A change of habits.

Standard

When I decided to study abroad, I knew and at same time didn’t know what was awaiting. I mean, I moved to the United States from Russia already; what may I not know about cultural adaptation and living in a new environment? As it turns out, I never fully paid attention to how much my values and living habits have changed in this year and a half spent in Philadelphia. Now that I am in Zagreb, this shift has happened once again – to help me realize how the place and the society we live in shapes and restructures us, to match itself. We might assume we foster the change, as if we are in power to choose – to adapt or not to adapt. But in reality, a change in the mindset is inevitable.

It starts with little things – like eating habits, for me at least – how can we not talk about food now?!

  • I go grocery shopping nearly 3 times a week (not only because our European fridge is tiny, I swear) – but also because that’s how a lot of people do it here. Stocking up on foods for weeks is not a common practice in Croatia, and all over the continent here. I go to markets for fresh fruits and vegetables, and honey, and meat – because there is just so many of them all around. I have also started to cook at home a lot more. For Croats (for Russians as well, and for many Europeans!) time spent cooking is never wasted. To help my reader understand how important it is – during my Croatian language class, we were learning the names of different eating places (cafe, restaurant, bistro etc.), and she said – I am going to quote her here – “Well what is the first thing that comes to mind? Kod kuće (Croatian – at home) of course!” It is difficult to find takeout food, so I have also developed a habit of taking a prepared lunch with me. Food trucks don’t exist, and looking for a bite may take hours, if you are not in the touristy area.

    img_6291

    Dolac market – located in the central area, is the biggest and most famous market of Zagreb. It also happens to oh-so-conveniently be an 8 minute walk from my house!

  • I learned to enjoy walking again, walking to everywhere, just like I did some years ago in Saint Petersburg. Back in the States, it felt a bit weird to do that – because it is inconvenient to get to some parts of Philly if you’re on your own two feet, instead of your own four wheels. In Zagreb, the streets are created ideally for both cars and pedestrians to get through. Some even don’t allow car entry at all – especially in the city center. So if you want to go to a little bookstore down on Gajeva street, for example (the main pedestrian area) – forget about even trying to drive and park there. Some of my European exchange friends even walk to school every day – even if it takes them 30-40 minutes.

    IMG_2704

    Cvjetni trg – a square, where cars are not allowed.

  • The amount of poems, novels I read greatly outweighs my business readings – and my visits to museums have outnumbered the business conferences and talks I’ve visited. I have mentioned already that Croats take time out to simply enjoy life, to do the things they truly like doing – even if it requires trading in some work time. I have always loved reading, but never had time to read and truly appreciate Tolstoy, V. Hugo, Nabokov, and other wonderful writers since I have started college. I have always felt myself under pressure, hearing this little voice in my head, “Read about economics, read about marketing and don’t forget the daily newspapers, or you’re not getting a job after!” Maybe it is European cultural charm that’s affecting me, the concentration of wisdom, history and culture that hides in every other building, statue, and rock in the pavement is indescribable.
  • I have learned to live in the moment. Of course thinking about the future (at least a week ahead) is still important for me, as I like to keep my schedule organized. But instead of sticking to a very tight one and writing out my plans for every minute of a day, I now choose to leave out some “breathing” space. For a spontaneous visit to the movies, a weekend trip somewhere, or a simple walk around a park. As someone very dear to my heart told me once,“Life is what happens to you, while you’re planning.” The best things always come when you least expect them, and being available and open for them is the key.
  • I don’t stress anymore, and I’ve never been on a deeper level of harmony with myself, and the world. This is something I’ve acquired not due to living in Croatia, a country of people who simply don’t worry. It is probably because I have changed my surroundings this many times – people who have studied abroad twice will understand. After a certain point, a sequence of difficulties you have been put through, smaller problems stop eating up your nerves as much. I know that if I didn’t get a job, or an opportunity to travel somewhere I really wanted to, a better opportunity is waiting for me right around the corner. This overall state, this understanding that the life doesn’t end after one failure, has helped a lot throughout my semester in Croatia; when you’re new to a place, things don’t usually go just like you want them to – and accepting it is the best, the healthiest way.

 

 

 

 

Meet The Students

Standard

My passion for service started when I volunteered at Riverview Medical Center at the age of 13. I started out in a surgery unit and after a couple weeks I expanded my horizons. I worked in several wings of the hospital, including the emergency room, oncology services, and the maternity ward. I wanted to know the entire hospital. There was something very fulfilling about using my knowledge and interpersonal skills at the hospital…so fulfilling that I have chosen to participate in work like this ever since.

13255957_870606639734532_4670003744189328156_nLikewise, my study abroad program in Jamaica emphasizes the role of service learning. 12 of us students applied for this program specifically for the service-learning component. This program offers a complex teaching and learning environment that is designed to enhance learning through the process of connecting academic course content with service opportunities in the Jamaican community. Never before have I met such hard working, passionate, and inspiring individuals. I interviewed a student from each of the five service sites that we partnered with in Jamaica. It was such a pleasure to hear their stories and I want to share them along with mine.

Julia is a senior double major in Global Studies and Spanish. She chose to serve at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority because she is interested in international communities and economic development. She created a system called Farm Smart that encourages farmers to be environmentally conscious. It includes an assessment that extension officers can use to approve farms as “Farm Smart.” She hopes that Farm Smart will become a network of sustainable farmers that help and support one another.

 

13174222_866907936771069_6997818635230605583_nAllegra is a junior Public Health major. She chose to serve at Yallahs High School because she is interested in teaching a Health, Family, and Life Education course. When she met with school and faculty to address common issues, they came to a consensus that they will create a life skills workshop.

Dariel is a graduate student and studies Adult & Organizational Development. Of all the sites, Dariel felt as though the Women’s Centre was perfect for her to exercise her knowledge and skills. She is currently working on a vision board project with pregnant teenagers and teen moms in order to create a visual representation of their goals for themselves and their children. Next, she will start a peer mentorship program, where former students at the Women’s Centre are paired with new students in order to provide support, encouragement, experience, and a listening ear.

13278007_1131085360248332_1036407672_nEmily is a senior Psychology major with an Education minor. She has always been interested in the childhood and adolescent stages of life. When she heard that our program partners with Yallahs Primary School to work with students with aggressive behavior, she knew this was the right site for her. She meets with the students every Tuesday and Thursday to help facilitate the group. Some activities she has planned involve mindfulness, meditation, and role-playing.

13164385_867553450039851_8050133477594204928_n-2I am a senior Psychology major with Sociology minor. I, too, facilitate with Emily. In addition, I do community-based research with the Change From Within team at The University of West Indies. We partner with successful urban schools in Kingston and examine how they succeed despite very trying circumstances. We look for patterns of success and then facilitate other schools in the area that could benefit from our framework. Right now, we are in the early phases but I am hoping to find significant results that the Kingston school district can learn from and use long after I am gone.

It is so refreshing to be around people who are trying to create positive change. At the dinner table we discuss our progress, during outings we point out things that remind us of our site, and before we go to sleep we lie in bed and share our hopes and fears. There is this mutual respect for each other because we all share a common goal: to learn and to serve.

13232863_870606673067862_6295590931440961811_n

 

Ready? Set? No.

Standard

Elizabeth Holleigh Christie        So I was thinking last night… You know how thoughts in your head are just kind of static? Flashes of ideas— ever so often a word or two, but mostly they’re just a voiceless shifting mess in your brain. Until, of course,  a spark hits it. It finds all its parts and translates itself into real words— a sentence. Something you can say and then… it’s real. In an instant. Just like that. It was nothing and then, materialized into something meaningful.

Right now, that’s how this experience feels. It feels like I’m just a piece of the voiceless mess, frantically trying to link things together. But I know, once my plane lands in Berlin, that’ll be the spark. Everything will fall into place, for the inspiring better or the comedic worse.
I’m hopeful. Of course I am. But I’m also prepared for the worst. “The worst” is my specialty. In fact, I’m pretty sure “Murphy’s Law” is etched in my family’s crest. Even still, I hold on to idealistic daydreams of what it will be like.

        But you know how I mention it not exactly being not real yet? That really throws a wrench in my ability to agonize over it, day and night. No, instead I tend to agonize over what I’m leaving behind. My family, my job, and most importantly, my dogs. They’re all pretty much the same thing. My family (my mom and two older sisters) and I run a pet care service. We walk dogs and take them to the park. We post pictures to Instagram and send silly “pup-dates” to their owners. I see those happy tails every day. I desperately try to make my sisters laugh every day.  That’s my life. The chaos of it all doesn’t change much, but I worry about missing a moment of it. I love my job. I smile and laugh every day because of it. I wonder if not having a golden retriever climb on top of me every day will affect my overall mood. I wonder if I’ll be noticeably more solemn without a lab pulling my arm out of its socket on the way to the park. It’s silly, I know. But thinking about things to come, I guess that might be the hardest. But now that I’m sitting here thinking about what could happen while I’m there, I’m finding it easier to fixate on unhappy possibilities. So, in the spirit of “What could go wrong?” I made a list. 

My list of concerns is as follows:  

  • Prez the Boston Terrier and Charlie Rooz the German Shepard not getting enough hugs.
  • Not knowing enough German and the local residents yelling at me.
  • The food being terrible
  • Blanking on what German I do know, and flunking the placement exam causing me to retake a course I’ve already taken and the entire endeavor being for naught.

  • Not being able to keep up.

  • Not having packed the right shoes.

  • Losing socks and having to wear mismatched pairs.

  • The weather being bad.

  • Longing for S’mores, but not being able to obtain or consume S’mores.

  • My classmates thinking I’m an idiot.

  • Getting lost and ending up in The Czech Republic.

  • Trying to get to to The Czech Republic and end up in Poland.

  • Finding Nemo 2 coming out and not being able to avoid spoilers before I can go home and see it in English.
  • Crying myself to sleep and my roommates hearing me…. or joining in.
  • My suite mates knowing less German than I do and no English, so we spend our days communicating through awkward and elaborate charades.

 

  • My adapter plug not working for my hair drier, resulting 4 weeks of uncontrollable medusa frizz.

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing. But at this point, simply seeing the words “placement test” make my stomach knot. I know I’m gonna get that test and forget every conjugation I’ve ever learned. I might just go into a panic-induced trance and do the whole thing in Old English. Who knows.

I have a whole week left to stress out about convoluted circumstances. But here, in the U.S., it’s a holiday weekend, which means dogs, dogs, and more dogs! Maybe even hotdogs!  I’ve still got a lot to keep my brain from spinning too fast around the possibilities. The spark isn’t here yet. But I spend more and more time with each passing night, lying in my bed, marinading in uncertainty… What? I’m sorry. That was weird way to say that. Uh…. I still have time to deliberate over the forthcoming unknown…. Ugh. That wasn’t much better. Okay. Well, then without a proper ending. I’m gonna call this one quits. The next post will have lots of pictures and… I don’t know, probably some funny stories. Stay tuned! I’ll catch you on the other side of the Atlantic!

A New Home & Family

Standard


9e353c1d-b0f5-4807-aec4-9eab9c0befc9

The Temple Summer Study Abroad Program in Jamaica is unique and separates itself from other programs because it combines service and learning. It stresses ecological perspectives and group dynamics. I have only been in Jamaica for a week and I am starting to appreciate life in a way I am not used to. I am much more mindful of my surroundings and the people around me.

8d13a85e-7aef-48c9-9139-954c160a4277

My bedroom is conveniently located next to the backyard beach.

In order to go on this program, you had to sign up to live at Carleva Bay Villa; a beach house decorated in Caribbean decor. Of course, I did not hesitate at the sound of “beach front villa.” It is simply stunning. There are 3 bedrooms, occupied by 12 Temple students, and there are 5 main common areas in my house.
b4428856-74cd-435e-b837-99f853091ee6

Mrs. D and Lisa occupy the kitchen and create authentic home made Jamaican dishes for us to eat morning and night. Lunch is on our own and that offers us a chance for us to go into Yallahs Square and immerse ourselves in the local neighborhood. I always believed food brings people together, so in this short amount of time we have gotten very close to our chefs. We even call them by their pet names, which is an intimate custom in Jamaica. Pet names are given at birth and only significant others address the other by their pet name. We eat our homemade meals in a large dining table that seats up to 20 people. At my house in NJ we do not usually eat as a family. That was a habit I always wanted my family to have. Here in Jamaica, I feast with my new study abroad family.

17249f97-2735-4d74-8437-ca00fd76df4d

The living room is connected to the dining room. Here you can find pictures of local landscapes mounted on the walls and antique African wicker seating. Lovely white mesh curtains flow in the wind as our home is ventilated with the ocean breeze. Jamaican homes are constructed in ways that allow a constant ebb and flow of ventilation and this can be done through intricate wall openings. I am finding my courses to be writing and reading intensive, so this living room offers a place where you can study peacefully. Most of the students study here, sipping on fresh mango and ginger juice to pass the time.

81fd9261-8e46-4cf4-a46c-ebcbb91f4571.jpgAdjacent to the living room is the outdoor atrium. This is where classes take place. Not many people can say they get to learn in an environment like this. It may be outdoors, but it is still very conducive to learning. The sun peaks through the open ceiling and the breeze flows in from all directions. No matter what room I am in, I hear the calm ocean tides and smell the salty beach air. My senses are always stimulated and this keeps me awake for our 2 hour class. So far we have read and discussed books like Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, by Manfred B. Steger and Learning Through Service, by Christine M. Cress. Each of us in the group brings new knowledge and insight to class and I learn something new everyday. For example, Julia’s finance background sheds light on the economic side of globalization whereas Mara’s Africology background informs us on more cultural aspects.

13173818_866896316772231_4547980063202093078_n.jpg

After a long day of studying, walking around Yallahs, and swimming in the clear blue ocean, you can find me rocking away on a bed that hangs from a shady tree encompassing the backyard. It is a great place to unwind and one time I fell asleep without even trying to. I looked up and woke up to the dark starry sky. I have never seen this many stars in my life before. I wanted to stay out there all night, but I thought I’d sleep early so I could watch the sunrise, too. I made my way over to the outdoor showers. We have the option of showering inside, however, you have to turn the water pump on. These days, I want to take advantage of this beautiful country and do everything outside. As I washed the sand off my body, I looked up and saw the half crescent moon. Every night in the shower I look up and take note of the the moon phases. It is the little things like that that truly ground me. I have seen my share of places, but never before have I felt so connected to a place, both physically and mentally. I am amazed by how fast I was able to consider Carleva Bay Villa my home.

Looking Ahead

Standard

If they told me that I would have a host brother who would teach my more about Pokémon than I knew at that age, I would have brushed up before I arrived to Monteverde. If they told me that I would have a host father who knew more about local edible plants than I did about the origins of my McDonald’s take-out, I would have been skeptical. If they told me I would have a mama tica, abuela tica, hermana tica that would welcome me into their home as if I were their own, I would have prepared myself better for the goodbyes. Yet, these feelings do not even scratch the surface about how I feel about my professors and friends, my study abroad family.

Now it is time to look ahead, to plan where I am going after I land in PHL. Obviously, the next stop is naturally my home in Bensalem, PA. I cannot forget my family who sacrificed luxuries for me to have educational opportunities like I did in Costa Rica. I will start my work in my evolutionary biology lab for the summer in about a week and begin to live on campus again. I will not see my work, my studies, in the same light as I did before this semester.  I will be working to conserve the biodiversity of Haiti through frog speciation, and learning the underlying issues of the developing world has shed new light on the importance of preserving cultural, biological, and economic diversity. What I have learned is not to narrow my passion for ecology, but rather to include all facets of sustainability—from environmental to social justice.

I have learned to be more patient with myself and others. Life in Monteverde, though focused around tourism, was slower that it is in Philadelphia. There was a revelation at some point when I remembered that I was a college sophomore but had the language skills of a three-year-old, and learning to cope with language barriers gives me more self-understanding for the future (and perhaps some lower standards). Sitting at the dinner and waiting to be offered dessert rather than assuming and taking has given me some table manners and definitely a lot of self-discipline. Lacking internet for weeks a time has given me new appreciation for living in the moment, living a bit more unplugged. In the future, I see myself going more unplugged in my daily life. It sounds hypocritical as I sit here posting this blog, but no, I really did not need to see what I missing on campus every hour of every day. In the future, I will be giving myself more time without the constant stimulation of technology.

IMG_3767

The girls and I wish each other and Costa Rica the best.

 

IMG_0555

I will even miss carrying gravel.

More than anything, I have learned to celebrate differences—differences in lifestyle, in food, in language, in housing. It is safe to say that I am far from done traveling. In the back of my mind, there will always be the reminder I learned on “sustainable tourism day:” there is no such thing as an invisible traveler. Where I spend my dollars or colones or euros buys into a system that is encouraged by consumerism, consuming culture and leaving impressions of what Americans like to do and buy. If I could, in my travels, close the culture gap and make meaningful contributions by staying in locally-owned lodges or eating local food rather than buying into Western comfort, I can enjoy my times abroad with the knowledge that I am promoting personal, sustainable tourism and intercultural connections.

Looking Back

Standard

I had a 30-40-minute walk to class and back to my homestay everyday the past three months. The mornings that I walked alone, I thought. I looked up, saw the mountains, and took in the beauty of another Monteverde morning. On the walks with a friend, the view was accompanied by stories of our tica families, our studies back in the States, perhaps whining sessions about upcoming exams. Sometimes our walks were with a larger group, the neighborhood crew all heading to class together; it was like a party. Every day and every walk here had value.

Six days a week, on average, I woke up around 6:30 am to another adventure. Well, this would be true if I was not jolted awake by the roosters right outside my window. I have decided to become a vegetarian this semester. Yet for some reason, I have no sympathy for those chickens that so rudely crow at 4:00 am. My host mother or father then made breakfast and lunch for my brother and I, and without a doubt I could always look forward to gallo pinto and huevo revuelto (a common dish of mixed rice, beans, and cilantro with scrambled eggs) and probably more rice and beans and some vegetables for lunch. Yes, I have eaten rice and beans at least two out of three meals a day for three months. But I have to say, as a creature of habit, that I enjoyed it by the end.

IMG_6889

I can’t leave without going to our favorite reused fabric workshop for some unique souvenirs!

My arrival to the Study Center preceded class or my internship until lunchtime, then Spanish for three hours. These were long days, but I look at them fondly. I remember the moments mid-semester when I hit a plateau with my Spanish, with my studies, with my interest in being abroad. I think of those days and the walks home with my friends, commiserating over the constant rice and beans and motorcycles rolling by. The final two weeks brought a sense of relief and nostalgia that our rigorous program was almost over, but also never again will we have this time together in Costa Rica again. My classmates and I came from all over, representing 14 universities from Philly, D.C., California, Colorado, Iowa, and more. We came from varying levels of Spanish knowledge—from “all I know is hola type of gringo” to “yeah I can read it pretty well, but do not ask me to have a conversation type of gringo.” Though I cannot speak for every one of my classmates, I am happy to say we are now no longer afraid to start a conversation in our adopted language.

IMG_6895

The last lecture.

There are parts of Costa Rica’s history and society that I know better than the United States’.  I would be lying if I did not admit that I have learned more in the last three months about myself, humanity, language, and nature than any other period in my life. I loved this semester. To know how I am going to move forward after completing my last final and saying nos vemos to my tica family, I had to look back and reflect of all my days here, good and bad, boring and euphoric.

-How would I recommend studying abroad in Costa Rica?

-With absolute certainty.

Professional Development Abroad & My Birthday :)

Standard

The first part of this post is devoted to all of my friends who use ¨missing out on internships¨ or ¨not growing as a professional¨ while studying abroad as excuses not to go. Now, I cannot speak for every major, but I sure can for those of you who are in the business schools all around the United States. To be fair, I too was a bit afraid that I will have absolutely nothing to put on my resume because of departing Philadelphia. I know how it feels having to choose between going abroad and being professionally competitive, and it’s no fun. As it turns out, having both is possible – and one should not be pressured to pick one or the other. Surprisingly even for myself, Zagreb is bursting with career fairs, conferences, young professionals from all around the world and opportunities – all you need is to open your eyes and do some research (knowing the language helps, too).

A couple weeks ago, as I have already mentioned, there was the Student Future Day at my university. I have already gotten several e-mails from companies, saying they are in the process of reviewing our applications – and one interview call. In addition to it, this week I have attended a conference, called LEAP summit. It was a three day event, full of meeting new people, networking and useful insights from wonderful Croatian, Australian, German, American, British, and many other, speakers. Just to give my readers an idea of the event’s scale: 1000 participants and companies like Walt Disney, IBM, Google, P&G under one roof. To say that I was amazed is to not say anything. I have learned things about business and marketing that I would not have been able to learn just from reading books and attending lectures. Among other good things, I now have business contacts all around Europe, and know how people of different origins think and do work.

IMG_4527

A panel session with 4 HR managers about how to score that job/internship

IMG_4479

Russia/USA, Macedonia & Germany in one picture.

What is the main take out from it, you would ask? Not to let fears about professional life and the upcoming job hunt scare you away from the idea of studying abroad. I wish I had started to research events like this as soon as I arrived – but there’s still time to fix things, isn’t there?:)

Now, another important something happened this week – my 20th birthday! Given the fact that my last birthday in a foreign country (United States of America, last year) I spent cleaning my dorm room, packing things to move out and passing macroeconomics final until 8 pm – I wasn’t too enthusiastic about what this year was going to bring. It turned out to be the greatest one yet.

In the morning, one of my roommates, Ina, took me down from my room to the kitchen, where a cake, flowers and some champagne from all three of them were waiting (if you guys are reading this – I love you and you made my day).

IMG_4461

Thanks Ina, Thib and Coco:)

After a tiring but productive day at the conference, I arrived home and my Russian friends came over – surprise! – with a cake, 20 lit & brightly burning candles and a birthday song. Our boys (Thibault & Coco, my and Ina’s roommates) cooked Mexican dinner for all of us – this evening was the highlight of my time here and I don’t remember when I last felt so loved and cared for:)

 

IMG_4543

Roomies >

IMG_4547

Roomies❤ and the main cathedral behind us

The next day my Croatian friends, as well as the Russian girls, came over, and we had another round of fun, celebration and dancing together. Now I don’t know what a perfect birthday looks like to my readers – but to me, I couldn’t wish for more. Who would think I’d be able to surround myself with such wonderful people in just 3 months of being in a foreign country? But I did, and I laugh – which only proves me to be the happiest person alive, thanks to them.

 

IMG_4590

From New Jersey to Jamaica: A Reflection.

Standard

Ever since I was little I have been writing in journals. I knew as I aged I could look back in hindsight and reflect on the pages that documented my memories. A typical journal entry would read as a fun day around my hometown in New Jersey. For example, I wrote about the hot summer days at Pier Village Beach and the thrills of going on various rides at Six Flags Great Adventure. Fast forward a couple years and now my journal entries reflect on the places I explore in Philadelphia and the social and professional connections I am making at Temple University. However, my latest journal entries are about the experience I am about to embark on to Jamaica. Like journals, blogs more or less work in the same fashion. Once I return home to the U.S., I anticipate that I will reread my blog posts and experience all sorts of emotions that contradict each other: happy to be home…but sad to leave a place that became a second home, and relieved to be back in a country that I know like the back of my hand…but already yearning for more cultural assimilation in Jamaica.

Currently, I am experiencing the following emotions such as excitement, anxiety, and curiosity. I am excited to travel outside of the U.S. for my first time, anxious to take on the variety of unknown experiences, and curious to understand another society’s culture. As I feel these emotions I ask myself, “How will traveling to a rural area change my current perspectives…how will I deal with the initial culture shock… will Jamaicans like me?” I try to answer my internal thoughts by utilizing the people and resources around me.

scholarship recipients

Vira Heinz Scholarship leadership training in Pittsburgh, PA

On March 18, I took my very first plane ride to Pittsburgh for the Vira I. Heinz (VIH) Women In Global Leadership Conference. I was proud to represent Temple University as the VIH scholarship recipient because those who selected me believed that, as a woman, I have what it takes to lead in and out of my country. That recognition alone inspires me to act as a leader every day. As one of our pre-departure assignments, I interviewed an international student. I reached out to a student from Budapest. I learned so much about Dmitrij – especially about his plan to conquer his long term goals while abroad in the U.S. and the shifts in perspectives since he arrived.

Also, I spoke to members of The Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness (SOCA). Although I do not identify as Caribbean, they happily welcomed me at their meeting. I enjoyed hearing them discuss social, political, economic, and cultural issues that occur within the islands. They also shared with me their favorite dishes, secret hot spot locations, and the terminology that Jamaicans frequently use.

After speaking to various people, I feel more comfortable about interacting with a new population and environment. I learned that Dmitrij was experiencing the same emotions as me and the advice I received from the members of SOCA helps me feel more knowledgeable of every day life in Jamaica. In addition, my participation in VIH Conference prepared me for the global challenges I may face abroad. In a sense, I feel lucky to have all of these people and resources preparing me, but I know it is my hard work and professional relationships that got me here. I can not wait to extend my work and relationships in Jamaica.

Miamia, Yorkin

Standard

Well, first we took a bus for a few hours to the Costa Rican-Panamanian border. Then, we hopped in some hollowed out trees-turned canoes. Next, we rode upstream on the River Sixaola for about an hour and a half until we reached the village of Yorkin. A local woman guided us up the steps to thatched, open-air buildings past cacao trees holding fruit diseased with the Minolia fungus. The sun was setting so we set up at our cabins quickly. Returning to the central comedor, we ate rice and beans and zucchini and platanos chips by candlelight, as the solar-powered panels did not work that day and this, our next field trip stop, had no running electricity.

IMG_6776

Stiprawpa: “Cultural Artisans”

Ish be’shke’na.                                                          How are you?

Ye’shke’na buaebuae.                                              I am good.

The primary language in Yorkin is Spanish, but it is not the native tongue. That is BriBri, a language only written as of about a dozen years ago but is thousands of years old. In BriBri, there is a word for the collective family of indigenous people around the Americas—yamipa. Only until recent years has the BriBri culture been celebrated and revived in the region; there is an entire generation alive that cannot speak the language. For them, they were not taught BriBri in school, were forced to speak Spanish, and soon enough the language was in danger. Thanks to the linguistic knowledge of the elders in the community, the BriBri is in the process of being recorded and is now revived throughout the culture.

IMG_6806

Early morning walks to remember how beautiful our world is

This is only one story of triumph within this community. Twenty-five years ago, the BriBri women saw a drastic shift in attitude toward their native culture. Communities around the area were shifting from their traditional cacao agroforestry models to more lucrative banana and plantain production. With that came the loss of Caribbean lowland forests and pure water for some time. Yet for the entirety of our stay, we were fortunate to have beautiful, naturally purified tap water. One woman in the community took the initiative to receive funding from the United Nations for her education, where she learned management practices and finances. She saw an opportunity to bring tourists to her town and, with some convincing, formed Stibrawpa (meaning Cultural Artisans in Bribri). Stibrawpa is an organization committed to enhancing local livelihoods throughout touristic opportunities while maintaining cultural richness. Soon, her husband learned up-and-coming agricultural methods to preserve agroforestry, and the community saw a turn around regarding both economics and morale.

My time with the BriBri was peaceful. For the BriBri, chocolate is a sacred item, required in traditional ceremonies and sometimes around the dinner table (if you are gringos like us). Trips to the rivers, cleaned on their meandering travels down the Talamancas, will remain some of my fondest memories from my semester abroad. Waking up to the clattering of cicadas and croaking of toads far surpasses the roar of motorcycles and piercing sirens of ambulances rushing by. Learning a few new words in BriBri and making chocolate from tree-to-table gave me a new appreciation that there is still so much more to learn in Costa Rica than I will have time for in these months. Here’s to my final weeks living the pura vida lifestyle.

IMG_6801

“The world is sad, let’s not destroy it,” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Miamia. Senisawë, Yorkin.                                                  Thank you. Goodbye, Yorkin.

The View from the Other Side

Standard

It was 3:30 am and my alarm was breaking my light slumber. It was time to start my fourth and final day in Nicaragua. My classmates, professors, and I were embarking on our “migrant hike,” accompanied by two migrant food workers as our guides. For decades, our older guide traveled across the border to find work on pineapple, sugar cane, orange, or banana plantations or whatever employment he can find. The other trabajador was sixteen years old and crossed the border to earn money for both his high school education and family food. He told us that he wants to go to university to become a civil engineer.

IMG_6693

A single fence divides the border

This hike was not a source of pride or accomplishment at the end. After my hike, I was able to return to my beautiful view of the Río San Juan at our hostel. At the end of our guides’ hikes on a normal day, they may have a 12-hour work day ahead on a pineapple plantation in the unceasing heat and blistering sun. Yet this is only the beginning of a long harvest season, making no more than $2-3 a day. They are not unionized and have no desire to unionize—the fear of corruption constantly plagues the good intentions of the whole. If they were lucky, they would obtain face masks to protect themselves from the carcinogenic chemicals. These chemicals push pineapple plantations to hire employees 50 years or older, as the general lifetime of a pineapple worker is 20-30 years after employment begins.

This story is all-too-common. It happens at the Hueco (in English, the hole a.k.a. the border region between the United States and Mexico), here between the Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and all around the world. Those economies that receive migrant workers rely on this cheap labor to keep their production high and their costs low. Those localities that contribute migrant workers gain valuable income to their economies but lose the chance to develop their personal infrastructure. It is a practice all governments are aware of, but a blind eye is turned to the rights of undocumented workers for safety, fair wages, and the opportunity to find residence in their place of work.

IMG_6637

On top of El Castillo, a fortress constructed in the late 17th century to defend the region from pirates of the Caribbean

So we return to the early morning fog. The sun had still yet to break the darkness that surrounds the dried mud. We were lucky; it had not rained well for a long time. The lengthy and severe drought had been felt in all corners of Central America we visited. The mud, as we were told, would have found it’s way up to our knees had we come in the rainy season, doubling the time and the misery. We walked through farm after farm, passing cows waking to graze, roosters beginning to crow. The humidity had us swimming in sweat before we could see the person a few feet in front of our face.

The challenge ahead is uncomfortable. Will I allow the privilege as an American abroad open my eyes? Will I share this story not as mine to appropriate, but to guide my choices as a consumer, as a human being standing up to injustice?

IMG_6649

So long, Nicaragua

Student Future Day, Internship Hunt and Summer in Zagreb.

Standard

As of right now, I have no clue what I am doing this summer yet, and oh man is that stressful. While my friends all around the world have their road trips written out day-to-day, secured internships and signed up for summer classes, I am still in search of my own lovely journey. But a bit of uncertainty here and there is okay sometimes, even for the most organized people on this planet. In addition, I don’t know a single successful person in history who would always be sure about their even nearest future – Mark Twain almost died on a duel even before writing Tom Sawyer. I’m not comparing myself to Mark Twain, but I think I’m good where I am.:)

My initial plan as the Christmas holidays had passed was to intern this summer somewhere else in Europe (not in Croatia). I’ve started researching options, but as in turns out (wow surprise!) – the probability of finding an internship without a) speaking the language and b) having some business contacts is almost equal to zero. I still had some options for top employment spots, around France and Germany, but decided to give a Croatian internship search a shot. Even before my arrival here (call me a weirdo) I already started to think about how difficult it would be to leave. Seriously, isn’t it harder to ‘live the experience,’ when you have your ticket back and a scheduled time of something else (like an internship, or a vacation) starting? For me at least it is – so I got a one-way air fare, and settled in for the idea of interning in Zagreb, or – worst case scenario – taking summer language courses. Honestly, either way, I would really love to stay here for at least a month once the program is over, and here are some reasons why.

Zagreb has a lot of amazing things happening this summer. Its tourist exposure is growing outrageously every year; earlier, people who visited Croatia would just fly into the country, skip its capital completely and head down to the coast. Now, however, more and more visitors are being drawn into the city – by its rich and complicated history, cozy streets and broad range of museums, exposition & concert halls, open-air events to choose from. For us, residents, tourists are actually doing a huge favor – I will disagree with all of my friends here, who say Zagreb has become “too touristy” – they are bringing the life back into town, forcing the tourist board to organize fun events all over the place. Among my favorite projects and things I am excited for the most:

  • Summer on Stross – Strossmartre. One of the main promenades in the upper town turns into a huge show – life music in the evenings, artists, entreatment, an open bar and even a cinema under the stars!

    IMG_0259

    Stross last year. Such a lovely way to spend your evening!

  • InMusic Festival on Jarun lake – named as the best buy festival in Europe, because of its affordability and a cool line-up. It lasts for three days, and people from out of town come and sleep in tents right in the park near the lake! Luckily, I have an apartment here😀
  • Zagreb Time Machine – a series of events popping up at the major spots of interest, telling the old tale of the city. A kumica (a peasant woman) walking around the biggest market Dolac on Saturday morning, a folklore performance on the main square, changing of the guard in order to give honor to the past – and many more. They even have a schedule of what is going to appear, when and where, for the most curious visitors, who don’t want to miss anything:)
  • Red and Blue cycles of the Zagreb philharmonic – okay, for music nerds like me, this is a great series of concerts. I am excited for the opportunity to finally see Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, where all the major classical music events happen – and also excited to see a Russian conductor on one of the concerts. #pride
  • Fantastic Zagreb Film Festival – open air festival of different genre films (thrillers, short films, fantasy), on a wonderful cinema-under-the-stars venue, Tuškanac, not far from the city center. One of the screenings for the festival will be organized on the mountain Medvednica – with a beautiful view over the city.

    kino01_858354S0

    Sooooo excited for the film festival:) courtesy – Jutarnji list.

There is obviously a lot more things going on, I just mentioned several that are on my must-do list. In the meantime, my university (ZSEM) just held a Student Future Day, where we were able to talk to some local & global employers, participate in case studies and make some last-minute summer internship decisions (and get some – yes yes – free stuff!:) ). Fingers crossed for me being accepted by this advertising firm I really liked, and cheers to ZSEM for organizing an awesome career fair and bringing in some big players in the game!

e3986f79e52f3d9f2fe799619f5b0d04

Student Future Day – photo courtesy liderpress.hr

13054708_1086877834701883_1949429210_o

Yay for a bunch of stuff! There were also candies but we ate them, sorry😀