Some Wizards Went to Oxford

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(Disclaimer:  I am all the wizards.  Also, on a side note, a bunch of iconic Harry Potter scenes were filmed here.)

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The wizards were dummies. They just called themselves wizards because they were a bunch of goonballs. They went to Oxford and immediately got lost amongst the beige medieval spires and the beige stone walkways—it was actually quite marvelous once they were able to discern the beige buildings from the beige everything else.  There were tons of other dummies, too, wandering around and making it difficult to traverse the streets—tourists, of course; Oxford, for a city built by smarties, sure caters itself to dummies nowadays.  The wizards didn’t like being grouped in with the tourists, especially since they were on a class trip and not actually tourists, but, dwarfed by such great smartness and advanced magics, they didn’t really live up to Oxford’s non-dummy standards.

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beige, beige, and more beige

A quasi-arch-mage (a.k.a., tour guide, whom the wizards, slightly jealous of all the smartness, kind of doubted to be a true Oxford man, because I don’t think you can specialize in tour-guide-ism at Oxford—but maybe he is actually super duper smart and just spends his time bragging about Oxford to tourists as a side gig, because, admit it, if you had an Oxford degree, wouldn’t you want to spend your free time bragging about it, too?) met them after they stopped being lost, but he almost lost them again as soon as he started the tour.  His shoulders were hunched due to either years of slouching or years of prolific magicking (depends whether he was an actual Oxford man-wizard or not), but, despite his age and his wizardly long grey hair, he had long legs, and he moved way too fast and never looked back to check if the dummy wizards were still following him.  They were, but only barely.  It was very difficult to keep up with his fast pace and shove through static gaping tourists blocking the streets at the same time.

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Oscar Wilde specialized in making fun of people at this college

As the mage-of-questionable-merit sped along, he pointed out all kinds of intricately crafted beige blurs along the way—the wizards, hustling behind him, could see his hands pointing and his mouth moving in the distance, but they couldn’t really tell what he was saying because he was so far ahead of them.  Whenever he paused a sufficient amount of time for the wizards to catch up, he would mention some historic Oxford-mage or some great piece of magic conceived at Oxford, and he would be all like, “You know this man/spell, yes?” and the wizards would nod and be all like, “uh sure?” and the tour-mage would be all like, “of course you do, everyone who’s anyone knows this man/spell” and the wizards would smile and continue not knowing what the heck man/spell he was talking about.

The last thing the mage bragged about was how all the academic buildings in Oxford are themselves so smart and magical that they each, in their design and architecture, symbolize some transcendent moral value or whatnot.  Then the wizards were let free to roam the city, so they went to a book store and looked at all the legendary books of magic that were beyond both their magical abilities and their wallets’/purses’ abilities.

At the end of the day, the wizards went to an old tavern where Bill Clinton reportedly “did not inhale” any illicit greens in the 60’s.  They snagged an empty table with someone’s abandoned, but barely touched pint on it (don’t worry, it was definitely abandoned and not awaiting the return of whomever had been drinking it; the wizards waited to make sure nobody came back), and, after purchasing their own drinks to wind down from all the sprinting, they felt bold enough to push the limits of stupidity.

The universe must have balance, and the scales of Oxford lean too far in favor of genius.  It was a valiant sacrifice for the greater good that the wizards, driven by sorcerous intoxication and, once again, a lack of cash in the wallet/purse, decided to finish off the abandoned pint on the table.  Their ghosts haunt the tavern to this day, daring natural dummies, who might feel pressured by Oxford’s smarties, to give in to their nature and be dumb.  For the universe’s sake, be dumb sometimes.  But also, still be respectful.  The dummy wizards were respectful.  The end.

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where little boys sell their souls to be in the famous boys choir until their voices crack

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where smart people go to lather themselves in butter when they’re bored

Nero’s Villa at the beach

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27th July 2017

Instead of spending our second weekend in Rome, the four of us took a day trip to the beach. Professor Gadeyne’s colleague, Cecile, has a daughter who we invited to come along with us, so it was actually the five of us! She doesn’t speak English, however, so Mathilde was once again put into the role of translator. This was incredibly necessary, because we had to figure out how, when, and which bus to catch to take from Artena to the beach we had chosen. After figuring this out, and spending the absurdly-low round trip fare (compared to Philly!), we caught a bus around 9am and traveled in sleep-deprived but excited silence for the hour-and-a-half trip.

None of us had ever been to this beach before (even those of us who have been to this area of Italy before), so we had a hard time trying to figure out our stop. Fortunately for us, another lady had seen us get on at Artena and told us that she was going to the same beach front as we were. Luckily, she knew where she was going and told us we could walk with her and that she would help us out – even though she ended up getting turned around and made a five-minute walk from the bus stop to the waterfront into a fifteen-minute, sweaty trek.

The reason why we chose this particular beach was two-fold: first, it was free and finding free-to-enter beaches in Europe is surprisingly difficult; second, this beach lies in the ruins of Emperor Nero’s villa. Anzio is not the best beach in Italy, per say, but it is definitely beautiful and interesting. If only the shores in Jersey had ancient ruins surrounding them! It was quite a sight, to swim out a little ways, turn around and see windows and columns carved into the mountainside centuries upon centuries ago. And turning towards the sea, there are multiple rings of large, ship-wrecking rocks that were covered in brave souls who had made the swim out that far with the waves and the strong current.

 

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(The view towards the sea on the shore of Anzio.)

 

A little while before this trip, there had apparently been a death of a young man at this particular beach, as well as a shark sighting that morning, according to Nonda. Already having a fear of the ocean, I was understandably nervous about going anywhere near the water; I fully planned on staying on the shore, working on evening out my awful glove and sock tans from the dig, and reading my book. However, I was convinced to go into the water – up to my neck, no less! There were no sharks, no deaths, and everything went absolutely as smoothly as it could have gone. A little more-so, I would even say, given that our tan lines were slightly evened-out and we got some of the best pizza we’ve had yet here in Italy! Not to mention, the two euro gelato that was definitely worth much more.

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(The view from the docks at Anzio.)

On-Site Learning & Class Field Trips

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Class trip to the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari led by Diane Bodart, Assistant Professor of Italian Renaissance Art History at Columbia University

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Performers of the 2017 Biennale’s German Pavilion, located in Giardini (http://www.deutscher-pavillon.org/).

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The 2017 Biennale primarily takes place in two locations: Giardini, and Arsenal (a complex of former shipyards). This exhibit satirically displays man’s ancient and modern tools.

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Panorama image of 2017 Venice Biennale Israel Pavillion artist Gal Weinstein’s site-specific installation El Al, depicting a rocket launch frozen in time.

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Our essential travel guide! Our island’s boat leaves around every 30 minutes seven days a week.

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Students walking back from a productive day of classes in Università Iuav Di Venezia towards dinner on the island of Guidecca!

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Panorama image of the Arena (Scrovegni Chapel) in Padua, Italy.

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Graduate assistant Megan Reddicks, Justin Asaraf (TFMA), Ryan Hupps (TFMA), & Avery Mendel (Art) don’t need to worry about sun screen in Venice because our island is full of Aloe Vera! (Photo Credit: Mohammad Ibrahim)

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Tyler School of Art Associate Professor of Critical Studies and Aesthetics, Professor Philip Glahn, ponders in front of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy

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Study Abroad students Megan Hope (Visual Studies), Autumn Wallace (Tyler School of Art), Gabby Lopez (TFMA), Mohammad Ibrahim (TFMA), Justin Asaraf (TFMA), Ryan Hupp (Tyler School of Art), & Emilia Richman (Tyler School of Art) all make their way to enjoy an evening dinner via the San Servolo #20 Vaporetto.

Missing Moroccanisms

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Missing Moroccanisms

Naturally, language was a big part of my experience studying abroad in Morocco. In Morocco, people usually learn Darija (colloquial Arabic), FusHa (classical Arabic), and French before they consider learning English. It’s for this reason that not a lot of Moroccans speak English – many have caught onto little words and phrases in English, but for the most part, my interactions with the Moroccan people were in Arabic.

Going home to an English-speaking country has been relieving in ways I cannot describe. I love the English language (obviously, as an English major), but I have never appreciated it in the way I do now. Sure, it’s tedious and its grammar rules are shoddy at best, but it’s my mother tongue, and I’ve never loved it more than I do now.

However, I also love Arabic. It’s another tough language, and there were moments in Morocco when I was too mentally exhausted to even get the words بغيت النعاس “Beghiit ann3as” (“I want to sleep”) out to my host mom. That being said, the moments where I had truly successful exchanges with Moroccans in Arabic brought me joy that would overpower this exhaustion every time. Even though I still struggle with Darija, my speaking skills in any Arabic have increased drastically since Morocco, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to practice those skills in a real-life context.

Learning Darija was a difficult transition from FusHa, but there are a lot of expressions which I know I’ll miss using as I re-acclimate to an English-speaking country. Some of the words and expressions below exist in other dialects, but here’s some of the Arabic I’ll miss the most:

  • ساهل ماهل بحل ماء” (sahil mahil bahl maa’): This is the Moroccan equivalent of “easy peasy lemon squeezy,” but translates directly to “easy measy like water.” My host mom and I loved using these phrases with each other every day, and she often accidentally said “easy peasy lemon crazy,” which I actually prefer and plan to integrate into my English vocabulary.
  • زانزان” (zanzan): This word just means “crazy.” It’s not particularly important to Moroccan culture or language, but it’s a really fun word to say, and my classmates and I have definitely become accustomed to pointing at each other and saying “zanzan!”
  • “!يلا” (yalla!): Anyone who has studied or grown up with Arabic knows “Yalla!” It’s a pretty versatile word, but its main meaning is “let’s go!” – The connotation can vary, though. Sometimes it’s out of frustration, like when my host mom is prodding my host brother to hurry up and eat. Sometimes it’s out of camaraderie, like when someone asks the students in my program to go somewhere together.
  • لابس؟ لابس” (labess? labess.): This by far my favorite Moroccan expression. “Labess?” means “Are you fine?” and the response, “Labess,” means “I’m fine.” I like this a lot because it’s a good way to check in with people, but I like it even more because it forces me to give myself a reality check. On rough days, when someone asks me “Labess?” I check myself and realize that ultimately, I’m fine. Even if I’m not feeling 100%, I’m still fine. It’s a reminder that even when I’m not feeling my best, everything is okay.

I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to learn Arabic, stay with a host family, and explore Morocco this summer – and I’m even happier that you all followed me along by reading this blog. Next time you see me, feel free to ask me: Labess?

!شكراً بزاف وبسلامة (Shukran bzaaf lqra’a wabslaama!) Thanks for reading and goodbye!

Food & Culture (Venice, Italy – 2017)

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SU17101 - Venice - Justin AsarafStudy abroad students Danielle Hope Abrom (Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience) and Justin Asaraf (Film) enjoying authentic Italian cuisine in San Marco, Venice, Italy. (Photo Credit: Mohammad Ibrahim)

 

 

 

SU17102 - Venice - Justin AsarafDid you know that Venetians eat their pizzas with a fork and knife?

 

 

SU17103 - Venice - Justin AsarafLe Rio Della Fava (“The Canal of Beans”) is almost 600 feet long and separates the sestieres of Castello and San Marco.

 

 

 

SU17104 - Venice - Justin AsarafA 40 Minute Firework show set off from Guidecca over the Non Basilica del Santissimo Redentore (“Church of the Most Holy Redeemer”) during Festa della Rendetore (“Festival of the Redeemer”), celebrating the end of the 16th Century plague; magically reflecting off the waters of the San Marco Waterfront! (Photo Credit: Mohammad Ibrahim).

 

 

 

 

SU17105 - Venice - Justin AsarafA diagram of our paradisiacal dormitory on Venice International University’s Campus on San Servolo Island! (Photo Credit: http://sanservolo.servizimetropolitani.ve.it/)

 

 

SU17106 - Venice - Justin AsarafThe clear sunset view from our island’s dock 🙂

 

 

 

SU17107 - Venice - Justin AsarafA 1€ espresso takes 5 seconds to drink will last you 5 hours (Photo Credit: Mohammad Ibrahim).

 

 

 

SU17108 - Venice - Justin AsarafWhile studying abroad, internet speed can be very important. This cafe we found before class runs at 35Mb/s!

 

 

 

SU17109 - Venice - Justin AsarafEnjoying an authentic Italian lunch with our class in the 12th century city of Padua.

 

 

 

 

SU17110 - Venice - Justin AsarafUnique European urinals lend students alternate perspectives on study abroad life!

 

 

 

SU17111 - Venice - Justin AsarafRyan Hupp (Art History), Mohammad Ibrahim (Producing & Communication Studies/Hebrew), Danielle Hope Abrom (Neuroscience, Acting), Kasey Blair (Speech Pathology) enjoying Italian Americanos at Dersut Caffè near Campo Dei Frari

The Temptress Tourism

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The affair began on Thursday, July 13th, at approximately 9:10 pm (UK time).  I had just emerged from the National Theatre after seeing Yaël Farber’s Salomé for class, and, upon stepping out, I was greeted with a cool evening breeze flowing along the River Thames.  The sun’s blue impression still marked the sky to the west, while to the east, the purple shades of night wiped clear the light’s trail.  I stood at the edge of the river and witnessed the awakening of the night’s crowd, starting beneath Waterloo Bridge and spreading along the southwestward curve of the Thames beyond sight.  I heard a mysterious song then, sweet and seducing, drifting toward me from the other side of the bridge.  It brushed my cheek and kissed my neck, and pulled me along, a helpless romantic lost in spontaneous love.  I followed the song past a riverside saxophonist playing for spare change and a BBQ street vendor blaring music, and, as the gathered crowd along the river transitioned from local teens to frenzied tourists, I found its source:  the temptress herself.

She manifested as a sight across the river, the glowing yellow eye of perhaps the world’s most famous clock tower and the ornate spires of Westminster Palace.  On my side of the river, the London Eye towered before me, revolving slowly as tourists less frugal than I crawled in and out of its carriages.  I forgot how to breathe.  I had been on my way to meet Josie, but now I couldn’t move—I was in awe.  When I finally rediscovered my legs, I walked onward into the arms of the temptress.  Bent to her will, I moved with her worshipping tourists, following her song and chasing after my breath.  I felt like a fool as I filled my phone with photos of her; I never wanted to be counted among the tourists, but, faced with sights of such grandeur and breathtaking beauty, how could I not?

 

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My affair with the temptress didn’t last much longer that night, for it was getting late.  As I crossed Waterloo Bridge to find the underground, she fastened her marvelous lips, glittering with the lights of a city both old and new, against mine in a farewell kiss, and sucked my breath away.  She still hasn’t given it back.  I don’t find myself easily awed (except by fathomless heights and really really big things), but I have never been quite so literally, and consistently, breathless.

I met with Josie later than I’d intended that night after a little debacle involving Google lying to me about train and bus departures, and, being an honest person, I immediately told her about my evening with the temptress and showed her my scandalous photos.  Josie smiled at me and nodded.  I awaited punishment for my crime.  Then she suggested we go meet the temptress together, and I got all excited and grateful that she’d be so enthusiastic to welcome the temptress into our relationship.

Josie and I spent the 15th, the Saturday of our second anniversary weekend, walking hand in hand with the temptress around the City of Westminster (within London).  We started at the National Galleries, where annoying people who just wanted to be able to say they saw some art pushed and shoved through people like us who genuinely wanted to experience the art, and we made our rounds past St. James Park (where we found an isolated little hut I like to think is a witch’s den full of hapless children who came for pretty flowers, birds, and candy, but got a whole lot more) to Big Ben, Westminster Palace (the Houses of Parliament), and Westminster Abbey.  To conclude our adventure, we took a trek (guided by yours truly, me, without the use of mobile pathfinding apps) to spy on Her Majesty the Queen herself.  We used our X-Ray vision to see through the gates and walls of Buckingham Palace (which was actually quite boring compared to Westminster Palace).

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super uncomfortable thumb

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good ole Monet

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the witch is roasting up some children inside

 

Admittedly, it was somewhat embarrassing being a tourist for a day (although, unlike many other tourists, who think the world is all about them, we were considerate and un-intrusive), but there’s a reason tourism is a thing.  Sometimes life isn’t truly lived if you don’t go and see the sights.  Every wanderer will one day behold the Temptress Tourism, and she will call to you, plucking your heartstrings with her lovely song.  Don’t resist.  Embrace her.  Bring your friends and lovers, too—she’s totally into that.

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Queen Victoria statue in front of Buckingham Palace

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Catacombs and Roman driving: Artena archaeology students visit the Eternal City

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15th July 2017

 

As our first sweltering week in Artena comes to a close, the four of us girls decided to spend the weekend in Rome. We booked an Air B&B during a sporadic moment of Wi-Fi at our hotel, and that was an adventure within itself. The owner was very cryptic and would not respond to any message of ours with direct answers, and was in a constantly bad mood about everything we tried to do. Fortunately, it ended up working out and we got a great room with – wait for it – dependable Wi-Fi! It was the most relieving and grateful moment of our trip so far.

 

As we decided to spend our first weekend being the stereotypical group of touristy American girls, we hit up some typical site-seeing spots and attractions. We first visited the Roman catacombs, which, as an anthropology major, were the most exciting sites for me to visit, probably ever. The long corridors seemed to stretch on for miles, which they actually do; they extend for more than a dozen miles, and that’s just the one! Bones of priests, important members of society and of religious purpose, and just some unexplained bodies, filled the stretches, decorated the mantels, and accented the doorways and arches around every corner.

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(The Roman Catacombs)

Following this magnificent underground excursion, we took a cab to the heart of Rome. The area around the Coliseum was so crowed, hot, and full of various people from all walks of life – half of them were haggling tourists for any and all types of labor in exchange for unnecessarily-large amounts of euros. But for the outrageous price of entry into the Coliseum, we were able to get into a (arguably) better site for free: the Roman Forum. It was definitely the most historically-inclined site out of the touristy area, and was nowhere near as crowded as the rest of the area. It was not very busy because it is not the typical kind of “exciting” that people generally look for when visiting such an exciting city as Rome. There were many archaeologically-explained finds, with historical background and contexts, which was fascinating to all of us students on this trip.

The historical aspect and cultural aspect of this trip are two very different things in Italy, especially in Rome. The culture is different than what the history books lead us to believe. Compared to Philly, everyone here is so friendly and talkative; they actually care about small talk, and the communities would not survive without it. I’ve found the stereotypes about driving are sadly true, however: Italians have very different standards of driving compared with what I’m used to in the United States. No one obeys stop signs, and the “one car length in between” rule is very much not a thing that exists that here. It’s a completely different world, and it is startling but still fun – albeit scary when Professor Gadeyne laughs at us for being horrified at Italian drivers. Regardless of the fear, Italian customs are slowly being shown to us and we are slowly learning the etiquette rules and ways of the communities while we’re here.

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(View of Artena from our vertical car ride.)

 

 

Sweat, dirt and discovery in Artena

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13th July 2017

 

Day 4 of officially being on the site for the excavation of the Roman villa in Artena, Italy, and I don’t think I have ever witnessed souls leave their physical bodies on such an intense scale before now. The scorching heat, horrific bugs that have never seen the light of day before being so unceremoniously thrusted out of the dirt by our trowels, dirt in literally everything (including your teeth), and mysteriously-appearing bruises on every single inch of your body: this is what a Mediterranean archaeological excavation is made up of, and maybe the blood, sweat, and tears of the poor undergrads slaving away.

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(Our cliche photo of our boots together.)

 

Slight joking aside, we have been having a surprisingly good time here in Artena. The little medieval town is built into a mountainside, and is so unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. You can only go up the mountain so far with cars, and the rest of the way is either on foot or by donkey! It’s beautiful but very strange, with very few people ever really out and about. Hours of business are also very vague and prone to change without notice, but there aren’t really enough businesses in the town (or people, for that matter) to make a fuss. This seems to be the custom in Italy but simply exaggerated in small towns like this one.

 

The dig site itself has been including much more initial, pre-excavation work than I think any of us had seriously anticipated. We have spent this entire first week simply removing old tarp coverings from various areas of the site, and cleaning underneath. I did not think that dirt was able to physically accumulate to such a degree in just one short year. We’ve carefully cleaned and brushed off literal tons of dirt, along with stone blocks, cement pieces, and broken tile pieces. Occasionally, one of us will find something interesting like a piece of pottery or a fragment of bone, but so far, nothing worthwhile.

The museums in and surrounding Artena are very interesting. Professor Gadeyne has taken us to one so far, as well as shown us pictures and talked about the other museums. Plenty of pieces within the museum are actually pieces that have been found at our little Roman villa site! It truly shows us future anthropologists, art historians, and geologists what all of our hard work in the field will accumulate towards. Our pieces have been preserved perfectly with descriptions and background histories that accompany them all, which make for interesting – if difficult – reads in Italian.

 

So far, Professor Gadeyne has been good to us, with authentic Italian meals, interesting lectures about the histories of our area as well as the overall histories of Rome, and a few good laughs here and there. If all continues to go like it has been, we are looking at a successful, enriching, and exciting abroad opportunity for us three American girls and our European peer.

Reflection on Studying Abroad at Sciences Po

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Reflection on Studying Abroad at Sciences Po

Since being back for a month, I have had multiple dreams about being back in Lyon. Dreams of eating dinner with my host family, in class with friends, watching the sunset on the Berges du Rhone…it still follows me now. I feel as if my life has been put on hold, as if the whole experience was a dream.

Every time I see someone, they will naturally bring up my trip. Once I get started talking about the experience, I can’t stop. It’s all that’s on my mind. And to think I was so nervous about heading over there, of feeling lonely in a new country, but no one told me how hard it would be coming back. I mean, I’m fine, but I feel like my life has been put on pause. I went from living throughout Europe in a new city each week to living at my parents house, constantly asked what time I’d be home.

I left the experience feeling fully content and excited for new experiences, but it feels like a part of me is still there, like I am still living there in my dreams. And I think that is how it goes for anyone who loves to travel, you come back a new and changed person, but there is a part of you that is still there and a part of that place that always has a place in your heart.

Now I pass the baton to other Temple students to go for yourselves, to wander through the trabules of the Croix-Rousse, to have international picnics in Parc de la Tete d’Or, to enjoy conversations on the Berges du Rhone. For others to go to Rome to walk along the river Tiber, to go to Tokyo and enjoy the best sushi you can find, to Oviedo to work on the Spanish you’ve spoken for years, and for one day to returned a changed and nostalgic Temple student.

After the Palace

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Getting our tourist shots at the Taj Mahal

After we said goodbye to everyone at the palace, Sam, Shaniece, Camilla, Jeremy and I took a flight to New Delhi from Ahmedabad, where we stayed at the Hotel Le Roi in Paharganj for two nights. The first night we stayed in, as we were told by hotel staff that it was too dangerous to explore at night. Early the next morning we departed for Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, which was breathtakingly beautiful. Afterward our tour guide took us to visit a gemstone and jewelry shop where they sold precious and semi-precious stones including those used in the Taj Mahal such as the one-of-a-kind Star of India, a black stone which twinkles as you move it, which was used to adorn the outer archways with verses of the Quran. Upstairs there was a music shop where they invited us to try to play the sitar, and we danced the “queen dance” from the well ceremony for them. He also took us to a shop that sculpted the marble and stones used in the Taj Mahal to make tables, wall hangings, and other ornaments. The trip in its entirety ended up costing us a lot more than we wanted to spend, but it was well worth it.

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Taj Mahal’s exquisite marble and inlaid gemstones

The next day Camilla left for Nepal, and we met up with Pawan, a friend of one of my closest friends growing up, and his friend Arman. Pawan and Arman, who were very sweet and funny, showed us around New Delhi near where Pawan went to school at Delhi University. We were lucky enough to take a ride on the metro, which we never would have been able to navigate on our own as the stops are labelled in Hindi. They showed us a great time and took us to a cute bar with hookah where American music was blasting and people were watching India lose the cricket final to Pakistan. It was a great way to end our month-long adventure.

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Riding the metro with Arman and Pawan

Back in the States, it has been surreal to be able to eat a variety of foods and not have to cover my shoulders. I miss the morning birdsong, the chai, chiku, mangoes, pani puri, as well as the cows, buffalo, dogs, goats, peacocks, and hogs roaming the streets. There was so much I experienced in such a short span of time that sometimes it feels like it was all a dream. I’m still making sense of how it felt to be a woman there, and how people, especially women, referred to certain norms which to me feel oppressive, such as women not being allowed to go into a temple menstruating, not being supposed to sit next to a driver, or having to cover one’s head, neck, face, shoulders and/or legs out of “respect.” There is so much behavior normalized there in terms of gender roles which sometimes felt offensive to us, and likewise, some of our behaviors seemed offensive to them. For example, one of our drivers complained that Shaniece, who is very tall, failed to realize her shins were showing at the sword dance performance. This was aggravating to us, as it seemed so insignificant and not something she could help as a tall woman being forced to wear specific clothes made for shorter people. It is in these moments we had to be especially careful discerning the difference between adapting our behavior to fit their norms and staying true to our deepest values. In a society that worships so many female deities, it can be hard for outsiders to understand why women seem so subjugated. I am still having trouble wrapping my head around it.

Baby wild hogs with their mother (Video by Shaniece Maldonado)

There’s a lot I’m grateful for here in America and a lot I admire about India. The way animals are respected and allowed to live freely in India is quite nice to observe. There is a plurality and general acceptance of various religious practices; many people practice more than one religion or sect of Hinduism, and spirituality is acknowledged in every facet of life, which I appreciated especially in terms of how serious mental healthcare is regarded. While there is currently and historically a lot of tensions between Hindu nationalists and Muslim Indians, it is worth noting that many people in India incorporate both Hindu and Muslim traditions in their religious practices. Though the dress and behavior of women is highly restricted, the clothes and jewelry are flattering on all ages and sizes, and the colors and designs are gorgeous and vibrant. Vices like smoking and drinking are left to the men, and many women are disciplined enough to wake at sunrise to meditate and practice yoga. In many ways, the mentality of many women I met in India reminded me of orthodox Jewish women from my hometown who are content with their lives, much of which were decided for them. I still struggle between trying not to judge these attitudes and the feeling that this rigid patriarchal structure is more oppressively unhealthy than stable and healthy. It is especially hard for me to understand how, in a society in which so many deities are female, and it is understood that women are able to do everything men can do and more, why women are subjected to such confined lives compared to men. It also makes me reflect on how rape culture has been normalized for so long around the world and still is to a degree, even and in some ways especially in America. Here women are constantly objectified, exoticized, and sexualized, and the qualities that make us different or unique are always being pointed out to us. I can see why it might be easier to wear what everyone else is wearing, though ultimately I wish that was not an issue to begin with.

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Last chai in India

Going to India was the greatest opportunity of my life, and despite several challenges and obstacles, I don’t regret a minute of it. I learned just as much what it was to be an American as I did what it means to be an Indian, and transformed my thinking in ways I haven’t even processed yet. I anxiously await the day I can return.