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 https://www.bible.com/111/mat.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.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Greetings all!

     First and foremost, I want to take the time to say congrats on being able to be apart of an EXTRODINARY EXPERIENCE! Many people are not able to have an experience going abroad, so to be able to be apart of the Study Abroad Program here at Columbia is not only a once in a lifetime experience, but an honorable one.

     Now allow me to introduce myself. My name is Veronica. I am a student at one of Columbia College's Satellite locations here in Savannah GA at Hunter Army Airfield. I am prior service military (Army National Guard), military spouse of almost 9 years and together we are a blended family of 4 kiddos and 2 pups. Over the past 9 years we've been able to live in a few places such as Virginia, Hawaii (so much fun!), North Carolina, and now Georgia. Georgia is only another stop on our traveling quest, only time will tell where we will be off to next.

     Now the good stuff...THE TRIP!!!!!  Honestly I thought I'd be able to write while I was there but the way we were moving so much and so quickly, by the time I was able to write I was so exhausted! But exhausted in a good way! London is a large diverse metropolitan city, so there is so much to do, so much history in the city, and so many people. I was amazed by it all. But I will start off with some general tips when in London. I will go into more detail on some topics in future posts. (NOTE: if its capitalized and in bold, its very important)

  1. Get familiar with the tube system- The London Tube system and bus line is in my opinion by far the BEST transit system I've ever used. Its clean, fast and literally takes you everywhere. The oyster card will be your best friend.
  2. Move quickly- people in London move quickly. They have places to be do not want to slowed down by tourists who doesn't know their way around. 
    They will bump into you if you are in their way with no remorse. So be sure to follow the flow of traffic. Walk on the sides where the majority walks and if you are in way, simply step to the side until you have yourself together.
  3. Wear comfy shoes and be sure to HYDRATE- You will be walking A LOT here in London as many of our coursework is covered around the city. Ladies; DO NOT BRING HEELS. Its not worth it. some of the roads are made of cobblestone and will be going up and down stairs. Please, just don't do it. I brought mine and never wore them. It is good you carry a bottle of water with you as you may never know when you will be able to get something to drink. Many places do offer tap water but with all the walking around you'll be doing, you may need some sooner than expected.
    ALWAYS LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING- Londoners drive on the opposite sides of how we drive here in the states. It is IMPARITIVE that you be sure to loo before you cross and cross at the crosswalks when there is one. If you are to get hit by someone and you are not in the crosswalk. You will be liable for the accident. So please, be safe and look right (well both ways really lol)
  5. Wear LAYERS: During the time I was there, we were spoiled with the beautiful weather. But it was important to wear layers as you will be taking things on and off throughout the day. Some time its warm and then it gets chilly, going in and out of the tube station, you are bound to warm up and cool down throughout the day.
  6. Understand that customer service is different here than in the States- Please understand this now as many of the students had a hard time adjusting to the difference. It is very different. Servers do not wait on you hand and foot like you are experienced. They only come around when you need them to. Other restaurants like Pubs for example, require you to go up to the counter and order instead of a server coming to you. They will only bring your food to you. Anything else you go to them. Once you are comfortable with this you will be good to go.
  7. Most Importantly....EXPLORE!!!!! You will be there for 4 weeks, and you will have down time to explore in the evenings and on weekends. Please take advantage. I went to so many places both in and outside of London that I could write a book about it. There is so much history in the city and so many different cultures to explore that honestly, 4 weeks isn't even enough time to cover it all.
      I will go more into detail in the upcoming posts about some of the places I've visited, what I've learned, and provide you guys with more specific tips to make it here in London if you decide to take this program in the future. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Travel to Italy Knowing What to Expect!

Ciao a tutti!

I am about two weeks into my study abroad experience to Italy, and it has been a blast! I have experienced more places the past two weeks than I have the past five years of my life! Instead of telling you all about how much fun I am having, I think I am going to make my blogs mostly advice for future study abroad students! Being across an ocean in a new country, Italians do things a little differently than Americans do and here are some things I was either told OR I found out myself from experience! So learn a little from my mistakes: 

  • Prior Trip Tips: this is the most stressful part so hang in there
    • Make a To-Do List: I had so much to do prior to my flight left and I kept losing track of everything I needed to putting it all down on paper or in my phone notes section relieved me majorly
    • What do you need to wear? Well obviously look up the weather before you go, but I will put down some mistakes I made
      • I should have brought more warm clothes, it was chilly the first week and it wasn't as fun being cold
      • I brought mostly cute clothes, because I am forcing myself to not wear leggings everyday! I am trying to fit in with the Italians, because they tend to dress a little nicer than casual Americans
      • Bring a rain jacket if you have one! I did not and I regret it. Also an umbrella is handy!
    • START👏PACKING👏EARLY👏: I mean it, start thinking about what you are bringing a long time before you leave. I personally tried on everything I was bringing to see if I wanted to bring it in my suitcase. It's hard bringing one suitcase for a month!
      • Little things to not forget: European adapter, pillowcase (if they tell you to bring sheets, I brought sheets but forgot a pillow case), a bath towel (don't be like me and drop 15 euro on a bath towel), that one thing you use everyday (mine is my speaker, it may take up space but I am so happy I brought it)
    • Keep up to date: you are going to be shoved a lot of info about your trip, try to be sure to read over things at least once maybe 2-3 times to be sure you have everything in order
    • Contact people in your group: I didn't know anyone going on the trip prior to going abroad, but I did get in contact with a girl a month prior to the trip. She was so helpful! Often the person has the same questions you have and you at least have one familiar face that you are going to see in the beginning! Don't feel weird, they probably feel the same way!
  • Restaurant Tips: the food here is DELICIOUS but can be difficult to maneuver 
    • Don't tip: It is not a thing to tip in Italy, because the waiters don't get paid minimum wage
    • "coperto" = table charge (you may see this on your receipt and wonder what I did not order that, but what I came to find out this is basically your tip. This is how they cover waiting on you)
    • They do not like to split checks, so often you have one person pay for the table and you pay them back. If you don't have Venmo highly recommend! Also make sure you pay them in euros and not US dollars!
    • Water costs!! I know I am still getting used to this one! Oftentimes it is just as cheap to get a glass of wine than a bottle of water so look out for that.
      • Also be sure you order "acqua naturale" or flat water, otherwise you may be disappointed with carbonated water. I do encourage you to try it though!
    • Often times you have to ask for the check if you are ready to leave, Italian dinners take longer than Americans. They do not bring you the check, because they do not want you to feel rushed! 
  • Coffee Tips: I don't personally drink coffee, but this was very helpful for others :)
    •  “latte” =  a warm glass of milk, so trust me you don't want warm milk so try the others
    •  “caffe” or an espresso = a shot of coffee
    •  “cappuccino” = a shot of espresso with a lot of frothy milk
    •  “macchiatto” = a shot of espresso with a dollop of frothy milk
    • In Italy it is a thing to only drink coffee in the morning, it is considered odd if you drink it in the evening
  • Shopping Tips: 
    • Do bargain: I was not a very outspoken person when it comes to shopping, but Italy has changed me a bit! Bargain with those men on the street trying to get you to buy things! You often can get it a lot lower than the price they tell you!
    • Try the Central Market: if you need some fresh ingredients try the Central Market! It is an experience you have to see how fresh all the produce and meat are! Also they have basically a food court upstairs with amazing food!
      • Don't touch fruit at Central Market: they have signs a lot of places, but the people do not like it when you touch their products.
    • Bring your own bag: when buying food or anything really they do not like giving you plastic bags but they do offer reusable bags for 1 euro in many grocery stores so when you go buy groceries try and bring your own bag
  • "Fit in" to Italian Culture: if you're trying to get really vibe with the Italian culture these are just some observations I have made. But as always it's okay to be a tourist and be your own self!!
    • Jeans: so jeans are odd here, everyone wears dark jeans a lot, but jean shorts are not a thing. I still wore jean shorts but I don't think I saw one Italian in jean shorts. Normal jeans here are popular here
    • Don't pet the dogs: obsessing over dogs here is not a thing, they do not like it when you pet their dogs. Even the cutest dogs no one stops to pet! But trust me from experience my friend pet this one guys dog because he came up to her, the man yelled at her so just be careful. I have heard that you can ask if you can and some people don't care but for now I will have to put my dog loving self in restraints
    • Use the crosswalks: cars are more likely to stop if you actually use the crosswalks. Italians are ummm let's say intense drivers so finding a crosswalk will increase your chances of crossing streets safely
    • Learn some Italian: learn some simple Italian phrases! It will help you immensely! A lot of people here (especially in the city) know at least some English but knowing the basics is very helpful!!

Well this is all I have so far but it has only been a little over two weeks! Hopefully I will have more that I think of and will continue to learn more as I am here! But for all you future study abroaders, this is a blast and don't stress too much about it!

                    Ciao, Abby M.
Me cheering now that you know a little more about Italy!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Ready for Break

Heyo, it's been a hot minute since I posted. I've been quite busy with finals and such. Spring break has started and is a little different than it is in the U.S. Rather than a week off, we have about a month and a half off, but I don't have a summer break this year. I will go back early August, so I already know it's going to be stressful between catching up with everyone I need to before going back to Columbia and starting classes for the fall again. But I will cross that bridge when I get there. The break will be relatively lazy, but I am going to Seoul, South Korea for a few days with two friends. We also have to move due to issues found with the buildings we are currently living in.

Winter Break

Christmas isn't that big of a deal here, but the university did host a small Christmas party for the students that didn't travel during break. It was quite nice because when isn't food, drinks, and friends a good time? We went to karaoke after, which I've come to really enjoy. I much prefer the private rooms over the open mic that is common in America.

I went with my friend Ayame to meet her family for New Years. It was a three hour train ride and an additional 45 minutes in the car. Wakayama prefecture is stunning. It's much more rural compared to Shiga. It's very mountainous and there are SO many trees. I love trees so much, so I had an absolute blast. I had never seen orange trees before so getting to see so many was amazing.

They have an annual pilgrimage to the kumamo hongu taisha shrine which was a really cool experience. The drive there was quite long from her hometown, but well worth it. I loved the trip along with the actual shrine experience. We went with her mother and sisters, grandparents, and an uncle and cousin. There were a lot of people there, and it's been a place of pilgrimage for a long time. They obviously now have roads, but people used to walk the distance. The trip could take a month by foot. While the trip is still important, it's more of a tradition than holding a religious meaning. Her grandparents still go due to belief, but for Ayame it was a tradition. We got little fortunes, which foretold how our year would go. Mine is going to be a good year according to said fortune. Her mother also bought me a small emblem that is supposed to promote good health for the year. There were several shrines in which different gods resided. There was one that was much more popular than the others. The line to pray was quite long. We didn't pray at those shrines. There was another structure there were the owner would pray over the people. The person praying wasn't a monk, but was a believer. Each family gets a small piece of wood that the person would bless as well. Ayame's grandparents kept it in their home. This is renewed each year, and the one from the previous year is burned. It signifies that the gods are watching over the family. They are held in high regard, with the wood having a special place in the home. The process of blessing us and the wood was interesting. We all sat on the floor, then bowed for a while while he chanted.

Then when that was finished, we were given an orange tree branch that we placed at an alter type thing and prayed there again. Then we went to see the original place of the temple. It was destroyed in a natural disaster, but the shrine remained standing. It is the largest in Japan. It was a sight to behold.

After this, the second part of the tradition is to go to a natural hot river to boil eggs and sweet potatoes. There were many people here as well.

It was a lovely experience and location. We also stopped by an outdoor onsen for a bit, but I didn't go in because it was rather cold out.

Not part of the tradition was making a pit stop at a bridge over part of a river. It swayed slightly as we walked on it, but that was part of the fun.

The next day, upon discovering that I hadn't been to the beach before, we went to the beach. Well we went to two beaches and also to a lighthouse. The first beach had rocks rather than sand. It was quite windy, so we flew kites as well. It was delightful.

Then we went to a smaller area to pick up shells. It was cool to get another perspective.

And then the lighthouse. It was further up the mountain, and it was incredibly windy. Luckily I had a hat and hair not long enough to actually be messed up, but we got some fun pictures of Ayame and her sisters hair. Seeing the ocean like that really makes you realize how small we are. I love that feeling.

Ayame's uncle, our driver for the day, was very kind and stopped often so I was able to get pictures. Watching the sunset over the ocean was incredible.

On the last day, we went to Osaka for some shopping before we went back home. It was my first time in Osaka. I love cities so I enjoyed it. It was also the first time to be in a subway, so that was cool too. It wasn't super eventful, but shopping areas are a bit different here than they are in the U.S. Shops often have people shouting about deals. It's a bit startling at first, especially if you don't see them right away.

Overall, it was a great experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 10/10 would recommend.
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