Category Archives: Uncategorized

Beginning: Chemical Engineering in Tarragona, Spain

The fact that I will board a plane to Spain in three days is still very hard for me to believe. I just finished up an amazing co-op at Onyx Specialty Papers in western MA last week, and haven’t had any time to wind down. But hey, who needs a break? Simultaneously unpacking from one trip and packing for another is fun, right? (If you listen to Spanish podcasts while you do it, it’s even better!)

Preparing for a trip like this is pretty darn stressful for me – I have never been to another continent, and the only times I’ve left the country are many trips to Canada (how exciting!) and a cruise in the Caribbean (that one is actually exciting!). Not to mention the fact that I will be embarking on this trip essentially on my own. Yes, there are 19 other Northeastern students, but my parents won’t be joining (yahoo! freedom!). For our classes, we’re heading to Tarragona, a city in the region of Cataluña, in the northeastern part of Spain. Afterwards we’ll spend a few days in Barcelona, and then I’ll be exploring Madrid on my own for a week. Luckily, I know Spanish, although I’m a little rusty since I haven’t been actively practicing much since high school. In preparation for this trip, I listened to a ton of Spanish radio, and also read Bajo La Misma Estrella (poor translation, but it’s The Fault in Our Stars, Spanish language version). My confidence in my Spanish skills is still not where I want it to be, but one of my goals is to improve my Spanish on this trip. Unfortunately, a lot of Catalonians speak catalan, so I may not get as much Spanish practice as I want there. Hopefully navigating Madrid alone will supplement those limited opportunities nicely.

Now, why exactly did I decide to go on this trip? I’ve always been a little against studying abroad – if you’re paying all this money to a school, might as well get the best quality education you can, right? And doesn’t that mean staying at Northeastern, where the best professors and resources are? Also, as a chemical engineering major, it seemed pretty impractical to try to fulfill my requirements at another university in a different country. It would end up being a lot of wasted money, in my opinion. However, my whole outlook changed when I found out about this dialogue. First, a Northeastern professor will be teaching us, and we are taking two courses that are both required for a chemical engineering degree. Plus, they’re the exact courses I would be taking in Boston this summer two, and fit in perfectly between my co-op and the fall semester. Second, it did not cost any extra money upfront – I’ll be paying more for food and shopping than if I were in Boston, but it’ll be worth it. And finally, the dialogue was to Spain. I took Spanish in high school and always wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country. Whenever I was asked the question, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”, my answer was Spain. There was really no way I could not go on this dialogue.

I think that since I’ve never been to a place with a culture much different than mine, this will really be an exciting experience for me. Hopefully I’ll be more open-minded and “cultured,” as they say. If it weren’t for this, I wouldn’t be leaving the country until I had enough money to do so (i.e. a looooong time from now. I’ll need a salary and I’ll need to have paid my parents back for my education. So yeah, maybe never?). I think I’ve had a pretty sheltered and somewhat boring life so far (sorry, mom and dad), and this will be my opportunity to try new things, take risks, and let go. I plan to step out of my conservative, straight-laced box a little, and I’m really interested to see how that goes. However, I still plan on doing well in my classes – Thermodynamics 1 is no joke, and it will really be a challenge to balance studying time with exploring time.

On that note, I’m nervous about sleep. Between classes, cultural visits, and chemical plant visits, will there be time for sleep? We shall see. My high school self survived on 5-6 hours of sleep a night, but I’ve been spoiled on co-op. That will definitely be an adjustment. Besides that, I think my fears are pretty typical – a new city, a new culture, and new classmates – there’ll be a whole lot of adjusting to do, but I think I’m ready for it. I like a little adventure. I’m really looking forward to the old-world architecture of Spain – architecture was a career I considered at one point, and I have a soft spot for beautiful buildings. Also, the food – who doesn’t love food? But really, I’m excited for every single part of this trip. Anyways, I should go – so much left to do! 3 days, 4 hours, 58 minutes, and 16 seconds until departure! ¡Hasta luego!

End of Week 4: TYPICAL DAY

A typical weekday for myself here in London would be a day at my internship at the British Parliament House of Commons. I wake up around 8:00 a.m. each morning and jump into the shower. Then I get dressed for work and make myself breakfast; I cook a lot at my student flat since its cheaper than buying food for every meal. Next, I grab my security Parliamentary pass for work and run out the door at about 9:30. I walk to work, swipe myself into the building, and get on an elevator to reach my office in Portcullis House, the Parliamentary administration building near the Palace of Westminster. I work in an MP’s office and I usually begin my internship tasks for the day at 10:00 am. I often do correspondence with constituents, emails, filing, writing, event scheduling, and research various policies. By 1:00 p.m. I head out for lunch and I usually purchase a bite to eat in one of the many cafés & restaurants available on the Parliamentary Estate. The food is very cheap for employees as all the items are subsidized by taxpayer funds. I leave work at exactly 5 p.m. and walk back to my flat, usually arriving by 5:20. I cook dinner with whatever groceries I have bought for that week at around 6 p.m. and then relax for the rest of the night. I go on social media and check my email. I sometimes watch T.V and call back home. Also, I often hang out with my flatmates and do a bit of exploring in the city if we have enough time that night. By 10:00 p.m. I have picked out my work outfit for the next day, and jumped into bed to go to sleep, ready to repeat it all again tomorrow.

Beginning of Week 4: Local Living

So far, it has been very difficult to find local Londoners as I live in the center of the city and many tourists can be found anywhere. However, when I go out into Greater London and visit the various pop-up markets and small shops, I often run into local British residents. This has been the best way for me to meet locals because I am outside of the city-center and I am in the areas where people actually live.

The most interesting thing I have bought while abroad was a Scottish organic soap that was made directly in Scotland and I purchase it in Edinburgh as a gift for my mom. As far as the currency, it has been a difficult to adjust to. When I see something for £2 or even £30 I consider it to be much more inexpensive than it actually is in US dollars. Also, in Britain they have eight different coins for currency and it is difficult to remember what they all amount to when trying to purchase something. With this in mind, I have been very good at saving my cash in London and budgeting correctly for my time here.

London/Dublin 2015 – The End

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One of the best things about this trip was the pairing of courses with the cities we traveled to. London and Dublin, both being English-speaking countries, made me initially assume there wouldn’t be an extremely drastic culture difference. Upon arriving, I learned that this assumption was flat out wrong. Fortunately, my courses in mindfulness and wellness abroad taught me a great deal about acceptance and letting go. I learned to let go of certain predispositions and became more open to possibilities. The little things don’t seem to bother me as much as they used to. Especially while abroad, you try very hard initially  to find some sort of normalcy or comfort to enable yourself to survive the journey. But I found that accepting the discomfort and embracing it fully allowed me to have the most fun possible.

My wellness course taught me that classwork and academics should not consume a person’s life. Life shouldn’t be a 50/50 split between work and everything else. If that’s the case, you leave a great deal of time dedicated to your work, and leave very little time to further hobbies or interests or quality time with family. It is important for our overall wellbeing to evenly dedicate our time to the different aspects of our lives. From this, I in fact ended up discovering something fascinating about myself. I dedicate a lot of my attention to others, or being around other people, because socializing is something I enjoy. However, I realized that I didn’t put in a fair amount of time into giving myself enough attention.

This has really become a new mantra of mine in a manner of speaking. I feel that people should remove the complicated aspects of certain situations and just do what makes them happy. So what if no one else wanted to go for a run around the campus of UCD with me? I would do it regardless because I enjoyed it. What if I wanted to do my work outside on a nice day? I decided rather than following the pack, I could sit with myself and do this because deep down it was what I wanted. I learned a real difference between being selfish and focusing on the self.

Prior to studying abroad, I had some, but not too many fears as to how the trip would go. Fortunately, I had such a great group of friends on the trip that all those fears seemed to dissolve no less than 48 hours into the trip. I learned that friendships and the support they provide us truly to keep a person sane and strong.

Studying abroad has made the world seem just a little smaller to me. It was fascinating to immerse myself into TWO different cultures in under a month. I felt the shift between America and London, London and Dublin, and then Dublin back to America. But every time I’ve been abroad prior to this trip, I felt wiser knowing of other cultures, and more accepting, and I would definitely say that this trip has done that for me again. And this, to me is the greatest benefit of studying abroad; becoming a global citizen.

My favorite experience from this trip was travelling to the Cliffs of Moher in Galway, Ireland. It was an absolutely beautiful scene. I swear it looked like it came out of a painting. My friends and I hiked along the paths and stopped every so often. We took pictures and laughed and relaxed and stared out and took it all in. It fascinates me how such magnificent places can be formed purely naturally. We only had about two and a half hours to be there, but I stood there, present with every second, and let the memory stain my brain. I can still remember how the path wound around and brought you further and further out where you could feel the intensity of the wind even more. I never want to forget that.

My advice to future participants of a dialogue is to do all your work, but remember to be mindful that you need to remain present. One can get so caught up in work or tours and not truly appreciate the finite amount of time they have abroad. For this reason, I seriously stress to all future travelers to ensure that they be appreciative and present in the moment. And without a doubt, if I could do this again I would. So maybe I’ll see some of you on another dialogue in the future? Until then, cheers to the opportunity I was given, the friendships I made, the places I explored, the material I learned, and the memories I made. They are all unforgettable in their own unique ways. And I’ll be back to visit London and Dublin very soon I hope!

China- Beginning

As I am about to embark on a journey I will hopefully never forget, there are definitely a few things on my mind about it.

To start, I decided that I wanted to go on this dialogue for a few reasons, but the biggest reason was to continue learning Mandarin and receive an even stronger education after being fully immersed in the language for several weeks. In addition to that, as a planned Chinese minor I thought that this opportunity was too good to pass up. Besides just learning more of the language, I will be able to truly experience the native culture, something I wouldn’t be able to do if I stayed in my comfort zone and didn’t go abroad.

Hopefully, I will come back very changed from this experience, with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of other cultures and their traditions. All of the culture classes we will be taking and excursions we are planning to go on cover a wide variety of the cultural traditions of the Chinese and I expect that will be a very eye-opening experience for me. On a more scholarly note, I do hope to come back from this dialogue with a better understanding of Mandarin and the ability to use it with more ease. These expectations of change are also my goals for the trip: to really let myself be changed by this experience and not be avoidant of new situations but rather embrace them fully while I have the chance. I personally think that the only way for me to achieve these goals is to relax and enjoy my time there and force myself to participate fully in every opportunity even if I’m not sure of the outcome. I know going into this that the planned excursions and lessons are all meant for our good and embracing them will only make my experience more worthwhile and memorable.

I don’t have too many fears going into this, besides a general fear of the unknown as I’ve never been to Asia before. However, I think my excitement outweighs my fear and thus dulls the few fears I do have so that they are barely noticeable. I am slightly worried that I will get sick from such a large change in diet, but I know that is probably inevitable and will pass with time. I’m also a little worried about the course load, as it is a lot to learn in a shortened amount of time, but I also know that the curriculum would not be planned as it is if it were not doable. But again, due my extreme excitement for the experience, my fears pale by comparison.

It might seem like a cop-out to say I’m really excited for the whole experience, but I cannot begin to choose a single thing that I am most looking forward to. I guess if I had to say one thing it would be that I’m excited for the new perspective I will gain as a result of seeing a completely different culture and how they live everyday.

My thought is, without this opportunity I would most likely never learn what I am about to experience. As a result,  I want to take as much advantage of this trip as I possibly can and get the most out of it while I have the chance.

A Typical Day in Skagaströnd, Iceland.

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Today is my last day in Skagaströnd, Iceland, before my group picks up starts traveling to Reykjavik for the remainder of our dialogue. It has been an amazing three weeks living in this little town and all of us are so sad to leave the artist residency and the friends we have made here.

Each day in this town has been simple and quaint. My roommates and I would make breakfast at home and walk together to our studio at around 9 or 10 am each day. Our studio is in a converted fish factory and is a great space for our work. When our group would meet at studio, we would either participate in lectures, film screenings, or active listening exercises of full-length albums. After meeting for class as a group, we would have time to work in our studio space on our current project and ask questions. We have had projects due every five days here, and on each due date we would have critiques where each student would show and get feedback on his or her film. Since our studio is the only place with wifi, people also hang out in two of our studio nooks after they have finished their work in order to catch up with family or emails via the web.

Occasionally our group would make a run to the local gas station or cafe for some food throughout the day, but most of us would cook meals for ourselves at home. Since it is never dark in Iceland at night during the summer time, most of us have enjoyed spending our evenings outside exploring the cliffs near the ocean or hanging out with some of the locals at the restaurant in town. I personally have loved having constant sunlight so I have time to take more pictures and video in the later hours of the day. I would like to say that I have been getting enough sleep here in Iceland, but with so much brightness and beauty outside it makes it hard to want to go to bed! I know I will really miss the simple living I have experienced in Iceland once I return to Boston.

End of Week 3: Language

Without doubt, I haven’t had the hardest time when it comes to language, as I am studying abroad in London where most people speak English. I have had slight miscommunications although, such as when someone offers me a biscuit and I forget that it is a cookie or when I am looking for the Exit in the train station but all the signs say “Way Out”. The most ridiculous moment where I forgot to stop thinking in American English was when I visited a local restaurant and I was reading the menu. I kept questioning why they offered chips as a side with chicken, then my friend quickly reminded me the menu was referring to French fries. This slight difference, to this day, gets me every time I go to this restaurant. Also, I have really enjoyed picking up the new phrase “Cheers” when I am finding a decent substitute to saying goodbye or thank you.

Beginning of Week 3: Field Trips, Landmarks, Museums

Thusfar, my absolute favorite landmark in London has been Buckingham Palace. Every day in the summer the Changing of the Guard occurs at 11:30 in the morning. The Changing of the Guard is essentially a mini-parade where the British soldiers march into different formations and a military band plays music for half an hour until the new guard appears and the old guard leaves the front of the palace. I have attended this event twice and it is a very exciting spectacle. Buckingham Palace is my favorite location simply because of this event each day and it is nice to visit the same location a number of times yet, always see something new at the Changing of the Guard.

Other than Buckingham Palace, a few flatmates and I visited the Tower of London where the old dungeons of the city were, the famous London Tower Bridge, the Tate Modern Museum, the British Museum, and the Houses of Parliament (where I intern). The entire group of Hansard Scholars took a trip to the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. In Scotland, we visited the Edinburgh Castle and the Scottish Parliament building. In London, we also visited the British Library where we actually saw the Magna Carta Exhibition for the 750th Anniversary of this document and got to view the physical version of the original Magna Carta. I have been having the best time in London and I plan on discovering many more landmarks along the way.IMG_20150607_174702

End of Week 2: Food

When it comes to food in London, I have had a lot of options. Whether it is a Sainsbury’s supermarket or a Byron’s burger, there is an unlimited supply of international food, restaurants, and supermarkets. The portion sizes at restaurants are more or less the same as in American locations. The meal times are usually chosen by myself, although I have noticed restaurants close a bit earlier here. I live in a student flat and it has a kitchen so I have had so much time to try new recipes and food items I find at the local stores. Luckily, I know how to cook so I often can limit how often I have to go out to eat and I eat most of my meals at my flat. The most delicious food I have tried so far in London has to be the food at the infamous Nando’s restaurant. They specialize in making a Peri Peri chicken and is literally the craze when it comes to dinner locations here. Overall, I have had a very moderate experience with the food here in London as it doesn’t differ very much from food in the United States.

Local Living in Iceland

Living in a town with under 500 people, it has been incredibly easy to meet locals. Our group sees the same people out in town and we see our neighbors every day. We have become friendly with those who work at the supermarket, the local restaurant, and the supervisors at the artist residency we are working at. During the three weeks we have spent in Skagaströnd, there have been many holidays celebrated in Iceland. Seaman’s Day, Icelandic National Day, and the 100 year anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Iceland all fall in the month of June. On these days, people have been out celebrating in town and we have had the opportunity to meet locals our age. Luckily for us, we have encountered some really great people who are willing to help us with our projects and answer all of our questions about Iceland.

IMG_5258I can’t say that I have purchased anything too interesting while in Iceland. I decided to buy myself a puffin keychain as a souvenir, along with a minimalist print of an Iceland monster holding a snow cone. Some of my friends have made more intriguing purchases, such as a meal of whale meat or beautifully dyed fish leather. The currency in Iceland is the Icelandic Króna, where every thousand Króna converts to about $7.50 US dollars. The printed money here is incredibly beautiful, but anything under 500 Krona is a coin amount. All of us have acquired an unreal amount of change and it can be cumbersome to spend it without taking ten minutes to properly count it all out. Keeping a budget is not a hard task for me, but my group has found that it is easy to overspend here in Iceland. Most of us are trying to save up for when we go to Reykjavik next week!