Bittersweet Farewell

It is sad that my experience in Frankfurt has come to an end. I have learned so much through this exchange program and have gained many friends. Here are some of my favourite moments from the trip:

Heidelberg

First city trip: Visiting Heidelberg

Outside the Cathedral by the fountain in Berlin

Outside the Cathedral in Berlin

Hot Springs in Wiesbaden

Visiting the Hot Springs in Wiesbaden

 

 

 

 

 

Currywurst in Wiesbaden

Currywurst in Wiesbaden – so tasty!

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France

Birthday surprises!

Birthday surprises!

Taking the train with my friends

Taking the train with my friends

Going up and down the lift just for fun

Going up and down the lift just for fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will miss Germany!

 

Traveling for a Selfie

Think back to the 1800s, about a century before the invention of the Internet; before electromagnetic and electronic technologies; before Faraday, Marconi and Bell. During this time, horses enabled long distance communication and travel. Fast-forward to 2014, an era of micro-absorbent travel towels, and apps that carry everything from your guidebook to your flight documents to your public profile displaying your every setting, meal, view, friend and feeling. This, my latest entry, spawns from the recent outburst of social media in travel.

I am aware of the irony involved in addressing this topic in a travel blog. I am not ashamed to say that I peruse the pages of countless explorers, artists, activists and foodies to help me make the most of my own journeys. I am definitely no stranger to Facebook or Instagram. And, I am the last person to turn down a good travel app – maps, currency exchangers, and restaurant locators to name a few. That being said, I think that a line must be drawn somewhere between being resourceful and feeling empty without a selfie from every place that you visit. Despite powerful marketing attempts to turn us into mindless, hash tag-posting consumers, we should pocket our cellphones, digital cameras, netbooks and earphones to be where we are!

I’m talking about REAL experiences from the very REAL life you are living right now! I speak for the senses you use to taste the fresh lemon sardines in Vernazza, Italy, to see Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia Museum in Spain, to smell the sea saltpans on the Mediterranean coast in Malta, and to rub the statue of St. John Nepomuk for good luck on the Charles Bridge in Prague! We should value the immediacy, engagement and authenticity of our REAL travel experiences, rather than feel tempted to impress and stalk users of social media platforms whom we often don’t even know!

All too often, I see tourists browsing through photos and scouring the streets for cafes with free Wifi to post the latest on their travels. In fact, it happens so often that we have even developed signature poses for these photo updates.

The Point and Gawk.

The Point and Gawk.

The Air Hug.

The Air Hug.

But Can You Make It Inappropriate?

But Can You Make It Inappropriate?

Miniaturize It.

Miniaturize It.

Nonchalant.

Nonchalant.

I’ll admit that I am the aforementioned tourist sometimes, sacrificing quality real time to send a message to a friend telling him/her what amazing thing I saw/did or to take a perfectly timeless photograph. But somewhere between another weekend in Paris and a day avoiding the rain in Belgium, you will experience the be all and end all of travel experiences; something so staggering that all you want to do is engrave every second of the moment you are in into your mind forever. Sitting thousands of metres atop Mont Blanc just before snowboarding down to the bottom or paddling through the caves in the Malta’s Blue Grotto were some of the many moments that have caused this for me. I know what you’re wondering now, Did I order an extra side of cheese with this post? The last thing I want is to drive you away with quotes about the enriching experience of travel that ring true as the word ‘yolo’. All I’m saying is, you can google a photo, snag one off a friend, check who tagged who and when another time.

As I said, the Internet and social media have their perks. We are able to purchase tickets and even select our preferred seats on nearly any plane, bus, train, or carpool out there. We are then able to flip through photos of countless bedrooms, lobbies, and dining areas until we have selected our accommodation, all at the tap of a button. Before we arrive, we can reserve day trips and tours to island hop or parasail or visit a famous sight/museum/building. However, is it possible that travel has lost its spontaneity because of our meticulous online planning? Why not show up and familiarize with the city before deciding where to stay or what to do? Or, instead of e-reviews, why not rely on the recommendations of friends who have traveled or lived there before?

Meeting new friends is another of many aspects of travel affected by the internet and social media. When all is said and done, there should be a happy balance between real presence and virtual presence; convenience and spontaneity.

I hope this provided some food for thought for those of you planning on “checking in” from wherever your next trip may be and a reminder to everyone to live the moment!

Singaporians are like Torontonians?

I’ve heard several times before embarking on exchange that Singapore is like another Toronto, just an Asian version. After spending six weeks here I must say that the similarities are mostly superficial. Yes, there is heavy emphasis on multiculturalism in both places, the populations are quite diverse and both are economic centres. Yet, this level of analysis does not capture the embedded differences by each place created through the type of developmental policies pursued. The engineering of Singapore as we know it today  has   come about through collective adaptation of a series of goals for industrialization and order. This is still reflected today in the zero tolerance of petty crimes unlike; eating in the subway for one is carries a maximum charge of $500 in fines. This is enforced. I witnessed an unlucky women getting $80 for drinking in the station! Before I get sidetracked I want to share some thought on the curricula in NUS and then close of by giving you a snapshot of everyday experiences. My wonderful friend and NUS classmate, Michelle, helped me piece  together some generalization, that might be helpful if not just plain entertaining to read if you are considering Singapore as an exchange destination.

Just for Fun (Michelle, me, Birinder)

Just for Fun (Michelle, me, Birinder)

At 1-Altitude Singapore's Highest Rooftop Bar

At 1-Altitude Singapore’s Highest Rooftop Bar

 

 

Garden's By the Bay

Garden’s By the Bay

Curricula Matters

Before embarking on the exchange I considered the location, cost and courses offered by different institutions, but there was one critical thing that I missed to account for – teaching styles. Do not assume that that every institution is the same! The philosophy of teaching at U of T is emphasized on feedback and constructive critique by instructors/TAs. However at NUS Professors/TAs are not required by policy to give you feedback on your assignments and papers. I did receive my final marks three weeks after the exam, and received As, but had absolutely no idea of my standing in the course as NO assignment was marked by the instructors let alone handed back until after the exam! Maybe for some science course based on memorization this teaching approach is adequate, but to spend a whole year in reasoning based courses and not receive feedback.. how is one supposed to know what to work on? Well, looking back knowing what I know now I would still have gone to Singapore for the summer. It’s been wonderfully enriching and eye-opening in many ways. Would I spend a whole year – no. For students going abroad this is a topic that I think is overlooked and yet is so crucial for the academic experience abroad.

  Michelle Cindy
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Yes, common for middle class families to have maids*. (In Asia the maid does general housekeeping and babysit, by bringing the child to activities)

No

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Common to have tutoring classes until six or seven in the evening starting in elementary school

Maybe in senior high school if the grades are not optimal

latte

About $5.50

About $3.50

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It’s by distance. One end of the city to the other about $2. Five stops a bit more than $1

$3 for TTC and more for Viva/Go

  One bed room apartments are about $3000-$4000 One bedrooms can be found for $1300-$1600 in the city centre
…And enlistment Two years for males None

It’s been a pleasure to write this blog as it provided a gateway to connect with others and reflect on my experiences. Thanks to everyone who have been reading along, and if you are a student looking to go on an exchange, I am excited for all there is in store for you.

To new beginnings!

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Fun things during exchange!

Besides going to classes and sightseeing cities, there are many activities that take place throughout the weeks. Some activities we did include tasting some apple wine, visiting the Deutsche Budesbank, and the Paparazzi exhibition.

Known to Frankfurt is the Apfelwein (apple wine). We had a evening of apple wine on the very first week, where we had the chance to taste some Frankfurt Apfelwein, as well as some German food.

My ticket to the Paparazzi exhibition!

My ticket to the Paparazzi exhibition!

At the Deutsche Budesbank, we learned about the role of the bank in the European system through a presentation, and then explored the Geldmuseum, where there were displays of how money is made, as well as old currency used in Germany.

The Paparazzi exhibition was a large display of famous and iconic photos. It dives into the life of a paparazzi by displaying the cameras used, through some videos, and through the reactions of the icons being photographed.

 

In addition to those activities, we also went to some festivals during the evenings!

The first one I went to was in Berlin – the Beer Festival! I mentioned this in my post about Berlin. It was a grand festival that was so big that I didn’t even see where it ended. There were a lot of booths selling food, and of course, a lot of beer. It was the perfect festival for anyone who enjoys beer. I personally didn’t have any, but I did have some potato pancakes topped off with tasty apple sauce, and it was delicious.

The next festival I went to was in Frankfurt, right after the Berlin trip. It was the Main Festival, where there were a variety of rides and lots of food booths. And to end the festival, there was a spectacular firework show at the end.

Ride of Terror! I actually don't know the name of this, but I went on this ride and it was one of the most terrifying things I have experienced!

Ride of Terror! I actually don’t know the name of this, but I went on this ride and it was one of the most terrifying things I have experienced!

A pretty and peaceful Ferris Wheel

A pretty and peaceful Ferris Wheel at Main Fest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a Music Festival the same week, so I got to see two live bands.

First band at Music Festival

First band at Music Festival

Second band at Music Festival

Second band at Music Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many activities that happen locally, so my friends and I are always visiting interesting places and going to festivals!

 

Phuket, Thailand

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Travelling in Southeast Asia is a bit different from traveling in Europe. There may be visa requirements for Canadian visitors to several places, like China, Vietnam, and Japan. I visited Phuket for a few days with my two friends, Jed and Will.

The Man With the Golden Gun, The Beach and The Hangover were added to my ascetic list of research homework for the week prior to my trip. And what a trip it was.

It began with my graceful acceptance of the award for most prodigious accommodation locator ever. Yes, in my head, the age old phrase “nanananana” rang loud and clear, but on the outside, I was a perfect Kate Middleton. My travel companions had fought me right up until the morning of our flight because I got them to agree to stay at a cheaper bungalow hotel on Patong Beach. What they didn’t know is that not only would it save us a small fortune each, but also that it would be a beautifully decorated hotel serving free breakfast and situated directly on Patong Beach!

Across the street from the hotel.

Across the street from the hotel.

On our first day in Phuket, we decided to hop on a boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands. We arrived at the dock at 7:00 a.m. As we crammed ourselves in between the coffee machine spewing sugar-water and the complimentary cheesies, one of the guides was blaring on about sea urchins and the astonishing protective capabilities of a pair of rentable flippers. We sipped the coffee until we were amenable and then quickly boarded the speedboat. Being the eager beavers we are, we volunteered to sit at the nose of the boat. We took our seats across from some first-timers and hid our phones in the cabin as we anticipated it would be a wet and bumpy ride. You have no idea. I flew out of my seat at a height that may have caused passengers of other boats to think I was parasailing; a height that would enable my 5 foot self to complete a slam dunk; a height that, upon landing, would easily shatter my tailbone; I think you get the point.

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As we pulled through the bay entrance, a narrow opening in the circumference of a towering limestone slab draped in trees and stalagmites, all of that jabber about broken tailbones seemed to disappear. Despite our guides’ stolidity on their hundredth visit to paradise, my eyes were wide open so as to survey every glimmer of the fluorescent turquoise water, every rumble within the caves, and every flutter of a fish fin. Every sight and creature was exotic and new and wonderful. In all my excitement, I failed to notice that a first-timer lost his cool on the way to the bay and the wind had forced a generous serving of his own white, lumpy vomit into his face.

No matter. I was lost in the Andaman Sea … No, literally. My friend and I decided to grab a pair of flippers and head from the reef to the shore of a tiny, untouched beach and the boat nearly left us there! Before we noticed our boat was leaving us, however, I caught a glimpse of a Moorish idol, also known as Gill from Finding Nemo!
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After feeding all our bananas to the monkeys who scaled down the cliff side for a visit, we headed to the Phi Phi islands for a meal of our own. Following a capricious dining experience with one very welcoming and well-off cat, we sped off to the island of Khai Nai for some dessert.
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I just want to take a moment here to stress the ecstasy inducing experience that is eating tropical fruit from Thailand, especially pineapples. To this day, it is the first euphoric memory and the first word that comes out of my mouth when anything Thailand is asked of me: pineapples. I sound ridiculous, I know, and I downplayed my reaction at first so as not to draw any unnecessary attention. It was only after I saw other people pretending to be part of certain tour groups in an attempt to get more free pineapple that I began realizing the significance of what I’d just discovered. Anyway, here one is.
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Aside from offering mouth-watering tropical fruits and a backdrop suitable for world-class yoga, Thailand also offers some much needed travel perspective. It is not uncommon to feel that the air is tense in many countries in Southeast Asia. Even in Singapore, one of the safest and least corrupt places I’ve been to, it’s easy to feel like you are walking on eggshells where the government is concerned. In Thailand, corruption is infamous; bribery of government officials, drug abuse and prostitution form a lot of the hearsay. While I was out enjoying Bangla Road in all of its Aussie-clad glory, or being treated by a humble worker to a tour of a temple in Phuket’s Old Town, I couldn’t help but contemplate the impact of my visit on Thai culture and politics. Should I avoid putting money in the pocket of government tourist companies? Or a bar owner that seems to be running something a little more dodgy upstairs? Or a Thai “massage” establishment? As it turns out, there is good and bad wherever you go; my resolve is to be well informed, responsible and respectful. Today, the Thai military leader has become president, presumably leading to a less corrupt reformation of the Thai government.

A New Lifestyle

The school life in Frankfurt is a lot different in comparison to my life while going to UofT, and this has to do with how I live. Back in Toronto, I live with my family at home. Here, I live with a roommate in a hotel full of other students from all over the world attending the summer program as well. I also have to be responsible for my lunch and dinner and do my own laundry.

Body of Knowledge at Goethe-Universität

Body of Knowledge at Goethe-Universität

Going to school is different too. Every morning, I get to eat breakfast with my friends, and then head to school together. Unlike the regular school year, I have the same classes every school day.

Learning German is very new as well! It is very hard though, because I feel that it’s so much different to any other language I know. Despite the many differences, I always think in French while learning German. This might be because I’ve become so used to learning French in school. That being said, I love the class, because I’ve got a really good teacher and really cool classmates and I’m learning something new every day.

This experience has given me the opportunity to engage more into the life as a university student and help me develop skills and be independent and responsible.

 

Berlin Trip!

Siegessäule, Berlin Victory Column

Siegessäule, Berlin Victory Column

Last weekend, I went on a trip to Berlin. On the first day, we had a bus tour, where a tour guide showed us around the city of Berlin to see the famous landmarks and gave us a brief history of the city. After the tour, we had free time for the rest of the weekend, so my friends and I visited several famous places. Some landmarks I visited include the Berlin Cathedral, TV Tower, Holocaust Memorial, Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie.

 

The Berlin Cathedral was very nice. The details of the building on the outside as well as the inside were very beautiful. I also liked the fountain in front of the Cathedral, because it was very unique.

Walking through the Holocaust Memorial was a little strange, because we were suggested to walk alone on the paths, which made me feel very isolated and as though the paths would never end.

Sign at Checkpoint Charlie

Sign at Checkpoint Charlie

The East Side Gallery was very interesting as well. I personally enjoy going to art galleries to view pieces of art, so this was a really good treat for me to visit the Berlin Wall! I really liked seeing the different paintings by people all over the world at the Wall. I had a chance to see Checkpoint Charlie as well.

 

Konzerthaus Berlin

Konzerthaus Berlin

It was also the Beer Festival during that weekend, so I went out with my friends one night for the festivities. I didn’t try any beer, but I had some potato pancakes with apple sauce, which was delicious!

I was extremely happy with this trip, because I got to see so many monuments in Berlin and walk around the beautiful city. I would definitely want to visit again and see more!

 

You can’t be your cake and eat it too.

Today my exchange in Singapore comes to a close. Since the summer of 2013, CIE has encouraged and assisted me in gaining experience abroad. It has not always been smooth sailing. I hope that my faux pas and words of advice will prove useful for those of you intent on pursuing exchange experience.

16 long months ago, I recall a less apt tween, sulking into a scrapbook and incapable of admitting she’d even accepted her exchange abroad offer. Today, despite my excessive collection of useless travel souvenirs to add to said scrapbook, I am more confident in the person I want to be and the things I want to accomplish. What started as an attempt to try something new and chalk up on edgy CV bullet points spiraled into sailing through the Croatian islands, snowboarding down Mont Blanc, picking lemons from the peaks of Cinque Terre, cliff-diving in Malta’s Blue Grotto, searching through peat for a monster in Loch Ness, crawling through Budapest’s underground caves; sipping vin rouge at the base of the Eiffel Tower and gluhwein at the Christmas Markt, seeing remnants of historical tragedy at the Sachenhausen concentration camp and of historical achievement at the Berber village of Ourika. The list goes on and on, and I could not be more grateful because there is nothing more rewarding on this earth than realizing all of its places and people, past and present. It’s overwhelming to think of the experience I’ve had this past year.

I don’t think I will ever stop traveling. Aside from the thrill of being on the move and having magnificent photos to share, there is something truly eye-opening and inspiring about traveling. I have had unspoiled, raw and wondrous moments in every place I have visited.

An extremely preservative-filled leftover cake has been deviously nibbled at and resealed for 16 months. I am that cake; reformed by new fresh fruit and sweet ice-cream toppings with every night visit to the fridge until nothing of it remains. I have been an enjoyable companion to hundreds (maybe) of new friends, colleagues and family. I have made you laugh, cry, and shudder, until you have devoured every last savory crumb of my adventures abroad. Though the journey ends here, out of the oven comes an entirely new cake, rock-hard (as I have no idea how to make cake) and ready to take a beating in fourth year engineering at UofT. Wahoo. Hey, I can only be so enthused by a 23-hour plane ride.

Thanks for reading!

How to Buy Your Own Buddha and Visit Portugal in Hong Kong

My internship is getting better each day. I started the week by volunteering for the International Congress on Marine Corrosion and Fouling (ICMCF) at NUS, and ended it in Hong Kong! Having spent most of my time in the lab analyzing pitting corrosion properties of stainless steels, the conference allowed me to see the benefits of corrosion studies in various industries from ship maintenance to naval research to fish farming. The latter event was one that came after a week of visiting some more must-sees in Singapore. Here are a few.

At The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown, not only can tourists and visitors observe a traditional Buddhist service, they can also purchase their own Buddha for the strangely precise price of $84.99SGD.
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Merlion. While it seems to be another of Napoleon Dynamite’s favourite animals, make no mistake, there is nothing amusing about Singapore’s national animal.
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Lastly, I discovered a few Singaporean hot spots that help suppress my urge to carve through fresh powder while snacking on a beavertail, a.k.a. overcome mild traveler’s food poisoning and homesickness: Holland Village, a bar/food strip and a hipster hub known as Haji Lane.
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Hong Kong is a bustling place filled with great food, great markets, skyscrapers, dense green mountains, and a wonderful friend. There was no question that I would end up there at one time or another to visit her.

I arrived in the evening, hopped aboard a double decker public bus and began snapping photos through a streaky bus window. Cargo ships lined the harbour, lights lit up the Tsing Ma bridge, video ads beamed from the faces of buildings, and people streamed from every street corner. Naturally, I was on the wrong bus, so aside from a great night tour, I did little to stick to the schedule.
I definitely made up for it in the following few days. Some of the highlights of my trip include:
– Eating the greatest food I have ever eaten at a Michelin star dim sum restaurant, Tim Ho Wan.
– Eating the worst food I have ever eaten at God Knows Where (bug in food, can’t say more).
– Island hopping followed by ordering fish right out of the water at Sai Kung.
– Visiting Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, eating the most delicious egg tart and gambling in the old Portuguese colony of Macau.
– Racing through the elevated walkways in Central Hong Kong.
– Buying cheap, gag electronics at Temple St. Market in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST).

View from campus...

View from campus…

 

Tim Ho Wan dim sum.

Tim Ho Wan dim sum.

 

Central Elevated Walkway.

Central Elevated Walkway.

 

Sai Kung fish market.

Sai Kung fish market.

 

Portugese egg tart.

Portugese egg tart.

Until next time!

The Canadian in American Studies

IMG_2238IMG_2190IMG_2209IMG_2216photo 4My major is American Studies at the University of Toronto, and so it did not make much sense to go anywhere else on exchange other than the United States. I had this belief that being in the United States would make American studies different and more official. However I learned it did not matter if I was in Berkeley or in Toronto we used that same readings, maps and key figures and scholars. While in Berkeley I was reinstated with patriotism towards Canada and with pride for the Centre for the Study of the United States (CSUS) at the University of Toronto.

My American studies course at Berkeley was a three-unit course taught by three different professors over three weeks. They described it as a variety show. The course were linked together through the topic of race and racial representation in the arts (film, visual culture and humor). In the discussion seminar for the course the professors showed a map of racial population distribution. They asked if anyone knew what city it was. In a room filled with over thirty American students I was the only one who could identify and name the city as Los Angeles. This shocked the whole room, but gave me the confidence in my American Studies knowledge.

 

Two of the professors at Cal did their Ph.D. with one of my professor’s who is a former director of the CSUS. Their areas of study and teaching styles were similar. For the course on Race and Film, I had to watch three films; one was Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. I saw the film at the Castro Theater. This was a field trip I created for myself, as I had wanted to see a movie at the Castro Theater all summer. It fully enhanced the movie starting with the organ that played before the film started with New York themed music. My film professor taught me a great lesson about movies; they were not made to be watched alone on a small screen, but to be experienced in a group to experience the emotions of the characters together. This will push me towards seeing movies in the theater and not just watching them but experiencing them.

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The last three weeks in Berkeley flew by and each day my Bay Area bucket list got shorter. With my days filled with classes I had to start doing fun things before 9 am and after 5 pm. I started swimming in Hearst pool before the sun rose it was a great way to wake up and spend time with my friend Ben. Trips into San Francisco became more frequent and action pack. We went to Bi-Rite for ice, burritos at 24th and Mission, mojito iced coffee at Philz Coffee, The Walt Disney Museum and a return trip to Off the Grid for Friday night dinner. One Saturday as a group we went to Dolores park to see the movie Clueless, the whole park was filled with people and I found it more fun to people watch than watch the actors in the movies.

To celebrate a new friendship and a fabulous summer, Ben planned a celebratory dinner at the Cheese Cake Factory. After the last Monday class we took the 5:55 BART into San Francisco. Steph was already in the city and as we got off BART at Powell street we received a text saying she had a table and to run over. I said to Ben it would be fun to sit outside, as the balcony is on the 8th floor and overlooks Union Square. In San Francisco the weather is always colder than the East Bay, but with outdoor heaters we were able to enjoy the sunset, food and company. It was a running joke that I was the only person who knew how to make it back on BART. Over the six weeks I would always receive text messages asking how to get place and now that I am home, Ben still sends me BART updates and questions.

The second last night in Berkeley there was one remaining item on my list. Hiking the Big C, which is an actual C for Cal up in the hills. We hiked up to view the bay from sunset. It was an amazing view of the whole bay and just by luck it was clear enough to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the perfect picture opportunity and we had just enough light.

I ended my time in Berkeley with a concert at the Greek Theater. I bought the tickets months before to see Sara Bareilles. It was the end of her tour and there is nothing better than live music outdoors. My friend Sarah from my education class came with me together we sang, danced and laughed to new and beloved older songs. In preparation for the concert I listened to a lot of Sara Bareilles music during my six-week exchange and it became my soundtrack to the exchange and summer. Now when I hear her music I will always think of Berkeley and this wonderful summer and all the adventures I went on.