The Doors of Learning shall be Open


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It started with a single announcement, which shook the entire nation of South Africa.

I found out just before my Political Science class. I sat with my friends near the back of the 300 student full lecture hall. From down my row, a student gasped. Quickly, the room filled with whispers in English, Xhosa, Zulu and I’m sure other languages, which I am unable to identify.

Two minutes until class, my strict lecturer walked in and demanded silence.

However, the news of nationwide drastic university fee increase captivated the attention of my peers more than any class could. The girls behind me reflected on how they already struggled to pay for tuition. The guy in front of me did the math for his new tuition costs. I leaned over to my friend and asked what this meant for the universities.

He laughed and simply stated,”Protests.”

For weeks, conversations of potential protesting sat like a rumbling thunderstorm above our academic year. One by one universities all over South Africa congregated toward protests. As universities got more seriously involved, it became an act of solidarity for the other universities to join. So inevitably, the schools in and around Cape Town joined.

Except, the University of the Western Cape quietly trudged through the academic year.

Every day, I took the hour long bus ride to school to show up to lectures, which had less people every day. At first, I thought the dwindling population grew from natural semester exhaustion, but people were mobilizing.

For weeks, public attention turned to University of Cape Town. The school was shut down day after day. Twitter told a narrative of their demands, which varied if you spoke to a medical student or a law student, first year or final year, woman or man, white student or black student. However, most could identity that the protesting had not been produced by a simple rise of tuition. What is called the #FeesMustFall movement calls for much more than just cheaper or free education (another basic internal disagreement). It explores the necessity of decolonizing education.

As media focused on the increasingly complex situation at University of Cape, the city wondered if University of the Western Cape, a school with a history of powerful protesting, had an intention of joining.

Week after week, I went to school normally, while my friends at University of Cape went on an indefinite sabbatical. On the days their classes were canceled, I continued taking my early morning bus. When they returned to a campus full of armed security, my campus had their annual student body election. When they  had students arrested, I heard rumors that my university would finally join.

It was an act of brilliance for University of the Western Cape to wait until the elections to end. From what I can understand, the student representatives act as an important mode of communication between administration and students. Last year, they were not on the side of #FeesMustFall, but after these elections that is not the case.

Immediately following the elections, students of the University of the Western Cape stood with the nationwide shutdown. Students have been forcing the school to be inaccessible, so I haven’t had school since. Every student that I know is repeating the words of the South African Freedom Charter by saying, “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.” Some scream in solidarity of the struggle of the colonized. Some yell on behalf of their own education. However, all are watching, living and breathing what will soon be a new era of South African history.


Capitalizing on Opportunity

Capitalizing on Opportunity

Now it has been more than a month in Madrid and something funny and strange is starting to happen to me. When I was in the States, sometimes after a Spanish class, I would still be thinking in Spanish for a couple of minutes or rarely, I could only remember a word as it was in Spanish. Now, I literally forget English words all the time or pronounce them in a Spanish accent when I am talking to someone who speaks English. Even writing this right now is a little bit difficult because I feel like I’m supposed to be writing this in Spanish.  My friend says that means I’m really immersed and that feels good! My friends from Majadahonda told me that my accent is definitely improving and that my Spanish is also getting better. I thought I spoke well when I came, but by staying in Madrid on the weekends and talking to local people via taking taxis and meeting other young adults through my friends who attend Complutense full time, I feel that I am better than I have ever been.

Although, I do still feel different within the realm of my program, I am glad that I chose to use IES Abroad Madrid. The program coordinators are very warm and caring and they plan a lot of nice activities for us to participate in. There are flamenco shows, classes, and trips to various places with a group of Spanish students. They offer us free printing in the office, which is small, so I am able to know all of my coordinators and have good relationships with them. I was even able to take a Spanish cooking class with my peers! We made paella, cake, and tortilla de patatas with the teacher. It was great to take the class for free and also be able to eat the food.

The teacher also told us the history of each dish and also a little history about Spain. It was really fun and educational and I was glad that I was able to benefit and experience something so unique!

Something very exciting has happened! I keep getting wonderful gifts from the universe. This time it is the form of my friend Anna and her parents coming to visit Madrid for a while. Anna and I were on the trip to Spain in high school together and stayed with our friends in Majadahonda. When we all gathered for dinner, we all had a lot to catch up on. It really was extremely nice to be able to have that piece of home!


Photo by Andrea Hemman


Photo by Andrea Hemman


Photo by Andrea Hemman

Not just that, but my mentor from the summer has been sending me books from a fund I received from the program. The books about womanism and guides on how to write are trickling in and I almost want to stop all my actual school work to read these amazing books. Having familiar things around me like books I have been wanting to read, friends visiting, and the weather cooling down enough for me to wear my North Face make me feel like I’m not alone in this.

Midterms Week: South Korea Edition


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Grab yourself a tall glass of Espresso, Iced Latte, or the go to drink for everyone in Seoul – Ice Americano. That will surely get you through the day and possibly the rest of the week!

I don’t know about everyone else but midterms week is here at Yonsei University and everyone is currently buried in their books and notes. Honestly, back at Temple, when it came to midterms, there was less stress in the air. And that was mostly due to the fact that I knew what to expect from Temple professors since I have taken classes with them prior.

But for some reason, my anxiety and stress levels have seemed to reach an unhealthy level here. With the combination of new professors, different teaching styles and being in a totally different country, midterms week is much harder here for me personally. With so many classes to keep track up, I can understand why many students here like to shut themselves from the world either at a quiet cafe or a 24-hours study room at the library. It’s the only way they’ll actually get anything done.

But in all honesty, although the stress of exams are lingering in the air, it’s the perfect time to find your go to comfort zone. Some people start to develop their own unique studying space; some people work better in loud places with a big study group, others like to study at their dorms in the comfort of their pajamas. And others, like me, like to seclude ourselves at quiet cafes.

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Sometimes, the best cafes to study at are the ones that you hear little about. Here in South Korea, chain cafes such as Holly’s Coffee, Starbucks, TomNToms and Caffe Pascucci are always crowded with students. No matter what time of day or if it’s midterms or finals week, it’s always packed with students and the younger generation looking for their next cup of caffeine.

However, I learned that you can really immerse yourself in the cafe culture here if you take the road less taken. In a sense, don’t be afraid to walk down the smaller alley ways and quieter streets. These gems usually hold the best cafes in the city in my opinion.

And the best thing about the cafes here is that if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to find one that makes all their drink fresh to order; hand pressed and hand dripped coffee right at your service. And it comes in a nice fancy cup too! Although its only the second day into midterms week, don’t be afraid to explore because you’ll be surprised in what you can find here in Seoul.

But aside from the cafe frenzy, always remember to take care of yourself first. Now that the weather is getting much cooler here in Seoul, everyone here is getting into the fall spirit. But with colder weather, brings the flu. So until then, study hard but remember to bundle up and enjoy your cup of caffeine!

As Summer Slips Away


This week was a godsend because although nothing automatically became perfect, the weather finally dropped in temperature. I was so excited to not have to sweat all throughout the day. Last week, the weather would change frequently. In the mornings it was cold so I would have to wear a sweater, but by the middle of the day the temperature would rise to the high 80s. The sweater I would wear in the morning would have to be put in my book bag or I would have to carry it around my waist while moving though the busy metro to get back home.

Luckily, this week was marvellous! It was cool enough all day that I was able to wear the jacket or the sweater. It even rained! I feel like everyone was upset that it was raining through the beginning of the week because it happened so abruptly, but I was absolutely enthused! It made walking to classes and to other places more fun and less sweaty— at least for me. Everything suddenly became a little more bearable.

The only class I’m taking separate from the program, in La Universidad Complutense de Madrid, is experiencing problems. My professor’s contract ended on September 30th, so now my class is being taught in rotation by various professors in the art history department. The teacher is taking a month off to try to find a solution to the contract problem. I am a little disappointed since I had just started adjusting to that class and now it is changing on me again, but I’m hoping that with the help of the tutor that my program provides me with, I will be able to feel confident with the material to be able to finish my final essay for the class.

My ceramics class, however, is going swimmingly! I missed one class because I was extremely sick and throwing up, but this week, I was able to craft a ceramic car out of clay! I am so excited that I get to take such a creative class where I feel so at ease. I had taken a ceramics class at Tyler during the summer before 11th grade so I feel very familiar with the setting of the ceramics school, but I am also learning some new techniques and starting to feel more confident pursuing some more difficult things to sculpt. All in all, I am adjusting to my classes well. I really like all of them and I feel comfortable with my classmates.


Midterms week is coming up, and I feel way less stressed than I know I would be at Temple. I think knowing that this semester is one where I’m taking off doing some of the activities I usually would be doing on campus, lets me feel more at ease about having to take a couple of tests. I think I am also very excited in general about seeing my friend Annalise in the coming weekend in Budapest, Hungary— where she is studying abroad. I am happy that the weather cooled down and that my cold went away. I am feeling more optimistic about the coming week and that feels exciting!

I Got Hot Sauce in My Bag

I Got Hot Sauce in My Bag

I’ve been having a difficult time writing a post this week because no matter how many times I looked at this blank document, all I could think about were negative things. And as the week comes to a close, and I have documented close to nothing, I realize that these feelings are part of studying abroad.

As much as I try to blend in, even in my program, being one of two black people is fairly polarizing. And although we are all from the same country, I can’t help but feel like the odd one out. I don’t have a problem being different at all, but I find comfort in diversity. Coming from Philadelphia public schools where I had first generation immigrant friends, people who had differences in political views, religion, and clothing they wore— non-diverse spaces make me uncomfortable.

I have officially begun to feel homesick. I miss the diversity that exists in Philadelphia. I miss seeing people who look like me and others who don’t. I miss being able to have extremely in-depth political and social conversations with my latinx friends, or my black friends, or my queer & trans friends. I miss riding my bike all around Philadelphia on the weekend. I miss my dog and my family so much. I have been craving Liberian food so much recently, and here, food isn’t spicy at all! My friends laugh because I carry hot sauce in my bag everywhere I go here! I miss vegetarian restaurants and Philly Flavors water ice. I miss being able to say “jawn” and having everyone understand what I mean. And oddly enough, I miss the gross smells on the street because all of that together feels like home.

When I need something, it’s hard because I don’t know intuitively where everything is. Since I came, I have been sick twice and lost both a wallet and a phone. I have never lost those things at home, but here, I just feel so disorganized! I have so much on my mind all the time. I have so many applications to fill out for the Spring 2017 when I return to Temple and applications for summer jobs while I’m not even in the same country. I wish I had known how stressful and busy studying abroad can be. Ultimately, I wish I knew how lonely it can feel when you are an other abroad, even amongst people from the same place as you.

Through the darkness of my past two weeks, I have found some light. I was able to befriend a girl from Sweden and we have been having conversations about feminism and black politics which was relieving. I was able to receive some piece of home by way of my friend, Lily and her girlfriend—Lauren, visiting Madrid.

I was able to sit in a park with my closest friend in my program, Anthony.

img_5596 I also began a volunteer job at a Spanish school helping to teach English. The kids are 8-9 years old, incredibly adorable, and speak English so well already. I know that through this hard time I’m having, I always have my Spanish friends and their families who have been lovely to me.

I don’t know if Spain will begin to feel like home anytime soon, but I know that I’ve found pieces of home in small quantities. And for now, I can accept that.


Insadong & Bukchon Hanok Village


Today was another holiday here in Korea, National Foundation Day, and of course that meant another day off from school for students. Being that it was another national holiday, a few friends and I grabbed our cameras and decided to head down to Insadong for the day.

Insadong, located in the heart of the city and neighbor to other monumental landmarks, is a must see place for tourist and locals alike. It is an important place where old but valuable traditional goods are open to the public. It’s a hot destination for those that want to taste and experience the traditional culture of Korea.

Insadong street stretches over 700 meters between Anguk subway station and Jongno 2-ga station. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the street was dominated by Dohwawon, a place of study for painters. The area is still a center for the arts, painters, craftsmen, and art lovers continue to set up along the narrow alleys, making it a unique place full of folk craft, pottery and paintings.

In celebration and recognition of today’s holiday, many people were dressed in Hanboks. They are traditional attire of the Korean people worn daily up until just about 100 years ago. Now, it is only worn on festive occasions or special anniversaries.

Walking through the streets of Insadong and looking through the countless antique shops along the way really puts me back to an age where simplicity was the core of everything. Before the bustling advancements of civilization and technology, people were able to make a living by creating and trading simple things.

Most of the souvenirs and trinkets were handmade items and it really shows the craftsmanship that goes into everything in order to preserve such tradition.

Along the way, we were able to stop by the Bukchon Hanok Village; surrounded by Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace and Jongmyo Shrine, Bukchon Hanok Village is home to hundreds of traditional houses, called hanok, that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. The name Bukchon, which literally translates to “northern village,” came about as the neighborhood lies north of two significant Seoul landmarks, Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jongno. Today, many of these hanoks operate as cultural centers, guesthouses, restaurants and tea houses, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience, learn and immerse in Korean traditional culture.

Personally, walking through this village made me feel like I was in a completely different world. It’s amazing to see how much change has happened over the years. Especially with such an fast growing economy such as South Korea, it’s great to see the juxtaposition of how the people used to live years ago compared to where they are now.

With everything being so modern and fast paced, it was nice to take a quiet stroll through the Hanok Village. Even in a fast paced city such as Seoul, there are still people looking back and connecting with the true roots of the country. It’s a way of preserving the country’s history but to also display the great achievements and growth that the country has gone through.

Cafe Culture



Now that the month is coming to a close and October is at the turn of the corner, the epitome of fall time is being able to spend a warm and cozy day at a cafe. In Seoul, there is literally a cafe for anything and everything. Ever heard of a Dog or Cat cafe? You can literally enjoy a cup of coffee, study away with your books all with the company of a feline friend or a man’s best friend by your side.

The cafe culture in South Korea is pretty big; it’s easy to find a cafe full of students and office workers looking for a place to stop by before heading out for the day. Most of the time, you’ll find students with a cup of coffee by their side with headphone in both ears and their heads buried deep in their textbooks. Studying at a cafe is a norm here as much as it is to have a cup of coffee to catch up with friends or with a date.

Theme cafes are really popular here among tourists and the younger crowd. Namely, places such as Hongdae, Ewha and Sinchon are packed with both chain cafes (Starbucks, TomNToms & Holly’s Coffee etc…) and smaller owned cafes.

Depending on your mood, you can head down to Sinchon and stay at a NY Pizza cafe; as long as you order something off the menu, feel free to stay how long as you want spending on closing hours. So far, I’ve been to TomNToms and spent about 5 to 6 hours there just to finish homework and readings for classes.

I don’t know why but just the atmosphere of cafes is more than enough to make me want to actually do my homework. If you’re like me then studying in the dorm room won’t cut it. You literally have to take yourself out of your comfort zone in order to push yourself to study or else you’ll be laying in your bed, knocked out!

But on this specific day, my friends and I decided to head out in search of the dog cafe. With all three of us being respective pet owners, all of us were getting homesick and just wanted to spend some time with a few cuddly friends.

Located in Hapjeong, the Bauhouse (Dog Cafe) is home to wonderful cuddly friends just waiting for you. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by staff and a swarm of smaller dogs. As we made our way to the back, we entered into the room dedicated to the bigger dogs.

Personally, I’ve never been so many big dogs. And compared to the smaller dogs, they have so much more energy and it was pretty intimidating. But the admission itself into the cafe was free, you just had to order a drink – it’s required.

But we ended up spending roughly 3 to 4 hours there; we eventually retreated to the area where the smaller dogs were because personally, they were much more calm for our taste. But being able to cuddle and pet the dogs was what we needed. Although its not the same thing as having your own pet, it was enough to get us by for the next few weeks before coming back!

La Bella, La Fea, Y Yo

La Bella, La Fea, Y Yo

As the month comes to an end, I reflect on when I first got here. It seems and feels cliché, but my head was filled with dreams of the last time I came here. I was just seventeen and on a trip with my high school from the USA. I was with friends and teachers and comfort, and although I got to explore a bit, I was never alone— not once. I can’t remember ever having to take the bus alone or walking alone on the street, navigating my way through Spain. I didn’t even have a phone plan. I just had my iPhone with wi-fi. So when I came this time, with the idealized images that I’ve mulled over for years, I feel shocked that I ever felt that way— that I could ever be that naïve.

As much as the country is beautiful and the food is delectable, I do have my qualms with the societal norms and the country. Touring beautiful cathedrals feels different. As an art history and Spanish major, I’m actually interested and not a bratty seventeen year old who wishes we were doing something more exciting. However, that comes with some the brutal history that doesn’t leave you feeling comforted. The history of almost all the cathedrals follows the same model. The Christians loved the architecture of the synagogues and mosques, but didn’t like the religion these people practiced. So, obviously, they murdered these people and either tore down the buildings to make new ones or moved right in! There is even a plaza right in the middle of Spain dedicated to the man who founded America (read as: murdered and displaced thousands of native people and also stole their goods and land), Christopher Columbus! Yes, Spain is a beautiful country, but the architecture is a constant reminder that this place is nothing perfect. It is a flawed country with a deep history of colonization. With that piece of history, it’s strange to place myself within and enjoy a place that was and is harmful, still to people that look like me.

It’s also strange being across the ocean and looking at the Black Lives Matter movement, which doesn’t seem to have an evident space here. News of home and watching unarmed black people being shot isn’t reported here on the television, though I watch very little of it. And although I feel safer here than I do in the United States, I am reminded everyday that the time of Franco didn’t end too long ago and Spain is still ripe with neo-nazis and fascists who are present today.

I just ended a call with my friend who is studying in Bejing, China. He is Jewish with brown hair and blue eyes, and said although he doesn’t feel that he is being discriminated against because he is white, there is something off about the acceptance and also tentativeness with which people approach him. I told my friend that what he is experiencing is “othering” or just being someone not the norm in a space. As we talked over the things we both love and hate about being who we are, where we are, I began to feel more comforted by hearing that this happens all around the world. I began to feel like he finally got a taste of how I feel almost everyday in the United States, and for that time, I felt closer to him than ever before.

So here I stand— the beautiful, the ugly, and me— right in the middle of it all. Maybe, what I’ve learned from the past week isn’t profound. Someone has definitely had to ask themselves questions about identity before in a new place, but as someone who knows that positionality is important, I unfortunately, hadn’t thought about mine much before coming back to Spain. And now that I know, hopefully, I can feel better being who I am, where I am, because change is never as easy as we dream it to be.


Chuseok Holiday & Busan



I was lucky enough to spend my Chuseok weekend at Busan with friends and we were able to stay at a hostel that was a 5 minute walk from Haeundae Beach. Needless to say, it felt extremely nice to be at a beach. After walking up and down so many hills and living in the busy metro area of Seoul, it was nice to see sand and the ocean. It was a much needed break from classes, I would say!

During this time of year, the Chuseok holiday is a time where families get together, pay respect to ancestors and enjoy wonderful home cooked meals in each other’s presence. In a sense, the holiday itself is like the Korean version of Thanksgiving back home in the states. It’s pretty common to see people carry around gifts with them as they travel back home to see family. But these aren’t just ordinary gifts; it’s much more traditional to see gift sets consisting of fruits, primarily, Korean pears as well as SPAM. Yes, I said it. SPAM. Everyone here loves Spam and it doesn’t come cheap!


Aside from the travel frenzy and gifts, my friends and I took the opportunity to travel outside of Seoul. Busan is located along the southeastern coast of South Korea. It is large port city, known for its beaches, mountains and temples. It is the second largest city in South Korea, after Seoul, with a population of approximately 3.6 million people. We specifically stayed at Haeundae area and by far, we had the freshest seafood available to our liking!

Haeundae was the tourist destination; as we were walking the streets we spotted foreigners left and right from a variety of different ethic background. Aside from the beach, people and amazing seafood, we also decided to visit the Aquarium. Now stop for a second and think back to the last time you went to an Aquarium. Grade school? Haha, well that was the case for most of us.

Walking into the aquarium, we felt like we were kids again!

As soon as we satisfied our inner child minds, we headed back out to the beach one last time before reaching the end of the night. There were so many performers and when there are performers around, more people come out to enjoy the show. The beach was much more crowded compared to the daytime.

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But many of the performers were participating in the Busan Busking Festival which is a festival consisting of musicians and singers who come out to local attractions to perform live in front of interested spectators.

Busan was definitely a great break from Seoul! Being able to spend the Chuseok weekend with wonderful friends was more than enough because in all honestly, they’re just like my second family. So if you ever decide to travel to South Korea one day and get to experience the Chuseok holiday, don’t be afraid to venture out and plan a trip to Busan with friends. There so much to do but there’s so little time!

Korean War Memorial Museum



I remember it being extremely hot and humid on this day for some reason. But to be honest, it’s been the same consistent weather here in Seoul ever since I landed. And with that being said, you can easily forget what day it is because in the end, it all feels the same. But on this particular day, a few friends and I decided to take a little field trip down to the Korean War Memorial Museum. With our cameras loaded into our backpacks, we were ready to soak in the history of South Korea and how it came to be.

The museum exhibits and preserve materials related to the Korean War and serves as a national moral educational venue. It was established to commemorate the noble sacrifice of patriotic martyrs by the War Memorial Service Korea Society on June 10, 1994. The museum itself consists of seven indoor exhibits, including the Memorial Hall, The War History Room, The Korean War Rooms, The Expenditionary Forces Room, The ROK Armed Forces Room and the Exhibition Hall of Donated Relics and Children’s Museum.

Starting from the second floor, we made our way through the Memorial Hall first. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted with a dimly lit room with white columns going down along both our right and left sides. But as we looked up, the ceiling was pitch black as little bright white stars twinkled everywhere. This room was the Stars of National Defense; it commemorates a number of war heroes killed during the war, who protected Korea and became the eternal stars of national security.


With so many interactive exhibits, it was both fun and a wonderful educational experience for everyone visiting the museum. Personally, I learned so much more about the events that lead up to the Korean War and how South Korea fought hard for freedom. After years of suppression and political turmoil, the people finally had enough and wanted peace for themselves. And the only way they could win peace for themselves was to fight for their freedom.

Of all the exhibits I visited, the War History Rooms had the most significant impact. Each display consisted of donated relics ranging from military equipment, journals, to uniforms and cars. The purpose of the room itself was to show the history of forefather’s resistance from foreign aggressions since the prehistoric age. In essence, Korea was constantly fighting outsiders all while trying to keep their country together.

Indeed, the Korean War Memorial Museum gave me a closer insight to the history behind Korea. After years of fighting for independence, Korea was able to break away from the suppressing chaos before eventually splitting into the North and South Korea that we know today. Although it is still unclear as to if the two Koreas will ever unite, I’m pretty sure that if it does happen one day, the Korean people will only become stronger as a community both mentally and emotionally. With so much history writing both countries, Korea is indeed a unique and a one of a kind destination to be at.