Category Archives: Blogger – Summer 2017

What to Expect: Critical Friends


A friend is someone who will be by your side no matter what; who will stick by you and share pivotal moments of your life with you. A critical friend, however, is one who will offer you their honest opinion and critique, with the goal of helping you grow as an individual. Our professors introduced this term to us during orientation, and encouraged us to remain critical friends to one another throughout this experience. This served as a running theme throughout the program. We were in tight quarters, in an unfamiliar country with a culture we weren’t used to. We’d make mistakes – we just had to trust someone would be there to challenge us to do better. To be better.

During our class, for example, we had to be critical friends. We were there to help each other grow, not to bring each other down. Sometimes people made problematic comments or said things that conflicted with the majority opinion. These unpopular opinions were definitely addressed during class, and conversations often became tense. Having these kinds of conversations about social issues and opposing ideologies can be tough, as there may not actually be a “right answer.” However, what I appreciated most about this program was that it forced us to talk about and think through our differences in ways some people may have otherwise never had the opportunity to.

I was often challenged to be a critical friend, myself. This summer was characterized by evolving dynamics, underlying themes, and layered issues. I found myself being a critical friend to my classmates who made decisions that totally disregarded the people of color in the group; my Jamaican comrades whose ideologies were rooted in gender and racial biases; and even my professors, who allowed their assumptions to dictate how they handled situations.

Sometimes being a critical friend came in group settings, but you’d be surprised how many people actually seek it. Watching some of my classmates truly humble themselves enough to admit they were wrong and seek guidance on how to move forward was one of my biggest takeaways from studying abroad. You see, in class, we talked about the “bystander effect” and how not acting in a situation can be just as bad as being the oppressor. And as difficult as it is to be strong, your actions, or lack thereof, could determine the course of a situation. I began to reflect on my own ability to admit when I was wrong, and realized that in order to be an effective critical friend to others, I had to  be critical of myself.


What to Expect: Lots of Reflecting


Do you know what’s worse than writing a 15-page research paper while studying abroad in Jamaica? Writing a 15-page research paper while studying abroad in Jamaica with no wifi. The lack of internet stability added further frustrations to the academic aspect of this program. From the beginning, the routers were not always consistent, and coupled with the further complications the weather had provided, we had a very difficult time completing our assignments. Luckily, the other assignments we had were not research based, but rather, based on our personal observations at our service sites or during our time in Jamaica altogether.

The program itself consisted of two aspects: the class and our service sites. Class met Monday through Friday for 2 hours, with discussions based on our assigned readings. Conversations in class got pretty heated, especially considering we were all coming from so many different upbringings and academic disciplines. I noticed that Liberal Arts students had an easier time adapting to the discussions. Topics ranged from economics to politics to social issues. I didn’t expect conversations to get so intense, but opposing views were extremely common, as were passionate convictions about certain things.

I had never had an opportunity to really delve into certain issues with white people in my classes until this program. We were forced, or encouraged, to be open with one another, despite whatever opinions someone had. Whenever race is discussed in traditional classroom settings, white people tend to retreat. I’m not sure if it’s the fear of saying something wrong or being labeled as racist that typically steers them away, but many of the white people in this program were open about their thoughts.

It’s difficult to avoid talking about race or culture when you’re in a black country. Jamaica has so much history with slavery and colonialism that it’s almost impossible to avoid it. This was not Europe. This wasn’t Asia. And because of that, conversations got real.

Additionally, a lot of reflection was made in regards to our service sites. I was assigned to RADA, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, an organization in Jamaica with the goal of driving economic growth through agricultural development. I was so excited to finally have a field project within my discipline. However, because the organization had so many duties and not enough staff, my project and role there got overlooked. There were long periods of waiting and frustration that I had not been expecting and overall uncertainty about what I would be writing about for my final paper. Even the midterm, which we took upon two weeks of arrival, had to discuss what we were working on with our projects… It was hard. But in the end, I ended up having a project after all and was able to complete my papers.

Flowers in an Aching Void


I had a nightmare the other night.  There were no specific images, no specific sequences, no specific fears.  Only a feeling.  I shattered back into the waking world out of breath, my heart in an ice cold knot, trembling; my eyes were wet with the stinging salt of tears.  The nightmare hasn’t come true, but I know it will.

I’m not ready to leave London.  I’ve seen a lot of things and done a lot of things, but there’s always more.  There’s all of England outside of London, all of Scotland, all of Wales, and half of Ireland.  And then in the rest of the world, there’s the other half of Ireland, there’s continental Europe.  There are Asia and Africa and Antarctica.  There are places that would change my world if only I could find them.  If only I had time to find them.

In Wales there’s a mountain in Snowdonia National Park called Cadair Idris.  Ages ago, according to the local lore, the giant Idris made his throne there, and the lakes surrounding Cadair Idris are said to be bottomless.  There is magic there, in legend, and if you spend the night on the mountain, you’re likely not to wake up at all.  If you do, you’ll either wake up a madman or a poet.  If I wasn’t a student, I would spend the night, but I am busy with classes, finishing up final exams and papers.  If my budget was more generous, I would find a way to get there, but traveling can be expensive.

I had a nightmare the other night, and I woke up with a knife in my heart—a knife of regret.  I don’t regret not having done more in the time I’ve been here; I don’t regret not filling my remaining time with more adventures despite my classwork.  I regret not having more time, and I regret not yet having the means to see more of the world.  I know I’m privileged to be having these regrets, but the privilege does nothing to ease the ache of the emptiness the knife has torn into my heart.

In my dream I was home, and everything was over.

In Celtic folklore, there is a race of immortal beings called the Aos Si (the Fair Folk), and it is claimed that they can be found in the proximity of earthen mounds called Sidhe, which are located all over Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England.  The Sidhe are sometimes thought to be portals into the fairy world, but I don’t have the means to find them.  I can’t rent a car, and, unless I care to fail my classes, I can’t take a weekend-long hike.

City life in London didn’t bring me any closer to the rich mythologies of the United Kingdom.  It showed me the world—influences of every culture can be found in London—but it did not let me understand it.  The city is a city, and in a city, everything gets diluted by commerce.  Everyone wants to experience everything, but few people care to understand even a single thing.

I had a nightmare the other night, and it’ll soon come true.  I worry about the elusiveness of understanding and my inability to catch it without having more time to experience this new world.  I’m afraid I might not have another opportunity to travel.

Fear in dreams is strongest when you know it’s more than just a dream.

What happens to the memories when you’re finished making them?  And what about the memories you never had time to make?  They are nothing you can touch, nothing you can relive, nothing except your imagination.  They are only a feeling—a flower blooming from the knife wound in your chest that will wither and die come winter, and all you can hope is that it will blossom into a garden come spring.

Even the photographs will fade with time, but at least I had the opportunity to take them:

tower bridge.jpg

Tower Bridge:  My Final Affair with the Temptress Tourism


Shakespeare’s Globe


and finally some comic relief:  “Spot the Hazards.”  Thank you England for a wonderfully dark sense of humour

No Time to Think: Home


I wish I could sit down for a week and think about everything I experienced in London.  I wish I could write about it and learn from it.  But when my plane landed, I jumped right back into doing stuff.  It’s marching band stuff, so it’s my choice and I enjoy it, but marching band stuff is nonstop all day every day from barely after dawn to just before midnight, and my brain exhausts itself before each day is halfway through.  All I can think about is water, what drill is up next, and how long it’s been since the last cloud rolled by.  Sometimes, when I get the chance to close my eyes to the white light of day, I can see the yellow eye of Big Ben peering at me across the River Thames.  The last kiss of the Temptress Tourism lingers on my lips.

I can still smell the streets of London—nothing bad, just the indescribable scent that characterizes the city.  It sneaks up on me and reminds me of where I’ve been before leaving me grasping for more.  Sometimes I wake up convinced that I’m in Palace Court, that I’ll leave for class in an hour, jammed onto the tube with thousands of other people heading to work, and that, if I’m hungry enough to make an unwise decision (given a college budget), I might stop somewhere for some tasty English food after class.  American accents sound out of place now, not because they’re unfamiliar after weeks in London, but because I miss hearing the English accent.

In marching band, I am around the same people every day, just as in London, I was always around the other students in the program, and I am unsettled by how one group of people you spend so much time with can so suddenly be replaced by another.  It’s easy to fall out of touch after there’s no program to keep you together, but I was fortunate enough to forge a few friendships.  In my new friends, I will always have a reminder of London.  In my memories of London, I will always have a reminder of home.

The world is all around us, and London taught me that I don’t have to travel to experience the world.  I think about all the people living in London who don’t care that they’re living in London.  When I boarded my plane from Philly to London, there was a group of English people who vacationed in Philadelphia.  There are people who come from all over the world to see America, and yet I, like the people who don’t care that they live in London, never cared that I live in America.  Everything here is so familiar that I forget to look around me and experience my homeland.  What life changing experiences can I have in America?  In Pennsylvania?  On my own street?  I miss London, but the experience of living in a foreign city for six weeks, trying to make as much out of my time as was comfortable, and staring in awe at everything I passed, made me wonder what awe-worthy things are hidden just beneath my nose in America.


aliens invade Macbeth



Streets of Sad Art


(please forgive any oversimplifications or generalizations of stuff and things due to space constraints)


The “Last Days of Shoreditch” have arrived, according to street artist Ben Eine (pronounced like benign).  Shoreditch and the famous road Brick Lane have been homes to Jewish and South Asian communities, most prominently the Bangladeshi community, since the 1950’s, and, moreover, they also boast the richest collection of street art anywhere in London.  Unfortunately, these areas are dying due to the arrival of entrepreneurs who take advantage of the cheap property value to open unique independent businesses such as cat cafes, cereal stores, and expensive chocolate stores.  They clean up a bit, attract upper-middle class consumers to help their businesses grow, and, when they succeed, the area is more promising for other entrepreneurs who want to open up new businesses.  One section of Shoreditch has developed such promising  businesses that it is even proclaimed to be London’s Silicon Valley.  Soon rows of chic modern stores line the newly renovated streets, and tourists flock to clog the sidewalks and streets with their clueless and careless standing around.

Except for the tourists, it might not sound so bad, but hence arises the controversy surrounding gentrification.  What many people either ignore or don’t understand is that this renovation and commercialization of poorer areas, particularly those that house immigrant communities, comes with a severe tradeoff:  you end up shoving these communities out of their homes and closing their own businesses by making it too expensive for them to live.  Where are they supposed to go?

Gentrification is the cause of the “Last Days of Shoreditch,” and it is evident all throughout Shoreditch and Brick Lane.  Where once stood Jewish and Bangladeshi homes and businesses, now fancy stores rear their flat, black-painted fronts (the black paint is to deter street art, because it’s easier to clean off).  Immigrant families who can still afford to own businesses in the area are forced to live in the far outskirts of London (like Zone 6, if you look at a TFL map and find it means anything to you) because the residential rooms on the floors above their businesses are now too expensive for them to rent, and food is no longer so affordable (unless you’re a fool and consider a £5.50, or $7+, bowl of cereal cheap—for real, ‘Cereal Killer Cafe’ is a tourist-attracting cereal cafe, and, although it’s cool and prosperous, such an expensive bowl of cereal really messes with the economy).  Along one stretch of Brick Lane, the only evidence of its former Bangladeshi community is a single Muslim trust company.  It was closed.


new businesses all along the right, and one remaining Muslim store on the left

The street artists, however, fight against the rush of entrepreneurs and ensuing gentrification.  They paint murals on the sides of buildings (not unlike the murals in Philadelphia) whether they’re appreciated or not, they place little mushrooms on top of buildings, and, along walls beside the streets, they reflect the culture and opinions of the South Asian communities.  If opposed by the black-painted buildings of newer businesses, they find other surfaces to paint on, such as little pieces of flattened gum on the sidewalk.  Via their art, they ensure that, despite the growing presence of wealthy businesses, the South Asian presence in Shoreditch and Brick Lane will not be forgotten to capitalism and gentrification.


the mushroom on the left is some dude’s street art






Ciao, Artena!


As our final days in Artena came to a close, we had been finding ourselves speeding through time. What used to feel like days upon days, suddenly felt like mere minutes. Five and a half hours at the site felt like barely one. It almost seemed fitting that we also found many more artifacts in those last few days than we had any other time during the month.

The ferocious heat that had been causing the forest fires only seemed to be increasing in intensity, with multiple fires springing up daily. The fire that prevented us from our dinner in the caves also burned the northern-most right corner of our site, which happened to be where we have been working the most. Thankfully, it didn’t come close enough to cause any damage; the fire only burned away pesky thistles and weeds. The lingering smell of smoke had us all on edge however, as a constant reminder of the heat and the importance of and need for water.

As we wrapped up Thursday, we ran out of things to do and to dig around, as we didn’t want to start anything new only to be cut off in a day’s time. Because of this, we ended up making small talk with some of the locals who have been helping us these last few weeks, laying in the sun, and attempting to not get heat stroke. Learning that it was the last day volunteers could come was a bit disheartening, because even though most of us can’t really communicate very well with them, they brightened our days and made them fun.

Friday we spent doing last minute cleaning, brushing dirt off of more dirt, and honestly feeling pretty useless. Rock piles were moved to form other, further away rock piles, and dirt piles were attempted to be flattened. However, covering our few basins and important walls with new plastic gave us a sense of purpose and a goal for the last day. Covered in plastic tarp and volcanic rocks, the walls, basins, and dolium have hopefully been sufficiently preserved for next summer’s program of students.

italy last1

(We celebrated Sofi’s birthday our last night in Artena, and it was very sweet.)

Flying home on a grueling ten-hour flight the following morning proved to be a restless time for me, personally. I thought about everything that I would miss, the sites and architecture, the wonderful food and the friendly people. But mostly, I spent my time thinking about how lucky I am to have had this opportunity to experience something that most Americans never can; I immersed myself in a new culture, in their histories, and I effectively became part of the living, breathing history of the Roman Empire.

italy last2

(Saying goodbye to Nonda’s food – especially the desserts – was the hardest part about leaving!)

A Fairyhunter’s Hunger


I like the taste of fairies.  It’s like fruit and honey with a little bite of hot pepper on the tip of the tongue, and it pleases my tummy.  You put a fairy in your mouth, and it just dissolves, melts like European chocolate—not any of that chalky American garbage—and it buzzes the brain with the electric of a thousand cups of coffee, without the crash.  You’d think because fairies are these little humanoid creatures, there’d be a certain crunch when you bite into them, but no, they’re perfect little humanoid creatures of fudge.  I’ve developed a distaste for the wings, though.  The wings are like lettuce.  I don’t eat vegetables.  I like the taste of fairies.

I carry my fairy-catching net around London with me all the time.  I figured that, because this is the United Kingdom with all its Celtic and Arthurian myths and legends of magical beings, I’d basically be walking into an all-you-can-eat fairy buffet, but little did I know, imperialism and industrialization and urbanization (and tourism) seem to have scared the fairies into hiding.  I’ve looked up where to find them:  way up north in England and in Scotland, or over in remote regions of Ireland and Wales—they’re all inaccessible on my limited budget with limited means of transportation.  Being a fairyhunter for a living, I could make some big bucks selling my catches on the black market, but unfortunately, I eat everything I catch.

Until I can summon the willpower to sell a fairy instead of eating it, London’s parks are my only hopes for finding fairies.  Not the big parks like Hyde Park, whose fairy potential have been torn to shreds by commercialization, but rather smaller, lesser known parks, out of the way of Central London.  With my fairy-catching net slung over my shoulder, I ventured on an hour-long bus ride to Battersea, where I got some Chinese food in case I didn’t catch any fairies to eat, and went on a hunt in Battersea Park.

There were buttloads of ducks and geese floating in the huge pond that greeted me upon entering the park, but, as far as I could see, there were no fairies.  The only sign of fairy activity I found was a floofy little white puppy running and jumping everywhere at nothing in particular, which made me wonder if the fairies were all vibrating at a frequency invisible to my eye.  Upon walking deeper into the park, humankind’s shaping of the natural landscape became apparent—the park was confused.  It seemed the only pure nature was around the pond by the south entrance; deeper in, the park became a weird hodgepodge of attractions.  In addition to the forested pond, there was a garden, a lawn, a pool, a zoo, and a pagoda, among other things.  Nothing made sense.  It was like someone dumped together twenty-three different puzzles, removed seven-ninths of the pieces, and blindly put them together.  It was interesting, but there were no fairies.  I did, however, find what was presumably the vomit of an ogre or a troll.  It was green and chunky, but not nearly as tasty as a fairy.

Peace Pagoda.jpg


ogre and/or troll vomit served on a platter of water

My other excursion for fairies was to Kew Gardens in Richmond, but the only tiny edible critters I found there were mosquitoes and tons and tons of bees.  They don’t taste like fairies.  I didn’t want to waste the adventure, though, so I frolicked through the park like a gleeful moose, swinging my fairy-catching net at whatever I felt like, and admiring the largest collection of plants and trees in the world.  I almost ate a peacock, but I decided against it.  I didn’t exactly realize before I went to Kew, but the Gardens themselves are symbolic of the bane of fairies in England—imperialism.  Kew features gajillions of plants from all around the world, representing the imperial prowess of Great Britain, so basically, Kew, next to museums of stolen artifacts (such as the British Museum), is one of England’s many ways of bragging about itself.

Bumpy Tree.jpg

bumpy tree from China

Treetop View.jpg

totally-not-anticlimactic treetop view of London’s skyline

I just wish I could have munched on some fairies, but instead I had to settle on eating Cadbury chocolate, which, fortunately, tastes and feels similarly enough to a mouthful of fairies that I’m convinced it has some fairy chunks in it.  It makes Hershey taste like chalky rubber.

Fairy Prison.jpg

either a greenhouse, or a high-security fairy prison. I like to think it’s the latter


“The Hive.” It buzzes with the deep rumble of a ginormous beehive

Fire Hazard


Something I really didn’t think that I had to contend with on this program abroad was forest fires. However, there have been large forest fires across the mountain every day for the last two days. Even though we could see them from Hotel Chiocchio, everything was safe and the fires were quickly subdued by the fire crews and helicopters full of water. The most unfortunate aspect of the whole fire ordeal was that the Piano della Civita was lit on fire, which is the area where our site is. The site is completely unharmed, but our fun cave night was put on a bit of a hold.

There is a cave near the site that is technically open to the public, but there’s no upkeep or anything similar to the public caves in the United States. Our last Wednesday night dinner in Artena was planned to be spent in this cave, eating pizza and having a good time with all the locals who volunteered to help us at our site this past month. We were all dressed in our dig clothes and steel-toed boots, sitting and waiting for the OK to head up to the cave. Unfortunately, because of the fire, we had to wait for Cecile to check out the cave to make sure it was safe to enter (and safe to even enter the area). So we ended up eating pizza and wine sitting in the fountain in the plaza of the town!

fire hazardOther than that small hiccup, our last week has been going decently enough. It’s the hottest consecutive days that we’ve had this entire month (reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit), with blistering sun, no cloud cover, and the occasional wind gust that blew dirt in every direction and every orifice of our faces. Unfortunately as well, we had another sick day for a third member of our ever-growing group. On the bright side, we have found so many new things that we were not expecting, cle aned massive areas in such a short amount of time, documented everything, and are almost ready to cover up and conserve what we have found.

Palistrina or Prinestra?


palestrinaRecently, Professor Gadeyne took the four of us on a second museum trip, this one a tad farther than down the hill. We went to the archaeological museum in Palistrina, which is one of the next towns over from Artena in the closest mountain. When we first arrived, after waiting with strained, bated breath as Professor Gadeyne managed to parallel park the car in a spot that it should not have fit in by any laws of physics, we took in the view in front of us: flights upon flights of extra-large stone steps. And as the reader may have guessed, Professor Gadeyne best us all to the top, barely breathing heavy, with Mathilde shortly behind him. Meanwhile, the rest of us were still struggling on step number five.

The museum itself is built where an ancient sanctuary used to exist, and still stands today to some degree. The newest building, which is actually not that new considering it was built during the medieval era in Italy, sits on top of where the main part of the sanctuary used to be. The temple for the unknown deity still exists and stands behind this building, as it used to during the height of the Roman Republican Era. The common place towards the bottom of the hull (and the bottom of all those stairs) has been turned into housing and has not existed in its original context for centuries. Within the museum lie various artifacts from the area, which are (unfortunately for us) arguably more interesting and intact than nearly anything that has ever been recovered in Artena and its surrounding areas. Starting from the earliest phase of the region, which is roughly from the early 2nd century BCE, to the latest Roman phase (6th century CE), artifacts, pieces of art work, bronze work, and more are housed safely and securely in this museum. The bit of history that we received told us that Palistrina (then Prinestra) was likely the most important urban center of the region, as well as a generally important city in the grand scheme of the center of the empire. However, the elite of the city were supposedly all executed along with their entire families during one of the civil wars (likely the Sulla vs. Marius war c. 82 BCE, and these families chose Marius).

Even more stairs lead to the very bottom of the hill; believe it or not, we parked near the top! Professor Gadeyne had us all walk the entire way down the hill, giving us fun tidbits of information about the area and its histories the entire way. The view from the various terraced and landings made the hike worth while (although I, personally, was glad that I had elected to wear shorts instead of jeans on that trip). Even though Palistrina may have a richer, more urban history than Artena, we are still finding a lot of the same artifacts, and our site is proving to be equally as important and worth its excavation.

The Real Indiana Jones


This past week has been an wild ride of new things for all of us on this trip. Two of us got sick and missed the dig for a few days, which put a lot of strain on those that remained. Luckily, we had a new pair of hands this week as well! This past weekend we welcomed an alum to our dig, who participated in this exact program two years ago. Ryan has been a quiet yet helpful member of the team this past week, and hopefully will continue to assist us this last week as well! The three of us American students went on another day trip to explore this area of Italy, which added yet another new experience to the week. We visited the archaeological site in Ostia (Ostia Antica), and boy, what a site it is! It feels like you’re walking through miles and miles of twisting, turning columns, brick and stone walls, mosaics – with dead ends at every other turn.

Unsurprisingly, I managed to get myself lost. Separated from the other girls for but a moment, I found myself in an actual maze of stone. I couldn’t find the others on the path we had taken, but figured they’d just gone a little off the path and would come back; they did not. I continued wandering, figuring I would text them and we would find a way to meet up. Hot, tired, and more than a little bit anxious, I made it to a kind of museum at one end of the site. This beautiful building is full of statues, tributes, and frescoes found from differing areas all over the site. All of the pieces are relatively in-tact, which is incredibly rare for this phase of the Roman Empire. I spent a while chatting with the lady who was in charge of the small space, and found out that many of the pieces housed there have actually been recovered from the black market! The illegal buying, selling and trading of archaeological artifacts has been a problem for centuries, but is finally being addressed and the perpetrators are being reprimanded and prosecuted for their crimes against heritage and history conservation. This museum takes part by housing the found pieces, putting parts together of the same piece that had been stolen separately, and helping the government and committees in charge of the archaeological artifact protection (specifically those that were located in and around the Ostia area).

This lonesome traveler story has a happy ending, no worries about that! I managed to find my way to the cafe and giftshop at the very end of the site, and waited in air-conditioned bliss until Tina and Sofi found their way to the end as well. Tired but satisfied, we took the train, metro, and another train that it takes to get from Ostia to Valmontone, and then yet another bus back to Artena. The walk up the mountain from the bus stop was more grueling than it would have been had we not spent the entire day wandering around the ruins of a once-prosperous ancient port city, but the adventure was well worth the hike.