Summer Term Posts

  • Zac Richman: Post 4

    Zac Richman: Post 4
    ISA 2021
    Florence, Italy

    A list of advice for studying abroad
    1. Do it! The experience is more valuable than any dollar amount.
    2. If you fail, try again. I had 4 programs cancelled before my Florence study abroad worked out.
    3. Learn a little of the language wherever you are going. As Italy was my 5th choice, I learned almost no Italian before I went. Studying on a plane doesn’t actually work out so great when you sleep through most of it.
    4. Get out of your host country at least once. If you can’t, get out of your host city. See how people live in the suburbs or countryside. One of my very few regrets is not spending more time outside of cities. Not everyone lives off of a cramped side street. The suburbs are wide and sprawling. A wine tour would’ve taken me to the rolling Tuscan hills I saw in the movies. Living in a city for the first time can make you feel claustrophobic and cramped.
    5. You will miss home. As nice as it is to fit in and assimilate, don’t forget where you’re from. A major personality change will leave you feeling like two people and nobody at the same time.
    6. You will miss hearing English everywhere you go. Being able to understand everyone chatting around you will be a major breath of fresh air you may not even realize you needed.
    7. It is a ton of fun being able to make your way through an interaction at a store or restaurant without using any English.
    8. Do not forget headphones, you’re going to need them to listen to your own music. I didn’t realize I missed listening to my own music until I was biking down ancient streets listening to the Grateful Dead and country music.
    9. Talk too much and listen even more than that. It’s important to be social and make friends. Being alone in a foreign country is much more difficult than you might think.
    10. Apply for scholarships. There are a million scholarships and all it takes is writing a small essay to fund your entire trip if you work hard enough. I applied for a scholarship that paid for most of my trip and a credit card that gave me enough miles to go back to Europe, round trip, for free. You don’t have to apply for a credit card to get monetary assistance though, look up websites that offer you scholarships. There’s no reason that money needs to be a limiter for your study abroad experience.

  • Zac Richman: Post 3

    Zac Richman: Post 3
    ISA 2021
    Florence, Italy


    I tried a lot of new foods while I was studying abroad. Even though I was in Italy, a lot of traditional Italian dishes as we imagine them are not traditional at all. First, meat and pasta almost never go together. They’re served separately as primi piatti and secondi piatti. No spaghetti and meatballs and very light servings of sauce, the pasta shouldn’t be drowning in the meat. They also don’t cut your pizza. Some very old school Italian pizzerias don’t cut your pizza here either and that’s how it’s done in Italy. This is to keep the pizza hot as slicing it cools the pizza down. You always get served a small whole pizza, very few shops serve slices. If they do sell by the slice, it is priced by weight. If you want to try a bunch of small slices, you might be able to try three different pizzas for the price of one. Wild boar is popular in the Tuscany region, while dry aged Chianina steak is also extremely popular in Florence. I went to get my dry aged steak at a nice restaurant where we started with prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine that is very popular as a pre meal appetite opener. We then got traditional Italian appetizers, foie gras on crostini, prosciutto on melon, and bruschetta Toscano, sliced Tuscan tomatoes on top of bread. We skipped primi piatti and moved straight to the second course, the steak. I ordered the Chianina steak and my friend ordered the grilled sirloin. There was some issue lost in translation, but the waitress was telling us that if we only got the half, it would be a half kilogram whereas the full steak is one kilogram. We did not know how much a kilo was so we got the half order and assumed it would be somewhat small, as most of the meals were. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds, so we got massive steaks.
    They switched our steaks, which I didn’t find out until later when my teacher told me my steak was not a Florentine steak. I figured he knew best because he was an Italian chef. I was frustrated and felt cheated that I had gone to an inauthentic steakhouse. I then thought about it a little more, my friend’s steak looked a lot larger than mine. It looked an awful lot like a Florentine steak. I realized, they switched our orders and laughed about it. It was somewhat frustrating that I had only eaten regular steak when I could’ve had a local specialty. It was still delicious, but wasn’t necessarily the regional delicacy that I was excited to order. I suppose I’ll have to go back… to get my special steak and wash it down with another small glass of limoncello, a very strong lemon liquor that’ll put some hair on your chest.

  • Zac Richman: Post 2

    Zac Richman
    ISA 2021
    Florence, Italy
    August 7, 2021

    My commute to class every day was filled with history that I sometimes ignored out of habit, as I became more familiar with the city. My bike ride from Via Venezia 2 to Via Ricasoli 21 became much more routine, after I learned to stop taking the bike down the 600 year old cobblestone roads.

    My bike was a rental I usually picked up from my walk to the city center, which I did most days. I had Florence to myself, until 3pm every day, so there was plenty of time to grab brunch and wander around the city. There, I’d find a bike that was a part of my rental program I had signed up for. I payed for a month and within a couple days I had gotten my money’s worth, as I lived around 15 minutes walk from class. It was a short 15 minutes from Il Duomo, too, which helped shape my understanding of how long a walk actually was. Yesterday, I walked to Siena from the train station, a quick two mile hike up a mountain. In Florence, I pass the , the home of The David, almost every day. I’d race busses down this busy street, one of the only two-way streets in the city. Everything else is one-way and extremely tight. In Siena, we had to move tables off the street so a man in a truck could make the tight squeeze down the hill. After I arrive at my school, I’m greeted by a typical Florentine cafe with students waiting tables and extremely fancy dishes for cheap, as culinary students show off their creations. Sometimes I cool off on the back patio, which is covered by sun sails to block out the beating heat. Whether biking or walking, everyone is sweaty in Florence, and it’s important to sit down and dry out a little before class.

    I think the concept of walking everywhere you go has changed the way I think about distance, time value and pride. The distances I walk don’t feel as long as they sound, I see things I would’ve missed if I had been on a bus, I get a good workout in and I’m proud that I’m able to make the walk when others said it wasn’t possible to make it on my own. I don’t know if it’s something I’ll bring back, but it definitely was interesting to see just how far I could get without a car.

  • Zac Richman:Post 1

    Zac Richman
    ISA 2021
    Florence, Italy
    July 27, 2021

    When on the plane to Rome, I thought that my time in Florence would be set at a breakneck pace, running around all over the city to see everything. After walking around 10 miles the first day and sleeping in till 11 the next, I was frustrated at myself for wasting my precious and valuable time abroad. However as time went on, I realized I can’t worry about taking time to myself and sleeping in. I like to explore the city when it’s cool at night and stay in doing homework or checking in with my friends during the heat of day. I realized that Italians live life very differently than Americans. They move through life much slower and I couldn’t expect to treat Florence like America. Sightseeing is better done one place per day. It’s important to slow down and take your time to see everything rather than rushing through the beautiful Piazzas all at once.
    This major change in lifestyle was tough to get used to at first, especially at restaurants. I couldn’t understand why food took so long to come out and why I couldn’t ever get my check brought to me. At a nice restaurant it once took so long for my waitress to come back I physically handed her the check with the money in it so we could leave. But I’ve learned since then. Walking down the streets I see people dining well into the late night. Dinner takes much longer here. It’s a time to connect with others and unwind after a long day of work, so spending more than 2 hours at dinner is common. While at first it felt like I was spending my entire time in Italy stuck at restaurants, now I’m excited to get stuck at a restaurant. Aperitivo is an important tradition for Italians. It’s a pre-dinner snack and drink that is meant to open the appetite. They consider 6pm too early for dinner but are still hungry so they go out to Aperitivo restaurants for a glass of Prosecco and small complimentary snacks that never stop coming out. It’s an amazing tradition that is a really special experience. I also learned about the culture of wine in Italy. Wine is not real alcohol here. It is as common and in some places, as cheap as a bottle of soda. Wine accompanies every meal. Some older folks drink wine with their brunch. It seems crazy to us but a glass of wine at 2pm won’t get you any stares here. This is because wine is considered part of the meal, a way to enhance and balance out the flavors of the food you are eating.
    All of these differences were hard to understand and definitely contributed to culture shock, but I slowly overcame the feelings of being an outsider. I live in the city, I have an address and a school here, and new friends from all over the world. While it’s important to experience these new things and integrate into the new culture, it’s important to balance yourself out. You have to remember where you came from and for me that’s listening to my favorite music from home whenever I go walking. While I’m in a foreign country for multiple weeks, it doesn’t feel so alien when I’m listening to the same music I would at home, hearing English instead of rapid fire Italian. I’m excited to be here and wish I could pause time and stay here for just a few weeks more.

  • Taylor McGee: Post 4

    Taylor McGee
    Instituto Franklin
    Alcalá de Henares, Spain
    Summer 2021
    June 29, 2021

    This will be my final blog post from my trip to Spain. Overall, I’ve had a truly wonderful time, and my final weekend here will be one that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to Toledo, one of the most historic sites in all of Spain, and Valencia, a beach city on the Mediterranean with a rich history, killer gastronomy, and beaches that are to die for. My program took us through a guided tour of Toledo, where I got to see the city from a number of truly impressive vantagepoints. In the picture included you can see the river Tajo, the river that protected the city from attack for (literally) thousands of years, while also supplying the city with enough water to support some of the largest population densities within Spain. The amount of historical architecture here truly merits a guided tour, as the beauty is not truly appreciated if you don’t understand much of the significance of what you’re seeing.

    Toledo and the Tajo River Toledo and the Tajo River

     

     

    In Valencia, I got to meet up with a friend from high school, who saved me from having to pay for an AirBnB or hotel, and also took me to an authentic paella restaurant where I got to try Valencia’s regional dish. Fun fact: like Champagne technically only refers to sparkling white wine from the Champagne region of France, paella also only refers to dishes cooked with exactly the right ingredients (rabbit, chicken, snails [both white and black], a special kind of green bean, a special kind of white beans called Favadas, rice, and a secret concentration of spices not shared with outsiders) and other dishes without key ingredients or that include other ingredients are only dishes served with rice; tldr: if you find yourself in Valencia be very careful to let locals call something paella before trying to call it paella yourself, lest you find yourself the butt of a joke you didn’t see coming. The beach and Mediterranean was also a blast, and it was nice to spend a day lounging on the beach (even if I did come back looking a bit like a lobster). Valencia also has series of well-known buildings in their central park, and that’s where I took the picture that I’ve included in this blog post!

    Valencia’s Central Park
     

    Spain is a truly wonderful experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to study abroad, regardless of their level of Spanish. The overwhelming majority of people speak at least a little English, and I’ve found myself in spots where that’s really saved me from awkward situations, while my Spanish (especially my ability to understand what people are saying) has improved drastically. I will fly out from the Madrid airport early tomorrow, so this is me signing off! Thanks for reading, and I hope you will do a study abroad, too.

  • Taylor McGee: Post 3

    Taylor McGee
    Instituto Franklin
    Alcalá de Henares, Spain
    Summer 2021

    June 20, 2021

    My two favorite parts of every city are the museums and the hiking. Alcalá de Henares (and Madrid) have both in spades. The three biggest art museums in Madrid are the Reina Sofia museum, the Thyssen Museum, and the Prado Museum. When in Madrid, I would recommend going through all three. While many of the museums have restrictions against taking pictures in certain wings or exhibits, much of the Reina Sofia can be photographed. One of the most famous paintings in the Reina Sofia museum is the painting I’ve included in this post, which is the Woman in the Window painting by Salvador Dali, one of the only paintings of his we have that are not just absolutely absurd. A number of his sketches for his most famous works (such as Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, and The Elephants) were in exhibits in the Reina Sofia, although we weren’t allowed to take pictures, and the completed paintings are in the Dali museum in Figueres, Spain. The Prado museum is truly remarkable. Mostly made up of historical art (primarily Velasquez, Goya and El Greco), the museum is full of pieces that are astoundingly large and use color to become strikingly three dimensional. The Thyssen museum mostly does exhibits, and the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit was interesting, but didn’t really compare to the awe of Picasso’s Guernica or the breathtaking beauty of Velasquez’s Las Lanzas.

    Today, I went on a major hike in the south of Alcalá de Henares. I went nearly 12 miles in just under 3.5 hours, and got to see some truly incredible sites. Attached is a picture I took at the highest peak in the area, Ecce-Homo, which is well over 1400 ft above the surrounding hillside. What you can’t see in the photo (and is the thing that I’m pointing to) is a stork’s nest with some eggs in it, and the city of Alcalá de Henares stretches out behind the hillsides! It was a great hike with some pretty incredible sights that took me through a number of the distinct biomes we have been discussing in my Civilization and Culture class. Getting to see first-hand the different forest types in the plateau region of Spain that we had learned about in class was a really cool moment, and helped reinforce some of the classroom teaching. Overall, I’m having a great time, and wish that I could be here longer!

  • Taylor McGee: Post 2

    Taylor McGee
    Instituto Franklin
    Alcalá de Henares, Spain
    Summer 2021
    6/7/2021

    One of the things that has come to hit me pretty hard is just how different things are in Spain than in the states. The first thing I really noticed was the birds. For as long as I can remember the birds have sounded more or less the same, but in Spain they have a very different set of birds, which make different, and sometimes truly disturbing, noises. For example, the city of Alcalá de Henares is well known for it’s storks. The University has storks on its crest, there are massive stork nests in all the towers, and you can hear their haunting clacking sounds all night as they watch over the main walkway. One of the other things that really struck me was the power of legacy that is clear in Spain. I’ve included a picture of two columns, and if you look at them, they look fairly distinct. The reason why is because the smaller column is believed to have been created in the first century C.E. by the Romans, when they settled the region. After the Muslims were expelled from the region in roughly 1200 C.E., the city was rebuilt over a period of roughly 200 years, and the builders incorporated some of the columns they found in the ruins of the Roman cites. The larger column, on the left, was made during the middle ages when the city was being rebuilt and is dated no earlier than 1400. Everything from the architectural choices to the very materials the buildings are constructed from tie back into the history of the Iberian Peninsula.


    On a slightly lighter note, if you come to Spain from Hampden-Sydney, it might feel like the local people are a little standoffish. If you say high to them on the street or on the bus, they’re going to look at you a little funny and likely say nothing in response. However, in place of saying hi on the street, if you go somewhere to a local gym you’ll see that the street merely isn’t the kind of place where people behave like that. Gyms, in Spain, are social places where people exercise together under the supervision of government licensed personal trainers, who go around helping people fix their form, develop workout plans/routines, and make suggestions on how to get the most out of your time in the gym. Similarly, you’ll see people running hoses out their windows to water the lawns in public spaces. Water (as well as all utilities) in Spain is exceptionally expensive, and one of the ways people demonstrate their friendliness and sense of community, in place of greeting each other publicly, is standing on the balcony of their seventh floor apartment and watering the grass so kids and dogs can use the space to play and get exercise.
    During the program, we have a number of scheduled trips throughout the summer, one of which was a thorough tour of Madrid. During this tour we got to see a lot of awesome sights, like the cathedral of Madrid, the Royal Palace, the Retiro Park (which is the Madrid equivalent of central park), as well as the Kilometer zero mark for all Spanish highways, located right outside the building that used to be the Royal Palace and now houses the administrative offices for the Community of Madrid (which is the autonomous region that the city of Madrid is in). The picture I included is from the major fountain in front of the Royal Castle (which you can see in the background). The royal family of Spain actually lives outside of Madrid, and no longer uses that castle, which has since been converted into a museum, but the palace is used for ceremonial events, and a new ambassador was being received, so we were not allowed to even really get close to the castle.


    We’ve had a total of one day of classes so far, and I’ve been in Spain since the first of June. I’m excited for them to pick up next week, and I look forward to bringing more stories about my experiences in Spain!

  • Taylor McGee: Post 1

    Taylor McGee
    Instituto Franklin
    Alcalá de Henares, Spain
    Summer 2021
    6/2/2021

    June 2021

    The trip to Spain was less than ideal. Besides the baby screaming on and off during the 8 hour transatlantic flight, the air crew nearly forgetting to load 1,000 pounds of fuel into the plane (which feels like my flight almost ended up on the news), the Delta agent who insisted that only people with Spanish passports could enter the country, and shifting my sleep and meal schedule has been exceptionally difficult. Thankfully, I’ve got a really cool host family, made up of a single father who’s daughter is off studying at University. The only English my host dad knows is a weird mixture of 80’s rock (including the entire Queen catalogue), and late jazz-pop (primarily, but not limited to, Sinatra and Tormé). One of the things that has really struck me was exactly how wrong my assumptions were going into this trip. While everyone likes to talk about the Spanish people not being able to do things on time, I’ve found that the busses, trains, and metros run on time as well as, if not better than, any other city I’ve been. Everyone talks about how the Spanish people like to drink beer, but my host dad is entirely sober. People make a big deal about how important the Spanish siesta is, but in reality, having the freedom in your workday to be able to take one is considered a luxury in much the same way that having a job that permits daytime napping would be a luxury in the states. The cost of living might be expensive in most of Europe, but I’ve found that I can get a beer and a tapa for about 3-5 euros a serving, well below what a beer and snack would cost at a typical American bar, and that you’re heavily encouraged to drink water with your tapas to avoid being drunk.


    All in all, I’m really enjoying my time in Spain, and have found many of the negative stereotypes and harsh concerns people have about the country to be unfair and largely contradictory to the way the Spanish people actually behave. One of the really interesting factoids I have come to learn is that while most of the world absolutely despises Americans for their boisterous attitudes and destructive habits, the Spanish largely don’t receive those kinds of American tourists (if Americans want to go to beaches where the locals speak Spanish, they go to Latin America), and therefore hold no contempt for Americans. However, there are still English-speaking
    tourists that cause tons of problems and are largely despised by the locals, namely the British, so maybe us Americans come by it honestly…