May, 2008

My last post

Monday, May 26th, 2008

This was my last week in Granada. I will be flying home shortly and have just finished my finals; it is such a bittersweet feeling. On one hand I am very excited to get home and see all my friends and family but I will really miss the friends and life I have come to know.

This weekend I took a road trip to the north of Spain with friends from Granada. We rented a car on Thursday and returned to Granada on Sunday afternoon. It was quite an adventure because only one of my friends was confident driving a stick shift. Once she was tired we weren’t really sure who was going to drive. I had driven one a few times before so I was the lucky one. Unfortunately and inevitably I stalled at the first few tollbooths (pretty embarrassing) and they had to reopen the gates but I quickly learned, and we were on our way.

San Sebastian is such a beautiful city. The architecture and layout of the streets reminds me a lot of Paris. The feel of it is quite different though because it is right on the water with a clean and soft-sanded beach. Lush mountains also surrounded the city. The food there was so delicious, we had pinchos for just about every meal. Pinchos are slices of bread with your choice of topping that can include meat, fish (my favorite), cheese and/or vegetables.

The next day we drove to Bilbao for our last stop. We stayed in the old, most beautiful part of town. The buildings were much like those of San Sebastian. We visited a beautiful three-storied market. It seemed like the fresh produce; meat and seafood went on forever. I have seen more beautiful markets but nothing on this scale. The Guggenheim museum was really interesting. It gave you more art history than other museums, which I really enjoyed. There was a lot to read and hear about so we spent a great deal of time there.

The next morning we took the long drive home; this time in daylight. I really enjoyed seeing the countryside. Being in a city for so long its great to get out into the countryside. The olive farms are really beautiful, we stopped to taste a raw olive…not a good idea, I don’t recommend it. We made it back to Granada safe and sound.

Done with finals and heading home in a couple of days, this will be my last blog. Thanks so much for reading. I have really enjoyed my experience and feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity.

Time has flown by…

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Time has flown by and I can’t believe how long it has been since my last post. Finals just finished up in Singapore, and now 8.jpgit is time to head back home. School out here has been a unique experience out here all the way through finals (which take place in a giant gymnasium with about 800 other students). I really took advantage of being in a new place by venturing outside my comfort zone and trying some classes that had absolutely nothing to do with my major, and instead focused on topics like Singapore business law and Asian history.

Part of the reason why I chose to come to Singapore was the fact that I was going on my own, without knowing anyone before hand. While that made the first few days kind of rough, it was the best decision I could have made in choosing a study abroad location. The network of friends I have made around the world from being here for 5 months astonishes me, and I 7.jpgcan’t wait to visit many of them in the future.

As other blog posts have mentioned, one of the best parts of studying abroad is being able to experience other countries and traveling. South East Asia is an amazing culture shock for anyone who has never visited third world countries before. From Malaysia, to Thailand, to Indonesia, to the Philippines, and many many more, these places are where the real experiences of study abroad are made. I finished up my last bit of traveling by heading down to Bali for a few days. As is always the case when visiting a country for the first time, I had an amazing time. We managed to randomly run into about 15 other exchange students from NUS (National University of Singapore) and SMU (Singapore Management University) every time we turned around. It really was a perfect cap to an amazing semester. From the beaches to renting scooter bikes and exploring the island, there was always something to do. I am excited to give white rice a break and have a nice big sandwich, but I am definitely not looking forward to needing a jacket when I get back home.

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If any of you have any questions about Singapore or SE Asia in general, feel free to reach out and I would be more then happy to be of any assistance. See you back in Seattle.

Cheers,
Neal

A Truly International Experience

Monday, May 5th, 2008

11-my-new-school.jpgWhy limit your exposure to only one foreign culture when you can study abroad in the Netherlands and get hundreds? At Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands you’ll find yourself surrounded by people from across the globe.

The Netherlands (commonly, though incorrectly referred to as “Holland“) is situated in the heart of Europe, and draws students from across the continent – and the world. I share a classroom not only with Dutch students, but also Norwegians, Fins, Germans, Brits, Italians, Canadians, Australians and other Americans, just to name a few. I’m not only immersed in one culture; I’m surrounded by many. This is a truly international experience.

The common language is of course English, so while it’s nice to learn Dutch, it’s totally unnecessary. Though seemingly a minority, try to meet at least a few Dutch students. The Dutch have got to be some of the nicest people in the world and are always willing to help you out or show you around (and they’ll happily do it in perfect English).

04-more-bikes.jpgMy Recommendations: When in the Netherlands do as the Dutch, and get a bike! Although public transportation is ubiquitous, reliable and affordable, you’ll be missing part of the experience if you main mode of transportation isn’t a bike. You can do it the legal way and pay 150 Euros at the bike shop, or you can bump into one of the many street salesman where you can usually find one for 10 Euros. But be warned: spend twice as much on the lock as you did on the bike, otherwise it’ll be your bike that’s for sale.

amsterdam-010.jpgAlso, travel! The Netherlands are ideally situated in the middle of Europe, and all the history it has to offer. School here isn’t as intense, so you should have many long (3-5 day) weekends to explore Holland and neighboring countries. Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and Italy are all weekend trips away, and with affordable airfare within the continent (see: skyscanner.net) you may get round-trip for under 100 Euros.

Holland itself has tons of places to visit, most of which are within a few hours train ride away. Of course you need to visit Amsterdam, be sure to check out the Red Light District. And know the difference between a cafe and a coffee shop. The capital, Den Haag, the quaint city of Utrecht, Castle de Haar, Keukenhof (flower gardens), and St. John’s Cathedral in Hertogenbosch are all worth the trips.

flowers.jpgIf you can, try to come during the spring. With a maritime climate, the Netherlands have weather very similar to Seattle. It gets pretty cold, rainy and windy during the winter, so coming in spring when all the tulips are blooming is perfect. This way you’ll also catch Queen’s Day (April 30th), which is a national holiday on par with Carnival, an experience you won’t want to miss.

Morocco

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

This weekend I took a trip to the country of Morocco. We went with a group called StudyTravel and I highly recommend this because it was much cheaper and faster than traveling alone. We got to visit three cities in three days; it was a jam-packed weekend.

eliz2.JPGWe started our journey in Malaga where we met with the group. Once there we drove to Algeciras to take the ferry down to Cetua. Cetua is still run by Spain so we had no problems there but once we drove from Cetua to Tétouan the border was packed. We spent a good two hours trying to get across the border. The driving there is insane, it looks like there is going to be an accident any second. Finally, we crossed the border and made it to Tétouan where we took a bus tour of the city and went to our hotel. The cities instantly look different once you cross the border because Morocco is a Muslim country so all the signs are in Arabic. They also used to be run my France so the only other language on the signs is French. This would make it very difficult to get around without a guide. The nice thing about it being so close to Spain is that most people speak Spanish. Once at the hotel we had a traditional Moroccan dinner of meat, vegetables and couscous and went to bed exhausted after a full day of traveling.

The next morning we got up early and headed to the city of Tanger. This city is quite a bit smaller than Tétouan. First, we went into the small center of the city, which is a market. It is gated off so that only people on foot can get though. At some points only one person at a time could walk along the passageways. People of Tanger like to get their food fresh every day so the market is open 7 days a week and they have everything to make their traditional food: huge bags of spices, the freshest produce and very fresh chicken (in fact, they kill it there on site). After this we went and saw where the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans meet. The view was spectacular but I only wish there hadn’t been such a down pour or we would have been able to enjoy it longer. We also got to take a camel ride a long the way. We headed back to the hotel again for some R&R because we had to get up pretty early the next morning.

eliz1.JPGOn our final day we headed to Chechaouén. It is a very small city way up in the mountains. Our tour of the city was breath taking. Their neighborhoods are all painted one shade of blue or another; there are also magnificent views of the countryside below from almost anywhere in the city. The center of town is the cathedral and a bunch of cafes where the locals all sit and drink tea. Its something you need to see for yourself but I really hope to return someday. I am so glad I took that trip it was a last minute thing for me but sometimes those turn out to be the best.