Leaving Zanzibar

Wedesday, May 27th was our last day in Zanzibar.  We were all reluctant to leave after spending two days in paradise.  We explored the town and spent an amazing day on the safari blue tour snorkeling, eating fresh fruit and seafood, and relaxing on the beach.

Our flight was to leave Zanzibar at 8:20pm, so we had the day to do with what we wanted.  Seven members of the group went to see monkeys that can only be found on the island.  The other five, my group, wanted to go to the eastern side of the island where we thought better beaches could be found.

Getting there was our first obstacle.  We felt that the hotel we stayed at, while a great place to stay, was trying to overcharge us for getting across the island.  We went and used our new found haggling skills to find a cab ride that was half the price.

It took us a while to find a beach where we could go. Most of the beach access is through hotels, which were closed because of the off-season.  We ended up finding a place that was open and was even serving lunch!  We had about three hours to spend here before we had to head back.

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The hotel was beautiful and a nice way to spend the afternoon. We relaxed over lunch and enjoyed the views.

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However, when we went to go into the water, we were disappointed.  There were rocks everywhere and no good swimming spots.  After some time, we got back in the cab to head back.  Overall it was a trip we all greatly enjoyed and somewhere I would like to return to in the future.

Last day in Zanzibar

As our trip to Zanzibar came to an end, we spent the final day visiting historical sites and getting in some last minute beach time.  Stone Town is filled with interesting locales and the island itself is a crossroads of East African, European, Indian, and Arabic culture. This results in an interesting mix of architecture and a complex history.

Churches and Mosques mixed together in Stone Town

Churches and Mosques mixed together in Stone Town

 

The West side of the town is a maze a tiny streets that can be difficult to navigate, but exploring the city is well worth the effort.  Each turn reveals art stands, boutiques, corner cafes, historic sites, and locals willing to chat.  While the weather and scenery are beautiful, some of the cities more somber landmarks point to a checkered past.  We took a guided tour of the old slave market, and it was a sobering experience to understand how bad the conditions had been and learn about the huge volume of people who passed through the slave markets of Zanzibar.

Our guide shows how slaves were collared down in holding pits.  This room was meant for 75 women and children.

Our guide shows how slaves were collared down in holding pits. This room was meant for 75 women and children and there’s little to see of it outside this picture.

Monument outside the old market.

Monument outside the old market.

Anglican Church outside the market.  The British were instrumental in ending the slave trade in Zanzibar.

Anglican Church outside the market. The British were instrumental in ending the slave trade in Zanzibar.

After touring the town, we hired a local cab to take us to the East side of the island and Pongwe beach.  We found out the hard way that the tourist season hadn’t started yet, and most the hotels with beach access were still closed.  Luckily, our cab driver was willing to press on. After a drive through the town of Pongwe, we came across the Zanzibar Rock Resort.  We sat down to have lunch and were able to walk down to the water right from the resort’s sea side restaurant.  (I’m not a paid sponsor of the Zanzibar Rock Resort, but I would highly recommend staying there if you ever end up on the island.)

I would have taken more pictures but I was too busy enjoying the beach

I would have taken more pictures but I was too busy enjoying the beach

We were sad to say goodbye, but eventually we had to jump back in the taxi and head to the airport.  Visiting Zanzibar was a great time and the perfect way to wrap up the team’s last week in Africa.

A Budget Traveler’s Dream

By far the biggest perk about studying abroad in Singapore is the ease of traveling around Southeast Asia. I was able to travel to 5 different countries outside of Singapore and the most I paid for a flight was $300 to Australia. Most flights were 2-3 hours long and only around $150. Airlines such as TigerAir and Jetstar make flying on a budget a breeze.

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Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

My favorite country I visited was Thailand and I loved it so much that I went twice on my four month exchange. From the white sand beaches, to feeding elephants, to 40 baht pad thai, Thailand was nothing short of Paradise.

 

My favorite experience out of both my trips to Thailand was visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai called Elephant Nature Park. I heard horror stories about how elephants are domesticated and knew I didn’t want to go the typical route and go elephant riding. Instead, I got to spend the entire day among them, feeding them, bathing them, and observing them. It was an unforgettable experience and I recommend it to anyone traveling to Thailand.

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Elephants playing in the river

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Up Close & Personal

 

Other amazing experiences included visiting the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, sailing Halong Bay (New 7 Wonder of Nature), diving in the Great Barrier Reef, and visiting tea plantations in Malaysia.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

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Angkor Archeological Park

 

 

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Ta Prohm-Tomb Raider Temple

 

I was fortunate enough to travel to all these amazing places and not have to break the bank. Although traveling was relatively inexpensive, the people I met along the way, the culture, the views, and the memories were all priceless. I definitely recommend traveling as much as possible while on exchange because an opportunity like this doesn’t come often.

 

 

Social Life and Traveling in Nantes and Europe

Hello everyone!

In this post, I will discuss the social life living in Nantes, as well as the travel I have been able to do living in Europe. Before departing for Nantes for the Student Exchange Program, one of my main concerns was leaving my friends back in the US and having to meet all new people from different countries when I arrived here. I am a very social person and looked forward to being around all new people, but it was definitely nerve racking.

However, the social life I have had here in Nantes has been absolutely incredible. I have met and become close friends with people from over 30 countries, and I will have these relationships for the rest of my life. Just on my floor in the residence, I have friends from Ireland, England, Belgium, US, Spain, Finland, Mexico, and Argentina. This group, along with about 50 other international students and 10 friends from the basketball team I joined at Audencia, travel, hang out, and pretty much do everything together. This was a big adjustment, as at Ohio State you only see 5-10 people every day, and the rest maybe once or twice a week. It really allows you to become close very quickly, and everyone has truly become a family. It is so cool how everyone has a different background and culture, but are all here for the same reasons and connect right away.

Outside of the social life, traveling has been another great thing about being in Nantes. Nantes has both a main airport and main train station, making it very easy to get anywhere around Europe for a low cost. So far, I have traveled to Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and roughly 6 cities around France. I still have plans to be in Portugal, Spain, and 6 more cities in France before returning home, and I cannot wait! There are several websites and travel methods that can be used to get around Europe, and through searching all the options it can be done at a very low cost! The trips I have been on have shown me many different cultures and ways of life, and have truly allowed me to have a better view on life. I will never forget the people I have met here and the travel I have done, and am so thankful to have had the opportunity.

Traveling Smart with Your Smartphone

I have publicly rebelled against having a smartphone since high school, when all of my friends made the transition. I did not believe they were worth the expense, but when I decided to spend a semester abroad, I realized there could be some advantages. Most notably, having a smartphone gives you access to a GPS which is extremely helpful when you’re lost. Additionally, there are many moments when you’ll need to look up things you wouldn’t have expected, such as the opening hours of a restaurant or store. Internet isn’t as widespread in Europe as I was used to it being in the States, so having a data plan was essential for me to manage my time effectively. I found my data plan to be cheaper than the one in the States, however I did have less data, which required me to be selective with my access. I recommend getting the proper simcard and plan in your host country as soon as possible. This will also be good when you meet new friends at orientation and in your classes, as you can swap numbers right away!

There are also a lot of very helpful apps. Here are a few that I used while abroad:

Word Lens
Worried about getting to a restaurant and not knowing how to order in another language? This app translates the words of any picture you provide, offline. It’s extremely effective when you want to translate a whole paragraph instead of having to type each word individually, and also a lifesaver when you don’t have internet access. I would also recommend getting another translator app with audio, if your phone doesn’t already come with one.

Google Voice/Whatsapp
By now, most people know about Whatsapp. It is a free messaging app for anyone with a smartphone to connect. There is also an app called Google Voice, which works a bit differently. Google Voice actually gives you a vacant US number (if you set it up while you’re still in the States) and then allows you to call and text via this number to US and Canada numbers for free. Neither of my parents have smart phones, and a lot of my friends in the US didn’t have Whatsapp, so I used Google voice to text them. Once you set up the number, you can download the app and text them like you would normally, as long as you have access to internet. Then, you can call them via Hangouts which is directly connected to Google Voice. (Technically, you can call them via Google Voice as well, however if it is connected to your US # it will not work when you get a new simcard)

Duolingo
Instead of dropping hundreds of dollars on Rosetta Stone or an extra language class, Duolingo is a free website and app that allows you to practice a language in an easy and fun way. The app focuses on language you would actually use (for the most part, one exception was when it taught me how to say “I am a butterfly” in French), and goes at whatever pace you are comfortable. I would argue it’s not necessarily sufficient to learn the language totally, but as a beginner or someone trying to refresh their memory, it is a great tool.

CityMaps 2 Go
This app downloads maps of major cities (you get 4 free!) that you can access offline. It is perfect for traveling, and easily highlights tourist hotspots to visit. It’s much easier than carrying a map everywhere, and you can put a thumbnail on key locations (such as your hostel) on it as well, incase you get lost.

Kitestring
At the risk of sounding motherly, I strongly advice you to get this app for safety reasons. If you are going to a hostel by yourself, or on a date with someone you just met, or any other situation you are wary about, you can sign up for this app to check in on you at a designated time. If you don’t respond, it will alert your friends or other emergency contacts. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can sign up for this free service online.

Lastly, if there is some sort of Kill Switch you can download on your phone (Android and iPhone both have it), I recommend getting it. Europe is notorious for pickpockets, and I had the unfortunate experience of having my phone stolen. I called my parents immediately, and my phone provider got me a new phone within 6 days, making the process as painless as possible. Another friend of mine was not as lucky, and had to buy a basic phone to use for the rest of the trip. In the beginning of the trip, I found I was very vigilant over my belongings, but as time passed, I became more relaxed. My phone was taken when there was only a month left in my program. On a positive note, as I had personal information on my phone (from Venmo to Amazon), I was extremely thankful I could delete all of this information after my phone was taken.

Remember, the most important thing when you’re traveling is to be smart and safe. With the right Apps, your smartphone can make your travel experience that much easier and more enjoyable!

Goodbye, Dublin

Finishing up my semester at Trinity College, Dublin brings with it some bittersweet feelings. Having a few moments between layovers on my flight home I now have a chance to reflect on the last couple of months and the experiences I have had. The last few weeks here have been quite busy with finals, saying farewell to friends, and of course some holiday shopping and in that time I have tried to revisit some of my favorite locations one last time. The city has been in Christmas lights since Halloween; no Thanksgiving means the Christmas season starts early. The lights put up on Grafton Street, one of the main shopping destinations, are dazzling and a lovely Christmas market has been set up near St. Stephens Green with local vendors peddling Christmas goods, cookies, and mulled wine. A lit tree has been set up on campus and provides the front square with some Christmas cheer at night. It’s a shame I won’t be able to be there for the actual Christmas celebrations.

Among all the Christmas cheer, I of course had to find time to finish up my courses and complete my finals requirements. All finals at Trinity are completed at year-end in May, including those classes that only run for the first semester. I of course am on my way back to the US as I write this and will not be able to sit my finals in May. Trinity therefore makes exceptions for this case and I had final project/essay requirements instead. This was different from many finals weeks I have had in the past. In all I had six essays and two final projects to complete in the last two and a half weeks. Most of the final assignments made nearly 100% of the grade in that class with not many other assignments through out the semester. Needless to say I was in the library for most of my days.

In particular, one of my classes had a focus on entrepreneurship and building a new business. For the class, I worked with a group to establish a business idea, build the framework, and write a proposal to potential investors. The class was set up as a competition with 65 teams presenting their idea. The winning group would receive further mentorship from our professor as well as 20% of the investment so the group could actually put the idea to work. Unfortunately our group was not one of the finalists. Outside of class, another group member and I joined another competition hosted by Trinity’s Entrepreneurial Society. The competition was set up much like the show Shark Tank. We joined hoping to get some feedback on our business proposal and obviously to try and win. Unfortunately our proposal was a bit underdeveloped at that point to move on in the competition but the experience gave us some exposure to presenting a business to investors and feedback from the panel of entrepreneurs. It’s to bad we couldn’t continue.

I have said it before and I will say it again, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to participate in OSU’s Student Exchange Program. It will for sure be one of the defining experiences in my college careers. Before leaving we were told to think of the things we would miss most while abroad and I of course said my friends and family. After this semester I can’t believe I was worried at all. I met some fantastic people at Trinity and they served as my family during Thanksgiving and I couldn’t have been happier. Dublin was a perfect city for me to live and I would definitely live there again if the opportunity came up. I am looking forward to being home for the holiday season and getting back to OSU next semester but I know that I will miss the people and city that I’ve grown to love.

‘Tis the Season

One of the best parts about the Holiday Season in Europe is the Christmas Markets, or the Weihnachtsmarkt as they are called in Germany.  You may be wondering what exactly a Christmas Market is.  Well it is all of the joy of the holiday season, thousands of people, great holiday shopping, delicious food, and historic towns all rolled into one.  Since these markets are so irresistible I’ve visited the ones in Koblenz, Strassbourg, Offenburg, Rothenburg od der Tauber, and Nuremberg.  Living in Germany for this past semester has obviously made me partial to  the authentic German Christmas experience so this past weekend I made my final travel destination the markets of Rothenburg and Nuremberg.

Rothenburg was my favorite town in Germany that I’ve visited so far because of all the great history that comes with it.  It’s the best preserved Medieval town in Germany and it certainly looks the part.  Wandering through the lanes of houses and around the historic wall that dates back to the town’s founding and is still standing one can forget for a moment what century they are really in.  When I visited I even went on a tour of the city with a Nightwatchman who told us all about the city’s long and interesting background.  And while their Christmas market certainly isn’t the largest I’ve seen, it’s definitely the most adorable and authentically German.

Rothenburg 1 (640x471) Rothenburg 2 (640x480)

Nuremberg also had a great market, it’s heralded as one of the most authentically German as the town has very strict rules about stall decorations and merchandise to try and keep the market as traditional as possible.  While I was in Nuremberg I also got to participate in a local myth, there’s a fountain in the main square that has a gold ring on the gate.  It’s rumored that if you spin the ring twice and make a wish, it will come true!

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The Christmas Markets have been a great conclusion to my semester in Germany but they, among a plethora of other factors, are going to make it so hard to leave in just a few short days!

A cultural experience

It is hard to believe I have already been abroad for almost 100 days. Though the semester has flown by it seems like Welcome Week and September were days ago. I feel now is a great time to reflect on my time abroad so far before writing one final post to conclude my experience! While I have learned I am not meant to live abroad for the long-term, I would not trade this experience for anything. I absolutely loved learning about a country that not only is rich in culture and tradition, but is also where my family is from. For me, this was my favorite part of studying abroad- learning and experiencing new food, new people, and new traditions. The first new cultural experience for me was Fashion week all the way back in September- a must do for anyone coming to Milan in the fall, what an experience! The experiences have only continued from there. I learned about aperitivo and how to properly order off a menu at a restaurant without looking like a tourist! I loved learning about all the ins and outs of the city and enjoyed eating at local restaurants but most of all I loved traveling through Italy. I got to visit the lake district, Venice, Rome, and Florence and this taught me so much about Italian culture. I cannot beleive my time is winding down here and I will have to say goodbye to such a culturally rich country!

Continuing Adventures in Ireland

Since my last post about my stay here at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland I have had so many new experiences worth talking about it’s hard to pick just one. In my last post, Irish students had just moved in, school activities were just starting, and classes were getting underway. My courses are not so different from my experience in the states; I have lectures and tutorials (smaller group recitations) each week for classes. The biggest difference is in the actual work for each course. In many of them the workload is focused into a few heavily weighted assignments, which is unlike my experience in the states where I have many more assignments that help alleviate weight on the final. Most of the time the only grade is a final exam (all of which are taken in May) and possibly a smaller assignment in the first term. Students only staying for the fall term have a substitute assignment, usually an essay, due just before term break. I should be starting my essays soon.

Somewhere between my classes I found some time to do some traveling in Ireland and do something special that I don’t think many people get to experience. First off, one of the reasons I chose Ireland to study was because my family is predominantly Irish. I knew my family history back to my maternal great grandmother who was the first to come to the US from Ireland in the early 1900’s. When my grandfather heard where I was going he jumped at the opportunity to visit me on the condition that we try and meet our relatives. We did some research and found his cousin living in the south of Dublin outside of county Cork in a small town called Rosscarbery. She said she would be happy for us to visit and said she would let the family know we were coming. So when my parents and grandparents got to Ireland we traveled south not knowing exactly what to expect when we got there.

Arriving in Rosscarbery we got a picturesque view of the town across the bay. We met my grandfathers cousin and she led us to O’Driscoll’s, a pub my family still owns and runs. There we were greeted with an unexpectedly large number of family members, some of which were meeting each other for the first time as well. One of the first people we met was my grandfather’s 94-year-old step uncle. It was really incredible seeing these two men (pictured below, my grandfather is on the right) meet for the first time and talk like they had been friends for years. I had never seen my grandfather so excited. While there we discussed our family history and when all the heads were put together we were able to fill in the family tree as well as extended it an additional four generations back from my grandfather.

On a cultural note, I said before that we were in O’Driscoll’s, my family’s pub. Today, a pub is synonymous with a rustic bar, but the word is actually short for public house, which is more than a place to get a pint. They were used as community centers for rural towns where people of all ages were welcome. O’Driscoll’s is reminiscent of this original style of pub. We were there on a Saturday and in the evening local families started to wander in. Mothers sat around and chatted, children played games in the corner, and fathers and older sons played darts and rings with surprising talent. I tried my hand at both and found the matches were uneven considering our opponents were the local champs. This was truly a pub in the original sense; it was a social center for the largely rural community. The place felt more like a home then a bar. The community feel reminded me of my own town where families would meet on porches on the weekend to socialize. Being able to go there with my grandfather and experience my own personal history was incredible and be in an original pub was one of the highlights of my trip so far and something I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to do. IMG_4518  IMG_0657_copy (1)