I have officially been in Europe for 3 weeks. I’ve finished an entire course, took a few weekend trips around the country, and even stayed in Stockholm, Sweden for a few days. I’ve eaten great food, terrible food, and had some interesting experiences while watching Danes drink in the streets at Distortion, one of the largest music festivals in Europe that spills socialization into the streets during the longest summer days. I’ll be honest in saying this post is as much for me as it is for my readers: whether you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences or not, it has been an excellent way for me to keep my thoughts straight through my adventures. So, This is going to be a small weekly review, from arrival to the start of my second session. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Festival’ Category
One of the best things about moving to the Southern hemisphere during a typically cold Midwest winter is touching down in the exact opposite season, though I definitely miss having to bundle up in order to go outside (not being sarcastic). I feel like I spend too much time starfished upon my bed with the fan on full blast as I sweat away in my air conditioner-less apartment. But I digress.
My first three weeks here in Rio were spent taking an intensive Portuguese course, building upon the foundation that I had constructed over 5 semesters of classes in Bloomington. Actually, I’m not sure if building upon is the right term, considering much of what I learned here immediately made much of the material I had committed to memory obsolete. Between different uses for tenses I had considered niche to being constantly told that a native speaker would never actually use that complicated conjugation I had spent weeks struggling with (which was often reflected in my course grade), the process of learning was more like being given the materials for construction and an idea of what the final product should look like and figuring out how all of the phrases should be cobbled together to obtain something near fluency. I’m still learning new words and structures every day, even though I haven’t had a formal class in almost a month.
That’s right, I’m in the middle of my first (of two, considering I am staying after classes end in June to backpack around South America before returning to Rio for the Olympics) summer vacation of 2016. Things got wild right off the bat, as just as classes ended Carnaval was beginning. Carnaval, for the uninitiated, is a giant, all-encompassing festival that lasts for what seems like an undetermined amount of time and completely takes over life in Brazil. You can walk out of your door towards the sound of music to find a group of a million plus costumed party goers had taken over the streets. The coordination of everyone knowing where to show up consistently surprised me, as I’d see the same people at ‘blocos’ across the city from one day to the next.
During Carnaval, the days blend together and I came out on the other side unsure of exactly what transpired. The adage “long days and short weeks” has never struck such a chord. G rated highlights from my own experience include a couple of nights spent in the sambodrome (the stadium for the massive samba school parades that could take up to 90 minutes apiece) until sunrise, swinging my hips and singing along with the reveling marchers, the opportunity I had to actually march alongside a youth school whose floats I had helped decorate, the Beatles themed bloco with classic Beatles hits infused with samba rhythms and intensity, and the many times I got swept up in a parade and succumbed to the energy all around.
After this period which can rightfully be described as insanity, I decided I needed a vacation from my vacation, so on I went to Buzios, a fishing village turned beach resort town popularized by a 1960s visit from Brigitte Bardot. I am typing this up right before I hop on another bus to continue taking advantage of this closing window before I have to get back in time for the beginning of the semester and my classes at PUC, my Brazilian university and the official reason I came to Rio.
I’ve always thought that studying abroad is as much about learning about yourself as it is learning about another culture and language. You can become proficient in a language without ever stepping outside your home, but it is stepping outside your comfort zone that allows you to become fluent. Cultural experiences outside of the classroom allow you to get to know the true essence of what it means to be a ‘carioca’ (or whatever locals are called wherever you decide to go), and interactions with these locals are what will connect you back to this period of your life long after you get back to the real world. Anyways, that’s the justification I’m giving myself, off on my next adventure to prove to myself that toucans are in fact real animals and not just some prank animators have been pulling on me my whole life.
As I really get settled in to my temporary life in Berlin, I’ve experienced a few things that are a must if you are ever to make it here yourself. Most are free or only cost a few euro and are well worth the time and money – you won’t regret it!
The Berliner Dom (or cathedral) is a must see and I highly suggest you purchase the audio tour version, which is just a headset you rent that accompanies you for only 3 euro extra. The architecture and history of the Dom are amazing and it is in the heart of Berlin’s Museum Island, so it doesn’t have to be your only stop!
Other than the main room of worship, there are multiple other floors you can access along with the crypt in the basement and a 360 degree walkway around the top of the Dom which comes with unbelievable views!
Another must-see in Berlin on Sundays is the flea market in Mauer Park. It has a little bit of everything for everybody with street music, food, and knickknacks galore. I sipped on some fresh squeezed orange juice while walking around, looking at the many interesting things different people had to offer. One of my favorite booths had boxes and boxes full of the neatest doorknobs. Odd find, but I’m sure they would give flare to any welcoming door.
The doorknobs and OJ were just a drop in the bucket of what this flea market had to offer. I went back last week just to watch the people and get more juice!
If you’ve done all these things in one day, odds are you are ready for some food! A Turkish-German staple here in Berlin is the Döner. It comes in many variations depending on where you get it, but always has meat, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and an array of sauces, if you so choose. It is comparable to a Greek gyro, but is really in its own category.
I’ve had several since I’ve been here and I haven’t had a bad one yet. I can already tell I’m going to miss them when I’m back home. A few more weeks to go, but I’m loving it here!
For the past four months I’ve been in Seville, everyone constantly talked about two things – Semana Santa (holy week) and la Feria de Abril (April Fair). All semester I had been looking forward to these two traditional Sevillan celebrations and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.
Semana Santa, or holy week, is the entire week before Easter Sunday. Because the city is so packed with people and the streets are impossible to navigate, the university cancels school for the whole week. Restaurants and local businesses may close during the week too. While holy week is technically a religious holiday, most residents in Seville take part in it for more of a traditional sense. Sometimes over three generations of families have been in the same hermandad (brotherhood) so whole families spend the day watching.
During the week, pasos (floats) from each respective church or brotherhood in Seville march from their church towards the main Cathedral. Some groups can walk up to twelve hours in the street holding candles, crosses, and the large floats. Residents spend all day in the streets, watching the pasos that go on from noon to sometimes 7 A.M. The spectacular images/floats/decorations during the week truly showed how beautiful a city Seville is.
While I traveled during the first part of the week, I was lucky enough to be in Seville for the second half of Semana Santa. In the U.S., there is such a focus on the actual day of Easter, while here in Spain most of their focus is on holy week before Easter. Because my dorm is in the center of the city, getting around during Semana Santa was nearly impossible. Thousands of residents come out during the week to watch their family and friends during their procession and the streets are difficult to walk through. While I enjoyed watching the pasos (floats) of different processions, by the end of the week I was thankful for the streets to clear out a bit and have the city return to normal.
While Semana Santa is a more religious celebration, la Feria de Abril is much more a festival. Always two weeks after Semana Santa, la Feria is a week-long celebration of flamenco, family, manzanilla, and fun. Again, university classes are cancelled for the week and lots of businesses are closed. Starting on Monday at midnight, there is a ceremonial lighting of the entrance known as alumbrao. Thousands and thousands of tents are laid out among the fairgrounds – all containing tables, food, drinks, and space for dancing. While some tents are public, the majority are private tents owned by businesses, organizations, or families. In addition to the tents, there are tons of typical amusement park attractions – swinging ships, ferris wheels, and tons of other attractions. Women wear typical flamenco dresses and flowers while men wear suits.
Again, like the week of Semana Santa, I took advantage of the time off of school to travel a bit. I returned to Seville during the middle of the week and was able to participate in all activities Feria. While on the first day I went towards la Feria during the day, I quickly realized that it is more alive during nighttime. Most times I went to la Feria my friends and I didn’t leave our apartments until around midnight or 1 A.M. and returned home around 5 or 6 A.M. (and surprisingly there were still thousands of people there).
One of the nights I went to la Feria my friends and I spent almost the majority of the time on amusement park rides. Not having been to an amusement park since high school, we had much more fun than anticipated on the rides. Each time we went we walked around, danced, and somehow persuaded our way into private casetas (tents). Tents are filled with all types of people where you can talk, dance, and drink. During the final Saturday of la Feria, my friends and I went to la Feria again and spent the majority of time together in a large group. Overall, each time I went I met new people, did something different, and finally understood why everyone had been talking for four months about the thrill that is la Feria.
Last week was the end of the honeymoon phase of my exchange program in Adelaide. Before last week, my days consisted of shopping, exploring and partying in the city. It felt more like a holiday (vacation) than a study experience. Then, classes began at Uni and I have to admit I felt a bit shell-shocked. I hadn’t done anything related to school since December. I’d had no academic readings to complete, no lectures to attend and no online content to continuously check (except for Facebook, of course). I felt assaulted by the sudden amount of work and embarrassed by the inadequacy of my preparations and organization.
Then, after making it reasonably successfully through the first two days of classes, I panicked and left class early on Wednesday. I left class early because the bites I’d woken up with on my legs that morning and the day before could no longer be ignored. My worst nightmare about Australia was unfolding before me: mysterious bites from an unknown creature that appeared red, angry and swollen. One bite had a red tail trailing off to one side. I made essentially the worst decision I could have made and Googled the bites during class. Top results were 1) poisonous spiders and 2) infection. I immediately excused myself from the room and went in search of the nearest doctor.
University of Adelaide is a smaller university than IU, so you’d think they would have walk-in doctors appointments, but that turned out not to be the case. The lady behind the counter wouldn’t even look at my bites, and her advice was to call the next day a 9 a.m. to see if there had been any appointment cancellations. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to see me until Monday. Next I tried the Dean at my residence, St Mark’s College. Her advice was to see one of the sixth year medical students at the college, but he was nowhere to be found. So I asked my friend Daniel to walk with me up the street into North Adelaide to find a chemist (pharmacist).
The chemist was kind, but when she came around from behind the counter to look at my bites, all of her professionalism disappeared. She gasped and put a hand to her mouth, then brought it down to say, “I think you need to see a doctor.” Exhausted from my earlier attempts at finding a doctor, I fought the urge to cry as I asked where walk-in appointments might be available. She gave me the addresses of two places, both outside of walking distance from St Mark’s. When I left the shop, I finally burst into the sobs I’d been holding back. I had no car and felt intimidated by the public transportation. I wanted to give up and, more than anything, to call my parents. I couldn’t do the latter and Daniel wouldn’t let me do the former, so he found someone from the college to drive us to Prospect Medical Centre.
My walk-in consultation was free, but the downside was Daniel and I had to sit waiting for hours. When they called me back after the first hour, I was excited. Finally. But all that happened was a lady who didn’t appear to be a doctor took a look at my bites, confirmed how terrible they looked and told me she’d put me on the waiting list for a walk-in appointment. I sat waiting for another hour and a half before seeing an actual doctor who told me the bites were likely from a mozzie (mosquito) and I was just having an exceptionally bad reaction to them. He prescribed me $45 worth of antibiotics, antihistamines and steroid cream.
The next few days were hazy, both from the medication and a sudden onset of homesickness. I grew impatient with my friends in Adelaide and started intensely missing friends back home who had known me for longer than three weeks. I was easily irritable and moody and left two parties without saying goodbyes. One night I sat outside alone for more than two hours watching a light show on the theater that was part of the Adelaide Festival. When I looked up to see the stars and the moon glowing brightly in the sky, I was suddenly struck by the fact no one in Indiana could share the view with me because it was daytime there. I felt immediately far away and incredibly alone.
Saturday night after leaving the second party of the weekend, I messaged my friend Ameen to tell him what a terrible time I was having. He suggested I make a trip out into the Adelaide suburbs to see him and his roommate, Ahmed. It was quieter there, he said, and I would enjoy the bus ride on the O-Bahn, a special track for buses leading from Adelaide to Tea Tree Gully. I hesitated once again out of fear of public transportation, but decided I needed to grow up and take a risk. After all, my own attempts at lifting my mood had been rather fruitless.
Sunday evening I hopped on a bus and took the O-Bahn out to see Ameen and Ahmed. It was a wonderful one-night break from the city. We took it easy, watching Australian comedians on YouTube and shows on TV. Then in the morning I woke up to the sound of birds and even the sound of a short rain. The rain cleared and we took a walk through the suburbs to grab some lunch. My spirits rose from the darkest of places to soaring heights. The beauty of the suburbs was consuming, with the hills so close by and the houses and fences a patchwork of reds, yellows and oranges. As Ameen cleaned the kitchen and I waited to catch a bus back into the city, I breathed in the fresh air coming from the open window and felt the most relaxed I’d been since my arrival in Australia. The suburbs of Adelaide felt like home.
I carried my refreshed mind and heart back into the city and everything felt lighter. The weather was perfect and I wandered slowly through Rundle Mall and across the River Torrens back to St Mark’s. I finished the last of my medication after dinner and saw that the marks from my bites were disappearing. I went and saw my second show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival that night and took a new path home to see all the lights and special art displays of Blinc (part of the Adelaide Festival) along the river.
Though the second week of classes has now begun and I’m already playing catch-up on readings, I’m no longer feeling homesick and I feel more equipped for what’s yet to come this semester. Now I know the next time I feel like giving up I just have to keep going. And even though I’ve only known my friends here for three weeks, I can trust they’ll always be there to lift me up when I’m feeling down.