Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Program coming to an end.

Well, I only have 10 days left of my study abroad experience here in Spain. How crazy it is to think that 4 months ago from today I was so scared and excited about doing this and now it's already almost over! I have had such an amazing time and I feel so fortunate for all of the things I have been able to do and see. Speaking of which, I went to Paris and Brussels this past weekend with two of my friends from my program and it was really fun! We didn't have a whole lot of time in either city but I never planned on seeing them in the first place so it was great to be able to go! But as my program is coming to an end in less than two weeks I think it's safe to say that I have reached my level of Spanish that I will acquire here. I feel so much better about it than before and think I can even consider myself fluent! Finally! It feels great (although my English is suffering). I still have lots of work to do to master the language but I have reached a very advanced level and I am very happy about that since that is a main reason for why I am here. I feel like I have changed as a person (in a good way) and I have matured and really developed a strong sense of independence. I am so glad that I did this and I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

La Fête des Lumières

This weekend I went to the Festival of Lights held in Lyon. All over the city, light shows were displayed for four days to celebrate the saving of Lyon over 100 years ago. Three million people supposedly showed up for the festival and the streets were packed after 5pm! This link gives a great explanation of la Fête des Lumières and shows some of the displays as well!
  Light artists commemorate the saving of Lyon | euronews, le mag

Not only is the festival going on, but there is a Christmas market as well! Last night I went back to the market to buy a small Christmas tree and some good food from the stands.  They had waffles on a stick, gingerbread, prezels, and tête choco. While waiting in line to buy a bison burger, I even met a girl who went to the same high school as me, but graduated a couple years earlier! She is currently a teacher's aid at an elementary school about an hour south of Lyon. What a small world!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Spain

Well, having Thanksgiving dinner in Spain was definitely something that I will remember! I didn't eat at my home stay because ISA Granada treated all of us to dinner at a really nice hotel. They had an entire room set up very nicely for us and they served us so many courses! We had cheese with nuts, a guacamole/sun dried tomatoes/ goat cheese appetizer, fried zucchinis, soup, and then turkey topped with stuffing and some potatoes. It definitely wasn't an average Thanksgiving from the United States but it was interesting to see their take on it! None of the dishes before the main course were traditional to our holiday but they were all very delicious. The turkey was a bit strange because it was topped with a spicy/sweet cranberry sauce and the potatoes were baked. We also had a pumpkin desert, although I'm still not quite sure what it was... The overall experience was great, however. It was great to celebrate with my new friends and family and be served great food! Our ISA directors also put together a video for us and thanked us for a great semester. It got a bit emotional! It's easy to tell that things are starting to wind down, but I still have about a month left!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


While I will not be having a Thanksgiving feast with family and friends this year, I still have plenty of people and memories to be thankful for! I have been able to take part in an experience that I will never forget, and although it has been a challenge and pretty frustrating at times, I will never take my decision to study abroad for granted. Even though I will not celebrate this holiday, I am very excited for Lyon's Fête des Lumières. The city has begun decorating buildings, squares, and streets for the upcoming festival, December 6 - December 9.
I hope everyone back home and studying abroad has a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Heidelberg, Germany

The last week in October I had a full week off for fall break! My boyfriend and I went back to Heidelberg, Germany to visit my family. We stayed with my grandparents, who live in a very small town just outside of Heidelberg. The train ride was little over five hours long with the TGV, France's high speed train. This specific train route from Marseille, France to Frankfurt, Germany was just opened this past spring, making it easier for Germans and the French to travel between the two countries and making it easier for me to travel from Lyon back to Heidelberg.  
The weather was quite a bit colder than it had been in Lyon and over the next two days it even snowed. We stayed in and relaxed with my grandparents and didn't do much other than play cards, take walks in the woods and catch up on sleep. That following Monday I took Alec to see Heidelberg for the day!  Wednesday night we went to a Halloween party that some of my close friends were hosting. Halloween has become more and more popular in Germany over the last four or five years and my grandparents even had trick-or-treaters this year! 
 Later that week we took time to visit my other family members in Mannheim. That Friday we looked around Mannheim for the day with my cousin and her kids. That evening we took the train back to my grandparents home to spend the last two days with them. By the time it came to leave, Alec had stocked up on Haribo gummibears and I was definitely not ready to leave my grandparents, especially after they had spoiled us with great dinners and plenty of sweets!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The beautiful city of London

This past week a friend and I took a trip to London and it was fabulous!! I'm not usually a fan of huge cities like that but London is different. Everything I saw was so beautiful and full of life! There is a lot of history there too which I always love. There are an endless amount of cool places to go and see, and the double-decker bus tour is a must! You learn so much and you get free transportation around the city which is normally very expensive. I could not get over how nice and helpful the people are there either. People would always come up to us and ask us if we needed help. It was unreal! I never had a negative thought while I was there because everything was so positive. I felt right at home- and it was nice to be able to speak English for a few days! If you ever have a chance to go to London I would highly recommend it!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fanfare, Brazilian Style, to Elect a Mayor

On Sunday, October 28, several cities in Brazil held elections for mayor.  While in the United States (US), voter turn-out for any public office outside the office of the presidency receives very little news coverage or participation, this is not the case in Brazil. However, contrary to the US, in Brazil voting is compulsory.  For the past two months I have watched the process unfold leading up to the culmination of “the day,” that is, Election Day. 

 I want to first start with an apology, because the picture accompanying this blog doesn’t fully capture it all.  In Brazil, the election for mayor is done in two steps.  In the first step, which I call the “weeding- out” step, there is an election held for every candidate that wants to be considered for the Office of Mayor.   In this step, the prospective candidates are narrowed down to the two receiving the most votes.  Approximately one month after the weeding-out step, there is a second election held to determine which one of the top two candidates will be mayor.

The first thing I noticed was the television coverage.  On most, if not all, the public television stations regularly scheduled programming was interrupted to allow for a dedicated hour of pre-election propaganda.  During this time, each candidate is given an opportunity to present information pertinent to his or her candidacy and to give their candidate number, which is used when the voters select their candidate of choice.  I was told that when the voter goes into the voting booth, the person first enters the candidate’s number, then the candidate’s picture and name appears, at that time the candidate can confirm that the number corresponds with the intended candidate.

The second thing I noticed was that the local advertisement for the weeding-out is different than for the second election.  In the first election, the advertisement is similar to what we see in the United States (US), such as placards in yards.  However, there are two exceptions.  I don’t recall seeing in the US billboards all over the city and people handing out tracks (small pieces of paper with a picture of the candidate and his or her number on it).  In the US, even bumper stickers are reserved for presidential candidates. 
Finally, I noticed that after the first election was over and the race had been narrowed down to two candidates, the election fanfare was heightened to a new level.  It became typical to see candidate supporters waiving large banners on the high trafficked streets.  Typically, they were in groups of fours or eights, divided to cover each side of the street.  Tracks and high quality leaflets were distributed regularly at strategic times of the day when the city center was full of foot traffic.  The most exciting thing that I saw on the Saturday preceding the Sunday Election Day was two parades, one for each candidate, in the city center. 

In the final analysis, it is my belief that the compulsory nature of voting in Brazil makes it necessary to give the people sufficient information which leads to the hope that they will be able to choose the candidate that will better serve the city.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Barcelona and Gaudi

Wow! I was finally able to go to Barcelona this past week for the first time and I will say that it is spectacular. I have always been in love with Barcelona so this was so exciting to be able to go. The one aspect that first sold me on Spain seven years ago was the architecture of Antonio Gaudi and all of his works are featured in Barcelona. He is a genius architect and has created some of the most original sites that I have ever seen. His most famous work is La Sagrada Familia. It is a basilica that has been under construction for 100 years and is expected to be completed in 2024. It is more beautiful that I could have imagined. It is huge and can be seen from a lot of places around the city. My favorite part about it was that it is positioned so that the sun makes the colors of the stain glass windows flood the interior and it looks almost as if they installed artificial lighting.
I also went to Parc Guell. It is at a peak in the city so you can see everything which was pretty cool but it was raining to I didn't get the best view. It is a giant park that just seems to have no end. It is very beautiful and there are so many different areas of the park that look nothing like each other which I really enjoyed. They also have a museum of Gaudi's house that you can go into.
The last place I got to visit of his works was La Pedrera. This was a really cool place! It is known for it's unique rooftop. It was originally built for a family who wanted a whole floor as their own apartment but wanted to make an entire building for other people to rent out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Greetings from Russia! Wow. I hope this is going to post the way I want it to post. I have been engaging in a pretty epic battle with technology since my arrival here. My computer has been broken since almost the first day I got here, so I'm reading all the Blogger instructions in Russian. This has been a great semester so far. I'm really enjoying living with my host family and wanted to dedicate a few blog posts to talking about each member of my very interesting family.

I live with three women from three different generations. All of them were born and raised in St. Petersburg. Babushka, or Grandmother, is 85 years old. She is very active, kind and grandmotherly. Right now, I'm actually home sick and she has been taking excellent care of me. In her working life she was an radio engineer. She has a picture of herself with the first cosmonaut in space. How cool is that? We have many conversations about a variety of interesting topics. Her favorite thing to talk about is life in the Soviet Union. I very much enjoy these conversations. It also really puts into perspective what this nation of people has gone through over a course of a lifetime. I can't imagine experiencing such radical changes over the course of a lifetime. Yet, she perseveres. It makes me really think about how amazing humanity is at adapting to different circumstances.

That's all for now.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Strasbourg, France

This past week I took a short trip to Strasbourg, France with my boyfriend. We took the train about four hours north of Lyon to visit the city and go to a Radiohead concert Tuesday night at the Zenith Arena.
The concert was amazing and it seemed to be a sold-out show! Wednesday we spent the day touring around the city. Strasbourg lies on the German border and the city really looks like a mixture of French and German culture. We walked through some markets after visiting the cathedral and after lunch we took the tram to see the European Parliament. I really enjoyed Strasbourg and I can't wait to visit other cities in France.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lyon's Contemporary Art Museum

Yesterday, I went to the Contemporary Art Museum to see the new exhibits, which opened this past Friday and run through the end of December. One of the exhibits focused on the composer John Cage and his collaboration work with other artists and choreographers including Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, and Sol Lewitt. The two floors of the museum displaying his work consist not only of his scores, but also listening activities and the videos of his collaborations.  

The third floor exhibits the artists La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela and their work,Dream House. Here is a link demonstrating what the exhibit was like!        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuTAdS-Vyzw

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Heart of Granada: La Alhambra

This past week I was afforded the opportunity to visit La Alhambra. La Alhambra is a very old Muslim stronghold that was taken over by the Christians several hundred years ago. La Alhambra has been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO and I can understand why! It is absolutely fabulous. We went on a three hour tour of it because it is so big! There is a giant garden that is gorgeous and a palace area and many places in between. The architecture is absolutely outstanding, the attention to detail is very impressive. I love how old architecture pays so much attention to all of the little things unlike modern architecture which is mostly just cement and dry wall. There were also breathtaking views of the city of Granada as well which I adored. That was probably my favorite part. Another cool thing I really liked were the fountains that were connected throughout one of the main plazas. This plaza had a lion fountain in the middle of it and there were surrounding rooms that were connected to the plaza and there were paths on the floor leading from the main fountain to the smaller ones in the surrounding rooms. I had never seen anything like that before so it was very cool.
Besides visiting La Alhambra I haven't done too much sight seeing because I have been preparing for my big exam on Monday. Life here is pretty easy and fun! I've been enjoying taking walks around the city and going out for tapas with my friends. I miss home a little but being here is worth it!


Top 10 Cultural Differences I've Noticed In Florianopolis

10.  The people here in Florianopolis love hotdogs.  When I lived with my host family, it was common to see hotdogs cut up in a prepared salad or pasta dish.  Even around town, it is common to see popular outside restaurants or stands that solely sell grilled hot dogs and drinks.  What make the hotdog so popular is the toppings.  Unlike in the US, where the typical hotdog is topped with mustard, ketchup and relish, the toppings here include things like peas, corn, dried potatoes that resemble those things typically used in the US on a green bean salad, fried onions, cheese and a type of pickled peppers.  The bread resembles a cross between the typical hotdog and hamburger buns.  The bun is grilled as well.  It is actually a hearty and tasty sandwich.  In the picture, somewhere, underneath all that stuff is a hotdog.
9.  In the US, if a person is hungry, that person will find a restaurant open somewhere to satisfy that hunger regardless of the time.  Here in Florianopolis, that is not the case.  All restaurants do not open for lunch and dinner.  Some restaurants open only for lunch and some open only for dinner.  Restaurants open for lunch from 11:30 to approximately 3:00, and restaurants open for dinner around 6:30 p.m. and close around 11:30 or so.  If a person becomes hungry between the end of lunch and the beginning of dinner, there are several small restaurants where people can buy a natural juice drink and have a small “pastel,” which is usually filled with cheese, chicken or beef.

8.  Having a microwave is a privilege.  I recently moved into my own apartment and decided that I wanted the convenience of a microwave.  After all, in the US, the microwave is as much a part of kitchenware as eating utensils.  To my surprise, the smallest microwave that would cost $50 in the US that can easily be picked up in Wal-Mart, Target or the General Dollar Store, cost here in Brazil about $150.  Well, I’ve learned that warming up leftovers in the oven is actually not that bad.

7.  Having a clothes dryer is a luxury.  It actually gets cold here in Florianopolis.  Without a clothes dryer, it can take clothes up to three days to dry using the old method of hanging clothes outdoors on the clothes line if it’s not raining or indoors on a “rack” if it is cold.  When I lived with my host family, the home had a washer.  Washers here are small and typically take about 2 hours to wash a load of clothes regardless of the batch size.  There are no laundry mats similar to what is common in the US.  Most laundry is washed by hand or sent out to a lavaria.  A lavaria is similar to our dry cleaners except they wash everything from underwear to beddings to dry cleaning.   The cost is based on weight for general daily wear, towels and bedding.  Other items that require special care are priced on a per item basis.

6.  You can count on one or two institutions being on “strike” every month.  In the short time that I have been here, four institutions have been on strike or are currently on strike.  The first strike involved the federal universities and the federal police.  Both were critical because the strike involving the federal universities prevented undergraduate students from returning to school on time, and without the federal police working, the streets were unsafe in some of the most dangerous cities in Brazil, such as Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo.  Currently the banks and the post offices are on strike. 

5.  Weekends are for partying, relaxing, going to the beach and enjoying family and friends.  This is a wonderful thing, but I have struggled with it, as have probably many Americans that have spent a great deal of time in Brazil.  As Americans, we are accustomed to consistently working on something.  On the weekends, I have consistently looked for a library or quiet place to study or read, to no avail.  The public library does not open on the weekends and UNISUL’s library (the university that I am attending) is open from 8:00-12:00 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.  The library at UFSC, the local federal university, is open until 5:00 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. 

4.  The wash cloth or “face towel” is not typically used here in Brazil by adults.  What is referred to in the US as the “hand towel” is actually the “face towel” here in Brazil.   This is true, even in hotels.  The rooms have hand towels and the regular towels used to dry the body, but they never have the small towels typically used in the US to wash the body.  Even in stores where towels are sold, it is difficult to find the small wash cloths.  To find a towel small enough to be used to wash the body, I have had to go to the section of the store that sells baby items. 

3.  Drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages in public, at various times throughout the day, is very much a part of the culture here in Florianópolis.  Tables and chairs are setup in the Marcado Publico (the public market) for this purpose beginning at the lunch period and continuing until about 7:00 p.m., when the public market closes.  The legal drinking age in Brazil is 18.  It is not uncommon to see persons walking the street or standing in the supermarket drinking a beer. 

2.  Under no circumstance should toilet tissue be thrown in the toilet.  It is thrown in the waste paper basket.  This was weird at first, but I guess if you do anything over a period of time, you simply get use to it.  

1.  Voting is mandatory.  In Brazil, voting is an obligation.  Failure to vote will affect everything attached to the use of the individual’s social security number.  There are pros and cons attached to this obligation.  In some regions, there are some politicians that hold a lot of power over workers.  Because of this power over the workers, the politicians can demand their votes and remain in office.