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Category: Semester (Page 3 of 24)

Dealing with Homesickness: A Long and Arduous Adventure

First and foremost, I am not one to get homesick. Ever. Yes, usually I’m in Atlanta which is only 5 hours away from Charleston, but a few visits with the family throughout the semester is more than enough to sustain my emotional support/family bonding health points. My 2017 has been very different than normal, though: I was in Europe for both spring and fall semesters while also working in Atlanta over the summer, so the amount of days I’ve seen my family has been quite sparing. I could probably count them on two hands, actually (okay maybe two and a half hands). I myself am also pretty terrible at keeping up with people, and it’s taken some real mental training to fight against this lackadaisical view of reaching out to my loved ones.

I hadn’t been feeling very homesick all year until a few weeks ago when everyone was home for Thanksgiving. My friend sent me a Snapchat of his dog and his wacky grandparents playing in a bluegrass band (I know, too cool), and my stomach nearly fell out. I missed my mom and my grandparents so, so much in that moment. I miss my dog tearing through the house while my grandmother can only hope to catch and cocoon her in a Christmas dog sweater. I miss those late night talks with friends that only happen by chance but last hours into the morning. I’d been missing southern food the whole time, don’t get me wrong, but in that moment I REALLY could’ve gone for a pimento cheese sandwich.

So obviously, talking to your family helps. I will say, though, a Skype call is really at a higher level than a normal phone conversation: you can get distracted by what’s on your screen or by things around you, but on Skype it’s nearly a face-to-face interaction so your attention is naturally all on the other person.

Get you some photos! And don’t have your family send you the same photos that are everywhere in your house: ask to borrow some pictures that are tucked away in family albums from when your parents dressed you up in a Halloween costume for the first time, or just photos of you and your siblings covered in dirt in the backyard. These will remind you of old memories that haven’t crossed the skies of your mind in a while and will make you appreciate your upbringing. Nostalgia is a great thing.

Schoolwork can loom over you and feel like you must hyper-focus to get anything done, but you need breaks! Use those breaks to chill out, of course, but every few breaks use the time to email your grandma or maybe send your dad an article that you’ve seen recently. Don’t shut yourself out or homesickeness is bound to get worse.

Milan: The Only Italian City That Works

The title may be slightly deceptive. You may think I mean Milan is the only city that works for me or is appropriate for travel or something; however, this is the one lesson I learned while in Milan for the weekend: if you are Italian and actually want to do productive work, you go to Milan. I spent my time hanging out with my good friend from my spring semester at GTL and his Milanese friends, and we had many discussions on this subject. Apparently Milan is the most productive place in all of Italy, which surprised me, as Rome is so big, but when you enter the Milano Centrale train station you can definitely see it. Everything – I mean EVERYTHING- is as opulent as can be, and while these guys were brought up to believe Italy, and particularly their home city, prides the highest form of culture, you can only nod your head due to the overwhelming evidence in front of you.

I’m from Charleston, SC (southerners know it well, north/westerners not so much), where downtown is incredibly fashion-oriented. Every young person is looking at every other young person’s outfit, and that’s just the way it is – definitely shallow and judgmental, but can also be creative and inspiring. Milan is like this but on the highest level known to man. Every single person looks like they’re late for an editorial shoot in the newest Vogue magazine. In the seven-story malls just a corner of any store is easily worth more than my semester tuition, but hey, might as well try it on.

I’ve been to Milan twice now, one trip being super touristy and the other was just a one-on-one visit with a friend. Thankfully both times I was able to make it to Luini’s, the most killer panzarotti restaurant of all time (taking my Italian friends word for it). Imagine a bun that tastes kind of like county fair elephant ears, but more savory, and then load it with mozzarella and Serrano ham and whatever other Italian goods you’re craving. It’s so good (and so publicized) that there’s two lines out the door at all times and they’ve hired someone whose job is to literally push you into and out of the store. What a time to be alive.

You’ve gotta see the Last Supper! If you’re in Milan and you want some history and some art and stuff like that then go see that old boy. It’s a classic! I didn’t realize it was a painting on an immobile wall. It’s deteriorated a good bit over time so some parts are more difficult to see, but they light it up all nice to show you the best of it. Keep in mind you need tickets in advance.

The big lively, touristy place to be is the Duomo. The national gallery has all the big fancy stores, and they lead you right up to the cathedral of Milan, with a nice spacious square in front. I still haven’t been inside but I’m sure it’s nice like most European cathedrals.

I will say don’t go to Milan if you’re not into shopping or art history. There are nice parks and other things, but that’s not really what it’s best for. Unless you also have a friend from Milan, in which case you’ll spend the whole time trying not to fall off the back of a moped (but you’ll feel like Lizzie McGuire, which is a hell of a trade).

Canary Islands: Almost Africa

Today I’m going to be talking about my trip to the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are a Spanish territory off the coast of Morocco, where they are very much geographically Africa, but culturally quite the opposite. I was excited to head to a place with some possible African influence, but was greatly disappointed, as the whole island was either Spanish or British/Slavic/other European descent. It’s a very popular destination for British tourists, being a close tropical vacation experience to their often cold island.

Once I got past this initial shock, we greatly enjoyed the place, even if we were only there for two days. It reminded me a lot of Greece with its rocky cliffs on beautiful clear water, but with the added aspect that it was a volcanic island with black sand beaches and lava fields. This combined with massive black crabs that you could hear anywhere near the rocks made the whole place feel a bit like Jurassic Park or some other-worldly place.

First we went to the volcano responsible for the creation of the island. At first I was confused about exactly what we were driving through, as I recognized the field of rocks to be like Iceland but without the moss, and then I realized we were literally in the volcano itself and were driving to the caldera to see the highest view. Unfortunately the gondola up to the top wasn’t running because the wind was so bad (it was incredibly cold up there too), so we just pulled over somewhere and started to climb up some mountains. Find you some friends that will look at something and say “Hey, let’s climb that.” It’s been the best decision I’ve made in a while.

My favorite thing we did was the Masca Gorge. You drive through tons of windy mountain roads to the tiny town of Masca, which didn’t have any formal roads to it until the 1970’s, deeming it the “lost village” of Tenerife. Now it’s a bit touristy (as is the majority of the island), but we only ran into a few people in the gorge and for the most part had it to ourselves. I love gorges because of the crazy way they work with sound: you can hear little movements of animals from random directions because of the strong echoes created by the gorge. This gorge was particularly cool because of the rock formations on the cliffs, all eroded into holes that you could fit in. Not that we climbed to fit in them – that would be dangerous and totally insane.(But also 100% worth it and I recommend). There were lizards and skinks nearly everywhere you looked, creating a creepy setting at first, but we eventually got used to the constant rustling and it ended up being pretty cute.

After the gorge we went to see Los Gigantes for sunset, a set of massive cliffs dropping off into the water. We swam on the black beach among little neon fish and stared at “The Giants” until sunset. The rock pools in the area eroded into completely perfect half-spheres, in which at lower tides created habitats for hermit crabs, legged-fish and every kind of crustacean known to man. Maybe not lobster, but everything else for sure. All in all. the place was a gorgeous way to end our day.

In retrospect, I didn’t spend nearly enough morrotime in Tenerife. Can’t have it all I suppose – but definitely visit the Canary Islands if you’re looking for something slightly touristy, but also rugged too!

Vlog 8: Switzerland

Vlog 7: Norway

Thanksgiving in Metz!

Turkey Day has come and gone! Thanksgiving always marks that point in the semester in which beforehand you’re like “Oh, I have all the time in the world before finals,” and after break it’s more like “Oh, I have zero time before finals – how did this happen yet again.” Luckily, for one night GTL students were able to put their student worries aside and come together for the GTL Thanksgiving potluck!

If you’ve never been to a GTL Thanksgiving potluck, which most people only ever go once, it’s a grand old time. We rent tables and benches from the Metz town hall, and the BDE, along with a few volunteers, gets to work setting everything up in the GTL lounge. White boards are moved to make way for Christmas lights and tinsel while we put our studies on hold and enjoy the true significant holiday of fall.

Potlucks usually make me nervous (what if no one brings anything), and especially organizing them, but it ended up working out pretty well: yes, there was a lot of pasta and mac & cheese, and maybe even some cereal/milk combos, but some people really went all out with squash and herbs and even a Polish compote. I haven’t had good green beans with herbs and seasoning in waaaaay too long. People with names A-L made main dishes and everyone else made desserts, which also exhibited a wide range – from ice cream and toffee to Oreo fudge balls and Nutella pie. I still dream about that Nutella pie, so if you’re out there reading this, dear baker, then congratulations.

BDE supplied drinks, turkey and a (slightly ominous?) cake, while we set up Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving/Christmas on the big screen. We busted out the board games, and I personally witnessed and egged on an incredibly competitive game of Uno. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a Swap Hands Wild Card.

All in all, it was a very wholesome night for us hardworking/hard playing GTL students. Props to us all for making it memorable.

 

Also just an added point- we are all thankful for what we have, but there are so many with less and particularly there are individuals whose history is negatively impacted by what has grown into the national holiday of Thanksgiving! If you want to do something extra cool this giving season then donate to a charity that helps impoverished Native American communities!

Vlog 6: Cinque Terre

Cadiz & Castles on the Ocean

Cadiz is a small peninsular town on the coast of southern Spain, and it is also the capital of the Cadiz region. My mom urged me to go there while I was in Spain for fall break, and because I was doing so many big cities, I figured I’d take a break from the crowds and the beach it for a minute. I will say if you’re tired of swathes of tourists, go to Cadiz – there were very few tourists. I’m not sure if for a particular reason, but we barely saw any at all.

The town is very walk-able, and you’re never farther than a mile away from the coast at any point in the peninsula. It has the classic plaza-centralized landscape of many European cities, but they’re on a much smaller scale and are incredibly personalized with family-owned restaurants and bodegas literally everywhere. At any point in time you can look inside a bar and see old men slicing Iberian ham from the leg and drinking local sherry. What I’m trying to articulate is that it gives off a very homey feel.

One thing I absolutely loved was the market. It’s in the center of town and there’s what feels like miles of freshly caught fish and fruiterias, or fresh fruit and vegetable markets. I’ve never stared 50 lbs. of tuna in the face until that day. The thing about Spain – but particularly southern Spain – is that it is sooooo cheap. So, so incredibly inexpensive. We decided to make dinner that night from market finds with our three-person-can’t-finish-it-all meal totaling up to $4 per person, and this was including some very good fresh fish. I think our vegetables in total were about $1, I’ve never experienced getting a heavy bag of pretty much anything for that much. Once we realized how cheap everything was we just started buying things left and right: our lunch, random juices, and on.

The beach itself was nice, because the water was cold per usual, but the really neat part was the fortress at the very tip of the peninsula. It was a Moorish fortress, but probably Roman before that, and was used by Spaniards afterwards – a classic Mediterranean mix. There’s a long stone walkway that leads out to it, and while you’re not allowed to enter, the tide pulls away from the walkway to where you can climb underneath it and hang out around the natural “moat” that the ocean forms. We were there right at sunset, adding to the whole picturesque beauty of the place.

If you like cathedrals, the Cadiz cathedral is really something you should consider. It’s not all dark and gothic like most cathedrals across Europe: it’s so old that the paint has completely worn off to reveal a creamy white-colored stone, looking much older and more beautiful (in my opinion) than most gothic stuff you’ll see. Downstairs is the crypt in which the ceiling is curved so you can talk on one side and it’ll sound like you’re whispering to your friend across the room.

The cathedral is also home to one of the best views of Cadiz: the bell tower.

While we were up there we heard a group of children singing “Despacito” in the plaza. Very quaint, but lively town!

Fall/Spring Break: Learn From My Mistakes

Hello! Recently we had a very long break – a whole ten days, in fact – and this is my reflection/how-to-not-be-like-me post. There are some things that I did right, but there are others that I didn’t do so right, and here they are for your enjoyment!

First of all (and this applies to any trip you take), do not expect Europeans to do American holidays! Yes, Halloween is a primarily American/Anglo-Saxon holiday, but all over France and Spain were signs and Halloween party fliers and decorations, and so I figured it would be a big thing! And it is…just not with costumes. European children will go out earlier in the night, and I’m not even sure if they actually go trick-or-treating (I think people just have square parties with candy) but they dress up! So I said okay, it’s Halloween, I’m in Southern Spain and I’m going to be a pirate for Halloween. I went to go play pool at a local restaurant that was TOTALLY COVERED in Halloween gear… and no one else is wearing a costume. Not a single human. Not even the waitresses or the bartender. We were even pointed at and laughed at a bit, so do not make our mistake! You can’t deny it though, we looked pretty legit.

If you want to do anything particularly wild or involved, book it way ahead of time! There were multiple times when we wanted to rent a moped and zoom around the city we were in, but they needed a full day to process our information before renting to us (and we were only ever in places for two days at a time). We kind of winged a part of our trip and thought we might want to hike the most dangerous (not anymore, but oh well) hike in the world in Malaga, Spain, but apparently that thing sells out months in advance. We ended up spending most of our time exploring the cities or doing our own hikes, which was fine, but just keep these facts in mind when you’re trying to have a trip full of adventure: you can’t be totally on the fly about it if it includes rentals.

If there’s anything you take from this post, dear reader, I hope it is this next point: Do. Not. Travel. Too. Much. Don’t do it. If you have a trip planned that involves hopping between 5 places, calculate the total travel time and see if it’s worth it. When it’s split up between an hour here two hours there it doesn’t seem so bad, but once you realize exactly how much precious time is being spent on a train just playing cards, you’re going to regret it.

A Look Into The Typical Week of a GTL Student

I understand not all of you reading this are current GTL students, so I’m just going to delve into the (slightly exaggerated) average week of a GTL student for those of you that may be wondering what it’s like.

Monday Morning: Welp, I’m still pretty exhausted from the weekend, but I’ll make it up later. All I have to do today is buy groceries (I really have to stop eating baguette sandwiches), get a head start on all the homework I have due this week, and maybe I’ll even have time to go to the gym or run at some point.

Monday Midday: Okay, so I may have been weak and bought another Fermie Chaud (curry baguette sandwich) for lunch from the sandwich place, but I swear I’ll go get groceries this evening, and I’ll cook everything else this week. Oh, you want to play ping pong? A few rounds can’t hurt – I have tons of time!

Monday Evening: Yes, I may have just played ping pong for two hours and foosball for one, but I’m going to the grocery store, and I’m cooking dinner! I’ll have a few hours to study afterwards and just do the rest tomorrow. Wait, how long does the lab homework take? Are you serious?? How is that even…okay, grocery store tomorrow, La Boite de Pizza tonight. It’s healthier than any pizza in the US probably. Maybe?

Tuesday Morning: Alright, today is the day! I’m going to catch up so hard from yesterday, and it’s going to be awesome. I still haven’t caught up on sleep because of that lab homework, but as long as the coffee machine works, then so can I! Or I’ll be like my dear friend Ben and bring a literal coffee maker to GTL. After class though.

Tuesday Midday: Only have one more class later, time to sit down and start on more homework. Wait…you didn’t book the hostel? I thought we agreed on that one with the nice rooftop…it’s totally booked? Are you serious? Okay, let’s figure it out – we only have two days before we leave and this homework can wait. I guess I’ll get another baguette for lunch.

*You can imagine how Wednesday went.*

Thursday: I’m exhausted, I’ve only eaten white bread this week and you’re telling me I’m leaving for London tonight when? In two hours?? Well, here we go.

And repeat.

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