Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ciao from Florence!

Ciao!

Greetings from Florence, Italy! Today marks my 9th day in Italy and it has certainly been a wonderful nine days! To start things off, I am Hailey and I chose to study in Florence primarily because of my interest in art. Florence is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance and is noted for its Renaissance art and architecture. Although I haven’t been here for very long, it does not take long to know that Florence is an old city that flourished during the Renaissance, and is a city that is still flourishing today!

To give you a visual, the streets of Florence are narrow, made of cobblestone, and are shadowed by phenomenal cathedrals, towers, and a variety of homes occupied by Florentines and other study abroad students. On nearly every street you can find artists creating and selling their work, whether it be paintings, etchings, hand-crafted bags, or jewelry. The level of creativity and artistic talent in Florence is quite spectacular. The city of Florence is busy, however catching a break from the city is rather simple. With a short bus ride, we have been able to explore the Chianti valley, famous for Chianti wines. And, here in a few days, we will take the train to Cinque Terre to enjoy the beach!

While I write to you, I just want to share a few of my favorite experiences here in Florence. The first would be getting to see Michelangelo’s “David.” The sculpture is breathtaking to say the least, and I honestly can’t even begin to describe how magnificent viewing the sculpture is. “David” is 7 feet tall and was carved from a solid piece of marble. In addition to Michelangelo’s “David,” I also got to see Donatello’s “David,” which is made of bronze. The Renaissance art that decorates Florence is fantastic. I definitely plan to share more when I visit the Uffizi Gallery, where I will see many works by famous artists, such as Da Vinci!

I’m going to head out to sketch for a while, but I plan to update you soon! P.S. today is my 22nd Birthday, and I must say I can’t imagine a more beautiful city to spend my birthday in! Have a splendid day!

-Hailey

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Look out Oxford, I'm headed your way!

Oh my goodness! Time flies so fast when you are preparing for an adventure. I guess I kind of know how Bilbo and Frodo Baggins felt before they went on their adventures.  I find it hard to believe that in a little over a week I will be in a completely different country.
I should probably start with a brief introduction. I’m Crystal, as the profile name states. I am currently a graduate student at Columbia College pursuing my MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) and my certification in special education.  I am a married woman with 1.5 children, work two jobs and attend in-seat classes through Columbia College. My son is 9 and the .5 is about 5 months old in utero. I’ve been married for two years to a great guy who supports my dreams and does his best to show me his support, such as prompting me to take this trip.  Speaking of this trip, I am going to be attending Oxford University in Oxford, England in July through the MOSAIC program.  I am very excited for the opportunity to participate in a course on educational policy, considering I eventually want to get into advocacy in education.  I am looking forward to entering the hallowed halls of Oxford, and also the halls of area British schools to compare the differences in educational culture and policy.  I won’t lie, I’m also looking forward to the accents too! I even warned my husband that if I heard enough Scottish accents, I might not return home!
Preparing for the trip has been quite interesting, as I am pregnant. I am not quite in maternity clothes yet, but I fear packing anything besides maternity clothes due to my expanding waistline. Most of what has been packed is business casual clothes for the school visits and some activities in which MOSAIC students will participating.  One piece of advice that I have taken to heart came from Jim Harf, the MOSAIC coordinator; “Lay out all the clothes you want to take with you on the trip. Now, put half of them back in the closet because you won’t need them.”  As a serial overpacker, this has been very hard to do.  I try to always be prepared for an emergency, but I think I just have to let that part of my brain shut off for a while. I can’t afford two check bags!
Also, in preparation for this trip, I have to write a brief essay based on an interview with a school administrator along with reading three articles.  I have conducted the interview and the paper is almost complete.  I will be reading the articles this week so they are fresh in my mind when I land in London.  I have taken a class with Dr. Mason before and he is quite the easy-going teacher.  He does not get overly excited over things and seems to be as “cool as a cucumber” when it comes to teaching.  I think he will make this course very pleasant and I look forward to working with him again.

With time drawing near for the trip to begin, I have gotten very nervous about leaving my family and loved ones behind.  For a 19 year old student, this has to be so very liberating.  For a 34 year old student, it is quite shocking! As most mothers and wives know, much of the house runs on my schedule and I tend to be the one to get things done.  It’s just the nature of the beast.  I fear that things will crumble without me at home to take care of it, but thankfully my husband is a bit pushy when it comes to me pursuing this dream.  We have talked about when we will be able to Skype with one another, due to his job and the time difference, it is a little difficult to pencil in that needed contact.  I have seen friends and family that mean the most to me this month, and I’ve brushed up on some British vocabulary, so I think I’m almost ready to go.  Now, I should probably finish packing my bags and double checking my lists to ensure I’ve got all I need to make this one of the best experiences of my life!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Leaving America

Wow! I'm on my first flight out! Though I don't start my classes in Paris for about another month, I've decided to head out early and make a few stops before the coursework begins. I'll be with family and friends in Croatia for three weeks (with a four day trip in Prague somewhere in there) and one week with friends in Italy.

Every time I sit in an airport I can't help but take a look around and observe the many bodies around me. Almost everyone is on their phones (which is to be expected), but that's pretty much the only thing that's similar among everyone I'm looking at. Other than that, there are so many different races, ages, and reasons for travel. Surely not everyone is off to Europe for summer vacation and study abroad...there's something special about occupying the same space for a number of hours and then dispersing to our own individual journeys. Hopefully this moment in time can serve to meet someone cool and interesting. 

I sit here at my gate and can't help but also notice what books are being read around me. There are a few 50 Shades of Grey covers, one The Help, and a number of magazines. All this reading makes me think of the quote that says something like "...the world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page" and that's so incredibly true. There's so much to be learned about humanity (both others and one's self) through travel. There are questions that finally have the space and time to be asked. If engaged with and answered, you walk away and back to your home with a deeper understanding about yourself. It's weird. And so cool. 

I've been preparing the space for that to happen with me this summer...consciously moving some thoughts to the side to save for later. I have an empty journal ready to be used and I can't wait for my mind to have the energy to cover these things. It's gonna be great!

So long for now...I'll be blogging every once in a while and look forward to checking in with you! 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why Not Thailand?

My experience in Thailand has been really indescribable. I have loved every minute, at least in retrospect. Sure there were some days filled with frustration, but on the whole I can't think of any days which were terrible.

Studying
I only took 12 credits this semester, but the learning experience was invaluable. In most of my classes I was the only native English speaker. Moreover, I was often one of the few students (sometimes the only student) from an actual democracy. Learning about government and policy made me realize how much we take for granted at home. Not all people in the world enjoy the same rights and freedoms we do. Many people can't gather in protest or criticize the government. Some people don't even get to elect their leaders. Meanwhile, at home all we do is point fingers and complain about what is wrong with our leaders and legislation but then we don't vote?

Abroad
Being abroad was the biggest part of my learning experience. It allowed me to interact with students from Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal,  Philippines, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Zambia, South Africa, Brazil, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Maldives, and South Korea. Interacting with people from all over the world has made me realize that we are all the same. We are all excited and curious citizens of the world. For many, including myself, it just took leaving to realize we aren't so different.


Before I left the US and once I got to Thailand the recurring question was always, "Why Thailand?" Well, I never really had a motive for coming here. But, after coming here I have worldly advice for those less traveled: Don't ask yourself why. Ask yourself, why not?

After deciding I was going to study in Thailand, I began telling my friends. Most of them, in disbelief, asked me why. But a comment by one of my best friends, Al Ford, really stuck with me. After explaining to Alec that I was moving to Thailand for a semester he said, "Chase, Thailand will change a man." Al was right. Thailand will change a man.

Thailand has made me more tolerant. I have interacted with so many people from many countries and backgrounds. I have learned that yes, people are very different. People have different customs and opinions. People like different things But being different is good. Once you learn to accept that everyone is different, then you can grow personally and better find your place in the world. The phrase here is, "Same-same, but different."

Thailand has made me more patient. Not speaking the language made every day tasks challenging. Rather than get upset when there is a communication breakdown, it's easier to laugh it off. Acknowledge that there was a communication failure and work to fix it. Unless something is life or death, there is no point in getting worked up. The phrase here is, "Sabai sabai," which means easy, easy.

Thailand has made me happier. Thailand is known as the land of smiles. Everyone really does smile here. Even if it is a subtle purse of the lips, it always seems genuine. There were countless occasions where I felt uncomfortable or frustrated, but then I would make eye contact with someone and they would smile and nod and I would immediately feel better. I would become more comfortable, despite having no idea what was going on. I would feel less frustrated. Smiling is contagious. It spreads good vibes. I have spent 6 months in a mild euphoria from having a good day every day. I feel extremely relaxed.

Thailand has made me respectful. I like to think that I was successfully raised to be a respectful young man. Since coming here, I have learned different kinds of respect. I nod at everyone. I bow when I pass monks. I take my shoes off before I go inside place, especially temples. I stand at the theater to respect the king while the royal anthem is played. And I have realized the importance of learning how to say hello and thank you in the native language. Those two phrases can mean so much.

Thailand has made me independent. From loneliness to frustration, I have had to find solutions to my own problems. I am completely by myself here. I am the first student from Columbia College to come to Thailand. I am my own support system. Sure I have exchange friends, but in the end you have to make sure you have your own back.

Thailand has made me responsible. While I have always been responsible, the whole study abroad process made me more responsible. I had to do the application and get all of the necessary documents sent to RSU. I had to get immunizations by my own means. I had to coordinate my own accommodation through RSU. I had to pack. I had to make my travel arrangements. I have had to pay rent each month. But most importantly in my time here, I have had to say no to things. I have had to say no to partying on the two school nights a week. I had to say no to skipping class in order to travel. I had to say no to going on trips because it was out of my budget. Although it isn't as "grown up" as getting a decent paying job or paying bills and taxes, it has been important to my personal growth.

Overall, I love Thailand. It is hard to think about leaving. I love my new friends. I love the culture. I love the food. I love the excitement. I love the surprises. I love the islands. I love the mountains. I love the cheap prices. I love the ease of travel. Coming here was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

This has been the best semester of my life. This is probably the best 6 months that has ever happened to me. 

I do look forward to my upcoming summer and getting back to Missouri for school, but in the meantime I will enjoy my last month in the city and on the islands.

Here is to home:
Grand Canyon, Wellsboro, PA



Chase E. Barnes 
Columbia College 2016
Political Science
Study Abroad Thailand

Interested in my experiences? Check out my personal blog: chasingthailand.blogspot.com 
More questions about travel in Thailand? Email me: cbarnes5@cougars.ccis.edu

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Books

One of my big struggles for every trip is paring down the stack of books I'll be carrying along, ignoring rational baggage weight and time allowances.  So, I'll have some novel I've been wanting to read, and couldn't with all the papers to grade, and some new chunk of theory (these days, more Graham Harman and Bruno Latour), but then, some books focused on the trip itself. 

For Italy, I offered a class on Leonardo Sciascia , which, alas, no one took.  He's a (the?) major Sicilian writer, and I much admire his novels, and love his collection of stories, The Wine-Dark Sea, which offers an upclose look at village life in Sicily.  Great stuff!  Beyond just good stories, though, there is a sharp critical eye.  Sciascia has been called "The conscience of Italy. Defiant by definition" (read more in this Best of Sicily article).
   
  
A book I've started, but will continue on the plane, is Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra .  This offers a fairly contemporary look at life on the island.

But on the bus, I'll be carrying along the too-weighty, but full-of-good-stuff, Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History -- because there's a lot more to the history and culture of this place than pizza and godfather films.

And beause we want to be able to figure out what all this stuff is...

  
 
 
later, bob
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Sparks in Italy!

Greetings everyone.  A bit of info in case you are going along in the Italy trip, and haven't quite worried enough about recharging all those devices.

In general, you can't just plug in your phone or laptop or hair drier or camera battery charger or, well, anything, for two reasons.

One, the voltage is different, and way more.  220 instead of 110.  That tends to create all sorts of interesting sparks, small fires, and adventures in Rome that we'd just as soon avoid...

Two, fortunate, kind of.  Even if you ignore the voltage and want to send your laptop to the electric chamber, you can't, because the plugs are different.

So, unless you plan to be device-free for 10 days (yeah, I teach, I know how likely it is to get anyone to go even 50 minutes without that device), you need two extra bits of technology.

A plug for Italian sockets:




And, some sort of current adapter.  Read more from Rick Steve..., who does point out that some new appliances are "dual voltage," and won't need the new device.   But be sure before you plug in.  I'm more eager to see the Colosseum than Roman firefighters in our hotel...


Here's an article that says all this very patiently, with pictures:

Electricity in Italy - Plugs, Adapters and Transformers

later, bob

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

South East Asian Adventures

I recently took a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal. I had the chance to catch up with my Aunt before she did a trek. Scooter made the trip, but it was tough journey and he lost a foot and part of an ear. Mt. Everest was breathtaking.

Thai New Year also took place. It was possibly the most fun and crazy cultural event I have ever participated in. I would compare it to New Year's in Times Square, while also doubling as the world's largest water fight and it was 100 degrees.

The school year is wrapping up. I have one paper and 3 finals. I should be done by May 18th. I am happy to see Donnie and Jara successfully completed their terms in England.

I have been in Thailand for nearly 16 weeks now. I absolutely love it here. I am really not sure how this is not a top study abroad destination…

iPhone Mt. Everest Photo


Scooter w/ Mt. Everest behind


Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal

Cliché





Bridge over River Kwai
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