Bittersweet end

Something really interesting about my classes at SNU is that they feature Korean economics, business, culture, and language. For example, in my marketing class, we often talk about Korean corporations and big conglomerates such as Samsung, Sulwhasoo, Korean Air, Hyundai, and LG. At Notre Dame, I’ve heard many professors say something along the lines of “Let’s focus on the US and not go international” in the context of economics or business. This new perspective, aside from the US-centered one I was used to, was very refreshing and insightful. We often compared and contrasted Korean companies to American companies and had many meaningful discussions. 

On the 26th, I performed and presented my brand audit on Sulwhasoo, a Korean cosmetics brand. This was really my first time thoroughly researching and exploring the various facets of what a brand audit entails.

Friday the 28th was my last day at SNU before having to move out Saturday morning. I knew it would be a bittersweet day as I would have to say my goodbyes to the friends that I have met during these wonderful 5 weeks. As we all travel long and short distances to go back home, whether that be to Canada, California, Philippines , Vietnam, France, Australia, London, or South Bend, Indiana, I know that we will all cherish the moments that we have made in Seoul. To my world-class professors, thank you for introducing me to a world of endless possibilities perspectives and and helping me better discern my path. To my friends, thank you for allowing me to share my culture with you and in return, allowing me to learn about your cultures as well. I was so proud to represent Notre Dame in Seoul and will never forget my enriching summer experience.

After the closing ceremony, my friends and I went all out and explored the city. We stayed up until 5 in the morning, reminiscing on the past 5 weeks and enjoying each other’s company one final time. We went to noraebang (karaoke), ate good street food, explored Gangnam, and more.

SNU’s main gate. Affectionally nicknamed “sha” (샤). This icon points to the university’s complete original Korean name “국립서울대학교” which means Seoul (서울) National (국립) University (대학교). By taking the ㅅ, ㄱ, and ㄷ characters, architects were able to construct this avant-garde design. Many visitors and students like to take pictures in front of the sha, not unlike how people who visit Notre Dame take a picture in front of the dome.

Professor Chris Baumann (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) and TA (Ph.D under Baumann at Macquarie)

The left side is the Korean version of the right side

We made it!

My dorm room after we moved our stuff out//My roommate who is from Hanoi, Vietnam but studies Korean language and culture at her university in Hanoi.

Adventures in Saint Petersburg

My time here in Russia continues to move along. I have made some good friends, both American and Russian. My average day goes something like this: wake up and grab a snack before class, get lunch somewhere in the city after class, walk around the city or go sightseeing, and then grab some dinner and do my homework before bed. It’s amazing to have the chance to live in and explore such a remarkable city.
One of my favorite tours so far was of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest church in Russia. I have been inside many beautiful churches, but they paled in comparison to this one. The entirety of it was covered with incredible artwork and detailed golden masonry. To literally top it off, afterwards I went up to the colonnade around its dome and was able to see incredible panoramic views of the entire city, west to the Gulf of Finland and east to the far suburbs. That same excursion included a walking tour of many of the sites found in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works, especially Crime and Punishment. Even having not read any of those books, it was remarkable seeing the locations where the actions took place in person. This is just one of the many amazing photos I was able to take of the interior, which is no longer an active church.
I will not sugarcoat it; the weather here in Petersburg is generally not particularly pleasant. The closest comparison in the U.S. is probably Seattle: it rains very frequently, and most days are cloudy. Today was actually one of the hottest days since I have arrived, with a high around 75º, bright and sunny the whole day. On the whole, however, my biggest advice for a trip to St. Petersburg is to bring an umbrella!
I also love exploring the city to find interesting places to eat. Doing this, in addition to eating food that is both good and cheap, has allowed me to have some interesting interactions with locals, as well as Russian tourists. At an Armenian restaurant one day, I struck up a conversation, as best as is possible with my Russian ability, with an Armenian couple there. I learned that they had immigrated from Armenia about a decade prior, and that they sometimes felt the effects of Russian xenophobia. Under the Russian mindset, people are either Slavs or not Slavs; by and large, someone’s race, per the American view, does not matter; it is a binary. The only major exception, it seems, is a particular dislike of Chinese people, mostly for the sort of disrespectful tourism once associated with Americans. This couple said that, while most people treat them well, they have seen the worst of Russia, such as drunkards berating them to go back to their country.
At a столовая (stolovaya), a Russian cafeteria-style restaurant, I ate beef Stroganoff, and I had the opportunity to talk with a worker there about the dish. It is one of the classic Russian dishes, named after a member of the wealthy and influential Stroganoff family. Traditionally, it consists of sautéed beef cubes in a sour cream sauce. Sour cream is one of the most important foods in Russia. Combined with the noble origins of the dish, it makes sense why it is one of Russia’s signature foods, both in Russia and around the world. As the worker told me, there are many traditional variants, so there is not just one authentic way to make it.
My experience in Saint Petersburg continues to be enlightening and entertaining, and I hope that it continues to be so. I’ve got a lot of tours and concerts coming up, so hopefully it will be an enjoyable time!

Cultural attitudes toward minorities

One day I visited a modern art gallery called the Lensbach house. It houses the world’s finest collection of art from the “Blue Rider” movement. Championed in Munich by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, and Germans Franz Marc, August Macke, and Gabriele Münter, the movement focused more on the influence of pure color in eliciting human emotion rather than form itself – the first step toward the formless creations of the Moderns. It was a fantastic exhibition, but right when the museum was closing I had a very interesting conversation with an 63-year-old Armenian museum worker named Levo (Leo, in English). I always love staying at galleries close to closing time, because they are the least busy. This conversation started with Levo telling me I needed to scat because they were closing soon. I think I tried to inject some comedic relief to start a conversation and it went from there. I told him I speak some German and he immediately opened up, telling me about how he was very disappointed with his life in Armenia, and decided to follow his older children to Germany in search of a better life. His son and daughter moved to Germany to start a business, and he came with, living with them for awhile but eventually finding his own place. He said his wife passed 6 years ago, and since then he’s been quite lonely, saying that Germany is fun if you’re young. While his story seemed quite somber, this statement intrigued me. He said that if you’re an older immigrant in Germany, people don’t pay much attention to you. Being young in a new land, like his children were when they came, has loads of opportunities in store, even if small streaks of prejudice exist. But he mentioned principally his lack of job opportunities outside of service, as well as his regional disconnect from his own Armenian diaspora. He said it is hard to integrate, because most Armenian immigrants are much younger than him. Pockets of familiarity exist in Munich, he said, but the biggest road block for his ultimate prosperity was a profound isolation in a society that didn’t, I think, outwardly try to isolate people of his demographic. After a few minutes of conversation his colleague came over and passive-aggressively told us to part, so the conversation ended rather abruptly. But it stuck with me. Levo’s courage in leaving his home country over the age of 50 had seemed to bring him more distress than prosperity, but he persisted. I know on paper his story seems sad, but he presented his short narrative in a really matter-of-fact tone. I don’t think Levo is a sad man, I don’t think he has any regrets. He was at peace with his decision to leave Armenia, but was brutally honest with me about his current state of affairs. This really got me thinking about the nuances of immigration. Many factors played into his situation – the city he chose to settle down in (Munich is quite conservative for a large city), his age, and his particular ethnicity. It got me thinking about older immigrants and the particular struggle their age poses. These are questions I need to think about further, but Levo’s story really opened my eyes to the array of struggles immigrants face.

Attitudes toward the United States

While I didn’t formally interview three people of different ages, I have had an innumerable number of conversations about US culture and politics, especially as compared with Germany. My Guesthouse owner, a woman 60 years of age, expressed extreme discontent about the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. She is generally fond of Americans and the United States, but this political news opened up a new can of worms of her views on the US’s actions to combat climate change. She complained about our lack of perspective as a nation with a threefold punch of unprecedented power, influence, and geographic isolation. She made the case that the US is far behind Europe in creating a society less based around consumption and more around minimalism. I think my main response to this is that the US, throughout it’s history, has been arguably the purest capitalist state ever produced. I would cut us a little bit of slack in the transition from rampant consumerism, a stereotype for which we are widely known, to a more frugal society. Nonetheless, I think we can learn a lot from the green way Germans live – for they are a much older nation with a distinctly different history than us. Another conversation about this topic that struck a tone with me was with some Russian kids I became friends with. They held more progressive views about the current state of the Russian federation and had really nothing negative to say about the United States, surprisingly. They all mentioned that Russia, and by extension Putin, runs under the false mask of democracy. They said that dissenters of Putin are silenced, and media is highly censored behind the scenes. This lead to a discussion about the volatility and intensity of the US media. My friends said they are amazed at what our media is allowed to and does say, on both sides of the aisle. They said they love consuming American news media because it is, in their view, a pure crusade to make every perspective available. Yes, sometimes, to disavow and tear down others, but they were awestruck about savagery with which our media functions. A hot topic was Colbert’s daily lambasting of Trump. The dichotomy between our countries’ respective media approaches definitely sparked interest from both sides – mine and theirs.

Last Week, Machu Picchu, and more!

In my final week,  I travelled around a bit and have lots to record, so I won’t waste any time!

Last Thursday was a national holiday: Saint Peter and Paul or “Pope’s Day,” so we had the day off of school and work.  Due to the holiday, the whole house decided to go out together.  Edy took us to a local open-air market type-thing in three taxis and I am almost positive we were the only tourists who graced the “Expo” with our presence.

The fair with my housemates was most definitely a fun way to spend the day, and afterwards, we decided to do some more shopping at a shop in town that gives discounts to volunteers and students associated with Maximo Nivel (my organization). The ladies at the shop love to hug and shower their clients with lots of love, and in our case, this love was showered in the form of dressing everybody up in traditional Peruvian garb for a photoshoot near the storefront.  After our stop at “Asunta,”  I went to the market to pick up something for Rosa and Vaneza, my dear teachers,  in preparation for my final days of classes.

I couldn’t quite believe my time was already coming to a close. So, I was sad when my final day of class rolled around, but it didn’t really feel like my last day of class. In the night time, instead of dinner at my host family, Vaneza and I went out for Pollo a la Brasa at this chicken place right across the street from my house.  


The next night, I watched Disney’s Tangled on Netflix with the Spanish voice-over until around 10:45pm and then called it a night in preparation for my Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu tour. Sidenote: I found that I was really able to grasp a large majority of the movie in Spanish, far more than I would have been able to during the first few weeks.

The first stop was Pisaq in the Sacred Valley.  Pisaq is situated on a hill overlooking a valley and was complete with the classic terraces indicative of Incan agricultural engineering.  In the mountains behind Pisaq is a wall of curiously small holes as though a giant came down from his beanstalk (or in this case maybe a potato stock even though that doesn’t exist but, ya know, Peru) and took his giant pencil and poked at the mountain for a while.  Our guide explained that in those holes were once thousands upon thousands of mummies that the Incas had placed in the mountain, but that the Spanish later excavated.  The Quechuan people during the time of the Incas mummified their dead in fetal position and placed them in the earth with the believe that they should go back to the Pachamama (mother earth) the way that they came into the Earth.

After lunch, we went to the Ollantaytambo ruins, which were very interesting, beautiful, and like every activity this week, involved many, many, many stairs.

Our train to Aguas Calientes was the next stop after Ollantaytambo and so, our tour guide dropped us all off at the train station about an hour before departure time.  It started to sprinkle a little, but nothing too drastic.  We all boarded the train in time and had a pleasant ride.  We had to wake up at 4am to eat breakfast at 4:30am in the hotel and meet our guide at 4:45am in the lobby.  After a quick breakfast, we all walked down to the bus-top in the dark morning and stood with the long line of tourists and their guides waiting for the buses up the mountain.

We finally got in a bus around 5:45am and road the windy road up the mountain. The sky was barely lit and it was misty all around.  It felt as though I was in the middle of the jungle of an Indiana Jones movie, or more specifically in the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland as I was being jostled and jerked around the curves of the jungle-y looking mountain.

When we first arrived in Machu Picchu, we couldn’t see much of anything.  There was one point when the guide said, “Alright chicos, look at that tree straight ahead” and I thought “what tree?” For the majority of our tour, Machu Picchu just looked like floating ruins in a mess of thick, white, fog.  

It was all interesting, but I couldn’t quite figure out of what it was the everybody was so eager to see and take pictures.  It wasn’t until we climbed a little higher and the fog finally disbanded a bit that I realized why 5,000 people a day flock to Machu Picchu.  Atop the hill, I could gazed upon the delicately placed ruins resting at the base of the misty hill in all its grandeur—the classic scene printed on the front of many a postcard.  All of the Inca Ruins that I have seen have been INCAredibly impressive, but this was the most beautiful of all of them just based on sheer location and the gravity of the construction tucked into the lush green hills at the gateway of the Amazon Rainforest.

After our guide departed and we were finally able to get a taste of the beauty of Machu Picchu, we decided to start to make our way to the Machu Picchu Mountain trailhead.   In Machu Picchu, there are two additional hikes to a higher elevation on either side of the ruins: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.  Because the path up Huayna Picchu Mountain is extremely narrow, only 500 hikers are allowed up the mountain everyday: 250 in the morning and 250 in the afternoon, and for this reason, if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, you have to book this hike about 6 months in advance.  More hikers are allowed up Machu Picchu mountain, but unfortunately, for me, this is the longer hike.

I don’t know exactly how many stairs I hiked up that day, but according to some travel website on the internet, I hike 2,000 steps…so I’m going to go with, I hiked 732,993,938 steps.  The hike up the mountain was all stairs and all stairs for well over an hour and a half.  I huffed and puffed my way up each flight of stairs as we climbed higher and higher into the mist and the fog.

We finally exited the trail and were back near the main attraction where the fog had cleared up a bit more.  We snapped a few additional pictures, took in the sights one last time, and then were on our way…but not without getting the Machu Picchu passport stamp!

A few nights after Machu Picchu, I took an overnight bus to Puno.  The bus, to my surprise, was actually quite nice.  

Our guide came for us at 7 and we took a shuttle to the docks of Lake Titicaca along with a family from Mexico City and a retired Swiss couple.   Our guide was charming and very thorough.  

In the bay of the lake, we first visited the floating islands.  There are about 100 of these floating islands with about 5-6 families living on each island.  They build these islands out of reed and compact dirt-type material and to be quite honest, I am still not quite sure how they build the islands, but however they do it, it is very impressive.

We took a short boat ride, according to the islanders, in the “mercedes benz” of boats to a neighboring island, and then took a two and a half hour boat ride to Taquile Island.

This ride to the island provided for the perfect napping opportunity and before I knew it, we had arrived in Taquile.  Taquile is an agricultural island and because it is situated in deep waters, they do not have a regular trout supply for food.  There are not very many animals on the island, so most of the people are vegetarian.  It wasn’t until 1992 that the government sent teachers to the island to educate the people.  To this day, teachers still come to Taquile on Monday and go back to mainland Puno on Friday.  The views from Taquile were absolutely breathtaking and the water shone a deep blue.  For lunch, we ate outside on a little terrace in a family house and had quinoa soup and the choice between trout (supplied almost exclusively for visitors) or an omelette.  I had the omelette, finished my meal with some muña tea (good for settling the stomach) and then we continued back to the boat.

On Friday morning, I took a tour of the Salt Mines and Moray. Out of all works of Inca ingenuity I have seen during my time in Cusco (and I have seen quite a lot or ruins), I think the Salt Mines were the most impressive. The ancient people during the Inca Empire discovered a spring with a high concentration of salt in the water, and decided to construct an intricate irrigation system to direct the flow of the water to different rectangular shaped pools.  Once the pools that they formed filled up with the salty water, the people would obstruct the flow of the water and wait for the sun to evaporate the water, leaving behind the salt.

To this day, the people of the community still collect salt with the same system that the Incas implemented.  I found this ancient system of salt collection absolutely fascinating, I think because for me, it was the most tangible encounter with the Ancient Civilization.  For weeks now, I have been learning all about this civilization as I walk on the same ground that the Incas treaded upon years ago, and even amidst all of that I find it quite challenging to really grasp the fact that a once powerful civilization with real people and ideas and a real way of living resided  in the same area where I was going to school and buying street food everyday, just by looking at worn-down and partially-standing stone ruin after stone ruin.  But here, in the salt mines, I could actually see a fully functioning feat of Inca ingenuity at work. The difference between the salt mines and the ruins is that the salt mines are not ruined…they are still functioning just the way they were when the Incas ruled.

After the Salt Mines, we went to Moray, which are circular agricultural terraces. Though there are many theories of the uses of Moray, nobody really knows the real purpose.  Some think that the Incas used these terraces to experiment with different crops and methods of farming.  Supposedly, from top to bottom, each terrace decreases in temperature by a constant degree. Whatever the case may be, it is certainly impressive.

Though by this point, classes were over,  it didn’t feel right to leave without saying one last goodbye to Vaneza, my lovely Spanish teacher! I said a quick and emotion-filled goodbye, and walked back home along the same path that I had taken for the last seven weeks for the last time.

Back at home, I started the tortuous process of packing.  Almost everybody in the house had an excursion planned for the next day which involved an early morning wake-up call, so though it was Friday, nobody really felt like going out after dinner…with my 5am pickup time, I was one of the last ones out of the house for the day!

So, as my little last hurrah, we all went to our favorite bakery for one last slice of chocolate cake. Once back at the house, I said my final goodbyes, sadly headed back up to my room to get ready for bed, and made sure I had everything in order for my departure.

Coming back home is so incredibly bitter-sweet.  Though of course I miss my family more than words can describe and am so thrilled to be able to see them, I am so sad to close the chapter on this wonderful experience.   I have learned so much and am so grateful to the Center for Languages and Culture for making this possible.  My Spanish-speaking ability has increased by leaps and bounds thanks to this amazing opportunity.  Not only was I able to finally hone in on my Spanish skills, but this journey to Peru provided me with an unbelievable cultural experience.  I never would have thought that my first trip outside of U.S. soil would be to Peru, of all places, but I am so incredibly grateful that it was.  

Welp, it seems that is all for this journey!! This Peruvian adventure is over, but I pray there will many more adventures to come!

As the Peruvians say, Chau!


Sun Festival Week in Peru!


The highlight of this week was definitely the huge cultural experience in the form of Inti Raymi, the pinnacle of all Peruvian festivals.  Due to this, my week was chalked full of cultural experiences resulting in a somewhat lengthy post, so I’d better get started!

My week kicked off with finally trying traditional Peruvian ceviche. I expected the ceviche to look like all the other ceviche I had seen, but it did not.  Though different from what I expected, I enjoyed it all the same.

Seeing as we had some time to kill after lunch and no place to be until dinner, we finally decided to go inside of Qorikancha.  I had been inside the church, but I hadn’t yet paid the entry fee required to tour the whole structure.

With the student discount, it was only 8 soles to enter the Inca-sun-temple-turned-to-spanish-monastery. I was astounded by the extensive and beautiful grounds, the large collection of art, and various exhibits inside.

When I got back, I changed out of my church dress and went to lunch with some people from the house where I tried causa, a traditional Peruvian dish a little like a potato casserole with tuna (or some other kind of seafood).  Afterwards, we wandered around the San Pedro Market area and headed back home where I met two new housemates.  Back at Edy’s, we had a little fruit party with a giant pomegranate that we had bought for 4 soles on the street and a Peruvian fruit called a Chirimoya.  We also had also tried a fresh cactus fruit at the San Pedro Market, so I would say on the whole, it was a pretty fruity day.

I can’t remember a day here where I haven’t eaten some sort of potato. Peru has over 3,000 different types of potatoes and they don’t let you forget it for one minute!

For the most part, during the week, I stuck to my daily routine: wake up, class, lunch break, more class, home, dinner.  Monday I was a bit sickly, but luckily I got over it by Tuesday and was able to go out to lunch with some new members of my class at Yola, a Peruvian restaurant that everybody just loves.  I am a big fan of their Lomo Saltado, which is a steak and french fry dish on a bed of rice covered in some sort of soy-saucy sauce. Whatever it is, is is pretty darn good.

Though this whole month is Cusco celebration month with festivals and parades galore, this past weekend marked the climax of all the celebrations.  The winter solstice was June 21st, but the grand Inti Raymi festival took place this past Saturday.  In preparation for the celebration, class was cancelled on Friday.  It sure is a good thing that they cancelled class because the streets were absolutely and positively filled to the brim with people.

On Friday morning, I had it in my head that I would take my day off as an opportunity to hike up to Christo Blanco, the giant white Christ on the hill overlooking the Plaza.  Though the Christo Blanco is a main tourist attraction very close to the city, I had yet to make the trek up the hill as it was not recommended to start the hike late in the afternoon in order to avoid falling prey to local hooligans lurking near the path to Christo Blanco prepared to wreak havoc upon unsuspecting tourists. Classes don’t end until 4pm, and because it gets dark very early here, I have never had the opportunity to make the journey.  I figured that my Friday off would make for the perfect day to hike up the hill.  

I had close to zero clue where I was going and I didn’t have my map handy, so I just had to rely on my not-so-keen sense of direction.  I just did a bit of wandering in the general area of where I thought the base of the hill might be until I saw a staircase with a rusty sign that read “Christo Blanco.” I figured that this was a safe bet and surmounted the steep and narrow stairs as stray dogs swarmed around me and the sun beat steadily upon my shoulders. About halfway up the stairs, I started to doubt whether or not the staircase really led to anything at all.  This was, after all, a pretty big attraction during high-tourist season, and I thought it curious that I was the only person on these run-down cement steps.  Huffing and puffing my way to the top, I realized that the cement steps suddenly disappeared into dirt and trees.  I thought that surely, this couldn’t be correct, and on account of the scary looking stray dogs and my being all alone, I decided it would be best just to walk all the way back down and find the correct route.  

Once I finally reached the bottom and started in the opposite direction in search of some other more legitimate looking sign, an Australian tour-group passed by me.  I put together that they too, were headed to Christo Blanco. The only difference between their journey to Christo Blanco and mine was that they knew where they were going and I, did not.  With that, I decided to follow.

I was, I admit, a bit disappointed when the tour group started up the same steps that I had JUST climbed all the way up and all the way down, but I figured that this group of jolly-looking Australians would not lead me astray.  I decided it would be to initiate conversation with the school teachers from the group on account of it being rather strange that I should just join their tour group and trail behind them all the way up the hill without explanation.

It turns out that the steps turned into a sketchy dirt path which somehow led to Christo Blanco.  In any case, I am very grateful I tacked myself onto the Australian tour group because at least I was able to have a bit of company during my hike up the disconcerting path.

Once we reached the top of the hill and took in the view, I parted ways with my adopted tour group.  They were continuing on to a nature hike, and I continued onto the small path to Christo Blanco.  After hiking up the same steep stairs on a hot day twice, I was not looking my best, to say the least, so I was much relieved when I was able to finally sit down and marvel at the view from the top.  I snapped a few pictures, prayed a while, and sat on a rock in pensive reflection for a bit.  I figured I might as well make my visit on the hill worth the two trips up the stairs. After I had felt that I had sufficiently gotten the full “Christo Blanco” experience, I started back down the hill to meet some housemates for lunch.

That night, we decided to just wander around the crowded streets and take in the marvels of nightlife during the peak of Cusco festival season. The two men-folk in our group purchased some street beverage and we got some street meat and had ourselves a little street feast on the steps of the San Francisco Plaza.  The street meat might have been one of the best pieces of meat I have ever had.  We got “anticuchos de corazon” which just look like a steak kebob with a potato on the top, but is actually the meat from the heart of the cow.  I would be the first skeptic of this mysterious street meat, but I am hear to tell you that it was perfectly flavorful and tender in every way.  Other meats aspire to be as wonderful as this meat.  Just trust me on this one—I split one skewer with a few people from my house and we enjoyed it so much that we all decided it was of the utmost necessity to eat purchase our own.

The next day was Inti Raymi, and boy was it a day.  This was supposed to be the biggest festival in all of Cusco, and though I wasn’t super jazzed about waking up earlier than I usually do on the weekends, I just knew I couldn’t bear the thought of knowing I was so close to the supposed “festivals of all festivals” and not being present.  The dancing commenced at 9am on the lawn of Qorikancha, but people started to congregate there as early as 6:30am to secure prime front-row seating.  I, however, on account of not wanting to miss dulce de leche “pancake” (more like crepe) morning, arrived at  Qorikancha just 45 minutes before 9am.  I quickly figured out that 45 minutes was far, far too late, and if I did not purchase a 10 sole banquita (a little stool), I would not really have a chance of being able to see anything.  Determined not to waste 10 soles on a stool I would have to discard anyways, I channeled my inner Shaquille O’neil and just thought “tall.”  Just as my father often convinces himself that he is the tallest person in any situation, I too convinced myself that I was more than tall enough to see the ceremony without the aid of any stool.  When the dancing started, I was able to catch glimpses here and there standing on my tippy-toes, which was sufficient enough for me.  

Once I got the gist of what was going on, I darted for the Plaza in hopes of securing a prime spot for viewing the parade.  

Before I go any further, I’ll give a quick overview of what goes down on Inti Raymi: The festivities start on the lawn of the ancient Incan Sun Temple (Qorikancha).  The many dancers perform their ritualistic dances and out from the very corner of Qorikancha in the direction of the Sun emerges the Inca High Priest where he makes his first salute to the Sun.  After about an hour and a half of this, the dancers make their way from Qorikancha to the Plaza.  The whole party from the lawn of Qorikancha then parades around the Plaza for about another hour.  After this, everybody climbs up the mountain to the Saksayhuaman ruins right across from Christo Blanco.  The main ceremony of Inti Raymi takes place here. Some people camp out in Qorikancha to ensure prime seating for the “opening ceremony,” others prefer to skip the Qorikancha dances and just wait at the Plaza, others camp out all day in Saksayhuaman, and others, like me, try to get a little taste of everything.  There is also that group of people who purchase tickets for 200 USD near the main stage for the ceremony in Saksayhuman, and thus, do not have to worry about arriving early to secure seating.  Thankfully, it is not necessary to purchase seats, that is, if you don’t mind being smashed in a rioting crowd on a steep hill under the beating sun for over two hours, but I’ll get to that part later.

Luckily, because I left Qorikancha about a half hour into the dancing, I was able to get to the Plaza in time to get a semi-front-row spot.  It was a hot day, and I had to wait quite a while for the dancers to make their way to the Plaza, but I was glad I was able to see everything up-close.

As the parade continued, I overheard a police officer tell a woman that it was not necessary to purchase tickets for the ceremony in Saksayhuaman to see the goings-on.  At this point, I was still uncertain if it would be worth it to climb the mountain.  I had no idea what the set-up would be like or of what the ceremony consisted, but after much internal debate, I decided I would give it a go.  I figured that this was my opportunity to get the full Cusquenan experience, and I might as well take it, even if it meant climbing a mountain.  I had no idea where I was going, so I just followed some dancers down a street and up a road where I eventually and very thankfully, ran into three people from my house.

We made it up the mountain and actually had to fight our way through the crowd of people.  After climbing over many people, I eventually made it to a spot on a rock where I sat for two hours and lost all feelings in my legs and feet.  Apparently, people weren’t very thrilled about the long and uncomfortable wait because there was much shoving, pushing, yelling, and even full on fighting.

About half-way through the wait, a teachers strike broke out amidst the crowd which meant more yelling, chanting, and throwing things.  The strike was justified in that the teachers of Cusco are underpaid.  They only earn, on average, 1,200 soles per month, which amounts to just 400 USD a month, which is just 4,800 USD a year.  For this reason, I didn’t mind the strike so much before the ceremony and even found myself chanting along caught up in the passion of it all.  The problem came when the ceremony finally commenced after hours of waiting in an awkward position in the hot sun, and the strike continued to rage on.  At this point, half the people were still protesting and the other half of the people started protesting the protesters. Food, water bottles, and fists went flying all during this sacred religious ceremony. It was quite the interesting situation, and though I couldn’t really hear or make out exactly what was happening on the stage, I am glad I was a part of the action.  I think I would have felt that I had missed out if I hadn’t gone…and I definitely would have missed out on the llama/alpaca sacrifice (side-note: in the olden days of the Incas, they definitely sacrificed either a llama or alpaca at the ceremony, but I can’t remember which one and it was hard to see the details of this year’s sacrifice from a distance, so I couldn’t quite tell if it was real or fake.  I would like to think it was fake, but both my Spanish teachers said it was a real animal sacrifice)

After a while of watching, we decided it was probably time to leave.  By the time we got back down the mountain, it was already around 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was exhausted, hungry, and very sunburned.  I walked some new people from the house to a Peruvian restaurant, but I decided just to grab a quick empanada and street pineapple so that I could go back to the house, shower, and nap.  The only thing I had eaten since the breakfast hour was a piece of bread I found floating in my bag which I had taken from the house the day before and had forgotten was there.  It was a very long day, and I was happy to finally be able to shower and lay in bed until dinner.

I crawled out of bed in my pajamas for dinner barely able to walk down the stairs, and in this state was somehow convinced into thinking that it would be a good idea to go to the discoteca after dinner for salsa dancing.  

I found myself later that night being whipped around the dance floor for salsa hours from 9-11pm and then dancing the night (and a bit of the morning) away until l really, really couldn’t feel my legs any longer.

I woke up for mass the next morning, which was lovely, per usual, and came back to the house to relax for a bit.  

After the usual Sunday spaghetti dinner, a few of us played cards in the kitchen and drank tea until about 11pm, and then I went to bed in my once-again roommate-less room.

Yesterday, I was not feeling 100%, so Vaneza, my wonderful Spanish teacher, decided I need some medicine…medicine in the form of cake, that is.  We walked down to the pastelería and had our class there.  Though I came down with another unfortunate fever last night, I am happy to report I am feeling much better today, all thanks to my good friends DayQuil, Emergen-C, lots of sleep, and of course, cake.

Kylemore Abbey and Galway City

This past Saturday, the other students and I piled into a bus to Kylemore Abbey. It took about an hour to get there but I wouldn’t have minded if it were ten hours; the scenery was incredible. There were endless green hills with sheep, cows, and horses. The weather was absolutely beautiful and walking up to the abbey was something I will never forget. I can’t imagine living there and waking up to the view of the lake with the hills behind it. The house itself was gorgeous and told the story of all the people that lived there. It started out as a wedding gift and eventually ended up as a school. One of our instructors at school actually attended secondary school there! There was also a chapel further back in the property where daily mass was said. It was small and simple and beautiful. It featured marble from all the regions in Ireland. On the way back from Kylemore, we stopped in Clifden. We walked around and enjoyed the shops and the sun before heading home. I was so glad to be outside all day on such a nice day.

the view from the front of Kylemore Abbey

the chapel behind Kylemore

The next morning, a few of us got up to go to Galway city for the day. The uncharacteristically good weather continued and it was sunny all day. Galway is currently having their festival of the arts so there were people and colors everywhere. We visited the Galway Cathedral, which had gorgeous stained glass windows. Poetically enough, the building used to be a prison. After a whirlwind of a first week, it was nice to sit down and reflect on everything that I’ve been lucky enough to do so far on this trip. We walked around for the rest of the day, just getting to know our way around the city. I especially liked the center square; there were tons of different people and families out on the grass enjoying the day. As part of the arts festival, there was a giant castle made of cardboard boxes in the square built by the people in the city. Although we didn’t do anything super touristy, I really enjoyed just getting to know the city. I would definitely come back to Galway and explore more. We came home for our cúpan tae before going to bed after a busy weekend!

We had a new teacher start this week and he has been good at reinforcing our knowledge of sentence structure and grammar, as well as adding new vocabulary. After class on Monday, we had an instructor come in and show us traditional séan nós dancing. It was so difficult! I was stomping around while the instructor’s model student tapped and kicked as gracefully and effortlessly as anything. I’m not too good at it myself but it was lovely to watch and to hear the music.

Tomorrow is our first test so I have to go review for a bit! Wish me luck!!

my friends and I enjoyed some ice cream in Clifden!
the flowers in the center square in Galway
Galway city

Cologne Part 4: Bonn?


On Sunday, my landlord and “host father” Norbert, Klaus’s brother, took me out for the day to explore Cologne and the surrounding area.

We started out on the right side of the Rhine in Cologne, visiting the Altenberger Cathedral, often called the “cousin” of Der Kölner Dom, the iconic cathedral in Cologne. There was no Mass or service going on, but we stopped to look around inside, pray, and listen to beautiful organ music echoing throughout the church. Norbert explained some of the history of the cathedral, and pointed out that it’s actually older than Der Dom. Afterwards, we stopped for a Kaffeestunde, or “coffee hour,” enjoying coffee, cake, and conversation on the scenic campus of the Church.

Afterwards, we headed to Petersberg, a tall hill (not quite a mountain) outside of Bonn, just a half-hour drive from Cologne. Atop the hill sits a hotel, known as Hotel Petersberg. The hotel is the official guest house of the German republic and has hosted esteemed guests including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, and Nelson Mandela, among others. Perhaps even greater than its guest list, however, is its gorgeous panoramic view of Bonn over the Rhine.

After our visit to Hotel Petersberg, we traveled downriver and across the Rhine by ferry — after Bonn, there are no bridges over the Rhine for 80km! It was truly picturesque driving through the Rhine region.

Mundo Lingo and Kölsch

One of the most rewarding and fun experiences I’ve had in Cologne so far comes up every Wednesday evening: Mundo Lingo! Mundo Lingo is an event meant to encourage people to meet, talk, and practice languages! The event takes place at a hostel bar every Wednesday, and everyone wears flag stickers representing the languages they can speak — in my case, the American and German flags!

Next, you grab a Kölsch — the famed and beloved delicacy of Cologne. My host dad explained to me that “Kölsch” is the only thing in the world that refers to both a beverage and a dialect, and both are allegedly unbeatably smooth. Indeed, Cologne residents speak a smooth dialect of German which does away with the hard “ch” sound in “ich” and opts for a smoother “shhhh” sound, as in “isch” or “Kölsch.” The beer is brewed only in and around Cologne, and is usually served in a small, 20ml glass.

The small serving size makes it a great beer for conversations. The atmosphere at Mundo Lingo is friendly, laid-back, and of course full of conversation. I befriended a group which includes a German and Iranian. We talk about our experiences in Germany, opinions on our homelands, favorite foods, and whatever comes to mind, all in German, of course. It’s amazing to be part of the cultural exchange and friendship, all mediated by the beautiful German language, and topped off with a refreshingly smooth Kölsch!


If you want to buy souvenirs or traditional Russian arts and crafts, Изма́йлово is a place that you must not miss. This is the biggest flea market where you can find all sorts of souvenirs for reasonable prices in Moscow. Vendors there will be likely to ask for higher prices when you are a foreigner. But bargaining is perfectly acceptable there: a 10% discount is almost guaranteed, and the process of bargaining is sometimes very fun.

I have been to Изма́йлово for three times in total during my stay in Russia. The first two times were at the beginning of the program, and the last time was on the second last day I was in Moscow. I saw a significant improvement in my ability to communicate with the vendors and bargain for prices.

The most popular Russian souvenirs are obviously nested dolls. Prices of nested dolls range very widely, as machine-made dolls are super cheap while hand-made dolls by famous artists can reach hundreds of dollars.

Traditional Russian Souvenirs
Soviet Style Magnets meant to tell people not to drink








Besides some traditional souvenirs, you can also find many interesting products there, such as old photographs or student IDs, and some very nice Orthodox artifacts which unfortunately cannot be brought out of the country due to laws for protection of cultural heritage. There is one booth that sells bear fur, which is very impressive. I asked the price for the biggest one, and the seller said 1 million roubles, which is equivalent to around $17,000 dollars.

In Изма́йлово, there is also a really nice restaurant that sells Шашлык, a very common and popular Georgian food. This is actually my favorite in Russia. Honestly there is not that much delicious food in Russia (at least to me personally), and Georgian food is definitely one of the best. I will write more about Russian food in my next post.


Excitement for America

When exploring Beijing and other areas of China, the presence of American influence is obvious. From t-shirts with random, nonsensical english words to four story H&M stores, American culture is ever present, particularly in big cities. Locals are for the most part very excited to speak with foreigners and learn more about different cultures around the world. While enthusiastic to speak with us, many know very little about actual life in America. When asked about their opinions on America most responded with positive attitudes but knew little to nothing about life in America beyond clips from tv shows or movies. Within China, the possession of American goods shows a relatively higher social status. So regardless of one’s actual knowledge of America, many Chinese people still crave western products.


One particular topic that came up in many conversations was their interest in our opinions on Presidents Trump and Obama. In China, criticizing the government is not taken lightly, so many people were interested to hear our true opinions on the American government. During one class, my classmate and I were discussing with our professors what sort of news they would hear about America in their daily life. Interestingly, one teacher commented that leading up to the election there was a fair amount in the news about America and all the drama surrounding the election. After the election however, there has been very little about the state of affairs within America.


During a program trip to a middle school, I had the opportunity to give a presentation on what life at an American middle school was like. During the question and answer section, the students were shocked to hear that American students had large amounts of free time during the weekends and about an hour of homework a night. For many of these students, their afternoons were filled with homework and their weekends loaded with extra classes and practices for instruments. Interacting with these students and learning about how different that experiences of middle school students were in China and the U.S, helped me to realize that these two countries lifestyles still have an ocean of differences between them.