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Local Living, Purchases, and Budgeting in Greece

The best way that I have found to meet locals is simply by walking through the busy parts of town. The Greeks are so friendly that you can meet people just by greeting others on the street or starting up a conversation with a shopkeeper or waiter at a restaurant. One example I have of how easy it has been to meet local Greeks is when we were at a restaurant in the village of Oia in Santorini. We were finishing up our lunch and asked our waiter for a suggestion on where to view the world famous sunset later that day. He suggested that we go to the top of a specific hill, giving us details on how to get there. We did end up taking his advice and even saw him there later that evening with his friends! He was so excited to see us and even remembered some of our names. Not only does this instance show how easy it has been to meet locals and live like a tourist instead of a traveler, but it exemplifies how outgoing and kind the Greeks are in general.
The most interesting purchase that I have made here in Greece is a ring with a replica of a Minoan artifact that has yet to be deciphered, called the Dispilio tablet. It was discovered from the Minoan era and was discovered by archaeologists in 1993, but has still remained a mystery in terms of what it means and what it was used for. It is a round carbon stone with characters scratched onto it in a spherical arrangement. We were able to view the original piece in a museum and learn about its details from our tour guide that day and I was immediately drawn to it. It captured my interest because it made me wonder whether the Minoans were actually more advanced than we are today. They created a system of number, letters, or characters that we are not able to figure out. It amazes me that even with all of our modern knowledge or history and technology, historians and archaeologists are still stumped. I love my new piece of jewelry because I can be reminded of Greece’s incredible history every time a look down at my hand.
The exchange rate between the Euro and the dollar is in my favor this summer, as there is not a large difference at all. I have been careful not to overspend, but I have also kept the favorable exchange rate in mind and allowed myself to make purchases if I know that I will not regret them. The exchange rate has eliminated much of the difficulty of adjusting to a new exchange rate and also helped me to maintain a low budget. In addition, contrary to popular belief, cash is readily available (thankfully) at ATMs across Greece and banks are open now that a deal has been reached with the European Union.

Greek Language

Jessica Fay, Crete DOC Summer 2 2015 - The Greek flag flying over Crete

Before the start of our program, we were given a list of phrases to know so that communicating in Greece would be easier upon first arriving. I have known how to ask how to get somewhere and other helpful things for awhile, which has been helpful in avoiding miscommunications and being self-sufficient here in Greece. I have also picked up a lot of Greek just by being here for several weeks. Also, most Greeks speak English very well, so communicating has not been too difficult, especially compared to other European countries that I have visited in which English is not as prevalent. However, there have definitely been some language barriers in terms of pronunciation. Certain Greek words require an accent that if dropped, can result in a completely different meaning. This can definitely be confusing! There have also been some “lost in translation” moments when both parties have been confused.

An example of one of these moments occurred during one of our lectures in Napflion. The lecture was on Greek youths and adolescents. The lecturer, Niki, explained that alcohol was free in Greece. This sparked quite a reaction among the group because everybody of course thought that she meant free of charge. Once she realized the miscommunication, she clarified that she meant free as in not strict in terms of drinking age, not in terms of money. We all laughed about it and it made me think about how such a minor misuse of a word can lead to an entirely different meaning or interpretation.
My favorite new phrases are actually greetings. I love how Greek has so many different ways of greeting people. For example, if you know someone well or have met them before, you can use “ghia su” to say hello. However, if you are just meeting someone for the first time or want to give them a more formal greeting, you may use the phrase “ghia sas” instead. Another example of different types of greetings is relative to the time of day. For example, to say “good morning”, you use “kalimera”. In the afternoon or evening, you would say “kalispera”. Finally, when bidding someone farewell at the end of the night, you would say “kalinita”. This is interesting to me because if you use “kalinita” instead of “kalispera”, for example, and the person will be coming back, he or she corrects you in letting you know that you will see them again before turning in for the night. The small difference in the words has such a significant meaning, and this is something I have learned to be more cautious of during my time here in Greece. I am proud of the amount of Greek language that I picked up thus far and I look forward to learning more as the dialogue continues!


Katelyn Merry, Netherlands DOC Summer 2 2015, 'Watch out' sign

Dutch is a very interesting language and something that is new for everyone on the trip. Almost everyone tried learning a bit using DuoLingo before we left Boston but not many people stuck with it for more than a week. Luckily English is widely spoken in the Netherlands and we haven’t had much trouble finding our way around. Most of the Dutch we’ve learned has come from road signs, because we are on the road so much biking from town to town. “Let op!” means “Watch out!” and it’s used very frequently for various reasons. Pronouncing street and city names has been quite the adventure for everyone in class. Here are a few of the most challenging ones:

Scheveningen:  [ˈsxeːvənɪŋə(n)]

Zoetermeer: [ˌzutərˈmeːr]

Tweemolentjeskade: [there’s not even an explanation for this one]

As you can guess we all have a lot of fun with it, and the local professors appreciate our attempts! A small group of us were playing Dutch Clue last night and made it a rule to guess only in Dutch (Professor Pimpel with the engelse sleutal in the biljartkamer?). It was definitely the funniest game of Clue I’ve ever played. Food has been another thing that we all figured our relatively quickly. We are responsible for most of our own meals-which means grocery shopping and some initial guesswork on what we were buying! Some of the direct translations are really strange (peanut butter here is pinter kaas, which directly translated means peanut cheese) but we’ve all been able to find what we wanted!

I wish there was a bit more focus on language in this dialogue, but we are going into a lot of detail about the transportation infrastructure and it would be difficult to do both. I hope one day I can return to the Netherlands to see how much I remember from this trip.

Until next time, doei!

Field Trips, Museums, Landmarks

Katlyn Merry, Netherlands DOC Summer 2 2015 Girl with the pearl earring

As part of our program we go on a lot of daily field trips. About half of the week is spent in different cities and towns around the Netherlands looking at their bike and public transportation infrastructure. We go on a lot of bike tours, which is a great way to see a lot of things in a limited amount of time. We get the chance to meet planners and city officials from the different places and are always greeted with coffee and a treat-something I could definitely get used to. My favorite field trip thus far has been to Amsterdam. We were given a bike tour of the city and were assigned to explore more specific parts in small groups. We learned about cyclist unions and the advocacy work that they are doing along with Fietsersbond, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving cycling in the city.

Because our days out are so packed with different talks and tours we don’t have a ton of time to go to museums or art galleries. However I made it a priority to go to the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague to see some famous Dutch paintings (The Girl With The Pearl Earring, View of Delft), which was a great experience. We have an upcoming tour of the Corrie Ten Boomhuis museum in Haarlem this weekend and everyone is looking forward to it.

Until next time, doei!

A Weekend in La Fortuna

Bountiful waterfalls, luscious greenery, booming volcanoes and bright colors are what envelop the beautiful countryside of Costa Rica. Last weekend our group visited the town of La Fortuna, an oasis for eco-tourism and adrenaline junkies. The main street in the city faced the massive volcano ahead that faded behind the hazy fog of the never ending rain clouds. On each side of the street there were countless signs advertising for zip lining, white water rafting, bungee jumping and more. This small town inland of Costa Rica’s eastern coast line inhabited some of the most remarkable tourist points that our group had the opportunity of visiting.

Our first day of weekend in La Fortuna led us to the hot water springs fueled by the activity of the nearby volcano. Baldi Resort, a nearby hotel, built a water park empire around these natural hot springs. Pools and water slides were strategically placed around each of the pools. Our small group of eight Northeastern Students were lucky enough to spend the afternoon at this water park resort. Each of us raced down water slides over 100 degrees as surrounding guests anxiously cheered us on.

The following day we woke up early in order to start our day with a morning hike through the La Fortuna National Park. We hiked through the jungle, crossed through rivers and walked across hanging bridges as we peered over the endless jungle canopy. The experience was surreal to say the least and the views were irresistible. As we stood on the bridges, 150 feet above ground level, peering through the towering trees and rainy mist I took a deep breath to cherish the undeniable beauty of our world.

As if our day couldn’t get better – we left the National Park to continue onto our afternoon of zip lining through the tropical rain forest. We took the tram from the base of the mountain in order to reach our starting point for our two hour zip lining expedition. We sped through the rain forest at almost 400 feet gazing over the rich and diverse jungle below. As I looked over my shoulder I could see in the distance the coast line. The sun subtly peaking through the clouds illuminating the peaks of the calming ocean waves.

The final day of our weekend mini-vacation landed us at the basin of the Catarata Water Falls. After walking down hundreds of steps we finally reached the bottom of the water fall. For a few minutes we stood in all its glory as gallons of water poured over into the river. We turned the bend and jumped into the ice cold river water as we stayed afloat at the mercy of the river’s current.

The weekend was a peek into the natural beauty of Costa Rica. Bewildered by all it has to offer words can only begin to describe the beautiful sites we were able to see.

Italy and the Scientific Revolutions: Typical Day

Our weekdays are pretty busy. We usually meet around 8:00 or 8:30 and walk to our morning activity. This is usually a museum, but sometimes it is a church or other historic site. They are always guided tours which is great because we learn so much more that way. They last a few hours, and then we have a lunch break before class. Depending on the amount of time we have and what eateries we are near, I either grab lunch to go or make something simple at my apartment. Then we walk to class around 1:00 and have our science lecture from 1:30 to 3:00. These are on a variety of topics, and we often have guest lecturers from Italy which is very neat. Then we have Italian class from 3:15 to 5:15. Once a week we have a planned cultural activity in the evening with our Italian professor. These include things such as cooking dinner together or watching an Italian movie. In the evenings I do homework and often go out for gelato. Sometimes we eat dinner out, but it’s more often on the weekends. We have also done three day trips – Pisa, Bologna, and Vinci. We are usually gone from about 8:00 am to 6:00 pm for these and they include museums, walking tours, landmarks, and historical sites.

China – Local Living

Life in Kunming is rather simple and straightforward. For me, day to day life is made up of classes and finding food. Personally, I’ve found that visiting restaurants and street vendors is the best way to meet the locals. Interestingly enough, there is one street vendor who sets up shop right outside of our hotel every day, and as a result he knows almost all of the students really well. We have decided to call his food Chinese Pizza, because it reminds us of pizza a little bit. However, it’s very spicy and it’s all wrapped up so it’s easy to eat and portable. Since we started eating his food in a rush he has started saying hi to us whenever we pass by. A couple of the students even go so often that the man knows exactly what they order and starts cooking it when they approach. I think it’s pretty fascinating that foreigners can be considered regulars at a restaurant so quickly.

The whole group practicing Tai Ji in Kunming

I have not bought much so far abroad besides food. I do plan on buying souvenirs in the near future, I have just been waiting until I was closer to leaving so I didn’t have to travel around with too much extra luggage. So I guess so far, the most interesting thing I have bought has been traditional food for a meal. I will say, as I’ve said before, everything in China is incredibly inexpensive. As a result, the currency difference is very strange and hard to get used to. I often feel like I’m carrying around too much cash because I need so many bills in China to carry around the equivalent of about $20 USD. However, even with everything being so cheap I run through my money quite quickly. I think this is because I am required to pay for all of my own food and that racks up the bill pretty quickly. That being said, I definitely have used less money here than I would if I had been paying for my food in any of the European countries. So in the long run I’d say I’ve been pretty good about not spending too much. Pretty soon I’ll have to go back to the ATM though and get money for the souvenirs I want to bring back for my family. The price of traveling I guess.

The group arrival in Taiwan, welcomed by the workers of the Monastery which we promptly fled

Well that’s all for now. Time to continue the eternal struggle of even finding wifi in China. I have to say, this blog has proven a lot more difficult to maintain that I was expecting, but I blame the Chinese Internet restrictions for that.

Pre-Taiwan traveling- waiting for the counter to open to check in.

WEEK 4: Local Living

The best way to meet locals is to go to the locally owned restaurants and bars. It is tempting to go to places like Starbucks and other chains, but the other tourists will be attracted here too and you will not get to mingle with people who live here. The real Berliners seem to prefer the quirky restaurants down the block or the packed bar next door. It is easiest to strike up conversations later in the day when everyone goes out after work to relax with their friends. I have gotten the best suggestions of things to do and places to see from people sitting at the restaurant bars next to me. The other students and young professionals in the city are excited to meet people like us from the states so it is easier to get to know them than older people who have lived in the city their whole lives. In the summer there is always a huge influx of students studying abroad so shop owners and families tend to be more wary of us than the younger groups of people living here.

The place where most of my money goes is definitely towards food, but I have gotten a few little things here and there throughout the city. On the weekends there is a huge flea market in a large field called Mauerpark. The second day that we were here, we all ventured out here in the only swelteringly hot day to brave the crowds and soak in the scene. At one of the stands at the park, a local artist was selling tote bags, teeshirts, and prints of their sketches and typography. I bought a really fun bag with a sketched bear that has “Bearlin” scrawled along the bottom of the bag. Even though the bag was only five euros, it is definitely my favorite thing that I have purchased here and it is really fun that I got to talk to the artist about her work too.

Using euros was extremely disorienting at first because all of the bills are different sizes and colors, plus there are one and two euro coins. After the first week or so I was a little more comfortable with the currency, but usually have to look at the cash register screen to see the actual amount because my german number vocabulary is still lacking. Most stores and restaurants do not take credit or debit cards so it has been very different budgeting here than it is back at home. Having a certain amount of physical cash each week definitely helps with sticking to a budget because you know that once you are out of money, you are really out. A trip to the ATM is a trek and you get charged foreign transaction fees which you want to avoid as much as possible. With a debit or credit card, you do not actually feel your money slipping away as fast until you go to check your account statement. When I go home I definitely will switch to this way of managing money.

WEEK 3: Excursions

Molly O'Neill Berlin DOC Summer 2 2015 Bauhaus School of Design

It is hard to pin down where my favorite place in Berlin is. There are so many monuments and historical sites plus really cool new spaces that have been built recently. Before coming to Berlin, I had read a lot about the Jewish Holocaust Memorial site and everyone I know who had been to Berlin posted pictures from this tourist hotspot. I expected to get there and experience something really deep and introspective, but I was shocked when little kids were climbing all over the large block stones and other tourists were shouting in the maze of pathways. To top it all off, there was a memorial guard who would pop around corners and yell at people who stood up on top of the massive blocks, but he allowed people to sit on them. It was like no other memorial I had ever been to and it really changed my perspective on what a memorial is or what it could be. They do not necessarily have to be a place of silence and seriousness because they can provide a space to celebrate life.

The Brandenburg Gate is another tourist spot that I love. A massive structure sits on the edge of a large square of embassies and tourist traps. So much history happened at this location and it is just incredible that people can casually visit where so many historical hot shots had stood before. I remember seeing paintings and pictures of people like Napoleon and Hitler storming through the gate to make their presence known so it was so crazy to visit this place with our class. Other pictures show a bombed out Berlin with a damaged gate covered by soot. Today it stands clean, tall, and strong.

The next place that I hope to venture off to on my own is Berlin’s East Side Gallery. This is a portion of the Berlin Wall that is still standing and it is right in our neighborhood Kreuzberg. Mural artists came in and emblazoned the wall with huge works of art and pattern work and I am so excited to see it in person. Graffiti is considered an art form in Berlin and it is very much a part of Berlin’s aesthetic and its people as well. In America, graffiti can mark territories and make an area seem threatening, but here it is just a way people express themselves and contribute to the overall feel of their city.

Each Friday we have been going to a city or town outside of Berlin to explore Germany a little more. For the past two weeks we have met up with a local german man named Helmut who is the best tour guide we could have asked for. Even though he is around seventy years old, he was definitely the leader of the pack and marched us all around Potsdam and Dresden in his matching sweater and oxford shirt combos. Even though we were exhausted by the end of these tours, we covered so much ground and heard so many stories about his childhood and what it is like to live in Germany. Potsdam was a gorgeous place. It may sound odd, but it really reminded me of a European Cape Cod. There was beautiful dutch architecture, little shops lined the streets, and street performers stood on the busier corners. We got to go inside palaces and walk through a huge park that housed a few other palaces as well. Dresden was more modern and spread out than Potsdam was. It had other large and beautiful government buildings and former palaces mixed with clock towers and huge churches. In one of the city squares a man had his xylophone and was playing the Titanic song. The song was echoing throughout the whole city and made it seem like a surreal place.

This Friday we are going to Dessau to see the Bauhaus which was one of the first schools of modern design. The founders and students of this school revolutionized architecture, graphic design, and theatre. I have done so many papers and projects about this amazing place and I cannot wait to get on the train and see it.

Italy and the Scientific Revolutions: Local Living

I think the best way to meet locals is here by eating at their restaurants and browsing their shops. There aren’t as many chain stores here so most are locally owned by residents of Florence. Most of them are very friendly and really appreciate when I try to speak in Italian or ask them how to say things.

Florence is know for its leather, so I have purchased several leather items for myself and others, including a nice leather handbag. I also bought some really pretty hand painted pottery, which I think is unique and interesting. It can get difficult to keep a budget and not spend too much with all the shopping and eating out we do. But, I have been keeping a spreadsheet of how much I spend and convert it to US dollars to make sure I’m not going over my budget.