La Tarantella e Un Viaggio a Sicilia

Buongiorno! It’s now Thursday and I just finished up classes for the week with a midterm in my Italian grammar class. While the test was not exactly fun, I think we were all just relieved to get through it. Plus, we don’t have any classes tomorrow so a group of fellow Sant’Anna students and I all planned a trip to Sicily for the weekend! We leave from Naples airport tomorrow morning and land in Catania around noon. From there we’re taking a bus to Taormina, a Sicilian beach town, where we will all be staying until Sunday. Visiting Sicily is going to be incredible, and Taormina is supposed to be one of the most beautiful towns on the island. I’m definitely looking forward to relaxing on the beach for a few days, eating well, and forgetting all about that midterm I just took. Yeah, judging from the pictures of Taormina (see below), I think I should be able to enjoy it.Last night, my friends and I went to a live Tarantella performance at one of the restaurants in town. While not exactly a holiday, you’d have thought the dancers were celebrating something. The traditional costumes, songs, and dances made for an incredible show. The performers also got members of the crowd involved (including myself) by allowing them to play some of the instruments or dancing with them. In the picture below you can see the Tarantella costumes as well as the children at the table playing some of the traditional Neapolitan instruments.

Before we went to the show, we got a little history lesson on the dance from our host mother. Apparently, the Tarantella is widely regarded as Southern Italy’s most famous form of traditional music. The dance originated as a way to cure those who suffered from “tarantula” (actually wolf spider) bites, as it was supposed to help rid the victim of the spider’s venom. Another use for the dance in traditional times was as a means of courtship. The Tarantella began in the Puglia region (where Nick and I were last weekend), and then spread throughout southern Italy, taking on different variations in each area. I apologize for the quality of the pictures, but there was a lot of movement going on so it was difficult to capture any perfect shots. Seeing the show was probably one of the most interesting things we’ve done here in Sorrento. It was really cool to witness and take part in a little piece of Neapolitan tradition. The restaurant hosts the performance every Wednesday night, so hopefully we’ll be able to go again. And more than just being an interesting experience, it was also a lot of fun!

Well, there are now only two more weeks left in Sorrento, so I’ll definitely be doing my best to make the most of them. My next post will be coming once we return from Sicilia! Ciao!

le système de santé

Absorb the language, feast on baguettes, meet locals. So far, I have been eager to immerse myself in the beauties of la vie française. However, I neglected to realize that immersion does not discriminate. Sure, I found the culture, but it was a disagreeable, unappetizing, uncomfortable viral culture in my gut. But at least, it was an opportunity to experience the French système de santé.

I noticed my mysterious illness when I became fatigued in the middle of the day. Even after sleeping for 13 hours, I was exhausted. My stomach ached and my body protested everything I consumed. A pain woke me up on Sunday morning, so I decided to visit the hospital.

I went to Hôpital Universitaire Pitié-Salpêtrière, which was remarkably slow and dirty. Garbage littered the halls and ill folks slept on the floors. US hospitals smell like illness, but a sterile illness. When I was seen, I was directed to a city laboratory to give samples, and a pharmacy for pain medication. Laboratories and pharmacies are separate from the hospitals, and closed on Sundays and national holidays. I would have to wait two more days to receive medication and lab work. When in France, right? The pain medication did help though–see cover photo.

Two days later, I was finally able to pick up medication from the pharmacy without much trouble. The laboratory was a more complicated. The lab only took cash payments, and lab results take a week to turn out. Luckily, a few days returned my health to normal and was later verified by the lab results (long after the fact).

Though the French healthcare system is cheaper, it is also slower, dirtier, and caters not to the Sunday sick. The decentralization makes it difficult to navigate, and my lack of language did not make the situation easier. At the very least, I enjoyed engaging with the Parisian medical community. I would still recommend language tables, bars, and outdoor markets as primary methods of language acquisition, however.

Things are finally coming together!

Found a quiet street with beautiful old trees and a great place for coconut milk ice cream. 🙂

I will totally admit that it has not been easy finding all the things I need here! The city has a dizzying assortment of offerings at every turn. I also refuse to pay the 3x or more tourist price! Therefore, I make my life more complicated, but it is through this challenge that I learn the most about Chiang Mai. I am slowly acquiring local secrets! For example, I can get discounted fruit and veggies in the evening! It’s totally fresh, but certain stores need to sell it before closing time! Also, I’ve been learning which markets have the best deals and for what merchandise. I’ve been looking for a small and inexpensive electric fan for my room. I don’t want to run the air conditioner all night because it’s not only wasteful but it will run up my electric bill like crazy! Who knew it would be so hard to find a small electric fan in a hot country?! Well, after days and more hot days of hunting, I have found one and I am basking in the cool air as I type. Ahhhhhh, plus mmmmmmmm, I am eating my discounted mango slices.

Life is ‘sabai sabai’ right now.

This wonderful expression has many connotations, and one needs to truly absorb its array of meanings here in Thailand. It reveals itself in layers, and only if you let it. Sabai Sabai literally means doing well, and since it is said twice it means really doing well, but this is but a fraction of its actual meaning.

Sabai Sabai is an attitude.

It sometimes means relaxed, comfortable, or just plain chill. In some ways it is one’s ultimate acceptance of everything that is and will be….come what may…

Learning thai language requires an understanding of local customs, attitudes and histories. Sabai sabai is essential!

Notes!!! Learning new words for my flashcards!

My classes have been primarily focused on tone. Thai is a tonal language so the way you say the same word makes all the difference. Some classes felt more like singing lessons! Slowly, I am refining my tonal pronunciation. I’m so glad to be here for that reason. It’s so important to speak it and hear it constantly in order to fine tune the ear to the subtlety of tones.

The last few days have been really different. Abstract decorative script has started to become recognizable as sounds and syllables!!! I find myself always trying to read and sound out the words I see on the street.

I’ve been doing all sorts of things to learn thai…sparking conversation with locals, bargaining just to practice, asking directions to places that I’m not going to, watching Thai movies, making flashcards, thai word post-its all over my apartment, online apps, grammar drills, you name it! I just had to share this wonderful, hilarious video of a gal learning through song…

LOL!!!  Instead of LOL in thai – they use 555 because the way you say the number 5 is “haa.”


Tomorrow I will try a local language exchange meetup! Continue reading Things are finally coming together!

La Seconda Settimana

Ciao! My second week in Sorrento has now come to an end, and I just finished my first class of the day to start this third week. I’m now about halfway done with the program, and the thought of returning home in three short weeks is crazy to me. Classes are going great here, and I already feel like I have learned so much. Each class is about 3 hours long, so on the days when my literature and grammar classes follow each other back-to-back, my brain barely remembers English after 6 straight hours of using only Italian. But that’s exactly what I need in order to improve!

This past weekend, my friend Nick and I took a trip to the Puglia region of Italy (think the heel of the boot) on the Adriatic Coast to visit the costal cities of Bari and Lecce. A few of Nick’s distant cousins live in Bari so we were planning on meeting them for dinner, but unfortunately a misspelled email address prevented that from happening. Although we didn’t get to meet up with them, we had a great time in both cities interacting with the local people.

Bari and Lecce are both beautiful cities with a lot of culture and history. The church pictures below is The Church of Saint Nicholas in Bari, where most of Saint Nicholas’ relics are held. When we visited the church we were able to attend mass and then view Saint Nicholas’ relics. Afterward, we ate dinner in the main piazza in Bari while a live concert took place about one hundred yards away.

On Saturday Nick and I visited the beautiful city of Lecce. It’s about a two hour train ride from Bari so we left around 9 in the morning and planned on spending the entire day in Lecce before leaving at 10 pm. The photo below is the Duomo of Lecce, one of the many beautiful churches found in the city.

As you can see the Baroque architecture is gorgeous, but after spending about 3 hours visiting every church in Lecce we soon realized that making it all the way to 10 pm might be an issue. While architecturally stunning, Lecce was extremely quiet with little to do besides walk around the historic center of town. After a delicious lunch of local cuisine, we had had enough and decided to return to Bari for the night. Once back we decided that we were going to find some seafood, a specialty in the port city of Bari. While we were hoping to find some sea urchin, a mistranslation led to us asking if the restaurant had “street urchin” (an awkward conversation with the waiter to say the least). We then settled on a plate of mixed seafood prepared in the way that the people of Bari prefer, crudo (raw).

The dish consists of raw squid, clams, oysters, and shrimp. While not initially prepared for this level of crudo (the squid still had its beak and ink sac), we finished the entire plate. Located right on the Adriatic Sea, seafood such as this is a staple of Barese cuisine. Although we couldn’t find sea urchin that day, we are still on the hunt. In fact, we found a place in Sorrento known for their sea urchin pasta so we are planning on trying it out this week. Stay tuned for results. Arrivederci!

Les Politiques Français: L’Élection Parlementaire

For a student of politics, now is a fascinating time to be in France. Emmanuel Macron, young, handsome, and inexperienced, won the French presidency less than two months ago under the banner of a new party, En Marche! His most famous campaign slogan, La France doit être une chance pour tous (literally: France must be a chance for all), stood in stark contrast to the campaign rhetoric of his main competitor, Marine Le Pen, and her party, Le Front National. Macron won the presidential election with 65.9 percent of the vote. A victory this large would normally represent an electoral mandate. For an imperfect comparison, consider that Barack Obama won what was considered a decisive victory in the 2008 United States Presidential Election with 52.9% of the popular vote. Yet the unique nature of this year’s French election, which included a high abstention rate and many voters choosing Macron solely to keep Le Pen out of office, has led Macron to treat the first month of his presidency as a continuation of his campaign, with an eye on the French parliamentary elections taking place now.

As with the presidential elections, France conducts two rounds of voting for its parliamentary seats. The French went to the polls for the first round on Sunday to winnow the field from, in some districts (circonscriptions), ten or more candidates to two for the final round of voting which will take place next Sunday. I accompanied my host family to the polls today and discovered campaign advertisements along the way.

Campaign poster for the legislative candidates of the extreme left. Note how large the image of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, presidential candidate of the extreme left, looms.

The decisive question for Macron at the start of the day was whether En Marche! could attain enough seats in the National Assembly to enact legislation in the coming year. Because En Marche! is a special creation which arose in response to the widespread discontent with the traditional parties in France, few citizens, perhaps not even Macron himself, know exactly what the party stands for and what a France led by En Marche! will look like. Moreover, in speaking with my host family, I’ve learned that the French are notoriously private in political matters. Campaign stickers and yard signs are considered tasteless. My roommate tried asking which candidate and party my host family preferred, but was promptly shut down: “C’est privée! “

The campaign poster for Philippe Chalumeau, legislative candidate of En Marche!

The early returns this evening for En Marche! were strong. It will take all night to determine the final numbers, but En Marche! certainly performed well enough for many of its candidates to move on to the final round of voting next week. More importantly, it appears to be a real possibility that Macron will be able to form a parliamentary majority and enact legislation. What this legislation will entail remains a mystery, for the most part, but Macron has already proposed revisions to the French Code du Travail, or work laws, which has caused quite a stir in France. Part of Macron’s campaign message was to promise to loosen labor restrictions in order to allow for more labor mobility. This most likely means, of course, that it will also be easier for businesses to fire employees. Based on the initial French reaction, the country seems surprised that Macron is actually attempting to fulfill his campaign promise.

List of candidates at the voting station.

In less consequential news, I played a game of pick-up basketball with some French locals yesterday. The game involved a mix of English and French phrases. The locals did not know enough English to speak with us only in English, and my roommate and I were not capable of thinking quickly enough in French to speak only in French during the game. To continue my earlier lesson from the first blog post, that you can only claim to know a language when you can use it in a crisis, I would now add that you can only claim to know a language when you can speak it during sports. à bientôt!

Cusco is a FOURTH to be reckoned with!


This week the house was very full!! One night, everybody in the house went out for picarones (sweet-potato donuts) after dinner, and we filled the whole restaurant.  I really like living in a house with a lot of people.  It not only gives me an opportunity to practice my Spanish, but to engage with people from all over the world.  

On Friday, my morning teacher, Rosa, cancelled class and sent us on a “cultural-learning tour”…in Spanish, of course!! It was a hot day and our little class of five hiked all over the city.  We were able to explore a little more of San Blas, which is the artisanal district just behind and above the Plaza de Armas.  Our guide took us to a look-out point wherein we could see the whole city.  It took quite a lot of huffing and puffing to get up there, but the view at the top was absolutely breathtaking.  I loved San Blas and the charm of its narrow streets and artsy shops.  I decided then and there that I wanted to come back to San Blas!

During our tour, we also walked around the Quechua museum just beside the Qorikancha. We were able to see the plants that the dyes came from, learn about about Inca folk-tales, and learn a few phrases in Quechua!

After the tour, a girl from my class and I decided to try a popular vegan restaurant in Cusco. The food was very fresh and absolutely amazing.  The restaurant was small, and they have shared tables which provided an interesting way to meet with other people.  We struck up a conversation with some volunteers from Colorado and also sat next to some women from Germany.  

The next day, my host-father’s son took a few of us from the house out for sushi.  It was really strange trying to figure out the names of different rolls in Spanish, but fun all at the same time!  Afterwards, I decided to go back to San Blas to do some shopping at the artisanal fair open on Fridays and Saturdays.  This not only gave me the opportunity to shop for souvenirs, but also to interact with the local artists in Spanish.  My favorite interaction happened completely by chance after I randomly wandered down a small pathway just off the San Blas square.  The pathway opened up to a little sculpting-atrium area, shop, and small museum.  I was the only one there and the woman I were able to have a lengthy conversation about the difficulties of learning another language. It turns out that she had been trying to learn English for the past three years and gave some kind words of encouragement.  

I also learned that I was standing in the house of a renowned Peruvian artist who, during his life, was famous for making statues with distinctive long necks.  Artist, Hilario Mendivil, was inspired by the long necks of the llamas and alpacas, animals characteristic of Cusco, and decided to endow his human sculptures with the same trait. It was a very unique experience, and I am so glad I wandered into the museum!

It was a beautiful day, so afterwards, I sat on a ledge overlooking San Blas and read Matilda in Spanish.   I decided to venture up to the higher lookout point to do some reading, and it started to lightly rain.  It was a beautiful and peaceful day in San Blas.

I even discovered the secret entrance to the restaurant that overlooks the whole city.  I ordered a milkshake and tried to read a little more, but I was completely mesmerized by the spectacular view.  The more time I spend in Cusco, the more I fall in love with the city and the beautiful culture!

Also! Fun fact: The Quechua flag is rainbow, which means you can even find rainbows in the food!

TRES me, I love Cusco! (the third post)


This week got off to a very sweet start…chocolate class! Though Bean to Bar might sound like some new trendy exercise fad or something, I would not recommend this class to the health-minded individual. Let’s just say, cut to the end of class and find me spooning liquid milk chocolate with a popsicle stick into my mouth—good times. Overall, it was a high-energy, and very informative class.  We learned how to shell cocoa beans, roast them, and ground them by hand with a mortar and pestle into a paste. From that paste, we made both aztec-style hot chocolate, and hot chocolate with European-Spanish influence.  The Aztec hot chocolate was very bitter and unfortunately not totally true to the original because we omitted the human-blood ingredient 🙁  The hot chocolate with European influence included cloves, cinnamon, more sugar, and milk, which made for a much richer and sweeter hot chocolate!

After that, we got to make our own chocolate candies in molds with a whole bunch of add-ins to choose from.  I haven’t eaten all of my flower-shaped chocolates yet, but my favorite so far has been the milk chocolate with crushed almonds, brazil nuts, and sea salt.

Yesterday, was one of my favorite days because I got to test my comprehension and I really felt like a local! My really spunky, amazing Spanish teacher Vaneza, two other girls, and I went to the movies!  The movie theater was in two-leveled, very American-looking, indoor mall. The movie theater was teeming with people all yelling theater times, seating preferences, and combo numbers in Spanish. I had no idea what was going on amidst all the chaos! Luckily, Vaneza was there to take care of it all and somehow, we ended up in one of the last few seats available for the 6:50pm showing of Mujer Maravilla (Wonder Woman).  They have a very interesting system wherein you must buy your tickets, select your seats, and purchase all your food items in the same transaction at the ticket counters downstairs, and then you have to keep your receipt and take it upstairs to concessions, and you also need that same receipt to get into the theaters. They had this really cool tray contraption that holds both your canchita (popcorn) and sodas and hooks into your armrest!  I really enjoyed the movie and found that it was the perfect choice for the eager-to-learn Spanish student such as myself.  This is because Wonder Woman is an action-packed film, so the dialogue is not too extensive which made the film a bit easier to understand.  I very much loved my theater-going experience!

Vaneza made sure everyone got home safely and walked me right to my door where Edy was happily waiting to heat up my chifa (Chinese food) dinner, despite the fact that it was already 10:00pm, and I was full of popcorn.

Spanish classes are going well. Mornings with Rosa have had a bit of excitement lately with recent strikes.  The bus fare rose from 70 centimos to 80 centimos which led to city-wide bus strike two days in a row.

I first experienced the strike when I was walking down the street to school and heard a stampede of people, loud screams, chants, and noisemakers coming from behind me.  Before I new it, a bunch of kids came charging at me, and I quickly dashed down the street and turned the corner to safety.

It wasn’t until that same group of people came marching down Avenida el Sol and past my classroom that I learned that it was the University students protesting the bus fares.  The next day, the bus drivers, along with the citizens, also went on strike.  I found it interesting to learn that here in Cusco, the buses are actually owned by the bus drivers and they pay for their own gas and get together with the other people who own buses to decide the bus routes.  This private ownership of buses explains why the buses are named things like “Batman” and “Zoro,” but it also explains why the bus drivers went on strike—they collectively raised the bus fare in response to a raise in the price of gas, which they were protesting.

There have also been various other fair-wage protests, which is a serious issue in Peru.  Many laborers work for very little to no pay.  Today, the construction workers were on strike marching past our classroom.

Needless to say, even in the throes of conjugating en el pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo, there never seems to be a dull moment!

That is all for now!

Segunda Semana de Cusco


Other than my hour lunch break, I am in class from 9am-4pm, which leaves just enough time after class to do a little something before I have to be back for dinner. This past week was a busy one, so here is a quick overview:

  • Monday: Museo Inka
  • Tuesday: Choco Museo tour
  • Wednesday: Ceramics class
  • Thursday: Bought two books
  • Friday: sickness 🙁
  • Saturday: more sickness and spanish movie watching
  • Sunday: mass in Spanish, movies in Spanish, recovery!

On Monday, Vitoria (my roommate), two other girls from Maximo, and I, went to the Inca Museum after classes. I love learning about the rich cultural history of Cusco.  It is evident that the Incan roots are very much a part of the culture today.

On Tuesday, a few girls and I decided to go to the chocolate museum! The Choco Museo offers free tours, and more importantly free samples. We all decided to sign up for the “Bean to Bar” class that they offer for the following Monday.

On Wednesday, they had a ceramics class at the language school with a renowned Peruvian sculptor. In all truth, I would have paid the 6 soles just to play with a giant wad of wet clay for an hour and a half.  Due to this, I wasn’t too devastated when I knocked my cup of water on my clay model of the Qorkichancka just as I was leaving class.  I probably could have salvaged my wet replica, but when I went to pick it up, it broke in right half. I decided that at that point, it was best to just say my final goodbyes and walk away, Qorikancha-less.  

An hour and a half of ceramics class and all I had to show for it was a sad excuse for a cup. One of my housemates (our whole house ended up at ceramics class) mentioned that it kind of looked like a honey jar, so I snagged a random toothpick from the table, inscribed “HONEY” on the side of my creation, and called it a day.  Although I do not think I have a future career in sculpting, I really enjoyed being able to learn a bit more about the significance of different pots throughout Peruvian history.

After class on Thursday, I wandered into a little hole-in-the wall bookstore and bought two books in Spanish to practice some reading.  I decided I would buy a classic novel that was originally written in Spanish, which  would serve as a rewarding challenge, and I decided I would also buy a simpler book, just in-case I wasn’t up to the challenge quite yet. After standing in the book-store completely overwhelmed with all the choices for far too long, I finally walked out with Matilda by Roald Dahl and Cien Anos de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

Although I might not be quite ready for a book like Cien Anos de Soledad, I think it is a nice tangible language goal. For now, I am really enjoying reading Matilda and being able to write down words and phrases that are unfamiliar and also being able to reinforce the vocabulary and grammar that I have learned.

I had planned on going out with the rest of the house after dinner on Friday night, but Friday night had other plans for me.  After dinner, I wasn’t feeling very well, so I went to lay down, and I woke up with a fever. My weekend consisted mostly of sleeping and half-conscious movie watching. It wasn’t all terrible because Peruvian Netflix has so many more movies to offer than Netflix in the US and I figured out how to change the language to Spanish! The voice-overs are not at all distracting and this way, I didn’t feel as though it was a wasted weekend.

Over all, week two of classes in Cusco have been amazing! I am loving having to struggle through the language, and I really feel that I am improving. This experience has been incredible! That is all for now!

Hola de Cusco, Peru!


Today marks the completion of one full week in Cusco!  I arrived last Sunday, May 21st, around noon.  The journey here was long, but for the most part, painless. My flight to Cusco was perhaps the most enjoyable of the three flights. I was delighted to be able to practice my Spanish on the plane with the girl sitting next to me!

When I first arrived at my homestay, I was greeted by Edy, my host-father.  I felt comforted by Edy’s friendly demeanor, contagious smile, and the fact that his name, though spelled differently, is the same as my actual father’s name!  Edy directed me to my room upstairs.  My roommate had yet arrived, so I quickly set my things down and came downstairs for tea. This served as my introduction to coca tea, which I have had a least twice a day, every day, since the my introduction to the beverage!  The coca leaf is very prominent in Peruvian culture, not only because of its ties to ancient Incan spirituality, but because of its remedial properties in helping to soothe altitude sickness.  Cusco is 11,200 feet above sea level, and though I did not feel the effects of the altitude immediately upon arrival, it was certainly made evident to me in attempting to walk to the corner of the street and finding myself utterly out of breath.

my house from the street 

Once I finished my coca tea, Edy invited me to lunch with his family, and he drove us into town.  We sat upstairs in a little restaurant. There were only four items on the lunch menu, and Lily suggested I get Caldo de Pollo (chicken soup) so as to ease myself into the food in Cusco, but everybody else got chicharrones, so I figured I might as well try it too and dive right into Peruvian cuisine!  After all, chicharrones were not so much of a stretch for me…if I hadn’t before tasted them, I had definitely heard of them and knew what they were.  Everything was wonderful, but I was most surprised by the corn! If you ever come to Cusco, expect each kernel of corn to be bloated to a size about 3x bigger than the average kernel in the U.S.

coca tea!

Upon return to the house, I found myself pretty exhausted and decided to take a little nap.  Later in the day, I met my new roommate, Vitoria, travelling with her father from São Paulo, Brasil.  Vitoria is a medical student volunteering with the medical program through Maximo Nivel, and I am happy to report that thus far, we are getting along fabulously.   

My first day, I had orientation at 7 a.m. and met some other people in the native Spanish program. After orientation, a short walking tour of the city, and a language diagnostic test, I dove right into classes.  Classes are 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.  It is intensive, no doubt, but I really love being able to immerse myself in the language and not have to focus on anything else but Spanish and the beautiful culture here in Cusco.

To avoid a play-by-play report of my every action from the past week, I will just give a brief overview of what my day-to-day life has looked like so far.  My house is only about a fifteen minute walk from school, and it is a pleasant walk past the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, an elaborate church built by the Spanish atop the most prominent Incan temple to the sun god Inti. The façade of the temple, once adorned with gold, is still visible and serves as the foundation of the Church. The whole structure is referred to as the Qorikancha.

 in the Plaza de Armas!

My morning class runs from 9am-1pm, I have an hour lunch break from 1-2pm, and from 2-4pm, I have afternoon private lessons. My small group morning instructor, Rosa, is very kind and patient (thank goodness!) I have two other people in my class, a girl traveling with her boyfriend, and a missionary who recently moved to Peru with his wife. I enjoy class with them very much.

My private instructor, Vaneza, is spunky and sweet!  The majority of the class consists of the two of us talking about anything and everything, interspersed with mini-lessons when I make a grammatical blunder or am in need of a word.  On Wednesday, Vaneza took me out to lunch at one of her favorite restaurants just down the street from class.  We got a bread with a guacamole-tasting-dip appetizer, a large bowl of traditional Peruvian soup, pesto pasta and chicken, tea, and chicha morada dessert–chicha morada is a popular beverage made from purple corn. The dessert version of this beverage was mild flavored with a consistency somewhere in-between jello and jelly.  We got all this for just 8 soles (1 USD is the equivalent of 3 Peruvian soles!)  Lunch was all in Spanish…of course!

the San Pedro Market

I really love Vaneza.  She encourages me to speak and I can already see an improvement in just the simple fact that here, as opposed to in school, I am less worried about having the “wrong answer.” This way, I can speak freely and learn from the errors that I make.

After being here a week, I feel that I know my way around the city fairly well.  The other ten-or-so people living in the house (the number of residents fluctuates from day-to-day) have been very helpful in helping me find my way around.  At dinner, somebody always seems to have a new activity, restaurant, or shop recommendation to share with the group.  We all went out two nights last week after dinner (one of the times, just for sweet-potato donuts), which ended up being a pretty fun!  Everyone in the house, so far, has been extremely nice. In fact, one couple let me tag along with them on their day-trip to Rainbow Mountain.

In summary, the day of the hike up Rainbow Mountain marked what may have been the most strenuous physical activities in my life. The peak of the mountain rests 5,200 meters above sea level and is 5 ½ miles uphill. Hiking 5 ½ miles at a sharp incline is hard enough as it is, but the added factor of subtracted oxygen made even the simple task of breathing a challenge. It took about 2 ½ hours to get to the top of the mountain. Although the hike was rough, to say the least, I am glad I decided to complete this hike…the view at the top was definitely worth the trek.  The mountain is called “Rainbow Mountain” because the mineral deposits on the mountain make the mountain look a little like a rainbow!

on Rainbow Mountain!


This morning, I walked to the Plaza de Armas, the main square just down the street from my school, for mass at the Cusco Cathedral.  The Cathedral was absolutely packed.  They have four masses a day from 6-10am on the hour, and the 8am mass, of which I was in attendance, is celebrated by the Bishop in Spanish. I was delighted to find that I was able to understand the majority of the homily.  After mass, I found myself in the middle of a military parade, which apparently happens every Sunday according to a friendly man trying to sell paintings on the street.

More to come later!


こんにちは from Hokkaido

It has been one busy week of traveling to arrive at Hakodate in Hokkaido, the northernmost region of Japan. On Tuesday, June 6, I had a grueling fourteen-hour flight from Atlanta, GA to Narita Airport in Tokyo. Luckily, another student from my class and in the same summer program I am attending was on the flight with me, so it made the time pass a bit quicker. We, along with many other program participants, stayed in the grandiose Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba Hotel the night we arrived in Japan. There, my friend and I met up with a few of our other classmates who had stayed in Tokyo the week prior and were joining up with us for the program as well. They led us through the rail stations to show us Akihabara, one of the main shopping districts in Tokyo. We were able to have our first real Japanese meal, consisting of ramen and oolong tea.

Now, since Tokyo is a tourist city, they cater a lot to individuals speaking English. Therefore, it was not much of a difficulty to get around and ask for help from the natives (who were incredibly helpful). However, this ease with which we could communicate would not be as prevalent when we got to Hokkaido. Due to it being a bit more rural and not as tourist-y, Hakodate possesses less of a presence of English-speakers. Despite this, with the help of peers more skilled in speaking Japanese than myself, walking around and going out for dinner once we were in Hakodate came with relatively no concern. The La Vista Hakodate Bay was our residence for two days while we took our placement tests, until the opening ceremony. Their accommodations were just as wonderful as the ones in Tokyo, and the view from my room was terrific.

Also, apparently the buffet that our hotel serves was voted the second best breakfast establishment in Hokkaido. We were lucky enough to be able to enjoy that as well, and below is my attempt at trying a whole bunch of new Japanese foods.

Once the opening ceremony rolled around, we were all a bit nervous. This was when we would meet our homestay families for the first time, although some of us were able to contact ours beforehand. However, there was nothing to be worried about. Everyone’s first greeting was a bit awkward, but I believe we all warmed up to each of our families pretty well in a short amount of time. This was also when all of the participants split ways.

From here, I met my own homestay family, two older sisters who lived together with their dog about thirty minutes away from where classes would be held. As the younger sister, Masako, went to drive the car around, the older one, Mitsuko, talked to me for a bit. I told her my Japanese wasn’t terribly good, and she understood. Our conversation wasn’t terribly long, but I was surprised we could communicate quite well. She and her sister had been hosting HIF students for about thirty years, and Mitsuko later told me that her parents did it before she started to. After we left the hotel with my bags, we visited the kindergarten Mitsuko works at, which is not far away from the main HIF building, so she’d be able to drive me in the mornings and pick me up later. I met a few of Mitsuko’s coworkers there and since then, at dinner that night and the next day at Mass. Dinner was a bit of a difficult affair, as I barely understood much of the conversation around me and struggled to finish all the food on my plate. However, from what I did comprehend, I was able to sufficiently stay engaged in talking a bit. Additionally, I had real tempura for the first time, and it was very tasty, a norm for the food that I’m taking notice of during my time in Japan thus far.

After a stress-free shower, I headed to bed early to get some good sleep. Today, I woke up refreshed and somewhat ready for the day ahead. After breakfast, we went to Mass at the Catholic Church right next to the kindergarten. I was introduced to many people and got by with simple “Good morning”s and “Nice to meet you”s in Japanese. In Mass, I also understood very little word-for-word, but, from being to Mass so many times in my life, I could keep up with the pace and get the gist of what the priest was talking about. Afterwards, we sat for tea and coffee while chitchatting with a few more people. After seeing someone writing out a letter, I mentioned to Mitsuko if we could go out and buy some postcards for our thank-you letters. One of the gentlemen I had just met offered me a whole pack of some – with illustrious drawings of Hakodate on each – when he heard I was planning to buy some. I was grateful to him for his kindness, and after expressing our thanks, we left to go back to the house. Tonight, the sisters are throwing a party and inviting their friends, and I’m sure that it will be a whole other experience for me in my attempts at making Japanese conversation.

From the time I’ve been here, I have already garnered that it’s going to be quite a challenge constantly interacting in Japanese day-to-day. However, this has also further cemented my interest in learning more of the language and hoping to do well in class, which begins tomorrow. With cultural classes, language practice, and even more community interactions to look forward to, I’m both excited and nervous for what is to come. Wish me luck!