Show me a to-do-list for Sydney, Australia, and I guarantee that the words “Opera House, Blue Mountains, beach, koala, and kangaroo” will feature prominently. Thanks to IFSA Butler’s fantastic orientation program, I crossed all these items off my list within my first 3 days of being here. During our 3-day orientation, we took trips to the Featherdale zoo, a hike around the Blue Mountains, Manly Beach, had a walking tour of Sydney that included Hyde Park, and the Opera House, and went on the Spectacular Sydney Harbour Dinner Cruise. These activities were a great way to get over our jet lag, which ensured that we weren’t falling asleep on the 3rd day, during which we were briefed about academics, mental health, health insurance, visa requirements, and life at our individual schools. Keeping busy also helped me get over my curious case of homesickness that entails missing my life and loved ones in both Ghana and the USA.

The 4th day was bittersweet, because our group (IFSA Butler Australia 2013) separated to go to our respective schools, where we will be spending a semester, with most people (including yours truly) going to the Universities of Sydney, and New South Wales, and smaller groups going to the Universities of Adelaide and Wollongong, and Flinders University.

Moving into my dorm was uncharacteristically stress-free, as we moved in 4 days before the other students arrive. My dorm is one of the University’s colleges, and it looks like a castle and reminds me of Hogwarts (the fact that the basement is called “The Dungeon,” the weekly formal dinner tradition of wearing academic gowns, and the set-up of the dining hall clinched it). I am living with 2 American girls in an enormous triple room that is the usual abode for IFSA Butler’s students.

Apart from being guaranteed 3 meals a day (Sydney is an expensive city!), another advantage of living in a college is the fact that I am able to have frequent interactions with Aussies who are all funny, friendly, and fit. Additionally, even though the university has a huge campus, the college is not far from the shopping center (which houses everything from a cinema, a target and K-Mart, and an Apple Store), and the academic buildings.

Orientation Week (O-Week) begins on Monday, so we have a free weekend to do some more exploring of this beautiful city and this beautiful campus.

Cheers!

 

 

 

¡Estoy trabajando en Móvil Dental!

With all SIT programs, students finish classes earlier in the semester and have an entire month to select an independent study project (ISP). My ISP period began this past week and I’ve decided to study the differences in oral health between rural and urban regions. After looking over ISPs from previous years, I was shocked to learn that no one has ever studies oral health (salud bucal) through this program. I’m really looking forward to the next month because a big component of my project is studying the preventative health programs offered by public health centers and going with dentists to schools to give free care and teach about oral health. The dentists drive around this truck called “Móvil Dental” which has one operating seat in it and put fluoride on children’s teeth (those who don’t have cavities). Those who do have cavities take a form home to their parents to sign and the following day, the dentist drills out the cavity the and seals the hole. Currently in Chile, all citizens have a right to free dental care at ages 2, 4, 6, 12, and 60. But what happens to everyone else? Dental health is one of the most expensive medical services in Chile and combined with the poor nutrition of most Chileans has lead to almost 100% of the adult population having cavities. I am interested in seeing what I discover about the differencesbetween rural and urban locations over the next month.

¡Mis compañeras de cuarto!

In addition to having the entire month to only focus on research, I also decided to move out of my host family’s house and into a new apartment with 3 of my girlfriends from the program. I’m excited to be living more independently because I now have the opportunity to eat healthier and don’t have to feel like a guest all the time. I did enjoy my time with my host family and found that it was a better way of improving my spanish than courses, but I definitely prefer my independence. A $1 taxi ride away from our apartment is the AGRO or huge farmers market of Arica. I cannot believe how many different types of fresh vegetables and fruits they have available (and for SUPER CHEAP). Definitely the best mangos, kiwis and chirimoya I’ve eaten in my life.

 

Between Iruhito’s lack of internet and our hostel’s questionable internet service, it’s been a challenge to post, needless to say there’s a few things we need to catch you all up on. Since our last blog post we took a trip to Copacabana, a small town known for its great views of Lake Titicaca and its abundance of backpackers. The purpose of our trip there was to see the remains of the Incan occupation in the region and at the Island of the Sun. We took a boat ride to the Island of the Sun and toured the Incan structures and roads that remain on the island. The next morning we loaded up the field vehicle and headed back to La Paz.

By the time we made it back to La Paz I had started to realize that riding in the car for four hours might have made me sick or that I may have eaten something less than agreeable with my stomach. Professor Smith gave me some pills to help me feel less nauseous, but as it turned out the next morning I had a serious case of what John W. Janusek so nicely calls the “Bolivian belly.” I spent the next day sitting with Professor Smith in the doctor’s office while they ran tests.  I was given a course of medicine that made me feel much better. Luckily, I only had to miss one day of fieldwork in Iruhito.  Being sick in Bolivia certainly put F&M’s infamous phrase of “working closely with faculty” into a new light for me.  I’m really thankful that Professor Smith and Maribel know La Paz so well and that I was able to get back to normal health so quickly.

When I met up with the other students in the field we began planning a July 4th fiesta. We agreed with Professor Smith that we would involve the indigenous community of Iruhito in our Independence Day celebrations.  The fiesta would also double as our going away party. Professor Smith and Maribel met with the leader of the community, the Malku, and decided that the men of Iruhito would build an earthen stove, and we would provide a pig and vegetables to roast inside of it. For the next couple of days, on our breaks, we watched the men and a few boys construct the stove. It was really cool.

We were really excited when the 4th of July finally came. The dinner wasn’t until the evening so we spent all day doing bone analysis with Maribel and Professor Smith. Some of Professor Smith’s fellow archaeologists from the region also came to the dinner. It was a really great experience getting to talk to them about their area of expertise whether in ceramics, lithics, or just Tiwanaku culture in general.

Before we ate dinner, we offered the men and women in the community drinks. In communities like Iruhito there is a very ritualized way of hosting a party, especially when serving drinks. Typically, the host offers the men drinks first, in order of importance, followed by the women. The host walks to each person one at time with a small glass and offers each person a drink one at a time. Everyone drinks out of the same glass. When the host offers a drink to the guest, the guest usually invites the host to drink with them. Before they drink, they offer some of it to mother earth by pouring some of it onto the earth and by saying: “Pachemama” or mother earth. They then say “Salud” and finish the rest of their drink. The process represents reciprocity and sharing within the communities.

When the party started the women were sitting completely separate from the men. It was interesting to watch because the other female students and I technically should have been sitting with the women, but since we were hosting the party it was okay that we were sitting with Professor Smith and the other men. Eventually the women inched closer and closer, but it wasn’t until the dinner started and we all sat around the table that the men and women sat completely integrated.

After dinner the sun had set and we decided to show Iruhito a real American 4th of July. Professor Smith had purchased some fireworks from La Paz and we set them off in the middle of the village soccer field. Also while we were in La Paz, we had purchased the closest thing to s’mores ingredients we could find. We built a bonfire with cow dung and roasted up some marshmallows. We spent the rest of the night around the bonfire and playing soccer with the village children. Needless to say, it was by far the best 4th of July ever.

 

Hello Cameroon!

After more than twenty hours in the plane, not including the time spent to change flights, I arrived in Douala, Cameroon, and have stayed here for a week already. So many things have happened both on the flights and in Cameroon, and I apologize that I did not post any new postcards because I was busy getting used to the time and weather here.

I want to mention one thing that happened on the flight from Addis Ababa to Malabo. (You are right; I had a really long flight: Chicago – Washington; Washington – Addis Ababa; Addis Ababa – Malabo; Malabo – Douala.) When I stepped into the flight in Addis Ababa in an overly warm afternoon, I was kind of shocked to see that nearly one half of the passengers were Chinese. (Though I was prepared to see some Chinese on the flight, since a lot of us work in African countries, one half was still a large number.)

When the airline hostesses were serving meals, I was standing in the front of the cabin trying to relax my legs. Then I saw a Chinese worker who could not speak English came to one of the hostesses to ask if he could smoke in the toilet. I was a little bit surprised since there was actually a no-smoking sign in Chinese on the door of the toilet. After getting rejected, the guy went back to his seat. Later on, I saw that the guy’s passport was taken by an air hostess who insisted that he was trying to smoke. She told this to the captain and there was a possibility that the police would come when the flight arrived in Malabo.

Though I am pretty sure that the guy would not get into much trouble since he did not actually smoke but was only caught showing his cigarettes to his friends during the flight, which technically did not break the laws or the rules, it is important for us to know that we should follow the rules when go to other places. Even if sometimes we do not understand the language well or we are not aware of the local rules, we should observe first and then take action.

 

We finally made it to La Paz and survived two full days at high altitude, roughly 12,000 ft above sea level. After we landed and went through customs, we were greeted with hugs by Professor Smith and his wife Maribel. We grabbed Taxis and head down to La Paz to check into our hostel. La Paz couldn’t plan a better entrance from the airport if it tried. The airport sits on top of the mountain, and the mountains continue to circle the city. As we made our way down into the city at 6 am, it was still dark, the mountains looked blue, and we could see the entire sparkling city. It really was something to see. When we reached our hostel  we headed to bed until 11:30. We grabbed lunch and despite the altitude, we hiked through the city with Maribel leading the way. Maribel is from Bolivia, and walks extremely fast. In two days its become a common occurrence to hear her name mentioned with words like “trailblazer” or “booking it”, because of her tendency to lead the group by a good couple of yards. Professor Smith is usually in the back making sure we don’t get run over by the aggressive Bolivian taxi drivers while we cross the street. In our first day we saw one of Bolivia’s Universities, and the San Francisco Church (image below). The Church has beautiful architecture. We were originally touring the church on our own, but we eventually found a tour guide who spoke english. Which was great because he had access to rooms that weren’t open and he let us go onto the roof of the church. The stairwell that led to the top was very narrow and steep. When we reached the top we were out of breath primarily because of the altitude, but also because of the breath taking views.

We spent the rest of our day touring some of the indigenous markets, and figuring our where the good places to shop were. After we grabbed dinner, we headed back to the hostel to rest. Our second day was more relaxed. We visited a museum of Bolivian musical instruments, and another Museum with metal artifacts from Tiwanaku.

So far, adjusting to Bolivia has been easy, besides the language and the altitude. However, that might change once we go to the rural village of Iruhito to conduct our excavation…

 

After a whirl-wind week of showing my parents and sister Sevilla, I went to Granada with my program, JYS. While there, I realized something very important; the title of my personal blog, Small Girl, Big World, is 100% wrong. The world is not big, but actually tiny. Ok fine, I guess that makes the title of my blog only half wrong but whatever, let a girl dream, gosh! Let me explain.

My roommate has a friend studying in Granada for the semester, so we met up with her after touring the Cathedral and Royal Chapel in order to truly experience the cities nightlife. It turns out that her friend is on the program that was my second choice ( SIT Granada – which is also supposed to be amazing and she loves – small world #1), and will be visiting Sevilla in April through SIT. Therefor, I would have met my roommate even if we’d been studying in different cities (small world #2). I get to talking with one of the other girls from my almost program, and almost immediately find out that she knows people that I went to high school with (small world #3). I swear, I don’t see or hear about most of my grade when I’m at home in West Windsor but transplant me to Spain and suddenly everyone I’ve ever known starts coming out of the woodwork. It’s casual. To recap so far: within a few hours I’ve connected with my roomie no matter what, and had mutual acquaintances with people I came very close to spending the semester with.

All of this happened over the course of maybe two hours at a bar with cheap drinks and free (yes, you did read that correctly) tapas before we went to literally the coolest nightclub I’ve ever seen in my life. Built into the side of a mountain, the bottom level of el Camborio is a cave. No, that is not an exaggeration thank-you-very-much. As if that isn’t cool enough, the top floor overlooks la Alhambra. AMAZING! To top it all off, ladies got in for free (again with this free stuff?! Come on Granada, you’re stealing my heart one Euro at a time.), and the music was popping. After an incredible night of dancing we finally dragged ourselves away to get a few hours of sleep before rallying to tour la Alhambra.

Now, back to my small world. We’re going through the tour (stunning by the way – even without an awesome tourguide like Fernando it would be worth going back to), and I’m chatting with a girl on my program about her sorority (which has a chapter at F&M – small world #4), and that I live close to Princeton. Obviously that led to the do you know who I know game, only this time I actually did! In her sorority is none other than a girl who I’ve known for as long as I can remember and who’s family is family friends with mine (small world #5). Seriously, my brain just about exploded. In less than 48 hours, in a city that I don’t even live in, I made no less than 5 random connections to home. That’s a lot to process! All in all, I have got to return to Granada, it was fantastic (even without all of these funny coincidences). But seriously, if that’s not a small world, what is? No, really, tell me. I dare you!

 

We are reaching the end of the first week in our homestays. Most of us have been placed in suburbs of Cairns, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes outside of the city. I am living with a single mom and her daughter in Trinity Park, which is about a half hour commute by bus into Cairns. The bus system surely fits the stereotype of laid back Australia—every time I have taken the bus it has been around 10 minutes late. But it doesn’t matter at all because no one cares and no one gets frustrated about it! Somehow people get where they need to be on time.

The area I am in is a classic Australian suburb. All of the houses are one story, many have pools, and several boast solar panels. I am a 20 minute run from a gorgeous beach. Being summer here, it is the height of JELLY season, so getting in the water is not an option (some beaches have jelly nets but not this one). The box and irukandji jellies are rampant and can land you in the hospital with one quick sting (and the irukandji are so small they often make it through the nets).

During our homestay we are conducting a suburban bird project. In the early mornings (6:00AM) I go out and bird watch for an hour. Our first paper is going to be written on our findings of this project. We are comparing the abundance and diversity of birds in a 15m x 100m x 2m (3,000m2) suburban transect of land to a natural transect of the same size. I have a SIT group member as a neighbor and we are planning to compile our data so we will be analyzing data from two 6,000m2 plots. One of the aims of the project is to examine ecological determinants of bird community composition, so we will also sample the vegetation in our transects. I am enjoying bolstering my bird watching skills—and it is amazing how quickly I have learned about the birds in my area. When I went in to Cairns yesterday I could identify almost all of the birds that I saw. Everybody has a small bird watcher inside of them I am beginning to believe.

Next on board for the semester is the Aboriginal camping trip, which I am looking forward to a lot. The rain has not yet started pelting down relentlessly here so we are hoping that it isn’t all being saved for when we are sleeping outside but either way it will be a blast. Hearing my homestay mum talk about their preparations for cyclone Yassy last year was crazy, quite similar to what I remember of the ice storm of 1997 in Maine. So for now, I’m birding, swimming, suncreening, eating veggie aussie burgers (a veggie burger with beet root, pineapple, and an egg on top), running, walking, and woking to absorb every second of every day.

Until next time!

 
In my experience, Spain has always sounded like some exotic place that is pretty unknown to us Americans. However, there were some things that I have always heard about it. Watch out for the Spanish men, they will win steal your heart without thinking twice, go to a bullfight (or don’t depending on who you’re talking to) because that is the event of choice in Spain, and everyone drinks sangria all the time.

Well, after being here in Sevilla, Spain for almost month, I think that I can truly consider myself an expert on whether or not these ideas are true. Wandering through, well technically getting lost in the beautiful cobble stone streets, attempting to make friends with the natives, and going through an intensive three week orientation program has exposed me to all three of these stereotypes. So, here is what I’ve learned.

Yes – many Spanish men will cat call you in the street, but just as many won’t. And honestly most of the ones that try hard to woo you are about the furthest thing from a Don Juan possible seeing as how they are almost always really creepy. It is nothing too different from walking through New York City except that these guys are a little bit more aggressive about it all. That being said, most of the people that I’ve met here have been super nice and understanding. With my lack of directional abilities I think I’ve asked about 50 people for directions so far, if not more. Without fail every single one of them has stopped whatever they were doing to look at my map and explain to me where to go. They even put up with my less than stellar grammatical skills and allow me to practice my Spanish in the process. Personally, I think this cancels out the creepy randoms on the street who try to pick up everyone who passes.

Also yes – people here love bullfights, or at least about 40% of them do. Another 30% are pretty impartial and the remaining 30% are actually really against it. Among the tours of el Alcazar, el Catedral, la Giralda, Italica and Ronda, I have now visited two Plaza del Torros. That is where bullfights are held. Let me tell you – they are worth it! The buildings are stunning and the stories are fascinating. Bonus: now my weak stomach and I don’t have to make it to an actual fight and deal with the blood! But while it is true that you can tour the plaza’s whenever you want, there is really only actual bullfighting from Semana Santa in April through about October, and tickets can get very pricey. So thanks but no thanks, I will pass on the cultural experience of attending a bullfight.

Finally, yes there is a lot of sangria here. But it is not all people drink. Maybe it is because it is “cold” (by that I mean can go into the 40’s at night and 60’s during the day), but people are not just sitting around outside cafes drinking all the time. If you want to truly act like  a native, find out what the local beer is (like Cruz Campo here) and order it with a tapas. Even this though is only at lunch or after work, not all hours of all days. I have learned so much by conversing with the waiters and local Sevillanos over tapas at a bar or cafe or even just watching a Flamenco show with them. See my first point about how friendly people are.

Overall, as different as it is here from in America, there are a lot of oddly familiar parts of life (and no, I don’t only mean because of the plethora of Starbuck’s, Burger Kings and McDonalds). Classes are classes, professors are professors, and good times are good times no matter where in the world you are. I just so happen to be lucky enough to be doing all this in a city that literally looks like a post card all the time. One month in (almost), and I’m loving it here.

 

When I think of the ballet, the opera, or the national symphonic orchestra I rarely view them as cultural events available to the masses.  Each of these has always had some level of elitism–in American popular culture, “going to the opera” is usually an activity performed by the wealthy, and often boring, characters.

This is not the case at the recently renovated Teatro Colón.  Once the largest opera house in the Southern Hemisphere (until Sydney Opera House was built), this massive theater, adorned with old paintings and carvings that make you feel like royalty, is filled with boxes for season ticket holders, and regular seating, for eight stories.  And, most surprising, the tickets are not incredibly expensive, for Americans or for Argentine’s.

Buying tickets online to go see the ballet, Manon, with my host mom, the prices ranged from 30 to 200 pesos; (about $7.50-$50 US dollars).  And once at the theater, I was surprised to find that even the least expensive tickets offered good views of the stage.  Some were standing only, and others were high up, but they all allowed the theater-goer to fully embrace the performance.

Most impressive, though, was the variety of people at the theater.  From the older couples, to families with small children; from people in dresses and suits and heels to people in jeans and t-shirts.  Argentines sat beside tourists, and everyone was in good spirits.

Behind us was a group of American’s eager to see the historic theater, to one side was an Argentine family, and to our other, a worker in the Chilean embassy who we talked with during the show, during both intermissions, and until we had to go opposite directions walking home.  Through it all, what really impressed me was how eager they were to share the culture.  The ballet was not reserved for the elite, it was for everyone to share in the beauty, and the magic (and it was magical- from the orchestra to the scenery to the dancers I was in awe the entire performance).  People from different social classes and different countries were all brought together to share art, and whether seated in private boxes or standing at the highest balcony, all that mattered was that they were all there to appreciate the performance and discuss it with each other.  The first words our new friend at the Chilean Embassy said to us, beginning an evening of pleasant conversation, translate to “how wonderful”.

 

I had no idea what to expect when I was told that I’d be spending three nights in a rural homestay in Quebrada del Toro, outside of Salta.   Even after the class on “campesino” life, where I learned that big families live and work together on small farms mostly focused on producing food for self consumption, I felt anxious to see what the community would look like.  How big would the farms and homes be?  How would they be managed?  How close would they live to their neighbors?

Arriving in Quebrada del Toro, surrounded by dry mountains and cacti, a new question came to mind.  How do they manage to plant crops in this environment?  My partner and I were the last to be dropped off at our homes.  After three hours of winding roads through mountains, we stopped and proceeded to walk to the property: through a field, over a small creek, past the remaining infrastructure of a destroyed home, past fields being plowed, and finally,to where we’d be staying.  All of the property we’d just walked through was the property of the family we’d be staying with, passed from one generation to the next.

There was no electricity: but there were solar panels to light the one light bulb in each room.  The rooms were all separated so that you walked outside from the kitchen to the bedroom to the bathroom (which, did not have a shower, but did have a normal toilette–our family’s “father” was the town nurse so they had some money).  All of the floors were dirt floors.  There were two kitchens: one, less used, with a gas stove and the other with a wood-burning stove.  There was no technology or modern luxuries, but it was an incredibly comfortable, safe, homey place to be.  The family was happy to work on the farm, proud of the goat cheese they produced, and peaceful as they herded the 50 goats and 23 sheep.

I genuinely loved every minute I spent in Quebrada del Toro.  I loved waking up early and having tea and some bread with the the family.  I loved helping to cook, learning to make soy gnocchi and soy milanesa, peeling vegetables for soup, and helping to make the bread.  I loved going out to help take care of the animals, especially the 3 day old baby goats.  I loved talking to the family and learning about why they chose that life, even after the mother had worked in the city of Salta.

Everything the family had they produced.  All of the food was fresh, and we’d even helped pick some of the herbs used.  To make money, they sold their goat cheese and the hats, scarfs, and toy llamas the mother knitted from wool that she spun.

Living there was new, and it was refreshing.  I realized how refreshing it is to live with nature, away from the trappings of technology.  I realized how much easier it was to sleep after working all day in natural light.  I learned how to really escape from the trappings of my normal day-to-day life of homework, working on a computer, constant communication with others.  I, for maybe the first time in my life, lived in the moment.  I experienced what it was to work for each meal, rather than just buy the ingredients (or, the already-prepared food) at the grocery store.  Throughout it all, I was at peace.