Just Two Weeks Left…

Just Two Weeks Left…

What can I say so far? Other than this being one of the most incredible and wonderful life journeys I have been through, thus far, I would like to add a few other comments…

The days are slowly winding down. Now, I have close to two weeks left. However, I have really learned and understood that I should never take anything for granted. Thus, I feel as if I am truly appreciating every moment of my travels and of my stay here, in Florence- especially now more so than ever.

Last Sunday, I participated in a Vespa tour, traveling throughout the beautiful wine county of Chianti. It was a wonderful experience- not only because I had the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of a Vespa- but also because of the wonderful scenery, the natural smells, and feeling a sense of inner peace and freedom. The rolling hillsides of the Chianti region were beautiful, each hill speckled with the vineyards and villas producing the region’s famous wines. After the Vespa tour, my group was invited to one of the family owned villas, and we were presented with an assortment of different cheeses and hams – such as the delicious salami- for taste testing. Our guide told us many specifics regarding the combinations of cheeses and the salamis that could be consumed with Chianti’s famous wines. Before this tour, I always took cheese and salami for granted; never truly exploring the various smells and tastes of these two famous Italian foods. However, after the conclusion of this tour, I think I have grown a little more in regards to becoming a cheese and salami connoisseur!

This Sunday, I am planning to further delve myself into the Florence and Tuscan experience, by participating in a Tuscan cooking class- specifically focusing on the baking and making of a pizza- Italian style, of course! Since I am not an experienced chef when it comes to making pizza dough, I am really looking forward to learning something new. My ultimate goal is to be able to replicate the recipe, and bake a Tuscan style pizza for when I arrive back in the states.

My classes here have been going very well, too!

This semester, I am taking a Digital Photography course as well as the Design, Italian Style class. Both courses are extremely interesting, and I truly feel as if I am learning so much information. Just to clarify- I am learning in the fun way, and not in the “boring-I-have-to-go-to-school” way. Our professors understand us students are not just studying abroad, but that also one of our main goals while traveling throughout Europe, is to enjoy the country and the regions where we are living. Thus, I must say our professors really have and continue to do a wonderful job integrating the Tuscan, and more so, the Italian, culture and language into each and every one of our lessons. Not only does this make the learning experience more interesting for us students, but also at the same time, we are able to learn a little about the region we are living in for so long.

For example, I learned recently the complicated and intricate process of the developing procedure of an espresso machine. Espresso, as many are well aware of, is one of the major and very famous drinks found throughout the Italian countryside. This coffee drink was first made by compressing steam, which blackened the coffee kernels, ultimately brewing the coffee to result in the taste and texture of an espresso. Throughout the past few decades, however, the espresso machine has undergone drastic developments and refinements, such as undergoing the transition from manual to electrical. Although I never thought such an intricate process lay behind the actual making of an espresso machine and more so, of the drink itself, learning this information in one of my classes made me respect this drink much more than I ever have before.

I can only say that I am really looking forward to these last few days in class, and my last two weekends here, in Florence, Italy, because I think I can only improve and build on the knowledge that I have already gathered during my stay, these past 10 weeks in beautiful and mystic Italy.

Ciao and until next time!



Plazas, Castles, and Hospitals.

Woah. It’s been awhile since I gave an update, but I have a fairly good excuse. But first let me tak…no. Let me start back from when I left Torremolinos on July 2.

The night before we left Torremolinos, I had a sore throat so I didn’t go out anywhere because I figured I should rest. We went to Sevilla and stayed there for one night. Our hotel was so nice. A luxury suite compared to Hotel Natali in Torremolinos. One of the most interesting things was how the power in the room was operated. There was a little card slot by the door, and once you put your card in, the electricity turned on. I thought it was a brilliant idea. It surely would save them a lot of money and it helps the environment. Oh! And there was wifi in our rooms!

The electricity card slot.
The electricity card slot.

Sevilla is a beautiful city. We visited this amazing place, Plaza de España, and then explored the streets. I had some delicious calamari at a quaint little restaurant. I wish we had more time there to be honest. I didn’t go out again in Sevilla because my throat still hurt.

Plaza de España
Plaza de España
favourite lunch!
favourite lunch!

The next day, we headed to Madrid. On the way, we stopped in Cordova. We went inside of a mosque while there, but then inside of the mosque there was a cathedral. It was beautiful. I was amazed at the architecture and all the art, as usual. We had lunch at a small restaurant that we found at the end of a very tiny street. It was adorable.

cutest restaurant
cutest restaurant

The place that we are staying at in Madrid is actually a dormitory at a university. We each have our own room and bathroom. I never realized how much I like my personal space until this trip. There is no AC in the room, which wouldn’t a problem, except there isn’t a fan either. The first few nights it was cool so a fan wasn’t necessary, but then it got very hot and it was absolutely necessary to get a fan.

I’m taking two classes here in Madrid, Spanish-American Culture & Civilization and Spanish Literature. I don’t mind the culture class, but I hate the literature class with a passion. Originally I was in another class, but it was taught in English and I’m not here to speak English so I switched. I regret that decision every day. But oh well. Nothing I can do now.

Saturday morning I woke up without a voice. I never lost my voice before so it was quite an odd feeling. We went to Segovia that day. In Segovia, the Romans had built aqueducts and they were truly spectacular to see. They didn’t use any cement or anything to hold the stones together. I don’t fully understand how that is possible, but it’s been standing for many, many years so they knew what they were doing! I also saw the castle that Cinderella’s castle was based off of. There was a moat surrounding it, and in the old days, they used to keep bears in the moat! Crazy!

Do you see the resemblance to Cinderella's castle?
Do you see the resemblance to Cinderella’s castle?
Clare, Meredith, and I with the Roman aqueduct in the backgroud.
Clare, Meredith, and I with the Roman aqueduct in the backgroud.

Saturday night, I went to a nightclub. It is one of the most popular ones in Madrid, Kapital. There were 7 floors with different styles of music and bars and lounges. It was pretty cool.

Meghan and I at Kapital.
Meghan and I at Kapital.

Going out that night probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but I’m supposed to be young and foolish, right? The next day I still didn’t have a voice and wasn’t feeling too hot. And it wasn’t a hangover! I stayed home and tried to rest and get well. Tuesday came and I felt awful. I asked my advisor to take me to the doctor. Three hours later, he told me that if I wanted to see a doctor today, then we had to go to the hospital and go through the emergency. I was that bad, I said yes. I left class early and we headed to the hospital. We waited for almost two hours before seeing someone because the insurance was giving problems. The doctor was very nice. She asked me what my symptoms were and I attempted to describe them in Spanish. She sent me for an X-ray. I’ve never had an X-ray before! It was an odd experience, partly because the woman only spoke Spanish and I don’t know medical terms so we had to use many hand gestures. I got the results and it turned out to be a sinus infection and phlegm in my lungs. She prescribed 4 medicines, which I purchased from the pharmacy. I never imagined I would spend my afternoon in a Spanish hospital, but I survived!

hey look! it's me!
hey look! it’s me!

The week was very uneventful and relaxed as I tried to get better. I visited two small museums with my culture class. They were alright, but I didn’t feel good so that didn’t help.

My dad has a cousin, Pauline, who moved to Madrid last year with her family. On Friday, I met her for the first time when she came and picked me up from the school. That weekend her church was having a retreat and she invited me to go with her. She told me the accommodations would be basic, but that was an understatement. The building looked like a horse stable. One long building with many rooms. Each room had 3 bunk beds and the bathroom was down the hall. There was no AC or fan. The whole place had a very funny smell and was not very clean. The bathrooms were the worst. I’ll be honest, I didn’t take a shower for the whole time I was there because the showers were gross and the water smelled awful. I wiped down with some wet wipes and convinced myself that I was clean. There were an abnormal amount of flies as well, and that just made the whole situation even worse. Other than horrible living conditions, the weekend was wonderful. Pauline and her family are so nice and kind. Pauline shared our family history with me, and it was truly special to hear. The church family was really great as well. They welcomed me into their community. They had a husband and wife from Mexico speaking that weekend. All of the services were in Spanish, but I was able to understand most nearly all of it. I was actually really proud of myself. I also got to speak a lot of Spanish that weekend. The message was amazing. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It was a fantastic weekend overall, and I’m so happy that God placed those people in my life.

Family :)
Family :)

I went to the Royal Palace after I was feeling better. It was huge and gorgeous! The king and queen no longer live there, but it is still fully decorated and used for special events. All of the rooms are so carefully and purposely organized. Almost every room has a chandelier! The dining room has a large table that fits up to 145 people, but the chairs are super tiny! If Thomas was to sit in one of the chairs, his knees would be higher than his bum. But it would be perfect for me! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside.

my next home, the Royal Palace.
my next home, the Royal Palace.

On Friday afternoon, I had a follow up appointment with a doctor. I explained my symptoms to her, again in broken Spanish, and she examined me. She had this long tube thing in her hand, but it didn’t click in my mind what she was planning to do with it. She put it in my nose first but it wasn’t going in so she tried my throat. I almost puked on her so obviously she couldn’t do that either. She told me to breathe through my mouth and then used this apparatus to help her open my nose a little, and then she shoved the tube all the way up my NOSE! It hurt sooo bad. I wasn’t prepared for that. It was awful. I cried. Just writing about it makes me want to cry and puke. Not a nice experience. On the bright side, she said I am good just a little dried out from the antibiotics so she prescribed another vitamin to help build back my system.

Friday night, Briana and I headed out to Plaza Mayor. The city changes at night. There were so many people selling stuff on the streets, but I think it’s illegal because they had everything on a blanket with a rope tied to the corners as if to be able to pick it up quickly and go. We passed by the oldest restaurant in the world, and then we ventured over to San Miguel Market. It was like a little square shopping center that sold food and drinks. You could just hop from place to place eating and drinking. They had all types of foods and drinks. I really loved it there. I ordered a mojito and 2 biscuits with raw salmon…yum!

Mojito and salmon..que rico!
Mojito and salmon..que rico!

Today, we went to Toledo. The town is well fortified so we had to go over a few bridges and through a gate or two to get in but there was a spectacular view once we got out. We took a walking tour of the city. Our tour guide knew a whole bunch of things about the city and all the places that we went. My favourite fun fact was in the cathedral. She told us that the 4 straight walls represent the earth and the round ceiling represents God’s omnipotent power and unending love, and the two together represent God’s promise to us here on earth.

Hello Toledo!
Hello Toledo!

Tomorrow, we head to the Escorial. This is our last week in Madrid. It has really flown by, but I’m excited for Paris and then to go home and see everyone!


Things to know before going to Japan

Before I went on my trip to Japan I looked at countless blog entries and websites to find more information about travelling in Japan, so I figured I’d make on of my own. This is an essential list of things to know before going to Japan.

1. You don’t need to know that much Japanese

If you are travelling to Japan with a group of students from USF, the amount of Japanese you need to speak is small to nonexistent. Generally, restaurants have picture menus that you can point to, and trains stations have the stops in Japanese and English. If anything ever happens, pointing to a map and asking a stranger usually helps, but if you are in a train station there are visitor’s desks. Usually, visitor’s desks provide you with English maps, and they can give you directions and store recommendations.

2. Sumimasen

If there is one word in Japanese you must know, it is sumimasen. Sumimasen means excuse me in Japanese, but it also means sorry and thank you. Out of all the Japanese I spoke while in Japan, this word was so important that I continued saying it when I came back to the United States. It can mean “Please move” or “I’m sorry, could I have your attention” or “I stepped on your toe, sorry”

3. There is nowhere to sit down

If you travel with Mako Nozu and Carleen Ben, they will tell you to practice walking before going to Japan. This is because you will be walking all day, the streets of Japan are not wide enough to sit down, and the streets are not lined with benches. Inside restaurants, trains, and my hotel room are the only places to sit.

4. Taking pictures of graves is incredibly rude

I made the mistake of taking pictures of gravestones, and hope that you do not make the same mistake. In the US, taking pictures of graves is normal, and we even have famous cemeteries. In Japan, gravestones have a different design, and may look cool but taking pictures of them is incredibly disrespectful.

5. Everything turns into a photo shoot


Everything looks gorgeous in Japan! The trees, bugs, flowers, buildings, are all beautiful. I ended up taking over a thousand pictures while in Japan, and two people took about 5,000 pictures.


Das ist eine kleines Wasser fuer die Frau von das Meer!

I have never seen snow before… well that was until this passed Saturday!

This last weekend I went to the Austrian city of Innsbruck, in the Province Tyrol! My work colleague (and friend Sonja from my lab) was gracious enough to introduce me via email to her good friend Florian who lives in Innsbruck and had an open room! Florian is a physics graduate student at the University of Innsbruck and his roommates had moved out for the summer, to go back to their homes! So upon arriving in Innsbruck (after another 4 hour train ride) Florian met me at the train station, took me back to his apartment and after I quickly set my things down we were off, walking about town and meeting up with some of his friends!

I left Vienna on Friday at 3:30pm and we arrived in Innsbruck at 7:55pm but what a wonderful 4 hours and 25 minutes it was! An old man named Sylvester sat next to me on the train. He immediately recognized that I had too much stuff for my seat and he offered to hold my bag near his feet! I felt so terrible because his man must have been 65 years old and there he was with a bag by his feet! But alas he would not take no for an answer! He would not take no for an answer but he also was rapidly speaking in German…. So possibly had I been able to formulate arguments against him other than “Nine nine nine…” perhaps he may have seen he was being far too kind and deserved a seat by himself, uncluttered by my frantically packed grocery tote bag. But I decided this was my chance to practice the German I had been learning all summer! I told him, in perfect German because by now this is the sentence I know best, “Ich spreche nicht sehr gut Deutsch” but he said “Das macht nicht,” and then he said something that means “as long as you can understand me” which I understood when he said it but I didnt remember what he said… But that was not the end for me… oh no! By sitting next to me, this man did not realize he was now inclined to speak in broken German with me all the way to Salzburg (where he told me he was getting off)! But he was delighted to! After a couple of minutes he was telling me (slowly but patiently) about his Kinder and seine Frau and about his past trips to England and other parts of Europe (he was even showing me photos on his cell phones! yes he had two cell phones!) I had mentioned to him I come from a small town in Florida next to the Ocean and I asked for the word for Ocean in Deutsch, “das Meer”, he said…. Not long after that we passed a lake and he said “Das ist eine kleines Wasser fuer die Frau von das Meer.,” meaning “That is a small water for a woman (girl) from the Ocean” and he laughed, and I did as well, but I was actually really touched! I was reminded about how special my home is, how it is actually quite uncommon to be so close to such a large ocean, especially for Austrians whose country is completely landlocked, to me that lake was very small, beautiful but small, but to him it was what was to be expected, for him all bodies of water have visible limits on all sides. So he parted as promised in Salzburg, and I continued on to Innsbruck, but I will never forget the lovely old man who patiently let me practice German with him and who loves trains (he was a self-admitted train enthusiast as for his career he drove trains).

In Innsbruck I had a great time! I mad many friends (who all spoke very little English, but were so fun), watched plenty of soccer, went hiking, ate dumplings, played in snow on the top of a mountain, ate more dumplings at the Knoedelfest (dumpling fest), visited a medieval castle and drank water fresh from a babbling brook!

It was a lovely weekend!

IMG_0051 IMG_0001 IMG_0003 IMG_0058 IMG_0125 IMG_0153 IMG_0166 IMG_0167 IMG_0176 IMG_0223 IMG_0003 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0016 IMG_0047 IMG_0103


Weltmeisters and Muenchen!

So just about as soon as I had gotten off the train from Salzburg, I was already ready to go see another of Vienna’s wonders!! But where to next?! Krems, Halstatt, Innsbruck?!  But then I thought… “Wait! Germany is so close! How could I come ALL this way to Europe and not visit Deutschland!?” So it was set! I would visit the closest German city…. TO MUNICH!!


Me fresh off of the train in Munich!! This is Karlsplatz! Look at that castle archway thing!! So incredibly European!

A note about the trains… Since being here in Austria, I am often asked “What are your thoughts about it so far?” and with out a doubt if there were one thing that I would want to diplomatically bring back to the United States to say “______ is a legitimate thing we really need to implement in our society” it would be the public transportation. I mean look at me. In this picture I, a kid, got on a train that took me from Vienna to Munich 435 km (~270 miles) away in under 4 hours and I had this amazing experience walking through the city, then later that night, I boarded another train that brought me right back. I know New York and most of the big cities have their metros and whatnot but I really believe states like Florida NEED infrastructure like this. We need a heavier train system. I should be able to, by some set of trains, go from Palm Bay to Tampa, at 21 my parents should not have to drive me across the state, and it should not be a necessity that I own a car. Also, we need trams, and nicer more reliable buses, and we need discounts for students and the elderly… and… and… if there were something I would “pickett” about it would be this!

Ok so, now off of my soap box… As everyone now should know, the Weltmeisterschaft (World Cup) is over, and the boys from Deutschland were the winners! It was a great tournament! I quite enjoyed it (though it did tend to take up some time in the evenings which I should have devoted to studying, thesis-ing, or blog posts….) I have played soccer (Fussbol) since I was four so I also love the World Cup because it allows me to talk freely about soccer in social media without too many people getting all mad! But I went to Munich one week before they had won the title so the air was tingling with excitement! Several stores were playing replays from their game against France the night before! The whole country was ready for this tournament! For example:


A common site in Munich during the Weltmeisterschaft! Many posters of their favorite sons! Many of the players on the German national team play professionally for Bayern Munich, the Fussbol Club of Bavaria (Bayern).

This was quite something to see! Coming from the United States where hardly any attention is paid to soccer. Though I will say that this World Cup, our team brought the nation together, I think a lot of people really started to realize how important this sport is!

I spent most of my day at the Deutsches Meuseum! It was a fabulous place filled with magic and wonder!! In all honesty I think they really needed a bigger building! It was packed to the brim of fascination!


I recognized this guy from 50 meters away and nearly started crying! Growing up my family has been on countless summer vacations to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and each time we undoubtedly visit the Wright Brother’s museum in Kitty Hawk!! This really shocked me and made me feel strangely at home!


The walls and ceilings were STUFFED with STUFF!! This was just the Museum for me!!


Planes here are plane-like…. I don’t know much about planes… Except that my grandfather was in the Navy and flew planes… and my uncle is a pilot… And that these are planes.

After the museum, I did what I normally do when I go to a city, walk around as quickly as possible and try to see as many things as I can! I actually like traveling alone somewhat (though most of me wishes I had a partner, my boyfriend, sister or best-friends because I do get lonely) because I can move really quickly and I stay really flexible!

IMG_0082 IMG_0086 IMG_0291 IMG_0306 IMG_0309 IMG_0313 IMG_0317


My first meeting with children living with Nodding Syndrome


cheerful hearts

Arriving in Northern Uganda, contrary to  life in Kampala , the atmosphere was quite serene .Seeing bushes on both sides of the road with few huts  well-spaced apart,  it immediately dawned on me that I’m in a village where I will live for about  7 weeks. Nevertheless , no regrets. I asked for it! All I had on my mind was meeting the children I had been longing to see…

Firstly, I had to visit the local leaders to seek their approval for my research and I was so overwhelmed by the reception I got from them. Finally, the next day I met these children who were also very excited to see me! They welcomed me with an interesting and energetic dance. It was unbelievable! I couldn’t beat them at it !! These children were amazing, with beautiful hearts full of life and energy. At first, I wondered if they were affected by the mysterious illness, Nodding syndrome, until the  communication officer for Hope for Humans Comprehensive Care Center at Odek , Mrs Apio Christine, showed me the pictures of these children before and after management. There’s a huge difference!!! I wondered why some parents discriminate against their children, and sometimes leave them to die all because they have nodding syndrome.   Although the syndrome has no known cure, but seeing the children managed at this center made me know that having nodding syndrome is not a death sentence after all, if well managed with regular anti-seizure medications and nutritious foods.

There are over 300 children in this community that are afflicted with this illness and only about 70 of these children are being cared for at this center .I wonder where the other children are?  Do they access healthcare? Is there a barrier to assessing healthcare?

The voices of these children need to be heard. They can sing, dance, be happy, and live a good life.

Nodding syndrome is an illness which affects children between ages 5-15 years manifesting with repetitive nodding, drooling of saliva, seizures and cognitive impairment. Affected children lose their minds, wandering around which in some cases has led to accidents such a falling into fires, drowning and even death. Parents often tie their children to trees, so that they don’t wander off. About 7,000 children have been affected with Nodding syndrome in Uganda, Tanzania and Sudan as estimated by World Health Organization. There is no known etiology of the disease and no known cure. However some risk factors such as river blindness, malnutrition, weather changes, pesticides, infections, exposure to munitions and some foods have been associated with the syndrome, but not proven.

Children who live in the poorest conditions with lack of clean water and nutritious foods are more likely to be susceptible to nodding syndrome.

Check this link http://youtu.be/QmFi0cAHSEc

for the video shot, at my first visit to the children at Hope for Humans Comprehensive Care center. Also see pictures of these children before and after management at this center.  There is hope for children with nodding syndrome!!!

Follow me here  http://hosted.usf.edu/GoingPlaces/?author=140   as my adventure continues…..



Aciro Grace b

Aciro Grace during selection by Hope for Humans in April 2014

Aciro Grace a

Aciro Grace  now

Adong Janet a

Adong Janet  before

Apiyo Irene b

Apiyo Irene during selection by Hope for Humans in 2012










Apiyo Irene a

Apiyo Irene now

Odong Justine b

Odong Justine during  selection by Hope for Humans in 2012

Odong Justine a

Odong Justine now








Opio Dete b

Opio Dete  during selection by Hope for Humans in 2012

Opiyo Dete a

Opiyo Dete  now







Meeting with one of the local leaders

Meeting with one of the local leaders

The children dancing

The children dancing

Dancing with the children

Dancing with the children

Exciting dancing moment

Exciting dancing moment

Collines and I

The Head of Operations  of HFH  Collines and I

Cheerful hearts

Cheerful hearts




I spent my last weekend in Barcelona. We had a 4 day weekend, so we were able to really explore the city. It was shocking to see things written in Catalan. Everywhere we went there were Catalonian flags, and people demanding their independence. I was unaware of how much of a pressing issue it was to the locals, until I witnessed it first hand. Besides my run in with the Catalan culture, I visited several different monuments. The first of which was La Sagrada Familia, a giant cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí. It is still under construction, and it is expected to finish by 2026. I visited Park Güell, which was also designed by Gaudí. It is a beautiful mosaic park overlooking Barcelona. I first knew of its existence, when I was around 10 years old watching The Cheetah Girls Movie. It seems almost surreal that I am visiting places I never thought I’d have the privilege to see. I learned to navigate the Barcelona metro system with a group of friends. We ended up visiting a place called Tibidabo. It is a huge church on a very high mountain, surrounded by an amusement park. We stayed their for hours atop the church, just taking in the view. It was definitely worth the hile. We all agreed that we never wanted to leave, but we had to head back eventually. The rest of the weekend was full of sight seeing and eating authentic meals. It was a really eye opening experience.


Home Sweet Home?

It’s been a little more than one week since I have retuned home from China. My experience has completely changed my entire outlook on life. It was the best experience I have ever had and I am itching to return next year. It has been hard adjusting back to life in the U.S. The one good thing is that I have a job so I am being kept busy. However, my craving for good Chinese food is insatiable.  I also miss my Chinese friends so much. It feels weird not being able to communicate in Chinese daily with people I encounter. I speak Chinese to my best friends but I am pretty sure they are not big fans… especially when I do it constantly.

I miss China so much. I am pretty sure it is my second home. I am grateful to have the chance to go on this journey. I have come out of it a much better person. I cannot wait to go back next year.

Jacob E.



What I most enjoyed of my experience is at the very essence of studying abroad being in the place of what I have been studying and learning about the very place I am able to stand at and see and touch and hear and smell and taste and feel.  Being immersed in the history of the place and that you are part of it just by being there.I particular appreciate how my professor encouraged us to completely live in the place we are, to become a resident for the period of time we are there and at the same time to respect and appreciate the differences knowing that we still are visitors to this country.  To distinguish between acting as a visitor and a tourist, a tourist who goes to a country and takes and takes, without regard, thinking the world is their Disneyland…

I found that I had to get away from all the touristy locations to get into the mindset of really imagining the history of the places we visited. For example, though it was great to go see Monet’s Gardens, it was not at all how he would have seen his garden and changes the aura of the place and it was only when I got away from the gift shops and the crowds of people that I was able to let my imagination run of how i might have been.

I enjoyed visiting old chateaus and imagining all the people who have lived and died during their time, all their joys and sorrows, hardships and pains and happiness they experienced while they were breathing and alive like us in our time now.  As great as the kings and queens like to be put out to be and remembered in portraits and with extravagant castles, just as important in the whole of humanity are the people who built the castle, the everyday people who were just as important in their own right.  I found myself thinking of this at Versailles, a magnificent place that is horribly crowded and touristy, when I noticed hidden doors in the walls and asked about them.  They were the doors of the servants to take.  That right there is so fascinating and interesting to just ponder about. And again they are just a worth celebrating as the royalty they served.

We are all in this together and though life and the world happens to be the way it is, and at times it seems to be wrong, it is up to us, as part of it to make it right.

I really don’t understand life sometimes, it is indeed random.  Just outside our classroom was a wall riddled with bullets from the Liberation of Paris within past century.  Who is to say my self, my being, my whatever you want to call it, couldn’t have been born in that time and been in very unfortunate circumstance that I as a lone human being can’t control.  And that is why everyday I say thanks, just for the simple fact of being alive.  I am very privileged and blessed to have been able to study abroad through USF and I thank every single person who has been a part of making it happen. I love you all and this has been life changing for sure.

Safe travels and do right simply because it is the right thing to do,

Sincerely,Alan Phan







Alone Time

Throughout these past weeks, I have enjoyed the warming company of my roommate, fellow students, professors, locals, and new friends.  At this point they are more like family and I will always remember the small moments with each one of my new friends I’ve made.  I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate to go through everyday with, to wake up in time in the morning for class, to go out and explore at night and do it all over again each day.

However, just as important as all the time with everyone, I must stress the importance of time spent alone.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love every minute of being with the people I’ve been blessed to share this experience with, it is just a different experience when you explore a new place alone.  You are alone with your own thoughts and interact with others in a different way.  I know everyone is different, some need constant social interaction while others need less and are more self sufficient in exploring.

For me it was that I went with the flow of whatever was going on with my circle of friends and i t was the greatest time i could ask for.  But when I got around to the third week and found myself alone in a cemetery, that was the very moment I realized how much I needed alone time, to relax and gather my thoughts and meditate on all that has happened in those 3 weeks.  It really cleared my mind and allowed me to take in all the new experiences.

I would say I found just a couple more times in the entire duration of the program to truly explore on my own and have my alone time.  One of them being an all day hike led by my professor in the countryside outside of Paris.  Though we were in our group, there were plenty of times to zone out and have a sort of group alone time away from the city, away from school and work and just enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the earth that we inhabit.  It ended being an 11 hour day trip and he stressed that for the entirety of the day to disconnect and just be in the moment, disconnect from our phones and emails.  Instead of taking a selfie to show off where you are at, just be where you are at and take it in.  I was so exhausted by the end of the day but all in all in all the hike was therapeuticand I felt so connected with everyone who went on that hike.  It was optional to go so the people that went really wanted to be there.  Such is how life should be, if you don’t want to be there and give it your all, why bother.

It might be that some people are very afraid to be alone. Afraid of their own thoughts when they are alone and need constant distractions.  The people that I find to be the most annoying are the ones who broadcast how bored they are and can’t get off their phones or computers.  First, it’s ok to not be constantly doing something and just let your mind clear.  And second, needless to say, there is so much out there to experience, by yourself or with people you love.

That is my rant, that is all.