Greetings from Uppsala!

Hello everyone,

I have been in the lovely town of Uppsala, Sweden for almost a week now. My time has been filled with sightseeing, cycling, Swedish cuisine, people watching, lots of walking, and most recently, academic seminar.
My first few days were spent exploring Uppsala solo, which was an amazing time. I was able to visit Uppsala Castle, the botanical gardens, the Carl Linnaeus museum, one of the oldest cathedrals in Scandinavia, and try dagens lunch al fresco. (Dagens lunch means “lunch of the day” and it is one of Sweden’s better food traditions – it is essentially a fixed price meal that comes with salad, bread, a traditional main course such as chicken with roasted potatoes with cream sauce – everything here comes with cream sauce – and a beverage. It serves as a great source of energy!)
Since this time, my classmates have arrived and we have continued to explore, visiting the beautiful Uppsala University rich in history and home to several Nobel Prize laureates (including Celsius himself!) the university’s student nation system, which is most closely similar to our Greek system, happened upon many fun pubs and restaurants, and attended lectures on the educational system and student entrepreneurship, which was most interesting to me.

Highlights: everyone bikes everywhere in Uppsala; the town’s urban design is extremely conducive to activity and spending time outdoors, between many parks, River Fyris which cuts the city down the middle, and bike paths that run alongside all roads. I’ve been lucky to rent a “cykel” a few times in order to explore old town (the original site of Uppsala) and neighborhoods surrounding the city. Also, as Uppsala is a college town, there are tons of young people that fill the city. They are beginning to filter back into town to begin their school year and are extremely bright, friendly, and accommodating. We feel very welcome here and look forward to continuing the adventure.
city water
(Fashion tidbit: EVERYONE here wears converse sneakers – the original Chuck Taylors. Mostly white and plenty of high tops).

Tomorrow we day trip to Stockholm to visit the Vasa museum and also the education authority. Stockholm is actually 14 connected islands and home to much to see, eat, and learn, so I look forward to reporting back before the end of the week!
city building




Adusting to “Tico Time”

I live in Paradise. There is no doubt in my mind that studying in Costa Rica is the coolest thing I have ever done in my life. At the end of my first week here it felt like I had already been here a month. Time in Putarenas, Costa Rica moves extremely slow. My typical day starts when I wake up at 7 and start the day with a cold shower which I never thought I would be grateful for, but on the coast where the temperature always hovers around 86 degrees with a whopping 94% humidity, it is a relief to escape the sticky heat. Before class at 8 a.m. my host mom serves me breakfast which ALWAYS includes the Costa Rican’s favorite breakfast food gallo pinto: which is a mixture of black beans, rice, and various spices. On my way to school I ride my bike a few blocks along the beach, which I live two blocks away from, to get to school which is also coincidentally across the street from the beach.

My days are not very full and the Tico’s (that’s what Costa Ricans call themselves) way of life is so slow and relaxed it took me a couple days to adjust and accept that it is okay to not to constantly keep myself busy. Because it rains here almost every afternoon during the green season, there have already been many afternoons where I spent a few hours on a front porch in a rocking chair simply watching the rain and talking with various members of my host family. I have already had multiple conversations with the other American students at my university here about how we all feel exhausted at the end of the day and mostly need to go to bed around 9:30 despite having done “nothing” all day.

Two things that definitely keeps us busy are navigating the areas around the small town of Puntarenas and swimming in the ocean every day. This past weekend a few of us spent a few days in the larger tourist town of Jaco, which is about an hour bus ride south of Puntarenas. We took surfing lessons and made friends with some International kids who run a hostel there. Everyone I have met in Costa Rica so far has been amazingly hospitable, including our hostel friends as well as some local surfers who were willing to show us around Jaco and convinced us to stay much longer than we intended. Some of us are planning to return to Jaco this coming Wednesday to buy used surfboards to practice on and take with us on our future travels. Apparently anywhere you are in Costa Rica you are probably a stone’s throw away from good surfing.

Even though I have adjusted to doing everything infinitely slower, my interest in traveling has been piqued by my amazing visit to Jaco and I think I will try to travel as much as I possibly can. Plus I have noticed that my Spanish seems to improve every time I am forced into a situation while traveling where I can only use Spanish – funny enough I have also noticed that my English has gotten worse. I am excited to see how much my Spanish will improve, especially since in the span of one week I can communicate more easily with my host parents and am no longer struggling to translate everything they say to me. Sure there are still times when we haven’t been able to completely understand each other, but my host parents are so patient and willing to teach me Spanish that I’m sure within no time this whole communication thing will be a lot easier.

Jaco Beach
The view of my University from the beach.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (with visitors from the US)

Hooray! We graduated for the summer! The past week and a half has been a whirlwind. I did a bit of juggling between writing my final paper and spending time with my dad and sister, Tira, who came to visit from Idaho. The weekend before last, we went up north of Quito in the Andes near the town of Ibarra. As anyone who knows my dad (and me) would expect, we spent the day on Saturday enjoying the murky algal waters of the natural hot spring resort of Chachimbiro. It was super relaxing, despite my looming finals. Early on Sunday morning, Tira and I got to do a bit of horseback riding around the resort. It turned out that it wasn’t such a good idea to ride a 6-mo pregnant horse up a steep mountain, so I decided to walk on the return instead limp along and risk hurting the mare. After the horses, we hopped in an unmarked taxi with another couple that the hotel owner pointed out for us. Tira and I chose to sit in the back of the truck rather than crowd inside the cab. Unexpectedly, the driver loaded in two empty gas tanks that stunk up the rest of the otherwise gorgeous drive. We got on a bus headed to Otavalo, the well-known artisan market, after the driver dropped us off in a small town of Urcuqui. Taking all these different buses and connections took a lot more time than just traveling in a private vehicle like I did before with CIMAS, but the experience is so much more intense (and cheaper)!
In Otavalo, we looked around and bought more blankets than we should have. Fortunately my purchases were limited because my credit card wasn’t working in the ATM that they had there. For some reason, my card doesn’t work in most banks in Ecuador, so I have to keep my eye out for all the Banco Internacionales if I want to take out cash. We were thinking of going to see a bull fight in Ibarra on our way back. I was the only one who was really into that idea and shopping in the market took a while, so we headed back to Quito instead.
During the majority of last week, I worked on my final essay. Even though I stayed with the theme of family, the focus changed quite a bit. I ended up talking about the impact of modernization on the family. My dad and Tira spent the weekdays visiting Tena, which is in the Amazon, so I got a lot of work done. Moreover, another group arrived at CIMAS, so I got to know a few more friends before the SU crew graduated on Friday. The staff at CIMAS sent us off with a certificate, a t-shirt, and delicious, surprise lunch.
More on the transportation system in Ecuador: the public transportation/bus system is pretty extensive here. Even so, I found out when I tried to buy tickets on Thursday to go to the coast on Friday night, that in the summer, everyone is on vacation, and they go to the coast on the weekend, and we had quite the adventure, getting five people (dad, Tira, Colleen, KC, and me) to Puerto Lopez. Although we only spent about 13 hours in total from our houses, we had to take a 2 hours bus ride in Quito to Quitumbe, the southernmost bus station. There we shuffled frantically from bus company to bus company trying to find five seats on a bus headed even in the direction we wanted. Finally, one company opened up a new bus to a city near where we were headed and we took that to Puertoviejo. The overnight ride was stiff, and we all had to keep our bags right with us to make sure we didn’t get robbed, like the couple we met later in Puerto Lopez, who had their wallets and phones taken on their ride. In Puertoviejo we made a transfer to a new bus, and then again to a third bus since our departure from Quitumbe, all before 7am.
At last we made in to Puerto Lopez! The streets were full of solicitors from travel agencies trying to take us on their tour. Lots of yelling and in-your-face sort of sales. We decided to wait and look around for more options.
Our first hostel was on the malecón (beachfront) and it reeked of fish when we got there. The rest of the experience there was subpar, but we stayed in Hostel Itapoa the second night and it made up for the shortcomings of the first night’s accommodations with lots of cats, a lovely garden, delicious breakfast with a view of the ocean, and a convenient list of reasonably priced tours.
After we dropped our bags off at the first hostel, we spend the rest of the day napping on the beach, playing in the ocean, and eating some fresh ceviche (mine was octopus. Yum!) To my dismay, we were all pretty tired by the end of the night, and after only one drink we had to retire to our rooms. The bed was a big upgrade from the bus the night before, so I slept well even though I could hear the festivities down on the beach until the wee hours.
The next day, we changed to the new and improved hostel a few blocks down the beach. The pedicab, or mototaxi ride that we took to the national park turned out pretty great. They are the primary mode of transport in Puerto Lopez using what looks like a buggie welded onto the back of a motorcycle. We got a great deal of only $1 per person sharing one taxi on our way to Machalia National Park because the driver fancied Colleen. It was a squeeze for the five of us in one and we had to use our feet just a tiny bit to help it get up a hill of two. On the way back, he even invited us all to go dancing with him and his friends.
The best part of Puerto Lopez was Los Frailes. The beach in the national park was nothing short of paradise. It was impeccably clean with clear, turquoise water that was never cloudy because the sand was made of heavy coral particles that sunk to the bottom. We took a short hike through the dry tropical forest to a viewpoint and from there we went a bit further to a beach that was practically empty. As we were leaving, we saw the sign, warning us not to swim there because of strong currents. Oops! Nevertheless, we spent the day with that beach all to ourselves. Both of my friends tried snorkeling for the first time and we all had a blast. I even did a bit of characteristic skinny-dipping. ;]
We saved the best for last. On Monday, instead of going to my orientation for classes at USFQ, I went on a whale watching tour and visited the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”, or the Isla de Plata. On the 23km boat ride to the island we saw dozens of whales partaking in their annual courting and mating rituals (lots of jumping Humpbacks). They pass by Ecuador between June-September on their annual migration path. We hiked on the island for a few hours and got to see lots of pairs of Blue-Footed Boobies as close as arms-length away. Everything was very dry, and looked like winter in the states because all of the trees loose their leaves in the dry season. I would love to go back and check out the island in the rainy season when it is so lush that sometimes the paths grow over in a matter of days. After the hike, we did some of the best snorkeling I have ever done, right off the island in a protected cove. I felt like I was witnessing some kind of Finding Nemo reenactment.
The trip back was not so fun: I was sad to leave and my legs hurt because of the salt and the cold (horrible combo). We didn’t have as much time as we had anticipated when we got back, so my dad, Tira, and I basically just showered, put our wet stuff in our bags and headed to the bus station. Krista and Becca, two other girls from CIMAS, arrived earlier that day and we barely saw them in passing as we hurried to catch our direct bus to the Mariscal in Quito. Even though I was sad to say goodbye to all four of my friends, I didn’t realize at the time how much I would miss those girls. After only two days, I’m feeling a bit lonely in Quito without them.
Next, I left my beloved host family to go a whole four blocks to my new host family. In general, I’m pretty sad to leave my old family, so it is a good thing that they will still be close by. I was surprised to be greeted by a smiling housekeeper, Lida, and an older host brother, Juan Andres that I didn’t know I would have. I met my new host mom and sister the next day, and they all seem nice, but it’s still too soon to say how we will get along. Juan Andres took me on the buses to the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, my new school. From our brief introduction, he reminds me a lot of my ex-boyfriend, which is a bit weird.
Anyways, the university is gorgeous! It’s like a tropical version of SU: about the same size and it has the same Jesuit-y feel to it. Today, I got up at 5am to take a bus at 6am for my 7am mountain climbing class. I was a bit concerned that my host mom wasn’t up when I left, and I found out the night before, she fell on the stairs and went to the hospital. I felt bad because I didn’t have a clue what happened until after school today! During my first day with my conscience protected by ignorance of the fall, I was off to classes. I met one other study abroad student from Michigan names Maura, who I spent a good part of the morning wandering around with. Besides her, I made a few Ecuadorian friends in my climbing class, met a guy names Jon in the library, and Jean Carlos after sitting in on a Beginning French class. As a general rule, I’m trying to avoid to groups of other gringos, because I would hate getting to the end of my trip having made only friends from the U.S. I’m sure we will end up being friends, but I am focusing my energy on making friends with nationals for now. I was exhausted after my last class, Marine Ecology and Oceanography. I had a bit of trouble getting on a bus to come home because I didn’t know where the stop was. When I got on the bus, this really grandma shared her seat with her grandchildren so that they could offer me a seat. No one had ever offered me a seat here unless they were leaving, and I really appreciated the gesture. I’m not going to lie, because this transition between programs has been difficult for me, but I know that things will get better as long as I can appreciate the beauty in the small things.


Just Being Together

Day 1: On the first day we went to the site of the pyramids of Cochasqui which were dedicated to the queen Quilago. For the most part they looked like grassy hills with some credible organization. In a few places the ancient formations that distinguished a masterpiece and natural coincidence had been preserved and restored.
During the second part of the first day we drove through Otavalo. I pointed out a bright, castle-like building on the hill and boy was I surprised when my joking supposition turn out to be true and we headed right up there to our hotel. That evening we met a shaman. He shared a lot of interesting thoughts with us that I would love to share in more detail if anyone is interested. One thing that stood out for me was that the Quichwa people believe that humans have four distinct bodies of equal importance: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He also said that we are not more or less than nature because we are nature. After our gathering, someone asked him how Quichwa culture viewed homosexuality. Apparently they have a live-and-let-live sort of philosophy. The balance and division of male and female within each person is an integral part of their beliefs. That presentation was undoubtedly the most mentally and spiritually stimulating part of our trip for me.

• Day 2: The second day we stopped by a workshop for indigenous instruments. They made a pan flute right in front of us and then played some traditional music. We made a short stop in the world famous artesian market of Otavalo where I learned the art of bartering from our leader so I could buy blankets for the best possible price. After the market, we went to meet our families in San Clemente for the first time. I stayed with KC and Colleen in a mother-in-law room on a farm halfway up the volcano Imbabura overlooking the city of Ibarra. Our family started joking with us right from the start. The two younger sisters, Margarita, 14 (though she told us she was 22 when we first met) and Yarina, 10, took us to bring home the cows (Lucera, Blanca, and Estrella) from the pasture and then our father, Mauricio, showed us how to peel potatoes with a knife (new skill for me!) on our first night! Besides the cows they had a family of dogs, two alpacas, and chickens.
• Day 3: The main activity of our first full day on the farm was degraining dried corn. They have more types and colors of corn than I even thought was possible! All the bad kernals were saved in a separate bag for chicken food. The rest of our day consisted of napping in the sun on the front lawn, which I found to be a common activity for us. That evening, Mauricio and Juanita (our lovely host mother) taught us the numbers in Quichwa. We also found out that the Quichwa spoken in San Clemente is distinct from the Quichwa of Otavalo (half hour away) as well as the dialects up and down the Andes.
• Day 4: We met with the rest of the group and took a tour of the community medicinal garden led by the heads of our families. KC, Colleen and I took a long nap and awoke to a visiting gringo who had returned to visit the family a year after he had volunteered there. He only stayed one night , but he took Yarina to Ibarra to buy a cake for Juanita’s birthday. Meanwhile, we went down the hill with Margarita to her dance practice and watched her do some traditional ” jump, jump, one, two, three!”. She told us about her dreams of having a quincenera party and going to France on our way back. We celebrated Juanita’s birthday with the cake and a bottle of soda and then danced in the kitchen afterwards. That night, we started reading the copy of 100 Years of Solitudethat we found in our room, and read half of it over the 10 days we stayed there.
• Day 5: We walked over to the others’ house for our first minga. The idea of a minga is for multple families to get together to help each other with a big project. We made adobe bricks with earth, water, sun, our feet, and a mold. After working, we shared a delicious community lunch. One person ended up leaving because they weren’t able to adapt well enough to the comunity. We were all disappointed, but it was better that he left, instead of bringing the rest of us down. I took a hot shower after our work, which was marvelously unexpected. Hooray! At dinner, Mauricio asked us if we could stay forever. I didn’t know what to say, but he was so sincere that I made a promise to myself that I would come back to visit sometime before I leave. This also marked the first night that Juanita braided our hair with heart braids.
• Day 6: The next day I was sick. I stayed in bed with what felt like a fever, stomach ache, and headache. I know I was really dehydrated and I’m not sure what else. Juanita brought me avocado leaves to help my head. Fortunately, I felt mostly recovered by dinner and I was almost 100% the next day.
• Day 7: We cleared weeds with picks and hoes to double the size of the garden for our second minga. I got two prime blisters. Right when we thought we were going to leave, we ended up moving a rock out of the ground, the size of an alpaca! It was so big that I hardly thought we would be able to move it, but we worked together with all of the families and lifted it right out of the ground with lots of leverage and teamwork. That night I discovered the joy of peeling lima beans and the secret to making Juanita laugh.
• Day 8: We started off the morning with the sweetest pancakes I’ve ever had; we didn’t even need toppings. After that, we met up with the others to take a bus to another community by the river. We carried our own lunch and food that we gave as an offering to the river and Pacha Mama (mother Earth) after about an hour of walking by the river. On the way home we did a lot of walking, took a bus, and rode in the back of a truck. There was another braiding session after dinner and Yarina taught me how to do a “trenza de cuatro”, which is basically a fishtail braid.
• Day 9: Summer camp is way chill in San Clemente. I painted faces on homemade dolls and played soccer with the kids. I let one boy take pictures with my camera; a win-win situation. We all joined in the community lunch and then headed home to rest. I tried sugar cane for the first time; it was good, but too gritty for my taste. We played soccer again at the house: the only activity that we did with Nelson, Jessica’s (the 17 year-old sister) boyfriend and the baby daddy of our one month old niece, Amalie.
• Day 10: Another day with the kiddos. We helped make kites, which was surprisingly difficult so the one I helped with just spun in circles and skipped behind the girl. The community lunch was probably one of my favorites, with chicken, noodles, juice, and more. Back home we did some quality chatting, degrained some sara (Quichwa for corn), and saw the most of Jessica, the 17 year-old sister, at dinner of our whole stay.
• Day 10: The last minga was at our house in the hill. Despite the gnarly blisters I got, I thoroughly enjoyed the power of using picks to break up the hillside to prepare the foundation of a new guest house. That evening, we hosted the final community dinner and right before everyone arrived, Juanita brought out their traditional clothes for us to wear at the party. We fit a whopping 20 people in the modest kitchen of our family!
Day 11: We got up early, the last day so that we could go milk a cow during our visit to San Clemente. I scared that poor heifer two times because I guess I move too fast!


En knuten näve kan varken ge eller ta…

(A person that does not risk anything does not gain anything…)

Hi everyone!

My name is Dana and I’m a second year student in the Master of Public Administration program. I’m leaving for Uppsala, Sweden next Wednesday for a short-term course on educational and social policy.

Sweden is considered a welfare state, which means that its government is heavily involved in the social and economic protection of its citizens, so you do not see the disparity in wealth found in many countries across the world, including the U.S.

This is the first time I’ll be traveling abroad alone (although I’ll be meeting my class after a few days of solo adventuring). Because I’m very type A, I’ve been making lots of lists and picking up tons of last-minute odds and ends to make sure I have absolutely everything I need for a comfortable travel. Here is my short list of essentials*:

• US passport
• Adapter
• $100 in Swedish currency
• Extra iPhone battery
• Travel journal
• Sleep mask/ear plugs/travel blanket/warm socks
• Travel bag with lip balm, hand sani, lotion, Advil, toothbrush, eye drops, etc.)
• iPad + wireless keyboard
• Snacks for the flight
• Light reading (the 2nd and 3rd books in the Giver series)
• Copies of my flight itinerary, passport, and lodging reservations
Sweden prep

Sweden reads
(*Admittedly not that short).

I’ve also been compiling a bucket list of things to see and do during my non-academic time in Uppsala. Although I usually like to explore new places on foot and take in the things that look interesting along the way, I figure I’m going half way across the world and should take advantage of some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Here are few of those things I’m looking forward to checking out*:

• Biotopia – science and nature museum
• Linnaeus garden and museum – Carl Linnaeus was the pioneer of plant sexuality
• Ski Total Cykel – bike rental for city exploring
• Uppsala Domkyrka – one of the oldest cathedrals
• Dining along River Fyris – runs right through the city
• Pub 19 – adult drinking establishment
• Till Tugg – Spanish tapas
• Lingon – upscale Nordic cuisine
• O’Connor’s – a seemingly very American bar with over 1000 beers (if I’m feeling homesick)

(*I’m apparently interested in the same things overseas as I am at home…nerdy science adventures, eating, and cycling).

On a serious note, I’m really looking forward to this trip because I’ve only traveled abroad pretty minimally (and with loved ones). I’m long overdue and extremely anxious to explore the world on my own and step out of my comfort zone. I think experiences like travel, meeting new people, and seeing new places builds character, inner strength, and a curiosity for the unknown. These are all things that I hope to further develop on my adventure to Sweden.

I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you over the next few weeks.

Until then,

Adios Nuevo Mexico, Buenas Costa Rica

It’s 24 hours before I leave my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico to study abroad on the west coast of Costa Rica in a small beach town called Puntarenas. I’ve packed, and repacked, and unpacked and putting off repacking yet again. For some reason it still does not seem real that I will be living in a foreign country for the fall quarter of my Senior year at Seattle University. I have been looking forward to studying abroad my entire time at college and I finally decided on a major/minor (English/Spanish), and FINALLY decided that Costa Rica would be the perfect place to study (and learn to surf) yet somehow it all seems too awesome and surreal to actually be happening.
Growing up in New Mexico you’d think it would be easy for me to speak Spanish fluently by now; my dad grew up in Mexico City and my mom grew up on the El Paso/Juarez border. Pretty much the majority of my family can speak Spanish but I’m still stuck in those awkward stages of being too shy to speak it and constantly worrying that I’ll make mistakes like telling people I’m embarazada (pregnant) instead of avergonzada (embarrassed).
The program I ended up choosing is called USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium), which will allow me to take intensive Spanish courses along with some Latin American Culture and Literature studies. I’m relatively nerdy and really like school so I am geekily excited to take all my courses in Spanish. Right now the only thing that seems incredibly daunting is the fact that I will be moving to a place where I know no one and will have to learn to navigate a foreign city pretending I know the language and hoping I don’t accidently insult anyone. But those are also all the reasons I chose to study abroad. I like moving places where I don’t know anyone, that’s why I chose to attend SU, it’s exciting and I like to push myself out of my comfort level. Also I’ve always imagined I’d be a pretty good surfer; I hear swimming isn’t that hard, I’ll let you know if I am able to perfect something more impressive than my mangled doggy paddle. For now I have to repack my bags for the millionth time and start pretending I know what I’m doing. Adios.Costa Rican Colones
(The picture is of some Costa Rican money called colones)


La Nuit Dernière

I’m currently sitting in my room in my home stay, next to my bags that are packed all neatly and my clothes for tomorrow. It’s my last night in Paris. Everyone keeps asking me how I’m reacting to leaving, and what my feelings are right now. But it’s really difficult to explain, and I think that anyone whose studied abroad for a long period of time can probably relate to this.

The bad:

I’ve become shockingly close to some of the people here. When you experience something like this and you get to experience it with a select group of people, you naturally learn to trust each other quite quickly. Two people in particular I had to say goodbye to tonight, and let’s just say that there was a little bit of crying going on in the Paris metro system. Of course we have agreed to keep in contact, but it will not be the same as it is here. In addition, I’m going to miss Paris and all of its wonders. Living here sometimes felt like a dream, and I’m soon waking up from this dream.

The good:

I am so incredibly excited to see my friends and family at home. I miss them so much, and I think that the few weeks I have before heading back to Seattle will be wonderful. I’m also excited to be back in the United States, where I know what’s going on most of the time and I’m more comfortable in the culture. I know that I will miss the language and the culture here (especially the opportunities to practice French), but I am excited to feel completely at home again. Also, I’ve gained some really good friends here that I will get to write and talk with in French when I get home (I’m going to need to practice so that I don’t lose it).
So tomorrow I hop on a plane (or three) for an extremely long amount of time, and then I get to arrive at home and be surrounded by those I’ve missed so much, while missing a whole new group of people.

But don’t get me wrong. Paris has been a fantastic, unique experience that I would never trade in. I finished my classes today (and passed them, yay!), and said my goodbyes, but I know that the things that I’ve gained here personally are numerous and incredibly significant. It will be interesting to see how what I’ve gained here reflects on my life back in the United States. I am so grateful for the experience I’ve been able to have and the friends I’ve made here, and I’m excited to see where I go from here. I’m hoping to continue French at SU, and I’m excited to return.

Until next time, Paris. I will miss you.