking around to different shops and seeing how every single vendor was a man, I began to wonder where the women were and what they were doing. In one shop I asked the vendor if he was the one who made the scarves. He laughed and responded, “No, women in factories do that”. That was really hard for me to hear because yes, as a global society I think a lot of progress has been made over this issue of gender inequality but as I could see this weekend, there is still work to be done. 

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Growing up in the States I have always experienced and understood that men and women are equal. We have equal opportunities for jobs, to vote, to get an education, and how to dress; the list goes on and on but in Morocco I felt a different vibe.

Experiencing a culture that is completely different from my own is not only important because it helps me create an understanding for people of all backgrounds but it also is helpful in creating an appreciation for my own culture.

There are positives and negatives in every culture, but I think it's important to create an accepting society that is as well-rounded as the sphere of the planet on which we live. 

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Ciao for now! 

03/13/2014

Family First

"The world in which you are born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being like you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis 

I feel like I’ve said this before but I’m going to say it again. Your host family is such an important part of your study abroad experience. Yes, you have your Spanish classes, your volunteering, and excursions with the group, but your host family is really where you get to experience and become really immersed in the culture.

Here is what I mean.

I wake up and nobody is up because 8:00, at least for my family, is considered very early. Yet, I still have cereal and a bowl set out by my lovely host mom every morning when I get up. After breakfast, I make my way to school and after class around 1:30 I get home and wait for my host mom to knock on my door around 2:30-3:00 telling me lunch is ready. I usually eat with my host sister, who is home because her first class doesn’t start until 4:00 (lucky duck). While we eat my host mom is usually in the kitchen preparing food for my host dad, and my two aunts who are also currently living here as well (very cultural), but they all don’t eat until later…can you believe it, later?

During lunch my sister and I talk about classes, travels, family, friends, boys, really anything. It’s super casual and comfortable, and I’ve gotten really close with her, which has been fabulous. After lunch it is the hour of “siesta” or nap. Really, it’s an actual thing. A lot of the shops in town close down from around 2:00-5:00 for lunch and siesta (super cultural). I have a hard time taking a nap in the middle of the day because if I do it’s hard for me to get moving afterwards but I usually try to relax for a bit.

After siesta, some days I go to the park, meet a friend for tea at a café, go to volunteering, head to the gym or visit the Alcazar, Cathedral or Parliament with my CIEE group. Just like back home in the states I have to keep my host mom updated with where I am, except in Spanish. My host mom is super caring and really treats me like one of her own. She is always reminding me to take an umbrella or wear a scarf because it’s cold and at one point even referred to herself now as having “2 Martas” (my host sister).

After volunteering I come home and hang out until dinner is ready around 10:00. Yes, 10:00. Meal times, I have to say, have been the hardest adjustment. For me, 10:00 is really late to be eating, but it’s a big part of the culture. Just like in Chile, dinner time is when I have the most contact with my host family so it’s important that I’m there. During dinner I practice my Spanish listening and talking skills and jump into the conversation when I can. We talk about everything from current events to different places around Sevilla, including places I have visited on excursions or will be visiting, so I’m able to get background information before I go with the group. We also talk about different parts of Spain and Europe and typical Spanish foods. My host aunt and I share a love for cooking so we always have fabulous conversations about different kinds of recipes, and we even plan on having a recipe swap one day in the near future!

I also get asked about different parts of American culture, which I love. For example, once my host dad asked, “What is typical American food? Like what do Americans eat on a daily basis? Hamburgers and French fries from McDonalds?”

It was a hard question, because when I think of American cuisine I think of a range of foods because America is a huge melting pot of cultures. I explained what a typical meal in my family would be and how my mom is very health conscious so we eat a lot of organic fruits and vegetables, not that much meat, a lot of whole grains and not a lot of processed foods. After I explained this it was funny to see my host dad and the rest of my family’s expressions. They all looked slightly surprised at the fact that not all Americans necessarily like, or even eat fried foods all day, every day. Of course America is huge and there are all kinds of people who have a variety of eating habits but it was a great sense of accomplishment to feel like I changed this American stereotype in even just 5 people’s minds.

On a typical night, I finish my gazpacho (typical Spanish cold tomato soup) and tortilla de España (another typical Spanish dish-basically an omelette with potatoes and cheese) and then my host mom asks me 15 times if I want more and 15 times I say no thank you, another huge cultural difference I’ve experienced. Food is a sign of love here and since I am not used to this sometimes it feels very forced. Instead of serving oneself my host mom will serve everyone and then after we finish our servings insist we eat more and more…and sometimes even more. Saying no at least 15 times during a meal has just been one of those things I’ve had to get used to and really I know she only means well.

 

Like I said, my host sister and I got pretty close from the beginning. Marta is 19 so we are at similar points in our lives. Therefore, finding things to bond over, even with the culture and language difference, really wasn’t hard at all! And a couple of weeks ago I was ecstatic when she asked me if I wanted to go to Rome with her! I of course said yes, so we bought our tickets and last Thursday traveled to Rome, one Spanish chica and one American gal, quite a story!

We stayed with her good friend who is studying in Rome and living with 4 other Spanish girls so it was full on Spanish the whole time, which of course was overwhelming but was also really, really good practice for me. Rome was absolutely incredible, but it was extra special navigating through the city and seeing all the monuments with my host sister. We laughed over asking people in the streets for directions in English, then Spanish if they didn’t understand the first time, which still sometimes didn’t work! What could be better than sharing a pizza at a restaurant and listening to an Italian street performer play a little number on his accordion? How about tossing a coin in the Trevi Fountain then hiking up a bunch of stairs to a marvelous view of the city and watching the sun set over the wonderful city of Rome. Traveling to Rome with my Spanish host sister, Marta, was more than an adventure and quite an experience that will remain with me forever!

Here are some pictures from our adventure! 

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Ciao for now! 

02/20/2014

Nuevas Aventuras

"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same." Anne Frank 

I believe one of the key factors in being a successful traveler is being open-minded to trying new things! That’s what exploring and traveling is all about! I love learning about different cultures, meeting new people and exploring new places, so that’s why a gap year has fit perfectly in my life. I loved South America. Traveling around Chile and Peru and experiencing such completely different ways of life were amazing but because of high traveling costs exploring South America as a whole was a lot harder. Now coming to Europe I appreciate the fact that taking a trip to the Netherlands, for example, is completely doable and not overwhelmingly expensive. So last weekend, off we went.

 After an uneventful plane ride we arrived in Eindhoven, where things began to get fun! From there the 8 of us had to take a bus from the airport to the train station, find a ticket booth to buy tickets since none of the manual ticket dispensaries took Visa cards, buy tickets for the train to Amsterdam, take the train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam, grab a tram in Amsterdam and take that to our hostel. It was quite the process of transportation!  Luckily we are all pretty well traveled kids, and everything in the Netherlands is in English so we figured it out.

We checked into the hostel then walked around and found lunch. One of the best ways to explore is to just walk. I really enjoyed walking around the city of Amsterdam. The area is very flat, and it seems like there are more bikes than cars on the road so walking can become quite dangerous at times- dodging bikes, cars and trams all at once. It is a city built on canals along with townhouse after townhouse. Super cool and easy enough to see everything by walking.

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After lunch we went back to the hostel and got ready to go see Ellie Goulding live in concert!! We took public transportation to the concert arena because at this point we are all public transportation pros. Even after being up for a solid 17 hours the concert was amazing and I’m so happy I got to see Ellie. Goulding. Live. In. Amsterdam. Unforgettable. 

 The next day we went over the Anne Frank house. It is obvious by the long line outside that this is the main attraction in Amsterdam. We had been told that there might be a long line so we were prepared to wait. Almost all of us had read the book in school so we were excited to see first hand what she described in her diary. We were lucky with the weather the whole weekend. It didn’t rain once and we did get glimpses of the sun but the wind made it feel so much colder than Sevilla. There was a lot of wind and especially after standing around in line for over an hour it got really cold. Luckily we passed the time with fun word games so before we knew it we were in.

The Anne Frank house was amazing. The tour took us through the house from room to room, each containing important historical information providing background about that disturbing time period. The rooms also contained artifacts such as the actual pictures she glued onto the walls of her room and notes about weekly meal plans.  Personal video interviews of the people who lived in the house, along with quotes from her diary made it a really personal and all together extremely moving experience. Standing in the Secret Annex and imagining not being able to breath in fresh air and being confined to that small space for two whole years was hard to imagine, yet something I won’t forget.

 

“Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Anne Frank

 

On our last full day in Amsterdam we got up and went to the Rijks Museum which houses Dutch art pieces ranging from the 1100’s to the 2000’s. The museum was overwhelming with 3 levels of art, but at the same time it was fascinating to look at all the famous Dutch art. Here are a few pictures I took of my favorite paintings. 

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The Battle of Waterloo IMG_0825

Vincent van Gogh 

After the museum we sat outside by the Amsterdam sign and soaked up some sun before heading to lunch. You may not know this but the Amsterdam sign is a vey popular landmark for tourist and especially on a sunny day, it was packed with people. 

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The next morning we woke up and took our 15 modes of transportation back to Sevilla. It was wonderful getting off the plane and breathing in the fresh, warmer, Sevilla air, happy to be back and returning to a place I feel comfortable in.

I love traveling, exploring, and learning about new countries and their own unique cultures. There is so much to learn and discover out there, and all you need is an open mind! 

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Ciao for now! 

02/06/2014

Beyond Sevilla

"One can travel the world and see nothing. To achieve understanding, it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see." Giorgio Morandi

Yes, being in Europe is overwhelming. There are soo many fascinating, historically important places that seem so close, yet so far. Paris, London, Amsterdam, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, I could just keep adding and adding to the list. Trying to make a priorities list is seemingly impossible. I want to take advantage of that fact that I’m here in Europe (and the significantly cheaper flights) and travel! At the same time traveling is expensive because everything adds up and next thing you know you’ve spent all your holiday money on a three- day trip to Amsterdam. Also a big part of my decision to take a gap year was the fact that I wanted to immerse myself in a culture different from my own, and that just isn’t possible when you are on the road traveling.  Spain in itself is wonderful and there are so many diverse places throughout the country that I want to see.

Luckily the center where we take language classes offers weekend excursions, so 2 weeks ago I decided to go with the school to Granada. 

Saturday morning I woke up and headed to the meeting point where about 20 other students from the Clic center were waiting to board the bus to Granada. Clic is an international language center so aside from having class with a diverse group of students from all around the world, going on these weekend trips is a great way to meet international students. On the trip to Granada, I met a hilarious girl from Belgium, a girl from Sweden, a Sicilian and a group of very energetic Australians.

We boarded the bus and started our 3-hour drive to Granada. For me it was quite refreshing to leave the city. I loved looking out the window at the crop fields and Sierra Nevada mountains, terrain I’ve missed since leaving Chile.  

Once we got to Granada we had some free time to walk around and explore the commercial part of the city. All the bakeries looked enticing with their sweets and so Hazel, Fiona, Cori, Maggie and I decided to venture into one. Maggie and Hazel got some delicious looking chocolate churros, which are a classic sweet treat in Spain. 

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After that we did some store hopping and walked around the city. The strong Arab influence on the city was obvious. A number of stores had a variety of tapestries, lamps, and other intricate trinkets. 

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After shopping we met up with the group to go on a short walking tour of the city, starting with the Catedral de la Anunciación, where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand are buried. Up until 1492, when Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand took over the city, Granada was under Moorish rule and is known for its Arab-influenced culture, mixed with Catholic monarchy influences.  The Catedral de la Anunciaciòn reminded me of a grand cathedral I visited in Denmark, which also housed coffins the kings, queens, and other royals are buried in.

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After the cathedral we walked up through the city streets to a gorgeous viewpoint of the Alhambra at night. 

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The next morning we woke up and headed to the Alhambra. The Alhambra was a military fortress and has an incredible amount of historical importance along with exquisite gardens, palaces, architecture and designs.

I think my pictures are probably best doing the talking.  

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After the Alhambra we headed back down into town for a quick lunch. We ate at a Mediterranean restaurant, and I got a falafel which was super yummy, especially after a long morning of walking around the Alhambra. After lunch we went back to the hotel, got our stuff and headed back to Sevilla. It was nice to come back home to Sevilla. My lovely host family greeted me by saying “Ah Elena! Te extrañamos!” (We missed you!)  I was, of course only gone a night, but it was really sweet!

Life in Sevilla is becoming more and more normal each day. When I wake up for class I don’t have that slight adrenaline rush like I did my first week here, which makes it harder to get up, but oh well. I went to my first yoga class in Sevilla yesterday and tomorrow the new kids have our last “orientation excursion” to the Cathedral. I keep looking at my calendar and wanting to plan more and more but I know I have to take it day by day. I can already feel the time flying by which is scary but true so I want to be sure to make the most of my time here!  

Ciao for now!



 

01/24/2014

España

"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind." Seneca 

Wow, here we are, and it’s already January 23rd! This past month of supposed winter “break” has gone by incredibly fast. After getting back from Peru I spent an amazing 3 weeks seeing my family and friends, adjusting to the winter, packing up and getting ready for Spain. Being back was great but spending that short amount of time at home made leaving again that much harder. I felt like right as I got comfortable being back home it was already the night before I left for Spain. A quick tip for anyone thinking about doing the dual gap program: make sure if you are going to Spain you get your visa before you leave for your first semester program. I spent more time than I wanted at the Spanish embassy, so figure out your visa situation over the summer before you leave.

Fast forward 4 plane rides and a number of hours later, and I am in Sevilla!! Sevilla is the capital of the Andalucía region, or southern area, of Spain. It is absolutely beautiful, and even after only being here a week I really really like it. I arrived two days before my program started so was able to adjust to the time difference (6 hours ahead of Washington DC) and walk around and see the area a little bit.

After hanging out for 2 days with a friend I packed up my things and went to my host family. In my family I have a mom (Georgina), dad (Joaquin), sister (Marta, who is 19), and brother (Joaquin who is 21). This is a complete switch from my one younger brother, Max, who I’ve grown up with, and my family in Chile but I am really excited to have kids in the house around my age. So far my host family experience has been wonderful! My Spanish is so much better, and because I already have the experience of living with a host family my acclimation into the family wasn’t as difficult. Only a week has gone by, but I really do feel part of the family. I am able to actively participate in meal conversations and not just smile and nod my head like when I arrived in Chile 6 months ago. And after a couple of nights bonding over silly Youtube videos, comparing music and just talking, I feel like my sister and I have already gotten pretty close. The host family is a major part of the experience so I feel fortunate to have already connected with my new family.

First Impressions of the City:

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly beautiful the styles of the buildings are. You can quickly sense the historical importance that each building holds and the architectural detail is incredible. Also looking around in the streets everyone is dressed in the latest fashion trends and you can tell appearance is taken very seriously here. Everything is within walking distance so already I’ve been able to get a good feel for the city by just walking around to and from class and by exploring each afternoon. Aside from the incredible amount of shoe stores there are a number of beautiful plazas that are dispersed throughout the city as well. 

Here are a few pictures from various places around the city.

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The first couple of days of the program were long with numerous orientation meetings and tours. We went on a short tour of Plaza de España, the main plaza in Sevilla, an absolutely stunning area. You feel as though you have almost stepped out of the city, into a completely new area. You make your way into the park and then all you see is this grand building with a number of pillars, balconies, and towers as well as a huge patio out front with a fountain surrounded by a canal where you can rent a row boat and row around. Around the base of the building there are little stations called azulejos which are ceramic tiles and represent the different regions or provinces of Spain. Fun fact: Plaza de España was where parts of the Star War movies were filmed.

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Azulejo of Coruña

After that we walked through the park, Maria Luisa, to another plaza called Plaza de América. Right away we all noticed the enormous amount of palomas or pigeons that were surrounding the plaza. If you simply hold out your arm you can easily get 2-3 pigeons to fly up and say hi, intimidating enough. However, if you buy some of the nuts you could seriously have up to 7 pigeons resting on your arms! 

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Classes started on Monday and it has been a bit of an adjustment: 1) waking up at 8:00(yeah I know ¡que horror!) and 2) focusing in Spanish for a whole 4 hours straight with an exception for our 20 minute break. But I’m excited because that’s the best way for me to improve my Spanish.

Being in Europe is overwhelming. You feel like everything is so close so you want to take advantage and travel to many countries, yet I am in Spain and also want to really get to know the country I am living in. Poco a poco, little by little, I will figure out my plans, but I know my time here will be adventure-filled!

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walking tour through the neighborhood of Santa Cruz 

Ciao for now! 

12/31/2013

una gran aventura

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Have you ever been in a foreign place but have it feel remarkably comfortable and incredibly special? That’s how my week in Cusco, Peru felt. I absolutely loved Peru- everything about it, the people, the markets, the mountains, the streets, houses, food, colors, everything. On my birthday December 13th I said a very sad goodbye to my host family and friends in Chile and headed to Cusco, Peru where I spent the next week exploring the beautiful area. I stayed in a wonderful place called the Healing House, which is a holistic healing community that offers massage, yoga classes and Reiki to the community, as well as participates in other projects around Cusco. This was a perfect place for me to stay. From the moment I arrived all the girls were so kind-hearted and welcoming, and I give a big thank you to the Healing House because it was a major contributor to my amazing trip.

A lot like Valparaíso, Cusco is a fairly hilly city; the only difference is Cusco is located a whopping 3,400 meters or 11,200 feet above sea level.  Coming from living 5 minutes from the beach, this was a major change, and from the moment I landed I could really feel it. It was also really interesting being able to compare the two South American countries. Peru is less developed than Chile, which contributes to the extremely low prices.

Due to lack of sleep and altitude adjustment my first day in Cusco was pretty relaxed. I wandered around the San Blas neighborhood for awhile going in and out of a couple of stores, went to the market and bought some delicious fruit and veggies (the produce in Peru is unreal!), and found an amazing café where I bought some delicious banana bread. 

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The next day I went to the Baratillos markets in the center of town, which are only on Saturdays and are known for being overwhelming but extremely cheap. The place was a madhouse. You could find anything you could possibly imagine, from hats to blankets to computer accessories, books, toilet paper, anything you need. People were moving through the crowded market on their daily mission while mamacitas were yelling out prices to compete for customers. It was quite a production, unlike anything I’ve experienced and definitely different from the Sunday Eastern market in downtown DC. Using my much improved Spanish I bargained with a guy and bought some cute trinkets. After the markets we went to a delicious Asian restaurant where I got some miso soup and seaweed salad. Two of the girls I was with got a really great curry soup that I tried and boy did it have a kick! I quickly realized Peruvian food is a lot spicier than Chilean food, which I loved!

On Sunday, a friend, Ayana, and I decided to go see some ruins that were just up the hill from the house. We slowly trekked up to the entrance but once we got there and learned we had to pay to get in, we decided we would come back on a day when we were feeling like exploring more. We walked back down the road and ended up at a park where a guy asked if we wanted to participate in a traditional coca leaf ceremony. The coca leaf is used as a healing plant and is particularly effective with altitude sickness and therefore is highly honored in the Inca tribe. When we arrived we were each given a handful of leaves to chew while the ceremony was being set up. We were then each given three leaves to make three wishes with before presenting the leaves to one of the men who said a prayer, dipped the leaves in some liquid and placed them in the altar area. It was really unexpected but cool to participate in something like this, and I definitely gained a new appreciation for the culture. 

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The next day two friends and I took our yoga mats and hiked up the hills to the moon temple. It was an area with old ruins that had a bunch of little crevices where you could enter. We found a perfect flat patch of grass where we set up our yoga mats and went through a practice among the amazing Peruvian mountains and ruins. It was magical. 

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After yoga we walked back down to the fruit and veggie market and got a delicious freshly made juice followed by a huge bowl of soup and a lentil, grilled veggie, and plantain dish all for just 6 soles, which is around 2 dollars!

 

 The next day I woke up to head to the town near Machu Picchu called Aguas Calientes. I took a two hour taxi ride from Cusco through the rural hills of Peru, around the mountains and to the town of Ollantaytambo where I took the train to the town of Aguas Calientes. The train ride was absolutely gorgeous. The tracks followed a river surrounded by mountains and lush forests. 

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The town of Aguas Calientes is a little tourist town with hostels, hotels, restaurants, and artisanal markets dispersed here, there and everywhere. After I checked into my hotel I walked through the markets and made my way to the natural hot springs for which the town is named! Aside from being relaxing, the hot springs were really awesome because I got to chat with a bunch of people from all around the world. I heard some amazing stories and adventures and shared my story!

 

The next morning I woke up at 6:00 am and headed to the bus station to take a bus to Machu Picchu! After a half- hour bus ride along a dirt road of switchbacks we finally arrived to Machu Picchu! This place is just as you hear, absolutely unreal!! The location up in the lush mountains among the clouds, along with the endless ruins, creates an absolutely unbelievable atmosphere. The surroundings make you wonder where the Incans collected all those rocks and how much work it must have been to bring them there and meticulously fit them together to form this monumental part of the Incan empire. How do they remain all this time through natural disasters and the passage of time? 

I hiked through the ruins to the entrance of Huyana Picchu, which is the mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu. They only let 400 people hike it a day so I was lucky enough to get a ticket beforehand. The hike up the mountain only takes about 45 minutes but with the altitude and very steep steps, it was difficult. When I got to the top, the clouds were still floating over the ruins but I sat down and watched them clear and after about 20 minutes it was completely clear! I walked around the top for a little before heading back down to the ruins. 

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I had a tour at 11 so after walking around the ruins by myself for a little I waited for the guide to show up. We then walked for 2 hours as he explained all the classic facts. After a solid 5 hours at the ruins and a stamp in my passport I decided to head back down to the town of Aguas Calientes. I took a quick shower at my hotel, walked around the markets and then went to the train station to return to Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo I took a bus back to Cusco. When I got back to the Healing House I was exhausted from the day so went to bed very early.

 

The next day I went out to the markets with some friends to grab some last minute gifts and just walked around the town one last time. We ended up at a Crepería right near the house which is where we had a delicious coffee and chocolate crepe! 

 

That night after packing and getting everything together for my long travel day back to the States, one of my friends at the Healing House gave me a massage. The massage was the perfect way to end my absolutely magical time in Cusco. 

 

My week in Cusco was beyond what I expected. Everything including the people, food, yoga, markets and mountains was absolutely incredible, and I could not have asked for a more wonderful time. I know I will be back very soon in the future! 

 

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharlal Nehru

 

Ciao for now! 

12/09/2013

Cambio

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

Here it is again, that scary sometimes unsettling, inevitable feeling. Change.

I have exactly 7 days left here in Chile and I am definitely feeling the change that’s about to occur. Last Friday my program had a goodbye lunch with all the CIEE kids and some host family members. I had my final week of classes this past week, and next week exams start. I had a really delicious goodbye lunch with my family and some of my mom’s friends on Wednesday. And I have to figure out a time to head to the money exchange to convert some money into Soles because I am going to Peru!! No, I haven’t started packing yet, but that is next on my list. I have a lot of mixed feelings. As much as I love it here, after hearing about all the Thanksgiving adventures I really miss home and the people I’ve been away from for so long. At the same time I’ve developed a comfortable rhythm and some wonderful relationships and don’t want to leave this beautiful country that I’ve been exploring, growing, and learning in these past four and a half months. From the concert in Santiago I’m going to this weekend to the wine tour next week as well as exams, I know this next week is going to fly by, and I will be on the plane before I know it. I am trying to balance my desire for time to freeze so I can enjoy every last moment I have left with my excitement for future adventures, and it’s a tough balance to achieve. I have learned so much over the past four and a half months I’ve spent in Chile, and I am going to dearly miss so much.

Just to rattle off a few things:

  • My yoga teacher
  • My yoga studio
  • Anita, my nanny
  • My walk to school
  • Living 7 minutes from the beach
  • Gatitos
  • The live music in the street and on the metro
  • The feeling of successfully riding an incredibly crowded micro
  • Tea talk with my mom and sister
  • Laughing to myself as I hear my brother yell at his videogames
  • The kids at Paul Harris Elementary School  
  • AVOCADOS  
  • Anita’s lentil and garbanzo soups
  • My culture and communications teacher
  • Bogarín juice café  
  • My Chilean amigos
  • My gringo amigos
  • The palm trees
  • Muelle Vergara Park
  • My mom calling me Elenita
  • The beautiful Chilean mountains
  • Speaking in Spanish
  • 8 dollar bus tickets to Santiago
  • 10 dollar 3 course meals 

Ciao for now! 

 

12/04/2013

Voluntariado

“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” Dalai Lama XIV

A major part of my program here in Chile has involved volunteering. During my time here I volunteered at three different places. On Mondays and Thursdays, I taught English at a public elementary school. On Wednesdays, I taught swimming to 6-8-year-old kids.  And on weekends I volunteered with an organization called Adapta where I helped chilren with different kinds of disabilities participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, slacklining and surfing!

Adapta was always a great way to get outside on the weekends and working with the kids always put a smile on my face. It reminded me of Best Buddies, a program I participated in during high school, and I loved being able to make that connection. At first it was hard to communicate because of the language barrier, and at times I felt almost useless as a volunteer. Of course, that changed as my Spanish improved. But I also realized that the language wasn’t the most important aspect. We were there to put a smile on, laugh, and have fun with the kids; in general we were there be a positive support during these fun activities.

Here are some pictures from one of the surf sessions. 

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I learned to swim when I was four and have had a lot of experience teaching kids how to swim, so when I found out that this was a volunteer option in Chile, I couldn’t pass it up. This opportunity really pushed me. Unlike my other volunteer work, here I was the only American volunteer, so I was speaking in Spanish 100% of the time. Also, often there wasn’t a set plan as far as what I was suppose to do thus it was up to me to determine each kids’ skill levels, (which ended up being nothing more than staying above water and floating on their back,) and then to come up with various swimming drills and exercises during the hour we had together. Oh yes, and of course, this was all in Spanish. This volunteer opportunity was challenging, but the kids were really cute and always energetic so it was really rewarding and a lot of fun!   

Because I was constantly in the water trying to juggle 5 or 6 little seven- year olds, there was really no time to take pictures, but here is one I snapped of one of the other volunteers in between sessions. 

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My friend Anna and I volunteered at the elementary school, Paul Harris. The kids always got really excited when we arrived because it was a change of pace from their regular day. Aside from working on different English listening and comprehension activities, as well as a little bit of grammar we were constantly being asked if we knew the band One Direction, who our favorite band member was, and other fun stuff like that. We really tried to have fun with the kids and I really felt like we left a positive light in these kids’ lives. At the end of class, all of the kids would line up to give Anna and me kiss on the cheek goodbye. It took about 10 minutes just to get out of the classroom but was so cute and is something I will always remember.

Here is a picture of the classroom, as well as Anna and one of our students Kevin as twins! 

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Another volunteer activity was through the school’s extracurricular English club where students come to improve and practice their English. Each volunteer was paired up with a student who had to create a presentation about his or her partner or volunteer’s home state in the United States. I was paired up with an extremely bright 13-year-old boy named Fernando. As we were working on our poster he was constantly asking me questions about the States and just practicing his English non-stop; I could tell he really has a passion for English. Together we created a poster with pictures of Washington, D.C.’s monuments, museum, sports teams and famous people native to the District. Fun fact: The actor Samuel L. Jackson from the movie “Avengers” was born in D.C.! We wrote a script that Fernando read from that described the various D.C. landmarks. I remember one day after he read through it and I corrected his English, he asked me to read it and translate it into Spanish. As I read through he corrected my Spanish; we were laughing and it was a total bonding moment for us. November 13th was the International Culture Day where all the students presented their projects to the whole school and honored guests including people from the Embassy of the United States. Fernando did a flawless job, as I expected, and I think it was really successful day in general! I really loved working with Fernando. This is super cliché, but it was a great feeling to know I was making a difference in this one kid’s life because I know I will remember the difference he made in mine.

Here are a few pictures from the International Culture day!

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Fernando presenting to a group of 4th graders CIMG1800

Fernando's friend, Fernando and me in front of our D.C. poster! 

The last part of my volunteer work was through my Service Learning class. Our class, which was really just the 7 gap students, wanted to give back to the school where we had been volunteering. The school has a gray fence around it, and from the outside it really didn’t look like a place where happy, cheerful, elementary students studied, so we decided to add some color to the outside and paint a mural!  

Here is a picture of the mural we painted; it is a picture of the school’s mascot “Super Paul” with some mountains and the ocean in the background to loosely play off of Chile’s geography. 

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Maggie and I putting some finishing touches on the mural! 

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Gap group with our wonderful mural! 

With only an hour and a half to paint and no real artist amongst us, I think we were all really pleased with how it turned out.

It always feels good to give back but with each different experience I also gained new insight into the language, culture and myself. Each of these volunteering opportunities has made a significant impact on my experience here as well as on the person I am, and I will remember each of them, and what they taught me throughout the rest of my life.

Ciao for now! 

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