Sunday, January 29, 2012

In my head, I'm still overseas

            After a week of gorging on pizza, deli sandwiches, and bagels, I’m well over the missing New York stage. Yes, I’ve returned to the land of Brooklyn accents, tough-guy attitudes, and a Super Bowl Sunday preparations, but in my imagination I’m still abroad roving around on the London Underground.

            “You don’t really know your country until you leave it” is just one of the many things people have said to me about study abroad. I certainly do have a greater appreciation for the States than I did before I left. On my first day back, I hung up an American flag I’ve had here for a while, but never did take the time to display before. This is always going to be home and I love my country. U.S.A. and its people are unique and there’s still so much opportunity here that is lost elsewhere.
The next bit of decorating my new dorm room after handing up the American flag, was to plant the four leaf clover seeds I brought back from Ireland and unpacked my British pub food cookbook. When professors, friends, and family see me for the first time after my trip, study abroad incites a conversation that reminds me of the great adventure I had. The memories and constantly explaining how going abroad benefited me makes me want to go again. More than the appreciation of New York and America in general that increased during my time abroad, I now have developed a longing for somewhere else, another place to miss. As I apply for summer jobs and research positions, the ones that would station me in London or a city in Europe that I never made it to during my travels stick out from the pack. I’m still afflicted with wanderlust.


On my flight back to the States, Icelandair provided envelopes for passengers to donate their extra change, which is particular convenient for those not planning to carry around their spare coins until they one day return to a country that accepts them as far off as that time could be. The charity supported by Icelandair’s envelopes provides ill children with air flight and expenses like souvenir money for the trip of their dreams. I’m so grateful that the Gilman Scholarship program supported my trip that I otherwise would not have been able to afford so, save for a souvenir or two from each currency, I poured my little satchel of pence, kroners, and euro cents, anything I didn’t use for the laundry machine, into the envelope. I didn’t quite hand get to hand it to the stewardess myself, but the nice lady in the aisle seat passed it along for me as I laid passed out exhausted from all my travels.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One last excursion

            In late December, I returned from Christmas break spent with a French classmate’s family road tripping back and forth to Spain and then sitting for Christmas dinner within the walls of the most amazing castle I saw during my entire European adventure. When I returned to the UK, there was an extensive amount of revising and studying that I had procrastinating doing all semester while I concentrated on exploring and having an enjoyable experience while abroad. Thankfully, the education system at University of Hertfordshire meant that I still had until the middle of January before finals started. After muddling through some really tough exams, I headed from my last one right to the bus stop after saying some quick farewell to the seriously amazing friends I met in England. I waved goodbye to those that walked me to the station and helped me carry my luggage. I could have stayed an extra day to have more time to say goodbye, but I trust I will one day see my friends again and I couldn’t leave Europe without visiting at least one more country!

            One thing that I wish I had known before leaving for studying abroad was that Icelandair will schedule you a stopover in Iceland for no additional charge. The trip back to the States with a long layover in Keflavik, Iceland actually turned out to be cheaper than a direct flight home on the airline I took for my initial flight from New York to London. It was cheaper and I got to spend a night and day seeing a bit of Iceland. The shared six person hostel room I booked was upgraded to a really nice apartment with free dinner and taxi service due to some computer error. That was a nice bit of luck for my last night abroad. Just after a filling breakfast of I don’t know what, I took a bus to the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring heated by Iceland’s volcanos. I’d heard that Iceland used hot springs to power its geothermal plants and as a source of chemically unique bacteria and white silica sand sold as skin rejuvenating products. Though, I was mostly there just to swim in the neon blue water. I can’t tell you how interesting and amazing swimming in the Blue Lagoon was; you’ll have to go for yourself one day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How has study abroad influenced my academic and personal goals?

I got to set off on the adventure I always wanted. This trip, studying abroad in the United Kingdom, has been the fulfillment of a dream. The chance to study in a foreign country as well as travel around a continent I have never been to before has introduced me to ideas, concepts, places and people I otherwise probably would not have encountered anytime soon.

The courses I studied here introduced me to fields and analytical techniques, many of which are not covered by my course of study back in the States. A lot of the new perspectives and concepts I have learned have been thanks to the broad array of classes available to students on exchange programs. They allow students to take courses in different majors and many of which are not offered at their home institutions.
Before I applied to study abroad, I carefully examined programs to see which courses were available where. When I was accepted to the international academic program at the University of Hertfordshire, I was surprised to find out my courses were chosen for me. I had written an essay about my academic interests and goals. The tutors here decided what I would study while abroad based on that my transcripts and that one personal statement. At first it seemed like there was a lot of variety in amongst the modules they selected for me. As I near the end of my studies here, I have come to realize that plenty of the material covered in each course overlaps.
Thanks to one module I took, I now have hands on experience administering ECG examinations, and bloodletting. In another course, we studied the essential nutrients and protein precursors found in the blood and pumped throughout the body by the contractions of heart tissue that results from the same electrical impulses that an ECG records. Yet another course went over how toxic chemicals like mercury that can accumulate in the environment and enter the same blood stream. Despite each course being from a different major, or “course” as Europeans say, I found myself most interested in topics of each course that happened related to each other. I then realize that parts of each course that most garnered my attention where those that overlapped with my main academic interests, the lectures and workshops that I most enjoyed were those most based in chemistry. I was particularly interested in the study of toxins that enter it into the body after accumulating in the environment and exactly how they affect us. This subject appeared in three of my four courses, sports health, environmental management, and biochemistry. The library here has been a great source of books on work in regulating chemical accumulation in the environment. Without realizing it at first, my semester abroad helped me confirm what I am most interested in perusing in graduate school and hopefully my own future research and work.
So my future, or the future that I hope to pursue anyway, is a bit more clear to me. However, I wouldn’t say that I found myself on my trip to Europe. At most, this all just reminded me of what I already know about myself and gave me a new perspectives to view myself. The only cliché thing that I can say about what I’ve gained from this trip is that it did broaden my horizons. I mostly used the time here getting to know the other international student who provided endless conversation comparing every little difference between our respective nations. They view much of daily American life as foreign and different. I showed the English what a Thanksgiving dinner was about. Friends shared Kings’ Cake and Malaysian coffee with me. When one of the French friends I have made here even visited New York as a tourist for Christmas whilst I visited France we were able to compare the tourist versus local perspective when we reunited. In general, I feel like I have a better grasp of how foreigners view American as well as how the world outside of the States differs. I have also made connections with countless people from England, Europe and the rest of the world that may be helpful in my future endeavors.

From a practical perspective, I have actually accomplished a lot here. Besides the few credits and the academic knowledge I gained along the way, all the wishes I have crossed off my bucket list was my next biggest major accomplishment whilst here. I kissed the Blarney stone, saw Stonehenge upfront, made pilgrimage to Lourdes, spoke Spanish in Spain, and explored Ireland, the home of my ancestors. I’m hopefully also going to get to see the northern lights when I stop in Iceland on my way back home. I am having adventures I never would have imagined before as well. I tested an actual patient’s blood and explored London on bike. I spent an afternoon in a castle that doubled as a space observatory. I took a road trip to Barcelona. I swam in the Mediterranean and I saw the most amazing sculpture park in Norway that I never even knew existed before. I’m having a blast collecting currencies along the way. I have made memories and new friends to last me a life time.

My life has changed. I was an independent person before, but by managing to studying abroad I have demonstrated this. Now I have all my experiences to cherish and learn from as well an accomplishment on my resume establishes that I am capable and mature enough take the initiative to relocate, adapt to a new environment, and learn from new resources.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Conservation in the United Kingdom

Studying sustainability while abroad has probably amplified my awareness of how human impact on the environment is dealt with here. In general, the cars are smaller and therefore more fuel-efficient. The only person in my building who has a car drives a mini cooper. Supermarkets here charges extra if you do not have reusable grocery bags. My flat is right next to a nature preserve and near a wind turbine. The public transportation infrastructure is pretty good. There are even more bicycle paths than I original noticed. The cycle share program in London is rather popular. The recycling program at my university is rather through and the administrators support other initiatives that encourage us to reduce our residences’ carbon footprint. The flat that turns their light off the most often and therefore uses the least energy gets some reward at the end of the semester. I got a pamphlet and pens made of recycled plastic from the Environment Team the first week I was here. Castles, Roman sites, Stonehenge and other similar historic sites are my only experiences of preserved areas though. I signed up to do volunteer restoration work at a near-by park, but the project doesn’t start until December. 

Other than the difference in average car size, I’m still not exactly quite sure how conservation here differs greatly from in the States. Recycling efforts are implemented all over the West nowadays and college campuses in the states also generally have a great presence of environmental awareness development programs. It’s not as if the plants and animals differ much from the variety in New York. The only place I saw an electric car was in Norway. No aspect of environmental conservation seems drastically different yet.

The sustainability class I am in here discusses how society sustains itself, the options society has to effectively use resources and develop agriculture and industry in light of the green movement’s goals. The goals being to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I was surprised to find that even in a European class rooms, discussions of the development of environmental concerns often references the States, but that is where the green movement and organizations like the Sierra Club first gained ground. Plus, U.S. organization like the Environmental Protection Agency often still are the first to set standards which then are adopted elsewhere in the West. A film screened in one of the workshops actually went over each American Presidents’ approach to environmental issues. The overall issues seem to be the same. Water depletion, fossil fuel use, and pollution all need to be reduced in the States and here, but this has proved easier said than done. The decision of whether it is better to invest in more efficient and environmentally friendly new technological developments or to just cut costs is common to not just the UK and the US, but all people.

Spending extra money and time on evaluating the ways each new construction affects the local ecosystem. Consulting sustainable development firms and securing environmental services cuts into investment capital. However, it is taught that short-term cost cutting can have major long-term consequences. Plenty of examples, such as the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, demonstrate how clean up costs far exceed the cost of preventative measures. Some new research and theories under the title of “ecological modernization” even suggest that sustainable development investments will actually stimulate the economies by creating a new green collar job sector as well as maintain long-term economic stability and growth by preventing environmental disasters. Also, technological innovations and environment-informed design are leading to more efficient solutions to the need for sustainable development.

It will be interesting to see which countries make the most progress redeveloping sustainably. As of right now the direction is up in the air so future elections will determine which nations either further invest in their environmental agencies or slash their budgets. Who knows, if the EPA gets defunded in the states, majoring in environmental chemistry may one day mean having to looking in Europe  for a good job.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A weekend holiday in Norway

A plane ticket from London to Norway is only £12 (~$20). It was a sort of random choice, but I am really glad that I had and took the opportunity to go. One of the great things about my school’s location is that it’s near a lot of airports. London is the cheapest city in Europe to fly in and out of. The Ryan Air plane my new friends and I took was so small that we had to walk out onto the tarmac to board.

Arriving at night, the fog, candles burning on the sidewalk at night, the most amazing sculpture park, metal music, some sort of waffle bread snacks, buildings older than my country, graffiti, lots of playgrounds, a white granite opera house that seemed to rise out of the water, lots of walking with a heavy backpack, kroner, the Viking ship museum, patties of meat for lunch, bands marching in football pep rallies, mystery meat stew, three foreign letters (æ ø å), and the view of a lake from the train back to the airport all made for a very interesting break from school work.

In three days we saw Rggye, Friedrickstad, and Oslo, the capital. The locals assume anyone with blond hair and blue eyes speaks Norwegian so I got to hear a lot of the language. The only bit I remember though is “takk” means thanks. It confused me at first since I was just getting used to “cheers" and also becasue“tak” means yes in Polish. Just about everyone in the capital spoke decent English so it was easy to ask from directions and advice on where to go. There were a lot of other tourists there the same weekend as well since the World Music Festival was going on.

Norway was a place I never would have thought to of have gone unless I was already near-by in England, but the sights were so much more captivating for never having know of them before. It wasn’t much colder and I had such a great time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stonehenge kind of blew my mind in the sense that you could tell that the spot and the huge rocks were important. The effort and time it must have taken for a primative society to bring the rocks from far away to this one spot had to be for a reason. It all means something, but we don't really know exactly what. Only guesses can be made and there's never a way of knowing for sure. It's mysterious. Mystery still exists.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why I like to travel

Traveling should be more that getting from point to point. I find it easy to treat travel as a valuable journey no matter where the destination is. When there are exotic locations, different cultures, and a few obstacles thrown in the mix there’s a quest at hand. Such has been often been the case for me these days.
Traveling on any quest entails exploring as well as being away from home. I have a need to see the world for myself. I fight for the window seat. If there is significant distance between two stops, there’s something significant to see along the way. I know imagining Big Ben coming into view while crossing over Westminster Bridge from the top floor of a double-decker bus is not the same as the first hand experience.
Airplane WindowTraveling allows one to experience new surroundings and forces one to reflect on those passed. It has all the ingredients for making new memories and revisiting old ones. My fondest childhood memories are rambling up and down the East coast with my family. It never really mattered where we were going. All really I remember of trips made at the beginning of autumn is starring at the changing colors of the leaves on the side of the road. As I flew over Great Britain for the first time, I saw sheep pastures and golf courses. I’ll always remember the view and rejoice in the felling of wonder that I got from flying over the vast Atlantic and then reaching a new land.
Traveling’s hardships teach lessons of vigilance just as sight seeing imparts history lessons. It typically involves long hours with cramped leg room exhausted being worried about the tales of passports stolen from sleeping rail passengers, the possibility of a car breaking down in the middle of no where, or the swarms of pickpockets waiting for innocent tourist. My family has a habit of writing to check that I am still constantly vigilant of these situations. I’ve learned not to keep my wallet in the back pocket. These worries will never keep me from venturing though so long as I get to occasionally look out at passing cow pastures and eventually arrive at a historically fascinating and mysterious place such as Stonehenge, where I went this weekend. Yes, “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance.” Maybe, it’s just me, but this harsh description of travel by Cesare Pavese tends to remind me that exploration is a rush. As someone who has always had wanderlust to spare, but few opportunities to go for a while, I am now excited to extend my comfort zones and more than willing to spend time searching for the right tickets, filling out the paperwork, and mapping the best route. I’ve realized that leaving my comfort zone to travel is going to be worth the risk and effort most of the time. I like that the scenic route learned on one trip becomes a comfort zone next time returning or going in the same direction is possible.
Roman BathTraveling is a means for first hand experience to replace imagination. I have yet to hear of there ever being a shortage of pictures of the Roman Baths, Stonehenge, or Big Ben. Yet, most everyone visiting these sight has a camera in hand. As a tourists I get walk on hallow ground and touch the water from ancient springs. The first hand perspective is a very thrilling personal experience that matters to travelers and motivates us to travel the distance. Saying to yourself Am I really here? Did I make it all this way? Yes! I am seeing this up close with my own eyes! This is awesome! is such a rush. I love being overwhelmed by these thoughts. I arrived in England. The first weekend I went to Cambridge. Then I did London, Bath, and Stonehenge. I want to go still even further in order to feel a sense of progression. So, today I booked a flight to Oslo, Norway with friends I met here. I expect weekends in random cities like Oslo will sustain the thrilling feeling of realizing how far I’ve made it. Maybe I sound crazy. However, I know I cannot be the only one I know who keeps maps just to encourage pondering how I made it to a far away land and where I’ll go next.
Traveling is a choice. Pavese said, “nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” I think “essential things” includes choice; the decision to travel is yours as well as the decision of what to take with you, so long as it’s a limited amount of baggage though.
Traveling accomplishes goals and results in a sense of awe upon reflecting on the road traveled and reveling in the sense of everything being new and different and special. That’s why I support indulging wanderlust when the opportunity arises. Especially since sometimes the chance and time to are fleeting. One day the trekking up hills sights on the other side is done with and then it’s time to passing stories and luggage along to grandchildren, just as my grandmother did to me just before I left for Europe.