The Clifton Hill House in Bristol

 

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The first instalment of ‘United Inkdom’ – now that I’m settled in at UNI over here in Bristol, UK, I’m excited to begin sharing the sights and experiences each week. This is my ‘dorm’ – the Clifton Hill House, a manor house older than the United States of America.

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A few things about Bristol I’ve learned so far:

  1. It is always raining, and even when it’s not, it’s still kinda raining.
  2. The locals (human and animal) are quite friendly.

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3. They are pretty serious about their graffiti.

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4. Every other building is an ancient church.

5. Humble brag: there’s some family history

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And do NOT forget the difference between ‘pants’ and ‘trousers’…

Until next week,

Cheerio!

-Gwyer Sinclair

 

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Entering the Peruvian Amazon

Hello again,

I finished my volunteer program in the Peruvian amazon today. During my stay, I had no phone service or internet access so I could not post anything. I am extremely glad that I received this fantastic opportunity and I met some amazing people from different parts of the world.

As I had mentioned earlier, the purpose of my trip to Peru was to volunteer in biodiversity Continue reading

Wait, there’s an Irish language?

The Irish language has existed in some form for centuries, but most people do not even know that the language exists, because English is more prevalent in Ireland.  While Irish school children are required to learn the language for the first twelve years of their education, many are proud to say that they remember none of it.  It is depressing to think about the dwindling of the Irish language, which can be seen on all official signs, yet is almost never spoken outside of the official Irish language regions (Gaeltacht).  In response to this, there has been an effort for the last hundred or so years to bring about a reemergence of the language in normal society.

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The Irish language can be seen in green here, as required by the Official Languages Act of 2003.

I have spent the last six weeks in Galway learning the basics of conversation in Irish, should I find someone else who knows the language.  I thought that an interesting way to share this experience would be to write a short blog post completely in the Irish language.  However, I mostly know how to say where I am from, which would get annoyingly repetitive as well as incredibly off topic in a study abroad blog.  So, I’ve decided to piece together the following small paragraph in Irish instead, with an English translation below and a brief description of my experience learning the language.  As a warning, I will be using the vocabulary and pronunciations of the Connemara dialect.  There is nothing wrong with the Ulster or Munster variations; I simply do not know them.  Please enjoy!

Dia dhuit! Meg Bojarski an t-ainm atá orm.  Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?  Tá mé togha.  Chuaigh mé chun Gaillimh seo samhradh. Tá mé ag foghlaim Gaeilge. Is as Meiriceá ó dhúchas mé. Tá mo teach lonnaithe in Georgia, agus tá m’ollscoil lonnaithe in Huntsville, Alabama. Is maith liom Éire. Tá Éire beagán fuar agus fliuch, ach tá sé álainn.  Tá mé i mo chónaí sa “dorms” ag OÉ Gaiilimh.  Tá campas in aice le Abhainn na Gaillimhe.  Tá cairde ó Éirinn agam.  Is maith linn ag canadh agus ag éisteacht le ceol. Tá sin ar fad tá a scríobh agam.

Hello!  My name is Meg Bojarski.  How are you?  I am grand.  I went to Galway this summer.  I am learning Irish.  I am originally from America.  My house is located in Georgia, and my university is located in Huntsville, Alabama.  I like Ireland.  Ireland is a bit cold and wet, but it is beautiful.  I am living in the dorms at NUI Galway.  Campus is beside the River Corrib.  I have friends from Ireland.  We like singing and listening to music.  That is all I have to write.

I tried to piece together several of the topics that we learned how to write for this admittedly limited paragraph.  For those of you who do not know about the Irish language, some aspects are oddly complex.  For instance, there are two completely different grammatical structures to say “to be”, three different forms of counting (for counting time, things, and people), and no definitive ways to say “yes” or “no”.  Because of this, I did not get the opportunity to dig as deeply into vocabulary in my time learning the language as I may have with other languages.  But I am happy with what I have had the opportunity to learn.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of learning a language is learning the fun and often frustrating quirks.  For instance, “I am sorry” in Irish is “Tá brón orm”, which is directly translated as “The sorrow is on me”.  We all had fun joking about this structure once we learned it, triumphantly declaring that happiness was upon us after a fun day out in the city.  Another interesting fact is that many letters in Irish are not actually pronounced.  Often, consonants will take up an urú, which will silence the second vowel of a given word (For example, “nGearmáin” is pronounced nyar-mahn, with the n completely silencing the g).  There are also often two to three vowels in a given word, which only take the sound of one of them (the letters “aoi” take up the sound of the letter í, which is pronounced as ee).

Now that you know a bit about the oddities of the Irish language, I’ll provide a few short phrases for you to impress your friends with.

Hello: Dia dhuit. Dee-ah hrr-eet  (roll your r)

I am grand: Tá mé togha. Tah may t-ow

I am tired:  Tá mé tuirseach. Tah may tear-shogh

I’m sorry: Tá brón orm. Tah brone orm

Thank God:  Buíochas le Dia! Bwee-hahs luh Dee-ah

Thank you:  Go raibh maith agat. Go rah mah ad

Please:  le do thoil leh duh hell

Bless you: Dia linn. Dee-ah linn

Good luck: Ádh mór! Ah more

Good bye: Slán. Slah-n

 

 

Going to Church Abroad

Before I left the country, I spent a few hours researching churches in Ireland.  Where they were, what denomination they were, and when their services would be held.  I created a list of all of the churches in Dublin and Galway with all of their information.  However, when abroad, time seems to fly away.  We often went out on field trips on Sunday mornings, and when we didn’t, I justified not going to church by my exhaustion.  I had morning classes throughout the week, so I tried to sleep in when I could manage it. But as my trip was drawing to a conclusion, I was getting hit with all of the things that I had wanted to do but somehow never did.  The largest of these was my desire to go to church, so I pulled up my list and decided that whether I was tired or not, I would be going to two masses at the Galway Cathedral: one in Irish and one in English.IMG_6122

At the Irish service, we were given a bulletin with all of the words of the service written out, those of the priest and our responses.  I’ve spent the last six weeks learning the Irish language, but this service was far beyond my capabilities.  I knew enough to recite the words, albeit slower than those at the service who were native speakers, but I did not fully understand what was being said.  Somehow, though, it didn’t really matter.  There was some larger element at play in that church than just the words that were being said. Even when I went to the English service, the power was not in the words, which I could then understand, but in the feeling of genuine divinity in the building.

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The Cathedral is laid out with the altar in the center and four sections of pews positioned around it.  There were also side rooms for specific services and a timeline of the church’s history.  During the Irish service, most of us were seated in one section of the pews, facing the pastor.  There were only around twenty of us for that service, though.  In the later English service, there were people seated on every side of the altar.  I have to wonder what it would have been like to attend the service from behind, where the focus was less on the presentation of the service, but on the words and feelings alone.

Going to church was one of the best decisions I made while in Ireland.  The service was spiritually fulfilling, as well as an excellent occasion for me to immerse myself in the Irish language, which is sadly not used by most Irish citizens.  The cathedral itself is stunning, presenting itself as a beautiful stronghold for the Christian faith in western Ireland.  In every way, attending church in Galway enriched my entire trip and easily ranks among the top five places I saw in my entire trip.

A New High: Anxiety and Adventure

blog2“Are you Miss Rachel Byrd?” asked the uniformed lady, her striped scarf coordinating intimidatingly and perfectly with her navy blue skirt.

I am sitting at a table alone, waiting to take a ride in a zeppelin. My heart is racing as I answer with an affirmation of my identity. It is early morning, I am over-caffeinated and under-slept.  I panic, automatically assuming something has gone terribly wrong.

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The views were amazing, and so was watching the propeller spin!

Her bright red lips break into a reassuring smile, “You are the only English speaker on board, so I will give you your safety briefing separately.” Almost immediately my mouth is dry, my heart galloping, and countless scenarios waltz through my thoughts. What if there’s an accident and my language barrier prevents quick response? What if it crashes? What if it is too windy? If I disembark incorrectly? What if, on this perfectly clear day, a bolt of lightning strikes us from the sky? As anxiety wells up prior to take off, these outcomes feel distinctly possible. Doing anything for the first time can be quite intimidating.


However, it is my birthday. A few weeks ago, feeling brave, I allocated money in my meager budget (along with birthday money from family) to buy a flight ticket on a zeppelin ride. With my wallet reminding my brain that it will be an enjoyable experience and my heart screaming “run,” I sit strapped into the cabin of the zeppelin, a tin can attached to a big balloon. The flight attendant continues to give instructions in German. Occasionally she repeats her instructions—in English, looking directly at me. Not only am I the only one on board who came alone, it quickly becomes clear to my fellow passengers that I am the only English speaker. I feel distinctly out of place.



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The inside of zeppelin. It’s quite small!

The aircraft rises. We safely reach cruising height. Free to move around the cabin, everyone has cameras in hand, relentlessly attempting to capture moments of this incredible experience. It is a beautiful morning as we floated along the Bodensee. Two other countries are visible, Switzerland and Austria, as we drift past the German patchwork scenery of fields, towns, and forest. With such beauty, awe replaces anxiety.

 


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Because it was obvious I was alone, several of my high-altitude acquaintances offered to take pictures of me.

Instagram and Facebook obsess over adventure, with the most daring exploits. Social media is rarely a platform to discuss the anxiety that, for some people, tangles impossibly with new experiences. This anxiety is no less a valid experience. Every marvelous adventure, as your heart races from excitement instead of nerves, reinforces the importance of recognizing that anxiety, resisting it, and refusing to let it control your course. Victory is sweet, especially victory against yourself. Without these victories and these adventures, we can never reach new heights. Let me assure you, the view is indescribably stunning.

 

 

 

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On the left, you can the the border between Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria. On the right, off in the distance, the Rhine River is visible.

 

 

 

 

 

A summer in India

My name is Anvi Dalal and I traveled to India for a two month research abroad internship in Mumbai. Initially, I took some time to get used to the big city life but now I am finding it hard to leave this amazing city! Over the past few weeks I have learnt a lot culturally and educationally. For my internship I worked alongside PhD students in Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, conducting research on possible configurations of a Ni-Pt system that would lead to a more effective and cost efficient catalyst than the traditional platinum catalyst. The Institute is situated in a tranquil area of Mumbai over acres of green land. Furthermore, it is monsoon in India right now and it rains almost all day, making the environment absolutely beautiful.

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I recently had an exciting experience in Mumbai’s famous BEST bus that connects the entire city. It is usually so crowded that people inside barely have room to stand but luckily I was not travelling during peak hours! It is one of the most commonly used mode of transport in Mumbai that served as an amazing city tour bus for me. I also tried a traditional Indian thali meal which is an exotica food plate with an unlimited supply of over 12 food options . It is the kind of meal royals in India traditionally ate and is now available at certain restaurants around the city. It is a pleasure to the human palate and the flavors on that plate left me speechless. I also made a day excursion to a village a few hours from Mumbai to learn about rural life in India. I came across small houses, empty roads, beaches and lush green patches through the drive. The roads were so empty that I was able to sit in the middle of a lane and take a picture!

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I would like to thank the Honors SAGA program for giving me this opportunity! My experience in India has been unforgettable, educational and absolutely amazing and I will cherish every moment I spent in Mumbai!

Namaste!

The Traveling Nurse: Setting Up Clinics in Ecuador

Hello friends,

My name is Beth Gates. I am a senior in the UAH Nursing Program. This past week, I had the opportunity to journey to Guaranda, Ecuador with fellow nursing students and an instructor for a medial mission trip. I wanted to say a quick thank you to the Honors SAGA program for being a part of sending me.

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On this trip we set up five different clinics around Guaranda. In these clinics, our team (the team included nursing students, a pharmacist, a doctor, and EMTs) provided basic medical care, medications, and eye glasses. Different stations were set up for patients to move efficiently through the clinic. First, the patients registered and went to triage. In triage, the patient’s symptoms and complaints were written down, vital signs were taken, and protocols were followed to determine if the patients needed to see the physician. The most common complaints in these areas were back pain, acid reflux, dry eyes, and dehydration. From these patients and encounters, I learned to never take for granted the ‘basic’ knowledge we have been given about hygiene, nutrition, and caring for oneself. In this clinic, we were not able to treat chronic illnesses or anything that required invasive measures. It was hard, but we did have to tell many people that we could not provide the care they needed. Healthcare in Ecuador, for the time being, is free to all citizens but many people do not have physicians in their regions.

I learned so so much while in Ecuador: some personal, cultural, travel, and nursing related. I learned that there are many different types of bathrooms that can be used; some with running water and some in which you run your own water. I learned many new Spanish words and phrases. I learned that the people of Ecuador are very hospitable. Overall the trip was a beautiful experience, illnesses included. I made, what I think will be, lasting connections with the people I worked with and served. I learned a lot about myself and what I think my career will involve moving forward. I also learned that Ecuador is a beautiful country full of amazing people.

Driving through the Andes Mountains was a humbling experience. The scenery was breathtaking. At one point we reached an elevation of 15,000 ft. We learned about Mt. Chimborazo – the people of Ecuador are very proud of it. Chimborazo is the tallest mountain in the world. It is not the tallest mountain by elevation above sea level, but its location along the equator makes its peak the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s center. It has been a dormant volcano since 550 A.D.

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Mt. Chimborazo

 

Here is a list of a few tips for those traveling to Ecuador or traveling in general:

 

  1. Take toilet paper everywhere you go
  2. Bottled water is essential: never drink or use the tap water without asking someone with experience in that country
  3. Bring snacks and comfort food: eating in other countries is often a challenging experience and it is nice to have something from home
  4. Bring a jacket even if you don’t think you will be cold, be prepared for any weather and temperature
  5. Take lots of pictures, but don’t be stuck behind you camera and miss out on taking in the beauty in front of you
  6. Be flexible: schedules and needs change AND time is often viewed differently in other cultures
  7. Be careful about eating food that you or your host didn’t prepare BUT don’t be afraid to try new things, there is some delicious food waiting out there
  8. Drink lots of water: the extra exertion will dehydrate you and if you are in Ecuador, the elevation will too.
  9. Do your job or task to the best of your abilities but don’t forget to see the person in front of you and the other needs they may have
  10. Carry a journal with you: don’t write down every detail, just the ones that mean the most to you and the highlights
  11. Be culturally sensitive and learn as much as you can about the culture and people around you

 

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Beth Gates

 

The 4 am hike to Machu Picchu

Hello all,

My name is Ankur Shah and I am an Earth System Science and Physics major at UAH. Thanks in part to the Honors SAGA program, I got the amazing opportunity to visit Peru to volunteer in the Amazon rainforest. The first two days of my trip were entirely up to me so I decided last month that I would visit Machu Picchu as it would be a shame if I went to Peru and missed out on one of the magnificent wonders of the world.

The stars shone brightly in the deep blue sky with tall mountains looking down upon you. This can be the closest description for the first hour of the hike to Machu Picchu. Words fail to explain the beauty of this experience.  Walking on cobblestone streets with no lights and looking up to find a vast array of constellations against the backdrop of gigantic mountains is a truly humbling experience. The entrance opened at 5 am and we chose to climb the steps to the top instead of simply taking a bus. I was with two other people I had met the day before and we did not want to miss the sunrise. The picture is below but it does not do justice to the moment.

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The Incan architecture and symbolism is expressed wonderfully at this World Heritage site. The trails make you think that you are in an Indiana Jones film!

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Since I was alone on this trip, I had the opportunity to interact a lot with other people including two cool French guys with whom I hiked to the amazing Incan bridge. This trip made me realize how much the Incans knew and piqued my curiosity for diving deep into Peruvian cosmology.

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It is absolutely mind boggling that hundreds of years ago, they knew the exact dates of Summer and Winter Solstices and their observatories had specific symbols which shone only on Winter Solstice. Along with that,  they used constellations to orient their structures with proper cardinal directions and had well defined water drainage systems.

It is hard to choose favorites on this journey but I would pick the Incan bridge simply because the path to reach there was extremely narrow and  dangerous! The drop was about 2000 metres so it was an intense hike. Even the way they might have constructed that bridge is food for thought.

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In just two days, I visited three separate cities for going to Machu Picchu and until now, I was traveling alone. Hence, my Spanish skills came in very handy while asking for directions and simply talking to Peruvians, who were super friendly, and I met some amazing people on the way. Travelling alone has perks of its own as you make your own decisions and you create the strength of the experience. Now, I am with a group and we will be heading to the Amazon rainforest tomorrow for volunteering with biodiversity conservation and reforestation projects. Will keep you updated! Ciao for now

Missed Connections

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Traveler tip: If life rains on your parade, play in the puddles. Or explore the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin.

The doors slam closed and the train races off into the dark.

It is one in the morning and I just missed the last subway train to the bus station.

berMoments like this, sitting  in an abandoned railway station, are painfully familiar to travelers. You miss connections all the time. Good planning reduces the number of missed connections. You learn to leave wiggle room, never believing the estimated arrival time promoted by a booking website. Buses run late, trains are delayed, and missing connections is terrible. Everyone deals with this inconvenience differently. I have seen everything from panicked crying to a small, frustrated shrug of the shoulders. I swear. I swear a lot, attempting to keep it under my breath. However, I suggest keeping impressionable children away from me after a missed connection. Despite our different coping processes, travelers deal with the headache of botched plans one way: by figuring out what to do next. It is one in the morning in an abandoned subway station. Google Maps estimates a two hour walk to a destination I need to be at in an hour, by myself and through a city I do not know. I call a taxi, grimacing at the expense.


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My grandmother’s house and one of the family friends who showed me around the town.

I must take a moment to mention the connections that travelers make. After a few hours, a few more adventures, and a few more methods of transport, I arrive in the Ravensburg train station. Ravensburg is near the town my grandmother lived in prior to moving to America. I am meeting with family friends. They showed me my family’s old house, the local church, her school. We ate lunch, I met their children, had a grand tour of their town, attended a school play, and was introduced to everyone I encountered as “this is Rachel, she comes from the USA.” It was an amazing weekend, filled with much laughter. I come from southern America, where we pride ourselves on our hospitality, and yet I have never experienced such warmth and welcoming.


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Lueneburg harbor, featuring the medieval crane that took twelve men to operate, eight of them ran on a giant hamster wheel.

Every traveler’s nightmare is a missed connection. It is incredibly difficult, but we ought to worry less about missing trains, and focus more on making connections. Connections with the wonderful, unique souls encountered throughout a trip create memories that far outlast the panic a retreating train evokes. We learn from each other. We share our hometowns, expand our horizons. We share stories, drinks, laughs, little pieces of our very selves. These connections that we make are not easily forgotten. In all likelihood, we part ways, surrendering our course to the whims of a fickle wind, never to see each other again. But my parting words are genuine: “if you are ever in Alabama, let me know.”  Because I choose to live in a world where connections are made, valued, and not easily forgotten.

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“Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you all.” Laura Wilder My friends and I in Cologne, where we laughed until it hurt and tears streamed down our faces.

 

 

Getting the Kiwi Experience

Kia Ora!

My Name is John Mark Morris. I am currently a Chemical Engineering major here at UAH, but I have always had a passion to learn about the environment. Whether it be in my back yard, or 8,000 miles across the world, I love to learn about the various environments this earth has to offer. I love traveling to exotic places throughout the world, and I love being immersed into different cultures so when I found that I had the opportunity to study at the University of Otago all the way across the world in the South Island of New Zealand for a month to see some of the most attractive natural landscapes, I had to take the chance and go.

Going overseas is something that I have had the opportunity to do many times before, but I have yet to acquire the opportunity to study abroad until now.  During my time here in Dunedin, New Zealand, I studied the landscape development, environmental engineering, and the synthesis between the land and the indigenous cultures that settled New Zealand long ago. For the past month, I have had the pleasure to explore, learn, and immerse myself about the landscapes of the South Island of New Zealand. While I only had the chance to stay here in New Zealand a month, I accomplished as much as possible in a compact time. During the duration of the trip, I was able travel to nearly every location you could imagine throughout the South Island of New Zealand. Words cannot describe the sites I saw, the new perspectives of landscapes, but most importantly the people I met. The size of the class that I took was only twenty people, but we grew super close throughout our journey on the South Island. During our first week at the University of Otago we focused on the native species and the indigenous cultures that are a part of an environment. During this week, we took field trips to the landscapes owned by the Maori peoples and attempted to understand what it meant to be Maori and how the people of Maori viewed their domestic landscapes. As a group, we went throughout the Maori landscape and rooted native plants throughout the fields to combat invasive species that were brought over by the Europeans during the 1600’s. The hands-on knowledge gained during this first week was incredible. Not only did we learn about how the landscapes in the South Island are changing, but we learned how to truly identify with a landscape. The main take away from the first week when bonding with the indigenous cultures was to consider that no matter who you are or where you are from, there is always a landscape that has deeper meaning than just the physical land.

During the second week, our tightknit group of friends traveled throughout the South Island. There were not many classes to attend that week so we took advantage of that opportunity to see as much as we could. As a young group of American students, we rented cars and stayed in hostiles for nearly the entirety of the week.  The places we traveled consisted of Queenstown, Wanaka, Milford sound, Karitane, The Dunedin peninsula, Lake Tekapo, and much more. Throughout these adventures that we decided to take as a group of young Americans, we not only were able to see some of the most astounding sites in the world, but we were able to form lifelong relationships between one another all caused by having one thing in common: Wanting to see the beauty that this earth holds. During these trips, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attempt to truly be a part of the kiwi culture. Our entire small group truly branched out and took part in so many exotic experiences that I could honestly tell you I would have never done before I left for the trip. Whether if it was viewing the topography of a landscape from a different perspective by jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet, seeing the freezing threshold by luging down one of the largest mountains in New Zealand, or just plainly umping off a bridge with a bungie cord attached to your feet, we tested our limits. One thing that I really cherished during this second week of the trip was the environmental diversity. During the morning, we would all be going to a beach to go surf, then in the afternoon go to the top of the mountain for snow shoeing, then at night go hike in the rain forest to view the stars. This diversity shocked me. These different forms of landscapes and environments were all within literal minutes. One trip that we took that enthused me the most was by far Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a waterway located on the southern portion of the South Island that has some of the most geological diversity While the trip to Milford sound was quite educational and informative, the thing that I took from the trip was the way it made me feel while on a boat floating in the middle of the sound. Although I have never been to New Zealand before in my life, the feeling I received was one of my feeling of home.

During the third week and final week of the program, our class had many class activities to accomplish before the trips end, so we decided to stay in Dunedin for most of this week. Even though we were living in the city of Dunedin, we rarely got a chance to see the city due to so much work and travel. In result, during the last week we got to genuinely enjoy the city we were staying in. Dunedin, New Zealand is primarily a college city that was the first ever city in the country of New Zealand. Dunedin consists of a wonderful city life, fabulous museums, and a beautiful pacific coast. One thing that amazed me about the University of Otago was the historic infrastructure throughout the university. I felt like I was studying at Hogwarts when walking through the middle of the campus. While the final week of the trip was a week to remember, the entire month of the trip was indescribable. Overall, the words cannot describe the sights that I saw, the people I met, or the information I learned, but I hope this post provided a little bit of justice to such an awesome experience. New Zealand is one of the most amazing places this world has to offer, and I highly recommend for anybody with a desire to travel to go to this astonishing area of the world.