Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home

As our time in Lima came to a quick end, none of us wanted to leave our new home. We had to meet the group at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday so we could get transport to the airport. A bunch of us thought it would be a novel idea to not go to sleep that night and instead catch some zzzz’s on the plane, but that was a huge mistake! We all felt horrible and tired all the way home, but somehow we made it back safe and sound after a whole day of traveling. I was so happy to be able to leave the airport with my parents, and soon after, I was reunited with my puppies! After a long day, my bed and all of my pillows never looked better!

I never thought I would have experienced culture shock coming back to the states, but sure enough, I did. Even though I was only gone for a month, it felt like my world had been turned upside down. So many things had changed, happened or gone by that I felt like I was left behind. I did not have a problem switching back to English; however, I still dream in Spanish pretty frequently. The one thing I hate is that I’ve become so cheap. In Peru I could buy whatever I wanted for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, here there is no bargaining and I’m suffering from sticker shock! I also miss the Peruvian food — it was to die for!

To anybody who is thinking about studying abroad…. do it! This trip was amazing, and there are many other wonderful trips that Valdosta State offers as well. It doesn’t matter where you go, because in the end, it’s all about the new experiences you will gain. That alone is priceless. These study abroad trips are worth every single penny; so don’t let the price stand in the way. Peru really opened my mind and allowed me to expand my horizons. I have learned so many important life experiences that will stick with me forever. The most important thing I learned was that we are so blessed to have access to so many things here in the states. I no longer take things like clean water, sanitation and toilet paper for granted.

I would really like to say thank you to my host parents Oscar and Julia. They welcomed me with open arms and are the sweetest people I have ever met. They will always be my Peruvian parents! I would also like to say thank you to Dr. Amy, Dr. Marcos Goldfarb and José for making all of the plans and arrangements. This trip was really a once in a lifetime experience.

* Stephanie is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It All Comes to an End in the City of Lights

Our last weekend is here! And what better way to spend it? We are in the City of Lights — Paris! This was the weekend I had been waiting for our entire trip! We got to spend five days and four nights in this wonderful city.

On Friday, we got to Paris around 12:30 p.m. and went to check into our hostel, the FIAP, before heading out to a very quick tour of the Louvre. The first thing I saw were the Victory Wings, which ended up being my favorite statue in the Louvre (of what I saw). I really liked the history behind it. I learned that it was over 3,000 years old, and at one point in time it was in over 300 pieces.

It was eventually put back together and is now sitting in the Louvre.

Then, we went to see the famous Mona Lisa. Honestly, it was kind of a let down. It is very small, and kind of boring. The only reason it is famous is because it was stolen and not found until three years later. On one side of the room is this tiny painting (Mona Lisa) and on the other side of the room is a HUGE picture that takes up the entire wall. But at least I can say I saw it. I also took time to see the Venus De Milo and the inverted pyramids. Afterwards, I headed back to our hotel and ate dinner and planned out the rest of my weekend.

Saturday, a couple of us decided to do a bike tour of Paris. We signed up for the

morning/afternoon and night tour with Fat Tire Bikes!

We had so much fun on the one in Munich that we just had to do it again in Paris. That morning we met at the Eiffel Tour and then headed to the bike shop. We started our tour by stopping at an old military school, which is still used as a military school. We also saw a monument dedicated to world peace. The monument has the word “peace” written all over it in over a hundred different languages. The creator of the monument says he isn’t going to finish the monument until there is world peace. I think he may be waiting a while. We ate lunch in the Royal Gardens, and then finished our afternoon tour at the Louvre.

Later, we met back up again at the bike shop for the night tour. First, we took a 25-minute bike ride over to Notre Dame.

Then we stopped for ice cream at one of the most famous ice cream parlors in the world. I had chocolate! It was amazing! Then we stopped by the building where Marie Antoinette was kept before she was beheaded, and headed back to the Louvre. Then we rode our bikes to the pier where a riverboat cruise was waiting for us. Our river cruise lasted about an hour, and served complementary wine. After the riverboat cruise, we headed back to the bike shop and it was almost midnight before we made it back to our hotel!

Well, I can definitely tell you that my bottom was hurting on Sunday! All the bike riding took a toll on my body! That morning, we went to the Eiffel Tour again. This time, we took an elevator ride up to the second floor. We couldn’t go up to the very top because it was too crowded. The view from the second story was plenty beautiful and is much higher than you think it is from the ground! For lunch, we went to our weekly American food fix, Hard Rock Café. That afternoon, we toured around the Sacre – Coeur, an old church that sits high up on a hill in Paris. You can see all of Paris from the top of this hill. We also went to Montmarte, a little town square next to Sacre-Coeur where a lot of local artist try to sell their paintings. I ended up buying two beautiful canvas paintings to take back to my apartment. I walked around the square three times trying to decide which ones I wanted! That night, Kent and I went to see the Lido. It is basically a French version of an American Broadway show with plenty of lights, costumes and stage sets to please anyone! Then we headed back to the hostel to get ready for our day trip to Normandy.

On Monday, Kent and I had to get up early to catch a train to take us to Bayeux. It is about two hours from Paris. Our tour guide met us at the city center (which is really small). Our first stop on our Normandy tour was Pointe De Hoc. We got to see many of the old bunkers and debris that was left over from the battle. We also saw a monument that was built in honor of the fallen soldiers during those battles. Our next stop was the infamous Omaha Beach. It looked like a normal, happy beach. There were lots of families sitting on the beach, just playing and having a wonderful time. It was very hard to imagine that such a horrible battle took place at the beach. Afterwards, we headed to the American cemetery. We learned that there are over 9,000 men and women buried at this location. It eemed like all of the white marble crosses went on for miles and miles. It was a very sad place to visit. It really makes you proud to be an American. It also made me realize how lucky I am to be an American. Our last stop was between the American and British invasion sites. This was the best view of Omaha Beach. Our tour guide also showed us two German guns that were still in the original bunkers from the battle. After our tour, we caught the train back to Paris and began packing our stuff up to come back to America!

Being able to have the opportunity to have this experience was an absolute blessing. I would recommend studying abroad to everyone! There are so many memories that I have made throughout this trip that I will never forget! I have so many new friends that each made an impression on my life that will always be with me. I will never forget the people that I was able to share this experience with. I would definitely recommend to any one thinking about doing a study abroad trip to do lots of research before you go. That way, you will know about all of the sites you are going to see. It will make the experience that much better. I would also recommend doing a bike tour while oversees if one is offered in the area you are traveling to. The bike tours in Munich and Paris were the most fun things I did throughout the entire trip. I absolutely loved Germany and would love to go back someday! Maybe I’ll take a cruise over there so I don’t have to fly!

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe,Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.

Back Stateside and Missing Germany Already

So it feels a little weird being back stateside after five weeks of not only visiting Germany, but also making it my home. A part of me is glad to be home — to see my family and friends — but the other part of me also misses my friends that became as close as family from Germany. The one thing that is going to take some getting used to is the fact that I do not have something to do every second of every day. For example, yesterday I literally paced around my house for an hour because I was so bored, and neither the Internet nor television interested me.

My last few days in Germany were great. I went on a day trip to Belgium (Brussels and Bruges) by myself, which was nice, almost to prove I could travel internationally by myself. Bruges was beautiful, filled with tourists and a little redundant, but I didn’t hate Bruges (those who have seen the movie with Collin Ferrell will understand). Monday and Tuesday were full of classes, studying and stress for a lot of people. I just had to finish some projects, show up and present them. The last couple of nights there, the hotel made us some great meals and the mayor of Konigswinter, the town where we were staying, actually joined us for a little while at the hotel. At night, we went down to the Rhine River with a bottle of wine and tried to delay the inevitable: leaving this beautiful country.

This trip for me has been the most exciting, fun and memorable thing I have ever done. I have met people that will be my friends forever; I have seen places that most people never get to visit in their lifetime; and I have built a connection with the country of Germany. I know that sounds a little odd, but you can believe me when I say that this is only the first trip of many that I will take to that part of Germany. I really wish everyone could experience what I have the past five weeks. If anyone ever gets the opportunity to visit any European country, do it. Do not hesitate, because you will not be disappointed.

I am forever grateful to the European Council for working with me to make this trip happen and being patient with me. I am having a hard time putting all my feelings, thoughts and emotions into words right now, which is something that I am not used to. I am still processing everything, and I probably will be for a good while.

I talked to one of my friends from the trip today, and her and I are in accordance: we’re catching the first plane back. This is what a trip like Bonn, Germany will do to you. There are really only three words that can sum up my trip:

I miss Germany.

* Lee is participating in a study abroad program in Bonn, Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's European Council and International Programs.

Machu Picchu - the Belly Button of the World

Amazing, magnificent, superb and brilliant don’t even come close to describing what I’ve seen this past week. Last Friday, we finished up the last day of our three-week class, and got ready for our “mini” vacation. Early Saturday morning, we boarded a plane from Lima to Cusco with lots of anticipation. After arriving that afternoon, we headed off to our hotel to rest for a bit. Here the altitude was around 11,000 – 12,000 feet, which was a huge change from sea level. Most people had headaches and occasional nausea, but nothing stopped us from enjoying every minute!!!

Cusco was the capital during the Inca Empire and is called “the belly button of the world” because it was in the center of Inca territory. Here you can see clear Inca and Spanish influences on every single street. Many building foundations still have actual Inca stones forming the foundations. The streets are also very narrow and cobblestoned as well. Cusco was a gorgeous city to explore and learn about. We stayed here for three days visiting many different ruins, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Our tour guide, Gary, was very knowledgeable and explained everything to us in detail. I wish I could have recorded everything he said because it was so pertinent and interesting. After lunch on our first day, Gary took us to three or four different ruins, one gold-plated cathedral (literally I’ve never seen more gold in my life) and one working monastery.

On the second day, we woke up extremely early to catch a train to Aguas Calientes where we would take a bus up to Machu Picchu. It took us over 4 hours to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu; however, when we finally arrived it was well worth it. Machu Picchu sits at about 8,000 – 9,000 feet above sea level, which made hiking up to the ruins a bit easier. It is also part of the Peruvian jungle sitting near the Amazon basin, so as you can imagine how amazing the view was! After trekking up to the ruins, we were overwhelmed with the absolute beauty of Machu Picchu. Words cannot even explain what we felt or what we saw. The only thing I can say is that you have to go see it in person. Machu Picchu has truly earned its right as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. One of the surreal aspects of the ruins is that there is no Spanish influence here whatsoever. The conquistadores never discovered this sacred place, so it has remained untouched and perfectly preserved.

On the third day, we took it a little easier as we were all very sore after hiking around Machu Picchu. We took a bus around the Sacred Valley, where we were able to witness gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys and unique little villages. This was a wonderful little excursion to be able to take in the beauty of nature. At the end of the day, we had to pack up our hotel room and get ready for a 9-hour bus ride from Cusco to Puno in the morning.

We took off for Puno very early in the morning in an effort to arrive by dinnertime. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier to get off a bus in my life after that trip! However, the bus was a really nice way to see the Peruvian countryside. While traveling on the Altiplano, we had some amazing views of the mountains. In this area we were at an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level, so it felt like we could literally touch the clouds!

The next morning we all geared up for Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is famous because it is the highest navigable lake in the world sitting at 12,500 feet above sea level. Our first stop on the lake was the famous floating reed islands. These islands are home to local indigenous groups. We had the amazing opportunity to actually go onto the islands and see how they live. I was shocked at how many uses the natural growing reed has in this culture. The reeds are used for everything from building boats and houses to the actual island itself. After touring the floating islands, we got to ride on one of the small reed boats. This was one of my favorite things because it was so calm and peaceful! Later on we got back on our boat and went out to the island of Taquile, where we hiked up to our lunch location that had a magnificent view of the lake. Following lunch, we hiked a bit more up to the main square where there was a festival being held. There were many local people dressed up in gorgeous clothing dancing around in a circle. It was really a sight to see!

After our mini vacation was over we got ready to fly back to Lima. Nobody wanted to leave! We all had a once in a lifetime experience that we will remember forever!

* Stephanie is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Shoutouts and sandwiches

This week we went to Machu Picchu — AMAZING. Of course, the air is so thin because the altitude is so high that just walking up a flight of stairs, leaves you breathing like a 500-pound chain-smoker with asthma… it’s great really. It is still totally worth it! We had the best tour guide ever — Gary somebody — so if you go to Cusco look him up. Sorry I don’t know his last name, but how many "Gary" tour guides can there be in Peru right?

We also hit up the sandwich stands on Saphie street. I recommend the pollo juevo and queso sandwich… SO GOOD. We also saw about a thousand other ruins. I feel terrible for not remembering all their names, but trust me, ruins are really cool and everyone should see some. Lago Titicaca was next in Puno after the best nine-hour bus ride I have ever taken (I’m being sarcastic in case you can’t tell). But nine hours on a bus not included lake Titicaca is insane. There are manmade islands that people live on, they make them out of reeds and live there, incredible really.

I got some requests for shout-outs because there are a few dorks on this trip so here goes:


To Tyler - you are the best dancer I have ever met. I would really like to take lessons from you, no really.

To John - bloodbrain

No one else requested one so no one else gets one, but I love you all the same! Anyway this trip is really crazy, but really awesome. I felt like I have done nothing but run around like a crazy lady since I got here and I couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, I don’t even want to go home, which actually has nothing to do with the fact that we begin traveling at 2:30 a.m. and don’t finish traveling until around midnight by the time we make it home to Valdosta. I just really want to stay here that bad!

Peru is really a diverse and beautiful country, just don’t tell anyone from Chile or Bolivia that I said so!!

* Katelyn is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.