Friday, January 28, 2011

Oh How I will miss...

Sometimes I get asked "What do you miss most?" while I'm abroad, so before I actually GO abroad again (still, visa pending due to the slowness/laziness of the University of Bologna...) I thought I'd share some of my favorite American things that, if I could justify it, would bring an entire suitcase full of to wherever it is I'm going so that I can...
A. enjoy it myself and
B. spread the joy of these products to others

But alas, I have too many shoes, and while these things are AMAZING, they get eaten/drunken in a matter of minutes whereas my shoes will last the entire trip. So besides my family and friends (whom I clearly miss most while I'm away...), these are some things that I miss about America:

Really good American Beer. European, namely Belgian and German, beer is clearly amazing, but I must admit, I do miss my American favorites, such as Fat Tire and Blue Moon, as well as various random microbrews and Mexican beers. In general, we get a pretty good variety in America of various beers at comparable prices. In Europe, a Corona will cost twice the price of a "cheap" beer. so I do find myself missing the variety I get in my beer selection at home.

*Case in point: in Turkey, you can pretty much only get one beer....Efes! Now while Efes is a decent beer, 6 months of drinking only one beer gets tiring...

Vanilla Chai. I also think that this time I'll miss Starbucks Tazo Chai Tea Lattes... I know, wtf. I've gone over to the dark side. But they are quite good if ordered just right...

The Burrito.
No explanation necessary.

Finally, let me profess my love for Trader Joe's....

From "2 Buck Chuck" to the delicious Sicilian chicken sausage that makes my pasta sauces devine, Trader Joe's is by far my favorite part of being home. I fully plan on rocking my Trader Joe's pirate themed shopping bag during shopping trips in Italy in the next few months. I frequent this place at least once a week to stock up on goodies like...

White Chedder Corn Puffs!
Dark Chocolate covered pretzel crisps!!!
Creamy corn and roasted pepper soup!! or the Tomato and Red Pepper soup!!! or almond milk!!! all sooooo good

I also miss my wiener dog...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

and then what...?

And then I came home to San Jose, California in late August 2010. I took a quick jaunt down to socal to see friends before taking a job at Starbucks (yes, I know, I caved and betrayed my Peets, but stupid Peet's wouldn't hire me back until Christmas and money is money...). Luckily I only worked at the hell that was Starbucks (IT WAS HORRIBLE. STARBUCKS IS A CULT) for 6 weeks before finding my current random full time job as an activities assistant at a senior living facility! It's definitely not a job I'd ever though of doing before, but it's pretty awesome. I basically help seniors have fun and stay active and healthy. I get to be super social and everyone is really nice. And I feel like I'm actually doing something. So that is that.

Life at home with my mom in San Jose is pretty lackluster. Home is comfortable. It's nice to be around family, but my sister is away at school and I don't really have any friends left in the Bay Area, so I spend my free time at the gym, hanging out with my dog, or cooking. I've rediscovered my obsession with horrible American reality tv shows, such as Jersey Shore and anything on TLC. And of course I frequent the local library.

Over the past few months, I got to visit my friend Nicole in Denver, Colorado and really enjoyed spending time with all the friends that came to visit the Bay Area over Christmas/New Year's. Basically, life goes on and monotony has ensued. But I hate monotony, so clearly this routine was not meant to last what next?

As some of you know, I got into the only grad program I applied to this year! It was the only one I had applied to so far because it was absolutely perfect for me and did not require that I take the GRE. Haha. It is a master through the University of Bologna, where I studied abroad in 2007-08! The program is the International Master in Development, Innovation and Change (otherwise known as MiDIC) and I'll be studying international economic and social development and change. Furthermore, I got selected to be one of 5 out of like 50 students to do the second semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa!!!

So where will I be for the next year?

March 10-July: 1st semester in Bologna, Italy studying International Economics + Development
August-December: 2nd semester in Cape Town, South Africa studying more sociological topics including social change and social development
January-March+ 2012 : Internship to finish my master somewhere in the world (probably either in Turkey, Geneva, or maybe in DC or NYC)

This master program is only 1 year long. I'm really excited about it because I'll get to further my education in a field I'm interested in and do a really dynamic international program that just doesn't exist in the U.S. I'm excited about stepping into the advanced academic field to see where it will take me! I'm excited to come back to Bologna for 5 months and I'm really excited to go to SOUTH AFRICA! I mean, going to South Africa to study social change is like academic ecstasy for me!! I'm such a nerd :)

If you're interested in reading about the master program I'm doing, check out the website.

So there you have it, my life has been a crazy ride so far and I have no intention of slowing down. I am so thankful for all my opportunities and experiences over the years and looking forward to those that are to come.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Where have you been all year?? (Part 4, Istanbul)

In February, 2010, I arrived in Istanbul, Turkey. From February until August, I was living with my dad, working at his company doing translation and research, and most importantly taking Turkish class. I met some truly wonderful new friends and really fell in love with Istanbul, which is, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in the world. Ve simdi, biraz Turkce konusabilirim :)

I wrote a few blog entries over on another blog site while in Istanbul.
If you'd like to see them, you can go to (I attempted to use wordpress for a while, but I've decided I like this Blogger better.)
Here's one of my posts that I particularly liked...

"Welcome to Mustacheland: A Short Commentary on Public Transportation in Istanbul by a Californian"
One month living in Istanbul, and I think I have now seen every sort of mustache that exists.
My Turkish father maintained a commendable bushy black stache for my entire childhood. In fact, when he decided to permanently shave it off 2 years ago, my sister and I thought the world was ending. He didn’t look the same. My baba was not my baba without his signature mustache. And it seems that many a Turk feels the same way.
One month ago I moved to Istanbul to learn Turkish and see where life takes me. Life has taken me to a place where I spend a total of 1.5 hours a day taking public transportation, mostly in the form of the metro from Levent to ITU/Maslak to Taksim and back to Levent. I run around the city going to work in Maslak editing English at my father’s office to Taksim for Turkish class and back home to Ulus, near Levent, at night. I spend lots of time entering and exiting metro stations, going up and down escalators, and of course, last but not least, blatently and rudely staring at the people around me.
And what do I see everywhere? MUSTACHES! Mustaches of all different shapes and sizes. Some large middle-aged men have ones so bushy that they overwhelm the owner’s lip. Some younger men have thin ones with curled up ends that make them look like some sort of strange Ottoman pirate. Some old men have untidy graying ones with the ends drooping down to match a grumpy frown. The other day I saw a neat and tidy little mustache with a man in a bowler hat to match. All of these I see and more while utilizing Istanbul’s giant mess of a public transit system.
Now public transportation in a giant urban setting, especially one in which the language spoken is not your mother tongue, can be a difficult undertaking. Public transportation in Istanbul is no exception. The metro and the trams are relatively easy to handle, aside from the strange little fact that even though there is only one metro line from Taksim to ITU, I still have to get off and get back on at 4.Levent since they haven’t yet made a connection between the older line and the line with the stops that were built later.** The trams and the Kabatas Funicular are pretty simple, with their set schedules and stops clearly marked and announced. The ferries that go to the Golden Horn and Sultanahmed, where all the touristy things are, are relatively easy to tackle as well.
The regular city buses, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. Since I haven’t really been able to communicate well enough to be able to ask my fellow mustached commuters which bus goes where, I am having issues with the buses. The day that I actually did take the only bus I am sure about to the metro stop, it was so full I could barely squeeze on. One rainy day, I tried to take the bus back to my apartment at night and I waited for 30 minutes trying, unsuccessfully might I add, to get on 3 different completely full buses. Finally, I gave up and walked the 30 minutes home in the rain. And the dolmus, oooohhhh the dolmus, how you alude my understanding alltogether! The dolmus are privately owned minibuses that have 2-4 names of places listed on the front windshield and no set price. Good luck trying to get on one of those without much knowledge of Turkish! Even now that I am beginning to be able to function at a rudímentary level in the language, I am still pretty sure that I will not understand anything going on in the dolmus and am still too scared to try it out.
Even if you know which bus to take, it seems like every bus is always overwhelmingly full. And getting on a bus filled with school children and villagers doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re in the big modern city that Istanbul would like you to think you’re in. Anybody with any money drives to work, making traffic in the city horrendous. Others take a taxi wherever they go. The metro has its fare share of business folk and University students, but the buses, ladies and gentlemen, the buses are filled to the brim with everyone else, the odd people out. They are crowded and smelly and kind of miserable.
In general, I feel that many Turkish Istanbul dwellers have a sort of discrimination for the public transportation of this city. The metro is acceptable, but the buses and the dolmuses are not. “Just take a taxi!” I’m told. Now I do not come from a taxi culture, so the idea of taking a taxi all the time for no reason other than to skip taking a bus kind of disgusts me, even though the buses themselves aren’t my favorite thing either. The taxis here really aren’t that expensive, it’s true, however, I personally believe that this is because you are required to know exactly where you are going and how to get there because your mustached taxi driver is guarenteed to have no clue where the address is, or at least pretend he has no clue, and then proceed drive you around in circles for 15 minutes in the rainy traffic while you figure out the Turkish word to tell him to go straight, which is “düz” by the way in case you’d like to know. (Also, for your information, “sol” means left and “sağ” means right. You are welcome. Now you can take a taxi home!)
My aversion to taxis aside, I do love that I can grab a taxi home from Taksim to Ulus for a mere 15 lira whereas in California that same ride would cost you $30. I mean, at 2am I wouldn’t take a bus anyway. BUT, at 8am, I will be damned if I will get into a taxi. But the buses are too full. And the dolmuses are too scary. So I walk 30 minutes to the metro stop. At least I have lots of mustaches to observe…
**On March 29, 2010, the “two” lines of the single metro that I take were finally combined. The first few days were a little rocky with the metro basically not functioning in the mornings (I waited 30 minutes last Tuesday for the metro only to find out it was not going to be coming…), but now everything is just fine. In fact, my commute time has been cut down by a whole 10 minutes!

Where have you been all year?? (part 3, London)

Oh London, land of pompous English speakers and gloomy weather. My mother had taken us to London in 4th grade, so I'd done the "touristy" London before. This few day stopover was more of a trip to visit my good friend Charlotte (another friend from studying abroad in Italy that had somehow found herself back abroad again...) who was living in London at the time doing her master in contemporary art.

So London was filled with wondering around, seeing some museums, and going to random modern art events with Charlotte and her class friends. London is a dynamic, huge city with a diverse population of inhabitants, but it just doesn't have that special beautiful "thing" for me that other big cities I've been to have had. Honestly, to me, London is overrated, but a cool city nonetheless. I was there to visit my friend and we had a lovely weekend, end of story.

One particularly interesting museum I went to was the World War II Churchill war bunker museum! It's located in the war bunker in which Churchill and his advisers lived and worked during the height of WWII. It was super interested to read all about the English involvement in WWII and see all the funny mannequin representations of war planning scenes.

Where have you been all year?? (part 2)

After spending Christmas at home in San Jose, California and New Year's in San Francisco with friends, I took off again, this time to Europe, first to Italy to visit friends and then off to live with my dad in Istanbul for 6 months.

For all of January 2010 (3 1/2 lovely COLD winter weeks of January to be exact), I was in Italy. I met up with one of my best friends, Shawn, to stay with a friend's brother for a week and be touristy in one of my favorite cities... ROME. Shawn was teaching English in Spain all year and had spent the Christmas holiday with friends in Italy. It was amazing to get to spend a full week with him doing fun touristy Rome things and just simply hanging out. We did the Forum, the Vatican, and wandered the city for 6 days.

One of the most memorable things we did was we went to the Befana market in Rome, which is the most famous market of it's kind. What is the "befana" you ask? Well, according to Wikipedia... "In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. This Italian gift-giving spirit is also known as Saint Befana, La Vecchia (the Old Woman), and La Strega (the Witch)." Honestly, it was kind of strange to see a witch associated with Christmas, especially a witch that gives gifts, right?

After Shawn left to go back to work in Spain, I spent the rest of my time in Italy with my dear Italian friend Carlotta, who had just gotten back from spending 6 months interning at the Italian consulate in Indonesia and traveling all of southeast Asia! We spent time at her house in Frosinone (a town just south of Rome) where Buffalo Mozzarella comes from (which is just about the BEST mozzarella EVER) and then took a roadtrip up north stopping in Florence, Bologna, and Padua to see friends of ours.

We had a lot of fun visiting and enjoying Italy. It was FREEZING cold, but we made the best of the weather. We even took a pizza pilgrimage down to Naples to see a UCSD friend! I love Naples! It's so dirty and ridiculous. Carlotta had never been, even though she lived in a town an hour away from it for years. Pizza in Naples is literally THE BEST pizza you can ever imagine eating. It is truly incredible.

Some say that it's the [dirty garbage] water and the [coffin] wood ovens that give the pizza there a taste impossible to replicate anywhere else in the world...
The day before I left, I popped off the button on my jeans, so clearly I enjoyed myself food-wise a little too much.... Hahahaha. Luckily Carlotta's grandmother (Nonnaaaa!!) was on hand to sew a new button on my pants.

Italy was a nice relaxing trip to see old friends and enjoy places that I had missed like crazy since leaving in July 2008 after my amazing study abroad experience. It was nice to be back, but I was ready to go on.

Next was a 5 day stopover in London to see another dear friend who was doing her master degree there at the time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where have you been all year???

So clearly I am horrible at blogging. I always start off with good intentions and then just fail miserably. But this time I venture off, I'm really going to make a point to blog because I really want to share with everyone my next journey.

First of all let me just explain what I've been up to this past year. We'll start with PERU (Oct-Dec 2009)

I left this blog having just planned a spontaneous random 6 week volunteer/travel trip to Peru for fall 2009. I was in Peru from October-early December (I flew home on my birthday) and it was interesting, to say the least.
I spent 4 weeks doing random volunteering with kids and English in a small touristy town in the Andes called Ollantaytambo. I hiked a lot, saw Machu Picchu (which was INCREDIBLE) and ate far too many potatoes.

I met a lot of nice people, spoke a lot more Spanish than I had since learning the language in high school, and learned how ridiculous yet gorgeous Peru and the Andes are. I then traveled around by myself for 2 weeks, from Lake Titicaca to Arequipa to Pisco to Lima, surprisingly
managing to stay safe and
crime-victimless. I saw a country that could not seem to pick itself up, and honestly seems to have no desire to be anything other than it is now. I met Peruvians who had never traveled beyond the next town and who honestly had no drive to ever go further. I met people who were perfectly happy just being where they were with the people they were with. It forced me to question so much about my own life and my own curious, wandering nature. Why am I so restless in my life, so indecisive when these people (especially my host family in Ollantaytambo) are so genuinly happy in their simple existence. Does having a world of possibly, a million choices at your every turn, make you actually less happy in the end?

I saw for my own eyes how you cannot force change upon people, they must want it themselves. Peruvians, in my eyes, do not seem to want change. They have outsiders coming in
telling them "you must drink coka cola in plastic bottles!" and "you must use the internet!" but yet there is no one to take away their "modern" waste and really, what does one use internet for in a town of 100 people at 13,000 ft elevation in the middle of the Andes?

As much as I'm an advocate of development and social change, my trip to Peru reiterated
my belief that in order for change and development to be effective and successful, it must be initiated and pushed for by the people it is for. But regardless, Peru is a strange place. My friend visited Peru later and when we were discussing our respective trips, he said something quite harsh that actually rang quite true: "Peru lacks a soul." It kind of does. I hate to say that because it's not Peru's fault that it lacks soul, but it does lack a certain something. The feeling you get from the place is that it has been raped and was left to pick up the pieces without being sure how to put those pieces back together. So they made up some facade of a culture and moved on like they were okay, when they just aren't. Something was stolen from it, and I think even Peru has no idea what that thing was.

But now I can say I have seen Peru and I do have a desire to go back and see more of South America. It was fun using Spanish and being able to communicate and talk to random people while traveling by myself.

Also, on traveling by myself, I don't think I'd do it again. It was stressful and not very fun. It was nice to be able to see and do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and I definitely met a lot of people and spoke more Spanish than I would have otherwise, but as a girl traveling by myself, it was just uncomfortable a lot. Traveling with friends is just so much more enjoyable overall.

After Peru, I came home to the Bay Area for Christmas and New Year's before heading over to Europe...