The Lake District: A Field Trip for Big Kids!

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I am still here in Sheffield geeking out on science! One of my best decisions so far was to take a course called Research Techniques which is for Physical Geography students. The aim of this course is interesting because this is where the Sheffield undergraduate students have to come up with their dissertation topic that they will pursue until graduation This class is also unique as it requires a week long trip as a group to the coveted Lake District of England. We completed this trip two weeks ago.

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First of all, the dissertation. At first, I didn’t think I would get as much out of this project as the other students since I will not be graduating at the University of Sheffield. However, I met with my advisor here and she introduced the most fascinating idea to me. I don’t want to jinx it, but let’s just say it involves bringing a successful environmental project from the UK and using GIS and Remote Sensing to try and forecast how much of an improvement it could bring to U.S. waterways. I am really excited to have found a bridge between the two countries and think that I have found a topic that really excites me.

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Now, the Lake District. When I first signed up for this course, I was a little nervous about this trip. Me, and 80 English students that I don’t know at all sleeping, eating, and working together for a week. The thought freaked me out a little I must admit. However, it was a really rewarding and wonderful experience. We studied glaciology, hillslopes, and climatology. In the second half of the week we split up into groups to work out a hypothesis and set out to the field to prove or disprove it in a final presentation. I won’t go into the boring details, but what fun we had! We spent two days up on the mountain working, laughing, talking, and freezing! At one point we had to come down to seek warmth in a nearby church which was probably chillier than the mountaintop! At the end of the day we came back to our hostel and all ate supper together and then joined up in the hostel “pub”, which was a man behind a counter selling wine and pints of lager. This activity happened nightly and it was enjoyed by students and professors alike.

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Then the final day of presentations came. Up there in the mountains, we all listened to each others presentations in a room in our cozy hostel. We all sat with cups of tea and listened and asked questions. We all did a great job and learned so much from each other. I was impressed by my classmates and all of their knowledge. When the bus brought us back to Sheffield I felt a little pang of sadness realizing that I already missed my big, cozy group.

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A Storm of Reality

 

The first few weeks of my London experience where like a dream. Between classes, I spent my time shopping, going to museums and going out with friends. Add some music and it was a perfect movie montage. Then, once I started to get settled into my life here, real life reared its ugly head. Something that I never actually anticipated happening while I was here happened. I got sick. I couldn’t believe it. The wet London air had seeped its way into my body and settled in my lungs. For weeks I was coughing so much that I thought I would sprain a lung (if that’s possible). Finally, my roommate convinced me to face my fears and go to the doctor. This is when a second shock occurred. It was easy and relatively painless. Between the insurance that I had been dubious of and help from some friendly faces here, I was in and out of the doctor’s office in just over an hour with cough medicine in hand.

Along with battling the world’s longest and possibly most annoying cough (not an exaggeration, I may apply to the world record book), just after the first month London glow was fading from my life, my computer crashed. It didn’t just crash, my screen went blank. Back home I would have rushed it to the nearest Best Buy and left it in the capable hands of a friendly Geek Squad associate. I had no idea what to do with it here. A few weeks went by where I spent a good amount of time in the school computer lab and then one day, I was walking down Oxford Street and I spotted it, a Geek Squad logo. I rushed in, nearly cried of relief and dropped my sad, broken down laptop at their feet. Finally, I am up and running with a semi-working computer (the screen still cuts off every once in awhile but at least it works sometimes).

Although both of these came together in a storm of reality, looking back, I can’t really bring myself to get to terribly upset about it. These are problems that I had dealt with back home all the time. Sickness and computer issues are just part of everyday life. The first month London glow was great but even better is the feeling that I am carrying on a real life here. Slowly but surely I am making this my home and I couldn’t be more thrilled, computer problems and all.455

Springtime in Sheffield

 

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Here in Sheffield I am feeling like a fish in water. I decided to find my own housing and have gotten so lucky with my new “flatmates”. Today we went to work on their friend’s plot in a giant allotment garden. Apparently it is the biggest allotment garden in all of Europe. It was a wonderful spring day in England and the flowers are popping up.

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Yesterday I took the train to a random place I had never been. I ended up in Huddlesfield, England. It was a beautiful little college city an hour north of Sheffield. The air smelled fantastic! I wandered around and explored little shops and had tea and a “bap” in a little cafe. The trains in Europe are my absolute favorite thing. There is a special feeling in European train stations that I can’t get enough of.

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 My classes are taking off and getting a little intensive now. Some things that I have come to realize about taking physical geography classes in England:

1. Practice the metric system before you come.
2. Bring “wellies”
3  It is a great choice!

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Home Is Where the Heart Is

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It’s been 2 months since I came to Mérida. The experience of being fully immersed into a new culture with its own values, traditions, and cuisine has been indescribable. To truly learn a new language and its beauty, one has to first have some understanding of its culture. The progress in my Spanish skills is higher than I had expected it to be. I cannot take the smile off of my face waking up every day to a warm summer-like weather. The richness and uniqueness of food that I was able to try has only complemented my stay here. This has been a lifetime experience. Nonetheless, as much as I am in love with the Yucatecan culture, my heart has started to long for home.

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Even though I love and appreciate every bit of knowledge that I have gained here, in all honesty, I cannot wait to finally say “home sweet home.”

Now more than ever, the nostalgic faces of the DePaul students in Mérida appreciate the quarter system. We all agreed that 10 weeks is an ideal amount of time to stay abroad before homesickness starts taking its toll on the overall experience.

Although the next two weeks will be filled with final papers, presentations, and exams, they will also be filled with self-reflection, what Mexican culture has taught me and how it has altered my personal values.4-lina

I better start preparing myself for the end of this summer-like weather and hope that warm sunshine will follow me to the Chicagoland.

Yours truly,
Lina Juocepis

A Perfectly Overcast, Drizzly and Slightly Chilly Day in the English Countryside

Whenever you learn that you will be visiting somewhere new, your mind starts to form ideas and images as to what that place will be like. When I first learned that I would be spending five months in England, my mind formed two distinct pictures. The first included West End theatre, brushing shoulders with stars and royalty, art, museums and cobbled streets. This is exactly what I found during my first month in London.

The other picture that I have had set firmly in my mind was that of rolling green hills, overcast days and sheep. My first few weeks were sadly devoid of sheep. Then, last weekend, I travelled to York. We spent the first night in the picturesque town of York, wandering around the famous York Minster and exploring all of the quaint shops that the town had to offer. Then, after a rather horrific and scarring night’s stay in a hostel, we headed off to Fountains Abbey.

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It was in this beautiful place that I found the carbon copy of the picture that I have had in my head since day one. We wandered around an ancient, crumbling abbey, explored the green landscape and I even got to see sheep. Hundreds of sheep. (It was a very exciting moment for me.) It was overcast, drizzly and slightly chilly. In other words, perfectly English. Wandering the green landscape with my good friends, taking crazy pictures and climbing over the ruins of the abbey (and sheep, don’t forget the sheep) added up to be one of the best days that I have had since coming to England.

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Thoughts on the Acropolis

As my second week in Athens draws to a close, I have certainly been busy with orientations and classes.  There are so many places to visit in the city, but I have not had much time for sight-seeing.  This is especially agonizing since my institution, College Year in Athens (CYA), is in close proximity to many historically significant landmarks and public spaces.  It’s bad enough being taunted by the Kallimarmaro Stadium next door and the beautiful National Gardens across the street, but there is an absolutely spectacular view of the Acropolis from CYA’s student lounge.  Despite my packed schedule, I seized the opportunity on my first free day here to visit the Acropolis.

It was absolutely surreal to actually see an ancient place that I’ve read about in history books since I was in elementary school.  We spent the whole day there and at the Acropolis Museum, which only just opened in 2009, but I would (and probably will) go again in a heartbeat.  Rather than give a detailed account of my day, here are some of the highlights of my visit to the Acropolis:

1.Admission: It typically costs 12€ each to get into the Acropolis and the museum, but I was able to use my International Student Identity Card (ISIC) to get a discount. It only cost 6€ to enter the Acropolis and I got free admission into the museum.  While I certainly wouldn’t have hesitated to spend 24€ to visit the Acropolis, I’m always happy to save a dollar…or Euro.

Money well spent!

Money well spent!

2. The people: At the height of the summer tourism season, it is estimated that thousands of people visit the Acropolis each day.  While I visited on a rainy day in the low-traffic winter season, there were easily hundreds of people present.  It was fascinating for me to watch so many people speaking dozens of different languages around me.

I found people watching to be just as interesting as the sights themselves!

I found people watching to be just as interesting as the sights themselves!

3. The view: The top of the Acropolis provides a spectacular view of the city and surrounding mountains (which are quite the novelty for somebody who has spent almost her whole life in the Midwest).  On a clear day, I’m told that they Aegean Sea is also visible from the top of the hill.  We weren’t so lucky that day, but the view was nonetheless amazing.  Plus, the clouds photographed extraordinarily well!

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4. The caves: This was by far my favorite part of the visit.  While I was unaware of this at the time, the slopes of the Acropolis are dotted with many caves.  While these are off the main trail, they seem to be open for visitors to explore (judging by the fact that none of the employees stopped us from doing so).  I later found out that these were once used as sanctuaries and altars for various Greek gods.  In recent years, they have been the sites of several archaeological excavations.  Not only did we have a good time looking around these caves, but they provided excellent shelter during the worst of the rain!

My fellow CYA-er outside the Cave of Zeus.

My fellow CYA-er outside the Cave of Zeus.

My visit to the Acropolis certainly made me understand why it is one of the most visited landmarks in Greece.  While we spent almost the whole day there, I certainly intend to go back.  Luckily for me, I am enrolled in an Aegean Art & Archaeology class.  This class will meet at various museums and archaeological sites throughout Athens.  Three of these classes will meet at the Acropolis, so hopefully they will help me to better understand the significance in both the past and present.

Thus Far in South Yorkshire

I suppose my experience is different from other students at DePaul. First of all, I am 34 years old. I have lived all over the world and can say that I am a pretty seasoned traveler by now. This is precisely why it has taken me so long to get here. I have always been an adventurer, and it has been very hard for me to settle down.  I know many random travel tricks such as how to save money on a hotel by taking the night train across Europe, how to drive on the left in New Zealand, and how to dress in a way to blend in on the streets of Morocco.

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That doesn’t make my current situation any less new or exciting. I have just arrived here in Sheffield to study physical geography. A topic that I adore and that is not offered very extensively at DePaul. DePaul focuses more on social geography, where I prefer to study geography of the physical planet. So needless to say, I couldn’t be more excited about my classes. Some topics of focus will be the archeology of pollen and seeds, geomorphology, and a week of fieldwork in England’s coveted Lake District, all things I never would have been able to study had I not done this program abroad. I really am so excited!
Today I took a day trip from Sheffield to Peak District National Park. A simple twenty minute train ride from the city of Sheffield. How wonderful to be able to get away from it all so quickly! The Peak District is made up of rolling hills, babbling brooks, and muddy paths. So far, this is is a great place and I am so happy I came.

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Julia’s Adventures in London: A Movie

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London is the stage for hundreds of movies, books, television shows and songs. Movies and shows are always being filmed here and stars can be seen walking the streets on a daily basis. Considering this, it is not surprising that I have started to see my life as a series of movie, television and literary references.

Yesterday, I was shopping in Notting Hill with my friends and kept looking around expecting to see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts stepping out of every door. The window in my room is broken and, being on the eighteenth floor, wind is rushing past making sounds that send me straight into the iconic twister scene from The Wizard of Oz. I half expect to look out my window and see an old woman riding past me on her bike cackling. Just a few hours ago, my roommate expressed the desire to find the house where the Parent Trap was shot and take pictures outside of it. What is even better is that I wholeheartedly agree. Of course we should stand outside a house (that someone lives in by the way) and take pictures simply because it was used in a few scenes in a movie that we loved as kids.

My Friend Meghann checked out a book title London: A History and immediately stated, “London: A History. I checked it out weeks ago for a bit of light reading” in a rather impressive British accent.

Not only do I make hundreds of references a day, but I have started to make my life a movie as well. I will be walking down that street and, in my head, background music is playing. (Usually this results in an added spring in my step followed by several funny looks from passersby.) Every time that I pass the BBC building (or “Mecca” as I have come to call it), I plan out the exact lines that I would say and how the relationship would progress if I were to casually bump into Matt Smith or David Tennant. (This usually involves flirty banter, an invite to continue this conversation over tea, a quick and passion filled romance, a huge wedding where Duchess Kate compliments my taste in fine china, two children and a title. Probably Lady Julia).

In short, my life has become a movie and London its’ set.

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Foreigner in a Foreign Culture

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What is a custom? Is it the language that we speak, or the food that we eat? Is it the color of our clothes, or the length of our hair? Is it one neighbor’s helping hand and the others high gated fence? Or is it all of it and none of it at the same time? I have spent 3 weeks in Mérida, and I keep thinking about how different it is here from Chicago, and yet at the same time how it is similar here as it is in Chicago. The winter in Mérida is warm, while the winter in Chicago is cold. Yet the winter in Mérida, feels just like the summer in Chicago. Both Mérida and Chicagoland are close to a body of water, thus you cannot escape the humidity. But it is such a nostalgic humidity here. I have to keep reminding myself every day that it is winter now and not summer.  The buses in Chicago have their specific bus stops, while here by waving your hand to stop the bus, or going up to the bus driver and saying “bajeme aquí por favor,” you make your own bus stop. Yet at the same time, the looks on the faces of the early morning bus riders are same anywhere you go; all have places to go, all have things to do.

I live very close by the park called “Parque de Colonia Alemán,” which is full of people every day. Monday through Friday they even have free aerobics classes, and I swear I see well over 100 women enjoying their exercise while others jog around the park, play with their children in the playground, or simply relax on the bench, listening to the birds serenading them. There are some obvious differences, yet I see people jogging, playing with their children, or simply enjoying the day at the park in Chicago.

People often like to make stereotypes for different cultures to set countries apart. Sadly, there is so much more to each culture than just the stamped stereotype that the outsiders put on a country as a whole.

So when I came to Mérida, I expected to see a lot of some of the most common stereotypes stamped on a Mexico. When I found very little of them, I was pleasantly surprised. One will never truly understand a custom or tradition, unless one will absorb into it him/herself. To understand a tradition, one has to wear it, eat it, hear it, smell it, touch it, speak it, and savor it.

With each day I feel that I can better understand and celebrate the Yucatan culture and its colorful, flavorful, and wonderful traditions.

¡Hasta luego!

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Leaving Guadalajara

Leaving Guadalajara was not easy. I realized that I had fallen into a rhythm and the scenes passing before my eyes as I rode the bus felt as if they had somehow become part of me. Every building, street, park and shop became very familiar and I almost felt like I was at home. It was a very rewarding experience and I learned so much about myself and also about many cultures. Before arriving to Mexico, when my journey first started, I was excited to learn about Mexican culture and hope that I would make sense of my Mexican identity. However, I didn’t learn what Mexican culture is exactly, in fact, I experienced many sides to Mexican culture in Guadalajara alone.

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Just inside Guadalajara I experienced dozens of different cultures/subcultures and it was interesting to get to know each one, though I am sure that I didn’t get to experience them all. I wish to briefly describe some that I encountered: The Tlaquepaque area is where the lower-middle class resides and it is here where we can experience both colonial architecture and more modern abodes. It is here where most tourists come to eat at traditional restaurants and shop for handicrafts. Tonalá is also a place to buy crafts, but for cheaper prices and a wider variety, but is not a polished area. In fact, it is rather a low-income area, but many tourists find their way here to enjoy this different lifestyle. One can begin to find a different culture in Chapultepec Avenue; the youth dominate this place because of the many shops and bars. Throughout the year, concerts take place and different events where the youth come together and you can see who listens to reggae, rock, pop or heavy medal just by what they wear. Then there is the shopping mall Andares. I believe it to be the most beautiful mall I have ever laid eyes upon. This part of Guadalajara is high class. The architecture of the mall and surrounding skyscrapers are very contemporary and beautiful. This is the mall where celebrities are sometimes spotted. Of course, the culture witnessed here is much different than other areas of Guadalajara.

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Then there was school culture. I visited the Universidad de Guadalajara campus and it is much different than DePaul’s campus. It is a huge university, but I could not help but feel like the universities here resembled high school culture. Almost all students were found outside assembled in groups and it was very loud and cheery. It was also very different from Universidad Panamericana, the university I attended while in Guadalajara. This university is secluded and at the edge of the city of Zapopan. It also had the high school vibe because in order to enter, one had to show their student ID’s, so this school was very safe and absolutely gorgeous. Also, students will take classes based on their grade level and career and in consequence the students see their friends in every class, every year. From the very beginning, students are immediately immersed in material that pertains to their career choice, a big difference from DePaul and other universities in the U.S. For example, as a junior in the Communication school, at Universidad Guadalajara I would be expected to be proficient in story-boarding, Photoshop and other image/video/sound editing software.

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I really enjoyed my stay at this university because I felt very welcome and it had a great learning atmosphere. The professors really helped me feel welcome and they were very helpful. I was amazed at how wonderful everyone there was. Just as I feel pride for being a DePaul student, I also felt pride for being a Panamericana student, even if I only did attended a semester.

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