“Tschüss München, Hallo Nürnberg” (1)

(Unfortunately, since my computer has problems during the past few weeks, I was not able to publish my blogs over my stay in Munich. Now, I am happy to play the flashback of the past fantastic six weeks!)

Saying “Tschüss” (goodbye) to Munich, I started my journey again as a wanderer in Europe. I enjoyed my sixth weekend in Nürnberg, the city home to the painter Dürer, world-famous tin soldiers and also a witness of the important trials of Nazi after World War II. Though Nürnberg is known as the second largest city of Bayern, it took me less than an afternoon to visit every corner of the old town.

A step out of my hostel, I was attracted by the Way of Human Rights (Straße der Menschenrechte) which features 27 white, solemn pillars. Engraved in each white pillar is one article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in German and another language. This symbolizes that the recognition and protection of human rights should be borderless. The monument is intended as both a repudiation of past crimes of Nazi (Nürnberg was once “City of the Party Rallies” in the Nazi-era) and a permanent reminder that human rights are still regularly violated. While trying to understand the German articles on the pillars, I was reminded of the miseries and anti-humanistic crimes that happened in the Dachau Concentration Camp I had visited. I felt heavy but also filled with the responsibility to safeguard the words on the monument of Dachau, “Never again.”

The Way of Human Rights: The Chinese words on this pillar read that everyone is entitled to display their creativity in economy, society, and culture.





Near the Hauptmarkt stands one of the most magnificent Gothic churches I’ve visited in Germany: St. Lorenz Church. The ceiling is star-shaped and in the middle of it hangs the giant wooden sculpture of Annunciation. From there leads to the Hauptmarkt where many shops sell fresh fruits, cheese and Düll (a specialty biscuit of Nuremberg). Though it is similar to markets in most German cities surrounded by joyful Bavarian music, beer, and fragrant food, I just love the atmosphere!

St. Lorenz Church













Abrecht Dürer is an inseparable part of the city of Nürnberg. This Renaissance painter, Da Vinci’s contemporary, is celebrated here as the name for streets, restaurants and the best artworks. I visited the old Dürer’s house and enjoyed his paintings and woodcuts which were dominated by religious stories and self-portraits. Famous ones include The Four Apostles, Adam and Eve, and Portrait of Maximilian I (his patron, a Bavarian King). I was fascinated particularly by his portrait of Adam and Eve in which the two figures look so tempted, yet the consequences of their fall still remain open to imagination. Undoubtedly, Dürer is a great painter and a pious Christian.


Then I visited the Toy Museum, climbed up to the Kaiserburg castle (beautiful but small), and had a wonderful meal at a beer garden. One thing I noticed in the Toy Museum is how the toys subtly mirror the “Zeitgeist” (A German word that means “spirit of the times”). For example, the picture below shows the tin soldiers whose production Nuremberg was famous for.  Obviously, in the Nazi era, the fever for Hitler and the army spread to the children. Nowadays, those NS symbols are strictly forbidden in the public spheres. Sadly, war is always an important theme even for the toys for children.










Last Night with My Chilean Family

I cannot believe that last night was my final night with my amazing Chilean host family. In honor of my departure, my host mother prepared my favorite meal––pizza. She put a Chilean twist on it by adding various meats, cheeses, and spices seen in typical Chilean dishes, so I found the meal to be very symbolic of the end of my journey in this awesome country but also symbolic of my return to the United States. As we did the first night, all of us––the four exchange students, our host brother, and our host mother––gathered around the table and shared stories as we devoured the delicious meal.

Following the meal, my family taught me how to play some Chilean card games. We spent hours at the table enjoying each other’s company through some, at times, not-so-friendly competition. I had a lot of fun learning new card games that I hope to bring back to my friends and family back home in New York. Additionally, it was super challenging yet interesting to play a fast-paced game in Spanish. I had to pay extra attention at all times to make sure that I was following the established guidelines all the while attempting to beat out my Chilean family.

I had so much fun spending my final night in Chile with my family, and it made it all the more difficult to say goodbye to them this next day. I also found the dinner and game that ensued reflective of my experience in Chile and as an exchange student, as it brought me back to the first night in their home in which we shared a similar meal. It was truly in this instance, however, that I saw firsthand the manifestation of my development as a Spanish speaker. I felt so much more confident contributing to the conversation as well as being able to clearly understand what all members of the family had to say. I am so grateful for this family and their role in forming my invaluable experience in Chile, and I know that we will definitely stay in touch over the years, as I especially hope to return to Chile one day in the future.

My awesome host mom and brother!

Exploring the Art in Valparaíso

Nearing the end of my Chilean adventure, I wanted to take advantage of the culture that is so abundant here, particularly through art. As aforementioned in some of my earlier posts, art––particularly graffiti and other murals––cover the walls and buildings of Valparaíso. Walking through famous hills such as Cerro Concepción throughout the city has shown to be the most effective means of viewing this art and also doubles as a great workout. The creativity of these arts is palpable, as images depicting any scene imaginable line the buildings through Cerro Concepción and the other cerros, or hills, of the city. This rich artwork attracts people all over the world, especially those who love art.

One of the most famous examples of street art in Valpo, which reads: “We are not hippies, we are happies”

In order to maximize my exposure to the art here, my friend and I decided to stop in nearly every shop we saw. Almost all of the businesses in Cerro Concepción are either restaurants or show off some manifestation of art, whether in the form of painting or sculpture, art or jewelry––Valpo has it all. I ended up buying a really cool sweatshirt from a local artist that depicts an ascensor running throughout the city. For those unfamiliar, an ascensor, or elevator in English, is characteristic of Valparaíso and serves as somewhat of a mini-gondola to transport people through the hills. Ascensores are widely depicted in Chilean art, so I feel lucky to have found a piece of art reflective of the culture that I can take with me wherever I go.

Super creative postcards that show off street art

I also really enjoyed visiting these shops because I got to practice my Spanish skills with the artists/owners of the shops. They shared the interesting stories behind the art and what has led them to Valparaíso. It was very cool to see how many people have been attracted to the city because of its art scene, demonstrating the global impact of the work here. In fact, my friend and I visited a screen-printing shop hidden away in a small street in the hills. When we entered through the doors of her shop, we initially greeted and spoke to her in Spanish. However, once she heard her accents, she immediately said “What’s up, guys?” in perfect English. After talking to her, we learned that she is originally from Oregon and, after studying in Peru and traveling the world, moved to Valparaíso because of the opportunities surrounding art here. She has lived here for two years and seemed to love it. It was through this interaction that I truly saw the significance of the art here; Valparaíso truly is a magnet for artists and art-lovers alike!

Willkommen in Deutschland!

After a week and a half, I still cannot believe I am here! For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by German culture, history, and language. I dreamed of exploring the German countryside, visiting historical monuments and museums, tasting traditional foods, and speaking the German language. When I first stepped off the plane in Munich, I was extremely excited! My dream was finally becoming a reality!

This week was a lot of firsts: first time using public transportation by myself, first week of classes, and first time eating traditional German food. 


In order to arrive at my new home of Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, I had to take a bus from the Munich airport to the city Hauptbahnhof (main train station), a train north to Nuremberg, a connecting train from Nuremberg to Schwäbisch Hall – Hessental, and finally a bus from Schwäbisch Hall – Hessental to Schwäbisch Hall.

I am not going to lie — I was quite nervous! There is very little public transportation in my hometown in rural Minnesota. I have only used it three or four times in my life and always with my family. And now, I would use more trains and buses alone in one day than I had ever used in my life!

Despite my initial uncertainties, I am glad to say, with the help of locals, I made it to Schwäbisch Hall! The Deutsche Bahn train system is fascinating to me because it reflects my perception of German punctuality. Trains are frequent and almost always on time. If an individual reserves a seat on the train, there is an electronic sign above his or her Sitzplatz or seat that identifies where he or she is going. For example, the electronic sign above my Sitzplatz read “Munich to Nuremberg” and the sign above the people across the aisle read “Munich to Hanover.” Everything is organized until the very last detail.

Munich Hauptbahnhof


Schwäbisch Hall is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It has approximately 37,000 residents and, unlike many German cities, was largely spared from World War II destruction. For this reason, many buildings retain their traditional Fachwerk style, as shown on the buildings on the right in the photo below. The streets are quaint, colorful, and historical, with cafes located nearly on every corner. Everyday it seems as though I am walking through a fairytale!

View of Schwäbisch Hall, Germany at sunset


The Goethe Institut of German language study is only a seven minute walk from my Studentenwohnung (student apartment). Breakfast begins at 7:15AM and classes last from 8:30AM-1:00PM, Monday through Friday. After class, we all share lunch together in the Goethe Cafeteria and try to incorporate new vocabulary and grammar into our conversations.

One of my favorite things about Goethe is its diversity of people. Though my class is only nine people, we represent Taiwan, Russia, Brazil, Algeria, Italy, and the United States. To the surprise of many, German is the only common language we share. It forces everyone to use German at all times, rather than referring to an alternative English translation when something is misunderstood. My teacher is excellent as she is the main vehicle for our understanding of each other and course material.

I am surprised by how much I am learning, not only about the German language, but also about local Schwäbisch culture and traditions. Everyday I only look forward to learning more!

Goethe Institut of Schwäbisch Hall


Earlier this week, I visited the Hällisch-Fränkisches Museum, the city’s history and culture museum. I learned that Schwäbisch Hall was founded in 12th century by the Celts, but was later destroyed by the fire of 1728. Schwäbisch Hall was immediately rebuilt and emerged as the city with the largest salt production and trade industry in all of southwest Germany. In fact, the Celtic word “hall” means salt!

In addition, I also joined the local gym Fair Fitness. It is reasonably priced and only a seven minute walk from my Studentenwohnung (student apartment). I have met several locals and enjoying watching German news as I workout. It has also been a great way to stay active and learn about German exercise culture. Two things that I have learned: many gyms do not have AC and always bring a towel. Fair Fitness does not provide towels and with no AC, the machines can become quite sweaty!


Weekend in the Desert

Last weekend, a group of friends and I decided to travel to San Pedro de Atacama, a popular town located in the most arid desert in the world. After our eleven-hour journey north, we settled into our hostel and then booked our tours for the weekend. The next day we toured Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, a rocky yet beautiful region of the Atacama Desert. We walked through small caves and through rock structures as our tour guide informed us that the similarities between the region and Mars have prompted many scientists to test rovers there prior to sending them to space. The tour concluded with one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, sunsets I have ever seen over the valley.

Sunset over Valle de la Luna

Other sights we saw included Laguna Verde, which consisted of about two hours of an off-the-map tour in a small van. In near 30-degree weather, we enjoyed a warm breakfast overlooking the lagoon and the surrounding mountains. During this breakfast, my friends and I had the chat with our new friend Che, a recently retired Argentinian who decided to travel following this milestone. He joked that just as students travel the world for months just after their graduation, he has chosen to do the same. I really enjoyed hearing about his interesting life and decisions, especially since he did not speak much English. Our conversation with Che, as well as our tour guide Christian, made the cold much more bearable.

Standing in front of one of the lakes

Following our time in the cold, we went out to Sal de Atacama, an enormous salt flat lodged in between ranges of mountains. The view was honestly one of the coolest I had ever seen, and as we wandered around the flats, we were able to see flamingos in their natural habitats in the lagoons. We later got the chance to swim in Laguna Cejar, a small yet highly salty lagoon in the desert similar to the Dead Sea. Of course, it was less salty, but it was really fun to test our buoyancy in the middle of the desert.

Salar de Atacama, a salt flat

Unfortunately, two of our tours were canceled during the weekend. Overcast skies prevented us from embarking on the highly anticipated star tour, especially due to the popular notion that Atacama is the best place to see the stars in the entire world, while piles of snow catalyzed the cancelation of our geysers tour. Although we all were really looking forward to these tours, we still made the most of our time in San Pedro, and I look back at it as one of the best weekends of my life. Beyond the natural, indescribable beauty of the region, the people on the trip––both those with whom I arrived and those I met in travel––definitely made the experience for me. My friends and I had so much fun meeting people from all over the world; I can now say that I have new friends from the Netherlands, Australia, and Bolivia, among many others. Everyone we met had such unique reasons for traveling, yet we were all united by a common purpose to further explore the world. Additionally, staying in hostels definitely helped me improve my linguistic abilities, through merely engaging with the staff as well as partaking in late-night fireside conversations with native Spanish speakers. For anyone reading, I would completely recommend staying at a hostel in order to garner the most authentic, eye-opening experience possible.

Siena Week 2-Community Interaction: Il Palio

If you have spent any time traveling through the Tuscan region of Italy it is probably very likely that you have head of Siena’s great summer holiday “Il Palio”.

I briefly learned about “Il Palio” before I knew I was going to study Italian in Siena for the summer, and what I had learned about it was very vague and unmemorable. Either way, two days into my study abroad trip I had already encountered several people who briefly mentioned this holiday and so I was interested in finding out more.

I asked two ordinary people the significance of “Il Palio” and compared their responses to one I received from the tourist information office. You’d be surprised by how beautifully unique all the answers were!

I’ll start with the information I received at the tourist information office so that you all have a brief understanding of the history of this holiday.

Il Palio is a horse race that occurs twice a year during the summer, July 2ndand August 16th. There are ten horses and riders that participate and represent 10 of the 17 “contrade” of Siena. A “contrada” can best be described as a city region/ward. The two dates mentioned above have religious connections: July 2ndin honor of Madonna of Provenzano, and August 16thin honor of the Assumption of Mary. The historical origins of “Il Palio” began as sports competitions between the contrade that took place in the city’s central piazza. The first modern Palio took place in 1633.

The race consists of 10 of the 17 contrade so not all 17 participate at the same time. However, the 7 that did not participate in that month of the previous year are automatically included, the other 3 are chosen at random.

Now let’s go over the community responses I received about “Il Palio”.

The first interview I conducted was with a young lady who lives in Siena currently but grew up in a city a few miles away.

She explained that “Il Palio” is a very unique holiday that the people of Siena are very passionate about. It is a very important event for the Contrade of Siena, and people often spend weeks preceding “Il Palio” celebrating and preparing for the event. One moment she’ll never forget about “Il Palio” is leading up to the race when the announcer is introducing the competitors and the entire crowd falls dead silent. Thousands of people, still, silent and unified for a few moments in recognition of the sanctity of this beautiful holiday.

Lastly, she described the details of the race itself. She explained that the temporary “track” around Piazza Del Campo is not like a normal horse track. It is much smaller and the turns are much tighter, making it common for riders to fall off their horses. However, even if a rider loses his horse, if the horse still manages to come in first place without the rider, that contrada still wins the title for the year. “Palio” is also common place for corruption, which only increases the air of competition around the race.

The second person I spoke with was a young man who lives in Firenze but visits Siena often.

He explained that “Il Palio” is a truly beautiful experience. Not being from Siena he didn’t know much about the historical origins of the holiday, but he still loves to attend “Il Palio” every year. He said “The Palio is an event that beautifully unifies all the spectators, tourists and Italians, whether they are Sienase are not.”

He also went on to describe the details of the race to me. He explained that the race is a very short event, a small track that the riders complete three times, which is usually finished in about 90 seconds. And despite the fact that this event lasts only 90 seconds there is so much anticipation and excitement leading up to the race that makes every second worth it. He said that the most interesting thing about the race (to him) is the importance of tradition. Since the beginning of time there has been in a rule in place that the race cannot start until all the horses are in a straight line at the starting point. This can take 3 minutes to 3 hours. If the horses are off by even an inch the race cannot begin. It is VERY important that they all start from the same spot.

I’ve also began noticing the changes in preparation for “Il Palio”. Every week each contrada holds different events and parities to rally the spirit of their fans. On my way home from school this week I noticed the fence that has been erected in Piazza Del Campo marking out the course of the track.

After all my research on “Il Palio” I’m looking forward to seeing the event in person as well. Sadly, I made my plan tickets before I knew the importance of this holiday in Siena and the first race (July 2nd) is three days after I am scheduled to depart from Italy L. Oh well, that just means I’ll have to be back next year to see it in person.

A recap for my language learning process: At the end of my second week here I feel a lot more comfortable navigating the city by myself. Siena can be a labyrinth to navigate sometimes, but I have finally identified major landmarks and can navigate the city with ease.


Along with being able to navigate successfully, I feel a lot more comfortable and confident when conversing with natives even if my Italian isn’t perfect. Most of the time people are very happy to see a foreigner learning the language, and are often surprised by how well I speak! Other times, some people aren’t as willing and respond in English much to my dissatisfaction. But for the most part anytime I enter a restaurant or café I am speaking Italian.

This week I made some friends at Dante Aligheri. They are all very unique and interesting. My class consists mostly of people older than me by 10-20 years and yet it is beautiful to see that friendship can be found in any age/culture. I really enjoy conversing with my friends from school whose primary language is not English, because this way Italian is clearest form of communication.

I did some sight-seeing of cities and areas around Siena, and visited the hot springs (Le Terme), San Gimignano and Chianti Castellina. The hot springs were so wonderfully relaxing and I was able to see another aspect of “la vita Toscana”. The people who live and work in the country side are very different from those I interact with in Siena. The following day I visited San Gimignano and Chianti Castellina. They were both very tiny but entirely beautiful. I also had the chance to visit the town my host, Azzurra, grew up in (Chiusdino). These towns are so tiny (less than 1000 people) but its so beautiful to see how rich the culture and community is.







I am so eager to learn and converse! I am determined to make the most of my last 3 weeks here.