An Overview of Vietnam 2017

For two weeks, I had the incredible opportunity to immerse myself in the Vietnamese culture thanks to a study abroad program called U of A Faculty-Led: Global Community Development in Vietnam. This was my third study abroad program to participate in and my experience was completely different. The goal of this program is to engage students in an international community development project. We had 21 students travel to Vietnam and we were split into two teams: Business and Service-Leadership. While the two teams did activities together in the afternoons and weekends, I was on the Service-Leadership Team and our days looks completely different from the Business Team’s.

This program is unique because the University of Arkansas partners with Can Tho University in order to allow students to be successful in their projects. The second day of the program, Arkansas students were welcomed by the dean of the College of Rural Development and Vietnamese volunteers. Our volunteers helped us immensely. They translated for us, educated us on Vietnamese culture, and assisted us daily. Our first week focused on learning about and then building a biogas digester for a farming family. In short, a biogas digester allows pig manure to be heated by the sun, which is then converted to methane gas and used as fuel for a stove top. On Wednesday of the first week, we met with a family who had built a biogas digester the previous year with help from Arkansas students. While the construction is relatively easy, the amount of time a biogas digester saves the woman of the household is priceless. During a typically day, a woman would need to spend 4-5 hours collecting wood for cooking. With a biogas digester, she can spend this valuable time focusing on other responsibilities. When we met with the farming family, they were beyond thankful for the students who had built a biogas digester for them. They invited us into their home to show us how it functioned and also served us jackfruit. The next day, the Service-Leadership Team divided into two groups and set to work building two biogas digesters.

Building the biogas digester was one of my favorite days in Vietnam. We arrived at the family’s home around 9 am and after quick introductions, we immediately started digging a hole for the biogas digester. There were only 4 students helping build so luckily the family had already begun a hole for us. We dug for a couple hours, ate lunch, and then came back to complete the construction of the digester. The project was finished by around 3 pm and I have never seen a family so appreciative. Even though we had already eaten, the family cooked a feast for us and set out rice wine that they had brewed themselves. As we sat around three plastic tables pushed together, Chi, one of the Vietnamese coordinators, translated to us how happy the family was that we came and helped. Honestly, I think we were just as excited to be able to spend the day with the family. Being able to work as part of a team to build a biogas digester was by far one of the most meaningful things I have done with my time. The ability to create something useful was an amazing feeling.

Our second week in Vietnam was spent teaching classes. In the morning we went to the Hoa An 4 Primary School where we spoke to children about mosquitoes and the diseases that they can spread. Most of the kids only spoke a couple words of English, so the volunteers helped translate our short presentation about mosquitoes. After a little class time, we liked to go outside and play fun games in the courtyard. Sometimes we showed the kids games but I also learned many Vietnamese games! All of the children were adorable and so excited to meet “the foreigners.” Our afternoons were spent at the Hoa An High School. The students at the high school spoke more English and so their teachers wanted us to focus on teaching them additional English words. Another Arkansas student and I were in charge of one classroom and we decided to lecture on American holidays, animals, and food. After teaching for a little while, we played games like Pictionary and Hangman to help the kids remember the words in a fun way. Saying goodbye to all of the students was heartbreaking. The primary students sang us Vietnamese songs and gave us hugs goodbye. The high school students gave a short speech and some started crying. A lot of the high schoolers added us on Facebook and I hope to keep in touch with them.

During the program, I received credit for ENGL 3923H: Honors Colloquium (Cultural Identities: Vietnam) but the other courses offered were WLLC 423V, WCOB230V, and WCOB330V. Our class time was typically after lunch and we would discuss literature that the professor had given us. At the end of the trip, we were asked to turn in five journal reflections that were insightful to our time in Vietnam. I would recommend this program to students who enjoy learning independently and are truly interested in service.

 

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An Overview of Barcelona, Spain

Hola!

By the time I arrived in Barcelona, Spain on June 26, 2015 I felt like an experienced traveler. I had already been in Greece for four weeks through a University of Arkansas program and had spent nine days traveling Rome by myself before finally ending the summer in Spain. While in Rome, I used public transportation for the first time and learned to communicate with Italians through the use of pictures and usually a great deal of pointing. I chose a program called University Autònoma of Barcelona Intensive Language Summer offered through an organization called Academic Programs International. API was actually recommended to me by a close friend and I thoroughly enjoyed studying abroad with them. A large reason I decided on this program was because I was able to stay with a older, local couple whose names were Magda and Enrique along with another American girl. The wonderful couple taught us both a lot about the Spanish culture and constantly gave us advice on navigating through the bustling city of Barcelona. Another advantage of staying with a family was that we were always provided dinner and Magda was a great cook. She always made Spanish favorites such as paella, gazpacho, jamon serrano and spanish omelets. API also had a great staff that took us on several excursions during our month in Spain. My favorite two excursions were to the island of Menorca and a small city called Montserrat, the location of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Menorca was a small and relaxing place where we were able to swim in the Mediterranean Sea, jump off cliffs, and tour the city of Maò. The water was incredibly clear and getting away from the city for a weekend was especially needed. I found Montserrat especially fascinating because it is located on the side of a mountain within the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range. The city is famous for the Benedictine abbey it houses as well as for the memorizing views that can be seen. While there the group of students I was with were able to take a funicular up the mountain and then hike down with a tour guide. We learned about the plants and animals that were able to survive the rough terrain and also discovered more fact about the city build on a mountainside.

While in Barcelona, I earned six credit hours of Spanish. I went to a local university Monday through Friday from 9 am to 2 pm. I found it difficult to concentrate occasionally because I wanted to explore Barcelona, but at the end of the four weeks I realized I had learned much more than I initially thought. Many people comment on the fact that citizens of Barcelona speak Catalan, but the truth is that a majority of the people are able to speak both Catalan and Spanish. The locals were friendly and always allowed students to practice their Spanish even if it was broken and hard to understand.

One of the most memorable parts of Barcelona was the works of Antoni Gaudí. A renowned architect, he designed many popular sites, including Park Güell, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, and of course his most famous, La Sagrada Familia. I was able to visit all of these works, but the most captivating was La Sagrada Familia. I went a couple days before flying back to America and thought it was a great way to leave Barcelona. I was able to climb up to the Passion Tower (one of the two towers tourist can go into) and also bought an audio guide. I discovered many facts behind the architecture and gained a great understanding of how Gaudí was able to integrate nature into this grand building. Even though it is still incomplete and not projected to be finished until the year 2026, the interior is astounding and I was overwhelmed just by the size of the of the church. My hope is to go back to Barcelona once it is completed and tour it once again.

During the summer I completed two separate study abroad programs and I preferred studying through the University of Arkansas. The U of A offers numerous programs around the world and it is simpler because the paperwork is easier, the credits transfer automatically, and you are able to make friends with other students who go to the same university. Of course I would suggest API to students because their staff is extremely kind and helpful in answering all the questions I had about studying abroad.

An Overview of Greece

Γεια σας!

I spent 29 days traveling the wondrous country of Greece beginning May 19, 2015. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to have this experience and believe every student  should study abroad at least once while in college. Traveling thousands of miles from home was very much out of my comfort zone but it was something I had dreamed of and I honestly could not pass up the amazing opportunity. I could not speak the language and I was not sure of the cultural differences and I was scared to leave the safety of my parents, but in the end I learned not only about unique topics, I also learned a lot about myself. While it might seem clique, there are things a university classroom might not be able to teach you and studying abroad really broadened my horizons as an individual. I also believe having studied in a different country makes me a more competitive student for scholarships, applications, and graduate school. Institutions want students who are open-minded and well-rounded and I believe if a student is willing to live in a foreign country for a month, semester, or even year, they must be able to embrace the diversity of the country on some level.

I chose the program U of A Falcuty-Led: Classics in Greece because instead of sitting in a classroom, our professors, Dr. Levine and Professor Paulson, lecture students while we are touring cultural sites and museums. It makes it more fun because the students are able to learn about monuments and artifacts that are directly in front of us. I was enrolled in CLST399VH-601 Honors Course Classical Studies and CLST4003H-601 Honors Classical Studies Colloquium: Greek Religion/Archaeology. Students are required to give site reports on topics assigned to them and when we arrived back in the United States, we wrote two 9-15 page essays and two 4-8 page essays. The site reports I was assigned were Eleusinian Mysteries and Plague in Ancient Greece. I created a handout for the other students studying abroad with me that contained pictures and information on my topics so they could have a visual during the presentation. At first I was stressed about the presentations, but our professors were great and were always available for questions and to give advice. Another reason I chose this program was because we did not stay in one city. Instead we stayed in each city for 1-4 days and were able to travel all over Greece! Cities we were able to visit include: Athens, Chania, Rethymno, Iraklio, Delphi, Kalambaka, Ioannina, Corfu, Preveza, Olympia, Nauplio, and even a day trip to Albania.

One question I received the most when I arrived back home was different various of, “How did the economic crisis in Greece affect your travels?” I always replied that while Greece was cheaper than other countries I traveled to in Europe, I was not able to tell that Greece was in a state in crisis. The only time I experienced anything out of the ordinary was on my first day in Greece at Syntagma Square. A couple students and I were exploring around our hotel in the center of Athens when we noticed that police officers had detoured traffic from the square and were clearing the roads. Soon we saw workers marching and carrying banners and signs in Greek. At first we were a little worried for our well-being, but we quickly realized it was a peaceful demonstration. I never felt unsafe in Greece, but I was also sure to use the buddy system and keep maps handy just in case we happened to get lost. I found many of the cities easy to navigate, especially since our professors would walk with us to museums and sites during the day.

Overall, I would recommend this program to any student at the University of Arkansas who has any interest in Greece and it’s history. It is a country full of amazing sites, great food, and friendly locals who are always glad to give advice. I left with so many memories filled with beautiful beaches and ancient archeological sites that many people will never have the chance to witness. I honestly do not believe a different program or different professors would have been able to give me such an incredible experience.

Rethymno and Heraklion, Crete, Greece

Καλησπερα! (Good afternoon!)

On May 28th, I sadly had to leave the beautiful city of Xania, but I was able to spend a lovely night in Rethymno, a quaint city of approximately 40,000 people that I instantly adored. Before arriving, we spent the morning visiting the Kanakis Olive Oil Factory and the Armeni Archeological Site. At the factory we were given a tour by the owners and then allowed to sample the olive oil. The owners prefer their oil sprinkled with lemon juice and pepper which tasted amazing and I have started doing the same at restaurants. Kanakis also had other products like Rakı and ouzo, both popular amenities on the island of Crete. Personally, I did not enjoy either, as they are both potent alcohols. I really enjoyed Armeni, a site of an ancient Minoan cemetery south of Rethymno, because we were able to explore some of the large tombs that had been excavated. After eating lunch, our study abroad group proceeded to the Fortezza of Rethymno, the Venetian-era citadel (the core fortified area of a town or city, usually a fortress or castle). Construction began in September of 1573 and was in use until the early 1900’s. We were able to get a glimpse of the fortezza from our bus while we were driving into Rethymno, but once we were actually on the site it was much larger than I had initially thought. There was a fascinating view of the surrounding city and the Mediterranean Sea that I could not get enough of. We ended the day at a hotel comically named Hotel Fortezza, which was by far my favorite place we have stayed at. It was a smaller hotel, but had a pool as well as a common room with couches and a poker table. Myself and a group of girls were all starving from the exciting day, so we grabbed dinner at an authentic Greek restaurant called Taverna Othonas and then got dessert afterwards at a little place called Cul De Sac.

Sadly, on May 29th we had to say good-bye to Rethymno, one of the most charming cities we had visited yet, but had the opportunity to stay in Heraklion for two nights. In Greece, May 29th is considered an unlucky date because on this day in 1453, the capital of the Byzantine Empire (Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The capture of Constantinople marked the end of the Roman Empire and for some historians, also marks the end of the Middle Ages. At first I thought it was silly to be superstitious of a date that occurred so long ago, but when we were supposed to visit the Palace of Knossos, a tourist had been struck by lightening! Instead, we visited the Holy Monastery of Arkadi, an Eastern Orthodox monastery. This site was of importance during the Cretan resistance of Ottoman rule in 1866. Almost a thousand Greeks went to the monastery for refuge. In early November, the monastery was under attack by the Ottomans, but rather than surrendering and becoming slaves, the abbott set fire to the gunpowder storage room, killing a majority of the Cretan refugees. After visiting the monastery, our group continued on the bus ride to the city of Heraklion, the largest city on the island of Crete.

The next day we woke up relatively early and walked to the burial site of Nikos Kazantzakis which is on the wall surrounding the city of Heraklion. Kazantzakis is a celebrated author who is most known for the novel Zorba the Greek. The Orthodox Church would not allow Kazantzakis to be buried in a cemetery due the ideas presented in his books. In 1951, the Roman Catholic Church included his work, Last Temptation of Christ, in the Index of Prohibited Books. Consequently, Kazantzakis was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church in 1955. On his gravestone is the quote, “Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος.” In English it translates to, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” I found this quote beautiful and do not believe I will ever be able to forget it.

We ended our second and last day in Heraklion by visiting the famous Palace of Knossos. It was originally erected around 1950 BC by the Minoan people, but was destroyed multiple times by what is assumed to have been earthquakes. It was discovered by Sir Author Evans in 1900 and is the largest “palace” to ever be found. It covers around six acres and has over 3,000 rooms!

The next city on our exciting itinerary is the small town of Delphi on the mainland of Greece!

XOXO,

MNM

Samariá Gorge, Crete, Greece

Γεια σας φίλοι! (Hello friends!)

On May 24th, I took a ferry boat from mainland Greece to the beautiful island of Κρήτη (Crete). After a rough night on the Aegean Sea, we arrived in Souda Bay, Crete at 6 am. Our group then took a bus to the top of the Samariá Gorge, where we would proceed to hike 16 km to the the village of Agia Roumeli along the Libyan Sea. Beforehand, we ate breakfast at an adorable restaurant where I had my first taste of some delicious Greek coffee. The hike was such an exhausting but rewarding experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat. The mountains were beautiful in the morning and when we got to the bottom of the mountainside there was a creek that we had to cross about 15 times. The path had small, rickety bridges at some places to cross that made me a little nervous. Apparently if you get injured while in the gorge the only way out is by donkey which doesn’t seem ideal to me. After the 7 hour hike we were met with an incredible view of the Libyan Sea. Myself and a group of girls ordered well deserved piña coladas before going to the beach. Instead of being sandy, the beach was pebbly and the water was so cold that I was only able to get in for a second before laying out in the sun. After everyone else arrived at the beach we all took a ferry boat to the north side of Crete then got on a bus to Χανιά (Xania or Chania) where would be staying for two short nights.

The next day we had a free day which was great because everyone was exhausted and terribly sore. After sleeping in we walked around the indoor marketplace for awhile before going shopping. I loved Xania. It’s smaller and quieter than Athens which I liked. It’s also prettier and right along the Aegean Sea. Xania is more of how I pictured Greece in my head before coming. I wish we were going to Santorini and Thessaloniki, but unfortunately they don’t have enough historical significance for our study abroad group to travel there.

Right now I am in Iralkio, Crete, the fourth biggest city in Greece. It’s hard to blog when our professors keep us so busy, but more to come soon!

XOXO,

MNM

Athens, Greece

Γεια σας! (Hello!)

I think when I first found out that I would be studying abroad this summer, it didn’t seem real. The date when I would leave was so far away that it just seemed like a fantasy. Now that I’m actually in Greece it still seems surreal! I spent five days in Athens and there is a possibility that I’m in love with the country of Greece. I told one of my waitresses that I would love to stay in Greece forever and she jokingly told me to stay for vacation and then go back to America. Her goal was to move to New York city by September and she was appalled when I told her that I had never gotten the chance to go to NYC. Athens is a beautiful city full of friendly locals who love to sing and dance. One thing I’ve learned so far is that the locals love when you try to speak their native language and can usually tell that I’m American from my accent. I haven’t met anyone so far who couldn’t speak at least a tiny bit of broken English, which is convenient. Of course eating out is one of my favorite parts and I have quickly discovered that the food is delicious. My two favorite dishes so far are tzatziki and vine leaves stuffed with rice. A lot of people in my study abroad group are planning on taking home cook book which is a great way to take home a little piece of Greece. There are still Greek norms I haven’t quite gotten used to yet. For example, they don’t believe in shower curtains and so far me and all my roommates have been flooding the bathroom while showering. I have also found that if you walk through the city there is always someone trying to lure you into a restaurant with promises of great food and drinks. I think it’s been really interesting to see the difference between the American and Greek culture.

I am really enjoying the study abroad program I chose (U of A Falcuty-Led: Classics in Greece) because instead of sitting in a classroom our professors, Dr. Levine and Professor Paulson, lecture us while we are touring cultural sites and museums. It makes it more fun because the students are able to learn about monuments and artifacts that are directly in front of us. I’m enrolled in CLST399VH-601 Honors Course Classical Studies and CLST4003H-601 Honors Classical Studies Colloquium: Greek Religion/Archaeology. Since this program is so unique and we are constantly traveling throughout Greece, I will give two site reports over topics assigned to me by my professors (my topics are the Eleusisian Mysteries and the plague of ancient Greece) and then write two papers after the program is over. The professors have created a great website with tons of information and an itinerary if any students are interested:

https://sites.google.com/site/uofargreece2015/

While in Athens we visited so many amazing sites which is a large part of the reason that I like having a itinerary; I would never be able to experience so much if I didn’t have two incredible professors who are familiar with Greece. Some of my favorite places we went to were the Library of Hadrian, Ancient Agora, Acropolis and the Fortresses of Eleutherae and Aigosthena. Both fortresses had incredible views and we were allowed to wander around for a bit on the historical sites. Being able to see the Παρθενώνας (Parthenon) was an unforgettable experience. There is so much history behind this monument that it was hard to soak it all in.

I am currently on the beautiful island of Κρήτη (Kríti) and cannot wait to update everyone further on my adventures!

XOXO,

MNM

The Ultimate Packing Guide for Studying Abroad in Europe

I leave for Athens, Greece in nine short days and am just beginning to pack for my 10-week “summer of fun.” This includes researching online (Pinterest has some great tips and tricks, but a website I found especially helpful is http://travelfashiongirl.com/) and some last minute shopping on Amazon. An addition consideration I need to keep in mind is, due to the fact that I am participating in two individual study abroad programs, I will be traveling alone for nine days. This means I am also taking into account items I might need while staying in a hostel or using the app Airbnb.com. After searching for hours, I have begun to compile what I consider a pretty exhausted packing list for students planning to study abroad in Europe.

Packing List for Europe: Basics

  • Passport + Copy
  • Visa + Copy
  • Driver’s License + Copy
  • Insurance + Copy
  • Emergency Contact Information
  • Airline Tickets
  • Wallet
  • Cash
  • Credit Card + Copy
  • ATM or Debit Card
  • Voltage Adapter & Converter
  • Cell Phone & Charger
  • Laptop & Chapter
  • Kindle (check out my Goodreads profile for some great book suggestions https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/42930499-madison-martinez)
  • Camera & Charger
  • Music Player & Charger
    • If you don’t already have a Spotify, I would highly suggest looking into it. They have a special discount for college students and you can also save playlist to your phone. What is better than an unlimited music selection for those long plane and train rides?
  • Headphones
  • Water Bottle
  • Travel Pillow
  • Sleeping Mask
  • Earplugs
  • Travel Locks
  • Luggage Tags
  • Guide Books
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Journal
  • Hospitality Gifts
  • Pocket Umbrella
  • Headlamp
  • Sleeping Liner
  • Clothespins

Packing List for Europe: Clothing

  • Undergarments
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • 2 or 3 Short Sleeved Tops
  • 2 Tank Tops
  • 2 Light Summer Dresses
  • 2 or 3 Shorts/Skirts
  • 1 Pair of Pants/Long Skirt
  • Swimsuit
  • Comfortable Shoes
  • Waterproof Sandals
  • Light Rain Jacket
  • Light Fleece Jacket
  • Sunglasses, preferable polarized
  • Backpack
  • Small Purse
  • Belts
  • Watch (In addition to a simple Kavu watch that I purchased for $20, I’m bringing along my FitBit so I can track my steps while wandering across Europe.)
  • Earrings
  • Necklaces
  • Bracelets
  • Rings

Packing List for Europe: Hygiene

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body Wash
  • Face Wash
  • Shaving Cream
  • Razors
  • Washcloth or Loofah
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Brush/Comb
  • Travel Hairdryer
  • Curling/Flat Iron
  • Hair Products
  • Makeup
  • Makeup Remover
  • Prescription Medication
  • Pain Relievers
  • Lotion
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Contact Lenses + Solution
  • Nail Products
  • Deodorant
  • Lint Roller

Before leaving, consider the culture you will be immersed in. What is acceptable to wear in their everyday activities? I find this especially important for women to consider; also think about if you will be visiting holy sites and monasteries and dress appropriately. Below are attachments with style advice from some great blogs. Check them out to gain more knowledge about what to wear in Greece or Spain! Another great idea is enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program through the U.S. Department of State. STEP allows U.S. citizens to register their trips and also keeps you up-to-date about conditions in your destination country.

I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to study abroad and am blessed with supportive parents who always encourage me to experience new things.

XOXO,

MNM

P.S. If you need convincing reasons to study abroad in Greece, here is a brilliant article by Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alexbesant/49-reasons-to-love-greece-jugk#.knBqnGqY5

Packing for Greece

Some great tips from the blog

Some great tips from the blog “Team Wiking,” authored by the fashionista mom, Jessica Doll.