Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

Summer Vacation 2k16


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.


Top End of the NT

Sarah Whaley

My last holiday before leaving Oceania was to the Top End of the NT. In other words, the northernmost segment of Northern Territory Australia. The Australia everyone thinks of when they think of the land down under: red dirt, termite mounds and crocodiles. Home of Crocodile Dundee and the land of two seasons, wet and dry.

bridge in woods

Northern Territory: It doesn’t get much more Crocodile Dundee than this.

July is in the midst of the dry season, meaning water levels are down, you’re less likely to stumble across crocodiles in your swimming hole and the heat isn’t humid and oppressive, at least on the coast. When I got off my red-eye flight at 1:25 a.m. I welcomed the change in temperature from chilly Adelaide. Finally I could wear all those summer clothes I’d brought to Australia, mid-winter.

I chose to not do the touristy thing in the NT and stay in website-recommended hotels. Instead I lived with friends from St Mark’s, Callan and Glen. I chose to let them show me the places they love rather than the Lonely Planet Top 10. I still ended up seeing half of the Top 10 and cramming several weeks’ worth of attractions into one.

My first three days were spent in Darwin, the largest city in the sparsely populated NT. I flew in on Territory Day, the anniversary of self-governance being handed down to the Territory by the Commonwealth Government. Its finale is known more commonly as Cracker Night because for one day only proud Territorians can purchase and set off fireworks (much to the dismay of volunteer firefighters). I watched fireworks spring forth from the beaches of Darwin’s many bays as my plane landed.

Over the next three days, Callan showed me many of the places I had seen by the light of the fireworks that first night. Casuarina beach and Callan’s personal favorite, East Point Reserve. During World War II, East Point served as a military base for the defense of Darwin and today you can explore the gun emplacements and tunnel entryways that remain. The reserve is also a favorite place for wildlife like wallabies and bush turkeys, which build nests of dirt and plant matter several times larger than themselves. They are best seen by biking the off-road trails in the early evening.

biking through the woods

My first experience off-road biking to see wallabies.

Callan and I ran down to the coast to watch the sunset every night in Darwin. The first night we watched from a lookout on our way to Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, a magical place that draws what seems like the entire city to the beach for exotic foods, artisan wares and variety performances. The advantage of markets in the NT weather is that they can be open regularly year-round. While tourists love the markets as much as the regulars, it’s fun to watch the regulars banter with the vendors they know so well.


First sunset in Darwin.

Crowd gathered around performer

A performer at Mindil Beach Sunset Markets.

My last full day in Darwin was the busiest, and also the 4th of July. Callan and I woke up early to drive to Kakadu National Park and take a jumping crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River. I never thought crocodiles would be so much scarier than sharks, but watching five meter male “salties” propel themselves out of the water towards a small clump of meat did the trick. The women who ran the cruise knew the crocodiles on that portion of the river well and had even named some of them, like Grover and Stumpy. They estimate for every crocodile you see above the muddy water, there are at least five others underwater nearby. We saw eight. In total, they estimate there could be anywhere from 2500 to 10,000 crocodiles in the Adelaide River alone and I will be the first to say I don’t want to find out. Some crazy tourists and Territorians with a death wish sometimes dare each other to swim across the river (at varying levels of intoxication) and it’s 50/50 whether they make it safely to the other side.

sitting on giant crocodile sculpture

Callan and I sit on a life-sized model of the largest croc ever caught in the Adelaide River.

crocodile leaping out of water for dangling meat

Grover, a 5 meter male “saltie,” leaps for buffalo meat.

After the cruise we headed to Berry Springs to swim. After watching crocodiles leap from water all morning, I wasn’t too keen on swimming, but the springs were wonderful. Looking at the water you’d think it was chlorinated because it’s so clear and beautiful. You can swim all the way from the bottom spring to the little falls at the top, which Callan and I did in spite of the current and the rocky shallow bits. It’s the ultimate natural swimming spot and I felt like a part of the nature around me as birds flitted in and out of the palms.

Group swimming by small falls

The small falls at the top of Berry Springs.

We wrapped up the 4th of July with a party and I met some of Callan’s Darwin friends. We went out on the town and even though Callan and I were exhausted when we returned to his home, we lit up some sparklers he’d saved for me so I could celebrate Independence Day the American way. He lit sparklers as well and listened to my rendition of “America the Beautiful,” probably one of the only Aussies to celebrate the American 4th.

Sarah with sparklers

Celebrating Independence Day while half a world away.

The next day my friend Glen and his brother David picked me up and we drove to Katherine. There I stayed with Glen’s family for a couple days, eating meals under the overhangs of the industrial shed turned home they live in. Like how the Weasley’s call their home “The Burrow” in Harry Potter, Glen’s family calls their home “The Shed.” While the rooms are sealed from wildlife entering them, the four main doors to the central living area remain open. They shared stories of snakes slithering above the dining table on the rafters and hearing wallaby tails hit the concrete floor as they hop through at night. During breakfast the wallabies were still often hanging about waiting for carrots to be tossed to them, including a mama wallaby with a joey in her pouch.

Glen and I toured all of his favorite spots in Katherine from Knotts Crossing to the low-level bridge to the incredible Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. Each place came with its own crocodile warnings, and Glen pointed out some crocodile traps along the river banks. People were still swimming or kayaking at each stop! Even Glen and I waded around in the water at low-level bridge. After spending hot days out in the Australian sun it was nice the relax back at The Shed with Glen’s family and friends. His mom invited some of her colleagues over the last night for dinner so I could ask them some questions about their Indigenous cultures. During some dizzying explanations of Aboriginal family relations, we enjoyed fresh fish and kangaroo with rice.

Sarah and Glen selfie

Glen and I at the low-level bridge.

Sarah on deck overlooking gorge.

Posing at a gorge in Nitmiluk National Park.

My last day in the NT, Glen and I took a Nissan Patrol through Litchfield National Park on the way back to Darwin. It had a snorkel on it, a feature of many of the off-road vehicles in the NT. When water levels raise during the wet season, some people who live out bush have to ford through water just to get home. We didn’t have to ford any water because it was the dry season, but we did pass meter sticks informing drivers of water depth. After a brief stop in Adelaide River for some deep-fried broccoli, chicken, cheese balls, Glen and I checked out bush fires that were still burning, termite mounds several times the height of a person and the monsoon forest surrounding Wangi Falls. The park was breathtakingly beautiful, but also breathtakingly hot. As we drove off-road through the red dirt I found myself secretly praying the car wouldn’t break down because other cars didn’t pass by often and all that could be seen to either side were heaps of shadeless trees and bush. Finally I was experiencing the Australia I’d always imagined. I fell in love with the topography and the red dirt that clung to my shoes and water bottle, but I still didn’t want to be stranded out in it with no phone signal to call for help.

Sarah next to giant vertical "mound"

Me in comparison to a cathedral termite mound in Litchfield National Park.

SUV on road

Our trusty Patrol out on the red dirt roads.

We made it safely to Darwin and I spent my final hours in the NT exploring caves along the seaside cliffs with Callan and having dinner at the sailing club with his parents beside yet another gorgeous sunset. Callan gave me a book on the Top End as a gift before sitting in the airport with me until 2:25 a.m. for my flight back to Adelaide. I didn’t want to leave and cried for both the last time I would see Callan and Glen before leaving Australia and for having to leave the warmth and sunsets of the NT. Adelaide is great, but in the span of one week Top End stole my heart. It turns out the Australia I love the best is the Australia everyone imagines. The Australia full of animals that can kill you and plants that provide no shade, but also the Australia of unsurpassable beauty. Callan said that’s great and all, but I have to come back and experience the wet season before I decide I want to move there. In the words of Barney Stinson, “Challenge accepted.”

Coastal Sunset

Can you blame me for wanting to move here?

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Trapped on Kangaroo Island and Other Adventures

Sarah Whaley

In the middle of semester one at Uni, this wonderful thing happens: students get a two-week break from classes. I should clarify it isn’t equally as wonderful for everyone. One of my friends had a professor explain it was a “break,” not a “holiday,” and promptly assign the class three or more assessments to complete. However, for me mid-semester break meant two weeks of traveling with my parents.

Our first destination was the South Island of New Zealand. I met my parents in Christchurch at the airport, and after a nervous drive on the left side of the road back to the motel, they fell asleep. They were tired from their travels, whereas back in Adelaide it was two and a half hours earlier and I was sleepless for some time. It felt strange seeing my parents again, even though the overwhelming feeling was excitement. I felt a bit alien in my own life.

Sarah visited by her parents

First hugs in two months.

However, I didn’t have much time for thinking on such feelings as the next morning I woke up to my 21st birthday, my first time feeding eels, and in the evening my first time seeing “real mountains,” the Southern Alps (to anyone who has seen the Rockies or the Swiss Alps, apparently the Appalachian Mountains don’t count). The rest of the time in New Zealand was a gorgeous, literally and figuratively breathtaking whirlwind. We drove to a different part of the island every day and stayed in different motels every night. We hiked to see glaciers and icebergs around Mount Cook, we swam under the stars in Queenstown, and we cruised on a rare sunny day at Milford Sound. Even when boarding the plane for Sydney I wasn’t convinced I’d actually visited such an incredible place, and it was hard to watch the awe-inspiring beauty disappear below me as the plane climbed higher.

Lake Tekapo

Surreal New Zealand beauty at Lake Tekapo.

All the same, I was eager to arrive back in Australia. That was until the third day in Sydney. The first day and a half were nearly perfect weather. We could wear short sleeves, something we hadn’t been able to do in New Zealand, and we visited the must-see tourist destinations like Bondi Beach, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House. I thought the Opera House was incredible – the pictures always make it look white, but when you’re close you can see the entire structure is covered in white and off-white colored tiles arranged in intricate patterns.

However, the next couple days were terrible. The aquarium and the wildlife center weren’t terrible, nor was meeting my friends for dinner on the last night, but the weather was horrendous. Papers were calling it the “storm of the century.” Other places in the world, the weather would have been categorized as a cyclone. Umbrellas were useless and their skeletons littered the streets, every piece of clothing you wore outside was soaked through in a matter of minutes, countless people were without power, and north of Sydney some houses were literally floating off of their foundations. The umbrellas lying lifeless in the streets were amusing, but the people who were dying were not. When the Sydney airport finally stayed open long enough to let us leave, I felt only relief.

trash can full of umbrellas

Umbrella casualties of the Sydney cyclone.

Sometimes people don’t realize the size of Australia. It’s comparable to the U.S., not only in size, but in variations of people, lifestyles, and weather across the land. When we arrived in Adelaide the sun was brilliant across the hills and houses. My dad exclaimed, “Now this is Australia!” After resting the first night in Adelaide and meeting up with some of my friends who’d stayed for the break, we headed out for what we thought would be a one day and one night excursion to Kangaroo Island.

Though Kangaroo Island can be seen from the South Australian mainland, it feels like it’s much further away in its floral and faunal diversity. It is an expensive trip, so one can’t just make it on a whim. The ferry alone for three people and one car was nearly AUD$500, but every second of our (extended) stay was worth it. Before I left, my friend Glen joked I’d be disappointed if I didn’t see a single kangaroo. He needn’t have worried, because merely a half hour onto the island we’d already seen a handful. Australians are pretty good about aptly naming locations.

The rest of the first day went as planned, though the sun sank faster than we could drive. We saw sea lions at the (un-aptly) named Seal Bay, the Remarkable Rocks (which truly are remarkable), and fur seals at Admiral’s Arch. By the time we were driving to our motel in Parndana, the sun was far below the horizon. On the ferry over we’d been warned of driving at night and keeping your lights low so as to not blind the animals, but nothing could have prepared us for the next harrowing hour and a half. I was crouched forward the entire time with my arms balanced on my knees and my hands clenched into fists beneath my jaw, eyes squinted and vigilant of any suspicious shadow on the road. My parents were similarly positioned and after passing or stopping for (and thankfully not hitting) ten possums, four large kangaroos, and 58 wallabies, our nerves were shot. No kangaroos, my hat.

We slept deeply until a storm jolted us awake, and in the morning we were ready to leave as the forecast continued to show rain. As we prepared to head out, Sue, the lady who owned the place, greeted us with bad news. The ferries weren’t running. We were trapped on the island for another day and couldn’t get a ferry out until 5:30 pm the day after. I was horrified: all my plans for showing my parents around Adelaide were shot. On top of that, I didn’t have any clean underwear. After being consoled by my parents, things started to look up. Not being able to leave the island meant we were going to make the most of our time there, regardless of the weather. We ended up visiting Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and I experienced one of the most memorable moments of my life, cradling a kangaroo joey. The joey’s name was Tigger and, as were the other animals in the park, he was a rescue. He’d been saved from his mum’s pouch after she’d been hit by a car. I fell for that little kangaroo right then and there and the rest of the day wasn’t so bad either. We explored the north side of the island and then watched some Aussie movies like Red Dog and Phar Lap while our clothes were in the wash.

Sarah holding a baby kangaroo

I now believe in love at first sight.

Our final day on Kangaroo Island was ANZAC Day, which was the centenary commemoration of Australian and New Zealand forces landing at Gallipolli, Turkey during WWI. Thousands of young men lost their lives, and many of the residents of Kangaroo Island at the sunrise service we attended had families that were affected. It was an honor to participate in the service and lay down a poppy in memory of the soldiers who died, not only those from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., but those representing all countries devastated by the loss the war resulted in. After the service, we ended up being able to catch an earlier ferry back to the mainland, but I’d learnt an important lesson that not all changes in plans are bad changes. Plus, how many people can say they’ve ever been trapped on an island?

traditional war dance

A Maori family from New Zealand performs a traditional war dance, or haka, at the ANZAC Day memorial service.


As expected I only had a short time to show my parents around Adelaide, but it was a wonderful time and I was glad to be back in the midst of what I know. I also finally had the chance to process the feelings of being alien in my own life I’d first experienced upon meeting my parents in Christchurch. I deducted it was almost a temporary reverse culture shock brought on my the (welcome) intrusion of my old life into my new one. My parents are still my parents, but my definitions of home and myself have changed. How could they not, with so many new experiences? I imagine the reverse culture shock upon returning to the U.S. will be ten times greater. All the same, it was sad to see my parents go and for the next week all the Aussies sounded funny again compared to my parents’ American accents. Though the next couple of months are full of as many uncertainties as the first few, one thing is for sure: Adelaide is, officially, home.

Sarah on Campus

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Celebrations in Seville

Carla Sraders

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.

Samana Santa

Sevillians carry floats weighing over a metric ton.


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.

Feria attire

Traditional attire for la Feria

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.

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Erik Trautman

Having returned home for the holidays I’ve been bombarded with the same question from family and friends, “How’s Italy?”. “I need a more specific question,” is my typical answer. Trying to synthesize a semester’s worth of experience aboard in a few sentences is like trying to throw a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle together in an afternoon, it takes time to understand the full picture. I’ve told them about some of the bigger events that have been covered in my previous blogs, but that doesn’t fully answer the question. Small clusters of experiences and insights in Italy remain disjointed but still speak volumes about the larger picture, that is my overall experience. In the name of these overlooked fragments I bring to you a mosh-posh of events that have escaped my previous blogs over the past few months.

Failed Attempt at San Luca

The “seven secrets of Bologna” are scattered throughout the city. You may pass them everyday and not know, I passed under one for weeks and didn’t notice it. I’ve discovered five of the seven, rather four and a half. Saint Luca sits on top of a hill on the periphery of the city. A week after arriving in Bologna a couple of BCSP students and I decided to climb the longest portico in the world to reach the pristine sanctuary. Bologna is famous for its covered walkways or porticos. Some date back to medieval ages when noble families tried to extend their properties by building not on public space, but above it. Now they are great because there’s always a place to hide from the rain, which is a frequent requirement here.

We left for Saint Luca a bit after seven o’clock with the intention of arriving just before sunset, which we would enjoy from the top. There are 666 porticos you must pass through to reach Saint Luca. I believe we reached portico 657, not because the hill on outskirts of the city becomes a mountain where you climb it one step at a time, but because we were met by a locked gate. Little to our knowledge, Saint Luca closes at 7:30; we had arrived about 20 minutes too late. That didn’t deter us, however, and we enjoyed the sunset from a nearby parking lot. This mishap gave us the unique perspective of San Luca from across the sanctuary grounds as the walls absorbed the last rays of sun light against a pink blush sky. I promised myself there to make the most out of everyday. I still haven’t entered the sanctuary, hence the four and a half secrets discovered but the sun sets earlier nowadays and I only have two other secrets to check off my list.

San Luca

San Luca from across the sanctuary grounds


Sunset from the parking lot

down the portico

Looking down the portico from the top

Stephanie’s first bus ride

If you ever visit Bologna you may spend a few hours turned about in the labyrinth of alleys that seemed to wind you around in circles. I suggest studying a map beforehand just to know some of the main areas. The downtown area seemed expansive upon arrival, but really to traverse it from one side to the other may take forty minutes on foot. After some time you should begin to get your bearings – that is, until you explore beyond the “walls” where an entire other city awaits you.

I say “walls” because the ancient wall is for the most part is­­ non-existent and has been replaced by an always-churning beltway of cars and buses, which rotates around the city like a carousel. The historic downtown, however, is still commonly referred to as the area within the walls. The gates of the ancient wall, on the other hand, still stand and are common bus stops.

If you plan on leaving the city center frequently you will most likely spend some time on the bus. Pay attention on the bus; it’s somewhat of a social experiment. You can see the man in an Armani suit standing next to an empty seat, checking his watch incessantly. Two rows behind him, a woman of Middle Eastern descent struggles to control her two wandering toddlers. At the front of the bus, a group of Italian teens gossip loudly while at the back, two raggedy looking men bob around in their seats, asleep. There’s plenty to learn observing the passengers but don’t get distracted because the bus itself can throw you for a turn. The same line has different stops on weekends and holidays and you can find yourself in unfamiliar neighborhoods with no knowledge of how you got there. That’s what happened to Stephanie the first time she took a bus. She eventually ended up at the bus station, far away from the city center. Naturally, she was frightened as she followed the bus driver into the station in the middle of the night, but what started like the plot to a bad horror film ended in the most encouraging way possible; the bus driver personally drove Stephanie home in his own car.

UN Dinners

My near and dear friend from the BCSP program, Katelyn, lives with four boys, bless her heart, and one other girl. Their apartment is somewhat a madhouse of guests due to them being a welcoming bunch and having an expansive kitchen that overlooks the scenic canal. Some of my best memories are of late nights at Katelyn’s surrounded by friends. One night, Katelyn’s roommate, Theo, invited eleven people to a potluck dinner. We collectively represented eight nations, and the food at the dinner was just as diverse. Theo made Indian food, Caroline made stir-fry broccoli, and Conor made a roast loin. I never expected to meet such a diversity of people in Italy.

dinner with friends from around the world

The man with the ladle on the left is Theo (French/English), to his right is Philip (German), Julian (German), Tommaso (Italian), Caroline (Canadian), Me, Gabriel (American) and the three people not shown are Nathan and Oscar (Belgium), Conor (Irish), and Katelyn.

Oktoberfest Bologna

Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany lasts from September 19th – October 4th. I was disappointed to hear I had missed it from returning BCSP participants who had made the trip. Luckily, Bologna holds its own version of the celebration and this time I was prepared – well, for the most part. We had a little difficulty reaching the fair grounds outside of town but my roommates Loris and Andrea came to meet Stephanie, Katelyn, and myself at the bus stop. The smell of wurstel and pretzels called from behind the flap of a giant tent. As we approached, I heard the hum of an accordion, chanting, and the stomping of feet. Behind the tent flap was a strange scene of Italians celebrating German culture, but I was glad to share and take part in the slightly altered celebration.

Stage at Bologna's Oktoberfest

View of the stage

my friends and I at the fest

The whole gang


My roommates and I decided early on that we would do Halloween costumes as a group. We juggled between zombies and the Scooby Doo gang, but eventually landed on the Addam’s Family. The results are uncanny. Loris went as cousin It and spent most of the night bumping into things due to his partial blindness on account of the hair and sunglasses. Andrea and I watched the Addam’s Family movie to get into character, and Francesca did all our makeup.

our Halloween costumes

left to right, top to bottom: Andrea as uncle Fester, Arianna as Morticia, me as Gomez, Francesca as Wednesday, and Loris as cousin Itt

Months had passed since our last gathering as a whole program. After pre-session ends everyone splits off on their own path. It was strange spending so much time with a group of people, getting to know them through shared hardships and then having many of them disappear. I kept in touch with a few and had some BCSP students in my classes but many of them I felt had dropped off the face of the earth. Perhaps it was that separation that made Thanksgiving feel so nostalgic. We all dressed our best for our last hurrah together at an exquisite restaurant off Strada Maggiore, and who knew italians would have such an outstanding grasp on Thanksgiving cuisine. There were rolls, green beans, turkey, cranberry sauce, and the pumpkin soup is still talked about to this day. It was my first Thanksgiving away from home but I still had so much to be thankful for.

dressed up for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving night

Concrete Jungle

One aspect of the Bloomington campus that I have really come to miss and appreciate is its integration with nature. The smell of trees and the sound of birds in the morning are rare commodities here in Bologna. I noticed this the day after Thanksgiving when I was walking back from Katelyn’s apartment in the morning. I turned the corner and heard birds chirping. You may not give this a second thought but it stopped me in my tracks. I looked around at the pigeons confused for a moment by what had snatched my attention. I looked up to see a birdcage hanging out of a second story window. For the last few months the only birds I was surrounded by were pigeons and I had not noticed the absence of birds chirping until that moment.

Groves of nature have found a way, however, to tuck themselves into the crevices of the medieval city. In a small park behind the an art faculty building off Via San Petronio Vecchio, a tiled ping-pong table sits atop a dirt patch in the shade. The net is a thin metal sheet and makes a derisive ding for every foul. Two curved wooden beams make up benches that border the table. The beam on the outside is raised, stadium style, and they have about enough space for three people but are occupied by various bags. Many epic matches have transpired there, including one Facebook official tournament, which seriously humbled my confidence at ping-pong.

Playing ping pong in the park

ping pong in the park

A kilometer or so outside Porta San Mamolo the hills of Villa Ghigi peer out over the south central city center. We went together as a program and picnicked at the peak and played games; although the Frisbee I brought wasn’t adept to the hilly terrain. It was our first trip as a program that was purely recreational and therefore it was truly appreciated. After the picnic I learned an Italian card game called scopa from a couple other students. It’s played with special cards that I hope will make a good stocking stuffer this holiday.

hills of Villa Ghigi

The hills of Villa Ghigi

Our group

Our group from a tree

As the semester comes to a close many students begin to reminisce on their time here. I’ve heard from quite a few that their favorite memory was the program trip to the Agriturismo. The muddy gravel road that snaked up the hill to the farm had me feeling shaky in the charter bus that honked at every bend to warn the traffic ahead. Once my feet touched the sacred ground, however, I never wanted to leave.

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I write these stories to you from the heavenly Fram Café, which sits at the foot of my block off Via Della Braina and Via Rialto. I’ve become somewhat of a regular here. My favorite barista greets me with a friendly, “Ciao” when I pass her on the street and this morning there was no need to order because she already knew it would be a cafè macchiato. It’s my last day in Italy before I returned to the United States for Christmas and nearly a month break before I return in January, the new year. I hope to keep the promise I made myself on the hill surrounding Saint Luca, to make the best of my time here, and to take the optimism I feel into the next six months in Italy. The Italian word for the day is “ricordi” or memories.

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