Meghann in Argentina: The “Study” in Study Abroad

October 10, 2017

Based on all of the stories and pictures from my adventures around the city that I share with my family and friends from back home, many of them have joked that I don’t even go to school here—contrary to popular belief, however, I am indeed fully enrolled at la Universidad Católica Argentina (better known as UCA). UCA is a private university with an enrollment of around 18,000 students, located in a very modern neighborhood called Puerto Madero, which translates to “wooden port.” This name is fitting, as UCA is situated right on the water—the views of the river from a few of my classrooms are beautiful (albeit distracting), especially during my evening class when the sun sets over the water.

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My morning view of the river and city skyline while walking to school.

I chose to enroll in four classes in the Latin American Studies Program, which is a group of classes taught primarily for study abroad students. All of my classes meet once a week for three hours and are taught in rapid-fire Spanish. By the end of such long class periods my brain is always fried, but hearing so much Spanish (especially about specific academic themes as opposed to regular conversational Spanish) has definitely been a huge help to my language skills. I am enrolled in Peronist Argentina (Peronism is a political movement/ideology that is highly relevant in Argentine politics), Latin American Art and Architecture, Political and Social Processes in South America, and Argentine Civil Society, and so far I have really enjoyed all four classes. Argentine Civil Society, which is about Argentine Non-Governmental Organizations and their comparative efficacy, is definitely my favorite class. The professors bring in a lot of guest speakers that work for local NGOs, and it is interesting to hear how such organizations (and the problems that they seek to address) differ from those in the United States. We also did a class trip to Plaza de Mayo, a famous plaza outside of la Casa Rosada (the Argentine equivalent of the White House), where unfortunately many homeless people gather to sleep at night. There, we helped cook dinner and distribute clothing with a group that aids the homeless population in this area every week. It has been awesome to have the ability to be engaged in and learn more about the community through my schoolwork.

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Friends from my Latin American Art and Architecture class. Like Richmond, classes here in the Latin American Studies Program tend to be very small!

While sports teams, clubs, and activities in general associated with the university are not common here like they are at Richmond (which is something I definitely miss!), I have also had a couple of fun experiences through UCA outside of the classroom. A few weeks ago, classes were cancelled for a daylong tradition called las Olimpiadas de UCA, or the “UCA Olympics.” The different majors/schools at UCA form teams for a variety of sports and activities that take place in a massive sports club on the outskirts of the city. I played volleyball for UCA’s team of international students—although it was difficult to understand volleyball terms in Spanish, it was still a very enjoyable experience. In typical Argentine fashion, at the end of the day, everyone gathered for a huge asado (barbeque).

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Enjoying the asado after volleyball!

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Jess en France: Oh, Italy.

October 6, 2017

 

It’s Thursday evening, and I’m on a plane to Italy. The flight is only an hour and fifteen minutes (which, by plane, won’t get you much farther from somewhere like San Diego than spitting-distance north of LA), so I’m not accustomed to how close in proximity major European cities generally are to each other. Geographically speaking, Virginia is equivalent in total land mass to Iceland, and the US as a whole is quite a lot larger than Europe but is inhabited by twice as many people. So there certainly are “empty,” “fly-over” states because everything is packed in pretty tight. But, luckily, this also means that making it to your friend’s house a few countries over for the weekend is completely do-able.

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I’m visiting one of my good friends, Elena, in Milan and exploring the city—which is my first European city I will have been to outside France.  I was roommates with Elena when she did her exchange at UR and had the pleasure of introducing her to some American cultural dynamics. We had talked about me coming to Milan about a year ago, so it’s a bit surreal that the time has finally come around that I’m visiting her, and I get to learn a bit more about the city she grew up in. After I landed in Milan and walked out into the receiving area, I heard a familiar voice yell “Jess!” and was immediately enveloped in a long-overdue hug.

We first ventured to the Duomo Cathedral, which is one of the largest churches in Europe. I didn’t get a chance to snap any pictures of the interior, but it was nearly incomprehensible in size and just as impressively detailed. There are over three thousand statues situated on the façade surrounding the entirety of the church. If you take a look at some of the statues that are closer to the ground, you can tell that they’re not in the least bit basic but carved with great attention to detail. It’s hard to imagine that a church of this magnitude could be both conceived and constructed so long ago— the construction of the building began in 1386 and took over six decades to complete. It’s a testament not only to how incredible humans are in their capacity to create but also to how powerful human spirituality is in its similar capacity to invoke such realizations of grandeur. There’s nothing like churches or religious monuments that are as architecturally awe-inspiring.   

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This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the food. Oh, the food. I met up with a group of six other Italian friends, who had studied abroad at UR the year before with Elena, and tried real pizza for the first time. Unlike American pizza, the crust is thin and the toppings are generally fresh ingredients not piled but sprinkled on. And no need to dab the oil with a napkin; you’re going to want to taste the olive oil drizzled on top. It was an entire operation trying to finish that thing—first you have to cut each individual slice and try your best to grasp and fold the pizza properly lest it falls apart. Although the most difficult pizza I’ve ever eaten, it was in no equal measure one of the best.

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Sorry for the blurry-ness– I’m typically not one to take pictures of food because inevitably I get too excited and dive right in: so this was all I could manage!

Fortunately this is only the first of several trips I’ve planned to go to Italy not only to visit Elena but also to further explore the peninsula as a whole. But fino alla prossima volta (until next time), Milan has a pizza my heart. Sorry—had to do it. 

Here are some more photos!

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Just another beautiful walk down Milan’s picturesque streets

just narrowly missed Milan fashion week, but you can still easily find bold fashion statements–like this (euro) 45,000 jacket thing

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I just narrowly missed Milan fashion week, but you can still easily find bold fashion statements–like this (euro) 45,000 jacket thing

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And yet another captivating castle


Jeanette in Morocco: Southern Excursion

October 6, 2017

Last week, my SIT cohort embarked on an excursion through the south of Morocco. We traveled through the diverse cities of Fez, Azrou, Merzouga, Ouerzazte, and Marrakech. We saw the behind the scenes of local tanneries and tile factories, visited women’s education non-profit organizations, saw wild monkeys in the Cedar forest, rode camels in the Sahara desert, spent a night at a girls dormitory, and explored the tourism hub of Morocco.

Check out our adventures in the short film below!


Meghann in Argentina: Iguazú Falls

October 3, 2017

There is not much in this world that is worth a stuffy 20-hour bus ride, but las Cataratas del Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) definitely make the list. Located in a national park right on the tri-border of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, Iguazú Falls are the largest waterfall system in the world. I learned that the name “Iguazú” actually comes from the indigenous Guarani words “y,” meaning water, and “ûasú,” meaning big—and big water is right. The sights were some of the most amazing that I have ever seen, and the sheer size and volume of water have to be seen to be believed.

 

I went to the falls with a trip organized through the buddy system for international students at my university, so the insanely long bus ride was made slightly better knowing that almost 250 of my peers were in the same (uncomfortable) position as me. We all spent the weekend at a hostel close to the national park, and on Friday we had the opportunity to spend the whole day at the falls. The day started with a spectacular boat ride that took us down under the falls themselves (well, not directly underneath them, otherwise our boat would be at the bottom of the river) and provided awesome views from below. We got completely soaked racing around the falls and the river, which divides Argentina and Brazil (so technically, the boat driver told us we might have gone a few feet into Brazil…).

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Las Cataratas del Iguazú (Iguazú Falls)

 

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Before my friends and I got completely drenched

After we got off of the boat, we rode through part of the jungle where a guide told us about some of the natural diversity around Iguazú—apparently the park has a very impressive variety of flora and fauna, but the only animals we saw were called coatis, which are raccoon-like animals that terrorize visitors by sneaking up and stealing their food. It was pretty funny to watch them in action when we stopped for lunch, but I definitely wasn’t one of the people that went up and pet them. The rest of the day was spent walking around the park to see the falls from different viewpoints. We ended at a point called “la Garganta del Diablo,” or Devil’s Throat, an area of the falls that supposedly prompted Eleanor Roosevelt to comment “Poor Niagara” when she visited Iguazú.

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The coatis of Iguazú are accustomed to helping themselves!

 

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A view from the Devil’s Throat

 

Iguazú truly impressed me, and the trip made me excited to explore more of Argentina’s ample natural beauty in future trips outside of the city!


Jeanette in Morocco: Calligraphy is Existence

October 3, 2017

As a member of the SIT: Field Studies Journalism and New Media program, I am currently specializing as a videographer. Last week, I had the honor of profiling Mohamed Oujddi, a thirty-five year-old local calligraphy artist based in Rabat, Morocco.

Oujddi began his career as a calligrapher to help his eight brothers’ through school. He currently teaches calligraphy to non-Arabic speaking students and completes designs for clientele and the royal palace.

“Calligraphy is existence. Because if you give more, if you create more, that means that you are here,” said Oujddi.

Oujddi shared that he is still learning about calligraphy. He hopes one day, the state can support this noble art.


Jeanette in Morocco: Tasty, Tasty!

September 19, 2017

Kouli, kouli, kouli! (Eat, eat, eat!) 

If you ever find yourself having a meal in Morocco, you’ll likely hear these words enthusiastically said to you. Lucky for you, Morocco is full of tasty foods, drinks, and desserts. Heading into my third week, I’ve already labeled three as my favorites!

 

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First, the infamous Moroccan dish, couscous! Couscous, made of crushed wheat, much like a blend between rice and pasta, is eaten every Friday in Morocco, as a celebration of the Holy Day. Families come together on this day, sit around a round table, and eat out of a large bowl together. The first photo features dessert couscous often made for special occasions. With caramelized onions, sweet raisins, and chickpeas as toppings, this dish had everyone murmuring sweet “mmmm” sounds and fighting for seconds. The second photo is a savory couscous with seven different vegetables and lamb. Both are must-haves if you ever find yourself in Morocco!

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Secondly, after almost every meal in Morocco, you will find yourself enjoying a cup of mint tea. This cultural delicacy will leave a refreshing taste lingering on your tongue after every sip, even though you’ll already be ready for the next!

 

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Third, we can’t forget desert! At Passion Creme, a local family owned ice-cream shop in Rabat, one can find unique flavors such as dates, figs, bubble gum, and more for only $1 US per scoop! I’ve been to this place four times in the past week and I’ll surely be back for more.

 


Meghann in Argentina: Green Spaces

September 18, 2017

Every time I go somewhere new in Buenos Aires, I realize more and more how huge the city is (around 3 million people and the 10th largest city in the Americas, to be exact). Although usually the commotion and excitement of Buenos Aires is something that I feel I can’t get enough of, occasionally everyone needs a break. Fortunately, although the city is so dense and populous, one can seek escape in any of the beautiful parks scattered both throughout and around the outskirts of the city proper. Lately, when I need a few hours away from the packed streets and cafes, the insanely crowded busses, and the towering buildings, I have found myself heading to these green oases to relax, people-watch, and feel like I am outside of the city for a bit.

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One of my favorite parks to go to is Parque Floralis, which has a huge metal flower sculpture that opens and closes with the sun.

The construction of these parks increased drastically in the beginning of the 20th century after a massive wave of European immigration to Buenos Aires. French architects were typically the ones who promoted and designed “green spaces” that took on many characteristics of French parks (this is all according to my very helpful Latin American Art and Architecture class). Although I don’t necessarily spend my time analyzing architectural components while I’m trying to relax in a park, it is definitely cool to notice the heavy European influences of sculptures, bridges, gardens, and more.

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A really popular and nicer park to go to is called Bosques de Palermo. When walking through certain parts of it, the European influences are inescapable.

While sometimes it is nice to walk through a park alone, going with friends on sunny days (which are becoming more frequent here as summer finally approaches) has also proven to be one of my favorite things to do. Acouple of days ago, a friend and I decided to go watch the sun set over the water at an ecological reserve; although it isn’t too far outside of the city, it felt a world away from my busy neighborhood. Watching the sun go down over the city skyline and getting a breath of fresh air for the first time all week was a simple yet wonderful feeling. The city of Buenos Aires is undeniably impressive, but there is definitely something special about its’ green spaces.

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Sunset in the ecological reserve.

 

 

 

 


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