Jess en France: Nerves (the Good Kind?)

August 25, 2017

It’s a few days before I fly to Paris, and my hyper-active mind has presented me with a mixed-bag of emotions. I find myself reminiscing the days before I made my move across the country, from southern California, to start my college career at University of Richmond. But as I now face the new prospect of moving across the world, to one of the most gushed about destinations on our planet, the sentiment of these last few days feel similar, yet altogether different than that before I came to Richmond. If you’re like me, you like to plan and over-plan, going over minutiae in your head until planning becomes superfluous (and even unhelpful). But if there’s anything I learned from my move just a few years ago it’s that there’s a finite extent to which planning is actually going to help—especially when you’re travelling and taking root in an entirely new place. This isn’t to say you should “wing it”—travelling can be logistically challenging. However, one of the greatest parts about travelling is letting yourself be surprised by what you find and allowing it to paint your experience, rather than you painstakingly painting it for yourself. And this is where my anxieties fortunately drop-off, at the point where I let myself “be” and let what will come, come.

Hi, I’m Jess. I’m a UR student majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy, and I’m spending my first of two semesters abroad studying at Sciences Po in Paris, France. I chose to study abroad in France for two main reasons—to work on my French language skills and to study at Sciences Po, which offers one of the best International Politics programs in higher education. I will be staying with a host family in Montmartre, which is a large hill in the eighteenth arrondissement (i.e. the outer district of the city) as well as a historically renowned part of Paris that artists have flocked to throughout the years, particularly in the nineteenth century. As someone who loves to write, I can’t wait to scope out a “writers spot” and bask in the wonderment this corner of the city has to offer. So I would definitely be remiss not to mention that Paris is a melting-pot of cultural, artistic, as well as musical, and gastronomical prominence! There is quite a lot to look forward to.

I’ve been truly blessed with such a wonderful opportunity to study here, and there are many people to thank—professors and friends who have supported me, but also the Office of International Education and Chris Klein, my study abroad adviser. Without them, I wouldn’t have been afforded such a life-altering adventure. I cannot wait to share my experiences with you and any tips or words of wisdom I may be able to impart as I venture off into Europe.  I will be posting weekly, so stay tuned!

À la prochaine (Until next time),

Jess

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Meghann in Argentina: Porteño Politics

July 21, 2017

One thing that I learned very quickly here is that los porteños (what people in Buenos Aires call themselves) love their politics. Most extensive conversations that I have here eventually turn to politics in one way or another—especially with my host parents! After informing them that I am a Political Science major, they always love to hear my opinion on certain topics and express theirs in turn. My host dad told me that here in Buenos Aires it is “common to hear two best friends in a restaurant turn to enemies while discussing politics, and then turn right back into friends when the wine comes out.”

 

The importance of political activism is not only apparent in conversation, but also in daily public life. There are always small, peaceful manifestaciónes (protests or rallies) going on at street corners, but even more interesting to witness are the big rallies that occur every week in front of la Casa Rosada, a famous government building that contains the President’s office.

 

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My classmates and I went and saw the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a group (composed historically of women) that march in a circle every Thursday in front of la Casa Rosada in memory of los desaparecidos (Argentines that were “disappeared” by the military dictatorship in the late 70’s).

 

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Social activism is also commonly witnessed in the streets. Here, a group supports the right to education.

 

I am excited to start taking real classes in Political Science in a couple of weeks when the real school year begins. Hopefully learning about Argentine history and politics will allow me to better participate in the never-ending political discussion that seems to take place here in Buenos Aires!


Lindsay in Thailand: Putting the “Study” in Abroad

December 23, 2015

Thailand is full of random adventures, and I myself have had many since my arrival, but I thought this week I would clue you all in a little more on the reason for my being in Thailand—my studies in Khon Kaen.

My program through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) has a catchy name, Development and Globalization (DG), but you may wonder what actually falls under this umbrella term? My answer? I’m still figuring it out. In the information packet I received, I understood this program as one that allows me the opportunity to “study complex environmental, development, and globalization issues.” It has done that, and so much more.

Unlike our sister program, Public Health, the DG program is not associated with Khon Kaen University near our CIEE school headquarters. It is an entirely separate program that has its own educational model that is much different from most classroom learning models. This program focuses on learning from a ‘human perspective’ by speaking with villagers, NGOs, and government officials among other individuals in the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand.

 

The Development and Globalization group met with water buffalo herders during our land and agriculture unit.

The Development and Globalization group met with water buffalo herders during our land and agriculture unit.

 

This semester, our program focused on the development and globalization issues of organic agriculture, water management, land rights, mining, and also did a Laos agricultural comparative unit. These five units are primarily student-led and are divided into two-week segments. The first week is comprised of reading…reading…and more reading. In this mix, we also have a few guest lectures, Thai language courses and Thai peer tutor sessions focused on our unit topic as well as two discussion and information-based meetings led by the two student unit facilitators. These “UFac” individuals are responsible for not only planning this week, but also providing the link between the Thai ‘ajaan’ professor’s as well as preparing for the following week of exchanges.

 

In an area affected by a dam construction, this man now fishes where homes used to be.

In an area affected by a dam construction, this man now fishes where homes used to be.

 

In the second half of the unit, our 10-person DG group, two ajaans, and our beloved ‘wan’ driver make the trek to the local village affected by the development issue we are studying. Throughout our five-day stay, we speak with villagers about their situations and struggles to gain an overview of the issues facing the area. In order to view the situation from the other side, we also meet with government officials who offer the political context. Additionally, we interview local Non-government organizations and NGO persons who are knowledgeable on the subject not only in our current focus area, but also in other areas throughout Thailand.

 

The infamous “wan” ride with the DG “wamily,” including our translator and driver.

The infamous “wan” ride with the DG “wamily,” including our translator and driver.

 

Something especially unique about this program is that, during this week of unit exchanges, we actually live with villagers. Two DG students are assigned to one family and homestay, and we reside with them all week. Being able to follow them through their daily routines, learn to cook traditional foods from them, take showers with a bucket of water and a bowl, help them in their garden, round up the qwai (water buffalo), and communicate with them as well as we are able has really made this semester something special for me. In such a short time, we seem to become a member of the ‘krop kruwah’ (family). I have been “a daughter to them” and have even cried when I left some of my homestays. These families have not only taught me so much about Thai language and the social justice issues they face, but they have taught me the true meaning of kindness and making someone ‘feel at home.’

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Some of my homestay families and villagers who stole my heart

 

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Upon arrival in Khon Kaen, our group is tasked with making a unit ‘output.’This final project is supposed to be a reflection of what we learned over the past two weeks, and often incorporates aspects that would benefit the affected community in some way. After brainstorming as a group, we work vigorously to finish our project and plan a two-hour “workshop” where we present our findings to our ajaan professors and student interns. Some unit outputs have included a lesson plan on organic agriculture, a 25 page report on organic farming barriers, info-graphics concerning land rights issues, paintings reflecting Laotian agency and dependency, and an information packet provided to the European Union before a visit to a mining affected community.

 

 Kaori, myself, Elyssa, and Megan showing our support for Na Nong Bong, a community we exchanged with who is negatively impacted by a mine in their community.

Kaori, myself, Elyssa, and Megan showing our support for Na Nong Bong, a community we exchanged with who is negatively impacted by a mine in their community.

 

Following this workshop is the ever so popular “plus, minus, delta” evaluation where we evaluate as a group what we did great and what could have been done better. Additionally, we have a “sadthi” quaker-style meeting to allow personal reflection and expression of our current feelings after an educationally and emotionally exhausting week. Finally, it is time for a good night’s sleep before the repeat.

I have to be honest with all of you. In the beginning of the program, I thought I was in over my head. I saw the little black program planner book as daunting with so many scheduled classes and outside exchanges. I questioned how much time I would have to myself. Yes, I am fully aware that I signed up to ‘study abroad’ but I questioned how much studying was too much abroad. This program is far from what might seem like traditional abroad expectations. I may have not hopped from country to country every other weekend and I may not have shared experiences with many other Richmond students, but I was able to really see Thailand for all its beautiful wonders and civil flaws. I was able to see big city lights and little village dirt roads, I became a ‘regular’ at the local coffee shop, I befriended the coconut ice cream stand lady who knows my order by heart, and I was able to reflect on all these things and more as time passed me by. Although I am sad to be leaving here in a few short weeks, I know that this place, those Thai villagers, and my program friends was, and always will be, a home and family to me.


Dan in Argentina: Let the Bucket List Begin

November 30, 2015
As the semester winds down, I decided to write a Bucket List of things to do before I leave...in less than three weeks! This weekend, after the election of conservative presidential candidate Mauricio Macri, I went to the Obelisk where supporters were celebrating. With the backdrop of a cloudy Buenos Aires night, you can see the Macri flyers falling like snow to the ground. As we were leaving, public works employees began leaf-blowing the flyers and other litter into trash bags. Seeing the Obelisk up close was on my Bucket List and getting to check it off this night was really special.

As the semester winds down, I decided to write a Bucket List of things to do before I leave…in less than three weeks! This weekend, after the election of conservative presidential candidate Mauricio Macri, I went to the Obelisk where supporters were celebrating. With the backdrop of a cloudy Buenos Aires night, you can see the Macri flyers falling like snow to the ground. As we were leaving, public works employees began leaf-blowing the flyers and other litter into trash bags. Seeing the Obelisk up close was on my Bucket List and getting to check it off this night was really special.

 

Also on Sunday night, I went out to dinner with my friend Ben's family in Puerto Madero (now checked off my to-do list). At the end of dinner and after the long election day, fireworks lit up over the river to celebrate Macri's victory.

Also on Sunday night, I went out to dinner with my friend Ben’s family in Puerto Madero (now checked off my to-do list). At the end of dinner and after the long election day, fireworks lit up over the river to celebrate Macri’s victory.

 

On the other side from the fireworks is the famous Puente de la Mujer. This bridge's name translates to "Woman's Bridge" and represents the woman's role in the tango with her leg extended from her body. In this picture you can see the "new" in Puerto Madero with its big apartment buildings and riverside dining but also the "old" as a still functional port.

On the other side from the fireworks is the famous Puente de la Mujer. This bridge’s name translates to “Woman’s Bridge” and represents the woman’s role in the tango with her leg extended from her body. In this picture you can see the “new” in Puerto Madero with its big apartment buildings and riverside dining but also the “old” as a still functional port.

 

The Rosedal Park is one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. Filled with roses of all different colors, this park has parrots (which are native to the area) flying all over the place. When I went to (as they say) take a moment to smell the roses, newlyweds were taking pictures and gardeners were working to maintain this amazing park.

The Rosedal Park is one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. Filled with roses of all different colors, this park has parrots (which are native to the area) flying all over the place. When I went to (as they say) take a moment to smell the roses, newlyweds were taking pictures and gardeners were working to maintain this amazing park.

 

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires was amazing...and free! With works of important Argentine artists as well as famous international artists, the museum holds a little of everything. On the top floor, a contemporary art exhibit displayed some Argentine modern art, very distinct from the rest of the museum which is filled with immense tapestries, Rodin sculptures and Monet samples.

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires was amazing…and free! With works of important Argentine artists as well as famous international artists, the museum holds a little of everything. On the top floor, a contemporary art exhibit displayed some Argentine modern art, very distinct from the rest of the museum which is filled with immense tapestries, Rodin sculptures and Monet samples.


Layla in Australia: Redfern

November 17, 2015

We are in the thick of exams season at Sydney Uni! Exams work very differently here compared to how they are at Richmond. They’re spread out over 3 weeks, with the first week being a ‘reading week’ where there are no exams. I was unlucky enough to have 3 exams on the last 3 days of the exam period, and to put the cherry on top, the last on is on a Saturday! Needless to say, I have quite a few long nights ahead of me. In this post, I’m going to talk about housing here in Sydney and the neighborhood I live in.

Sydney University exchange students get a discount to live at a building called Urbanest Cleveland Street in Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It’s about a ten-minute walk up the Cleveland Street to the edge of campus. However, Sydney real estate prices are very, very expensive, and Urbanest is no exception. I would compare Urbanest to Gateway Village back at Richmond, but it is much more expensive, even considering the favorable exchange rate. Luckily, the Office of International Exchange is generous enough to give students studying abroad in expensive locations a $1000 stipend, which helps mitigate the ridiculous cost of housing in Sydney. There are other student accommodations in the suburbs surrounding Sydney Uni, but my Urbanest location had the advantages over these options of ensuite bathrooms, a kitchen for each apartment, availability on a semester-only basis, and the discount.

I share an apartment with five other (American) exchange students, one who also happens to be a Richmond student. The six of us share a kitchen, with each of us having our own bedroom and bathroom. The building itself is very modern and comes equipped with a (very expensive!) laundry room, computer lab, gaming room, and gym, among other amenities. So while Urbanest is expensive, I think that the quality of the housing and its proximity to campus is worth the cost.

 

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It's definitely a comfortable size for one person.

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It’s definitely a comfortable size for one person.

 

While my building is technically located in Redfern, it is actually at the corner of 3 different Sydney suburbs – Redfern, Chippendale, and Darlington. It’s also less than a five-minute walk to Redfern station, one of the biggest train stations in Sydney. You can take a train from Redfern to pretty much anywhere in the city (except for the airport, which can be frustrating as a travelling exchange student). Living so close to the train station has been a highlight of my time in Sydney — I’ve never lived in a city before, and public transport has always been nonexistent. Not having to rely on a car and being able to catch a train anywhere I want to go in the city has been an amazing experience.

On the way to Redfern station, I walk up what was formerly the most infamous street in Sydney – Eveleigh Street, or ‘The Block.’ The first time I walked up Eveleigh Street, I immediately noticed a grouping of tents in a field, just in sight of the station. I later learned that the tents were what is called an Aboriginal Tent Embassy. To explain the origins of this tent embassy, I need to explain Redfern itself.

 

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

 

Redfern is a suburb with notorious connotations in Sydney. When I first told my parents that I’d be living in Redfern, they balked. As people with a view of Sydney from the early 2000s, all they knew of Redfern was its seedy reputation. The neighbourhood is known for its high concentration of Aboriginal Australians. As I’ve learned in my Australian history class this semester, the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and non-indigenous Australians has been extremely complex and is fraught with tension to this day.  For example, even before Australia became an independent nation, the advent of white settlers decreased the native population by 90%, and up until the 1970s, the federal government forcibly removed indigenous children from their families under the guise of “child protection.” Aboriginal Australians still experience severely disproportionate rates of poverty and incarceration, and lowered life expectancy and health. It’s been fascinating to observe the differences between the way indigenous peoples are treated here versus in the United States. Here, the prime minister in 2008 made a formal apology on behalf of the government to the indigenous population, there is a National Sorry Day annually for people to reflect on the historical treatment of Aboriginal Australians, and before many speeches and ceremonies, it’s customary to mention that the indigenous tribe is the “true owner of the land.” Thinking of these differences though, I can’t help but reflect on one of the signs I saw at the tent embassy: “don’t recognise, decolonise.” While it seems like Australia is much more progressive concerning its relations with its indigenous people compared to the United States, is it just a facade? It doesn’t seem like merely mentioning and apologising and reflecting is enough — what actions are being taken?

 

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

 

One day right before mid-semester break, I walked my normal path up Eveleigh Street to Redfern station and was shocked to see that the field where the tent embassy had been was completely empty. I later learned they had been evicted. As the presence of my student accommodation complex suggests, Redfern has been rapidly gentrifying and has mostly shed its infamous reputation. It’s not fully gentrified yet — there are always a few people begging outside of the station — but it’s been dramatically changed in the last decade or so. Developers from a charity called the Aboriginal Housing Company evicted Aboriginal people from their homes on Eveleigh Street and then demolished them, promising to provide low-cost housing for the original residents. Instead, the company has decided to build more student accommodation on the land, and the tent embassy was erected in protest. The eviction came coupled with a promise of a grant to build the promised low-cost housing alongside the student accommodation, but I definitely will be following this case when I’m back in America to see if it actually comes to fruition.

 

This image isn't mine; it's from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also -- see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That's Urbanest Cleveland Street.

This image isn’t mine; it’s from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also — see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That’s Urbanest Cleveland Street.

 

Living in Redfern has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s been a way for me to see the history I’ve been learning about in class first-hand. It’s been a lesson in prejudice — I was initially nervous to be living in Redfern, but I’ve since learned that it’s not at all dangerous and not to judge places on their reputation. And lastly, it’s been an amazing way to experience living in a city for the first time.

 

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.


Dan in Argentina: Miscellaneous Adventures

August 31, 2015
Known as the location of the Casa Rosada (where the president works) and for its weekly demonstrations by human rights groups, The Plaza de Mayo is at the heart of the city. This statue, the oldest monument in the city (1811) stands tall (more than 60 feet) in the center of the Plaza as a commemoration of the May Revolution of 1810 which began the Argentine War of Independence.

Known as the location of the Casa Rosada (where the president works) and for its weekly demonstrations by human rights groups, the Plaza de Mayo is at the heart of the city. This statue, the oldest monument in the city (1811), stands tall (more than 60 feet) in the center of the Plaza as a commemoration of the May Revolution of 1810 which began the Argentine War of Independence.

 

From 1946 to 1952, Eva Perón was the First Lady of Argentina. With large murals like this and a recently minted 100 peso bill on which she appears, her influence and popularity are still evident today. Notably, the first politicians wife involved in campaigning, her charismatic and sympathetic personality gained her and her husband, Juan Perón, much popularity. She was born in the rural parts of the country as an illegitimate daughter of Juan Duarte's second family, left for Buenos Aires at age 15 and rose to fame in radio and cinema before entering the political world with her husband. After 6 years as First Lady, she passed away at the age of 33 to cancer.

From 1946 to 1952, Eva Perón was the First Lady of Argentina. With large murals like this and a recently minted 100 peso bill on which she appears, her influence and popularity are still evident today. Notably the first politician’s wife involved in campaigning, her charismatic and sympathetic personality gained her and her husband, Juan Perón, much popularity. She was born in the rural parts of the country as an illegitimate daughter of Juan Duarte’s second family, left for Buenos Aires at age 15 and rose to fame in radio and cinema before entering the political world with her husband. After 6 years as First Lady, she passed away at the age of 33 to cancer.

 

I realized I had not shown a photo of my school yet! So here it is, la Universidad Torcuato di Tella in all its glory! The former automobile plant is now a modern university. The school is named after the Italian immigrant of the same name who earned his wealth inventing a bread baking machine. I am taking three classes this semester about Argentine literature, the dictatorships of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay and the cinema Latin American.

I realized I had not shown a photo of my school yet! So here it is, la Universidad Torcuato di Tella in all its glory! The former automobile plant is now a modern university. The school is named after the Italian immigrant of the same name who earned his wealth inventing a bread baking machine. I am taking three classes this semester about Argentine literature, the dictatorships of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, and Latin American cinema.


Dan In Argentina: Obligatory First Week Sightseeing

July 22, 2015

 

grafitti

After getting off the plane at Ezeiza International, I hopped in a cab with all my stuff and headed to my host-family’s house. My first impression of the city was that it’s gigantic! My second thought? Graffiti…everywhere. Maybe Boston and Richmond are abnormally graffiti-free cities but I am nonetheless surprised by its prevalence here. I mentioned this to my host-family and they told me that many times the graffiti has political significance and some politicians even pay artists to paint graffiti favorable of them. This could be political mockery of an opponent or a statement on governmental policies of animal protection…but then again, it might just be a parrot.

 

cemetery 1

La Recoleta Cemetery is located in the neighborhood from which it gets its name. In 2013, CNN ranked this cemetery one of the 10 most beautiful in the world because of its expansive grounds with the juxtaposition of slightly deteriorating historic tombs and gorgeously maintained modern mausoleums, still utilized by families today. It was too tough to choose just one picture of this amazing cemetery, so here are three!

 

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Eva

Among politicians, Nobel Prize winners, and entertainers, former First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron was laid to rest 19 years after her death. In Argentina, the Perons are extremely controversial. You either love Eva or you hate her. Obviously her grave is a bias place to see this as it is perpetually filled with flowers and flooded with teary-eyed visitors. Lauren (another Richmond student) and I searched all around the 14 acre cemetery for her very modest and relatively secluded tomb.

 

bagels

As an”extranjero,” I have found it exciting every time I get to tell someone about the US or see an imported Pringles can in “el supermercado.” Well, on Sundays, there’s one place in Buenos Aires, we Americans can find New York bagels and cream cheese made freshly by a guy named Sheikob. Sheikob is a former PhD candidate who decided to take an adventure and move back to Buenos Aires where he had studied abroad as an undergraduate. Now every Sunday he sells bagels outside a little café in Palermo. (He even has a Facebook page!!) Ben, Bergen, Lauren and I sought him out our first Sunday in the city and told him all about our new adventure, coming from Richmond to study.


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