While my fellow friends and Cornellians are celebrating the coming of spring with a well-deserved break from classes by traveling to Europe and venturing off on service projects across the globe, I’m just going to blog about it! Here in Sweden we have “Easter Leave” in the middle of April; which means now, I’m currently in the middle of finals for my first classes of the semester! So here is my ode to spring; picture style!
Archive for March, 2011
When was the last time you tried something new?
One of the blogs I subscribe to posted a list of “365 Thought Provoking Questions to Ask Yourself This Year”. The above question was the first one on the list. I have always been the type of person that likes to try new things and have new experiences, mostly because I get bored pretty quickly if I don’t have a challenge. These last two months studying abroad has definitely thrown a lot of new things at me! Here are just a few of the new adventures I have had since I came to Sweden.
1. Studying Abroad: I always loved traveling! Ever since my parents let me travel to London and Amsterdam with People to People Sports Ambassadors in 2003, I have been on the go! However I have always been an outsider to the places I have visited-a tourist taking in the sights and not necessarily experiencing the full culture of the country. Studying and living in Sweden for five months is definitely a new experience and while it was tough at first, I’ve adapted pretty nicely; although I still like to see the sights and act like a tourist too!
2. Online College Class: One of the two classes I have been taking since January is “Systemic Aspects of Farming Systems” or Agroecology for short! This 8-week course is entirely web-based with classmates and professors from all over the world! It is the first time I’ve taken an online college course and it’s been a challenge but I’m really enjoying it! Six out of the eight weeks, we have been working in groups; and if you ever really want a challenge try meeting deadlines while collaborating with people in different time zones!
3. Singing in a Swedish Choir: Since I left high school, the only singing I have really done is in my car, and a little in a church choir. But joining a choir where 99% of the songs are sung in a language I haven’t learned yet (Swedish) and the other 1% are sung in languages I will never learn (Russian, Danish)? Insane!!! Or that’s what some people would say! I have really enjoyed every second of it; the SNerikes choir is nothing like I’ve ever experienced. While we work hard to deliver a great performance, we’re all there because we want to have a good time. And we always succeed in having a good time!
4. College Jeopardy Test: My father has always loved Jeopardy! When I was a kid he called into Jeopardy every once and a while and one time he made it passed the initial test to the final test…unfortunately this was when Jeopardy star Ken Jennings was on and my dad said he didn’t want to be beaten that badly if he was on the show! So back in September my dad put a bug in my ear that I should take the college tournament test for Jeopardy; so I did! What could it hurt? Aside from the fact that I had to stay up until 2 a.m. to take the test, it was only about 20 minutes of my time. It was fun to take the test and see how much I did know; and how much more I didn’t know!
5. Vacation For One: Anytime I have gone on a vacation I have always traveled with a group! Scotland was the first time I ever took a vacation by myself! I developed my own travel plans and was able to see the things I wanted to go see. Since I had to make my own plans, I also had to do research before I went and it made me learn more about the culture and the history! I loved my trip and I am so glad I took the time to try something new and travel by myself!
Even if you aren’t in a new place, go out and try something new this week! Who knows, it could end up changing your life!
St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays of the year! When I visited Ireland I remember learning that traditionally, Catholics would wear green and Protestants would wear orange for this holiday. That is also why Ireland’s flag has the orange and green fields separated by white; representing peace between the two religions!
Not only do I get to wear an extensive amount of my two favorite colors (although, I generally wear much more green than orange), I also get to enjoy my favorite holiday meal: Corn Beef and Cabbage! I love this meal so much, my dad would always buy about three roasts when they went on sale back home; that way I could enjoy it long after the holiday festivities passed!
When I asked my Irish housemate what they do to celebrate the holiday back home, he gave me a perplexed look. I explained, “you know, do you have a traditional meal or wear certain colors?” He just laughed and said, “The only tradition we have is to make it the longest drinking day of the year; you start drinking when you wake up and you stop drinking when you fall asleep or pass out,” (generally it’s the latter)!
So, however you choose to celebrate this holiday, I hope you have a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Throughout high school, I was involved with the National FFA Organization. This organization, which was once known as the Future Farmers of America, is the largest intracurricular activity in the United States, with over 500,000 members nationwide. The National FFA Organization promotes premier leadership, personal growth, and career success for high school students. I spent many hours in my high school agriculture room preparing for leadership career development events such as parliamentary procedure and prepared public speaking, and making plans for our annual chapter banquet every June. I was able to apply to Cornell with a fee waiver during my senior year because of this organization and I still attribute my success (or at least survival) at Cornell to everything I learned in this organization.
Unfortunately, with extreme budget cutbacks, New York’s Governor is looking to cut the entire line item that funds the New York FFA Association. Without this funding, New York will no longer have a dedicated department of FFA state staff who organize all of the state run conferences and competitions; over 4,000 students will lose out on opportunities such as state-sponsored leadership conferences and the sixteen New York FFA State Officers will lose their mentor and advisor. It’s a bleak prospect for this amazing organization if this comes to pass.
On the bright side, I have never been a part of a more passionate and dedicated community than in the agricultural world. Over the last week, agricultural educators across the state have been communicating and offering solutions to changing the Governor’s mind. These teacher’s don’t take anything lying down. They are actively teaching their students the importance of advocacy as they try to show the impact that a program such as the FFA can offer high school students.
While I’ve sent a letter to the Governor I encourage you to do the same! If you are a past FFA member-no matter what state you come from- contact your local government representatives and let them know how important this program is or even just send a letter to thank them for their continued support. We can all do our part to make sure programs that impact the lives of thousands of students, such as FFA, FBLA, FCCLA, etc, stay in our schools.
The choir weekend is no longer a mystery to me! It was “great fun” as I heard many Swedish students describe it. I biked into the city at 6:50 a.m. on Saturday morning but it was wonderful; the sun was starting to rise! Now this may sound crazy but please remember when I got here almost 2 months ago, the sun wasn’t rising until after 8 a.m.! I jumped on the bus with my good friend Danna and we were off-the location still a mystery to us!
Nearly two hours later we arrived at Barnens ö Kursgård (English translation: Children’s Island Center). It is an island near Stockholm that was converted into a camp for low-income city kids so they could enjoy a summer outdoors. It’s very similar to our summer camps-however the cabins are much nicer and they have two saunas to make use of!
Once we had dropped off our bags in our cabins, it was time for the real fun to start; we started singing! Now, normally our choir rehearses once a week for 2 hours. On Saturday alone we sang for 6 hours! We sang songs in Swedish, Danish, Russian, and (to my excitement) English! Unfortunately the English song “Wild Mountain Thyme” is not all that much fun to sing but it’s still nice to sing words I understand. And if I thought pronouncing Swedish was hard, you should have heard my attempt at Russian. Fortunately, I’m looking at this as a learning experience, and I’m learning an awful lot!
Once we had sang our hearts out for a good portion of the day, we had time to dance before we began the 2011 Winter Olympics. Robert, a tenor in the choir, is also a Zumba instructor, so he took us through about five songs! It was the most fun dancing I have ever had in my life; and it was a great cardio workout!
The next event of the weekend is another “tradition” that takes place every choir weekend. The girls in the choir arrange a game/competition for the boys to participate in. This year, we chose a theme of “the Winter Olympics”! Every person in the choir had to dress up as an Olympic athlete! Seeing as I had two days to come up with an outfit, I think I did a pretty good job-see for yourself!
Since everyone knows that swimming is not in the Winter Olympics, I was a Figure Skating judge! Now, I promise you, we did not make the guys learn to figure skate to compete, although that would have been pretty hilarious as well! We set up a “rink” of bare floor in one of the cabins and the boys paired up together and had to come up with a short program. We had a tutu for the “girl” to wear and a black afro wig for the men to wear. The only requirements were that each pair had to execute three techniques: a pirouette, skate backwards, and a lift! The judges (me and three other choir members) would be judging based on the program, the fluidity of their movements and the connection between the partners. Little did the guys know that the two best pairs would be performing again at dinner in front of the entire choir! The guys really got into it and the two winning pairs were phenomenal!
After all of the events were completed we sat down for dinner, which is always an entertaining affair here! It was basically a five hour party that ended after dessert when nearly 30 people fit themselves into one of the saunas! Sunday morning some of the members of the choir were looking a little worse for wear, yet we were still able to finish strong! We mastered three new songs this weekend and perfected the two songs we will be singing at the Inspektorsskiftesbal (Inspector’s Ball) on March 12th!
The choir weekend was so much fun and even made me realize something; I really need to learn Swedish! Nearly the entire weekend I was asking someone for a translation or just smiling and nodding. I think it will be challenging but I’m really excited to rise up to the challenge!
It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and I’m preparing to leave for a weekend trip with the Snerikes Choir! The only information I have is that we will be on a bus for 4 hours and the retreat is held on an island somewhere in Sweden. Oh and I need to dress up as an Olympic Athlete at some point during this weekend! I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into; but with my bag packed (yet again) and an adventurous attitude I am ready for anything that comes my way! Hopefully I’ll have more to fill you in on when I get back on Sunday!
These past eight days spent wandering about Scotland have left me with many memories and some new favorites! Just like in Sweden, I’ve been asked, “Why Scotland?” many times throughout my adventures. My love and fascination with Scotland started way back when I was 8 years-old and my 3rd grade teacher made us right a report on a country. I chose Scotland and did my report on; keys to the castles! I loved looking at the different designs of locks and the keys that would unlock the wrought-iron gates! While my obsession dwindled in middle school, in high school my Aunt introduced me to a science/historical fiction novel called “The Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon which happened to take place in…you guessed it-Scotland! So when I decided to study abroad I knew Scotland would be at the top of my list of places to visit!
I’ve had quite the adventure in Scotland so I won’t bore you with all the details. Instead, here are the highlights from my adventures!
Edinburgh: (pronounced Edin-buro) I flew into Edinburgh and had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Erika a Swedish law student studying at Dundee University. She helped me navigate the airport and explained all the places I had to visit in Edinburgh. After dropping my luggage off at the Castle Rock Hostel, I ventured up to the highest point in the city, Edinburgh Castle. With breathtaking views of the city, this castle has withstood the test of time and now serves as a great historical reference to they Royal Army and the wars Scotland has experienced. Aside from beautiful castles, there is one other thing the Scottish are known for-their Whiskey! It is very fitting that, in Gaelic, whiskey means “Water of Life”. You can’t walk more than a hundred meters without passing a whiskey shop. However, not being a huge whiskey fan (warning: don’t admit this while talking to a Scot) I decided I wanted to learn about the process of how it was made while still getting a small taste. I embarked on the Scotch Whiskey Experience Silver Tour where I was able to learn how whiskey is made, stored, and mixed. At the end of the tour I sampled a whiskey from the Highlands; made with vanilla (which gives it a strong floral scent/taste) and honey. Other places to visit: St. Giles Cathedral, National Museum of Scotland, and Holyrood Palace.
Glasgow: Is just a short train ride west of Edinburgh! Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland; a fact that you will surely be able to realize if you visit this city on a Saturday! My friends Sandra and Tom met me at the train station in Glasgow and took me to the National Bagpiping Museum of Scotland! They are studying at the University of Glasgow for a semester and one of their classes is Bagpiping! Fortunately for me, they had class my first night there, so I went with them. I learned about the traditional way that bagpipers use to teach each other songs. It’s called “cantering”! The principle of this is that you sing the notes with any sort of syllable you like…it’s basically the same as “learning by ear” in band or orchestra! After our bagpiping lesson ended, we ventured to a local pub and I got my first taste of Scottish Cuisine- Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties and a pint of Belhaven to wash it down! The food was great (just don’t ask what Haggis is until you’ve finished your meal…it’s better that way) and on the way home we stopped and sampled Scottish ice cream-yum! The next day, we acted like hardcore tourists! We visited University of Glasgow (it looks so much like Hogwarts from Harry Potter!), Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis, St. Mungo’s Religious Art Museum, the oldest house in Scotland, and Kelvingrove Art Museum!
Inverness: Is a gorgeous little town Northeast of Glasgow. Only a three hour train ride from Glasgow, this was a very relaxing place to spend the weekend during my journey. Although, if you’re looking to do some souvenir shopping and go on the historic sites walk, I suggest visiting during the week. On Sunday shops don’t open until noon and they close at 5 p.m. at the very latest. However if you schedule tours or just want to wander and explore, it’s great no matter when you visit. Built write along the banks of River Ness, there are plenty of walking paths, parks, and even a castle to explore! I visited the castle and also ventured out to Loch Ness with Jacobite Cruises. I took a 1/2 hour cruise on Loch Ness and went monster watching. While I didn’t spot a monster, I did have a great time with Nao and Lakshman from Japan and NYC respectively! They were both my roommates at my hostel and we met up on the cruise after saying our goodbyes earlier in the morning! Our cruise took us to the ruins of Urquhart Castle. This castle was blown up by the English when they abandoned the castle in 1692 to prevent the Jacobites (our supporters of Charles Stewart) from using the castle as a stronghold. It was probably my favorite part of my trip!
Overall, it was an amazing trip-made all the more so because it was my first time undertaking such a challenge! It made it all the more rewarding and I can’t wait to start planning my next adventure!