Uncategorized

From Dutch Cheese to Swiss Cheese (My trip to the Swiss Alps)

Erik here checking in from the great country of the Netherlands.

This past week I had a study break after my first 8 weeks of classes (which I may add are going very well). The Netherlands schooling is much more laid back, until finals come. Your grade here is often times based of a single test which can be quite nerve wrecking…. But I’m getting off track. On my study break I was able to travel to one of the places I have ALWAYS wanted to visit. The Swiss Alps. Which are the most beautiful place on Earth!

I left from my hometown of Wageningen on a Monday night and took a night line train to Zurich, Switzerland. The train was a really interesting experience considering it was like a hotel on wheels. Literally, if you had the money to buy it, you could have rented out an entire room with bunk beds on a train. Unfortunately, I rode economy style and just got a reclining seat. Worked fine. 🙂

After 14 hours I arrived in Zurich which is in the North East part of the Netherlands, and not in the mountains. From there I traveled to Lucerne, an hour south and hopped onto a scenic train which would take me into the mountains.

Here is Zurich:

IMG_6794

The train to Interlaken hands down was the most stunning train ride I have ever taken. The train had wide windows on the sides as well as the ceiling which allowed for you to see almost perfectly out the train. It was like riding in a a top down jeep….sort of? Anyway, this train ride brought me between the valleys of tall mountain ranges that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was perfectly sunny making every view seem to shine with a clarity and sharpness rarely seen. The mountains are not like the ones in the states… they are not slowly elevating and heavy forested like the Smokeys, but they sure aren’t as MASSIVE as the Rockies. They are an interesting mix of quickly elevating rock faces and pockets of forested areas hanging on to the sides of the cliffs. They are massive, but seem to just appear from the ground. Very often they seemed to be more like sky scrapers than mountains just because they rose in elevtion so so quickly. It made for an awesome train ride consisiting of my forehead glued to the window like a child. I felt like one, that’s for sure.

Arriving in Interlaken after 2 hours, I transfered to a train that would bring me into Lauterbrunnen. Now I was actually getting into the Jungfrau region which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as of special cultural or physical significance). Lauterbrunnen was on the west side of the region and also in a valley where I could slowly get to my actual destination in Gimmelwald.

I made my way through the picturesque valley of Lauterbrunnen to the gandola that would lift me into the mountains and to the doorstep of my hostel. The gandola ride was, as expected, beautiful and felt good on my ears as they adjusted to the elevation change, but I had finally arrived.

It seemed pretty cliche when I heard it, and I know it was quick to agree with it, but immediately stepping off the gandola into Gimmelwald I understood why they say “If heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmelwald”. Really, send me back. Quietly resting on the side of the mountain lay the world’s most breathtaking, picturesque, charming, friendly village you can ever step into. The dark hands of tourism have managed to miss transforming this town into something it’s not. It remains a Swiss treat for those looking to see how the old, simple world lived. Each home resembling log cabins with dark wood colored shutters. Piles of wood stacked neatly outside ready to warm the winter. Cattle grazing on the sides of the steeet, not a worry in the world. There are only two places in Gimmelwald to buy food, and you won’t find a cashier in either one of them. The honesty shop (which was honestly closed every day I was there) and a little back room of someone’s house where fresh homemade cheese, milk, and eggs were sold. Both stores, if you would call them that, relied on you putting money into a little basket based on what you purchased. It is a beautiful idea that is doomed to fail in the real world, but thankfully Gimmelwald is not the real world.

IMG_6846 IMG_6870

I did not do anything spectacular this first day in Gimmelwald. I was more or less paralyzed by the beauty. I could not go 20 steps without stopping and just simply staring, smiling as the clouds rolled through, stepping slowly over the snowy peaks.

The next few days in gimmelwald were more or less the best days of my life. No matter were one walked you were just mesmorized by the natural beauty in every direction. Whether it was hiking through the valleys or taking gandolas to the peaks of the mountains, I was all smiles all the time. It was a dream come true.

Of all the things I was able to do in Gimmelwald, by far the most memorable would have to be climbing to the top of the Spitzhorn mountain. It was 7.5hours of hiking that were worth every minute of it, even with the snow near the peak being UP TO MY KNEES. It is difficult to describe just how beautiful it was on the peak, and pictures don’t do it justice, but they’re better than words. So I will let the pictures below do the talking.

IMG_7321 IMG_7319
Overall, as you may be able to tell. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Switzerland. It is a country of never ending beauty and friendliness. It only adds to my non-stop happiness that I am experiencing out here while studying abroad. In europe it seems everything moves a bit slower, and bit quiter, and its a nice transition from the hectic USA. We will see how the rest of my studies go, but so far being embraced by the Dutch culture and seeing the Swiss alps has pretty much guarenteed that the trip will be good no matter what happens.

IMG_7326 IMG_7046

Advertisements
Standard
Uncategorized

UIUC vs. Purpan

Hannah Dougherty

Toulouse, France at EI Purpan

One of the times that we had a tasting class and drinking it was acceptable.

One of the times that we had a tasting during class.

Several things about attending school in France are fairly different than school in the United States. The first is that in France most of the universities are specialized, such as Purpan, which is strictly an agriculture school. Being specialized makes the university much smaller than usual. Their campus is made of less than ten buildings and the research farm is a couple of miles away outside of town.  As an agriculture school, Purpan focuses on life sciences, agriculture, food, marketing and management. They have fewer options, but students graduate with a master’s and are required to have two trips abroad. For the first trip, they have to travel to an English speaking country. The second trip is to another country where they have to participate in a humanitarian project in a developing country. This is an aspect of Purpan that I am not sure is completely unique to them or if other universities also practice this. One of the more tedious differences is the class length. Where we have fifty minutes in an average lecture, they have three to four hours. Trying to maintain focus some days was a challenge in itself; especially when you are learning a completely new language such as French. Another difference is that universities in America have sports teams that people are devoted too for most of their lives. Here universities have teams, but their main sporting pride is city or regional teams. The passion the local people have for their team is understandable as Toulouse has one of the historically best rugby teams in France. Finally, the main difference is that the students are allowed to consume alcohol on school grounds, during school functions and with faculty. This would never happen in the United States and felt strange to have a drink with my professors at during our welcome party. Though these differences have at times thrown me for a loop; I greatly appreciate the experiences and memories I have been able to take away from my time in France.

#ACESabroad #EIPurpan #DifferentRules

 

Standard
Uncategorized

University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa! #ILLINOISabroad #ACESaborad

Sanibonani(Zulu for hello),

Having only been in Durban, South Africa for two weeks now, I am so anxious to see what else awaits. I had such an amazing time learning about gender and education in South Africa. Our professor, Dr. Deevia Bhana, is so passionate that it makes it even more interesting to learn about this topic.

While studying at the Unversity of KwaZulu-Natal we are living in John Bews Hall. It has taken some adjustment living in a residence hall again, but I like that we have a big kitchen. Though I could cook my own meals, I can not resist the temptation to try the many restaurants near our campus. I can say that there has not been a disappoint yet. Everything from Fishaways to Nando’s have left my mouth watering. It is always so tempting wanting to eat out, but I’m trying to avoid spending too much. Another adjustment to living here has been seeing monkeys throughout the Kwazulu-natal area just as much as I would see squirrels back home.

Also, I had the pleasure of celebrating my 21st birthday here with a great group of people. Since my birthday was on Monday, June 30th, all weekend we explored Durban night life. I was just happy that at every location I could do what I love most, dance.
That Sunday we then all went to North Beach in Durban. I have to say that North Beach is one of the nicest beaches I have ever been to. On my birthday everyone sung Happy Birthday to me and we ate cake. Overall, it was a great way to celebrate such a monumental birthday. I definitely could not have asked to be on this trip with a better group of people.

Siyabonga(Zulu for thank you),

Chamia Chatman
Animal Sciences

Standard
Uncategorized

Weekend Travels to Madrid, Spain!

The marker in La Puerta de Sol that marks kilometer 0 of Spain aka the exact center of Spain

The marker in La Puerta de Sol that marks kilometer 0 of Spain aka the exact center of Spain

This weekend I went to the exact center of Spain, which is also the capital of the country, Madrid!

I had an amazing time in Madrid, there was so much to do that I was easily kept busy the entire three-day weekend. My top three highlights of the trip were easily el Parque de Buen Retiro, Museo Prado, y El Mercado de San Miguel.

Parque de Buen Retiro is a massive and incredibly beautiful park in Madrid. In addition to the beautiful ponds, trees and landscapes I loved the Crystal Palace! The park was such a romantic place 🙂

Crystal Palace in el Parque de Buen Retiro

Crystal Palace in el Parque de Buen Retiro

Another photo of el Parque de Buen Retiro, one of my favorite spots in Madrid!

Another photo of el Parque de Buen Retiro, one of my favorite spots in Madrid!

El Museo de Prado has all of the best artists of Spain. I spent hours staring at incredible paintings done by Velazquez, Goya, el Greco, Sorolla, and more. From class you have no idea how large the paintings actually are. Seeing Las Meninas in person was such an incredible experience. There are so many details that I had never seen before. I think I spent 20 minutes just staring at the painting and taking it in.

Sneaky pic of Las Meninas, shhhh, pictures technically are not allowed in el Prado

Sneaky pic of Las Meninas, shhhh, pictures technically are not allowed in el Prado 😉

El Mercado de San Miguel is right outside Plaza Mayor (another attraction of Madrid). It was a great place to try so many types of food because they have small portions of everything for 1-2 euros. We went around to all of the different stands buying things, including dessert! In total we each only spent about 5-6 euros for a very filling and delicious lunch!

el Mercado

el Mercado de San Miguel!! so delicious!

Madrid is a must when in Spain!

#ILLINOISabroad

Best,

Sarah Garrow

Standard
Uncategorized

Marruecos!

I always thought that bartering seemed awesome. In my opinion, many things seem over-priced and with bartering I can skillfully obtain a lower price. I had the opportunity to test my theory when I went to Morocco this past weekend.

The trip to Morocco was long: 4.5 hour bus ride, 1.5 hour boat to Ceuta (an autonomous Spanish city), and then another hour bus ride to our hotel in the city of Tetuán, Morocco. The journey was long and tiring but so worth it.

On Saturday we went to the ancient Medina de Tetuán where our guide took us on a beautiful tour. The tour was especially great because it was so interactive. We got to dress up in traditional Moroccan attire and learn about Moroccan spices and oils in a pharmacy. I bought some Argan oil lotions that are difficult to find in the US and very pricey. But in Morocco the price is much cheaper because Morocco is where the Argan oil is from. There was also time to shop (barter) for souvenirs and of course there was plenty of time to stop and take photos! We then had a traditional Moroccan meal of couscous with chicken and vegetables that was incredibly delicious!

Dressed up in traditional attire

Dressed up in traditional attire

 

The pharmacy with all of the spices and oils.

The pharmacy with all of the spices and oils.

We returned to our bus for the drive to our next destination, the city Tánger. But, of course what would a bus ride be without a pit stop to ride some camels! I’m sorry, not camels. Little technicality: These may look like camels but it turns out they are called Dromedaries because they only have one hump on their back while camels have two humps. In Tánger we had another incredible tour and then some free time to walk around and practice some more bartering.

Dromedaries not camels, but just as cute :)

Dromedaries not camels, but just as cute 🙂

 

All right so here’s my experience with bartering. I discovered that it is not a skill I am very proficient at.

In Tetuán I was looking at some leather bags with imprinted details. I was not set on buying a bag but was considering it. One of the sales men comes up and asks me which bag I am looking at and I point to the last one I had looked at, but tell him that I am just looking for now. He asks which other ones I’m looking at. I tell him I’m not sure, but he asks the question again so I point to another one. Neither bag were ones I had thought much about. He asks me which out of the two I prefer and I point to the lighter one that I like slightly better, but once again tell him I am still browsing. But the next moment he says a price for the bag I said I preferred. He says 25 euros. I’m very thrown off because he isn’t understanding that I want to keep looking. Being flustered I just go along with it and say 15 euros. He says 22, I say 17, he says 20, I say 18 and he says deal. He quickly turns and tells me to quickly come with him he hands the bag to the cashier and tells him 18 euros and tells me to pay. At this point I should have paused to consider whether or not I actually wanted the bag and/or whether it was worth the price. But being overwhelmed I somehow felt like in the previous situation I had committed to buying it when I said 18 euros and he agreed. So I paid and got the bag. 18 euros is 24 American dollars, probably not worth that much but it was quite the learning experience. Haha

Although I did learn from this experience, it took a couple more bartering situations before I finally had it figured out. In Tánger I found some earrings that I was interested in. The man said 12 euros, but then 10 because I’m a student. I was hesitating and so he said 8 euros for you. I said I wanted it for 4 euros. He said he couldn’t go below 6 euros. I said that I wouldn’t pay more than 5 euros. Then he flips over the earring and I see a sticker that says 4. I say wait this says 4 euros! As he quickly pulls off the tag, he says something about how it is just an inventory label and agrees to the 5 euros. I paid 5 euros for the earrings but afterwards I was disappointed that I hadn’t tried harder to get 3 or 4 euros because I don’t believe that the sticker wasn’t the price.

On Sunday we toured the city of Chef-Chaouén. The entire city is painted blue as a symbol of the city. Needless to say, it was gorgeous and I got some awesome photos . Afterwards we began the long journey home.

 

Chef-Chaouén, everything was painted blue!

Chef-Chaouén, everything was painted blue!

There were cats everywhere in the three cities we visited in Morocco, they were so cute!

There were cats everywhere in the three cities we visited in Morocco, they were so cute!

I had an amazing weekend in Morocco. I saw so many beautiful things and learned a lot about the culture of Morocco. Although I probably wasn’t the smartest barterer in Morocco that weekend, I learned from the experiences and love the souvenirs that I bought. I don’t know when I will be back, but I will be ready for the barterers 😉

Best,

Sarah Garrow

#ILLINOISabroad

Standard
Uncategorized

A Reflection with 4 Days Left

When I first arrived in Greece, I was homesick for at least the first 2.5 weeks. Now, with just 4 days left, I don’t want to leave. It’s funny how quickly a place can become home. I sound like probably every other study abroad student ever, but this has been the most incredible experience. Incredible. Frustrating. Euphoric. Relaxing. Stressful. Many things, but more than anything, a learning experience in every way.

They always tell you that studying abroad will change your life, but that seems to be all there is to say. I think partially because the experience changes everyone in a different way, but maybe more so that there is no way to articulate to someone who hasn’t been there just what a whirlwind the trip has been. Sure, you learn enough about your subjects in the classroom with a professor and you learn even more about the culture through your everyday immersion. But what has really gotten to me here has been the other students studying abroad from all over the country. Having come here alone, I didn’t know anyone in the program. Since that first day, I have made lifelong friends from all corners of the country and many states in between, including Florida, New York, Oregon, Arizona, and Minnesota. Everyone I have met has enriched my understanding of people and life and all the different winding paths that take us where we want to go. I don’t think there is any other experience but independently being in foreign country that forces you to stand on your own feet, challenges your beliefs, and either reaffirms or puts doubt into the plans you thought you had set in stone.

I’m really thankful for everything that I’ve experienced in this trip. I wish I was better with words and could articulate for future students what they’re getting into, but all I have to say to them is simple. Study abroad is what you make it. And I have made it the best experience I could have ever dreamt up.

IMG_0879

IMG_0351

IMG_0375

DSC_0869

DSC_0148

Standard
Uncategorized

Kevin Letterly, Tanzania, Wildtrax

 

The only problem I encountered with this trip was coming home and attempting to tie in all of the breathtaking moments I witnessed, newfound knowledge, and relationships formed. The stories I will tell and the experiences I have written about will pale in comparison to the actual journey. Tanzania was amazing and I have never been so amazed by any other place in the world. Although it felt good coming home to Western amenities, I still have a burning desire to return to Africa whenever I get the chance. The Tanzania trip has given me a great sense of empowerment; like I am ready to go just about anywhere to learn about the environment and start working to protect it.

We spent two weeks studying at Mweka, College of African Wildlife Management. My study abroad group received several lectures ranging from basic African ecology, ecotourism, human wildlife conflict, community based conservation, and my personal favorite, anti-poaching strategies. Every lecturer was very enthusiastic and encouraged vocal participation from the classroom. After the two weeks studying at Mweka we took an exam based on what we had learned in class and then graduated with a certificate from the college. Some of the students from the college surprised us by letting us each plant a tree on the foothills of Kilimanjaro, which was an experience I will never forget. Once we had graduated we left for a two week safari the next day.

On safari we were able to get up close and personal with wildlife. We drove through several protected areas including Serengeti and Ngorongoro National Park. Think of any African mammal and chances are we probably got to see it. We had two female lions and three cubs come up to our car so close that we could reach out and touch them, but that probably would not be the best idea as these are actually wild animals. We saw a cheetah not even three feet away from us on a Thomson’s gazelle kill. One of my favorite things to see was a wild black rhino, and there are only around five thousand of them left in the wild. These are only a few of the amazing animals we saw. Human wildlife conflict is an important topic I began to better understand during my studying in Tanzania. I learned that increasing population does not only affect one aspect of the environment; it affects every aspect of the environment. The population of Tanzania is exponentially increasing in Tanzania, which presents all sorts of new challenges to the developing country. My presentation was on urban sprawl and the speech I gave at Mweka was on the negative interactions between humans and natural resources. My major is Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions of the Environment, so the growing population idea of human wildlife conflict greatly interests me. Tanzania’s growing population is going to put a great deal of stress on the environment. One example is through tourism, one of Tanzania’s largest sources of income. People come to Africa seeking untouched wilderness and a place teeming with wildlife right outside their door. The growing population is going to make it difficult for the tourism industry to keep current and new protected areas devoid of human life. Of course visitors may want to see some urban areas, but soon it may become difficult to find wilderness areas that are not being crowded by neighboring cities and villages. This leads into the problem we learned about called encroachment.

Encroachment would be human developing along the borders of a protected area, which can cause a large increase in human wildlife conflict. As humans move closer to protected areas they are going to encounter wildlife near their homes and villages. Wildlife may then raid crops and livestock or even injure citizens; however, this is not a one-sided problem. Increased levels of encroachment will likely result in more poaching whether this is for firewood, game meat, or to stop an animal from destroying crops. Humans living too close to wildlife may also cause habituation. Habituation involves an organism that no longer responds to stimulus. Through habituation an organism may find food through humans rather than naturally hunting for it. It also makes the animal more susceptible to poaching because it may not flee from humans. Before coming on the trip I came up with a few solutions to reducing urban sprawl, and during our time on the trip we saw how viable our solutions would be and learned some new solutions being practiced in Tanzania.

My solutions to urban sprawl revolved around increasing the desirability of a city. I wanted to make people feel that even being in the city they could remain connected with the beautiful natural elements of Tanzania. I would accomplish this by installing green roofs on the buildings, which would benefit them economically as well as visually. I also thought of creating more green areas within the city that gave the illusion of it being less crowded. I found the compact city solution several times in my research and thought it could be applied to the cities of Tanzania. I was not expecting some of the cities to look like Chicago, but I was expecting more modern buildings and generally better infrastructure. My solutions were not as viable as I hoped because most of the areas were low density buildings constructed without modern building materials and techniques. Therefore, it would be very difficult to apply the compact city solution, which promotes an “up rather than out” strategy. Without adequate government funding and proper building materials and techniques this could not be accomplished. I learned that in reality most people are more concerned about clean drinking water and food than constructing a green roof. Although all of my sources suggested that implementing these strategies in developing countries is more beneficial, maybe we will have to wait for Tanzania to join the list of developed countries before it begins to worry about these strategies. It also does not seem entirely fair that we can come in and criticize a developing country for not being sustainable after we have already made huge environmentally detrimental mistakes in our developed countries. I think we have to make sure we are providing these countries with suggestions for developing sustainably rather than criticizing the strategies they are currently using. One of the strategies they were using to manage urban sprawl and reduce human wildlife conflict was through land use planning. This is a pretty self-explanatory process that involves planning towns and villages far enough away from protected areas, so that they can avoid encroachment. The problem I noticed with this strategy is that the villages that are practicing land use planning only plan for the current population to live a healthy distance from the protected area. They do not take into account that their population is growing, so they will also need to plan for the future. Over this trip I have learned a lot about myself and formed some great friendships.

Before going on this trip I expected only to learn about wildlife, but we actually learned a great deal about humans and how people interact with their environment. The Maasai is one of the amazing tribes that reside in Tanzania and while on safari we were welcomed into several Maasai villages. We learned some of the aspects of their culture, one of which is the importance of cattle. They believe all the cattle in the world belong to them, and the more cattle an individual has the wealthier he is. This creates the problem of overgrazing, which is just one of the examples we witnessed of how humans can affect the environment. Some other examples include poaching and general negative attitudes towards protected areas. These problems are being addressed through educational programs that show citizens that protected areas provide them with economic benefits, such as tourism and better infrastructure. Before the trip I was expecting to feel and be treated more like a tourist. However, it seemed like we were just immersed into the real culture and as a result had a better experience than a typical tourist and made some real lifelong friendships. Going back to Tanzania is not a matter of if but when; I want the real experience again.

Kevin Letterly #ILLINOISabroad

Standard