It's me again, I'm back, and only about a year late for my next post. Very briefly, let me just say that after my 6 months in Rwanda, I spent one month traveling around Iceland with my university to study geology. I don't have any entries up, but I do have photos! Anyway, I am so excited for this post because I get to share with you the unique experiences I had on a trip to Poland earlier this month.
Along with 9 other university students about to begin their senior years, I was selected by General Electric to join a group going to Poland for 10 days to participate in what they call the Presidential Internship program. This program is sponsored by the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland, GE, and the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union, and allows a total of 20 students each year (10 from each non-government sponsor) to gain familiarity with Polish diplomatic, economic, developmental and cultural elements.
For a week and a half, we traveled around the country touring cities and meeting with representatives from the Polish Senate, the Warsaw Stock Exchange, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Entrepreneurship & Technology, and Investment & Development. We also had the incredible opportunity to meet the President of Poland during a televised conference in the Presidential Palace.
While I am sure that this trip was exciting for all of my companions, it was particularly important to me because it allowed me to connect with my Polish heritage. For those who don't know, I am lucky to have citizenship and family ties to Poland as well as the United States -- although we try to keep close connections to both sides, it can certainly be challenging in a multicultural household. On this trip, I was joined by ten other students of Polish descent, none of whom possess the same split cultural background and therefore all of whom had been raised with a more traditional Polish background. Traveling with this particular group of people not only allowed me to have fun, but it broadened my understanding of my own identity, and gave me new perspective as I interacted with political officials and visited cultural museums.
Having the opportunity to go on this trip has meant so much to me, and I am eager to apply the knowledge that I have gained to political and diplomatic endeavors in the future. A huge thank you to GE, the PSFCU, and the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland for making this experience a possibility!
Life continues here in Musha. Although many of the things that have happened since I moved here would be deemed quite out of the ordinary by readers back home, unusual occurrences have become so frequent that they no longer seem to be something worth recording. An exception to this general rule occurred last week, as a friend and I returned home to Musha from Kigali to find ourselves confronted with a massive thunderstorm.
The trip to Musha is a two-part process — the first step of which involves boarding a bus that deposits you along the main road from Kigali to Rwamagana (the nearest city to me in the Eastern Province). Once you exit the bus, you hop aboard a moto-taxi (essentially a motorcycle with a handle on the back for the bumps) and drive up a dirt road to climb the hill(s?) that eventually take you to the village in which I live.
Anyway, that night we found ourselves standing on the edge of the road, staring up at the hills in which lightning flickered as the rain fell aggressively around us. We made our way to a metal shelter on the side of the road, and began to beg the only two moto drivers still waiting around to take us up the road so that we could make it home. Unsurprisingly, they refused. As the rain began to slow down a bit, however, new drivers arrived, and they made the decision to take the two crazy white girls home in the storm. What should have been a 15 minute trip took half an hour as we slid along the mud roads and the bike keeled over more than ten times. Harrowing in the moment, but as my driver dropped me off and gripped my hand, saying "together until the end!" in a tone of triumph, the only emotion I had left was sheer exhileration.
In the last months I've been in and out of Kigali a few times to do some grocery shopping and take in a movie in the theater located conveniently next door to the hotel in which I always stay. Something that has struck me about this city is how it manages to be at once chaotic and yet incredibly organized. The streets are clean, and there may be nowhere in the world where I have ever felt safer, but the roads are crowded with all manner of vehicles rushing about loudly, and Kigali buzzes with life.
Soon, I will be back in Kigali to embark on a mini trip during school vacation -- I am off to Uganda for a few days to trek with gorillas and see wild chimpanzees. While I am gone, however, the country of Rwanda will be deep in contemplation as they remember the anniversary of the genocide which took so many lives, not so long ago. One of the great gifts that this co-op has given to me has been the ability to gain a deeper understanding of how this country has rebuilt and grown stronger in the wake of such tragedy, and I am hopeful that throughout the remainder of my time here I will be able to continue to learn from its example.
For now, that's all. If you are able to take a few moments to contemplate and remember the value of human life and the importance of open-mindedness and understanding in the next few weeks, please do.
Hi friends! I have officially been living here in Musha for about a week and a half (two weeks ago today, I got on a plane and left home).
Since arriving, I have been able to settle into a bit of a routine at the school, and sort out my schedule. Most of my time is spent either helping to run the library on campus (managing book lending, as well as the tablets and computers we have for in-library student use) or in classrooms assisting the English teachers with their lessons. In the past week, we have covered topics ranging from pronouns to essay writing in classes that are essentially equivalent to high school in the United States.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be here for my first coop, especially because it is allowing me to make an impact on the students at this school, and assist them in expanding their linguistic abilities so that they are able to find better jobs in the long run.
In other news, Rwanda is stunningly beautiful, and it is hard to feel lonely even though I am living in a tiny village fairly distant from the capital. More news and photos to come soon, as I am hoping to do some regional travel during my five months here.
It's been over a year since I last posted, and for that I am sorry, but the time in between updates has been spent satisfying my academic curiosity as well as taking on a brief stint as a camp counselor this past summer.
As I near the finish line of my third semester of college, I find myself looking ahead to yet another incredible global opportunity which will send me halfway around the world once again for several months.
Northeastern University has several unique programs which allow students to make the most of their education and gain what the administration refers to as an "experiential education". One of these programs is our coop program -- a system that allows students to take time off from their studies for a 6 month period, and spend that time working in a field of their choosing. Most students will choose to either do two or three coops during their time here -- graduating in four or five years.
My first coop is coming up in January, when I will board a plane bound for Rwanda to take up a position as an English Teacher at a technical high school in Musha called ETSK. I am incredibly excited to have been offered this job, and cannot wait to begin my coop. I am planning to revitalize this blog in order to share my experiences for the six months I am gone, so check back in January to see how I've settled in and to read the latest news from Rwanda!
(also I've learned how to use gifs, so that's new and exciting)
Hi readers! It's been a while, and lots has happened in the month-ish since I last posted here. For starters, I took a trip to Denmark over the long weekend (October 3 is off because it's a national holiday) and spent time hanging out with my cousin, which was a lot of fun (also shoutout to his dog because fluffy things are hard to come by in Berlin).
I also attended the Reunification Day festivities on October 3 after getting back from the airport. There was a big festival going on by the Brandenburg gate, complete with pop-up shops, restaurants, kids games, and an enormous ferris wheel from which you could pretty much see all of the city.
More recently (today), I ventured out in the rain to see the East Side Gallery exhibition before the weather completely turns. I'm so glad that I went, because it's a beautiful art gallery to take in. I'll upload some photos here for y'all to take a look -- I think part of what is most interesting about the murals you see on the wall is when you take them in with the context of the time in which they were created, it gives you a new outlook on the fall of the wall... Each time from a different perspective.
I actually just got back to my dorm after spending a few hours out in the city taking in the Festival of Lights tonight -- which is a series of projections that are designed by an international collective of artists and then displayed on Berlin landmarks -- for example, the TV tower and the Berliner Dom.
Anyway, that's the rundown from me. More soon, Inshallah!
🎶I Didn't Plan It - Sarah Bareilles🎶
I know. Once again I am a remiss blogger, and for that I apologize sincerely. It has been a hectic few weeks in Berlin, but I have finally settled into a routine (and am pulling myself out of the illness that has been afflicting me for just over a week). My initial post was more of an introductory-check-out-this-cool-photo sort of affair, so here I will give a more complete summary of my life this semester.
I live in a complex in Kreuzberg, Berlin along with 39 other people from Northeastern (38 students, 2 international student advisors) and a good number of other study abroad students from assorted colleges. We take our classes either within the complex, or a short walk away at the annex of a local high school. This semester, my courseload includes 5 classes -- Holocaust Studies; Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Pop Culture; Berlin: Capital of the 20th Century; Politics of the European Union; and a 1 credit "Global Experience" course .
My days are usually free until about 1 in the afternoon, when classes and activities begin. I wish I could tell you about how productive I am in this time block, but the reality is that I use it mostly to sleep... Although occasionally I will go do laundry before everyone else wakes up.
We are responsible for cooking our own meals, which means that I've eaten a lot of pasta compilations (and that other people on my floor have been eating out almost every day at the kebab place down the street). To this end, the grocery stores are conveniently nearby -- as are several pharmacies and drugstores (convenient, because we've all been catching ill... likely from the low levels of hygiene in our communal kitchen).
Homework gets done whenever there is spare time, and we have a lot of programmed events, especially on weekends. On Sundays most stores are closed, so I have a list of museums and other places I'm hoping to go to.
Since the last time I posted, we've been all over the city. I took myself to the Botanical Gardens, we took a tour of the Reichstag, visited Potsdam, saw some of Berlin's famous museums, went to a local soccer game at the Olympic Stadium from 1936, etc.
I'm having a lot of fun here, and I think it's going to be very difficult to leave in December (although the way the weather is going downhill, who knows).
🎶Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You - Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons🎶
I have now lived in Berlin for approximately three days. It's not a tremendously long amount of time, but I can already feel myself settling into a rhythm here.
It has been a hectic few days since stepping off of the plane in Germany (although to be honest, the stress and confusion began long before then -- before we even boarded the plane, when there was confusion about our visas and readiness to fly at the Boston airport). We have sat through long hours of orientations, taken local and city tours, and begun our own exploration of the neighborhoods and areas around us. Although Germany is a unique country in its own right, I have managed to patch together a rudimentary understanding of its workings through my pre-existing knowledge of Polish culture and -- especially important to college students who are cooking for themselves -- grocery stores.
Today I purchased a backpack for myself from locally popular brand Herschel, as well as picking up some basic cooking ingredients. The program stops feeding us tomorrow, and the days (weeks?) of ramen noodle microwaving and going out for meals will begin. Beyond that, there is not much to report. Classes begin on Monday, and I am excited to start college.
Inshallah things continue to go well here -- I am looking forward to hopefully working with refugees during my time in Berlin. I will try to update soon with more news.
🎶Hi, Hey There, Hello - The Mowgli's🎶
Well, here we are again. T-10 days to hopping a plane out of the country, and I've once more begun to pack. At this point I think I can list stuffing suitcases as a skill on a résumé quite comfortably; in the last twelve hours, I have succesfully managed to get myself about 50% of the way packed -- based mainly off of a collection of lists I had pretyped over the summer.
As such, it seems to me that now is as good a time as any to offer up packing suggestions for those embarking on similar expeditions of their own -- be it a college study abroad or a full year (or more!) of immersion.
Probably the most important suggestion I can give you is to pack light. As anyone who's seen my suitcases can tell you, that's one tip I struggle to follow myself -- but something that I genuinely wish I was better at. At the very least, remember to leave yourself space in your luggage on the trip out. This way, you will have space in your bags for the multitude of assorted things you purchase for yourself over the course of your stay (because trust me, you will be buying things).
Another important thing to remember, especially when packing long-term, is to bring individual pieces rather than specific outfits. What this means is that instead of bringing a brightly patterned pair of pants that will only match with your one black t-shirt, you could bring a pair of solidly colored jeans which would be more versatile, and would provide a variety of outfit options. This strategy will help you keep your limited wardrobe fresh for the duration of your trip.
My third and final tip for travelers is to remember to pack for a well-rounded experience. Don't forget your passport and other security documentation while you're collecting your pumps and going-out clothes. On the same note, don't pack for only one type of weather. If you're staying for a month or more, chances are you will experience at least some mild variation in climate, and you'll want to be prepared. Always pack a rain shell just in case.
That's all I've got as far as general suggestions for packing -- but feel free to reach out to me if you have further questions (or need ideas for things like host family gifts if you're doing a homestay). Other than that, the next time you'll be hearing from me is after I set up in Berlin!
Safe travels, all!
🎶Follow Your Arrow - Kacey Musgraves🎶
I'm back on the internet again, after almost a year (can you believe it's been that long? I can't). You're probably wondering exactly what is going on with this blog, and why everything seems to have changed. If you're not, it's probably your first time here.
The short explanation is that I have decided to revamp the site so that I can continue using it as a platform to blog and share my experiences with all of you. That's why the title , the URL, and even the layout have changed. One thing that has not changed, however, is all of the blog posts I shared last year in Oman. They're all still here, although they have been sorted according to category to make it easier to track them down individually (check out the categories in the sidebar). The photo gallery is also still intact and available, although I will be adding additional galleries to that tab for each trip I take in the future.
New additions to the site include the newsletter subscription (in the sidebar; if you were previously subscribed to updates, I've already transfered you over to the new system). I'm also updating the map as I go, so the location on there should reflect my most current travel plans.
As far as what comes next for me... I'm heading off to college this fall! I'm very excited, especially because I have a very unique opportunity -- I am spending my first semester abroad in Berlin, Germany. After that, I head back to Northeastern University as my base for the rest of my time as an undergraduate. Inshallah I will get many more opportunities to travel and live abroad as I go.
I am looking forward to sharing my adventures with all of you! As usual, don't hesitate to contact me with questions, comments, or concerns.
🎶Upside Down - Paloma Faith🎶
I am a terrible human being. This poor blog has sat at the back of my mind, gathering a thick layer of dust over the past three months, as I have putzed about my life and attempted to re-carve the niche I thought I had left for myself in America.
But, hello. I'm back! Your not-so-local (but still your favorite) exchange student bringing you details about going home and why it might actually be harder than packing up your life and shipping it to the Middle East.
I have been home now for almost three months (and as I type that I can feel my head spinning because honestly that's an unbelievably long time) and I've started my senior year of high school. My classes are stressful, my friends are lovely, and my cats are fluffy. And I am still emotionally on exchange.
In the last few months since coming home, I have read blog posts from several of the girls who were in Oman with me (Kenzie's made me cry the hardest) and struggled to express my own emotions in a manner that would somehow refrain from mocking their pieces with redundancy. As you might have guessed by my absence from the interweb, I failed.
But at some point in the last week or so I decided that regardless of how poorly I might end up writing it (and so, dear readers, I'd like to apologize in advance), it is worth sharing my experience with you all even now that I am home so that any of you who are curious about exchange will get to be in on a big secret. Ready? Exchange doesn't end when you come home.
Exchange to me is how I would define this feeling of loss in your gut, that pull that makes you feel like you're meant to be somewhere else, and that somewhere is far away. It is the way that I have walked the streets of my hometown in the last months and felt, day by day, as though I were living out some bizarrely realistic version of the Sims. In the last few months, I have come to realize that exchange never truly ends. That the mark I let Oman leave on me will be here forever. That the sun may rise in the East and set in the West, but just because it's going down here doesn't mean it won't come back to greet me in another place halfway around the world.
I miss it. I spent 10 months wishing I were home and now I spend every night crossing my fingers and hoping that some day, Insha'allah, I will be able to return to Oman. It is beautiful there. My life was beautiful there. 5 times a day I would hear the call to prayer, the athan, and when I looked out of my window all I could see were more houses and streets cloaked in dust. The sun rose and set in hues that dazzled me twice a day, and as much as my host siblings and I may have disagreed, I miss them with all my heart.
It breaks my heart that my time abroad had to end. It gave me a purpose, instilled in me the will to push for the things I dreamed of, and promptly gave me a push and sent me off reeling into the abyss of college applications and AP work that waited to catch me when I landed home in New York.
I don't know if I can blog again after this. I don't even know if this piece is interesting or if it's just a piece of fluff I typed up because I was emotional and homesick. Either way, I'm going to post it, because this is how I feel, and if you were with me on my journey then you deserve to know that much.
So here goes. This is me accepting my exchange. Breathing in. Breathing out. Looking ahead to the new things to come. And taking a running jump and then a leap of faith out into the unknown, where I will find my next journey.
Shukran (thank you) to all of my readers and those of you who have just dropped in out of arbitrary curiosity. Thank you for reading this blog and validating my journey, and for letting me share it with you. Thank you for making me feel as though there was at least one other person out there whom I might have helped by going to Oman - by expressing that although these things are hard, they are so, so worth it.
A special thank you to the four girls who stole my heart and left me with a gaping hole in my chest that misses them every day - Linden, Ginya, Braden and Kenzie... You are my sisters and my best friends and my worst nightmares and I love you with all of my heart. You have meant the world to me, and I wouldn't have spent the last year with anyone else.
Hi! My name is Karla Cox. This blog is a compilation of notes, thoughts, and photos from my travels around the world.