Sunday, July 30, 2017

Daytrip to the Coast

Taking short trips from Canterbury after class or on the weekends is very feasible. Buses are frequent and the bus station is just across from Canterbury's Christ Church's library. I enjoyed visiting coastal towns. My day trip to Whitstable was a nice introduction to the coast. I went with a friend from Canterbury, and we walked the coast, tried seafood, and explored the city.

Charming Whitstable

I don't think I had tried even half of this before

Trying the different types of oysters

Salsa Dancing at Kent University

About as much as I love cycling, I love Latin dancing. Upon arrival in Canterbury, I tried to meet other people who love to dance as well. Within the first week, I was able to network enough to meet a dance teacher at Kent University, named Benny Ogidan, who manages the Kent Salsa Society along with other dance teachers. He invited me to a dance night at the University, and I had so much fun that I continued to dance with and take private lessons with members of this society. I learned so many new steps and styles of dancing, and I was even able to bring friends along with me who were new learners as well because the society splits levels of learners into different groups in a space reserved for this purpose on designated evenings.

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The Salsa Dancing space at Kent University

Through this new network, I was able to get news on all of the popular Latin dancing nights in the city center. I also got a lot of advice on where to Latin dance in London and took a few trips there to dance with dancers from all over the world to the music of some of the most amazing live bands I have ever heard. Finally, from Benny I learned of famous Latin dancing festivals and congresses all over Europe, which I am very excited to attend someday soon. At these global festivals and congresses, you can learn styles of dance and steps popular in many different cultures, and you can practice with very experienced dancers. Dancing with people so skilled and passionate is demanding and can push a dancer to improve in a single weekend as much as they could in months.
This is a very particular niche. That I was able to network so much in the dancing world from within Canterbury shows just how eclectic of a place it really is, especially if you actively network.

Just in case you are interested in Salsa Dancing, here is a link you might find interesting (though it says 2012 in the URL, it is actually for 2017):

The Blean

Many things brought me to the well-preserved and protected ancient woodland the Blean that is located near Canterbury by way of a trail through Kent University's campus It is about a twenty to thirty minute cycling trip from the center of Canterbury to the Blean, and the scenery on the way there can provide a nice break from the busy city center of Canterbury. 

Amanita muscaria, 
one of four most prevalent fungi species of The Blean
I went in my free time to cycle the 120-mile trail system. Some of the trails are easy to ride and some are rocky, muddy, and really rough to cycle on. I really like that because it's a fun challenge. Luckily, my bike tires were well suited to that type of trail. I locked my bike up to walk smaller trails as well. On these walks, I was able to see many species of plants and insects I had never seen before. The Blean's rich habitats allow for the survival of species such as the Nightingale and the Heath Fritillary butterfily. The woodland is surprisingly easy to learn about as the area has been well-documented and actively managed for nearly 800 years. 

I also went many times for my Biogeography and Landscape Ecology class. We took one class trip with the two professors to learn about how the woodland has been maintained throughout its long history. I later met my group there for our class project to assess a small plot of land. Assessing this small plot of land taught me about the particular effects of management techniques such coppicing. This was an extremely demanding project, but it was one the most rewarding, and I really enjoyed writing the final paper. 

The Blean is an excellent place to visit in Canterbury, especially for those interested in wildlife. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Cycling in and around Canterbury

I love to cycle. Before I arrive in a new country, I almost always find a way to buy or rent a bicycle there. With a bicycle, I find that it is easy to access nature even if it miles away, to feel fit, healthy, and positive, to travel without the delays and inconveniences of public transport, to save hundreds of dollars on transportation (the price of a month-long bus pass is more than I paid for a bike I used for almost four months), and finally to experience areas of any given country that many travelers might not have access to by bus, foot, or train. On a bus, you may take the same route hundreds of other people do every day. On a bike, you can take any turn you might like and find your way back quickly if you get lost. This means that you can really personalize your experience of any given place without experiencing inconveniences that getting lost on foot might cause.

Riding a trail near Kent University
My plan in Canterbury long before I arrived was to find a hybrid bike suitable for trail-riding and for the city. I began asking around about a place or website I could look to find a reasonably priced bike, and the on my first day in Canterbury a very helpful employee at the library cafe recommended Gumtree, a website that is popular all over the U.K. and is similar to Craigslist. I took a bus to a town near the coast to meet with someone selling a Carrera in brand new condition. Once I decided to buy the bike (which cost under $100 - much less expensive than the same bike would have been at a shop or online), I asked about trails nearby and cycled about 7 miles back to Canterbury on a trail called the Crab and Winkle Way. This was the end of what seemed to be a very productive second day in Canterbury.

River front trail from downtown to Parham Road
From the second day on, I rode this bike everywhere in town (to campus, downtown, and to friends’ houses) and to a few places out of town (woodlands such as Blean Woods, the coast, and other small cities that surround Canterbury).

The river front trail near the city center
The bicycle was a big part of my time in Canterbury, and I couldn’t be happier that I used it as my main means of transportation. When I left Canterbury, I left the bicycle with a friend I had made in town. He rides the bike now as much I did while I was there.

You can always find your way back using the Canterbury Cathedral as a point of reference

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Canterbury Christ Church - the campus

Canterbury Christ Church University is distributed throughout the quaint, historical city of Canterbury. It is an easy and very lovely walk through the town and a swift bike ride down some really amazing streets and pathways.

The library
The library is near the center of town and close to Canterbury Cathedral. It is very modern and a great place to have lunch, do homework, and meet up with people because of its location. Orientation and Fresher’s week (the welcoming week for new students) are held at the library, so it was the first place I became familiar with.

The main campus

The main campus where classes are held (and wonderful tea stands that sell tea before and after classes and during breaks) is a ten minute walk away, and student housing is all the way from right next to the library to a twenty-minute walk away.

The trail along the canal
There are street markets in the center of town, tiny local shops, and a canal along the way to the furthest buildings for student housing (on Parham Road). Part of my stay was on Parham Road, and I enjoyed that area the most because the location was so spacious and relaxed. Also, the best walking and cycling trails lead directly to Parham Road, so it a great location to cycle to and from. I find Canterbury to be a lovely city and the campus to be just as beautiful.

Arriving in London for a semester in Canterbury

Arriving in London was a great way to start my semester-long program in Canterbury out. I was able to spend a few days in the city with a friend of mine from Scotland, and it gave me a great introduction to England. I was able to see musicians perform at Piccadilly Circus, have my first real English Breakfast (and try Marmite, a sauce that is apparently either very liked or hated. I don't think I ever really acquired the taste), sight-see, hang out with some locals in different parts of the city, and prepare myself for the semester in Canterbury.


One of London's many famous shopping streets

Uniquely Swiss: Sustainability and the Slow Food Movement

A local outdoor market with fresh food produced on a nearby farm

So much has surprised me about Swiss culture. My interest in sustainability is what originally sparked my interest in studying abroad in Switzerland. As it turns out, Switzerland really does make knowledge regarding sustainability very accessible.

The thing that fascinated me most about sustainability in Swiss culture was the way food is produced, handled, and consumed. The Slow Food Movement is a good representation of this. As the name suggests, the Slow Food Movement opposes the fast food industry and the associated decline in global health that accompanies it. A guest speaker in my Swiss culture class discussed the basic aspects of this movement - agriculture as good (fresh and flavorful), clean (produced and consumed in environmentally conscious ways), and fair (accessible to all members of a society). The movement originated in Italy in the 1980s. It then rapidly spread throughout Europe. 

A class tour through the main distribution center for Migros, a supermarket in the Ticino region, showed the extent to which Switzerland has embraced the Slow Food Movement.  Our tour around the center was led by a professor, a manager in the company, and a few translators who each spoke five languages or more. Together, they led us to every department, detailing the entire distribution process and introducing us to some of the employees, who told us about their jobs, which was translated afterward. Not only was the distribution process very specific, the employee satisfaction seemed extremely high for this company, which was surprising to me, considering it is a commercial business. 

Two things I found particularly interesting during this tour were the emphasis placed on the quality of the food in accordance to the values of the Slow Food Movement and the way they told us food waste is managed. Food can only be sold at each supermarket if it is grown within a very small radius of the store. This means that the nutritional content of fruit and vegetables is not greatly reduced as a result of miles traveled before consumption. In the U.S., because so much of our food is imported from distant locations, much of the nutritional content is depleted. When food travels only a short distance before consumption, it also requires fewer or no preservatives and tastes fresher and more flavorful. This is how the supermarkets support the concept of food being "good" in accordance with the Slow Food Movement. The short distance this food travels also means that local farmers are well-supported. In the U.S., meat is oftentimes from places where animals are very mistreated. In Switzerland, the concept of food being "clean" means that animal welfare is carefully considered. On a farm that I visited North of Lugano, I learned of how people actually celebrate their cows and move houses to follow them for migration. Animals seem to be appreciated and treated very well in Switzerland in comparison to how they are treated in many other countries. Supporting local farmers in this region means supporting a higher quality for consumers and better conditions for farmers and animals. 

Food waste is managed in such a way that each supermarket within a very limited radius of each distribution center is required to drive all of its waste to the distribution center every evening. The following morning, while the food is still fresh, it is all systematically distributed to local farmers in the area to feed their livestock. This is a really impressive way for Migros to fully use all of its resources to support the country.

Switzerland's dedication to Slow Food and to sustainability inspired much of my later research and taught me things I may not have been able to learn anywhere else. It has made much more conscious of how I can be a greater part of creating a more aware, more active, and more inspired global atmosphere.

You can read more about the Slow Food Movement and its origins in the link to the brief journal article below. Please copy and paste into a new browser window.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Relaxing in Lugano

Though there are so many things to do and such a range of people to meet in Lugano, it is also a lovely place to relax. Students of Franklin University along with students studying abroad often sit by Lake Lugano and watch the swans or do homework at the park.

Because student housing is separated into apartment complex-style living, each building is very different and has a unique location. The building I stayed in was at the top of the hill, close to the buildings where classes are held. Just next to this building, there is a popular pub called Irish Pub Sorengo - a popular late-night spot and a great place for lunch. Just behind the complex is a path to monastery, where we often hung hammocks. I usually went here after class and read.

This was nice because I could go there alone and take a break from everyone or I could go with roommates.

I also enjoyed walking around Lugano just to see all the vibrant colors and architecture. It is a particularly lovely  place when it rains. Outdoor shops and vendors remain outside and open umbrellas.

Because there are ferries on Lake Lugano, it is nice to take one and to visit the other towns along the lake or to go on the boats just for the scenery. Here are some pictures from one of my favorite boat rides: 

A town on the lakeside

Valle Verzasca - Waterfalls of Switzerland

On a class trip to Valle Verzasca, I went along with professors and other students on a long bus journey north of Lugano through the Swiss Alps. I have never been on a bus ride as exciting as this one. The company was so much fun, and the views were amazing. Here are just a couple images from my seat: 

After a few hours, we arrived at a spot in the mountains of the Locarno district of the Ticino region  where the buses could be parked. From there, we took a long group hike on a smaller road and then on a trail through a valley that led to a massive waterfall. I am a big fan of hiking, and I really loved that trail. It was well-maintained enough to not get lost but still wild to allow for a true experience of the Swiss wilderness. 

Along the trail, there were traditional stone mountain houses, very friendly goats that belonged to a farmer in the area who allowed them to roam around, and a river that we would follow after we spent some time at the waterfall. The stone houses were really impressive. 
I was interested in the house shown to the right because the roof looks like one single giant stone that was somehow transported fully intact. It made me wonder how these houses are constructed. 

Besides my fascination with the stone houses, I also really found it interesting how animals we came across behaved. These goats were really, really friendly. I am an animal lover, so I spent some time hanging out with them (as it seems customary for hikers in that area).

Even in the mountains, where the Ticino region is at its coolest, a hot hike made it really refreshing to arrive at a cold waterfall. This waterfall is massive. At the bottom, there is a swimming hole and another trail that leads to a spot above the treeline with a great view of the waterfall. Spending time looking out over snow-capped mountains on one side and this waterfall on the other was humbling.

After spending a while at the waterfall, swimming and hiking, we continued a longer hike through the valleys to a famous swimming spot. We stopped occasionally along the way, and we ate lunch next to the river. This river is famous for how crystal clear it is. 

Even when the bottom is six feet below the surface, every rock is clearly visible. Locals and tourists swim in the many swimming holes along the river.

After about an hour, we arrived at this swimming spot below. It was lucky that the teacher's assistant, Becky Thompson, was so helpful and informative. She had experienced the program in Lugano the year before and was well-prepared with tips. She reminded us of all of the things we needed to bring, and it turns out that a pair of hiking shoes that could get wet along with an extra change of clothes was really helpful. 

Lavertezzo (shown on the left), a stone bridge with a double arch, built in the 17th century, extended over the river. 

Past the bridge, there was a small restaurant with locally-made cheese and wine, and beyond that restaurant were small footpaths that led to four or five houses on the other side. 

We had about four hours so explore on our own, so I was able to break off on my own to try the restaurant's cheese and wine, follow the footpaths to see different types of traditional homes, and then hike along the river on one side of the bridge until I found a spot to hang my hammock over the water and relax for a while. 

The water was freezing cold, and when I returned to the bridge, people were jumping off of one of the biggest rocks. I went swimming with some of the other students while others jumped off of some of the biggest rocks, climbed the rock walls up before jumping back into the river, and sketched. 

There were a lot of people, but it was surprisingly not very congested, and there were excellent views of the village, the bridge, and Switzerland's stunning wilderness. 

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