Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 3, Part 2 in Ecuador

Day 17

I think they estimate in a lot of time for traffic and poor weather, so we were over two hours early for our next bus since we didn’t encounter either of those things.  Gisela let me nap on my backpack for a while, and then we bought scrambled eggs with fried green bananas and blackberry juice for breakfast.  We finally got on a different bus for an hour or so, and then took a pickup truck the last hour of the way.  That was a cool way to see the country and enjoy the fresh air.

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What shocked me was when I saw the ocean.  I’d asked for more information regarding the trip with little luck, and Estero de Platano is so small that there isn’t much information online; I had no idea that we were going to spend time on the coast!  I was incredibly excited, but a little nervous that I hadn’t had the chance to find out if I needed Malaria medication, as there are parts of the country where that is a good idea.  Luckily, I brought 99% DEET bug spray from home, which I intended to use vigilantly.  After asking some of the friendly locals, we found the house of the family that was supposed to host us.  The mother wasn’t home, so Gisela and I had some of our class time while waiting.

Less than two hours after arriving, I felt like I was shaking, but I looked at Gisela and her eyes were wide too.  It only lasted a few minutes, but we’d felt a “temblor” as they call it.  The coast is the part of the country that is very prone to earthquakes, and small movements like this are very common, but we were worried for a minute that it would get worse.  During our class time, we also met our new amiga-Valeria, the granddaughter of the owner of the house.  She was probably 6 years old, and as adorable as can be.

The grandmother finally arrived and set us up with lunch.  We had rice, fried platano verde, onion salsa, and FRESH FISH!!  This fish was delicious, straight from the ocean that very day.  MMMMM. The only thing we had to watch out for was the small bones, as the fish weren’t huge and the meat was still on the bones.

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We then got to rest (aka nap) for a while.  The upstairs of the house is all one big open room that is sectioned off with sheets/curtains, and Gisela and I had one room to share with two beds.  I was impressed that they had room for us each to have a bed, since the house is not that big compared to American standards.  I think the grandmother and her husband, two of her daughters (and maybe the boyfriend/husband of the older daughter), and one granddaughter live in the house.  The grandmother also sells ice creams out of her house, so between that and the neighbors, there was always someone coming or going.

Afterwards, we walked down to the beach with our little friend and got to see all of the snails from the high tide, the crabs running away from us, the children playing, and the fisherman coming back for the day.  Then we had dinner, not with the family.  They eat late.  When asked how late, they replied “late.”  So after dinner, Gisela and I called it a night.  There’s beautiful, lace-pattered mosquito netting (thankfully), and the fresh air coming in through the windows was very refreshing.  Regardless, it was still warm and we slept on top of the sheets.

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Day 18

Gisela and I woke up by 8:30, but the chickens, roosters, parrots (they had 2 pet parrots outside), and people were all up by 5 or 6.  I think we both slept through it pretty well, though.  They fixed fried eggs, “bolsas” made from platano verde and cheese (ground platano verde shaped into a ball with cheese in the middle), and warm milk for coffee.  I hadn’t had warm milk before, but I think it was either milk from a different animal (goat, maybe), or it was unpasteurized, as it tasted different and upset my stomach a bit.

I think this is a good place to describe the community a bit, although it’s difficult to describe.  Many of the people lived in houses like the one we stayed in, but there were several houses that were falling down, several shacks made of wood and plastic sheeting, and one family that had a tent.  In the house that we stayed in, they had electricity for the fridge, stove, and lights.  They also had running water in the sink, shower, and toilet (the bathroom was outside, but attached to the house).  It wasn’t heated, but they had running water.  They also caught rain water outside, and the water that dripped from the faucet.

This morning, there was a problem with the running water in the whole community, so we took showers using the big buckets of water and a smaller bucket to pour it.  It sounds primitive and cold, but it was actually effective and refreshing, as it was pretty warm outside.

After some class time at the kitchen table, with stickers and entertainment from our amiga, we took a longer walk on the beach.  It’s so beautiful, untouched by tourists.  There’s minimal trash, no umbrellas or tents blocking the view, just the kids playing and men fishing.  We saw lots of critters and more shells today: hermit crabs, normal crabs, little fish, big birds, a sea urchin…

Lunch was chicken soup with rice, pan cooked chicken, and LEMONADE.  For the temperature outside (and remember-no AC inside), it was a lot of food to eat, but it was incredible.  The lemonade was the best I’ve ever had.  We napped again for a while, and Gisela went to look for someone.  There’s supposedly a waterfall, which is too far away to visit, and a place called “Mirador”, which I think is just a place with a good vantage point.  The host family told us of a woman who would take us there, but we couldn’t find her.  Also, it was really hot to go hiking during the day… Instead, we had more class and tried to talk to the locals to figure out the best way to leave in the morning.  At first, they told us that we’d have to leave at 5:00am.  **However, I’m quickly learning: always ask twice.  If possible, wait a while and ask again, or ask someone else, but always ask twice.  After several attempts at asking, we found that we could leave on a bus, from this community, at 8:00am.

In case you can’t see my love for food, let me explain to you our dinner.  FRESH FISH.  As in caught by a local fisherman, less than 6 hours earlier, and put directly into the pan by the grandmother.  We also had rice and a sauce made from lentils (I think), which I really like as well.  And more lemonade, which makes my heart happy.

I took another bucket shower, got my things ready to leave in the morning, and called it a night.

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The rest of Week Three will be in the next post, as we were in a different community!!

 

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 3, Part 1 in Ecuador

Day 15

Today’s breakfast was bread with ham, and papaya.  I still cannot get over the quality of the fruit here… I didn’t think I liked papaya, but it’s so much better here and I don’t know how I ever disliked it!  I caught up on my honor’s journaling today.  Remember that giant project deal I had to do for my University/Honors Experience?  It’s not over.  I have to journal/reflect on the 15 questions that I wrote, and then produce my project when I return to the States.  It’s not exactly how I want to be spending my time, but it’s not an unbearable inconvenience, either.

We three students from the house met up with Jason in Parque El Ejido.  Unfortunately, his family still wasn’t here, so we got to hang out with him for one more day.  This park has amazing artwork on the weekends; we plan to come back tomorrow to spend more time looking.  The plan was to go to Parque Carolina again to go through the botanical garden, so we started walking north towards the park.  A lot of the restaurants weren’t open, but we decided on a Cuban restaurant in the Mariscal district.  On tripadvisor, it’s called Don David, but the sign outside had a longer name, International something.  We were the only people in there, and the waiter was very nice.  He spoke English, which was also a welcome break, as restaurants can be difficult sometimes.  The pineapple juice was awesome, and the food was good, too.  I got (smoked?) pork, with sauteed veggies, yucca, and fried banana, which were all good.

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The park is actually a pretty far walk when you factor in hills and street crossings, 2.7 miles, according to Google.  Rob had other stuff to do, the rest of us walked through the botanical garden.  What a neat place, I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Quito.  It didn’t set off my allergies, and they have all sorts of beautiful flowers and neat plants.  They have it set up as different ecosystems.  Additionally, there was a room of the carnivorous plants, the orchids (for which Ecuador is famous), and a temporary butterfly exhibit, which was my favorite part.

After some more wandering and buying ice cream from one of the many vendors, we took the bus back to our houses.  I got to meet my new neighbor for the next 3 weeks, Bella from the Philippines!  Then we had dinner: it was chicken nugget night!!  We had more grain soup, and rice with a tomato slice.  I think we all approved of this meal, especially the nuggets and the blackberry juice for dessert!

Bella and I discovered that, since our showers got fixed, we can’t shower at the same time.  I believe that they increased the water pressure, therefore drawing more power into each room.  The power goes out on the floor, and it happened twice, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fluke.  I also found out tonight that someone else will be staying in my room while I’m away this week, so I have to pack all of my stuff up.  It’s not a huge inconvenience, but I’m slightly nervous to share the room for one night when I return, since I won’t know her.

Day 16

Breakfast was the usual, and then three of us, minus our new housemate, went back to Parque El Ejido to look at the art more.  We also ran into Jason, and his family!!  They finally arrived the night before, so we got to meet his wife and kids.  After properly viewing all of the art, I decided to return to this park later in my trip.  There is a big market about 2 hours north of Quito where I plan to buy most of my gifts/souvenirs, but if I don’t find something for someone there, this park will be my next stop.  We decided to try vendor food for lunch, so we bought kebabs.  Mine was (all grilled) sausage, potatoes, beef, and banana.  It was very good, but I threw away the beef because it wasn’t cooked all the way through.  For dessert, we bought fresh fruit, which was to die for.  The watermelon here is so incredibly sweet.

Afterwards, I got to meet Paula from Colorado, who is getting my room while I’m away.  She seems very nice, but worn out after navigating the same airport problems as Jason’s family.  I feel very lucky to have had such a simple flying experience.  Fred, Paula, and I went to the vegetarian place by school so that Paula could eat.  The apple tarts are amazing!!  **For future travelers: It’s called Govinda, and it’s on Esmeraldas Street, close to school.  Walk towards Plaza Teatro and take a right on Esmeraldas, it’s on the left side.

Being the exciting adult that I am, I took a nap while Paula did (so as not to disturb her, of course), then we went to dinner.  The lentil soup was a pleasant change, and then we had pasta with tomato sauce.  It was very thin; I think the noodles were cooked in the sauce.  The other students thought that it was very plain, but I loved it.

Tonight was the night to leave for my trip, so I help back on juice/water so that I didn’t need a bathroom while stuck on a bus.  The family insisted that I leave at 9:30 to meet my professor at the south bus station (Quitumbe) at 11:00pm.  The other students walked me down to get money from the ATM and catch a taxi, and I was at the bus station by 10:00pm easily.  Nobody gave me any trouble or anything while waiting, and when my professor, Gisela, arrived, she bought our bus tickets and away we went!  The buses are very nice charter coaches, just like in the US, except most in the US have bathrooms.  We slept until about 4:30, when we arrived in Esmeraldas (the town Esmeraldas, in the province of Esmeraldas).

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 2, Part 2 in Ecuador

Day 13

This was an interesting day, and another one that made me want to go home.

We had cream cheese for our bread this morning, which was different. We talked about legends/stories in class today.  Ecuador has lots of stories.  For anyone super interested, there are YouTube videos on them.  We discussed: El Gallo de la Catedral, La Casa 1028,  La Leyenda de la Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia del Robo.  We also discussed the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, here in Ecuador, as it’s different than it is in Mexico. It’s hard to discuss the United States, because it’s so much larger than Ecuador.  Most of our legends/stories are either local, or stolen/borrowed from other cultures.

After class, Jason and I found the market!  We had awesome (fried?) pork and talked politics.

This is the point in which I’m going to keep most details to myself… I wanted to go to a medical clinic after lunch.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I thought I might need some lightweight antibiotics.  Jason offered to go with me, being the world-class nurse that he is.  It ended up being a really rough, 3 hour, $40 experience.  Without Jason, I’d have absolutely lost my mind.  Clinics are supposedly cheap here, which it was, minus the extra charges they nailed me with, but it wasn’t a good experience for me.  They had no clue what was going on, and tried to prescribe me medications for just about any possible scenario in this situation.  Jason and I talked and, bless this man, we figured out a plan without the doctors.

So, with my being emotional and exhausted and frustrated, it was time for salsa lessons.  This was a good distraction, but I was quite tired.  I was partnered with Jason this time.  I have a bit of salsa experience, and Jason had dance experience and had been to lessons for several weeks already, so we had a blast.  I don’t think the instructor liked us much because we moved on ahead of the class, but we had a great time.

Dinner at the house was good, but it marked the beginning of our complicated relationships with potatoes.  We eat lots of potatoes here, which is lovely, but it can get overwhelming.  Tonight, we had potato soup, as usual.  Then we had mashed potatoes flavored with peanuts, with a boiled egg and some cheese on top.  And juice, of course.  It was great food, but after this meal, all three of us students became very overwhelmed by potatoes.

After dancing, I felt better, but I was incredibly frustrated and exhausted, not to mention that my stomach, while much much better, was still not 100%. I had my mini-trip scheduled for the next week.  Part of me wanted to go, to get out of Quito for a while.  Part of me felt unprepared to leave Quito.  Part of me wanted to go home.  Again, obviously there were no plane tickets purchased this night.

Day 14

NEW FRUIT!  With our bread and ham, we had these strange little fruits today.  They’re small, round, and orange.  They taste like a sour tomato, but it’s not a bad taste… I love all of the different fruits that they have here!  There’s so many, and they’re all so fresh.

In class today, we worked on commands.  I worked on commands very early in my Spanish career, and really haven’t used them except the basic ones that I have memorized.  This is the type of thing I love about my classes here: filling in the gaps.  Technically, I’ve seen all of the tenses, but I sure can’t use or remember them all.  Then we showed each other card games from our countries to practice using the commands.

Jason’s family, that was supposed to arrive last night, was still stuck in Texas.  The weather there has been horrible.  Between that, the icky weather this week, and my stress, we were all pretty worn out and not ready to visit another church or museum.  Instead, we decided to do familiar things today, starting with food.  We went to the Italian cafeteria that we like a lot.  I got pizza, Jason got spaghetti, and Fred got a burger.  Jason and I also got chocolate milkshakes, because why not?  Then we got dessert from the bakery.  Jason and Fred got chocolate bread, I got a fruit tart that was delicious.  We then decided to go to the movies, so we took the bus allll the way to the south of the city, where there is a shopping mall with a movie theatre.  We saw the Jungle Book, El Libro de la Selva, in Spanish of course.  The seats were comfy and it almost felt like home.  It was a lovely way to relax for a few hours.

Dinner at the house was soup with some sort of grain, then fried eggs with rice, carrots and green beans, and a dessert similar to a watery rice pudding.  And, tonight, we finally got our laundry back!!

I also added pictures of my room and bathroom, in case anyone is just dying to know how my room is.

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 2, part 1 in Ecuador

I had a rough week, and would have preferred to be at home with my family, but I survived it!

Day 7

We didn’t have classes today; the city basically shuts down (schools, some jobs) to promote travel and tourism for the independence holiday that was a few days ago.  The two other students in the house and I met up with two other students to take the bus north.  We got off of the bus close to the soccer stadium, which I cannot wait to visit in late June to see a game.  Our gameplan was to check out Parque Metropolitano, one of the largest parks in Quito.  I was super excited, but ran into some troubles.

Background info: my tummy was upset from the time I got up in the morning.  It seemed to be stable enough to go out and about, and I didn’t want to miss out on spending time with the group and seeing the park.  Walking up the streets, and then the hills to get to the main part of the park was rough, though.  I’d only been in Quito for a week, and it became very apparent that I was not accustomed to the altitude yet.  My asthma set in, worse than it’d been in a while.  I was fine (as in not actually dying), and everyone was incredibly patient with me, stopping every few blocks for me to catch my breath.

It was a beautiful walk up, and the park at the top was full of families and dogs enjoying themselves.  I excused myself to settle my tummy, and then the others decided to do a walk/hike.  I decided to sit under a tree and enjoy the weather while they did that, which was a nice break.  There were lots of street dogs, as well as lots of pet dogs.  Later, I found out that there is a dog park, too, which explains the incredible amount of dogs!  My friends did manage to locate three llamas on their walk; supposedly there is a whole herd in this large park.  We bought fresh juice for some quick energy, and walked back down, which made me feel much better.  More oxygen, less exertion, etc…

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I picked at my lunch, and my tummy grumbled more…  We walked around the familiar part of town for a while, which was nice.  The three of us girls were going to get our nails done, but I passed because the line was so long.  Jason and Julia went to start celebrating Julia’s last night, and those of us from the same house came back for dinner.

When we got to the house, I instantly got the chills and my stomach practically turned itself inside out, which was quite unpleasant… I went downstairs for dinner, but quickly left with some bread and “feel better” wishes from the family.  Sadly, I could not go to celebrate Julia’s last night, and I spent the night trying to sleep and dealing with my fever and upset stomach.

Day 8

Unfortunately, I was sick all day this day.  I cycled between chills and sweats all night, and lost lots of fluids because of the state of my stomach.  The family was very sweet; they gave me more bread to munch on, since I couldn’t eat much.  There’s a tea for everything here, so they mixed an oregano tea bag and one of apple and honey, which they said should help.  It didn’t make it worse, that I do know.  I went back to bed for the day, and only left to gingerly walk down the street and buy some Sprite.  Mom knows best, and she always gives us flat Sprite when we’re sick at home.  Rob also gave me a rehydration packet, which I think is mostly salt, that you mix with water- it’s supposed to help you regain electrolytes.  I made it to dinner long enough to eat a bit of soup, and some eggs mixed with rice.  The family also gave me a pill for stomach ache, which I do think helped some.  My tummy continued to twist and turn, however, and it was another long night…

I knew that this meant I couldn’t go on my excursion to the Quilotoa crater lake the next day, which made me sad, but there wasn’t much to do about it.  Sadly, I have no pictures for this day.

Day 9

The night was still not great, but my fever clearly went down, which allowed me to sleep more comfortable between trips to the bathroom.  The family asked, the other students asked, my parents asked, and I still don’t know what made me sick.  I don’t think it was food.  I believe that I just caught a nasty bug, started getting sick on Friday, and the activity just set it off Friday night.

I ate my bread and drank my oregano tea for breakfast, and the family gave me more medicine.  They gave me more of the one, for stomach pain, and another for, well, diarrhea, which helped lots.  Thankfully, they gave me enough for the day, so that I didn’t have to buy more until the next day.

**FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS: The medicines I took were Sertal, for stomach pain, and Diaren, for diarrhea.  Neither are sold in the USA, but they were lifesavers!!  You can buy them at any pharmacy, and I bought 18 of one and 20 of the other for like $9.50.  I talked with Jason, who’s a nurse, to make sure they’re safe to take together, and he said they’re really good medicines.  Between the two, they had an antibiotic that only works in your gut, meaning that it doesn’t work in the rest of your body unnecessarily.  There was also an antispasmodic, which means that it calms the movements of your gut and helps keep you out of the bathroom, which I desperately needed.  I read reviews of them, and there are people who have these medicines sent to the States by family in Latin America; they claim that they work better than anything they’ve been given in the States.  They weren’t a miracle, but they’re worth knowing about, as I couldn’t find Imodium in the pharmacies here.

I was able to sit up and watch movies today, and talk to Mom and Dad on the phone.  At this point, I really wanted to go home.  I was concerned about becoming dehydrated and I was scared that I’d get sick again in the future, an experience that I’d rather not repeat…

Obviously, I didn’t buy any plane tickets home, but I was definitely homesick.  I ate my soup for dinner, and tried to sleep enough to feel better, as we had class the next morning.  Sadly, I don’t have photos for this day either, besides this one.

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Day 10

I slept!  I was only up twice, and I slept like a normal human being.  This, plus the medicines that I was taking, made me feel better.  The housemate who I usually walk with had afternoon classes, so I bought more medicines and Gatorade, and then took a taxi to school.  Usually we walk, but I didn’t want to upset my stomach on the walk and be in a bad situation.

Jason, my saving grace during this week, went to eat with me after class.  He checked out my medicines, and told me that I probably just had Montezuma’s Revenge (aka: Latin American traveler’s diarrhea).  Harmful: not really.  Miserable: definitely.  We went to a Chinese restaurant, where I ate Chinese chicken soup.  Not quite like Mom’s, but it was easy on my stomach.

I took another taxi back to the house, and the driver was my favorite so far.  He asked me lots of questions, was very welcoming and interested in my life and why I’m here.  I managed to eat some of all of my dinner: soup, broccoli, and an omelette.  Being able to eat more helped me feel better, too, but it took several days to be able to eat as much as my appetite demanded.

Day 11

Feeling even MORE human!!  And I even got jelly with my bread again, so I guess the family thinks that I’ll live, too.  My teacher was in the hospital today, she hurt her back it sounds like.  Because of this, my classes got moved to the afternoon with another student and a different teacher. I went back to bed for a while, then decided to be productive.

The family does our laundry once a week, but the rain had thrown off the schedule.  It rained yesterday, and the laundry got wet, so they couldn’t wash ours today.  Plus, they didn’t do my laundry my first week since I’d only been there for a few days. Sparing the details, I was short on undies.  Really short.  So I took my shower, and washed them in the shower, since there isn’t hot water for the sink.

After a quick stop at the supermarket, I met with two other students for lunch.  We went to an awesome vegetarian restaurant close to school.  They have a restaurant, or a market-type option.  The food is set out, and you bring it to them to either cook or warm up.  I had vegetarian lasagna, with noodles and tofu (maybe sausage, couldn’t tell) and a fantastic sauce, and I’ll be going back for an apple turnover another time as well.

Class was fun, as the other student and I are at different levels of Spanish.  To benefit both of us, we watched music videos and Family Feud, or 100 Latinos Dicen (100 Latinos Say).  We talked lots and it was light on grammar, which is always a welcome break.  We also had an excuse to take a taxi back to the house: it was raining.  Dinner was delicious, as always, with tomato soup, rice and beans, and juice.  The family says juice is bad for the stomach when you’ve been sick, and I would agree with that, so I still can’t have my juice for dessert.

Day 12

Breakfast was bread with a slice of ham (I can’t have my fruit, either).  We don’t deviate from our usual foods for breakfast, sometimes there’s cheese too, or sometimes bologna. The fruit changes too, but the plan is the same.

My professor was back today, with a cold and a hurt back, poor woman… She was a trooper!  Today was a tasting day, the topic was sweets.  I had to buy Espumilla to share, which is similar-ish to a whipped cream.  It’s made by whipping together, by hand or machine, guava, eggs, and sugar.  It’s usually served with sprinkles and blackberry sauce, and it’s pretty cheap. I bought a cup for $0.50.   There were chocolates, saltier treats, and liquor-filled candies (strange, I know).  Hide those candies from the kids, folks.

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We couldn’t manage to find the market we wanted to eat at, so we ate at a chicken restaurant instead.  The roasted chicken, soup, and rice were delicious.  They also served a boiled potato (very typical), with mayonnaise on top.  I didn’t like that as much, I prefer cheese sauce on my boiled potatoes.  Fred and Jason went to check out some volunteer opportunities, and I went to buy some things I needed.  With the current laundry crisis, plus being sick (which makes fabric smell like germs), I needed more pants to sleep in.  I found a lovely store that sells these neat pants for $5, they’re super soft and I could wear them out during the day, too.  I also bought more socks and an umbrella, both for obvious reasons.

The rest of the night was uneventful, for the most part.

 

Kristen, Student Blogger: Pre-Milan

This week has been a pretty relaxed week in terms of feeling like I’m pretty well settled in and have a feel for how to operate things better. I might be only saying this now as I, for the first time, walked to the train station by myself and found the platform without feeling like I needed to attempt to ask anyone if I am in the right spot. Instead, an Italian asked ME to make sure the platform was heading to Milan! I am on my way to Milan to meet my friend from home, Britney. Her dad has business in Milan and her brother is playing American football in Germany currently so she is traveling around Europe for a couple of weeks with her family. She was originally going to meet me in Torino, but the outbreak of riots while in Paris prevented her from being able to take her train. So now I’m meeting her and her family in Milan!

This week has been pretty interesting in terms of my school work. My first lesson came on Monday during my first exam for Economics and Politics in the EU. Essays for tests are more common in Italy. While preparing for a multiple choice test on the treaties of the European Union, I got slapped in the face when I actually found out I needed to memorize a lot more than I thought I did. Overall, I hope he doesn’t grade it too terribly hard, but we shall see. I definitely will be studying differently next time.

In my other class, we had to interview a person of a different culture and talk about the values and differences that exist, through a report. I got the chance to interview one of the Italian students in between classes. There were differences that existed, as the sports that she grew up with, such as ice skating, tennis, gymnastics and horse riding. Sports that were not-existent at my small, high school growing up. Similarities existed with her relationship with her parents, values of getting a job and moving away from home. What I found the most interesting, was her view on her own country. It is well known that Italy is growing through an economically hard time. While speaking to her, she informed me on her disgust for her countries views. She thinks Italy is in a political sink-hole that is “going no where”, seeing now future. Her plan is to go to America or England when she graduates from her school. I guess I should be able to understand as Illinois is also in financially hard times, but it’s hard for me to imagine leaving the country. It would have to be hard living in a place where you believe there to be no future.

In my Economics class, we happened to be talking about the views the Italian citizens and the economy of Italy, in their current state. Italy has the lowest birth rate of world. My teacher, along with many other reasons, sees this as a potentially threatening problem for future generations. Italy has become sort of a retirement home for the older generations and no new minds are coming through. His view is also that the students who see and focus on a future, are the one leaving, while those content, are staying. Dr.  Dastru continued to explain that one of the reasons a crisis began to occur was the retirement plans the Italian government set up back when Italy was prosperous. Rules were set up that allowed workers to retire after merely 15 years of work. He personally knew a family member who did this and still currently, reaps the benefits of the retirement plan. So this was allowed for many government worker for years. Only recently did they end the outrageous retirement plans when realizing that they couldn’t keep up. He, personally, would like to see more educated discussions on why Italy is doing financially bad and how to fix the problem.

A lot of these views vary greatly from what you see in America or what would happen in America so I think that is why it is so interesting. On the other hand, learning these kind of things would probably not seem nearly as interesting while at home, instead of Italy.

Kristen, Student Blogger: Greece Part 2

So following the Parthanon, we went to eat and relax until our next planned event. Fish Pedicures. Apparently, this is something known to Greece and some other parts of Europe. The fish are from the carp family and essentially, eat the dead skin off your feet. Such a weird experience having small fish swimming between my toes and scratching at my ankles.KR06.15.17Well I first thought that Torino’s public transportation was crowded and then I went to Rome. Well Greece is a whole new ball game. In Torino and Rome, only times like “rush hours” were bad. During Greece’s rush hours, I became a lab rat corned into a pole with everyone else’s full body on top of my own. So on Saturday in Greece we decided to go to the beach. It took about an hour to get out of downtown Athens to the beach area. An hour of lab rats making their way from the subway and then to the bus which took us to the beach. Never have I been so uncomfortable or been so aware of my personal bubble issues. Well, being that we were all stacked up on top of each other, we happened to be standing on top of a couple of Greek girls our age. Every where in Europe, students learn English for the most part, so we took our chances and struck up a conversation with them. They suggested that we go to the beach they were going to, as it would only be 4€ to get in and they would have chairs and umbrellas. Once in, we were lucky enough to find a stack of chairs before the beach was completely full.KR06.15.18
KR06.16.01On the ride home from the beach there was a whole new ordeal of public transportation. While standing, waiting for the bus, an old woman came up to us asking us something in Greek. We kindly tried informing her that we only spoke English. Well, she all of a sudden started speaking an English-very surprising for not thinking they might have enforced English as much during her time in school.  She seemed a little flustered about which bus she was to be getting on. She got on the same bus as us and that is when the chaos began. A middle aged woman, who I could only see the backside of, was sitting in the front of the bus. The older lady, who had befriended us, walked towards the front and said something to her and then came back. All of a sudden a full on Greek-woman-yelling fight was going on. The lady in front was having a fit. We were told that the older woman with us had told her to not have her shoes on the seat and to put them on, as she was in public. The bus ride lasted for 40 minutes, so did the fight. A small, young Greek man had also gotten involved. He was also telling the lady in front to put on her shoes, to get off the bus and then calling the police for the problem she was causing. Of course, this is only our view point from not knowing a word of what was being said, unless an occasional English cuss word was thrown in. After we got off the bus, the Greek man decided to push the lady carrying her shoes. Therefore, a fist fight began to happen among the young Green men. At that point, our walk became a fast, power walk away from crowd towards the metro station. If this was all about the shoes… I’m floored about the culture values in Greece.

One of the main differences that we noticed in Athens was how poor the economy is, as we have heard. Riots had broken out recently within the city. Once out of the touristic areas, the city was dirty, poor and old. Although, beautiful to see, an experience I would never take back, I would probably not go back either. I hope that Athens and Greece as a whole, can one day come out of their financial crisis, if not for the community but for the wonderful history that exists there.
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That night we decided to head more towards the busy, more modern side of Athens. Plaka is the name of the neighborhood that is known for being a tourist attraction in the area. On the way to this area there was modern architecture and global stores such as Nike, Forever 21, and McDonalds. It was a long street leading into the start of Plaka. We bought more souvenirs and did a little shopping.

KR06.15.19Our last stop was a restaurant one of the Greek girls from the beach suggested to us, known as 360. Atop the restaurant you could pretty much see a 360 degree view of the city. From the Parthanon, to the rolling hills surrounding the city and the downtown area.

By the next morning, we were ready to head back home. Still, I am grateful for less hustled and less touristy home of Torino. It is nice to take a weekend to visit the touristy city where almost everyone understands English, but it also is nice to really feel like I am abroad, with an expectancy to try at least a little bit to speak their language.

Kristen, Student Blogger: Weekend in Greece

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When else would I get the chance to go to Greece for less than $1000? Thursday and Friday, Italy celebrated their version of Independence Day, so we got a four day weekend. We decided to take a couple flights and get ourselves to one of the most talked about cities in our history books. Home the goddess, Athena, herself. We got a 3 day tourist pass which got us access to the metros and train for our weekend. On the first night, we took the metro, towards the Acropolis for dinner. Restaurants line the sidewalks and waitresses and waiters line the street offering specials and deals for your meal. After choosing one, we were finally able to chill out after a long day of traveling. From where we were, we could see the lit up Acropolis from the street. We decided to walk towards it. As we started, we noticed the road up to the Acropolis being blocked by police. Supposedly, the French Prime Minister was in town visiting and just got done with his tour. Once we got access to the street, although, we were able to get a really close view of what we planned on seeing the next day.

KR06.15.07We scheduled a skip-the-Line tour at 11:15 the next morning. We planned this one a lot better than our Rome trip. Being a student in Europe, we were able to get our entry tickets for free! Our tour guide had so much knowledge about the ancient ruins we saw. We thought coming into this trip that we had no knowledge of the the Greek language, except for sorority life. We soon learned that words like “polis” is for city in an administrative meaning and “acro” means to be up the in the air. So our words like police, politician, Indianapolis, and acrobat all were derived from their language. The Acropolis was a word that we could identify with. The Acropolis isn’t special to Athens. There’s more than 200 across Greece. They were used to protect their Gods and in cases of invasion. There were many hills in Athens but this hill got chosen for its access to water.
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KR06.15.06Going up to the Acropolis, one can also find Theater of Dionysos. This is the oldest theatre in Europe. Theaters in Greek times were a religious place where priests would make a sacrifice, usually a goat, in the middle. They would dance and sing and this is where orchestra came from.
KR06.15.12KR06.15.02KR06.15.11As with any business, you want to put your business where the people are located. Therefore, also on the way up was the ruins of a shopping mall. 

In dedicating the city, the people had a decision to make. Both Poseidon and Athena wanted it. Naturally, the people asked for a gift and whosever was better won. Poseidon gave a spring, which would be great, if it had not been salt water. Athena gave an olive tree. Useful for wood products, furniture and food. Therefore it is her Castle at the top and her name for the city. On top of the Acropolis there are at least 4 castles. All have been reinforced with their original material and some new in order to keep up with the wear and tear. One, Temple of Nike, was dedicated to the god who ran barefoot for many miles to bring the good news of a battle won in Marathon. Nike was known for being the winged angel that brought victory to all. Athens, selfish, cut off his wings so he would not leave the city and bring victory to other people.
KR06.15.13Another one of the castles was created for Poseidon and Athena as sort of a truce to stop the fighting between them.
KR06.15.16The Parthanon was, of course, dedicated to Athena. It took a lot of destruction when the Turks tried to invade. Inside stood her statue covered in 24 carrot gold when they were not being invaded.


Contrary to popular belief, the Olympic flame was not introduced by the Greeks. It was introduced by Hitler in the 1936 games. The Olympics began as a religious ceremony for Zeus. They were every 4 years where there was 1 day of religion, 3 days of sport, and 2 days of festivities. From the top of the hill, we could see what remains of Zeus’s Temple.
KR06.15.15I’m so glad we did the tour, as we wouldn’t have really known what to think of any of the rocks. A lot of people on their way up to the Parthanon lost that information by not getting a tour, so I definitely suggest it!

Kristen, Student Blogger: Rome in Less than 24 Hours

KR06.06.02We completed Rome in 24 hours. We booked an Airbnb one of the first couple of nights in Torino for the night, right next to the Vatican for 30€. We struggled to find a cheap and convenient flight for the trip though. Somehow through deleting our history and continuously hunting we found one by Tuesday. We also found 12€, skip-the-line tickets for the colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.  We woke up at 4AM on Saturday to make the bus in the center of Torino by 5AM. Figuring out which bus to get on was quite the hassle. No businesses were open and no one on the streets that early was wanting to speak English. Thankfully, (shout out to the Charleston Vision Center), I spotted a bus two blocks down the road with a sign for the Torino Airport. It was smooth sailing from there until we got to Rome. Even though we had tried to research, we had no idea how we were going to get from the airport to our Airbnb, in Rome cheaply and fast. Maybe not our best decision, but we found a guy that offered to take us straight to our Airbnb location for 15€ each. We got in a SUV with a couple from Canada and a couple of guys who spoke Italian. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time to see everything so getting to our place as fast as possible was essential. On our way in we didn’t see a lot but we did see the wall for the Vatican. There were lots of people standing outside waiting in a line… Another thing we had not planned for. There was no way we could stand in that long line all day and still have time to go see the colosseum, the city and Trevi Fountain. But there was also no way that we could come to Rome and not see St. Peter’s square, the Sistine Chapel and the St. Peter’s church. We got to our place and frantically started scouring the Internet for possibilities of what we could do. A lot of the skip-the- lines for the Vatican wanted you to book 3 days in advance not 3 hours…  We kept coming up with dead ends.

Somehow, by the grace of being so close to the Pope or God himself, we found a skip-the-line tour starting in 15 minutes. We ran to the opening and had a guard point us in the right direction for where the tour were to start. For the tour, we got handed a radio and head phones in which our tour guide talked to us through the tour. The first part of the tour consisted of paintings and tapestries by Raphael and various other famous ancient artists. In the middle there was some contemporary art that I didn’t get any pictures of and finally the Sistine Chapel close to the end. Within the Sistine Chapel visitors were asked to be silent and not take pictures or video in respect for the worship area. The art and architecture was unbelievable. After the Sistine Chapel, we went into the unbelievably huge and beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica. We walked out into St. Peter’s square. Definitely well worth the hefty price we paid for the last minute fast entrance.

Okay so afterwards we hopped on metro to the Colosseum. Again, totally amazing and glad we got a fast entrance to see everything there. We sat at a restaurant right outside of it and had lunch with the monument. A subway back led us straight into the center of Rome where we were able to buy some souvenirs, see the Trevi Fountain, The Piazza Colonna, the Piazza di Montecitorio, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, the Piazza dei Tribunali and finally Castel S. Angelo. The final Castel gave us a gorgeous view where we could see the river, Fiume Tevere, the Vatican and the Castel all to wrap up our wonderful day spent in Rome. We left back to Torino on a 10:50 flight to come back to our less touristy, more Italian, much loved home.

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week #1

Day #2

Breakfast is at 9am when we don’t have school.  We had bread, like a croissant, with a slice of ham and cheese, sliced bananas, and tea.  They gave me Coca Tea, which is supposed to be really good for helping with the altitude.  I later learned that it’s related to cocaine, so be conscientious of that. If you work in the medical field (which gets drug tested a lot), or will be returning home quickly, you probably shouldn’t drink it, as it can test positive in a drug test for a while.  The tea itself is legal, though.

My first shower here was quite chilly because the water is heated electrically in each shower as you use it, and I couldn’t get mine to work.  I haven’t done that since; I really dislike cold water.  Then Yolanda, one of my host moms (there are many people in this house) showed me how each key works.  I have one for the garage, one to get from the garage to the house, one to get into the apartment (the entire 4th floor), one to get into my room, one for my balcony, and one for my desk (6 keys!!).  Then I took a very short walk to the bakery to buy something for lunch and to the store across the street to buy my own water, as travelers shouldn’t drink the tap water in Ecuador.  I then sat on my balcony and got my blog up and going, since I didn’t think ahead enough to do that prior to leaving home.

For dinner, we had cabbage soup, then a dish with noodles, and ice cream for dessert, my favorite.  After other students using my shower because they struggled with their hot water, too, I Skyped with my boyfriend, Jimmy, and called it a night.  At this point, I could tell that I was at a much higher elevation because my chest was tight when I went on my walk.  Otherwise, though, I was just tired.  This soothed another of my fears: not handling the adjustment to the altitude well.

Day #3

Day three was my first day of classes.  We had bread and butter, pineapple, and more coca tea for breakfast.  The student from Canada and I walked together; it’s about a 1 mile walk exactly.  I started out as the only student in Edison’s class this week, and we just reviewed things that I should already know.  Then we waited for 2 other students to finish their classes, so that we could all eat together.

The other students, a grown man (the self-proclaimed old man) from Colorado, and a 25 year old woman from Germany, met us and we had “Italian” for lunch.  It was neither Italian nor American-Italian, but it was quite good!  Food here is cheap, Spaghetti with a soda, garlic bread, and a small salad cost me $5.50, which is in the middle range for lunch here.

After some time at the house to rest, the student from Canada and I took a taxi to Parque Carolina.  Fun fact about the taxis: the internet is paranoid.  IT tells you to always call for a taxi, or to do this or that.  Really, this is unnecessary.  The most safe you can be is just to take the taxis with the red/white/green “taxi” sign on the top.  These are the most regulated and I believe they’re government registered.  At night or early in the mornings, you should call to make sure you get where you need to go, though.  This park was huge!  It had a botanical garden that we missed and will return for.  It has a skate park, a dog park, a manmade pond for paddle boating, ice cream vendors everywhere, a running track (1km, I believe), soccer fields.  The taxis here are inexpensive, as well.  Our taxis cost $2.50 there and $3.50 back because of traffic.  Just make sure to have them use the meter, or negotiate a rate beforehand.

Dinner, as usual, was delicious.  We had soup with a vegetable very similar to spinach, but not spinach.  Then rice with a sauce made from some kind of small pea (I hate peas, and this sauce was good), and chicken breast, and then blackberry juice for dessert.

Day 4

Breakfast: bread with blackberry jelly, cantaloupe, coca tea.  Day two of classes, and they moved me to a different class.  This happens often, to try to keep students with other students close to their difficulty level.  There are only 6-10 students at this school at a time, and there’s no time minimum or maximum on how long to stay, so things get shuffled around frequently.  I’m now with the student from Germany and our teacher is Fernanda.  Today is a holiday, the anniversary date of the Battle of Pichincha, in which this region of Ecuador gained their independence for the last time. We talked about that, and the parade/4 hour long speech by the president.  This also means that we get Friday off of school.

After class, the two of us from the house walked to buy my mani de dulce (sweet peanuts, roughly translated).  I have to bring them to class tomorrow.  Every week there’s a lesson with all of the students.  Everyone brings one food from the topic, this week: grains.  We split an awesome lunch, too.  A slice of thin steak with two fried eggs on top, rice with that pea sauce, avocado, and we added a cheese empanada.  Then we just decided to walk.  We walked through the 2 free exhibits in the Museum of the City: one was a photo gallery (no apparent theme), and one was about the hospital that used to be in that building, the first hospital in the city.  Then, there’s a street called La Ronda that’s very trendy and popular.  Most of the restaurants and stores are only open in the evenings, but it was a nice walk.  At the end is a big, modern athletic complex.

Then we walked back to the road that takes us by the school.  We went in the Church of San Augustin.  They asked for no pictures to be taken, but it was quite beautiful.  There’s also a convent attached, which we didn’t try to go in.  On the walk back to the house, we bought movies to watch, and we bought ICE CREAM!  It was so good; most of the ice cream here is made with mostly cream, as opposed to water.  We watched the Incredibles in Spanish with Spanish subtitles to rest when we got back to la casa.

For dinner, we had soup with potatoes and barley, then a really neat 2nd dish.  It was a fruit, similar to a banana, mashed and formed into a ball with cheese inside of it, then fried in a pan.  Mango juice for dessert.

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Day 5

Since I’m obsessed with food, I’ll probably share what I eat for every meal, every day, in case anyone is as excited as I am about food.  For breakfast, we had bread with a slice of meat and cheese, a bowl of papaya, and apple cinnamon tea.

I had my very first walk to class alone, which went just fine, as usual.  The biggest concern here during the day (to my knowledge) is pickpocketing, and I walk faster than almost everyone here.  This makes it easy to notice if anyone is keeping up, and I haven’t felt threatened by anyone or anything yet.  This was the day that we all shared our grains.  There were lots of them, and I’m a bit behind on journaling and blogging, so ask if you’d like to know about them.  My favorite was choclo mezcla, different types of corn mixed together with cilantro and some other seasonings.  It was very plain, but good.

After class, I ate with some other students.  Chicken soup, pork with mushroom sauce (I LOVE MUSHROOMS) and rice, and juice to drink.  So far, the food and drink from restaurants haven’t posed a problem.  We eat at places that seem clean, and if I order water, I order it bottled.  The juice hasn’t been an issue thus far, either, and it’s one thing that many people warn against.  Risk vs reward, I guess.

On the walk back home, it started to rain.  And I mean RAIN.  It wasn’t incredibly scary or anything, but there was a significant amount of water running down the streets, and some thunder and lightning, too.  We decided to wait for a lull in the storm, and then get a taxi.  The taxi rate here starts at $.50 for getting in, and the most I’ve paid for one so far has been $3.50.  Most of the time, it’s between $1.50 and $2.5o, unless you’re going far.

I then returned to school for the cooking class that I signed up for.  We made ceviche de camarones (shrimp).  It’s cooked shrimp; chopped: tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cilantro; lemon and orange juice; and a bit of ketchup, mustard, salt, and pepper.  We ate ours with popcorn on top, and I thought it was delicious.

We also had dinner with the family (lots of food today), and this was one of my favorites so far.  Soup with cabbage and bolsas (“bowls”), which are ground corn formed into a round shape with cheese inside.  That was good, but the best part was the second half.  We had boiled potatoes with an AMAZING cheese sauce, delicious veggies (I don’t even know how/if they were cooked, but they were so good), and meat that I’m assuming was pork. I definitely ate well this day.

Day 6

At this point, I got a little behind in my journaling, which is what I’m using to write the weekly blog posts.  I don’t remember what we had for breakfast, but we did have orange tea that smelled amazing.

In class, we discussed the holiday.  The 24th was the anniversary of the Battle of Pichincha, the day that this region gained its independence for the last time, but it’s also a 3 day weekend to celebrate.  We talked about this and the things that there are to do during the long weekend.  We also talked about our respective cultures much today: mine, of the USA, another student’s, of Germany, and the teacher’s, from Ecuador.

After class, 4 of us students ate (I can’t remember where), and went to see the churches.  First, we stopped at the Cathedral, which is, I believe, the oldest church in Quito.  Then we visited La Compania de Jesus.  I don’t have accents on my computer, so that phrase is missing like 3 important accents… Anyway, this church was beautiful!  This church and La Iglesia de San Francisco had a competition of sorts to out-do each other, and it was quite impressive.  There was lots of gold and arches and religious symbolism that I couldn’t describe.  A really cool part of this day was that Jason, the self-proclaimed “Old Man” of the students, also a super cool nurse, is also Catholic!  A very knowledgeable Catholic, at that!  So, we had a lovely tour of these churches with a very informative tour guide that we didn’t even have to pay for!  To get in, we asked about a student rate since it was a little pricey.  $2 for students was a lot better than $5!  Then, as it turned out, that also covered admission to the museum.  I believe it was the Metropolitan Museum, according to the map, but I’m still unsure. The museum was about the history of the equator and the process of finding out where it was.  Much of that discovering process was done by the French, so it was lovely to have another student there whose first language is French!

Then we went to the San Franciscan church, and wow.  This church is covered in gold, and I mean covered.  The other was beautiful and impressive, but I must say that this church is over-the-top.  With no fee to get in, we decided to pay the few dollars to get into the museum, too.  It used to house a convent, so it had a lovely courtyard with captive and wild birds and beautiful flowers.  The museum was about (I think) the history of the church, and it also had lots of artwork of Jesus, many sculptures.

After returning to our houses for a short while, we were then off to Salsa dancing lessons!  They’re in a part of town known as “Gringolandia”, or the place where the white tourists hang out.  Regardless, it was very fun!  We then went to a bar and ordered a delicious pizza with bacon, mmm, bacon, and enjoyed the night.

(Day 7 will be in the next post, and there’s a reason why.)

Kristen, Student Blogger: Tour of Torino

Blog #3 Tour of Torino

On our, second day of class, we went on a bus tour of our new home for the next few weeks. The city of Torino has a lot of history surrounding it. The USAC coordinators stood at the front of the bus and told us about the city. Sites we saw:

  • The “Po” River- right outside our school. The river starts in Piedmont, Italy and ends in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. It was previously named Eridanous in Greek mythology.
  • The Lingotto Mall- What might seem like just a mall was actually the starting point for Fiat. Fiat tested their first cars on the roof the building. Now they have building on the other side of the city.
  • 2006 Winter Olympic Stadium- With a cost of about 4.1 billion the stadiums now serves as a park on the outside. They will host concerts sometimes but for the most part, is gated off from entrance into the actual stadium. During the Winter Olympics, the Alps, about an hour and a half out of town served as the spot for where the mountain sports took place.
  • Underground Roman Ruins- The city is full of old Roman structures. Near “The Shroud” is the Palantine Towers. These towers serve as what used to be one of the 4 major gates guarding the city. There is supposedly a “Magic Turin” tour where you can also see the Roman ruins of tunnels underneath the city.
  • Torino is special in that it lies on the axis of the myth of dark and white magic. It shares the white magic axis with Lyon, France and Prague. It shares the dark magic with London and San Francisco. This is not something that I know a lot about or our tour guides. If we get the chance we’re hoping to go on the “Magic of Turin” tour to learn more.
    • “Gates of Hell”- this statue is within five minute walking distance from my apartment. This serves as a reminder of the dark magic in the city. It is said to be on the west side of town because this is where the sun sets, the darkness come on first. As you can tell from my picture it is a dark angel atop men reaching for the top. The place of the most “light magic” is said to be where the Holy Shroud is placed.
  • Basilica di Superga- This church sits on top of the mountains in southwest Torino. It looks all across the city and took about 15 minutes get to the top of. This was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen with the combined church, river, alps and city itself.
  • Piazza Vittorio Veneto is a very large Piazza is very large shopping and restaurant center in western Torino. It sits right next to the river and has a great view of Gran Madre di Dio.