Friday Photo: Pompei, Italy

Oh hello, Mt. Vesuvius. And Fido ‘nem.

Touring Pompei and seeing the ash “casts” of the pterified bodies that were killed by that infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was a cool – yet chilling- experience. Must do.

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Speechless…

I know you all know this, but… I love my job. Like it makes me smile just thinking about how blessed I am. And sometimes it makes me cry to think about some of the amazing stories that come across my desk. We are not kidding when we say studying abroad changes lives – and sometimes it’s not just the lives of the students, but the ones that are blessed by their stories (me!).

Meet Reid. A student at George Washington University who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. A student who was flat out told that he could not study abroad because of his disability. A student who not only didn’t take no for an answer, but also kickstarted his way toward documentary about his time in Rome. A student who is literally showing all those people who told him no (and the rest of the world too) that even though he may be the one with the physical disability, we may be the ones who are truly limited. A student who had me at my desk trying not to shed tears at just how awesome he is (they weren’t tears of sadness). A student whose story left me speechless.

Check out the trailer for his documentary, Wheelchair Diaries. I can’t wait to see the full-length film after he’s traveled to Europe:

Day 11 – Milestones or “Firsts” While Traveling or Living Abroad?

Welcome back! I hope everyone enjoyed their annual overdose of forced patriotism over the last few days. I did. Anyway, back to the #travelchallenge.  I didn’t post yesterday – I spent most of the morning asleep and most of the afternoon figuring out who was still having happy hour and which one started earliest (shout out to El Centro on 14th street!). Regular holiday duties of course. And then we caught the fireworks while chilling on the National Mall.

Ok, now really… back to the #travelchallenge.

I can think of a few “firsts” while traveling internationally.  Some more meaningful than others, but here goes:

  • First solo travel experience – I saw Paris by myself.  Only for a day or two before my friends arrived.  But still, looking back sometimes I still can’t believe I did that!  I just remember that I had no intentions of leaving Europe without seeing Paris.  With flights from Italy being less than $20, there was no way that someone else’s indecisiveness was going to stop me from eating some crepes and croissants, seeing the Eiffel Tower, and getting cultured Parisian-style (even though seeing the Mona Lisa was completely underwhelming). Everyone else finally realized how awesome my trip was going to be and booked flights for the next day or something like that. I’m glad I did it though – I’m not afraid to go anywhere by myself now.
  • First intercultural relationship – I wasn’t sure whether to use the term interracial, international, intercultural? He was black, but he was was Senegalese, French, and Italian. Whatever, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian (or French) and we carried on a 3-month something.  Sounds like fun, no? Eventually, I did learn Italian pretty well but that first month or so – whew! It was tons of fun – he would show me around parts of Milan I never would’ve discovered on my own and we had some really great times.  But when we “argued” it was probably the most hilarious thing anyone has ever experienced. “Arguing” usually consisted of me muttering stuff in English and him not responding because he had no clue what I was talking about – then he would say his piece in Italian. Needless to say our “arguments” didn’t last long. And that’s a good thing right?! 🙂 Anyway, his name was Romeo and how can you spend any time in Italy without finding an authentic Romeo.  It just wouldn’t have been the same if he spoke English!
  • First rude awakening to the global perspective of Americans – Growing up in the U.S., all you hear is how great this country is and how we are saving the world and helping other countries do this, that, and the third. But why would your American history teacher, who’s never even stepped outside of Tennessee, let alone America know anything about whether or not these other countries want America’s help? Being outside of this country gives all Americans a big dose of humble pie – but most tourists have their noses so high in the air they can’t even see the humble pie sitting right in front of them.  Don’t get me wrong, out of all of the global discussions I’ve had most people have nothing against the single American traveler or the person who is really coming to learn about their country – but they definitely had choice words for the U.S. government and that American tourist who complains about how different and inconvenient everything is in other countries.  Nothing was more eye-opening than this piece of graffiti I witnessed while visiting Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.

    Wow. (@ Parc Guell in Barcelona)

    The message speaks for itself right? It’s in Barcelona, but it’s not in Spanish. Who do you think it’s meant for? That was definitely a wow moment – and it solidified for me that I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler :).

Day 03: An Adventure or Challenge While Traveling

Welcome to Day 03 of the International Travel Challenge! This has been pretty fun and I’ve started some twitter and facebook discussions to get everyone thinking internationally.

I would have to say one of the most challenging things I’ve done while traveling was experiencing the Alps.  The climb wasn’t terribly steep in most places but there were definitely some narrow paths that involved a whole lot of faith and mental strength.  It was by far one of the most exhilirating experiences I’ve ever been a part of and the views were breathtaking.  I still can’t believe I was there!

Walking the Alps

Excerpt from my study abroad journal when I returned from the Alps:

“I have to admit that breathtaking is the only word I can think of to describe it…I’m not big on ‘nature’ and the outdoors, but this was amazing. It was amazing enough to make an atheist believe in God.  And it sucks because no matter how you describe it or how many pictures you take you can never convey the feeling you get when you see this huge perfect figure that you know no man could have made… I was definitely scared as hell in the Alps.”

I’ve been told many times that this background looks fake.  No, God’s just that perfect :).

Long way down right?

Alright so let’s hear it.  What have been your adventurous and challenging experiences while traveling? I’ve already peeped Terri’s and I can say it’s something I definitely have to do once in my life – but I get anxious just thinking about it.  Also, Nikita better known as Mademoiselle Mitchell, has joined in on the fun!  And be on the lookout for updates from Monique of MoTravels, Ernest from Fly-Brother, and April from Absolute Travel Addict.

You know I’m indecisive right? Yeah I couldn’t decide between the Alps and this canoe race in Dominica during Dive Fest.  Yeah, as you can see we didn’t know what we were doing – but we still won like 5 cases of Kubuli beer! It was definitely a sight to see… Especially the part when our relay partners capsized! Pure hilarity.

How to Pick Your Study Abroad Destination?

*I’ve been nominated for a Black Weblog Award for 2010! I would greatly appreciate your vote in the Best Travel Category (click on the Finalist Banner to the right to vote). Thank you!*

Actually I’m not going to tell you how to pick your destination. I’m going to let you know how I ended up going to Milan. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to go to one of the “most popular” destinations.  “Most popular” usually translates to “touristy” which then translates that I probably won’t get the most authentic international experience. Most of the time if there are 300 American kids in a foreign country in the same program, you won’t ever have the opportunity to really experience the country.  It’ll simply be an American experience on foreign soil.  So that immediately disqualified Paris and Rome. I definitely wanted to learn another language – so buh-bye London. I didn’t want that language to be Spanish – so adios Barcelona and Madrid.

I actually really knew I wanted to be in Italy. I’ve always had some kinda crush on all things Italian. Italian designers, Italian love, Italian leather, the language, and of course the food. I wanted to be in a “city” as opposed to a rural or small location.  I wanted to be able to explore and not experience everything within a month after I’d arrived. So that knocked out Torino (home of the Winter Olympics 2006), Venice, and Florence.  Besides, Florence was full of tourists AND it was small so No and No. Everyone there speaks English to you, unlike in Milan where NOONE will speak to you in English – even if they know how.  It’s kind of rude but I respected that. I didn’t want to come in and change their culture, I personally wanted to be changed (well my language skills at the very least).  I know this is why I was practically fluent in Italian by the time I left. The final reason was because of the opportunity to have an Internship abroad. Milan was one of the few programs that offered Internships – and that was important to me as a Business Marketing major.

So I ended up in Milan partially based on the process of elimination – but it definitely wasn’t an afterthought. I loved everything about that city and could definitely picture myself living there again. It’s the business capital of the country, the nightlife was great, it’s one of the Fashion Capitals of the World, the food is amazing, it’s close to everything, it has everything, it’s the home of Bocconi – one of Europe’s best business school’s, – not one, but TWO futbol teams, and so much more that I know I’m forgetting.

So how do you pick your study abroad destination? Be true to yourself and know what you like (and don’t like).  And if you end up picking a place and don’t like it (which won’t happen), you’re only there for a semester and with low-cost airlines such as Ryan Air and EasyJet, you can country hop and visit many other cities.

(If you’re wondering why I only mentioned places in Europe, I still wanted the opportunity visit those places I didn’t want to live in – and I did! I knew that going to Europe, because all of the major cities are relatively close together, would give me the best chance to visit more places.  Unlike if I were in say, Sydney, Australia, it would be more difficult to get around to other major cities. But now that I’ve “conquered” Europe, South America and Africa are next!)

Travelin’ through Time: Window Shopping

So, I just realized I haven’t really had many photos or stories of my own experiences while I was abroad in Milan.  So Travelin’ through Time will be a series of posts dedicated to photos, stories, memories, and thoughts all from my semester spent in Italy (and Barcelona, Spain, & London). So without further ado, my first Travelin’ through Time post:

Window Shopping in Milan

"Fare la spesa"So this photo from my time abroad showed two things I noticed about Milan within the first week I got there: (1) shopping is a serious sport and (2) dogs are EVERYWHERE (not quite as bad as LA though).  Window shopping is a legit national pastime – as you can see, even the dogs partake in it (I really wonder what he was shopping for that day!?). The only problem with this being a national pastime is that I, as a foreigner, was not familiar with the idea of staying on the outside of the window.  Instead if I saw something cute in a window, I investigated and subsequently purchased said item – hence, my first bout with credit card debt.  But Italians can spend an entire day just walking down those famed streets like Via della Spiga in Milan or Via del Corso in Rome.  Saturdays, Sunday afternoons, any day really was perfect for taking a shopping walk.  And there aren’t any malls – simply streets or districts where all of the retailers have decided to call home. Quite amazing.  Even more amazing are the shops I would find with premium Italian leather goods for what I like to call the “low” :). My only regret is that Italy wasn’t still on the lira back in ’06.  I blame all past credit card debt on the Euro and Italy’s unofficial national pastime!