Category Archives: Uncategorized

Turkey and Germany – Field Trips, Museums, and Landmarks

Since my last post, I’ve made my way to Berlin, a city which I am absolutely in love with. I’ve been able to find delicious vegetarian food wherever I go, the food is still very cheap, and the city is much more LGBT friendly than Istanbul. Yesterday, I went on six hour walking tour of Berlin. I was able to see the remains of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the memorials for the Jewish and Homosexual victims of the holocaust.

Seeing the Berlin Wall was truly amazing. I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around how a city could be divided in the way Berlin was during the Cold War, but our tour guide actually grew up in the divided city and was able to give us several anecdotes that explained how this actually played out for the citizens for Berlin. It was also very interesting to hear her explain the positives sides of socialism, and why it failed in the case of East Berlin. In my American education, socialism is always viewed in a very negative light and I always imagined East Berlin as an extremely impoverished place, but that actually wasn’t the case. East Berlin was not an impoverished place, it just wasn’t a rich place, instead, people were all on the general same income level. Obviously there were a lot of problems with East Berlin, but it was really great to learn about the situation without the obvious American bias.

Seeing the holocaust memorials was also extremely powerful. As a member of the LGBT community, the memorial to the homosexuals was really intense to see. Although lesbians were not persecuted for their lesbianism during the holocaust (instead they could be persecuted as antisocials), the creators of the memorial chose to include lesbian couples as well as gay male couples in order to symbolize how homophobia plays out today. The memorial for the Jewish victims of the holocaust was extremely abstract, which I think is for the better because it is so difficult to visually portray such a horrific event. Interestingly enough, there is no museum or exhibition at the site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide for the fear of the site attracting neo-nazis. It was very shocking to me to learn that this was a serious concern.

I’m looking forward to checking out more Berlin museums in the couple weeks and hopefully I’ll post about those as well!

Field Trips, Museums, and Landmarks in Greece

We spent the second week on the island of Crete. We stayed first in Heraklion, then in Reythemno. In Heraklion, we were able to tour Knossos’ Palace, which was an incredible experience. I love history and we had a great tour guide who was very knowledgable about the site and history of Greece in general. One thing in particular that I love about Greek history is that it incorporates ancient mythology. The fact that these old stories are still talked about and remembered today shows jut how valuable the history of Greece is to its people. The palace was set on a beautiful landscape covered with olive trees. We could hear crickets in the trees and the overall setting was just beautiful. It is amazing to me how well ancient ruins can be preserved centuries later.
This past week we went on an excursion to the Samaria Gorges. We hiked six miles in the mountains of a beautiful small island off of Crete. We crossed handmade wooden bridges over fresh, clear rivers of water. The scenery was incredible. It was a little bit scary at times when the gorge would become narrow and we had to be quiet to listen for falling stones, but overall it was a great experience. We also visited Matala Beach this week and learned about the old caves and “hippie” culture of the town. A large mural overlooking the beach and town read “Today is life, tomorrow never comes”, which I though reflected the Greek culture well in the way they take life day by day and appreciate all that they have in the moment. Another cool thing that we did in Matala was cliff jumping. It was about a 30 foot drop and pretty rocky, so naturally I was afraid. We all supported each other and it was a great bonding experience for the group. Looking back, I definitely would have regretted it if I hadn’t jumped! Crete has been a great experience full of new challenges and knowledge.

Food in Greece

The food in Greece is absolutely delicious! We do not eat until around 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Even after two weeks, I am still getting adjusted to the difference in meal times compared to the United States. The structure of meals is pretty much the same as home, with bread and appetizers being served first, followed by main courses, and finished with a dessert. Restaurants also usually offer complementary Ouzo at the end of a meal, which is a Greek alcohol that helps the digestive system. The etiquette and portion sizes are similar to the US as well, but the food is always very healthy and fresh. It is extremely rare that a dish will be frozen and if the meat or seafood is not fresh, the menu actually states that under the item. There are a lot of vegetables in most meals and you can taste the difference of how fresh they are. Also, dessert often consists of fruit, usually honeydew melon and watermelon, which is a much healthier option than the desserts we usually order back home. It is interesting how sweet fruit tastes to me now that I have not been eating baked goods and ice cream like I usually do for dessert in the States.
Breakfasts are always served at our hotels, and then I eat lunch and dinner out at restaurants. It has been less expensive than I expected to do that because Greek prices in general are very reasonable. The most delicious food I have tried thus far is a swordfish that a restaurant in Rhodes recommended to me. I originally ordered another seafood dish, but the waiter let me know that the swordfish had been caught that same day and recommended that I try it. I was so happy he did because it was so good and I had never tried swordfish before. I think it is awesome how honest the Greeks are when doing business. They are not just looking to make a profit, but actually want you to have the best experience possible at their restaurants and shops.
While dining at a restaurant in Crete for dinner one night, we got a first hand look at how fresh the food truly is in Greek restaurants. We sat outside in a garden area with lemon trees overhead. A lemon actually fell from a tree above us onto our table. We all thought it was so funny until a member of the wait staff casually came over and proceeded to use the lemon right away to serve with one of our dishes. It really does not get much fresher than that. I love all of the food in Greece and while I will miss it, I definitely plan to bring some recipes back to share with friends and family!

WEEK 3: Language

I have to say that after coming abroad, I have gotten really good at playing charades to communicate with other people who do not speak English very well. Most Berliners understand at least a little bit of the language so I have not run into any major problems, but ordering food is always a tough one. The first week we would all go to meals in larger groups so we could stumble through the menu together and we made it into a fun thing. The people behind the counter usually got pretty annoyed when we would try to sound out the ridiculously long german words that are actually three phrases smashed together.

By the second week I worked up a little more courage to order things on my own, but the one thing that has tripped me up every time is trying to order an iced coffee. In Germany, an ‘iced kaffee’ is a large cup of coffee, two huge scoops of ice cream, and a pile of whipped cream on top. Even though this root beer float kind of thing is really decadent and delicious, it just doesn’t cut it when compared to the good old Dunkin Donuts iced coffee on the way to class. The europeans and Berliners here have been drinking piping hot coffee in the sweltering morning heat while wearing a scarf and jeans. They make it look so effortless, but I just cannot do it.

I love picking up german words and quick phrases. The language is really beautiful and complicated and I am thinking of taking a german language class when I go back to the states. My favorite and most used word here is definitely ‘enschuligund’ which means ‘excuse me.’ On the UBahn, in line for a restaurant, or while walking around in a tour group, this word is essential. It helps you to blend in with everyone else so you are not immediately picked out as a confused or lost american tourist. It is also fun to say so it is the best of both worlds. Even if you are not sure exactly how to pronounce it, if you say it fast enough people accept it as a polite gesture. Politeness and directness are highly valued by the germans.

Rice and Beans

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner — every meal consists of the classic dish of Rice and Beans. Now to many of us Americans, Rice and Beans may appear to be a simple dish only containing the very obvious rice and beans. However, in Costa Rica there are many different levels of this culturally lavish dish.

For instance, Chicken Rice and Beans consists of chicken and vegetables marinaded in rich coconut milk and hot chilies. This form of rice and beans is often saved for special occasions such as weddings, birthday parties or major dinner events. I was lucky enough to be served this delicious meal by my home stay family in Suerre.

PIntos is the classic dish many of us envision when we think of rice and beans. This is your basic meal involving black beans and white rice. Often this version is served with eggs and a tomato for breakfast.

The beauty of rice and beans is its simplicity and affordability. Rich or poor rice and beans are basic ingredients that most Costa Ricans can afford to serve to their guests and eat on a regular basis. However, with this convenience also comes some flaws. Eating rice and beans for every meal can become very repetitive. The difference in taste between the versions of rice and beans are subtle enough to make eating this meal more of chore than a luxury for visitors such as myself.

Most of our meals we have had have been provided by the campus cafeteria. We have had a few meals with our home stay families and off campus restaurants but the majority of meals have been through Earth University. The campus meals are extremely simple. Abiding to the university’s mission of fostering a learning environment that encourages sustainability and environmental friendliness, the cafeteria focuses on serving healthy, simple meals supplied by the food grown on the university’s farm. These healthy and local meals are indeed refreshing and delicious. However, adding the variety of sporadic off campus meals has helped maintain variety in my daily diet.

Besides rice and beans Costa Rica has many different unique foods to offer. Their extensive supply of unique fruits never ceases to amaze me. My favorite so far has been the Soursop fruit and Mamon Chino have been two of my favorites. Both of these fruits appear ugly and awkward from the outside. But once you crack open them their juicy sweet taste is unforgettable, leaving a fresh and lasting flavor in your mouth.

My favorite food unique to Costa Rica has been the empanadas and fried plantains. Both of these foods have been served at breakfast. The empanada almost looks like a hot pocket from the freezer section in the US. A fried pastry on the outside encasing rice, beans, vegetables and/or ground beef inside. Fried plantains often our cooked in butter with sugar glazed on top making the perfect sugary addition to your morning meal.

In Costa Rica food is the center of every family and every big event. Good food is what brings families and friends together and unites people from all different backgrounds. Every person, man or woman, prides themselves on the food they cook making sure they have at least one signature meal they can mark as their own. Trying new dishes and embracing the local cuisine has provided yet another lens of understanding within the Costa Rican culture. Understanding a country’s food has proved to be one of the better ways to peak into the truths of any culture.

Rainy Days and Traffic Haze

An hour had passed by and not a car had moved forward in the stand still traffic. Taking the bus home from San Jose back to campus in Guacimo required driving through the mountains and weaving through the misty jungle.  Without traffic this drive would only take an hour. However, the daily San Jose traffic practically guarantees an additional two hours of driving time. Rain continued to pour down adding to the hazardous traffic that never seemed to end.

Traffic and rain are common themes of Costa Rican road conditions. The habitual rain and inconsistent upkeep on the roads causes many of the streets to form unavoidable potholes. The majority of the main roads are maintained decently well, however these roads are far and few between.

Many of our days our filled with traveling by bus to different off campus locations for experiential research and class field trips. There are few days where we don’t find ourselves on one of the many Earth University sponsored buses exploring new parts of Costa Rica. At times we have even found ourselves venturing so deep into the jungle that we have been required to exit our bus, walk, and take a small boat to our final destination. During our traditional work days when we stay on campus our classes on are all in close distance only requiring us to walk from building to building. A much needed break after routine bus rides over bumpy gravel roads.

Due to the structure of our program we have not experienced many opportunities to use public transportation. Locals have mentioned that public transportation is less than adequate. It fulfills the minimal needs of individuals but still has plenty of room for in improvement. Particularly regarding its consistency and accessibility. Unfortunately the bus system only runs during rush hour making it extremely convenient for the average employee but particularly difficult for anyone looking to visit the city just for leisure.

Transportation has added yet another dynamic to our travels and studies in Costa Rica. It contributes to the adventure and excitement to the unknowns of this beautiful country. Every bus ride, boat ride or walk down the street involves rolling hills of dense and luscious tropical forests housing thousands of animals waiting to be discovered. The sometimes questionable road conditions are easily swept under the rug once I take a glance outside the window and realize how truly beautiful the world is.

Italy and the Scientific Revolutions: Language

Some people here speak English, but there are also a lot that do not. It definitely helps that I am taking an Italian language and culture class as part of the dialogue. I haven’t really had any miscommunications but sometimes it is difficult to communicate. One funny example of this is when we were cooking dinner with our Italian teacher. We first went to the market with her and she told us what to buy but spoke only in Italian, so some of my classmates were accidentally buying the wrong fruits and vegetables. Then when actually cooking, some of her instructions were lost in translation and she ended up having to show us what to do a lot of the time.

My new favorite words are pretty simple – buongiorno and buonasera. They mean good morning and good evening. I don’t like them because of what they mean, though it’s nice, I like them because everyone says them all the time. Every time you walk into a shop or restaurant, the owner says it to you and you say it back. I think it’s a really nice gesture that doesn’t happen as often in America.

Beginning: Wheels Up to Rome

Growing up, our family didn’t travel much. Living in New England, an out-of-state vacation was a day trip to a beach in Maine or a camping adventure in the forests of New Hampshire. The states are small, and we never ran out of places to visit. I loved those trips, but that didn’t stop the enveloping jealousy that followed a friend’s tale about a summer spent on a Greek island, a family vacation to the southern beaches of France, or a winter break in The Bahamas where sunscreen was in high demand. I always had dreams to travel – and college quickly became a vehicle and endless opportunity for me to do just that. I’ve spent time studying international business in France, and last summer took finance courses in England. Now, I look forward to law electives in Rome, Italy. Another summer, another destination, and one more unforgettable experience.

France was my first time out of the country. It was the summer of freshman year. I was timid, yet excited. I learned the power of adaptation and thriving in uncomfortable situations. London was more relaxed and I had visited the summer before. With the lack of a language barrier and the idea of traveling more familiar, I took the  chance in England to further push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I rode public transit more heavily, interacted with locals, and played a six week game of leap frog throughout the EU. Now it’s time for Italy… I don’t know yet what Italy will be for me. Another chance to learn a new language? To absorb a new culture? Of course. But I’m sure it will be much more than that too. The irreplaceable and wonderful thing about travel is that you usually don’t realize the true impact of the experience until you return. You venture back home to a life that has gone on for months without you and it is the same. But you’re not. That’s when you see the beauty of exploration and can reflect on time spent.

My goals when abroad are always the same. Leave fear in your home country and embrace discomfort. Discomfort gives lead to personal growth, an advanced acceptance of differences, and a crazy story to plaster on the back of a postcard. Immerse yourself and relax (but do it without having your wallet stolen in the process)! Despite this encouragement, it’s natural to fear the unknown. Italy is unknown. I fear the language barrier, of not meeting people, and the law classes I’m going to be taking. But I’m also excited, and that’s the key to it. My real, and only true, fear is running out of time to see everything I want to. An uncontrollable factor, time often passes too quickly once you begin your explorations.

I’m looking forward for so many experiences over the coming weeks. If Italy were a three-course meal, I’d order History as my starter. Serve me up an ancient city, with a beautiful past and that will keep me satisfied for a while. For my main course, I’d ask for Culture. The people, art, and lifestyle of Rome.  I can’t wait to stumble down cobblestone streets, dry my clothes from a strung line, and sit on a patio sipping red wine and curling angel hair delicately around my fork. Putting a ‘Crespi’ in Italy is like putting the Cookie Monster in a Chips Ahoy factory. I’m definitely looking forward to the food (as a side note; I’m writing this on the plane as I eat Chicken Marsala, roasted potatoes, and steamed broccoli. When the airplane food is  good, you know you’re in for something special when the wheels touch down). Finally, for dessert, I’d have the language. Accents, tans, and a beautiful country- is there a better way to spend the summer?

Mi Casa y Mis Amigos

The first week in Costa Rica has been a whirlwind. Over the span of 7 days and 6 nights we have already spent time in three different locations. Between the Pacaure Reserve, home stays with local families and on campus dorms we have truly gotten the opportunity to experience it all.

Our first lodging experience at Pacaure Reserve was initially described as “Rustic” and “Survivor Like” by our professor. When she first started saying this we didn’t quite understand her fully. However, after three hours of transportation through rocky, muddy roads and crocodile infested waters we finally began to come to terms with what she truly meant by that “rustic”. We arrived at the Reserve to find that we had no electricity, simple housing and no hot water. The Reserve, deeply tucked within the jungles of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, thrived with insects and diverse wild life. As a result each of us were quickly bitten by the many different types of insects inhabiting the jungle. When the sun set at 6:00pm and we were left to the dependency of our candle light and flash lights we quickly became very appreciative of electricity. Each of us students had to think of creative games to play until we were finally ready to go to bed. These first few days at the Reserve forced all eight of us to become closely bonded very quickly. Many of us did not know one another before the trip however after two nights in the jungle we became friends who seemed like they had known each other for ages.

After this eye opening experience we made way to our home stay visits with local Costa Rican families in a middle-class neighborhood named Suerre. Each of us were paired up together in different homes within the neighborhood. The majority of us on the trip do not have strong Spanish language backgrounds. Walking into homes where practically no one spoke English was yet another obstacle that forced us students to depend on one another and learn quickly together. Needless to say, the homes were welcoming and inviting regardless of the language barrier. Each home made us a part of their family for the short time that we were there. Our experience at these home stays shed light onto the daily life of a Costa Rican and drew a picture of what life is like in the Suerre community.

Beginning today we have finally made it back to campus where we are residing in the student dorms. The dorms were a flashback to my freshman year – communal bathrooms, tight living quarters and optimal time to socialize. It was as if I had never left Stetson East.

These unique housing environments and unexpected challenges have made it extremely easy to meet and get to know my fellow Northeastern students on the trip with me. However, it has made it difficult to meet students who attend Earth University due to our ever changing lodging locations. I suspect that as the month continues we will have more opportunities of expanding our networks and meeting students from Earth University. Our Northeastern crew is a tight knit group that I am positive will continue to grow in flourish in our relationships. I am sure that the relationships we foster on this trip will be genuine and lasting friendships beyond our time in Costa Rica.

Welcome to Earth University

When we first arrived at Earth University it was a breath of fresh air. A private oasis, isolated from the bustling city of San Jose nestled into 8,000 acres of the Costa Rican rainforest. We spent the afternoon orienting ourselves with our surroundings before our first day  of orientation the following morning.

We began our orientation with Nico, the Director of International Affairs. He played a short introduction video to our small class of Northeastern students where we learned about the history and education model of Earth University. The university was founded 25 years ago  and initially funded by USAID. The goal of this university was to foster a democratic learning environment for students from lower socioeconomic statuses. USAID and the original founders believed that real change could only take place if we began to educate those in poorer communities and empower those individuals to invoke change within their own communities.

Earth University consists of 400 students from 44 different countries. The community is culturally and economically diverse. However, there is only one major, agro-economics. Students are given the opportunity to study agriculture through many different lenses and are later able to define their specific concentration in their third year of schooling. The three concentrations are renewable energy, horticulture and livestock. Each student is given the fundamental skills to become a generalist in each of those sectors and later become experts after they have declared their concentration.

In addition to Earth’s strong emphasis on agriculture and sustainability the school is extremely committed to entrepreneurship and community based work. 20% of the students who graduate from Earth University later create their own businesses in their own home communities. The university’s emphasis on community engagement and entrepreneurship inspires many of the students to take their education back to their home countries and create lasting change within their communities.

This is one of the many things that stood out to me during the orientation. Throughout my studies and time abroad I have found that the best way to build lasting and sustainable change is through community engagement. Therefore, I found Earth’s approach towards development and academia refreshing and uplifting.

I was also intrigued by Earth’s emphasis on enrolling students from lower socio-economic communities. Within the development sector experts are constantly talking about how education is one of the many solutions to alleviating extreme poverty. However, the problem always arises in which proper education is seldom accessible for those from lower income brackets. Earth University is an inspiring response to the educational needs of the many who desire a higher education. Approximately 85% of students are on some type of scholarship primarily funded by the MasterCard Foundation. This allows many students from small indigenous villages across the world to attend a school that they would otherwise not be able to attend.

Lastly, I found that Earth University’s orientation on cultural differences was far more progressive than most. For example, during our safety and precautions orientation the Director emphasized the differences of male and female courting practices between those from the U.S. and Earth’s diverse community on campus (Particularly individuals from Latin American  African citizens). Rather than pinning individuals from Latin America and Africa as poorly mannered or disrespectful our Director explained that what we say and do in one culture may be interpreted as far more than what we intended in another culture. As a result we as students should be extremely aware of how we interact with the opposite gender in order to avoid any miscommunication between the two parties.

Earth University’s consciousness of community engagement, diversity, and cultural awareness was a refreshing taste of what type of university Earth represents. It is a fresh perspective that has warranted plenty of reflection and change in behavior on my part. In just one week I have grown more conscious and more engaged in understanding the landscape of Earth University and Costa Rica as a whole. I look forward to the exciting adventures and experiences to come over these next four weeks.