Sunday, May 27, 2018

Freiburg: Mixed Emotions

In my last post, I said that I would be discussing my birthday, Berlin, and my Vosges Mountains field trip in the next post. However, it’s now almost June, which means that in a little over one month, I will be leaving Freiburg. I have plenty of mixed emotions about this that I want to talk about instead of the things that I have done this past month. So, here I go. First, I do miss home. I miss my family and my best friend. I miss American comfort fast food chains like Chipotle and &pizza. I miss knowing that I can walk across the street and have bubble tea waiting for me. I miss my queen-sized bed and its fluffy blue comforter. I miss having day trips to Washington, D.C. and walking along the waterfront at Georgetown. I miss the Bronx and the rest of New York City, with its streets that smell like pee and dirty subway stations. I miss going downtown and people-watching at Washington Square Park. I miss the hustle and bustle and the crowded streets. I miss my roommates and our nights in eating sandwiches from Best Deli at 1AM and talking about whatever we had to do the next day. I miss a LOT of things from home.

The thing is, I have really come to love Freiburg. Its laid-back atmosphere, accessibility, parks, trams, döners, young demographic, and walkability are things that I cannot say I will be able to see and experience again when I’m back home. I love that the grocery store is less than a 5-minute walk away, or that the tram is right in front of my building. I love how Seepark and its lake are basically in my backyard, and that I can go there whenever I need to unwind or have a nice after-class hangout with friends. I love the square in front of the library, which is always filled with students lounging around and little kids playing in the fountains. I love the student bars, which don’t have cover fees and offer drinks for less than 5 euros. I love that I can easily rely on there being vegetarian and vegan options on every menu of any restaurant or fast food place. I love that I can get to France and Switzerland in less than two hours. I love that I am surrounded by the Black Forest. But most of all, I love the people that I have met. My roommates, especially Lala (the first one I met when I arrived) have been nothing but nice and accommodating. We get along well, share food, and clean together without any disagreements, which has been great. I can’t imagine what my time here would be like if I did not get along with them. At first, it was a bit awkward trying to talk to everyone, because I knew that they all spoke German and that it might be annoying to speak English to a non-native German speaker like me. But they never really complain, and that makes me feel better. Now, with only one month left to go, I can’t see myself living anywhere else.

And the people in my program. I think I’ll miss them most of all. There are 21 of us in the Environmental Studies program, and all of us have become really good friends. Despite living in different neighborhoods of Freiburg, we always find time to hang out with each other whether it’s going to Mudom, the student bar, at Engelbergerstraße or having a picnic at Seepark in Betzenhausen, which is where I live. Being in the same classes for four months has made us a tight-knit group.There are no cliques. There’s no drama. We all get along without any problems. We are experiencing Freiburg together, and I think that’s what keeps us all so close. Whenever we’re together, there’s no pressure. We’re all American college kids with similar interests in environmental protection, and while we have differences, they are easy to push aside. I think that is my favorite thing about us — that we all manage to be friends despite these differences. There are some people in this group who I know I never would have befriended if I were back home, which is why I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to befriend them here, now. They’re all so funny, nice, comfortable to be around, and great people. I love them all so much, man.

I know that I still have quite a bit of time left here, but it’s going by so fast that I can’t help but already reflect on my experience here and the people that I have met. I’ve slowly begun to prepare myself for how I’ll be feeling come July 7 — the day that I leave. Right now, I know that I will be extremely sad to go back to the U.S. But when I arrive home and get to lay in my own real bed, maybe my sadness will gradually turn into acceptance and bittersweet happiness. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Freiburg: Classes and Trips

Where has the time gone? I’ve been in Freiburg for over one month now, and it’s hard to believe. I guess time really does go by faster when you’re having fun. Since my last post, I have finished my German class. My grade was “sehr gut” or “very good,” which made me laugh but I’ll take it over the passive-aggressive “ausreichend” (“sufficient”) any day. I really am proud of how much of the language I have learned and picked up. I now know how to order food, say time, and read signs. Most of all, though, I’m relieved that I don’t have to worry about buying milk rice instead of white rice because I don’t know what “milchreis” means on the package at the grocery store (this is a true thing that happened to me). I knew absolutely NO German before coming here, but look at me now! 

We also had a week-long break for Easter, which was exciting. My friends and I decided to go on a trip through Italy and visited Venice, Florence, and Rome. Venice was all water, canals, and cute little streets that led to beautiful empty squares away from the crowds. Florence had vegan gelato, an exploding cart show for Easter, and an amazing lookout spot where we had a view of the city during sunset. Rome was crowded and hot but filled with pizza, paninis, and wine that we never tired of. Now, I know you’re probably wondering what my favorite city was, and I don’t have to hesitate when I say that it was Venice. It’s funny because I never really cared for Venice before going there. I had always pictured myself in Rome or Sorrento. Venice was just another city that was popular enough for me to agree to go to. What I didn’t expect was how much I would come to love it. No matter how deep into the city I went, it never got dull. Every street and square was just as beautiful as the last, so I was able to avoid the crowds easily without sacrificing the views that the city had to offer. I had my first authentic gelato, cannoli, and pizza in this city too, and that makes me love it even more. Overall, though, my Italian escapade was sehr gut, or should I say molto bene? Either way, it was very good!

I also began my environmental courses last week. In fact, I just had a presentation today about urban social problems (fingers crossed that I did well). It’s been interesting so far. The class that I am currently taking is about Freiburg and the ways in which it became a green city. It’s amazing to be able to be in a place that I’m learning about. We get to go around the city and see parts of it that we talk about in class. Today, for example, we went to Haslach, which is a neighborhood that was built to be a Garden City. Last week, we walked around the city center to look at the ways Freiburg has implemented the concept of “mixed-use” into the city. Tomorrow, we’re going to tour the city by bike! Freiburg is a huge cycling city, so not only will I be learning about a sustainable mode of transportation, I will also get to feel like a true Freiburg resident.

Up next on my adventure abroad, I’ll be celebrating  my birthday, going to Berlin, and taking a hiking trip to the Vosges Mountains. I’ll make sure to write about these experiences in my next post, but for now, tschüss!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rome: One Month In

It has been a little over a month now since I arrived in the eternal city. My perspectives regarding my professional and personal life have undoubtedly changed as the people and situations I've encountered have forced me to see things alternatively to my previous norms. Rome is a city which has aged gracefully, constantly attempting to rediscover and reinvent itself in the present, globalizing world. It has simultaneously preserved its monumental legacy as the former capital of an empire and the seat of spiritual authority. No more evident is this current face of the city, one that combines its religious history and modern, interconnected sense of global citizenship, than the the non-for profit organization, Solidarietà Internazionale ONLUS.

Based in the Lasallian Generalite, the organization which I am honored to be a part of, even though only an intern, was established to facilitate the construction and enhancement of educational and development projects throughout the world where the Christian Brothers are present. In an office where Italian, French, Spanish and English are interchanged and spoken fluently, the mission is to forward the opportunities of disadvantaged youths the world over. Fundraising for the construction of a secondary school in Rumbek, South Sudan, or implementing a system of clean, portable water to the most desperate populations of Haiti on the Island of Tortuga, are daily tasks for the team of Solidarietà. It has been enlightening to be surrounded by people who are so oriented and driven to advance the possibilities and improve the livelihood of others. In doing so they carry the Lasallian mission, a centuries old establishment, into the 21st century, attempting to facilitate sustainable development and quality education. Whether it be through the construction of a school, or of a water well, they attempt to provide a basis for people to uplift themselves. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Freiburg: Hallo, Deutschland!

It’s been one week since I arrived in Freiburg, and I’ve had an extremely busy schedule so far. I moved into my student apartment, got a SIM card, went on a tour around the city, shopped at IKEA, had my first German language class, and snowshoed in the Black Forest in a matter of seven days! Hectic? Yes. Exciting? Definitely. Freiburg is a beautiful city with lots of character. Every turn brings views of cobblestone streets, bright colors, medieval-looking buildings, and sometimes even small canals. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s a place straight out of a fairytale. 

Despite being in Freiburg for only a few days, I can already say that it lives up to its green reputation. On the train to the city, my view from my seat consisted of solar panels — lots of them. They were on houses in every neighborhood we passed, on roofs of commercial buildings, and clustered together on what appeared to be solar farms. As I settled into my apartment, I was immediately introduced to the recycling bins and the proper division of recyclables. I also had the opportunity to get money back on a water bottle that I returned after I was finished with it — a common incentive to recycle that is popular in Germany but difficult to come across in the United States. Furthermore, plastic bags are rare to find. Most people use reusable bags or pay to use paper bags. I even came across a small zero-waste grocery shop. You can be sure that the streets of Freiburg are litter-free! 

It’s also rare to see many cars on the road. Instead, bikes and public transportation are popular ways to get around. Luckily, my residence building is located right in front of a tram station, making it easy for me to get in and out of the city center. I will also be taking a bike tour of the city for one of the classes that I have to take, giving me a chance to experience Freiburg as the locals do.

I’m loving it here, and I cannot wait to see more of what Freiburg (and Europe) has to offer. 


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Panglao Island, Bohol & Potipot Island, Zambales

Birthdays @ the Beach!

       As February comes to an end I wanted to share with you all a recap of my unexpected island adventures! This February I went to Panglao Island in Bohol (Visayas) for my birthday with a fellow DLSU international student by plane (Cebu Pacific Air) and then visited Potipot Island in Zambales (Luzon) by van (....& boat!) with some new friends from Ateneo University and the University of the Philippines. The best part about each of these trips is that both were unexpected. The other great thing about it is that each trip was a time to celebrate someone's birthday! It was such a treat to be able to celebrate my birthday. on an island. in the Philippines. in February. I don't think I have ever spent my birthday away from a cold winter in New York before so being able to walk in the sand in February was incredibly fun for me! I wish all of you could've enjoyed the sun!
       While in Bohol, I was lucky enough to stay at a hotel located on the beach all at a really affordable price. Not only did I get to see the ocean right from my window, but I was able to do many of the "touristy" things I did not thing I would get the chance to do since I have been living in the busy city of Manila for the past couple of months. I was able to see the infamous Tarsiers of Bohol, visit the Chocolate Hills (probably the best part for me), go on the Loboc River Cruise, and meet many other travelers from places like Finland, Norway and other provinces in the Philippines. Overall, the trip was one of those things I have been meaning to cross off my bucket list and actually accomplished. This was my first time in the Visayan region of the Philippines and I'd like to go back again with family.
       If you are in the Luzon region in the near future and want an island experience free from commercialization then Potipot Island is for you! One of my friends that I had met at an artist talk in early January invited me to the "Beach Birthday Bonanza" for one of her roommates. How could I say no?! Haha the weekend trip to Potipot Island was even better than I could have ever expected.... especially since I had no expectations of what existed on Potipot Island. I knew prior to our trip that it would be "as local as local gets" which is an environment I was really hoping to experience as much as possible creating a little distance from the urban life in Manila, Makati, Quezon City, and BGC/Taguig (as much as I love the city traffic and I are not the best of friends).
        Potipot Island was soooo much fun because it is so different from the island experience I had in Bohol. First of all, I slept in a ten and not a room at a resort! :D Most people who stay overnight at Potipot will sleep in tents, but there are also cabins and rooms available for rent and the prices are quite affordable. I had gone to Potipot with eight other people and we only stayed for one night. We left at midnight on Friday, arrived around 6:45 AM and left the Island around 2:00 PM on Sunday. The drive back to Manila is probably about six hours without traffic. It was 100% worth. The clear blue water, and the soft blue sand alone is worth drive. I did not spend more than $40 for this trip. This included transportation (van & boat - two way), gas for the van, food, water, the overnight fee, and my share for the cabin and tent rentals. I would take this trip again in a heartbeat. The view, the experience, and the cost were excellent but the company I was with tops all of those factors. I brought one of my DLSU International Student friends from Myanmar with me to meet my new friends from Ateneo and UP and our group dynamic was awesome! It was the first time all of us were hanging out together except for the roommates that live together and I am so glad I took my friend up on this last minute offer to visit Potipot Island.
        There is so much more I can say about my time here! I'll save it for another post but for now I have to get ready for my next class. Hope you are all doing well, Jasper Family. Always feel free to contact me about studying abroad her in the Philippines or planning a vacation here as well. :)

Panglao Island, Bohol (Early February 2018)

Potipot Island, Zambales (Late February 2018)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Rome: Eve of Departure

On the morning before I leave for Rome I find myself with much to do. There is luggage to finish packing, goodbyes to be said and some American dollars that need converting into Euros. In the midst of it all, however, it is only right to take a moment, on the eve of my departure, to reflect on the upcoming experience. Furthermore, I think it is important to consider the road I have traversed thus far to make what once was a dream of mine, into a reality.

The process was neither simple, nor at times, straight forward. A multitude of paperwork, meetings with academic advisers and much planning went into solidifying my trip abroad. While strenuous, I found myself determined through it all, intent on prevailing. The opportunity to live and study in Rome was perhaps the greatest single thing I had ever been offered. It would give me the chance to experience life from an entirely different perspective. I knew, just like any other Jasper abroad, I would be doing myself an incredible service, be it in the workforce or in my personal life, to travel and study abroad.

I could not, however, have made such a dream possible without the help of some very dedicated people, to whom I am grateful. Mr. and Mrs. John Mark, for believing in my potential, Professor Dello Buono, Brother Robert Berger and Amy Surak for assisting me and helping me pursue my interests abroad, Professors Luisanna Sardu, Nonie Wanger and Paul Droubie for their help on my behalf, and Kevin Gschwend for coordinating it all. Thank you.

I now return to packing my suitcase, excited, yet attempting to remain unstressed for this evenings departure. The eternal city awaits.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Freiburg: Pre-Departure Excitement and Jitters

January has just ended, which means that in a little over three weeks, I will be heading off to Germany to start my semester-long adventure abroad. Now, when most people think of Germany, cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, or Hamburg come to mind. I, however, will not be studying in any of these big, popular areas. Instead, I’ll be going to Freiburg — a quieter town in the southwest portion of the country that lies at the foot of the Black Forest. A city that favors walking and cycling, houses numerous green buildings, and has a local government led by a green party, Freiburg is a great example of German sustainability, which makes it a perfect location for studying all things environmental. As an Environmental Studies major, I’m sure it won’t surprise you when I say that I am beyond excited!

Not only will I learn about sustainable design, conservation, and ecosystem management, I will also get to hike in the Black Forest as well as the Vosges Mountains in France as part of my curriculum, notching my enthusiasm up even further. Of course, there are other non-academic elements of my time abroad that I am looking forward to: meeting and living with local Germans, exploring Freiburg itself, and trying German foods like currywürst and döners are some of them. However, a big part of my excitement also has to do with traveling. I’ve had a list of European cities to visit — from Berlin to Prague to Rome and every other city in between — ever since I was little, and this semester abroad will finally give me a chance to see them. Just writing about it now is making this dreary February day a little bit brighter. 

However, exploring a new country (and a new continent) for four and a half months not only is a cause for excitement but also incites nervousness in me. First, I am going into this program alone. I do not know anyone else who is partaking in it, and this makes me anxious. Will I be able to make friends easily? Will I be able to get along with the people I live with? I hope so. Second, transportation. Because Freiburg does not have its own airport, I have to fly to Frankfurt, take a two-hour train ride to Freiburg that may or may not require me to switch trains, and then take a cab to get to my program center. I’m scared that I’ll miss or take the wrong train, that I won’t be able to find a space to put my big and heavy suitcase in, and that I won’t be able to hail a taxi. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly!

These are the thoughts that have been occupying my mind before I have to leave. I’m both eager and anxious, ecstatic and worried. In the end, however, I choose to be more excited than nervous. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! How could I be upset about that?