Spring in St. Petersburg 2018

David Bushhouse
Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University 2018

I’ve been in St. Petersburg for less than a month, but have quickly noticed that шаверма, shaverma, is the most widespread and popular street-food in the city. In St. Petersburg, Shaverma stands are everywhere: next to every Metro Station, down nearly every alley, and in every clubbing district. Since shaverma stands are open 24 hours, it is the go-to drunk food for St. Petersburg locals, who call it ‘korm,’ which literally translates to “animal feed.” It’s unhealthy, always comes with a stomachache, and, as the locals say, will give you food poisoning every fifth time you eat it. But boy is it good.

Chicken, lamb, and goat is stacked onto a vertical spit and slowly grilled, creating a column of meat that is shaved then into smaller pieces. This method of cooking was originally developed in Ottoman Turkey in the 19th Century and quickly spread to the surrounding region, giving rise to the Turkish doner kebab, the Greek gyro, and the Arabic shawarma. Incidentally, the names of all these dishes reference the rotational grilling method—the most obvious being the Greek gyro (think gyroscope).

In shaverma, the shaved meat is served with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and a kefir-based sauce (similar to tzatziki) in a large tortilla-like Caucasian flatbread called lavash. Russian shaverma was invented by Central Asian immigrants, and is both greasier and less spicy than its distant Arabic cousin. Shaverma is cheap too! For 150–200 rubles (~3–4 dollars), depending on the stand, you can get a giant meal-sized shaverma that would cost at least 8 dollars stateside.

Shaverma stands are often run by Central Asians like Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs—the nearest shaverma stand to my dorm, shown in the picture, is run by a Tajik family. In Russia there is a good deal of racial discrimination against Central Asian immigrants, who can often only find work in low-skill sectors of the economy. However, in the same way that Chinese restaurants enabled Chinese families to enter the middle class in the face of racial discrimination in the United States, many Central Asian families in Russia have been able to enter the middle class by opening shaverma stands.

As I mentioned before, Russian shaverma does come with an uncomfortably high risk of food poisoning. In 2016, Moscow city officials threatened to ban the sale of shawarma, and physically removed a few stands, due to the high percentage of stands that failed safety standards. The public backlash against this “Shawarmageddon,” as newspapers called the crackdown, was massive, and shawarma stands in Moscow remain open for business despite the public safety concerns. The truth is that for most Russians shaverma is a guilty-pleasure food, and they simply do not care about the safety concerns; they love shaverma. And, speaking for myself and my fellow exchange students, Americans love shaverma too!

Studying, “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

I returned to London on January 2nd, 2018. The London School of Economics’s calendar is quite different from Hampden-Sydney’s as well as other colleges in the United States. You take four classes for the entire year all of which have a final exam in April or May. The only exception to this rule is if you take any Economics classes: they also have a midterm exam in the first week of January. I am not very fond of this setup because, unlike Hampden-Sydney, you enter winter break knowing that you have an exam at the end of break. Nonetheless, my midterm exam was on January 4th, so I returned to London on the 2nd. The exam was quite tough, but I believe I did alright.
Since my exam, I have really tried to focus on school as much as possible. Last semester I traveled around Europe a lot, and it became hard to stay on top of school work. I told myself that I was going to spend the first month or so in London to make sure I get all my ducks in a row for the second semester. I am currently planning several weekend trips in later February, March, and spring break. We have a month off for spring break, which is unheard of in the United States, and I am trying to figure out my plans for that month. I might come home for a week or so, but I am definitely planning on playing golf in Scotland and traveling with a bunch of friends to Greece. Some of my other trips this semester will include Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, and Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.
The study abroad program through the London School of Economics is quite unique because it is a year-long program. Most study abroad programs are a semester, which is great, but I am very happy that mine is a year-long. Not only does it allow me to find a good balance between staying in London versus traveling around Europe so that I am not constantly traveling every weekend, but it also has allowed me to meet so many different people. In the first semester, I traveled around Europe with my buddies and their friends, but they were only here for a semester. This semester, I will travel around with a new set of buddies and friends, which I am really looking forward to. Even in London I have met so many new friends just in the first three weeks because UCL and Kings College have one-semester study abroad programs. Nonetheless, I am having a blast over here, and I can’t wait to see what this semester entails.

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Semester at Sea Experience
First and foremost, I would like to say Thank You for providing me funding that allowed me to participate in the Semester at Sea Program. With the scholarship, I was able to obtain my passport, visas, and travel expenses. Semester at Sea was an extraordinary experience to say the least. Even though I was only in different countries for an average of 4 days, the experience I had is invaluable. From being able to visit the Taj Mahal to hiking the Great Wall and from trying different foods to, most importantly, talking to the local people, I am extremely grateful. Also, I am extremely grateful to explore my roots in Africa; I visited Slave Castles in Ghana and I visited Nelson Mandela’s Jail Cell in South Africa. Even though this was a dark road to travel, it was imperative that I explored all of my history, and these experiences have helped me grow in my own culture. Even though I traveled to 11 different countries, I learned that there are two similarities that are the same in all of them. One is that everything is “Same, Same But Different;” the other I learned from a Trader in Ghana named Stephen who said, “No matter where you go there will be good people and bad people.” These two things taught me that people are one in the same everywhere; however, they just may have different ideals and ways of doing their daily routines. I have learned to be more understanding and try learning other peoples’ ways instead of enforcing my own, and I learned how privileged I am, and I want to give back to everyone.
God Bless

To Whom This May Concern:

I, Mr. Shemar Mandell Blakeney, would like to truly say thank you for providing me funding for the Semester at Sea Program. This program was invaluable, and to be able to participate in it is amazing. By God’s Grace, I was able to attend. Being an African American male from a single parent household, I do not even know how blessed, humble, and privileged I am to have been able to participate in the Semester at Sea program. I am truly grateful and thankful for the scholarship you granted me.

Blessings and Love,
Mr. Shemar Mandell Blakeney

Studying “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

My study abroad experience was unbelievable. Between the things I saw, the friends I met, and the memories I made, the entire semester was all I could have asked for and then some. I had a rough idea of what the experience was going to be like because I talked to kids that had done the program already. But words can’t describe how much fun I had. London was a fantastic city to live in, and the easy ability to fly to other countries is something unheard of here in the United States. I knew going into it that I wanted to balance school in London with travel to other countries, and I think I did that pretty darn well. I split my time 50/50 between London and traveling, which was the perfect amount.

snapshot 2I can’t speak highly enough about London. It was a huge relief not needing to learn a new language for my time abroad. Londoners loved talking politics with my friends and me. They all assumed that because we were from America that therefor we were Trump supporters, which was an interesting assumption for them to make. The stereotypes I had going into it were that the British had good beer, bad food besides fish and chips, and that it rained a lot. The first two were spot on, but the bad weather wasn’t as much of a problem as I thought. Unlike the mid-Atlantic, the rain over in London was often a light, spitting rain, which isn’t unbearable like the downpours we get here. And on top of that, it didn’t rain all that much; rather it was cloudy most of the time, but there were plenty of nice sunsets to compliment the bad weather.

snapshotThroughout the semester, I traveled to 5 different countries. I began my travels in Amsterdam with friends to experience the city as well as go to the music festival occurring that weekend. Amsterdam is like no place else in the world for many reasons. It was an expensive trip but a memorable one at that.

I then traveled to Prague the following weekend. Prague is a fantastic city, arguably one of my favorites in Europe. It is so cheap and so medieval. The architecture there is quite neat and there are major landmarks like the Prague Castle and the Lennon Wall, which are very enjoyable to visit. Coming from the expensive city of London, Prague was a huge relief because the dollar goes so far there.

Next, I went to Berlin to visit a couple friends from Washington DC that were studying there. While the company was great, the city wasn’t my favorite. It was very dark, cold, and wet. On top of this, the city is very spread out, which makes it unfriendly for tourists. Nonetheless, we saw major landmarks like the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall, so I am definitely glad I went but not sure I am going to go back.snapshotv2

Next, I met up with kids who I went to Amsterdam and Prague with in Florence. A good friend of mine from high school was studying in Florence so we went out with her every night, which was super fun. Florence was a very nice city. Great architecture and even better food. Italian pasta is substantially better than any pasta in the United States. We had a really good time touring the city during the day and going out to the clubs at night. All around a great weekend.

mountainsDuring my last weekend abroad, I went skiing with friends from Washington DC in Chamonix, France, which is in the southeast portion of France (30 minutes from Switzerland and Italy). The French Alps were absolutely gorgeous. The first day we were there, we took an old cable car up the mountain and had lunch up there with an unparalleled view and went to a hockey game in downtown Chamonix that night. The next day was the first day of the season for the mountain, so we rented skis and skied all day long. The mountain blew away the mountains out west even though the conditions weren’t as good as they are in the depth of the winter. It was an amazing trip all together, and I’m so glad I decided to go on it.

As you can see, I had a blast this semester. I feel confident that I could navigate myself around any airport to get to any destination after all the traveling I did this semester. Now that I am back at home, I miss the drinking age being 18 over there since I am still 20 for a couple more months. It was so nice to never worry about being underage and now it’s a rude awakening that I am back in the states.

My best piece of advice for kids studying abroad is to save up a lot of money and don’t ever hesitate to take a weekend trip anywhere. There were a couple trips that I was on the fence about, and ended up going, and it was the best decision. There will be no other time in your life with no obligations besides school where you have the freedom to travel around Europe with your friends, so take advantage of it. But, also save a lot of money because the unforgettable memories cost a lot sometimes.

 

 

 

London in the fall 2017

David Arias Hernandez
UCL 2017

December was the last month of this amazing opportunity to study abroad, and I really took advantage of it.

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil’s Cathedral

At the beginning of the month I went to Moscow, Russia, where, I was able to visit various iconic places. On the first day, I went to the Red Square, where I was able to visit The Iberian Gate, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Statue of Minin and Pozharsky, Kazan Cathedral, Kremlin Wall, Lenin Mausoleum, and GUM. The ones I liked the most were St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin Mausoleum, and the Kremlin Wall, although GUM, a Harrods-like shopping center, counted with several souvenir stores with tons of beautiful products. Clearly, St. Basil’s Cathedral was the highlight of the Red Square, as its architecture would attract any tourist                                                                                      regardless of his/her origin.

Lenin's Mausoleum

Lenin’s Mausoleum

Lenin Mausoleum was also a really interesting place to visit, as it provided me with an opportunity to be incredibly close to one of the most iconic characters in world history. Nevertheless, one of the most interesting things about the Red Square, which genuinely caught my attention, was to see how some locals would dress as Stalin to charge tourists for taking pictures with them. Tourists, excluding me, would get really excited about such picture, and therefore, would pay a considerable amount ($20). On the next day, I took a tour around Moscow’s metro. Moscow’s metro is known for the beauty of its stations. Each station has a different architecture, and tourists, just like me, often take some time to take a tour around some of the most important stations.

Display of Russian Nesting Dolls

Matryoshkas ( Russian Nesting Dolls)

After the short metro tour, I went to a Russian market 15 minutes away from the city center, where I was able to purchase very famous souvenirs like matryoshkas and eggs. It was also really interesting to see how many of the t-shirts sold in this market had Putin’s face printed on them. The president is really popular amongst citizens, and such particularity was evidenced on the merchandise sold not only at this market, but also at many other souvenir shops located in the Red Square. On that day, I also went to Gorky Park, which is the equivalent to Moscow’s Central Park. The park was neatly decorated by Christmas lights, and most of it was turned into an ice skating rink. On my final day, I visited the Kremlin, where I was able to see wonderful cathedrals, the palace where Putin lives, and the Senate, apart from several sculptures from the period before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium

After coming back from Moscow, I was able to attend my first UEFA Champions League game. It was a wonderful experience, as I had dreamed my entire life as a kid to listen the Champions League’s anthem live. The game was an easy 3-0 win for Spurs, and it was a great opportunity to visit one of the most important stadiums in football’s history: Wembley Stadium.

 

 

 

Countdown to the World Cup in Russia

Countdown to the World Cup in Russia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concluding my entries, I have to say that there are many things that I will take from this amazing opportunity. It is true that I had already experienced studying abroad when I decided to leave Colombia for the U.S., but the magic of studying abroad is never lost. This period in London taught me that studying abroad is never an opportunity one can miss, and I will definitely recommend studying abroad to every H-SC student that is doubting about taking this opportunity. Experiences like the one I’m about to finish are the ones that make us grow as a person, and definitely the ones that help us becoming good men and good citizens.

“Bon Voyage” 2017

SAS 2017
Shemar Blakeney
I have learned so much on this voyage. My experience is different than what I expected in some ways because what I “thought” a country would be like was completely different; I stereotyped a country before I even visited it due to my “Single-Story Ideology.” I expected to meet astonishing people along the way; however, I did not expect to meet and see so many amazing people. I stereotyped that most of the people on the ship did not have to work as hard to get here, but in actuality, everyone made some type of sacrifice to come on this trip.

I categorized Africa to only be food, wildlife, and poverty, but Africa is Extraordinary! It is everything all in one, the good and the bad. There are major cities all the way to rural countryside, so you see the extremely wealthy and the poorest poor, but Africa is an experience I wish everyone could have.

Visiting the Great Wall of China

Visiting the Great Wall of China 

While in China, I attended an Acrobatic Show in Shanghai, and it was extraordinary. It was amazing to see so much talent and skill in a single room. For example, there were some people jumping from bicycles onto their partner’s shoulders, and I saw a man on stilts do back-flips through the air and land in the middle of a target. I also saw people hanging from other peoples ankles while they were 20 plus feet in the air! Also, the food here is amazing. I would say that “Traditional Chinese Food” is all about what region of China you are in because they all have their own styles of food (like different parts of the USA are known for different foods). The Great Wall of China was breath-taking. In either direction you looked, the wall just stretches for what seems like eternity. The people in China are so friendly, and they are happy to help you if needed. It was a lot of fun having a language barrier and trying to talk to people, because everyone was laughing at how we couldn’t understand each other. Yes, the language barrier can sometimes be frustrating, but if I was completely comfortable and did not experience any type of difficulties while I am on this trip, it would be a waste of time, because I am supposed to embrace this culture and opportunity fully and learn from the experience.

My general advice for future study abroad students, and travelers of all kinds, would be to go talk to all of the local people, especially the locals around your age group because they can give you the best ideal of how the country is; however, do not make their one opinion your only opinion on the country. Also, you can never have too much money; one of my coaches from high school who studied abroad in Spain said, “Whatever number you think you will need for the trip, double or even triple it.” This was very true.

My experience from traveling and studying abroad has highly changed my thoughts on my place in the world and my identity. Even though I am not home yet, I would say the thing I am looking forward to the most will be to eat my mother’s cooking and spending time with my friends and family. The hardest part of going home will probably be not being able to spend time with the people I have bonded with for the past 4 months. I will miss the amazing friends I have made on the ship, and the experience of waking up in a different country every other week.

London in the fall 2017

University College London 2017
David Arias Hernandez

It’s been another month living in this amazing city, and so far, this has been the busiest month not only for the workload of my courses but also for the different trips I’ve completed.

Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Parthenon in Athens, Greece

With less than a month of classes, the deadlines for my different courses have come closer, and with them, the stress of putting sufficient effort to excel in my classes. I have already presented the business I created with my group for my New Venture Creation course and I have also completed the individual assignment for that class, which allowed me to focus on my other courses. Out of the other three courses, I have already started the assignment for Economic History and Ideas, and I have also planned the outline for the other four assignments I have to submit for Emerging Market Economies and Politics and History of Central Eastern Europe. Although courses at UCL have been very demanding, I have enjoyed them and learned from them the most I’ve been able to, and I can’t wait to go back to H-SC to share all I’ve learned in the courses I will take next semester.
During this month I’ve also enjoyed my time with the boys from the UCL Football Club, apart from the four matches I played, the club carried a series of events, like the initiation night, in which I had a great time, full of laughs and joy, with my teammates and the guys from the other six teams the club has.

Nico and I visiting the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul

Nico and I visiting the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul

However, the most interesting part about this month was all the traveling I was able to do. During this month, I went to Istanbul, Athens, Bruges, Brussels, and Amsterdam.
I went to Istanbul for two nights and I was able to visit important places like Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Hagia Sohpia, and the Grand Bazaar. The food of this amazing city was clearly the highlight, as apart from being really cheap, it was delightful. After Istanbul, I went to Athens and stayed at this amazing hostel for two nights, where I was able to have a great time with people, apart from visiting tremendously historic places like Acropolis and the Ancient Agora. The highlight of this city was the amazing people I was able to meet, who I’ll probably see again in the future. After Athens, my next trip was Bruges. This town in Belgium is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, and although I only stayed there for less than one day, I was able to make the most out of it by walking through its beautiful streets and tasting a delicious Belgian beer at the main square. The next stop was Brussels, where I stayed only one night. Here I visited important places of the city like the European Union Headquarters, the Grand Pace, and the Cinquantenaire.

Delirium Pub in Brussels

Delirium Pub in Brussels

The highlights of this city were not only the beautiful sights, but also the amazing beer I had at Delirium Pub, said to be the best beer in the world, and the street waffles I had next to the Manneken Pis, which are also very famous. After Brussels, I went to Amsterdam, and although the weather was terrible, I was able to have a great time. I went to many places including the Heineken Experience and the I am Amsterdam sign. The highlight of this city clearly was that I was able to visit some family that I had not been able to see in almost five years.
Although this month was full of great experiences, I am looking forward to December. It will also be a great month, as not only I will get done with my classes but also I will visit one of the cities I have wanted to visit since I was a kid. Such trip could be the highlight of December, but it will compete really hard with another important event, as I will also be attending my first UEFA Champions League match at the mythical Wembley Stadium. However, I am extremely conscious that December will be the last month of my study abroad experience, and that makes me feel really sad, as all the experiences I have had and all the wonderful people I’ve met, will make it really hard to get on that plane heading back to the U.S.