Carnival, Rio de Janeiro

As many may know, the celebration of carnival in Brazil is the biggest event of the year. It starts Friday, the week before Lent and goes until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The majority of people travel all throughout Brazil to their desired location to spend the holiday. For myself, I was extremely fortunate to spend carnival in the best place in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

Hard to see but Christ the Redeemer

Hard to see but Christ the Redeemer

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Sugarloaf Mountain

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Due to the traffic of Carnival, our 6 hour trip took more than 12 hours, making our arrival time at 4 AM. Since many of the streets were blocked off due to the festival, our GPS could not find the house we were staying at. Instead, it kept taking us in a small circle around one of the smaller favela. After seeing the panic on my roommates face, I decided that paying a cab driver to direct us to our place of stay would be the best option. Thankfully we did because their was absolutely no way we would have found it on our own.

Besides this first mishap, everything else about the trip was phenomenal! Every morning we had this amazing view of Rio that was almost surreal.

View of RIo

My first monkey/lemur. I don't know which one it was.

My first wild  monkey.

After overlooking this view for a bit every morning we would go straight to the bakery 6 houses down and buy some awesome bread for breakfast. Actually, one thing that Brazil really lacks credit for is how amazing their bread is. From there on, absolutely every moment was an awesome and exciting adventure. The first day we walked for miles around the city getting the chance to see some of the more famous landmarks in Rio de Janerio.

Steps Selarón

Steps Selarón

In front of the Steps Selarón

In front of the Steps Selarón

Everything throughout the city and most of Brazil is extremely vibrate with colors. One thing I have come to love is the Graffiti. It truly is an awesome form of art and if done with permission, it’s encouraged!

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Since I went to Rio with all Brazilians who have been there before, I did not get the “touristy” experience of Carnival I was expecting. The main celebration  takes place in the Sambadrome but it was to expensive for the others to go. However, we did do what over a million others were doing, celebrate in the streets. This to me was still a great time! Everyone dresses in the most outrageous clothing with hundreds of local bands that play the famous Samba music from Rio.

Street Carnival

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IMG_1085 (1280x956)What I found to be so amazing is how nice and controlled everyone was. Their were times were we walked for literally 25 minutes, shoulder to shoulder, to have enough space to move. For having such enormous crowds I did not see one bad incident the whole trip. Everywhere you turn there is someone something. Fortunately their were many people also selling Brazilian Barbecue which was delicious!  With absolutely no complaints, for three full days this is what during the day carnival consisted of for us.

My roommate Marcelo

My roommate Marcelo

One of the nights we spent at Copacabana beach which was a blast. The streets again were flooded with people and everyone followed a float that had a band playing Samba on top of it. The people on the beach were playing volleyball but only with their feet and head. How they were able to do it, don’t ask. We then slept in one of their friends high-rise that was located right next to the beach. The view was spectacular, overlooking the lit up favela to your far right and  the beach to your left. However finding our way home at 7 in the morning dragged out to be a two hour adventure.

Copacabana beach the morning after

Copacabana beach the morning after. I was very curios if people were sleeping in those tents.

 

Finding our way home. The city was covered in trash the next day following Carnival.

Finding our way home. The city was covered in trash the next day following Carnival.

Like any other normal human being, be the forth day of Carnival our bodies need to recuperate. So instead of joining the party we had a beach day and  went back to Capacabana. The beach was packed with people who indeed did where Brazilian bikinis. This was the first true culture shock I have had this whole time in Brazil. From what I was told, Rio is one of the few beaches that this is a norm and plays a large role in its popularity. Merchants would walk up and down the beach selling awesome beach towels that I found to be great souvenirs for my family.

Following my trip to Rio, I most definitely am going to revisit the city before I leave Brazil. There are so many more adventures, sightings to see, and activities to do that I missed out on.

European Destinations

If my last post was written in a state of culture shock induced delirium, this second post is written in a state of culture awe and relish. In the past two weeks, I have had the joy of visiting some of the world’s most famous and attractive cities: Paris, Dublin, London, and Amsterdam.

I was wowed by the utter difference among all the cities; the history, the people, the art, the architecture, the food, the landscapes, everything.

Paris

Paris is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I wrote this sentence before seeing the other three cities, and I must say now it is debatable, though Paris is certainly stunning. Everywhere you look, every street you wander down, every building you gaze up at, is striking. Of course the chocolate, pastries, and bread are to die for (and I would, if I lived there to have them every day). The city is so French; not comprable to any other city in any other country. I am struggling to find words to describe it: charming, but at the same time elusive; hurried, but slow; uptight but relaxed; old, set in its ways, but so much young, vibrancy. I would love to go back and explore it more.

 

Dublin

The skies. Dublin skies are the biggest, most-blue, most enveloping skies. The clouds are streamy, stringy, yet fluffy white caps on blue waves that are the crisp, clean, skies. The Dublin people are exceptional. They are welcoming, funny, carefree, and a joy to be around. They’ll thank you after every interaction even when you are the one who should do the thanking. Their self-effacing humor is charming, and, needless to say, the accents are delightful. Also, the food in Dublin is amazing. No, they do not consume only potatoes and other bland anomalies. We feasted on delicious lamb stews, soda bread, garlic burgers, Spanish food, butternut squash soup, and chicken pâté paired with apple compote (surprisingly good).

We were also able to visit a village just outside Dublin called Howth. It is one of the most endearing seaside villages. I want to retire there. We climbed to the peak and wandered down the hill that is the town, seaside views all-encompasing. In the distance was one a magical-looking isle before I’d only seen in movies. It was an enchanting afternoon.

London

I loved London. It reminded me most of the US (which I did not mind, as being away for 3 months will most certainly make the heart grow fonder). It is reminiscent of New York City, but concurrently nothing like it all. Again, the people are lovely. Even the metro system announcers are incredibly polite, letting passengers know to, “Please, mind the gap” when disembarking, and also making announcements just for the sake of letting people know all trains are in good service. It was interesting to see that a lot of Londoners are in fact not British. I heard many languages, accents, and the like, where I expected to be surrounded by posh “Dear boy”’s and “Cheerio”’s. The British ones, though, call everyone “Love” and wish you a “Cheers” on the constant.

It was lovely to be in London during the first signs of Spring. We were able to go to their gorgeous parks and see the first flowers blooming and (much to our terror) birds taking flight.

We paid a visit to the queen outside her castle. By visit, of course, I mean we (and hundreds of others) gathered at a safe distance outside her gates and took pictures of her accommodations completely unbeknownst to her majesty.

I would love to go back to the UK. We had to take hour-long bus rides to and from the airport through the country. The countryside is phenomenal. There actually are sheep grazing on rolling green hills and thatched-roof houses, like something out of a storybook.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam was our “wildcard” city, if you will. We were originally not supposed to visit, but we messed up our ticketing to London, and had a few days to spare: why not Holland?

I am so glad we did.

Amsterdam is the Venice of Western Europe. 60 miles of canals weave throughout. There are over 1200 bridges and some 600,000 bicycles. It is, for lack of a better word: incredible. Someone else on the internet wrote:
“It may sound like a generic word to describe a place, but Amsterdam epitomizes what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as ‘too extraordinary and improbable to be believed.’”.

And it’s true.

Amsterdam is like a fairytale. The architecture is remarkably charming: townhouses, each one unique as the last, packed next to each other line bicycle-filled streets following meandering canals throughout.

Winter Wonderland Annual Cultural Event in Milan

In Milan, every year around Christmas time, the city transforms itself into a winter wonderland.  The busiest centers of the city are decorated in beautiful Christmas lights of all colors and shapes.  Also in the central plaza of the city by the famous cathedral, an enormous Christmas tree is placed in the center.  The tree is several stories tall and glittering in lights.

Gigantic Christmas Tree! “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…”

In addition to all the decorations, there are annual Christmas markets set up all over the city.  These Christmas markets open in the beginning of December and have hundreds of different vendors either selling food, trinkets, or other holiday gifts and products.  It definitely gives me a warm feeling as if I am living in a winter wonderland inside a large snow-globe.  I really wish that Christmas markets like the ones in Milan existed back in Ohio.

Christmas lights decor, and Christmas Market

Since Italy is one of the central locations for the birth of Catholicism, and Christianity, it makes sense that Christmas is highly important to Milan, and that it is widely celebrated throughout the city.

Weekend in Kyoto-Japanese Autumn and Red Leaves

Last weekend, I had a very short but memorable trip to Kyoto, the old capital city of Japan from more than a thousand years. Before Japan changed its capital city to Tokyo, Kyoto was the center of Japanese politics, economics and culture.

We were taking the Shinkansen (the high-speed railway network in Japan) from Tokyo to Kyoto. It took around 2 hours, and on our way there, we met the Mount Fuji, famous for its snow-white “hat”.

In Kyoto, there are a lot of traditional Japanese Shrines, or Jinja, and temples.  Many of them exist since the ancient times. When we were visiting the Yasaka Shrine, there was a conventional Japanese wedding held inside the shrine (Shown on the middle of the picture above).

Kyoto still keeps the traditional side of Japanese culture. Unlike Tokyo, which is more modern and westernized, people living in Kyoto are more likely to wear Kimono, the traditional Japanese clothes. At first, I was curious to see so many people wearing Kimono walking on the streets. I asked my friend whether there was a festival these days so that people wear Kimono. My friend told me that this is their life style.

Also, we saw several Geigi on our way to a temple, shown on the lower left corner of the picture above.

The natural sight in Kyoto was so breath-taking! It made me feel as if I were in the ancient time of Japan.

And… we also tasted the food in Kyoto. I just think that is is art rather than merely food!

A Weekend of Bliss

This weekend I traveled to Barcelona, Spain and it was such a great adventure.  I traveled with a good friend of mine and when traveling with a great partner, it makes the whole journey that much better.

On top of traveling with a great friend, I loved Barcelona because of the food and the sea.  I grew up loving lakes and oceans, and to see this city surrounded by beautiful beaches and the great expanse of the sea was so calming and peaceful for me.

My beautiful feet! Oh and I guess there’s the ocean too

In addition, the food everywhere was cheap, fresh, and delicious.  Seafood is a large part of Barcelona’s cuisine since the sea surrounds this city, and the seafood was so fresh.  There is a huge difference in the taste and texture of seafood in Cleveland, Ohio as opposed to that in Barcelona for obvious reasons.  There was also a huge bustling food market where they sold all sorts of fruits, meats, sweets, and more.  It was very lively and incredibly fun, and although everyone says that Barcelona is dangerous and full of pick-pocketers, as long as you keep an eye on your belongings, then you should be fine.

My friend and I at the fresh food market!

I would love to go back to Barcelona someday!

6 Reasons To Study Abroad in Singapore

Asia usually gets overlooked as a study abroad destination as most American students pick European or Australian destinations. However, as I come near the end of my study abroad experience here in Singapore, I’ve come to the conclusion that Singapore might be one of the best places to study abroad.  Here are 6 reasons why –

1.The weather is an amazing  85-90 degrees all year round

Sentosa Island, Singapore

What can beat perfect beach weather? Coming from OSU, this weather in Singapore in November is a dream come true. It’s hard to feel gloomy or stressed when the sun shines almost everyday. Also, Singapore is built around the heat so this isn’t like summer in NYC. There’s air condition everywhere, even in the MRT stations (luxuriously comfortable compared to the NY subway stations).

2. Singapore is an English speaking country

Most people probably aren’t aware that Singapore has four national languages and one of them is English, along with Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. It’s incredibly easy and comfortable to get around since there is no language barrier. I have to admit, I had no idea Singapore was an English speaking country before I Googled it. Actually, most of my friends weren’t even know where Singapore was on the map when I told them I was coming here! (It’s wedged beneath Malaysia, in case you weren’t aware either!) Since Singapore is such a small country, I think it often gets overlooked. Singapore is roughly the size of NYC, maybe a bit smaller. There are 5 million people living here compared to 8 million in NYC.

3. The business education at SMU is top-notch

If you’re a business major, then there’s no better place to be than in Singapore. Singapore ranks No.1 worldwide for being most business-friendly. Singapore knows how to do business and that trickles down to SMU (Singapore Management University) where I study. The business school is extremely engaging and really tries to prepare its students for success in the business world by making participation and presentations a must in it’s curriculum. The smaller classroom settings at SMU compared to the lecture halls at OSU has been a nice change of pace as well.

4. The ease of traveling around Southeast Asia

This was taken during a 10-day recess week trip to Burma!

Traveling out of Singapore to other countries in Southeast Asia is extremely easy. Cheap flights out of Singapore are made possible by budget carriers like Jetstar and Tigerair. Since I’ve started school here in August, I’ve traveled to 6 different countries already (Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, and even Australia!) I’m really surprised with the amount of traveling I’ve been able to do here (and very grateful too!) because traveling was a priority for my exchange experience. My round-trip tickets for weekend getaways have never cost me more than 260$ USD and that one was to Australia! It blows my mind that a round trip ticket from Singapore to Australia (8 hour flight!) could be cheaper than a ticket from NY to LA. Not only are the flights inexpensive, traveling around Southeast Asia is extremely cheap as well. For a typical local meal, I can expect to pay 2-3$ along with accommodation priced around 5-10$. What more can you ask for when you’re on a student budget?

5. Singapore is an extremely safe city

Most people have an image of Southeast Asia as dangerous. And it’s true, some parts of it is dangerous but the majority of the places I’ve traveled to are not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be. However, when the rest of Southeast Asia’s safety standards are compared next to Singapore, it comes nowhere close. Singapore is one of the safest urban cities in the world. I am not joking, you can walk around at 4 AM and not have to fear getting mugged or assaulted. Drug laws are strict here and poverty hardly exists on the streets. And this is all because Singapore has very, very strict punishment for crimes such as heavy fines, long imprisonment, and even caning.

6. Opportunities to meet exchange students from all over the world

Roommates!

Although Singapore is not a popular study abroad destination for Americans, it’s actually a very popular destination for students from Europe. As a result, American exchange students are rare here (maybe less than 6%). The rest are from Europe and other parts of the world. I’ve met many incredible people on my exchange who have taught me so much more about the world. I’m currently living with five girls— three from Finland, one from Germany, and one from Brazil. It’s sort of our own little melting pot—everyday we get the opportunity to exchange stories about our country and culture to each other, and as a result we learn so much from each other.

 

Although these are all great reasons to study in Singapore, the truth is, anywhere you choose to study abroad will be amazing and life changing. The most important thing is to not be scared and just go for it!

Travel Lessons

Over the past two weeks during Bocconi University’s fall break, I have travelled to five different cities in 14 days.  I travelled to Paris France, Dublin Ireland, London Britain, Berlin Germany, and Rome Italy.  It has been quite an adventure, exploring different cities, beautiful architectures, delicious foods, and of course we can’t forget, figuring out public transportation.

Over the course of my traveling I have learned two very important lessons about traveling.  First lesson; it is the journey that matters, not the destination.  I travelled with a friend of mine, and we really got along well and we realized that it was more enjoyable to travel and spend time with each other than it was to reach the final destination point or tourist location.  The second lesson I learned was that it is okay to trust people, and share some laughter with strangers (but of course you have to be smart about it).  The world is usually not out to get you, so have fun with life as it passes you by.  Time is precious so laugh, live, and love.

Ireland, Land of Lush Green Pastures!

Recently I made a trip to Ireland, and it was absolutely beautiful.  At this point, I have traveled to France, London, Italy, and Berlin all of which had beautiful architecture and great food.  However from my personal experiences, buildings begin to look the same after some time, but there is something about nature that never gets old.  I think that is one of the two reasons I loved Ireland the most.  I traveled throughout Ireland’s beautiful countryside and it was as picturesque as Hollywood portrays.

Countryside of Ireland!

The landscape was incredibly green and had pastures of sheep and cows grazing on green grass.  There were ruins of medieval fortresses all over Ireland, which made this country seem like a land from fairy-tales.

Ancient Tombstone in Ireland built around 3000 BC

Medival Fortress built 3000 years ago

The other reason I loved Ireland was the community of strangers.  Although I did not know anyone there, the people were incredibly nice to me, and were genuinely interested in engaging me in conversation.  I made friends with guitarists at bars, and I was told traditional Irish folklore from strangers.  From my experiences Ireland is full of lush green landscapes, and friendly, cheerful folks!

District of Food and Shops in Ireland

Getting Lost

Recently, I made a trip to Lake Como in Italy.  Lake Como is renowned for the beauty of their scenic landscape.  It is a lake surrounded by large hills that are right on the water’s edge, and gorgeous mountains in the distance.  Lake Como is about forty minutes by train from Milan, Italy so I, along with five other friends of mine, decided to travel there for a day trip and return by evening.

We all met up at the Milan Central Station, which is the main hub for trains coming to and from Milan.  From there we bought the train tickets at a ticket machine, and we had two options, to either pick the train that would leave in fifteen minutes or the train that leaves in an hour and a half.  We decided to pick the train that was going to leave in fifteen minutes, however, that ended up being a poor decision because we were incredibly rushed.  It took a while for the tickets to print and by the time we all got our tickets, we only had five minutes to find our train.  It was the first time any of us traveled by train so we did not know how to read the tickets or which train was ours.  In a frantic rush we tried asking people passing by in our broken Italian, and everyone we asked would point to a different train.  We heard the station bell ring for last minute passengers so in a panic we all decided to board the train nearest to us.

None of us knew if we were on the correct train or not until the ticket stamper came around asking for our tickets.  He looked at our tickets and was about to give us a fine for taking the wrong train!  In hopes to avoid a fine, we all blurted out the few words of Italian we knew, and him, realizing that we were all confused foreigners, told us that he wouldn’t fine us, but that we would have to get off at the next stop.

On the wrong train, but still smiling :)

So when we got off, we realized we were in the middle of the countryside and all we could do was wait for the next train.  The next train came about thirty minutes later and we were on the wrong train once again!  In total, we rode on three wrong trains, and almost got fined three different times, but finally we hopped on the right train the fourth time around.

Getting lost usually frustrates people, but for me, it was a positive experience. I not only learned that I should always plan ahead for my travels and my studies, but it also gave me an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my friends.  There was something about struggling together that allowed us to trust each other and to know that we could depend on one another. Also, since we had a lot of time to waste while waiting for trains, it provided us the opportunity to have enriching conversations and grow in our understanding of each other.

We arrived at Lake Como about four hours later when it should have only taken forty minutes.  Lake Como was beautiful, but surprisingly, I enjoyed the journey to Lake Como more than the destination itself.  Trying to communicate with strangers about how to get to the proper train, solving problems together as a team, and trying our best to tear up when almost getting fined, were more memorable than picturesque mountains.  This has taught me to be flexible with plans because they can, and did go wrong, and to adapt well in any situation I find myself in.  I guess it is true what Ernst Hemingway once said.  “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

We finally arrive at Lake Como!

Lake Como was definitely beautiful

Exploring Rome!

We were given a walking tour of Rome by tour guide. This day provided some of the best pictures of our entire trip! One of the biggest stops being the Colloseum. Our tickets to get in were already paid for with the cost of the trip and our guide walked us through and provided us with the history. We stayed together as a group and after this was finished the tour was over. The students were then free to explore Rome as much as they wanted until our welcome dinner at 7:00. Students went their different ways. Some went shopping. Others got food. One student, Matt Shaver, bought a day pass for the train and got off at every single stop and explored!

O-H-I-O in front of the Colloseum!

And again

The whole group!

Another stop during the day was the Pantheon. It was unbelievable being inside of a building with so much history.

In front of the Pantheon

Night time on the river.

View from the top of Rome

Overlooking Capitol Hill