Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Day 1: The arrival


The first day was very exciting, to say the least. I arrived at Heathrow Airport on Sunday at around 6a. The airport is fairly large but is very easy to navigate if you follow the signs. Once I had received my oyster card, I hopped on the tube and took a 40 min ride to South Kensington Station where our student quarters were located. From there I walked with my luggage from the tube station to our dorms. We were lucky enough to stay at the Chelsea Lightfoot Hall in the Chelsea area located in Zone 2.

Once I got to my room, it was a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. Coming from having my own home and an adequate amount of space to small living quarters that I had to share was a bit of an adjustment. At around 6p, everyone involved in our program met up in the lobby of our door where we all introduced ourselves and began to do an evening stroll of the neighborhood The area where we stayed was great. Everything was within walking distance from the grocery stores (Mark & Spencer store and Tesco), restaurants, pubs, shopping, you name it. We were also near Battersea Park, which was a beautiful park with walking trails and a zoo that I would end up visiting later in our time here. Here are a few pics below.

Where we stayed: NOTE: Housing may be subject to change during your time in London

Housing in the neighborhoods

My first dinner in London was Fish and Chips. It was DELICIOUS!!!!!!

Here are some tips for when you arrive on your first day:

TIP 1: If you can, pack as light as you can. Unless you plan on taking a taxi or Uber from the airport or to the tube station which is EXPENSIVE, you don't want to be lugging around large suitcases as I did. Plus you only have a limited amount of space in your room to store everything and I'm sure you will be buying things here to return home. 

TIP 2: Expect to meet with the members of your program the evening you arrive. Be sure to get acquainted with everyone from the teachers to the housing staff. It's good to have a good relationship with them.

TIP 3: YOU WILL BE WALKING!!!! I know I've said this already, but be prepared. I was so excited about being in a new area I went walking around getting a feel of the area myself only to later walk around some more with the group. So be sure to rest between our outings if you can/wear comfortable shoes. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Geneva: Red Cross Museum Revelation

I didn’t know what to expect before arriving in Geneva, Switzerland, but I was anxious. The grandeur of the city’s name and it being known as the world’s headquarters for peace had me in a continual cycle of suspense. I noticed my spirit was unearthed as I felt that there was something I was supposed to find, discover, or connect with. What exactly? I didn’t know. And, as our departure date drew closer, my emotions left me with little to no sleep. So I began fasting and increased my prayer time asking God to reveal His will and for the ability to hear His directions clearly. The night before we left Lugano, I reached out to my sisters back in the states and requested prayer.

We arrived, checked in, and was off to explore the city. To our surprise, we defaulted to plan B; which was to tour the Red Cross Museum. In class, we learned how the Red Cross played a major role during and after World War 1. The founder, Henry Dunant, was from Switzerland. He and his partners took the charge of becoming an intermediary in connecting lost loved ones who died and/or went missing. I was curious to learn more. At the beginning of the second exhibition I grasped for a greater understanding where the stone contained the words, “Restoring the Family Links” in French, English and German. However, the chains hanging from the ceiling slightly confused me as I questioned if the display represented slavery in America. If so, why? Next, there were huge cases of glass with rows of what they called catalogs. They looked like 3x5 cards inside little small wooden boxes. There were hundreds of them and they were carefully preserved. Several steps thereafter were open displays preceding a scaled wall that contained dozens of pictures with small children. I dare not take away the importance of the Red Cross and its WW1 commemoration. However, in those moments I received fresh revelation leading me to a series of questions. Why is there not a system in place commemorating and reconnecting those who are descendants of the diaspora to Africa? Why are there not catalogs leading us back to our tribes? Why, after 400 years are our family links not been restored? My body began to burn with a righteous anger and I was filled with sadness. It was there, I was left to deal with the painful reality that America is my country but not my home.

I encouraged myself and proceeded into the temporary exhibition called, Prison. The exhibition was a like a capsule that allowed visitors to learn about social justice and punishment worldwide. There were sound-overs and film recordings; metal bars and steel entry doorways; statistics and interactive play. As I moved through the exhibit, there was a graph that demonstrated how the United States housed the most prisoners worldwide; the majority, African Americans. I became overwhelmed with negative emotions seeing the numbers at this magnitude and became nauseated as I went through the remainder of the exhibit. Finally, I sat down to watch one of the short black and white films that depicted prisoners and how they coped with incarceration while incarcerated. Within moments, I scurried out literally grasping for breath.

At dinner, my professor requested a recap from us students and as my peers shared their outlook; I withheld mine. Truly, I didn’t want to express my version of the experience because I knew I was located at the end of the spectrum; one they wouldn’t be able to relate to. Regardless of how I felt, I proceeded to share my outlook in a solemn mannerism. Yet, I could not stop the pain from spewing out from the corridors of my heart straight through the doors of my mouth. I spoke not of my interpretation but of my own personal experiences in dealing with the criminal justice system. Silence brushed over the table as I finished speaking and I realized my caucasian peers and professor was taking an introspective look at the emotional vomit I spewed out over our dinner table. The trauma in dealing with the U.S. mass incarceration phenomenon has left the African American family unit to endure another feat of trauma as we collectively endure with the toxic stress of living in poverty with generations of absent mothers and fathers.

As an African American, I’d have to admit that it has been excruciating these past few years to see the levels of turmoil on the rise in our society. Multitudes of African Americans sit privately in pain, while others directly impacted publicly voice their cry for help. Yet, it seems as though the world continues to ignore and profit from mass incarceration. At the end of the parable of the sheep and goat found in the book of Matthew, the word says, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me….Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”” - Matthew‬ ‭25:31-46‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Visiting the Red Cross Museum was an experience I will never forget. Although my time in Geneva was hardly enough, I felt great sadness upon leaving. You see, the day prior to leaving, I went up to the village of Mount Bre to journal and it was there, the Holy Spirit shared with me that Geneva was going to be a place of solace. And, not knowing then the fullness of its meaning, I held it close to my heart just like I will always hold Geneva.            

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Gandria Olive Trail

The other weekend we took a ferry to a nearby town called Gandria. There is an olive trail that runs throughout the town, going alongside the mountain and through the village. The trail was mostly shaded which provided for a nice, cool walk. The purpose of the trail is for preserving the abundance of olives for olive oil and other olive infused goods. About two miles down the trail, our group found a spot with rocks that provided a quaint, beautiful lookout over the mountainous landscape. The beaming sun added to the already toasty 90 degree temps, so our group spontaneously jumped in the crystal blue lake fully clothed. After our dip, we walked back to town and found a restaurant that overlooked the surrounding mountains and Lake Lugano. We ordered a platter of mixed cheeses and meats and a tall glass of white wine for the table. After eating, we took the ferry directly across the lake to the Swiss Customs Museum. The museum held different items that had been collected at the border (mostly illegal). These items included attempted smuggled drugs, wild animal skins and tusks, fake designer bags, and more. The highlight of this trip was definitely visiting the small town of Gandria and casually wandering throughout the trail. Switzerland has so many beautiful tucked away towns and villages.. it really is so astonishing how much this country has to offer visually.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Visiting the Red Cross

We made a trip up the Geneva in the French part of Switzerland and visited the Red Cross museum while we were there. There were 3 main parts to the museum and a bonus section that happened to be on display while we were visiting. There was a part about how the Red Cross provides help to soldiers who need help which is what the organization was founded to do in the first place. This section also had some brief history about the Red Cross and some of their major accomplishments throughout history. The next section was about how communication has helped to improve how aid can be moved around the world to help those in need. This section also had all of the missing people reports from around the World War I time period and some information on newer missing peoples. It showed how communication can help to locate some of the missing people and let their families know when they are found. This can help when there is a war taking place of in a major natural disaster hits an area of the world and the family can not reach who they are looking for. This is where the third part of the museum came into play which talked about how the Red Cross provides some aid to natural disaster relief when they are able to. This section had many examples of when the Red Cross was able to help people in need after their lives were changed by some type of natural disaster. Each section had some type of recording that was a personal example of how the Red Cross was able to help them or their family. Some cases it was a member of the Red Cross who was talking about how they had helped somewhere around the world. The museum used very high tech headsets to be able to communicate to people through different languages and talked about different information based on your location in the museum. The extra part we were able to see was about different prisons around the world and times where prisoners were treated poorly. They had examples of things that prisoners would make for entertainment or to try and help them escape which they had on display. The idea behind this exhibit was to show the negative effects prisons can have on people who are placed into them. The Whole Museum was very cool and allowed for people to learn more about the Red Cross than if they were to do basic research on the Red Cross.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Life in Switzerland

Before traveling to Lugano, Switzerland, I had no idea what to expect. Even with thorough research and planning, I still had no concept of what I was really getting myself into. Upon arrival, I experienced a culture shock. For one, the Swiss put a huge emphasis on collectivism; everyone is expected to do their part for their community. This plays a key role in environmentalism and the way the Swiss treat their environmental standards. Air conditioning is rare, thus making it very common to ventilate houses/restaurants/shops through open windows. Luckily, temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making it bearable to the everyday foreigner (like myself). Another piece of Switzerland that I was unaware of but quickly became aware of was the prices of goods. On average, prices are about 2-3 times higher than they are in the US – this makes sense because the average monthly income for a Swiss worker is substantially higher than it is in the US. For example, a slice of pizza in Lugano, Switzerland is typically around 8 CHF (Swiss Francs) and in the US it is $2-3 (depending on where you go). It is also very common to see a lot of Swiss in dressy outfits. It could be Sunday when all shops are closed, and you would still see a couple roaming the streets in their finest attire. The streets may seem a little bare on Sundays when everything is closed down for the designated “family day” of the week. Every other day, your best bet of getting into a shop is if you go around 10am-noon or 2pm-4pm. Other than that, its common for shop owners to open late in the day, close down for lunch hours, and close early before dinner times. The Swiss do not run by a schedule nor should anyone expect they would. They operate on the days they feel like it and that is just the way the Swiss are. The Swiss have every right to be a little stingy in their everyday life. The abundance of goods that their country offers excuses them from any American expectation. If it’s the chocolate, the wine, the cheese, the watches, or the Swiss army knives, the Swiss have it all and then some. On top of that, the mountains and overall landscape of the country is incomparable to any other. The view that I have awoke to every day is absolutely breathtaking, and it is something I will never forget.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Live Fearlessly

As a first generation college student, participating in a study abroad program appeared to be an opportunity one in my position could only dream of. I saw the posted flyer at school and decided to apply for the attached scholarship. After a couple of months, the award letter came, and there I was proceeding down the path of a study abroad program to Switzerland for a month!

It was so exciting! As the weeks rolled by, an uncertainty began to set in, FEAR. The preparation for a month stay was draining and the realization of traveling internationally alone as a woman of color (without knowing the language) became daunting. I spent multiple hours either paralyzed thinking about what could happen (like what we see in the movies) and replaying those situations in my mind.

Days before leaving friends and family congratulated me, while deep down inside my emotions reflected the state I habitually held for weeks. Nevertheless, I packed the best way I could, arranged for my drop off to the airport and stepped foot on the flight to Italy with little to no thought about the concerns I previously had.

What I can say is, once I began the forward motion the fear that once paralyzed me dissipated in an instant then everything else became mechanical. Once I arrived, I followed the signs (which some were in English) to the train station, purchased my ticket and headed down to the load zones. Within two hours I was pulling up to my destination in tact, feeling quite accomplished!

If you ever plan on studying abroad... Remember: do like NIKE and “Just Do It”. That’s the only way to get past whatever the mental blockages fear may cause. I had a really good friend tell me the best advice before I left, it was to always stay alert about your surroundings. That was truly what helped me navigate the uncertainties through international travel. I hope it does the same for you too.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

The First Week of Lugano

First Impressions in Lugano:

  • A lot of up and down hill walking
  • Prices here are much different than the US
  • The water in most places is drinkable 
    • water fountains are everywhere they just have to be found
  • The mountains are more amazing than any pictures
  • They have strange traffic laws 
    • only cross at cross walks
      • cars have to stop for you if you start to walk
    • they can driver much faster in areas than would be allowed in the US
  • Most of the Italian people here are very aggressive 
    • speaking with the locals can be a problem without google translate
Recommendations for Future Travelers:

  • Start walking more a month before
  • Bring 2 water bottle and drink a lot of water
  • bring good shoes and a few different pairs
  • Be ready to climb mountains on week 1
  • Try to be adventurous and try new things while in Lugano
Summary of Week 1:
Although week 1 was crazy and full of exercise, it was filled with excitement and exploration. Learning about the Swiss culture and how different it is from the US is a lot to take in for 1 week but it is doable.
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