” Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea  2016
On February 9th, 2016 the MV World Odyssey arrived in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. We arrived a day later than scheduled due to extreme weather conditions on the Saigon River. Vietnam was a fantastic country. The weather was hot. When we arrived it was 91 degrees Fahrenheit. This was so comfortable after the two weeks of winter we experienced in Japan and China.

Saigon river

Saigon river

As we sailed up the Saigon River to get to the Ho Chi Minh City port we saw brown, murky water under us and on either side of the river lots of palms and other native greenery. A beautiful lush and full tropical forest on both sides of the river with the occasional house on stilts built right into the river. We passed several other freight vessels docked on the sides of the river. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, I got off the ship and boarded the local shuttle to the center of town, this is what the port authority requires of any passenger vessel docked in the industrial port. I set out with two friends and we went on a mission to explore the city of Ho Chi Minh. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh it was the second day of Tet. This is their celebration of the lunar New Year. This is a time full of red and gold colors all over the city and most of the shops had closed as they spent the holiday with their families.
On the first day, we explored the touristy strip of the city looking at all of the souvenir shops. The first few shops were all so impressive with the wood carvings, the elaborate designs of figurines, the bright colors of shirts, and the different raw materials that had been carved into anything you can imagine. However, after the first few shops all of the souvenirs become the same. It just becomes a game of where can I go to get the best price. There was not much else to do on the first day, except go to these touristy destinations, as most of the shop stalls were closed. As the Tet holiday began to wind down, more of the shops opened and then the famous markets opened up.


Ben Than Market

Ben Than Market

The Ben Than (said like Tohn) market was an experience. Aisles that were wide enough for a person to walk, and that was it. However, it was uncommon to be the only one trying to occupy the space you were in. The shop venders had further cut down on the aisle space by overcrowding their stalls with all of the same touristy trinkets and the locally made Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, and other clothing brands of shirts, pants, and hats. Their stalls cut the already narrow aisles in half. Not to mention the building it was in. It was a large, metal, garage like structure with no air conditioning or fans, except the ones any vendor would wave in your face to try and lure you to their stall. So, the second you walked into the building your body began to pour with sweat. However, if you could handle the heat and the pressure of the locals, you could find the best deals around in this market.
On the last day in Vietnam, I did a Semester at Sea field program to the Cu Chi tunnels and a cooking class in the morning. The cooking class took place at a local organic farm. This farm was full of different herbs and greens. A huge variety of mint and basil grown alongside tapioca, guava, and lemon grass. They also grew oyster mushrooms, straight out of the bottle. The farm owners had developed a unique system of growing the mushrooms out of two liter bottles. These bottles hung in stacks 15 high in a dark, hot and humid shed to get the mushrooms to grow big and lush. When it finally came time to cook, we made ourselves a four course meal. The first dish was fresh spring rolls. We rolled the herb leaves into a fresh, rice paper with rice noodles for a light and delicious appetizer. The next dish was a salad. This was the most labor intensive dish of the day. We had to cut up a part of a papaya, cucumber, and carrot with a “fancy knife”, it made the vegetables look like crinkle cut French Fries. We then dressed this with a traditional dipping sauce. Then the protein of the dish was made. You had to cut up ginger and lemon grass to marinade the pork of tofu in. This was a spicy salad that was fresh and delicious. We then made the entrée. It was called Chicken or tofu in clay pot. The name was very creative. It combined few ingredients, but got the most flavor possible out of those few ingredients. Finally dessert was deep fried banana spring rolls with coconut ice cream. These were the highlight of the meal. They were so tasty and the coconut ice cream that went with it made the flavors of the banana shine. It was also nice to have the cold ice cream on a hot day.
After the cooking class we moved on to take a tour of the Cu Chi tunnel system. This tunnel system stretches for thousands of miles underneath the country side of Vietnam all the way to Cambodia. These tunnels were used by the Viet Kong during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were an incredibly humbling experience. The tunnels that we went through had been widened to over double the original size to allow tourist to crawl through them. You were still hunched over at a 90 degree angle and squatting a little bit to be able to move through them at all. In several places you had to slide to make it through even at its widened state.

Cu Chi Tunnel

Cu Chi Tunnel

This made you think how small these people were and how determined to win they were that they would use these tunnels with no light and small cramped and crowded conditions. Trying to pass someone in the widened parts was nearly impossible and people passed each other daily during life in the tunnels. The tunnel entrances were unbelievably well hidden too. The large openings were disguised as water wells and the smaller entrances were covered with leaves. Our guide when trying to find the tunnel entrance began banging her foot on the ground trying to find it until the exhibit soldier came over found it after a few tries and showed us the proper way of getting into the tunnel system. Vietnam was an unbelievably beautiful country and one that I am looking forward to getting the opportunity to explore again.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016

We first landed in Shanghai China on January 31st 2016. This was my first opportunity to explore the great expanses of China. The ship originally would be docked in Shanghai for two days then travel from Shanghai to Hong Kong and that is where I would meet up with the ship again. I traveled on the first day to the Jade Buddha Pagoda in Shanghai. This was an entertaining two hour walk from the ship with several friends. When we arrived at the Buddha it was an incredible experience to see the craftsmanship of these centuries old Buddha statues made from large pieces of jade. One of the Buddha reaching enlightenment and the other the Buddha going to nirvana. Unfortunately on our way back we had to battle the wind, snow and sleet. The nearest refuge from the wet and cold was a giant mall in the heart of the Shanghai shopping district. We took refuge in the mall and got a quick snack to recharge and thaw from the outside. We then took off to the nearest subway station which wound up being only 200 feet from the mall entrance. We then boarded the subway and took it to the ship. Then we all went out for an evening of celebration after a long day of walking. We then returned to the ship early.
The next day is when my travels across China began. I had a flight to Chengdu the capitol of the Sichuan Province in China.In Chengdu there is the Giant Panda Research Base this was my ultimate goal to get to.  Before my flight to Chengdu I still had several hours in Shanghai. So I decided to go to the Shanghai Zoo which was only one subway stop from the airport. This was an entertaining sight as they have many animals that are not found in the United States Zoos. Many indigenous animals to China and other surrounding countries.

I then took the subway to the airport and waited for my red-eye flight at 21:20. On all flights in China they give a full meal, this was a pleasant surprise on the three and a half hour flight. When I arrived in Chengdu there was some confusion with the hostel I was to stay at, also the car I had arranged to pick me up was not there. This forced me to have to take a cab, which wound up taking me over a lot of the city of Chengdu. It finally got me to my hostel after two stops at hotels, to find someone who could help translate as the cab driver spoke no English. This unfortunately cost me double the fare as the reserved car would have. My next few days in Chengdu were stressful, adventurous, and very educational. Chengdu taught me more about myself than I have learned in any other place. The need to solve and find solutions to problems was around every corner in that city. I was there for three days and did get to go to several historic and cultural sights. I went to Tianfu Square, the Peoples Park, the Wenshu Temple, and most importantly the Panda Base.

Wenshu Temple

Wenshu Temple

I also got to learn how to play mahjong the local way. I am not good at it, the language barrier was still an issue when it came to understanding the rules.

Giant Panda Research Base

Giant Panda Research Base

On the last morning in Chengdu, I ventured outside the city to the Panda Base. The base is full of Panda’s old, young, and infant. Pandas, both rescued from the wild and born at the base were in the enclosures. One enclosure had at least ten Panda cubs chasing each other around, sleeping in trees, and pushing each other off of the food platform. After all of this I boarded a plane to get to Hong Kong to meet back up with the ship. After an adventurous evening of exploring Hong Kong by many unplanned ways, I made it back to the ship in time, only to wait in a security line.
The last day in the Hong Kong Port was incredible. I had a field lab for my Plants, People, and Culture class. A field lab is a mandatory trip that a class takes in a single port and explores real life practices of the subjects talked about in class. On this particular field lab, our itinerary was changed for the benefit of the group. We ventured to a local flower market, a local traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor, and a local fruit market. At the flower market our professor was in his element pointing out and describing different species from around the world being sold. It was a particularly vibrant time at the market as it was 2 days before the start of Tet, or the Chinese New Year. So, there were bright colors all over the market for people to decorate their homes with. We then ventured to the Doctors office, where we learned about traditional Chinese medicine. He answered our questions for an hour or so and taught us about the techniques of TCM and the holistic beliefs in contrast to “Western” allopathic medicine. He then demonstrated the techniques of acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, and filling a prescription for us. We then had lunch at a local restaurant that was very accommodating, and very delicious. The locals were lined up out the door when we arrived. After lunch, we went to the fruit market. The market was full of fruits and nuts, many of which we see as exotic, and others that came from a lot closer to home. My friends and I purchased a mango that was about the size of a professional football. This mango was also the sweetest, softest, and probably best mango I have ever had. There were also nuts in the shell and out. Then the exotic fruits such as dragon fruit, durian, and many fruits our guide couldn’t even name. We returned to the ship and had a surprise waiting for us when we got back.
The itinerary had us traveling from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City from February 5th to February 8th. This plan was delayed by a day. Due to high seas and high winds delaying our departure from Hong Kong by twenty four hours. This, unfortunately did not mean that we would have an extra day in Hong Kong, but an extra day in Victoria Harbor. This was a joy for some, and a tremendous blow for others who had to cancel many plans and attempt to reschedule others. Now we are off sailing to Vietnam, where we should arrive tomorrow afternoon on the 9th.

Victoria Harbor

Victoria Harbor


“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea  2016

After 12 days aboard the MV World Odyssey, everyone was getting a little cabin fever. It was a thankful sight to see the shores of Japan. We first docked in the port of Yokohama. Then after two days in Yokohama, the ship sailed to the port of Kobe. When we first arrived in Yokohama we had a welcoming party of traditional Japanese drummers. Outside of my window on the ship there was a Ferris wheel that also doubles as the world’s largest clock.

Yokohama port

Port of Yokohama

Then when we arrived in Kobe, we were greeted by the Kobe Fire Departments fire boats that put on a water show for us as we entered into the Harbor. We were also greeted by a Japanese band, playing music. This wasn’t a rock band, but imagine a band playing in a Gazebo at the center of town in every old-timey movie.
We first got off the ship and explored the immediate area of Yokohama. I traveled with my friend Hannah, from the University of Virginia. We went to the Cup Noodles museum, explored the local life, ate some fantastic sushi, took an afternoon trip to Tokyo, and got horribly lost. According to Hannah’s fitbit, we walked 18 miles in one day. In a city that doesn’t speak English, and when you don’t speak Japanese, it is very hard to navigate the city streets that are all in Japanese characters. So, we got turned around and wound up in the red light district of Yokohama, unintentionally. When we returned to the ship, several hours later, we were exhausted and relaxed for a couple hours before preparing to go back out for the evening. We went out with several other friends for the evening and wound up meeting up with some other Semester at Seaers, affectionately known as SASERS. The next day we also took an adventure to the Cup Noodles Museum. It was very interesting to see the volume of cup noodles that is consumed annually across the world. Also, the number of different flavors produced covers an entire wall floor to ceiling. Over the two days in Yokohama we ate lots of sushi. In one restaurant we went to, it had a sushi conveyor belt and in the other, we played Russian roulette with the sushi menu. Once again not being able to speak any Japanese, but it turned out well. The most obscured things we ordered were the salted salmon roe and a whole baby squid atop the rice.
I opted to sail with the ship from Yokohama to Kobe, which saved me lots of money. This was a great decision. The crossing was a much needed break. Although we were only in country for four days with the crossing, it was still nice to have a break away from planning trips and doing homework, and not having to stress about the language barrier. We were also treated to a specialty dinner that was served to us in the traditional super fancy sit down dinner meal style. Menus, all the silver wear, people scraping the crumbs off your table. It was unbelievably fancy for the normal dining experience aboard the ship. The food was also fantastic.
When we got to Kobe, I traveled by myself, and took many different subway trains to finally make my way to Kyoto. I didn’t take the most direct and efficient way, because my Japanese is as good as their English. It took me three hours to get to Kyoto, a trip that should take no more than an hour. However, it was fantastic to get to see Kyoto and all of its history and temples. As soon as you walk outside of the Kyoto station, you are greeted by skyscrapers with temples tucked between them. I walked to the Nijo Castle, the Imperial Palace, several other Buddhist and Taoist temples, I also tried to make it in time to the Golden Temple but showed up ten minutes after it closed, the biggest let down of all of Japan.

Imperial Palace

Golden Temple

Golden Temple

I returned to Kobe, where I once again got lost. This time I had the voice of Colonel Snead yelling at me in my head, “Don’t travel alone”. This was also aided by the fact that it was dark and I couldn’t read the street signs. I thankfully found my way by looking at a map that was made for children and was full of pictures. The second day in Kobe, I stayed around the ship not wanting to get lost again. I went to the Sake Brewery Museum. This was interesting, and I learned a lot about Sake that I never knew, such as, it takes months to prepare a good sake. I did not try the Kobe beef, as it is 10,000 yen for a six oz. steak. That roughly converts to 100 dollars. This unfortunately was way out of my price range.
Now, it is off to our next adventure aboard the MV World Odyssey. Two more days at sea, then it is on to China. I have actual plans, not to just wander around and get lost. I will be adventuring to Shanghai, the Sichuan Province, and Hong Kong.

“Bon Voyage”



Michael Willis
Semester at Sea 2016
I am studying abroad with the Semester at Sea program, academically sponsored by the University of Virginia. Thus, I am not in one single country for the duration of my study abroad experience. I will be traveling to Honolulu Hawaii, Yokohama Japan, Kobe Japan, Shanghai China, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Min City Vietnam, Rangoon Myanmar, Cochin India, Port Louis Mauritius, Cape Town South Africa, Takoradi and Tema Ghana. We travel to these countries aboard the ship MV World Odyssey, formerly the MS Deutschland. The ship is a very luxurious, thousand person, cruise ship where we live and attend classes.

Michael Willis Seamester at Sea classrooms - Copy - Copy

Ship Classroom

Every day that we are at sea, we have class. The classes are not done on the traditional MWF schedule, rather on A and B days. Also, we do not get weekends aboard the ship. This is supplemented by the fact that we get four to six days to explore the country that we are in the port of, except Honolulu and Port Louis, as these are just refueling ports and we are only in port for a day.

My walk to class every morning can be very challenging, or very relaxing, depending on the swell of the sea. In higher seas, it can be a challenge to get to class. The higher seas cause balance to be an issue and often cause you to bump, or rather fall into people as you travel the halls to and from class and the dining rooms. The smell of the central Pacific Ocean is always in the air, and if you sit outside long enough, your computer will get a white tint to it from all of the salt in the air. The sound of the ocean is always around and provides a fantastic white noise to fall asleep to.
I live in an outside, triple room. This means, I live on the outside of the ship with two other roommates. Our room is small, for three people, being the same size as a double occupancy room, but with an extra bed. I live in the top bunk in our room. This is also a problem in rough seas, as it is a possibility that I could fall out of bed with the movement of the ship. There are very different living conditions aboard the ship, versus at Hampden-Sydney. We have room service that cleans our room every other day, and at meals we have servers who will take our plates from the table when we are done. The crew on board are super friendly, and are always willing to help you at any point with just about anything.
On board the ship there is a very different perception of time. The atmosphere is very laid back, and no one rushes anywhere, yet. Once we get to port, people will be rushing to explore the places we are going. With having very limited internet access and no cell phone service, there is so much extra time to socialize with people face to face and get homework done. It also isn’t hard to get homework done, when most of it is reading, that can be done sitting on the back deck of the ship in sun chairs. The idea of time exists, because we have to be in class, but time passes more slowly and you can get a lot more done without the influence of technology.

We have been at sea for six days now, and we will arrive in Honolulu, Hawaii tomorrow, January 11, 2016. While at sea, we have gotten to see different things. The first day, I saw a whale splash its tail out of the water. It has also, now, become a common sight to see flying fish dart out of the water, fly a few feet, and splash back into the water. At night it is pitch black. We have no light pollution from anywhere, which is fantastic to see the stars at night. The water is also a fantastic shade of royal blue. It is not murky, such as the water at Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016
I have prepared for my study abroad experience by booking all necessary flights and materials to get out of the country. I have gotten my passport and my necessary visas for travel. I have packed my bags and decided what type of weather I will actually be experiencing while I am abroad. I will not be in one country for long and will mostly be at sea, so I will need to plan very appropriately as each country will have a different climate.

A Voyage Around the World

102 Days, 15 Cities, 11 Countries

• Embark: San Diego, CA, United States 1
• Honolulu, Hawaii, United States 2
• Yokohama, Japan *
• Kobe, Japan *
• Shanghai, China *
• Hong Kong, China *
• Ho Chi Minh City, Việt Nam
• Rangoon, Burma
• Cochin, India
• Port Louis, Mauritius 3
• Cape Town, South Africa
• Takoradi, Ghana *
• Tema (Accra), Ghana *
• Casablanca, Morocco
• Debark: Southampton (London), England

I am most looking forward to experiencing all of the different countries along the route of the voyage. Although I am not in a single country long enough to get to see the entirety of the country, I will get almost a week in every port to experience the City that we are in port for. I am most looking forward to seeing Japan, India, and Morocco. These countries have very unique and interesting cultures that can be similar to the United States but absolutely different at the same time. Getting to see first-hand what these cities and countries cultures are makes me very excited.
I am most nervous about sea sickness. I am very at home on the water in a canoe. However, this is the first time that I have ever been on a cruise. There is the inherent problem of sea sickness while on a ship, and talking to many alumni of Semester at Sea, it is a very common problem that everyone will experience once, at least. I have acquired many home remedies to hopefully not get sea sick, but we will see as the semester progresses if I get my “sea legs” and this no longer is a problem.
My goals for my time abroad are simple. I hope to get to experience as much of a cities culture while I spend my time there. Every city has a unique and characteristic flare that makes it its own and distinct. I hope that I can find and get to experience a part of these distinctions and see what society outside of the United States is all about. Another goal is to not be the typical American tourist. I am traveling abroad and am a representation of myself, my school, and my country. I do not want that to be a poor representation of anything that I represent. My last goal is to excel academically. I will have a different set of distractions than I do on campus. I hope to do better academically on board the ship than at Hampden-Sydney. I will implement a strategy to be successful and hope to uphold that strategy in and out of port.

Saying “Goodbye” to Barcelona

Trent Singleton- December 2015

The Last Week

I cannot believe it is December and that I already have to leave. The time has flown by; this is by far the shortest semester of my college career. In between traveling, acclimating myself to the host culture, and learning the busy city of Barcelona, it feels as if I have only been here for a few weeks. I have had a few down moments—getting lost in the city, having my debit and credit cards stolen—but I do not regret a moment of the experiences I have had here. A few of my favorite moments/parts:

Mi familia:
Living with a family has really enhanced my experience. As I have mentioned before, they speak essentially no English, which really forced me to use the Spanish language. I never realized how frustrating it can be when you are unable to express yourself verbally. The combination of my three Spanish classes, especially the one with my professor Rosa and my living situation fostered and improved my ability to speak, understand and communicate with Castellano or the Spanish language.


My trips:
While I did spend a lot of my time exploring Barcelona (and it is a city that I recommend everyone visit and explore), I also was fortunate enough to travel to several countries throughout Europe. My first trip was to Munich for Oktoberfest. This was one of my favorite trips and a great cultural experience. I also was able to see Paris, Normandy, Amsterdam, Brussels, Salzburg, Rome, the Vatican, Grenada, Tarragona, and Berlin. Studying here has really increased my appreciation for Europe and the culture. It is a bit different than living in the US, but it was easy for me to adapt. One of the drawbacks is that you almost always have to pay for water, but the ease and low costs of travelling make it completely worth it.

Trent Sigelton Barcelona

My view:
It is difficult for me to articulate exactly how I have changed. I think it may be a bit too early to tell. I know for sure that I hold Europeans and other cultures in much higher regard. I recommend that everyone, if given the chance, to travel to another place and ignore your comfort zone. Learning to live differently and to adapt are valuable skills and will serve one well in life. This has been a great ride. I cannot express enough the gratitude I have towards my family for the great food, environment, and conversations of which they have provided me. I also am very appreciative of H-SC, Dr. Widdows, and the entire study abroad program. In terms of the application process and support, it has been incredible, and I owe this incredible experience to you.

Greetings from Seville, Spain

John Skyler Whitfield – November 2015

Before we dive in to my experience at University of Seville, I’d like to express my gratitude for the kindness, laughs, and time spent over delicious cuisine that I’ve shared with my Spanish family. It has been an absolute pleasure living with Paqui and Alberto; from giving me an all access pass to any and everything in the refrigerator, accommodating my mom during her stay in Seville, and buying my train ticket to Madrid after my debit card was stolen (just a few things among a long list of kind acts), they always go above and beyond to make me feel welcome in their home.
In addition to a great experience with my homestay family, I was lucky enough to have all my university courses in the main campus, known as the ¨Royal Tobacco Factory¨.

Whitfield- Seville SpainBuilt in the early 18th century, converted into an academic building in the 1950s, the University served to complement preexisting marvels in the city (like The Cathedral and Real Alcazar) as well as house machinery for tobacco production which speaks for its expansive, high-ceilinged rooms and grand styling. It’s a special and rare occasion that I come across a campus capable of rivaling the pastoral beauty and classic style of Hampden Sydney College; but the University of Seville is surely one of them. Located in a highly trafficked part of the city, the university doesn’t exactly have the flora fauna of HS-C, but the building itself makes up for it. Reminiscent of a castle or well-ornamented fortress, plastic seems to no longer exist in this this wonderful display of 18th century, industrial architecture. The building is surrounded by a mote, stone walls (adorned with intricate reliefs), and larger than life iron gates. Within the walls of the university, are milky-red, marble floors and staircases, heavenly stained-glass windows, sturdy, hard-wood desks and doors from days of yore, and magnificent enclosed courtyards encasing statues and fountains… I find the list of wonders in this building only limited to ones attention to detail, as every square inch of this building is truly a sight to behold.

 Whitfield-Seville Spain Nov 2015

Whitfield-Seville Spain Nov 2015.jpg #2 As a woodworker, the level of craftsmanship found throughout the University (in all her structural mediums) is as inspiring as it is impressive- which in turn has greatly enhanced my classroom experience and moral here as a student. While my pictures don´t do the university justice, I hope they can at least give a vague idea as to why this building has become such a special place to me.

Greetings from Barcelona, Spain!

Trent Singelton-November 2015

In the thick of it…

Once this week begins, I will have approximately six weeks left in Barcelona. I am both a bit disappointed and excited to see that reality. While I am excited to return to H-SC in the spring, I know it will be difficult to leave Barcelona—a city I now feel comfortable calling my home. I can only hope that the next six weeks go by slowly.

             View from Rooftop Bar-Hotel Majestic  (Sagrada Familia in center)Picture1
My Spanish skills are definitely improving. I definitely benefit from living with a local family—they do not speak English, so I am definitely immersed in the language while at home. The version of Spanish spoken here is called “Castellano.” It is appreciated if you are able to recognize that preference instead of calling the language Spanish. While here, I have had a few dreams in Castellano, which I was excited about because it shows that my skill in the language is growing. It also helps that I am taking three classes here taught solely in Castellano: one culture, one language, and one literature. I hope that by December I have an even stronger grasp on the language and a better understanding of the culture here.

My free time is definitely spent a bit differently here—since I am so close to many other European countries, I have been able to travel a bit. I recently have been to Amsterdam, and I have a tripped planned for Rome in two weeks. It is also great to spend the day walking through the city and finding hidden gyms that Barcelona has to offer. Last weekend I went to the top of Tibidabo, which has an incredibly panoramic view of the city. I feel that my time is best spent exploring the city, since I will not have an opportunity to see the sights I can for a while. One of my favorite places is a small square near my homestay called Plaza del Sol. While it is not large or that impressive architecturally, there are always locals at the various tapas bars or restaurants, and performers and musicians playing for the crowds.

                                              Two  Views from Tibidabo


I am the only student from Hampden-Sydney in Barcelona, but I have met a few students who know the school. I almost prefer being here alone, because it has forced me to meet new people. There are many amazing and awesome people here—if I was with a group of H-SC students, I am sure I would have a great time, but I feel I would be a bit more limited in the perspectives I would get to see and obviously in the people I would meet. It will be interesting when I return to the Hill in the spring—I am excited to see how my time abroad has changed my perspective.

Greetings from Seville, Spain

John Skyler Whitfield – October 2015

An average day in Seville…

My time in Spain has been like waking up in an Alfred Hitchcock-inspired mini-series; while daily life is overall the same on a grand scale, it has been riddled with perplexing and subtle differences that I continue to stumble upon with each passing day. That said, here’s a few of my most noteworthy/amusing differences I’ve noticed during my time here in southern Spain.

Every day there are colonies of stern looking businessmen buzzing around on mopeds in designer suits. Men of all ages wear pants that are so tight it looks like the denim is trying to eat their legs. Women wear pants just as tight. At the gym, there is no correct place to store weights- people scatter the dumbbells all over the place to add a hide and seek element to one’s routine. Almost every Spanish family keeps a pig leg on a wooden vice in the kitchen from which they carve their daily serving(s) of ham. At the McDonalds there is a “Walk-thru” window, but no drive-thru; they serve beer with any combo and food is ordered via a touch screen.
There’s a tradition known as botellón where the Spanish youth stuff grocery bags full of alcohol and gather in large groups to drink and use the streets as their trashcan.

But I will go back and say that as wild as some of these things seem to me, each of these differences has a more positive if not rational side (except the leggings- those honestly baffle me). The mopeds are better for the environment than trucks, and the hide and seek at the gym reflects the laid back and relaxed nature of southern Spain. The pig leg is an economical buy, as it can provide food for a family up to a month if not more. Beer at McDonalds may not work well in the US with our drive-thru’s, but it works great in Spain and I’d venture to say it’s pretty open-minded. Lastly, the botellón is not only an entertaining event but it creates jobs – as every night, industrial pressure washing vehicles and street sweepers roll through the town, leaving no trace of the prior fiesta.

At the end of the day I think perception of these differences really comes down to attitude- So my advice to future travelers in Spain, would be, “Instead of judging the men in leggings or a pig leg sitting in the kitchen, enjoy everything you can, and remember there’s always a cold beer and a Big-Mac right around the corner!”

Greetings from Salzburg, Austria

Daily Life in Salzburg

Conner Lachine, Fall 2015

I live on the south side of Salzburg with about 1/3 of my group, so a fifteen minute bus ride is required to reach any place in town. Unipark, the plaza where most of my classes are held, is three bus stops towards city center from my building. The walk to my bus stop, the bus ride to the university stop, and walk to Unipark all together is a thirty minute commute. I found that riding a bike it takes only twenty minutes, so when weather permits, which is usually twice a week if I am lucky, I ride my bike to class. The bike relieves me of riding the hot and crowded city bus, which is efficient and clean, but the morning bike ride is refreshing and allows me to choose one of many scenic routes to class. The south side of Salzburg is a commercial and residential area so I do not pass any of the 12th century buildings like Mozart’s house in city center, but I have the opportunity to see the “real” Salzburg, where the city residents live, shop, etc.

I live in a dorm style building in a neighborhood with several similar buildings. All about five stories tall and house roughly 150 people, most of whom are students of the University of Salzburg. The most exciting difference between living here and HSC is the student diversity. My next door neighbors are from Italy and Iran; across the hall are two girls from China. Another different aspect to the dorm is a large communal kitchen where everyone on the hall cooks. Cooking together has been an easy conversation starter and has given me an intimate perspective of cultures I never would have encountered at HSC. Sausage is one of my favorite foods, right now. Austrian cuisine is made up almost entirely of sausage, bread, and beer. It is not just a funny stereotype. Other than a diverse student population and communal space the dorm is very similar to any dorm in the US. I share a room with one guy from my program and have very similar accommodations to housing at Hampden-Sydney.

Packing was a struggle between being prepared and packing light, which was a unanimous recommendation. I only packed clothes, lots of cold weather clothes. Although the weather has not been vastly different than Virginia’s, I expect it to turn quickly as Salzburg does sit along the western side of the Alps. There is a gargantuan IKEA where Pete, my roommate, and I have purchased most of our home décor.

The typical twenty-somethings in Western Europe dress very similarly to each other. It is much more formal compared to how the average student dresses in the US. A little more fashionable. No shorts. Always presentable. It is frowned upon to walk around my building in sweats.

Other than using the 24 hour clock there is not much difference in how we view time in the US. Shops close a little earlier. It is rare to find a shop open past five or six during the week, even convenience stores and CVS-type businesses. On Sundays 95% of Salzburg is closed. Grocery stores, mom & pop shops, even the mall is entirely closed on Sundays.