Hi, I’m Lizz..nice to meet you.

I had a chance to go to CiCi’s dance class in the North while we were visiting the Northerns at their placements.

My name’s Lizz, and I’m a student in the Faculty of Kinesiology bordering somewhere in the shady grey area between being a 3rd or 4th year student. This is actually my second study abroad, though granted, it hasn’t really started yet… I’m going to be working with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa starting October 26th. Till then, here’s just a bit about me and about how I spent my summer on another Study Abroad course in Windhoek, Namibia.

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I have always wanted to travel. It’s been something that I grew up wanting and dreaming about. Granted, I got really lucky; I come from a family of travelers and adventurers. My Grandma Teresa was one those people. She traveled all across the globe teaching English and worked for a variety of NGOS throughout her 50s, 60s, and some of her 70s. She spent years in Ghana, Indonensia, Micronesia, Prague, and Mongolia to name a few.

 

This is a picture of me with my Grandma T and one of my younger brothers.

Throughout my childhood, she’d be gone for months to years and come back with stories, and musical instruments that we, her grandchildren, would run around playing with utter enthusiasm (and no technical skill at all–we probably sounded most closely like what campers attempting to scare away bears from their coolers with pots and wooden spoons sounded like). I have to believe she’s inspired all of her family to travel more, and I’ve learned more about different cultures from her then I would have ever learned from books.

My Dad was also an avid traveler and spent much of my late elementary school years flying between Japan, China, and Italy. I have a postcard collection from all over the world thanks to his frequent business trips, and was once again exposed to the idea of a tofu-only restaurant, and how proper Italians eat dinner.

 

So this early exposure and desire to travel translated into my life and my choices—like my choice to go to the University of Toronto. Part of why I choose this university is because, despite being related to travelers, I really hadn’t gotten a chance to travel outside of the United States and Canada.

This is a picture of me biking the Greater Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

I’ve gone on road trips, and bike trips across different parts of Canada and America, but I’d never flown across an ocean before. I’d never gotten to experience a place where I couldn’t speak the language, or where I was completely foreign to the culture.  I wanted to have a chance to get to learn outside of my comfort zone.

And I finally got the opportunity to do that this past summer. This is going to be my second adventure to Southern Africa. The first started in May 2012, and ended in August 2012. I was chosen to go abroad with the University of Toronto Namibia work study program.  For any students at all interested in studying abroad, or getting an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new community, I can not recommend this program enough. I spent 11 weeks working with the organization Physically Active Youth in Namibia which works with children from Katutura an area outside of Windhoek.

 

It was challenging and sometimes I struggled with the cultural differences and the disparity between the wealthy populations and the children we worked with at the center. The PAY kids are amazing, talented, and brilliantly funny and they face challenges getting access to the basic education we often take for granted in Canada.

The other thing I loved about this program however, was getting to be inspired daily by the girls (and Jordan) whom I lived with. I got to watch how you could take students from half-a-world away take the initiative to jump in and slot themselves into where they were needed.  I worked with an amazing group, and if you are interested in the program I strongly suggest you check out my friend’s blog: http://namibiapharmacy2012.wordpress.com.

And while there were too many great moments from this summer for me to really do the program any justice, here’s a couple of the ones that stood out the most.

1. World Cup Qualifier: Namibia vs. Kenya

Soccer and Rugby are Namibia’s sports, and while we didn’t get to see a rugby game, we did get lucky enough to go to the Namibia vs. Kenya World Cup Qualifier in Windhoek. We  got jerseys, invited friends, drank beer, and had a chance to celebrate Namibian style as they won the first world cup qualifier in years! (score: 1:0 ) For anyone intending to go to Africa or Namibia, I totally recommend going to a sports game. I’ve got my fingers crossed to get to some more in South Africa in a couple weeks!

2. Swakopmund: Sand-boarding and Quads 

Swakopmund is one of the adventure capitals of the world, and we got a chance to see why! The desert dunes are spectacular and sand-boarding was definitely the highlight of this excursion for me. I recommend stand-up boarding for anyone who has previous experience snowboarding. –Don’t feel like you need to be an expert, some of the members of our group tried it despite little to no-snowboarding experience and managed fine! It’s a lot nicer when you bail on sand then on snow, so the learning curve isn’t too steep. We also tried lie-down boarding, which was terrifying. I clocked 75 km an hour (the second fastest of the day) on what was essentially a glorified piece of cardboard. Trick is apparently to keep your elbows in and steer with your toes, but it didn’t help me the first time and I bailed hard–it was crazy and exhilarating, and takes the idea of Canadian sledding to a whole new level of intense.

After sand-boarding we went and rented some quads and got a chance to explore the desert some more. The jury is still out trying to decide what was more fun. ( I liked sand-boarding best, but other members of our group preferred quadding). It was kind of like extreme mario kart with the giant helmets and small vehicles, everyone resembled Toad.

3. Sossusvlei –I dare you to find me somewhere more beautiful. 

This is my friend Rachel and me! (I’m the short one.) Our group had the unfortunate luck of missing the sunrise the first day we went out to try and see it, and though the view was still spectacular, sans sun-having-risen. Rachel, my supervisor Aaron, and I were not satisfied and were determined to head out again in order to catch the whole show. And it was possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. We woke up at 5 am in order to get in line behind the gate of Sesriem campground and then drive out to Dune 45, racing to beat the sun there. Then its a long climb up the side of the sand dune in order to try and get a good seat at the very top. Namibia taught me that most things are worth missing out on sleep for.

4. Etosha National Park

The best part of this trip was frankly, the companionship of the four other girls I lived with. It’s hard to find a better way to bond then a road trip and the long 8 hour drive north to Ongwediva, a tiny town in Northern Namibia by the Angolan border provided for a fairly epic adventure. We met up with the ‘northerner’s and then headed to Etosha National Park in search of the big five. We found the ‘big five’ we cared about, Elephants, Rhinos, Cheetah, Lions, and Zebras, and a lot of other animals (Giraffes –my favourite, Gemsbok, Kudu, Impala, and Springbok).

5. Waterburg National Park 

This is my friend Amber, from pharmacy. We on a sort of haphazard decision decided to stop at Waterburg National Park on our way home from Etosha to try and break up the drive. And I can say confidently, that we are very very glad we did. The boulders and hiking and baboons sort of created the perfect amount of nature vs. excitement we needed for the culminating point of our trip. My only warning is that while camping here I gained a very healthy fear (absolute terror) of baboons and make sure if you go to keep your food locked up. TIGHT. Trash included.

6. The PEOPLE, the community, Physically Active Youth, and our awesome neighbours.

Anyone who tells you that anything BUT the people you meet when you’re traveling and working abroad are the best part of being abroad are lying. They are. They 100% completely are and here are just a couple pictures from some of my favourite memories at work and from being out and about in the community getting to interact with different people. The kids at PAY where amazing, I miss them all a lot and hope to get back to visit them, and the whole Namibian experience would not be the same if it weren’t for all the people who selflessly welcomed us into their homes and whom we welcomed into our hearts. The thing I’m most excited for in terms of going on another Study Abroad program are the people I know and hope to get to meet along the way.

 

Some of the people I met on my exchange to Namibia! They were all amazing and I miss them and wish them the best :)

 

 

 

 

A Graz Staycation

Last weekend, I had a staycation in Graz. I haven’t actually done any travelling outside of the Graz region yet (that will change in the next couple of weeks!), but I also hadn’t fully explored my new city. It is weird how quickly a new environment becomes normal and you no longer really see what is right in front of you. Two events last weekend provided the perfect opportunity to discover more of my new city.

On Saturday night was an event popular throughout Austria and Germany, Die Lange Nacht der Museen, or the Long Night at the Museum. It is a similar concept to Nuit Blanche in Toronto or Montreal. Some of the highlights included a special candle-light tour of Schloss Eggenberg, a castle outside of Graz (it took over an hour for them to light all the candles), a visit to a  Buchdruckerei (book printing workshop), and a couple of museum exhibits.

Schloss Eggenberg

Schloss Eggenberg interior by candlelight

On Sunday, the International Student Network at the University of Graz organized a guided tour of Graz,which lasted about two and half hours. It was really great to learn about the history and the architecture of the city, and to discover things that had been lying right under my nose for three weeks. Graz has lots of inner courtyards, and it is really easy to miss them if you aren’t looking for them.

Painted facade

Graz Glockenspiel

Landhaushof inner courtyard

Research Prep, Getting It All together

The first stop of my journey back to South Africa actually begins in Pittsburgh where my parents live. I came back to the States for a week to visit my family, pack up my stuff, and to continue to work towards getting everything together for my departure! My flight is booked, tickets are paid for and I will be in arriving in Cape Town on October 24, 2012. With that said, the amount of pre-departure work has piled up and for anyone interested in doing an independent research project abroad here are some of the things you are going to have to get organized.

1. Finding Supervisors. I got pretty lucky and found two supervisors for my research project who have been exceptionally helpful with the process of putting together my proposals and giving me great advice on the possible problems I could face with my study, or just typical research screw ups in general. With this in mind though, when you are talking to professors about supervising your research projects, make sure you discuss your expectations and needs with them. If you’re very keen to be independent, and have previous experience going through the ethics process and developing studies, it’s okay to have a professor who’s more hands off. However, if you’re new to research– I really suggest trying to find a professor who is excited about your research, and who is likely to have enough time to meet with you or email you consistently throughout the duration of your project. Also, don’t be afraid to contact professors who teach courses on the subjects you want to research. If you’re a health focused student working on a project looking at health policy programs on STIs in India, consider emailing professors who’s research examines Indian cultural, sexual or gender studies professors, or even virology professors. The worst thing  that will happen is that they might not email you back, but it can also pay off and they might be able to provide you with some invaluable resources and perspectives you would have never found otherwise. If you’re not sure of what questions to ask them, but they’re teaching a course you believe would be insightful to your research just ask them for their reading list. Most professors at UofT are really accessible and all of my experiences have been really positive seeking advice.

2. Make a Reading List (before you go if you have time). I spent several hours putting together a reading list for my projects and this was one of the first things I did for a few reasons.

Some of the titles I skimmed over trying to make my list.

One, it’s a lot easier to get access to books here where I know they’re available and I have fast reliable internet to download as much as I can before I leave. Internet is not always as accessible as you think it is, particularly in Southern Africa. Two, plane rides are an excellent time to plow through boring articles while you are basically trapped in one place for several hours without facebook to distract you. And lastly, it’s my belief that the more you know, and the more you are aware of before you reach a place, the more likely you are to ask questions that aren’t as wrong as they otherwise would be. Research is kind of wonderful in that its a process and you have the ability to revise and correct the question you are ultimately asking over and over again until you find the right way to ask it and can actually learn something that could possibly be true, or substantial. It sort of all comes back to what girl scouts managed to drum into me: Be prepared!

Some of the titles on my list. 

  1. The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith
  2. AIDS and the Ecology of Poverty by Eileen Stillwaggon
  3. The AIDS Conspiracy by Nicoli Nattrass
  4. Three Letter Plague by Jonny Steinberg
  5. The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani

3. Ethics, a necessary evil. I have never ever had to complete an ethics proposal before, and I can’t say its something I particularly enjoy. I recognize the necessity, and trust me, I really don’t want to put anyone at risk with my research, but be prepared to grind your teeth and pull out your hair a little if you’ve never done one before. More than anything it’s just a little intimidating. My course requires me to prove that I took the pre-ethics TCPS 2: CORE Tutorial. (Ethics Tutorial) As long and tedious as it is, it has helped me a lot with understanding what I can and can not do, and what I do and do not need to submit for ethics. If theres a particular part of the Canadian Ethics Process you’re concerned or confused about its definitely a great resource to utilize. Also, keep in mind you will have to likely file another ethics proposal in the country you will be studying.

4. Finding Funding. It’s there, I promise you. If you really have a great idea, are willing to put in a couple hours, and want to go abroad to do research there are resources available for you. I’m in a professional faculty so my options are slightly more limited, but possible places to check for funding are the following:

The New College Student Council Grant. These grants are highly competitive and are available for both individuals wishing to go abroad, as well as groups or clubs wishing to go abroad. They award up to $600 and their application is fairly lengthy so it’s something you’ll want to get too as soon as the applications are made available. This year the applications were due October 12, 2012. For more information check the myncsc website.

College Travel Grants. Most colleges have some funds available to help cover the travel fees students occur when going abroad. Talk to your registrar or financial aid officer about what bursaries or grants you qualify for. There’s usually some fairly standard ones, and then almost always some very oddly specific ones and if you’re lucky, you might fall into them.

Some Links Include:

  • University College Travel Awards ( includes general awards, awards for students studying french abroad, drama, architecture, and modern language)
  • Victoria College International Exchange Bursaries (Also check out the Dean’s Experience Enhancement Fund which looks promising, the website is not quite as clear as UC’s but they have emails you can contact for more information).

The holy grail of all International study abroad funding is however, the CIE Funding Website. They’ve done a really excellent job of putting together a pretty comprehensive list of any and all funding options for whatever program you might be in.

The last thing I would suggest is that if you end up in a program like SFD where you are enrolled as a part time student in courses while abroad is to look into Part Time Student Bursaries and Awards. Check out the APUS website for more information: APUS Bursaries and Scholarships. These awards/bursaries all require that you are a part time student for the semester you are applying (2.5 or less courses in an academic year).

Talk to people in your college and ask around, there is probably someone somewhere who can help you work towards getting the funds you need to do whatever project you are most interested in.

5. Find someway to be organized. I’m not particularly great at self-motivated work, but you sort of have to be with research. Going abroad sort of just adds that extra level of necessary self motivation and drive since there is no one nearby to bang you over the head when they notice you’ve managed to skirt your tasks in favour of Modern Family marathons or League of Legends. (Trust me as well, the ways of procrastinating just get better when you go abroad, skyping home, seeing new places, all just add extra options to the pile). One of the things thats helped me the most, is making a list of all the things I want to accomplish, and to try and work backwards developing steps to do that. And then to take those steps and slap due dates on them. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes one task can end up taking a couple hours when you expected it to be a couple weeks, and another task can take a couple weeks when you expected it to be hours. ( For example, that ethics tutorial.. took me many more hours than I’d hoped.)  Be honest with yourself, and remember, the more you can get done ahead of time, and efficiently, the more time you have to explore/surf/climb/run/party/bicycle/knit/flirt/cook/travel/live. :)

 

* A Last Word of Advice: I had some trouble with getting my project approved and had to file some petitions based on the requirements for independent research courses in my faculty. While my faculty was kind enough to give me permission to go on this trip, make sure you double check course requirements prior to leaving. The SFD program for example hinged on my ability to get course credit for going abroad, and the last thing you want is to have bought a ticket only to realize that you are going to miss a required tutorial/lecture/meeting/conference and have to scramble to get together whatever paperwork is required to get out of said requirement. Again, my faculty was wonderful in allowing me to work around their requirements to find a solution where I could fulfil them abroad, and your faculty will hopefully do the same to you, be ready to be flexible and understanding, they deal with hundreds of students asking for exceptions so make sure you know how to articulate why and how yours will allow you to learn better outside the classroom then in it.

Lost in Translation, jeden Tag

Every exchange experience involves adapting to a new environment and culture, but I can say from experience that it is a whole other story when there is a language barrier included. My German is pretty basic and one of my goals in this exchange was to improve it. The last week as highlighted some of the challenges and ways of learning a new language while on exchange.

First, almost everyone here speaks English, wants to practice their English with me, or has a level of English that is better than my German. This makes talking in English the easy (or lazy) thing to do, rather than struggling through in German. Up until this week, I hadn’t really embraced improving my German as much as I wanted to. I do, to my credit, usually try to get by a bit in German, before taking the easy way out and switching to English. But for the most part, I was staying in my comfort zone and not really trying to have conversations in German.

This week though, I had my first German class, more than three weeks after arriving and after about a 5 month German hiatus. I was pretty nervous about it, since I had written a placement exam the week before and decided to register one level higher than the results of my exam indicated. Luckily though, most of the students in my class are at a similar level: limited oral fluency, various degrees of awful accents, and plenty of grammar mistakes. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to improve my German to the same extent if I was not taking a language class on the side, and it provide a welcome break from my reading-intensive seminars.

In addition to my German class, which meets once a week, I have also signed up for the Tandem program offered through the language school at UniGraz. This program matches two individuals with different language fluencies to help each other improve. I had my first meeting with Viktoria, my tandem partner, on Tuesday right after my German course. Talk about Deutsch overload. It was great to get to meet another local and add another person to my list of German speaking friends. We are going to be meeting at least once a week, and splitting our meetings half and half between English and German.

Finally, I am taking a Yoga class in German. It is pretty easy to follow along, even though I sometimes have no idea what the instructor is saying. It is definitely reinforcing my knowledge of the words for the different parts of the body in German. I can also safely say that I will never forget what ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ are auf Deutsch.

Since I have arrived in Graz, Google Translate has become my new best friend. My German roommate, Isa, speaks pretty good English, but we often end up playing the guessing game, where she will describe the word she is looking for in English, and I have to try to guess what she means. “You know, it is like, when someone is late, and you are not happy with them… what is that called?” “Angry? Frustrated? Annoyed?” “Yes! Annoyed!” I would say my guessing game success rate is pretty high, but when all else fails, Google Translate is there to bail us out. The guessing game usually ends with me asking what the original German word is, and then struggling with the impossible pronunciation and lengthiness of the word. It is a very symbiotic relationship and also a lot of fun to work through the language barrier.

Lastly, to highlight some of the daily struggles of living in a place where you don’t really speak the language…

-It took me an hour to figure out how to use the printing on campus. (That included asking over 3 people for help, in English). I will never forget that “Drucken” is “Print.”

-The first few times I used the ATMs here, I guessed which buttons to push. FUN!

-I can’t fully read labels at the grocery stores. I came home with what I thought was chicken, but was then informed by Isa that it was pork.

In spite of the challenges and frustrations that come with the language barrier, it really is a lot of fun! Now that I have started a routine that includes German class, tandem meetings, and weekly Yoga class, I am hoping that I have turned a page and am in a mindset and routine more conducive to improving my German.

Trip to Bruges

Every year there is a special day at the University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles; ULB) and it is called Nocturne (English: Night/Nocturnal). It is a unique celebration that is organized by the university and starting at 6p.m. there are music concerts, food and drinks all over the campus.

 

Jupiler sponsored Nocturne and gave free cowboy hats.

This is a bracelet they gave us after buying a ticket.

 

I must say that I really enjoyed going to Nocturne, however the only problem was that the next day I was going to Bruges, a trip organized by the Eramus Club of ULB.  I slept only a few hours, yet I was super excited to go to Bruges. On my way to Bruges, I kept thinking of the movie In Bruges with Ralph Fiennes and Colin Farrel. Here are a few pictures:

 

Air ballooning, feelings of the infinite and licorice that makes you wince

Find a new home or different ways that a home can be a home

Living abroad increases the intensity and density of life. Your life goes from normal to being scattered like breadcrumbs shaken off of a tablecloth and then back to some semblance of order. In a month I have figured out the academic climate, started to make great friends, dealt with health issues and visited places I only dreamt of before. On this weeks roster of (mis)adventures :

  • #1: Turkey for Thanksgiving: the country, not the food
  • #2: Food adventures part 2: Drop, the under lord of Dutch culinary talents
  • #3: A typical day while living in Utrecht

Turkey for Thanksgiving: the country, not the food

One of the beautiful things of living abroad is that you feel like Christopher Columbus— far lands suddenly seem in reach. Turkey is a country I’ve wanted to go to for the last 10 years, specifically because as an art history student, it would be wild to see the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The construction of the Hagia Sofia started in 360 ad/ce and inspired the San Marco cathedral in Venice and many other buildings, especially the architecture of many mosques to follow. Unfortunately, because the Hagia Sophia inspired the visual tradition of so many mosques, actually locating the Hagia Sofia was an unexpected challenge.

It’s the one on the…right. No left. Umm (times this by 5)

For a building that is so famous that I can date and recognize it in any book, I was perplexed and humbled when I was inept at pointing it out on the horizon or even within a few hundred meters of where it was on the map. That’s when I took my ego folded it in half and shoved it in my pocket. Travel makes you humble, but it is worth it when you can see so many beautiful things.

 

In concert with seeing the Hagia Sophia, a life goal of mine was to go air ballooning in Capadoccia, a land that looks like fairies built it. Capadoccia has a myriad of different rock formations, all of were realized by 3 volcanos erupting simultaneously for 5 million years. The volcanic rock, also known as tufa, is quite soft, so the Hittites and early Christians dug into the strobile, mushroom and chimney shaped rocks to make homes, castles and mausoleums. This is where I wanted to gallivant, play and air balloon.

 

 

The author Alain de Button said that there exists “perspective giving nature” and that ruins are representatives of infinite time and vast landscapes are representatives of infinite space. When we find ourselves in the presence of these landscapes or ruins, the differences between people seems inconsequential. The natural phenomena are so large with so many variations that the differences between people are mockingly small. Thus, the awe for things older and larger than us has a peculiar way of opening the possibilities of togetherness with one another. I realized that this is why going abroad and exploring new landscapes is so important.

Food adventures part 2: Drop, the under lord of Dutch culinary talents

 

Drop is what Dutch licorice is called and I have a hunch that a foreigner named them ‘drop’ because their taste makes you want to drop them on the floor and run far far away. Like stroopwaffles, drop takes up an entire aisle in the grocery store with varieties of soft, hard, salty, sweet, mint and salmiak (the flavour of dusty spices). The Dutch are crazy about drop and I want to emphasize the crazy part in liking drop. In the train station there is a booth with varieties of drop with a consistent line-up.  I will say this: There are some things that are incredibly tasty, but only when you were introduced to them as a child… when your opinion about food was given to you by your parents.

Drop is to the Dutch as marmite is to the English. Or nato to the Japanese. Or spiciness to the Thai…

Even though I at my body weight in stroopwaffles, I’ve had no problem resisting eating all the licorice while spelling out its name for this photo. For a few reasons, 1) even the ‘soft’ licorice is fairly hard so you give someone a piece of drop and say, “I’ll talk to you in an hour” because they are going to be working to chew through it for that long! You need mouth armor for these bad boys. So even if I did have a piece of drop while creating this word art, it would last me for an exam period before I would be ready for the next one. Also, there is this  amazing (not amazing) thing that happens, which is that the strong flavour triggers your salivary glands and your mouth is filled with salivia that unexpectedly becomes dangerous! If you aren’t careful the licorice strangeness drips down your throat like a river of burning inducing a coughing fit.

What is genuinely amazing is that drop gave me goosebumps, but it may have been because my body was rejecting it—- I never knew a food could do that! All this made me think that drop is a great food-booby-trap! Especially handy when you have a camera in your hand and want to record the facial affliction and contortions your victim will go through while eating it.

 

#3: A typical day while living in Utrecht

Activity #1: Go for a jog by the canal and love its curves despite how it foils your sense of direction

 Activity # 2: See what random objects my roommates have brought into the apartment. It could be a broken soundboard, an inflatable kayak (inflated) or many zucchinis ranging from baseball bat size to forearm size.
Activity #3: Find a new spot to sit and read. For example a garden on the grounds of the Domkerk (Utrecht’s most famous church)

 

 

 

Activity #4: Go to a cafe to finish reading. Order scones with jam and whipped cream and pretend to be a 70 year old grandma thinking about all the wonderful memories you have.

 

 

 

Activity #5: Bike around town and find details you have missed. Sometimes the jet streams looks like the gods are making drawings in the sky.

Back To School

Its this time of year again…back to school. At uoft (University of Toronto) usually when school starts I sort of have  90%, have my schedule set, I just need to wait if I can get in 1 or 2 courses I was waitlisted. Then the 2nd week, my schedule is done and I don’t need to worry about it until 2nd semester in January. Here in the University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles; ULB), it was a completely different story…

As uoft students we are very lucky we can take almost any courses we want abroad and then when we come back we can get some of the course approved. However, we are advised to pre-approve our courses before we go so that it is easier later to get a credit. What I noticed was that the university system is different than uoft’s and even Canada’s I think. When you are in a faculty, they give you a list of courses every year and then you have no choice and take these courses. At uoft it is good that we can choose our courses, but sometimes it is really difficult to make your schedule and know when to take which course. Also, their bachelor lasts only 3 years but in Ontario it is 4 years.  Therefore, as a 4th year undergraduate student I needed to take 1st or 2nd year master courses (which I am excited about but at the same time worried).

My second difficulty was to find courses that match my program, and then after I found some and got them approved, I did not know the schedule of the courses. I had to wait until the first day of school when ULB puts all the schedules on GeHol. I was extremely lost, because their system GeHol is not as easy to understand like Rosi (really?? Weirdly enough, yes). There are courses that start the 4th week of school (I don’t know why), some courses don’t show where it is going to be held, some courses are held one week in one building then another week in another building. Furthermore, the profs warn us to look at GeHol everyday because there might be changes (OMG!). Something that surprised me most, was that some profs did not come to class the 1st week of class  (yes I did say prof!! No idea why, disorganization?). Therefore, after waiting a long time in the classroom students just left.

After I organized (with a lot of difficulty and very little help) my schedule I needed to find the locations of the classes. At uoft St. George Campus each building has a name and if you have the name of a building you can easily find it on a map of the campus. At ULB it is completely different, the first letter is the name of the campus, then each building has a letter and each entrance has a letter. Then they add the floor level (which is sometimes confusing because the main floor can be the 2nd floor) and then the room number. For example S.UD2.218A. : S means Solbosch campus, building U, entrance D, 2nd floor and room 218A. Next time you have a course at University College and you think that the layout is confusing, please think of me and how atypical and complicated the ULB campus is. Nevertheless, the campus is smaller than uoft’s St. George Campus and I am sure that after a few weeks I’ll know the campus and its organization by heart.

Until next time,

A-Little-Bit-Lost-Nazanin

The Crazy and Beautiful Island of Ibiza!

Well what an adventure this was! I registered for a five day trip to Ibiza with 200 other exchange students for a week of some of the craziest parties in Europe as well as some of the most prettiest beaches and sunsets in Europe.

The adventure began with a 9 hour boat ride on a massive 15 story cruise ship from Barcelona to Ibiza that left at 11:30PM and got in the next morning at around 8:00am. We met up at the Port of Barcelona where I met my new good friend Simone from Tuscany in Italy. He didn’t speak a word of English yet spoke a great mix of Spanish~Italian, so the entire week was not a word of English with him and the other Italians and full of Spanish speaking!

After sitting on the deck of the boat sharing a bottle of wine and watching the start from the middle of the Mediterranean we decided to put out sea legs to rest at about 4:00am and get ourselves ready for the crazy adventure that we were embarking on.

We arrived in the Port of Ibiza and saw the Dalt Vila which is the High City that overlooks the entire city of Ibiza. However, Ibiza is the name in Spanish, all the signs in the Balearic Islands are in Catalan, therefore we were officially in Eivissa! We took a bus to the North West side of the island to the city of Sant Antoni, there we took a nice needed nap before heading down to the beach!

Night #1 was crazy! The Spanish party very late and verrrry long! We met up with everyone form our group in one of our rooms at 11:00 for pre-drinks and some dinner, then at 2:30am we decided to leave for the biggest and best club in Ibiza, Amnesia! There was over 6,000 people there for the famous Foam Party that lasted until 8:00am the next morning! So it was  a short sleep before we were back on the beach again!

Then the next day we went to the Biggest Clubbing Area in Ibiza, Platges d’en Bossa, where all the beach clubs are located! It was Bora Bora for the sunset and then back home fore a Botellón with the boys!

The next day was old town Ibiza where we toured around the history High City and saw some incredible views of the city. But we then headed to the incredible beach of Cala Salada where the water was crystal clear and we were feeding the tropical Mediterranean fish with our toes!

After renting the smallest car I have ever seen in my life we toured around the entire island catching the best beaches and then ending up at Platges Compte for the island famous Sunset!

That night was at the massive Club Café Olé Space, where we were there until 9:00AM before returning back to the hotel to grab our bags and get on the boat back to Valencia and then Bus to Barcelona at 10:00am!

Little Sleep for the whole weekend but loads of fun!

Mercè 2012

This is Barcelona’s official time to celebrate! Mercè is literally a festival where the locals shut down the entire city and flood the streets for 24 hours straight for 5 days. Here is a little history about the Paton Saint Day of Barcelona.
Barcelona La Mercè lasts for around 5 days and is a festival held in honour of Mare de Deu de la Merce, the Patron Saint of Barcelona.

La Mercè is the annual festival of the city of Barcelona in CataloniaSpain. It has been an official city holiday since 1871, when the local government first organized a program of special activities to observe the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, La Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Catalan. Although the actual feast day is September 24, the festivities begin a few days beforehand.Some of the most important features of the festival were introduced in the year 1902, when parades included papier maché “giants” known as gegants i capgrossos, the first Castell competition in the city, and a popular dance from Empordà that was becoming popular throughout Catalonia. The holiday has enjoyed immense local popularity ever since.

Allright so the Correfoc which a famous Spanish event is probably also one of the most dangerous things I have done in my life. Literally Spaniards dash down a packed street of 80,000 people with sparklers and shoot them at the crowd! We were advised to wear long sleeved clothing and protective head and eye wear! When in Barcelona, do as the Barcelonians do! What a cultural experience!

Here is a bit of history!

If you are going to experience the Correfoc it is highly advisable to take protective clothing because often powerful sparkler fireworks are sprayed into the crowds. People should bring hats, protective glasses and thick long sleeved tops that will protect you from the flying sparklers.

Carrefoc in Barcelona La Merce festival
The crowd receive a shower of sparkler flames at the Correfoc Barcelona La Merce festival

There is normally 2 types of Correfoc on the same evening. One of them is for the children and is a lot more tame than the “adult” Correfoc which happens later on in the evening

The Correfoc event takes place at dusk. Normally along and around Via Laietana. The road will be closed off and then opens to “The Devils”.

The Devils are special community groups that dress up like devils and parade the streets during certain festivals in Barcelona. La Merce Festival is one such festival. The devils run up the streets with bangers and hand held fireworks. Lots of bangs and fire is the order of the day. Fire breathing dragons (or at least sparkler-breathing dragons) also roam the streets with Devils skipping along with spiralling fireworks held in their hands.

THIS LINK SUMS UP EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS LIKE!
CORREFOC

Also every night is the famous Firework Shows. By far the best fireworks that I have ever seen in my life! 35 Minutes long and over 200,000 people watching them! All of the sudden on the last song, every Barcelonian lit up a sparkler while listening to the music! Seeing that many sparklers at once was incredible! Watch this link at least at the grand finale and watch what we were seeing in amazement!

Finale of Fireworks!
(This link is the grande finale after 35mins of fireworks! Note this is the Song of Barcelona that symbolizes the city!)

La Sagrada Familia!

This incredible Gaudi Building was lit up at night and played an amazing light show!
http://youtu.be/he5w0bnMmuI

Tossa de Mar Boat Cruise

Well this was my first adventure outside of Barcelona and it all began with my German friends Marie and Jennifer as we headed up north along the Mediterranean to the small village of Tossa de Mar. This is where we were going to tour around the small village for a while before we embarked on our first boat cruise around the Balearic Sea in the Mediterranean. The small village was absolutely incredible. Situated right on the sea this city was named the “Ciutat Vela” (Old City) for it’s massive fortifications on top of the hillside overlooking and protecting the city.

We then went for a four hour boat ride cruising up and down a small portion of Costa Brava. We reached one point just south of Tossa de Mar where we laid anchor in a deserted bay and threw out the water mattresses and floating trampoline to where all of us jumped in and enjoyed the warm water!

After a few more hours of cruising we returned to Tossa de Mar where we toured around and climbed up the ancient city’s fortifications. With absolutely stunning views looking north and south along the coast, we sat and took in some nice autumn sun rays before heading back to Barcelona that evening.