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Cape Eleuthera Institute, Bahamas – Week 5

This was my last full week, and last weekend, in the Bahamas.  My brother Paul took a vacation from work to come down to the island and visit me, and we had a ton of fun.  On Friday night, all of the interns and some of the managers at the Institute went to a trivia night at the Marina, a resort near our campus.  It was organized by two of the interns and was actually very impressive.  Everyone was organized into groups of 4 or 5 (Paul and I were put on separate teams, since we basically have the exact same wealth of knowledge), and there were 6 categories.  Each category had 9 questions, and I can’t believe I didn’t get some of them!  The names of Ron Weasley’s parents?  How could I forget?  Molly Weasley, MOLLY!  After trivia night, and since my brother was staying in a townhouse in the Marina for the weekend, we had a small after party that included dancing all night and jumping into the shark-filled ocean.  Maybe not the smartest idea, but definitely a night to remember!

On Saturday, Paul and I took a trip down island.  We rented a car from a man named Friendly Bob, who was not really all that friendly, and left around 10:30 a.m.  Our first stop was to Rock Sound, the largest settlement on the southern half of the island.  We visited the famous Ocean Hole.  Paul absolutely refused to jump in, but luckily there was a ladder.  We saw schools of large fish that didn’t seem to be afraid of us at all, and even a handful of reflective blue angelfish.  We walked around the hole and found signs describing its origin and the history of the island and of Rock Sound, which used to be named “Wreck Sound” due to the large number of shipwrecks that littered the water near the settlement.  I was surprised to learn that Columbus actually landed in the Bahamas; was it not he who landed in New England?  Or was it Florida?  Guess I didn’t listen all that well in history class!  While in Rock Sound we stopped at a small gift store called The Blue Seahorse, and we both got delicious smoothies and a handmade painting.  (I also splurged on a bit of jewelry).  After Rock Sound we traveled north to Club Med beach, which was detailed in the same post as the Blue Hole.  It is an abandoned 1970’s resort, and it’s clear just from looking at what remains that Club Med was the place to be at the time.  It also boasts a beautiful secluded beach that I could spend hours on if I had the time.  After Club Med we ate lunch at a restaurant called 1648, which is apparently the year that the Bahamas were colonized.  It was swanky, with one of those pools that juts right up to the edge of the resort and then disappears in to the ocean below.  We decided we would save money on lunch and order just water, which ended up being a bottle of Evian costing $9 USD.  CRAZY!  Doesn’t the Bahamas have tap water?  I had the blackened grouper sandwich and Paul the lobster roll – both were absolutely delicious.  I’m not usually the biggest seafood fan but this was by far the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had.

After lunch we continued north to another gift shop called Island Made, where Paul bought a shirt with the Kalik logo (a Bahamian beer) and I got a few small gifts for people back home.  After Island Made was the Glass Window Bridge, which brings together the Atlantic and the Caribbean over a narrow strip of land – and by narrow, I mean nothing more than a few rocks and a two-lane highway.  It is amazing to stand there and compare the difference between the dark, stormy waters of the Atlantic and the turquoise, serene waters of the Caribbean.  I didn’t mind having already seen it – I got a strong sense that a view like that just doesn’t get old.  We then turned around and decided to head back home, but not before stopping at a sign that read “Deli and Bakery, open from 10a.m – until”.  Not a typo, that’s really what it said!  What time is “until”?  We didn’t know either, but it was still open!  It wasn’t much more than someone’s house that we walked into, and we each got a piece of pineapple upside-down cake, and a piece of blueberry cheesecake to share; both were delicious.  I said that I imagine that is what America was like in the 1950’s – that you could just walk into someone’s house and would leave with a piece of something delicious and a feeling that you had just been a part of a play about real life that maybe wouldn’t have made Broadway, but was fun for everyone involved.  That’s sort of how I’ve felt about the entirety of being here, like it isn’t actually real but that everyone is agreeing to pretend that it is.  And while I’ve had an absolute blast here, and learned so much and gained a new perspective on myself and on everything around me, I think I am ready to go home.  I’m ready to go back to doing the things I like to do: going out to eat whenever I want, watching movies with my friends, sleeping in, playing with dogs on the quad, late-night trips to Kams and later-night trips to Burrito King.  I’m excited to get back to campus and begin my Junior year, and I can’t believe in only 5 days I will be on a plane home.  I will always remember my time here in the Bahamas, and it’s something that I hope will continue to affect me the way it has.  I hope that, unlike my tan, the smile lines don’t fade from my place and that this place doesn’t fade from my heart.  I hope that the people here aren’t soon lost from memory and that the amazing things I’ve done aren’t easily forgotten.  This weekend was a great way to wrap up a stellar summer, and I feel so blessed to have had this experience.  Until next time, Eleuthera! #ACESAbroad

xoxo, Christine

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Morocco

Morocco Off the Beaten Path

After day one of our trip to Morocco, we stopped following the provided itinerary.  Each day we would board the bus and drive until we found a farmer working close enough to the road for us to walk to them.  After a short introduction from our faculty advisor, the farmers were more than willing to tell us all about their life in agriculture.

img_0123-copyWe stopped a farmer working a horse drawn plow in a sugar beet field and learned about the irrigation systems, land ownership, and the risks of large scale farming without contracts.  Stopping along the road where a family was harvesting olives not only taught us various methods for olive harvest but also about family dynamics and small farm income diversity.  Each random stop taught us the agricultural practices we had planned on but, the personal connection with small groups of farmers taught us the political, social, and economic factors involved.  We continually traveled off the beaten track to markets and facilities that tourists were clearly a novelty to witness.  We even traveled to a nomad camp and learned about the minimalist life of a travelling, herding community.  These homes were made of sticks and cloth with ovens that were simply holes in the ground with a metal covering.  We were miles from civilization sharing tea and learning about the daily lives of a woman and her mother.IMG_0568 - Copy.JPGThe more we learned, the more I was thankful I had studied abroad instead of traveled independently.  Travelling with an advisor that spoke the language allowed me to understand the challenges and systems that shape life in Morocco.  The tourist days in cities and the desert were great photo opportunities but every story I came back with started along the side of a road with a farmer happy for an excuse to take a well deserved break.  I can always google better pictures of Morocco than I will ever be able to take personally but I have stories and connections like no one else in the world.  The personal connection is the difference between study abroad and personal travel.  The difference between witnessing a culture and letting that culture forever change you.

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Spain

First Time Abroad- Madrid, 2017

{Mallory Gorman, Junior in Agricultural Engineering, Semester study abroad in Madrid, Spain, Spring 2017}

Early this January, I headed to the airport with my parents to begin my semester long adventure! I had never left the country before, so I was feeling a whole bunch of emotions… excitement, nerves, and everything in between. I was going with nobody I knew, and I was going to be living with a host family. This trip brought many ‘firsts’ for me, but I knew it would end up being a good thing.

It has been almost exactly 1 month now, and I was right. This experience definitely is turning out to be a good thing. I am meeting so many new people, seeing so many amazing places, trying a crazy variety of foods, and learning more than I ever could in just a classroom.

I am taking 5 classes at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICAI, the engineering school. It’s really cool being at a different university, especially because this one is so different than UIUC. This school is very small, and it’s placed directly in the center of Madrid. It honestly feels like the exact opposite of UIUC. I can’t say that it’s better, and I can’t say that it’s worse. It’s just different. Also, living with a host family is giving me many opportunities to practice my Spanish skills. Immersion is definitely the key to learning a language.

As for traveling, as I said before, prior to this experience I had never left the USA. I now understand what people mean when they say they catch the ‘travel bug’. It’s a very real thing. So far I have traveled to Toledo, Spain, Berlin, Germany, and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands. Thinking of these 3 places as well as Madrid, each one has taught me something a little bit different. I am loving seeing different cultures and ways of life, and it’s teaching me a lot about my own culture.

If you are ever on the fence about whether to study abroad or not, I am here to tell you to do it. Make it happen. Start planning your school schedule early in advance so you can fit it in and start applying for scholarships. I’m not even halfway through, and I can already say that this experience will be one of my favorite college memories.

#ILLINOISabroad

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Morocco

All in a Hard Day’s Work

Mechanization has not reached much of Morocco but the effects of that didn’t fully sink in until our stop with some farmers that were planting onion sprouts in their field.  We gathered around the family who eagerly welcomed us over and after a short introduction handed each of us bundles of onion sprouts and pointed towards the field.  img_0240-copyWe spread out among a few rows and began planting alongside the farmers.  The laughter didn’t stop from both sides as the farmers enjoyed the novelty of foreigners helping in their field and we enjoyed their kind praise of our sub-par work.  As we neared the end of our row, farmers and students paired up for pictures, each equally excited to capture the rare opportunity.  img_0244We finished our rows and took one more group picture before waving goodbye and piling back onto the bus.  As much fun as we had helping the farmers plant a few rows of onion sprouts, I never found a comfortable position to complete the task.  We only completed a few rows but I took multiple breaks to stretch my back and roll my neck.  As I looked down the field to see hundreds of hand planted sprouts, I couldn’t help but feel dismayed at their living situation.  This was their life for days on end every year of their lives.  Although we all enjoyed their enthusiasm as we “helped” them plant, they still had weeks of work doing the same back breaking work we only had a glimpse of.  Experiences like this strengthened my resolve to work for a worldwide difference.  I have the education to make a difference and there is no one more deserving than those who are struggling to simply survive.

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ACES 298 In the Dominican Republic

During my time studying abroad, in the Dominican Republic, I created memories like no other. The trip gave me the opportunity to experience and learn about new agricultural systems (along with fun tourism of course). I never saw myself doing something like this before I signed up for the trip and deciding to is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

We spent two fun days at the beach, there we saw a variety of different cultural aspects, things that you would never see in the United States. Things like music, boxing recreation, vendors, caribbean food and dancing are some of the things we saw on the beach. It truly is an experience that is impossible to describe without experiencing.

The best part about the trip was the friendships I created and discovered. I met some of the most welcoming Dominican college students that I will never forget and will contact for years to come. It was crazy how close we became in just a few short days together.

I had a great time trying to learn and master the Spanish language. The dominicans found it funny when I told them all I hear when they  speak is “blah blah blah blah”. I know now it is a lot easier to learn the language by being surrounded by it rather than sitting in a classroom and learning it.

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

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Mondragon, Tanzania, Africa UIUC Wildtrax

It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in a foreign country, the language however was something that became quite familiar in the two weeks that I spent in gorgeous Tanzania. This isn’t your typical aesthetic beauty, but the warmth of the people, the rugged landscape, the breathtaking sights. Seeing wildlife that we only browse in zoos no more than 50 meters from us. Waking up in the red dirt of the Ngorongoro Crater to zebras and the shrieks of a family of baboons is an experience many don’t ever experience. The whole trip was filled with game drives, visits to markets and schools but it wouldn’t have been the same without the great people that surrounded us every day. Thompsons Enashiva provided us the unique opportunity of staying with the masai people and sharing their way of life. It was an enriching experience that was able to open many doors for me, I took full advantage of this great opportunity taking every unique chance I got. To put it simply it was an experience I’ll never forget. img_5526

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

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Dominican Republic, Freshmen Discovery Program

ACES 298: Trip to Jamaica

One of my favorite memories from this trip has to be when we went to the Blue Mountains.  This is where one of the most popular brands of coffee beans are grown.  When we first got there we were talked to about coffee and its origin and how it is the second most drank drink in the world (coming after water).  We then made our way up the mountain on about a twenty minute hike.  This was a change of pace compared to what we had been doing on the trip the previous days which was nice.  On the way up we had a chance to look at the coffee beans growing and why the damp environment they grow in is so important for success.  Once we got to the top the view was breathtaking.  Although it was raining that didn’t stop us from taking pictures.  There was a beautiful rainbow overlooking the mountains making the hike up the mountain  even more worth it.  This was one of my favorite of many memories on this trip.

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