Reflections on My Semester Abroad in France

After a month back from the Student Exchange Program, Troy Weider reflects on his incredible semester abroad in Strasbourg, France. He shares some of the things that he already misses about leaving Europe, the return culture shock he felt coming back to the U.S., and his message to students considering (or on the fence) to go abroad.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.17.41 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.24 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.26 PMWow… I can hardly believe that it has already been a month since I arrived back to Perrysburg, Ohio, after four months of exploring some of the most beautiful places in Europe. I catch myself daydreaming about being back in the Alps, being back in a Parisian café, or being back in Strasbourg, surrounded by fairy-tale architecture, Christmas markets and all the new friends I so quickly had to leave behind.

Studying abroad was a life-changing experience, and I would recommend it to any college student who has ever had even Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.18.20 PMthe faintest interest. Ever since I was a little kid, the outside world, with its diverse people’s and cultures has always fascinated me. In elementary school, I would pour over children’s atlases and history books, dreaming of what it would be like to be in another country, exploring a corner of the world that was previously unknown to me. I finally got to know what that experience felt like in these last few months. Living in a place that’s very different, yet at the same time comfortable and unintimidating.

Things are very different now that I’m back at home. I no longer plan weekend trips to London or Slovenia, I’ve got a lot more schoolwork that I have to do, and for whatever reason, no one is speaking French! On a more serious note, it is great to be back again to see everyone who I was missing during this last semester, and after not really being in Columbus for the last eight months, it feels nice to be back on Ohio State’s campus again. Near the top of my list of things that I missed while in France, was being able to watch football (well at least so called “American football”, and luckily I arrived back just in time to watch the college football bowl season and the NFL playoffs! While at the game I was most looking forward to, did not really go as planned, it was nice to be back watching football with friends and family.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.04 PMDespite all the bittersweet happiness of being back home, the first few weeks back showed me that reverse culture shock really does exist. I can remember just realizing how big everything really is here: from the portion sizes to the cars to the buildings. People speak much quieter in public in France than they do in the United States, and right when I started getting use to that back in Strasbourg, I left to come back. Something that I did not really miss though was that the air feels much cleaner in the United States without the constant smell of everyone smoking cigarettes. But one of the things that I was most excited about being back was being able to have large amounts of mediocre American coffee again! I’m a big coffee drinker, and while I love the French café culture, it’s hard to find cheap coffee that is anywhere near the same size as its American counterpart, instead it’s stronger and much smaller. There is a plethora of differences between France and the United States, but these differences are really what made my trip so exciting in the first place!

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.21.05 PM

Last Travels

I love being able to reflect on my experiences during the last few months, so I figured I’d also give you all a brief recap of what’s been going on since my last blog post.

After starting classes near the end of September, I came into October with a full schedule of trips planned. My first one, and one of the highlights of my whole experience, was a trip with four of my friends to Slovenia. This is one of the most beautiful, but sadly overlooked countries of Europe. Slovenia had everything: beautiful Alps and lakes in the northwest, beautiful castles and villages, a very quaint yet cosmopolitan capital city, some of the largest caves in the whole world, and a small but beautiful Adriatic coastline. Slovenia was an amazing trip, and luckily the next weekend I got to go on a long weekend trip with my friend Julie, who happens to go to BGSU and was on the Slovenia trip as well. Julie and I spent three full days seeing the best of London! We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and tons of free museums along the way. London is an incredible city with all its history and diversity, and I was very lucky to cross that one off my bucket list. Then the following week, the University of Strasbourg had its Fall Break and I got to go on the trip of a lifetime, a 10-day trip through Europe with my dad. While my dad and I had always loved to travel together, he had never been to Europe before, and this was a great opportunity to show him around my “temporary home”. We met up in Paris for a few days before taking the TGV high-speed train to Strasbourg. Once there I gave him a 36-hour “best of Strasbourg” tour, with stops at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the European Parliament, Petite-France, the European Parliament, Orangerie Park, lots of sauerkraut and tarte flambées along the way. Then the next morning the two of us rented a little French car, a black Renault Twingo, and started a 6-day road trip through the heart of Europe. Starting first in Ribeauvillé, a small medieval town along the Alsatian Wine Route, we visited my French friend Hakim, who gave us a day-long tour of his hometown and the castles and villages that surrounded it. Hakim was one of my closest friends who I met in Strasbourg, and we luckily met during my first week in the city when I was lost trying to find the laundry room. I asked this random student in the main building where to do my laundry, and after showing me the way there, we ended up talking for an hour or so in both French and English, and then we started hanging out a few days later. Getting to see this region with a local made the experience much more unique, and since Hakim had several friends and family members working at the local wineries, we ended our day with a few tastings and cellar tours. From here, we spent the next day in the Swiss Alps, making a four-hour stop in my favorite Swiss city, Lucerne, before driving the high mountain Klausen Pass through the heart of the Alps. After several hours of the most breathtaking scenery, we made it to the micro-country of Liechtenstein, where we saw the main castle, got a “VIP tour” of the nation’s parliament, and ate at what seemed like Vaduz’s most happening restaurant. Then we left the Alps behind us and made it to Munich, where we spent the next day biking between parks and beer gardens past old reconstructed churches and palaces. Munich was amazing, but I was most excited about the final leg of our trip, the Czech Republic. I had made a lot of friends from this country during my time in Strasbourg, and Prague was always at the top of my bucket list of places to see. During our short two-day stay we drove to Plzen, where my friend Petra gave us a list of cool breweries and sites to visit in her hometown, then we visited the imposing Karlstejn castle en route to Prague in time to catch the sunset. Prague lived up to my expectations and was one of the most beautiful cities that I visited in Europe. Between the Prague Castle, the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and all the local pubs, restaurants, and hidden spots that I was told to visit by my Czech friends, Prague proved to be a memorable stop. The last day of our trip, we drove back through the Czech Republic and Germany, before I sadly had to say goodbye to my dad the next morning, but while his European vacation was over, my adventure continued.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.19.39 PMIn the last half of my stay I went on several day trips with my “host family”, was interviewed by French radio about the American presidential elections, continued spending time with my new friends, and went on several more weekend trips to Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Route, Heidelberg and Nancy. The biggest trip of this last leg was a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam with a French club at the university, where we biked along the canals, ate tons of local delicacies, and took in the nightlife. Also one of the biggest highlights of the last month in Strasbourg was getting to see the cities world famous Christmas market. Over the last few years this 500-year market with 300+ stalls selling everything from hot wine and local foods to ornaments, has been named Europe’s best Christmas market. The city was beautiful festooned with lights and decorations, and during December more than a million tourists packed the city center and added a different energy to Strasbourg. After an extremely busy last few weeks of exams, traveling, and saying goodbye to friends, I left Strasbourg for Paris on December 18th. After a whirlwind 24-hour stay in Paris, which I now feel I know better than almost any other city after 5 trips there, I boarded my plane to head back to Chicago to once again see all my friends and family back home.

I know that was a very brief recap of months worth of adventures in Strasbourg, but it definitely helps to illustrate all the fun that you can have exploring a new country and culture. Besides the enjoyment of just being over there, my semester abroad gave me a greater appreciation of different cultures, an amazing opportunity to improve my French, and the ability to exchange beliefs and ideas with new friends from all over the world. I’m very grateful for my time spent in Strasbourg, and I’m already looking at opportunities to return there again.
Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 9.20.10 PM

Intro to Ireland – Travel suggestions

Want to know some travel tips to Dublin, Ireland and London, UK? Grainne Hutchinson, studying on the Student Exchange Program to Trinity College-Ireland, shares her favorite places in these cities!

Over the week of Thanksgiving, my brother came to visit me in Ireland as he could take time off and didn’t have to pay for accommodation. We then took two days and flew over to London, my favorite city in the world! Not that Dublin isn’t great but London has so much history and culture and a little bit of everything for everyone. So I thought I would dedicate this post to two things, the main things to do if you ever visit Dublin and all the great things there are to experience in London if you visit there as well. Even if you study someplace else in Europe, I would highly encourage you to visit these magnificent cities.

The first thing is a list of thing to do in Dublin and why. Defiantly look into the Guinness Storehouse Tour, it’s a bit touristy but very informative. Plus where you end your tour has a great areal view of Dublin that’s perfect for pictures. There is also the Viking Splash tour, which I highly recommend. It takes you through the city and gives you great insights into Dublin’s history and culture. But it’s not just any tour you’re in an old “duck,” a car that can also be a boat, and your tour guide is a Viking as are you (complete with a hat). If you’re ever walking through the streets of Dublin and a weird looking car full of people wearing Viking hat’s roar at you, you’ve encountered the Viking Splash tour. The last thing you have to see is, of course, Trinity College Dublin! It is one of the most beautiful campuses around and is home to the Book of Kells and the long room.

IMG_3957

Now on to London! There are so many great things to do in London, and it may depend on your time and what kind of things you like to do. Some of the greatest museums are in London; my favorite is the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The V&A is basically just a giant collection of things from jewelry to keys. The British Museum is better if you’re only in the city for a few days, it has the Rosetta Stone, parathion marbles, and an Easter Island statue among many other things. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye are all kinds of tourist but in my opinion not worth missing. The changing of the guard in front of Buckingham Palace can be missed, though; it’s also impossible to see with all the tourists and it takes about an hour. One last thing I would suggest is the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. It’s a tall ship that has been transformed into a museum, so you can go inside and all through the ship. It is on land now, but it is still impressive, though I love boats.

IMG_5644

There are a lot more great things to do in Dublin and London, but these are the ones you can do if you are pressed for time and things average tourists don’t think of.

Intro to Ireland – Experience the Culture

As Grace Hutchinson continues her studies at Trinity College Dublin on the Student Exchange Program, she explores more of the culture and Island of Ireland. Hear about the Dublin Zoo to the Blarney Stone to the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland game, as well as her observations on Irish education.

Dia dhuit! (Hello) My first few weeks at Trinity have been great, though it is only the third week of class, so the course work is still on the small side. The rain has reduced to once a week, which makes it feel more like spring than fall. All the students have returned to campus, and the library is always packed with people as the course work over here is very dependent on readings. That’s not the only difference, as the courses here are also almost all graded on one essay or test at the end of the year, which makes me slightly terrified. As I am only here for one semester I won’t be here for the end of year exams, so my teachers come up with separate assignments, usually essays, to be graded on at the end of the semester. The Irish students I have talked to have advised me to keep the readings and familiarize myself with the Library for the essays.

School here is pretty similar in other aspects. For example, though Trinity is smaller than OSU there are still recitations or tutorials as there called here were TA’s or assistant professors give deeper insights and allows student discussion. I expected fewer people classes, especially coming from OSU, but it’s great that there are still non-lecture environments where you get to voice your questions. My advice to students coming to Trinity for exchange would be to pick classes you have a genuine interest in. As one assignment will determine your grade, and it usually involves a lot of outside research as well as applying what you learned in lecture, it can be frustrating and easy to procrastinate if you’re not interested in the subject.

On the less academic side of things, I took a trip to the Dublin Zoo! It was neat to see, but for someone who has grown up in Columbus with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and even volunteered there, it was a bit smaller than what I am used too. They did have a lot of different animals I never thought I would see on the small island of Ireland, including seven giraffes. Dublin is a City with limited space, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the smaller amount of space the animals had in their enclosures. It also made me realize and appreciate how great the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is!

img_6491
Taken at the Dublin Zoo by the entrance to remind people where they are incase they forgot.

I also took a trip down to Cork (a city on the west coast of Ireland) and of course Blarney Castle where, for those who don’t know, is the home of the Blarney Stone. After climbing a very scary tight spiral staircase my friends and I admired the view of the many gardens, and after some peer pressure, I decided that if I climbed all those steps with a cold, I might as well kiss the Blarney Stone. By doing this, it is said that you will receive the gift of better speech. It’s not a graceful process to do this. You have to lay down on your back and stretch out over a hole that you can see the ground through and kiss the stone. I don’t feel the effects of the stone now, but I will keep you guys updated. I do know that who ever kissed it after me might, unfortunately, receive the gift of my cold.

I also got the great experience of attending the Ladies Gaelic Football All Ireland (Finals). It took place in Croke Park where they host all All Ireland for all Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA ) sports (i.e. Gaelic Football, Hurling). The game of Gaelic Football is a weird mixture of Soccer, Rugby a bit of basketball and American Football. The All Ireland was between Dublin and Cork, as every county in Ireland has a team who play a sort of bracket to make to the All Ireland. Being in Dublin, there was a great turnout for them, but surprisingly there were just as many people who were there supporting Cork, who won out in the end. The President of Ireland, Micheal Higgens, even attended the match and shook each player’s hand before the match.

The Ladies All Ireland in Croke Park.

That’s all I have done so far, but don’t worry there are more adventures to come! I am also starting to get a bit homesick, missing my kittens. I’m looking forward to my classes and other travel excursions, hopefully, during the reading week when we don’t have classes! See you all real soon and love from Ireland! Sláinte! (cheers)

 

Top 5: Designs of Denmark

Finance student and Sustainable Business Global Lab participant, Zack Wells, shares which buildings top his list of innovative Danish design.

In U.S. cities like Cleveland or Los Angeles, an intricate Frank Gehry rooftop will decorate the occasional intersection, but a good portion of American architecture seems to jostle between minimalism and utilitarianism.

I was delighted to find in Copenhagen however that the streets were lined with warrens of large apartment buildings and businesses alike, each uniquely taking on striking, almost fashionable designs. It’s true that the city is industrious and respectful of tradition, home to several palaces like Amalienborg which houses the Danish royal family, all to be seen from guided canal tours. Yet in other avenues Copenhagen displays airs of playfully fresh designs that are as “modern” as anything you’d find in New York or Paris. In some cases these structures are so lively and numerous that one begins to wonder if they are naively overabundant; rather, it’s likely they are the result of a few generations of ambitious people in Denmark who are fully committed to designing societal solutions that are creative, clever, and even lucrative.

Here are some of the most attractive and bewildering works of architecture & design I saw while in Denmark:

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8 Topple – This apartment complex in Ørestad has a classic courtyard with inward facing balconies but also features two converging slopes that run from rooftop to ground level, and host a number of different types of grass; this type of “green” architecture attempts to support and enmesh itself into local ecosystems and it’s springing up all over, especially in Scandinavia.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tietgenkollegiet – We came across this student residence hall while roaming a lively Copenhagen campus. Its plan looks like a large circle with a courtyard inside, and its outer façade hoists and juxtaposes idiosyncratic apartment units with sleek wood paneling and community terraces.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Amager Bakke (Amager Slope) – While this project is still under construction, our group got a good glance at what the finished product will look like, and even saw what work has been done on it already (physically it looks more than halfway complete). This futuristic, nauseatingly large slope will efficiently burn trash underneath, capturing most of the C02 fumes – on top, however, locals can ski down the slope or scale the 300 foot rock wall on its side (Google this one).

 

 

Autumn in the Dome of Visions.

Dome of Visions – located in Copenhagen harbor, we saw this little structure on a breezy canal tour. It’s a transparent dome with pieces of breathable, recyclable, polycarbonate triangles tessellated across its surface. It contained enough live vegetation or some type of plant matter when we saw it, that the site was visibly green from the harbor – this is no surprise, as the dome functions as both a space for art, music, and cultural showcases as well as a discussion space for future sustainable housing projects.

 

American industry has a lot to learn from places like Copenhagen and regarding our own sustainable practices, perhaps going back to the design phase is where we might focus our efforts. Some of the zaniest concepts and buildings might find themselves replaced with more fitting solutions as time passes, but artfully creative thinking and brainy designs are what the world needs from sustainable businesses.

Intro to Ireland – My first few weeks adventuring in Ireland

As Grace Hutchinson starts her semester at Trinity College in Ireland, she shares her first adventures landing on the Irish island. From starting at her new school to traveling to amazing sites in Ireland.

For Fall Semester 2016 I decided to embark on the adventure on the Student Exchange Program. I chose Trinity College Dublin, located not surprisingly in Dublin, Ireland. I should tell you this is not my first visit to Ireland so I didn’t experience the usual culture shock (i.e. outlets must be switched on for them to work and driving on the other side of the road.) I actually have dual citizenship with the U.S. and Ireland as my father moved to the states for work, were in an adorable fashion he meet my mom. I have traveled to Ireland throughout my life visiting family, but I really wanted the chance to experience what normal long-term everyday life was like. You never really see the whole story of a city’s when you are a tourist. I was kind of shocked to find that a few students also studying abroad here were in the same situation as me, and had similar stories of visiting family throughout the years.

croke-park
Croke Park: the national stadium where all GAA finals are or the All Irelands. GAA sports include Hurling and Gaelic football.

When I got my acceptance letter I started to worry about the logistics of finding classes and how to register for them, knowing that the European school system would be very different from what I am used to at OSU. How would I get to campus and navigate the paper-based registration system? I was directed by past exchange students to take a look at the Semester Startup Program (SSP) and would recommend it for anyone thinking of exchanging to Trinity. The SSP program helps international students not only get a good intro to Trinity, before the mass of students arrive, but also includes lectures that cover Ireland’s history, culture, and global connections. I have learned some things that even my dad didn’t know. For example, did you know that Ireland was one of the only countries in Europe to consistently have gender equal migration? We also visited some amazing sights including Croke Park, Trim castle and the Hill of Tara. Those are all must see places for anyone venturing to Ireland. (Croke Park: the national stadium where all GAA finals are or the All Irelands. GAA sports include Hurling and Gaelic football.)

Some of the work you will have to do in SSP is the graded assignments, three papers to be exact, as well as lectures every day. They haven’t been too overwhelming and I have to admit they have been a great introductory to U.K. spelling and Trinity’s Citation Policy as well as prepare me for school to start. My papers so far have been on W.B. Yeats and Robert Emmet, two people I really didn’t know about until this class. But don’t worry there has been plenty of time to explore and we have already wondered outside Dublin to the seaside town of Dalkey. We saw castles and boats but no dolphins. It also was not raining for our day of exploration which in Ireland is a very rare thing indeed.

dalkey
Taught my new friends O-H-I-O, taken in the small town of Dalkey right outside Dublin

When I first saw Trinity as a kid I though it looked like a castle, I really couldn’t imagine it as a school. Now that I am here and classes are about to start I still can’t see how people stay focused when the campus is so pretty and historical. Trinity is a lot smaller than OSU and it is completely fenced in with about three ways in, so I am really looking forward to the day when I learn how to avoid the many tourists that come to Trinity daily. I must now accidently be in so many trip photos. As of now, though, I’m currently working on my final paper for SSP and trying not to worry about signing up for classes, which I can’t do until the week before they start.

What to Expect from 2017 SBGL

In preparation for his 2017 program, Dr. Neil Drobny reflects on his experience directing the 2016 Sustainable Business Global Lab in Denmark and The Netherlands.

The opportunity to develop and lead the Global Lab in sustainability is one of the highlights of my teaching career at Ohio State.  And the decision to concentrate the experience on sustainable business practices in Denmark and The Netherlands was icing on the cake.

I have known for many years that physical, cultural and other factors in Europe have intersected to create conditions ripe for innovation and development of sustainable business practice.  The Global Lab experience was an opportunity to validate and observe what I had come to know only through reading and second hand information.  Similarly it was an opportunity to reinforce with students information that I had presented in the classroom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
During their time in Rotterdam, 2016 SBGL students met with representatives of Unilever to discuss the implications of sustainability in new product development.

The mix of visits to diverse business and cultural sites worked well together in conveying that sustainable practices are well integrated into everyone’s work and non-work lives.  We learned for example from Unilever, whose world headquarters in Rotterdam we visited, that an early consideration of all new product development is what the sustainability benefits and footprint will be.   If a new product idea does not score well on sustainability metrics, it is not pursued.

In Amsterdam we saw the world’s first (experimental) solar road, a roadway with solar cells built into it.  At this point it carries only bicycles and very lightweight vehicles, but there is every reason to believe that the technology will someday be incorporated into major roadways.  It was like visiting with Thomas Edison in his lab as he worked on the first light bulb

In Copenhagen we saw the benefits of sustainability-driven thinking in city planning.  In the older part of the city building height was limited to five stories and streets were exceptionally wide. With a latitude comparable to southern Alaska, sunshine is limited.  The wide streets and limited building heights enhance the penetration of sunlight in the urban core which is well-established as a key ingredient to overall well-being and productivity.  Today the wide streets help with accommodating bicycles and street cars in addition to automobiles and pedestrians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Interior of Pilgrim Fathers’ Church – a church in Rotterdam where passengers of the Speedwell departed for America in 1620.

Seeing the robust construction and results of careful maintenance of a 600-year old church in Rotterdam underscored that in the region things are “built to last” – a key element of sustainability.  Considerable interest was also added by the fact that the church was where the Pilgrims stayed the night before they “shoved off” for their voyage across the Atlantic.

For 2017 we will build on the success of the 2016 program by adding a visit to Lund University in Sweden and working with visit hosts to fine tune visits in coordination with course material in advance of the trip.

The Kenyan Landscape

Family farms in a mountain valley in Machakos. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Family farms in a mountain valley in Machakos. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

The day after we arrived in Kenya, we traveled to a small village near Machakos, a mountain region forty miles southeast of Nairobi. The hilly terrain provided a great birds-eye view of dozens of terraced family farms and river valleys.

Part of the GAP Greif team in the mountains at Machos
Part of the GAP Greif team in the mountains at Machakos.
Sunrise on the drive to Marsabit, just north of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Sunrise on the drive to Marsabit, just north of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

The drive to and from Marsabit (http://bit.ly/1PuDgo6), 327 miles northwest of Nairobi, provided an amazing opportunity to see a large swath of the Kenyan landscape. We left the house around 6am, stopped briefly in Isiolo (http://bit.ly/1cMkQxh) and Merille (http://bit.ly/1FvOunC), and arrived in Marsabit around 6pm. Our actual drive time was 10.5 hours to cover 327 miles. The first 257 miles were paved, until Merille, where the pavement stopped. There was another swatch of pavement between Merille and Marsabit, but it was only about fifteen miles long.

Travel speeds on the tarmac (the more common term for asphalt/paved road in Kenya), could reach 50-55 mph, but there were dozens and dozens of speed bumps that slowed us down. Installed in common pedestrian and livestock crossings, the speed bumps alternated between the normal single humps we see in the US, and a series of 2, 3, or 4 smaller bumps in succession that required the bus to come to almost a complete stop to avoid throwing the passengers in the back out of their seats (which still happened to those of us in the back from time to time, anyway). There were also multiple police checkpoints marked by roadblocks and tire spike strips because the highway we were on is the main road up to Ethiopia. The checkpoints were predominantly used for vehicles traveling south, to prevent illegal entry from Ethiopia, but the bus still had to slow to a crawl or complete stop to weave around the spike strips or wait for the police to remove them. It took us about five hours to reach Isiolo, 167 miles from Nairobi.

Mount Kenya and farmland, near Nyeri between Nairobi and Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Mount Kenya and farmland, near Nyeri between Nairobi and Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

Kenya is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We traveled from the lush green landscape of Nairobi, through grassland dotted with trees, up to Nyeri, where we saw Mount Kenya to the east. Isiolo marked the start of the drier landscape, turning to desert reminiscent of the Southwestern US all the way up to Marsabit. The town of Marsabit is the capital of Marsabit county. The town sits in a forested area on an extinct volcano, Mount Marsabit, but the surrounding area below the mountains is desert.

Camels by the side of the road Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Camels by the side of the road Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

Most of the other travelers – students from OSU, Mount Kenya University, and PFC staff – slept for the early part of the trip, but I only napped for an hour, I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on the opportunity to soak up the amazing landscape.

The view from the Hula Hula school in the mountains of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
The view from the Hula Hula school in the mountains of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

I was able to capture quite a few nice pictures after the rain stopped, and the water dried off the windows. I took even more once I realized that my window opened, and it was warm enough to do so. (Overnight temps are in the 60s here, so it is a little chilly for us to drive with the windows down, and positively freezing for the Kenyans who bundle up in scarves and parkas during the overnight hours!).

 

Desert landscape south of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Desert landscape south of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
North of Isiolo, the landscape turns to brushland and eventually to desert. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
North of Isiolo, the landscape turns to brushland and eventually to desert. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A river on the route from Nairobi to Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
A river on the route from Nairobi to Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Farmland north of Nyeri, near Mount Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Farmland north of Nyeri, near Mount Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Lush green landscape outside of Nairobi, en route to Masai Mara. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
Lush green landscape outside of Nairobi, en route to Masai Mara. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several days later, the drive to Masai Mara National Reserve gave us another opportunity to see more of the country. The drive to Masai Mara first took us north west, and then south west, towards the border with Tanzania.

A "cactus tree", which is actually a type of euphorbia, the same family as Poinsettias. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
A “cactus tree”, which is actually a type of euphorbia, the same family as Poinsettias. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

Again, the landscape was lush and green as we left Nairobi. Fertile farmland gradually became more desert-like as we traveled west, and finally turned to grassland dotted with trees and hills inside the park.

The grassland of Masai Mara National Reserve. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
The grassland of Masai Mara National Reserve. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

The park is somewhat bowl-shaped ringed in parts by large ridges, one of which separates Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya from the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania. There is no man-made border between the two parks, and animals move freely between them.

The Mara River, with a crocodile in the foreground and a hippo in the background. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
The Mara River, with a crocodile in the foreground and a hippo in the background. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

Every July marks the migration of the wildebeest, who travel from Seregeti to Masai Mara. They cross the ridges and the Mara River for a few months, where they gorge themselves on the tall grasses, then mate before returning to Serengeti to give birth and repeat the process the next year.

A view of the Rift Valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, Kiambu, Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
A view of the Great Rift Valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, Kiambu, Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

 

The drive to and from Masai Mara also took us through the East African Rift portion of the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from the Red Sea to Mozambique.

 

 

 

Our next adventure will take us to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us on the shores of the Indian Ocean!

A panoramic view of the rift valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, west of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe
A panoramic view of the rift valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, west of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Entoto Maryam Church

Wednesday 5/21/14

On Wednesday morning we met with Dr. Hailu for our final presentation. He offered helpful suggestions for improvement, and we all felt satisfied by our work and his feedback.

In the afternoon, Dr. Hailu accompanied us to Entoto Maryam Church, a beautiful old building located up a winding forested road at the top of Addis. This is where original capital was, since it served as a strategic overlook, and where King Menelik II was crowned in the late 1800s. We saw many women carrying large bundles of firewood on their back up the hilly roads.

blue wall
blue wall
church
church
princes(s) entrance
princes(s) entrance
memorial wall
memorial wall
where to go?
where to go?

Afterwards, we did some shopping at the wholesale market Shiro Meda, where Danny and Niraj finally bought their Ethiopia soccer jerseys at a reasonable price.

Shiro Meda
Shiro Meda

We ate at the Lime Tree Cafe for dinner, a popular place with expats. We were excited by the sign reading that they wash their vegetables in bleach water, hurrah! Because then we could finally eat a salad, which we shared with gusto. It was the first time we’d eaten raw vegetables in almost three weeks. (Because the water they wash vegetables with is not safe for us to drink, we’ve been avoiding raw vegetables since arriving here.)

Finally we dropped Katie and Niraj off at the airport, who are leaving early for prior commitments. The trip is really beginning to wind down!

Three Natural Bridges

Skiles and I set out to find what we felt was the main attraction of western China, nature. It didn’t go quite as we envisioned it though.

After a bit of a circus ordeal with bussing, 3 hour bus ride, questionable lunch, and an unexpected additional tour fee we finally came to the first attraction, Fairy Mountain. The ride up the mountain seemed like there would be some pretty cool scenery once we got out and looked around. However, what we came to was literally just a prairie in a cloud. Also, we brought an empty bottle but were disappointed to find there was no fairy fountain anywhere. It did have a bunch of random cartoon characters and this guy in it though:

Yup, that's a random T-Rex. Skiles braved the water for a better picture but I decided to pass.
Yup, that’s a random T-Rex. You can tell by the tiny arms.

We then continued our tour, which was just a ride in an uncomfortable train thing back to where we started. So for those of you keeping score at home, we’ve spent a moderate sum of money and 6 hours of time to get cold and wet and see an inexplicable T-Rex in a field of grass.

At this point we departed for the second and last attraction of the day, the Three Natural Bridges. Once we got there though, our day instantly took a turn for awesome as we quickly discovered why this area became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

Our first glimpse before taking an elevator down
Our first glimpse before taking an elevator down

IMG_2328

IMG_2386 IMG_2450

Even I'll take a selfie at a place like this.
Even I’ll take a selfie at a place like this.

IMG_2331

Skiles' happy face
Skiles’ happy face

It was a breathtaking ~3 mile trail, and needless to say we left pretty pleased with our experience for the day, T-Rex and all.

Lucy, and Looking Away

Sunday we worked for a few hours in the morning because our deliverable to the GAP office was due today. By the afternoon we felt ready for a break, so most of us went to the National Museum of Ethiopia, where the fossils of Lucy and other early hominds are kept. The Awash region of Ethiopia is home to many ancient fossil discoveries, and we were lucky to see some of them.

Lucy!
Lucy!
Katie + Ardi = BFF
Katie + Ardi = BFF

After the museum, a few of us went to a cafe across the street and ordered some coffee, tea and pastries. The doughnut was one of the best we’ve ever had!

Awesome doughnut!
Awesome doughnut!

After yesterday’s excursion to the textile shops, the guys wanted to do a little masculine shopping, so off to Churchill Avenue we went in search of some swords and wooden objects. We pulled up to a small stretch of vendors which had many poor people asking for money outside of them. Several of the people were tiny children. After two weeks here, I still can’t get used to that, and my heart goes out to every kid. They touch their hands to their lips, indicating, “Give me food,” and hold their palms open, ready for us to place something in it. But we don’t, because we don’t really have food with us, and if we give anything, we will immediately be swarmed.

Child
Child

And that’s exactly what happened. After about 45 minutes of shopping and haggling prices with the help of our local guide Mebrat, we got in the van and all the beggars pressed up against the sides of the vehicle, talking through the windows, asking for food, or to sell us one more item. I closed my eyes, I could not look at them. I had to look away.

We drove off to dinner, to a comfortable night in our lovely hotel, to a night full of dreams.