Dreams Abroad https://www.dreamsabroad.org Empowering Global Professionals Sat, 16 Nov 2019 04:18:16 -0500 en hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/android-icon-96x96.png Dreams Abroad https://www.dreamsabroad.org 32 32 160612410 Finding the Perfect International Job https://www.dreamsabroad.org/international-job-from-volunteering-to-working/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/international-job-from-volunteering-to-working/#comments Thu, 14 Nov 2019 11:00:36 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9603 By Leesa Truesdell Diego Ambrosio is from Catanzaro, Italy and is thirty-three years old. He received a master’s degree in foreign language and literature for English and Spanish languages. Immediately following his degree, he volunteered internationally with Worldwide Opportunities Organic Farms for two months. The first farm he worked at was in Denmark and the...

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By Leesa Truesdell

diego ambrosioDiego Ambrosio is from Catanzaro, Italy and is thirty-three years old. He received a master’s degree in foreign language and literature for English and Spanish languages. Immediately following his degree, he volunteered internationally with Worldwide Opportunities Organic Farms for two months. The first farm he worked at was in Denmark and the second was in Norway. Diego described this experience as his first real challenge outside of his home country that helped strengthen his character. 

After, he worked at two international jobs before settling in Phuket, Thailand. The first job was with the Costa Crociere cruise line, where he worked seven days a week for twelve-hour shifts. He did this for two years until he realized he wanted to be a bit more settled on land. Diego enjoyed the hospitality industry, so he decided to seek the “Londoner” life and headed to London.

His second job was at a hotel as a night manager for one-and-a-half years in front of Kings Cross St. Pancras. Then, he transferred to The Royal Park Hotel for seven months. He got a bad case of food poisoning and was very ill. He realized he missed the good quality of food, family, and weather back home in Italy. After he recovered, he moved home, and took a couple of months to roam the wilderness (literally). He soaked up the clean air, ate good food, and then decided to find an international job in education and move to Phuket, Thailand. 

Meet Diego: 

Why did you choose to teach abroad in Thailand?

“During my previous work on cruise ships, I had the opportunity to travel a lot and visit different countries. It was a great opportunity to understand their cultures and lifestyles and was a bridge into a fully international job. 

Once I reached Thailand, and, in particular, Phuket, I felt mesmerized. The beauty of its surrounding nature and its mild weather was almost unbelievable. Above all, though, I felt delighted by the light-heartedness and humble lifestyle of the people, who are always friendly and smiling. I wasn’t wrong at all when I made my choice. Every time my students meet me, I am greeted with a smile and profound respect.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?

“Although my undergraduate and graduate studies in languages and modern literature perfectly fit the impending idea of being a teacher, the process of becoming a full-time teacher in Italy was quite complex. Instead, I bravely decided to start my working career for a period of time volunteering on an organic farm in Denmark on behalf of the international WWOOF Association (World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms). This amazing and enlightening life experience shaped my temper and made me ready to face any challenge in the future. It was also the first real-work experience that marked my first move beyond the Italian borders.”

denmark wwoof world wide opportunity on organic farms

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? Where are you teaching? 

“When I decided to take up the teaching profession, I honestly didn’t think about what it would be like teaching abroad. I had no terms of comparison before teaching in Italy. Nonetheless, I was surely aware that dealing with a culture diametrically opposed to the West would have required a different approach in terms of school organization and linguistic communication.

Right now, I am currently a foreign English teacher in Thailand — precisely in the beautiful province of Phuket.”

How did you prepare for your international job teaching abroad? What steps have you taken? 

“When making the decision to teach abroad it is good and useful to carry out online research about the country of interest. It is especially important to research all the bureaucratic aspects and prerequisites required to perform the job according to the law. 

For a non-native speaker, currently, any government school requires four prerequisites before applying:

  1. Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in any subject
  2. 120 hours TESOL/TEFL certificate (possibly with included OTP – Observation Teaching Practice)
  3. TOEIC examination (valid two years) with a score not less than 650
  4. Recent Criminal Records Check (from within the last six years) from your own country and legally translated into the English language 

Fortunately, when I began to apply, I already almost completed all the prerequisites required. 

Although my degree was in languages, ​​I needed TEFL certification. I did a lot of research to see if there were accredited schools in Phuket able to issue this certification. The great news is that this school exists, is highly professional, and is managed by an extraordinary team of qualified people. Some of the team members include Eric from Minneapolis, a passionate expert in training teachers since 2007, and Simon from London who has been training teachers since 2004 (here is the link to their outstanding website: https://teflcampus.com/).

tefl international jobs

Thanks to these people, together with my constant motivation and commitment, I was able to prepare an effective curriculum and find a school in less than a month from the date of obtaining the certificates. My visa then converted into a work visa through school support and I received the work permit.”

What are your perceptions of Thailand so far? 

“In these first two years, I have been able to notice and understand different positive and negative aspects, as one is able to do in any country in the world. Thailand is a fascinating country, welcoming and full of beautiful people. There are breathtaking landscapes and authentic traditions. However, although my desire for full integration is high (especially seeing as I’ve been with my Thai girlfriend for almost two years now and we currently live together), I currently have the perception of always being “outside the circle.”

I constantly feel like I receive harsher treatment when I have to deal with the strict regulations and laws for foreigners. Although the country has quickly achieved formidable economic goals, quality of life, and welfare, corruption is still very high. More than that, 40-year-old outdated laws remain unchanged but continue to see enforcement. Plus, the government’s support for pension funds is practically non-existent when compared to western countries.”

What are your goals while you are abroad at your international job?

“I believe my main goals are the same as most of humanity, in that there is a constant pursuit of happiness and a peaceful life as far as possible from the stresses produced by the hectic modern society. If, on the other hand, I had to refer to smaller goals, it would certainly be that of pursuing a brilliant teaching career and the ability to travel more often. I really would like to discover and learn as much as possible about this enchanting country.”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived in Thailand? 

“Apart from the classic initial food intolerances and the tropical weather impact, the greatest difficulties I have faced so far were during the initial stress of my first month. I had to stay in a hotel and face numerous expenses. It was absolutely necessary to plan everything correctly to not be in trouble.”

What has been the best experience?

“It is difficult to define the best experience during my two (very intense) years abroad. Fortunately, I was able to live through several beautiful experiences. However, if I had to choose one I’d say the emotions and excitement I felt before my first class on my first day of teaching, which were invigorating. I felt a renewed strength within myself. For the first time, I could finally spread my knowledge. I loved the idea of perhaps having contributed to the success of the future aspirations of the most enterprising students.”

teaching abroad

How do you feel about the culture so far? Do you feel like you have immersed yourself into the culture?

“I believe that I will never cease to immerse myself in this exciting and profoundly different culture. I have new emotions every day experiencing it. The linguistic aspect always remains the most arduous goal to achieve. The Thai language consists of 44 basic consonants that represent 21 distinct consonant sounds. Thai is a tonal language with five tones (and the tones matter!). The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonant, the type of syllable (open or closed), the tone marker and the length of the vowel. As for the social aspect, I must say that it is very easy to make good friends with the Thai people. It is impossible to stop discovering and understanding new life behaviors and habits of these smiling and carefree people.”

A New Life in Asia Because of an International Job

Diego enjoys his international job in education. His new life in Asia has brought him joy both professionally and personally. He explained some of the differences in the school calendar that impact his life. However, overall, he feels very pleased with his life and job abroad.

Thailand has a school calendar unique from the Western part of the globe. They begin their school year in May and finish in April. They have two breaks over the months of October and April. Diego goes back to Italy in October each year. He works for a government school, which is Buddhist. This means that he typically works through the month of December. He does not get the Christmas holiday off if the school is Buddhist. Some schools in Thailand give the holiday off, however, it depends on the school and its religious orientation. Regardless, Diegos’s school gets December 31 and January 1 off for a holiday. 

Stay tuned for his part two interview in January and his final interview before school starts again in May 2020. 

 

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The First Night in Venice After a Pit Stop in Verona https://www.dreamsabroad.org/night-in-venice-after-verona/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/night-in-venice-after-verona/#comments Tue, 12 Nov 2019 13:20:50 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9582 by Cassidy Kearney If you haven’t read my last article about our trip up the Swiss Alps, check it out! After a stunning day on the mountain, we returned to our fancy hotel for a night of each other’s company. We broke out spare wine we had collected in the previous cities. We spent a good...

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by Cassidy Kearney

If you haven’t read my last article about our trip up the Swiss Alps, check it out!

After a stunning day on the mountain, we returned to our fancy hotel for a night of each other’s company. We broke out spare wine we had collected in the previous cities. We spent a good half hour looking for a wine opener while trying alternative bottle-opening techniques. The next morning, the hotel provided us with a gourmet breakfast (twelve different types of bread, six kinds of cheese, fresh fruit preserves, and more!) before we headed out at 8:30 AM. 

verona italy

An Afternoon in Verona

Everyone had forgotten that there was a planned stop in Verona before we finally landed in Venice. For me, it was a welcome pit stop as the very first Italian city on our tour. Italy was warm and gorgeous, and the architecture felt rich and ancient. Nikos took us on a quick tour of Verona, showing us several points of interest. We started with the Portoni della Bra, a large clock nestled in the gates of the old medieval walls of the city. This served as our landmark and meeting point later on.

portoni della bra clock verona

Nikos led us down cobblestone alleyways and Via Mazzini as he guided us past fancy restaurants, boutiques, and brand-name clothing lines I’d never heard of. We passed a giant coliseum that had red curtains hanging in the archways, suggesting its history of entertainment was far from over. We stumbled into the courtyard where Romeo and Juliet supposedly fell in love, and saw Juliet’s balcony. Nikos bought everybody gelato as a treat before we visited Statue Dante and broke up for the afternoon.

Freetime While Touring Verona

After a long wait in a bathroom line, I found that most of the group had left. Only Emily, Alyson (and one other person, but their name escaped me when I wrote my journal entry at the time), remained. We meandered through the market before we wandered into Via Mazzini to look around. I looked at the marble ground that lined the street with horror. I could only imagine how slippery in the rain it must be (I have a high propensity to slip and fall in public). Luckily I had an inkling of which alleys to take to get back to the Portoni della Bra, and we popped out in front of the coliseum. Considering its age, it was really in fantastic shape. 

coliseum flavian amphitheatre

Emily offered to take pictures of me in front of it, which is exactly when I realized that most of the pictures I’d been taking the entire trip lacked an important element: people. Anybody can Google a picture of Europe and see the same images I had been frantically running around taking. But what makes pictures special after a trip is the fact that you’re in them, or that people you care about are in them. I felt silly that I hadn’t realized that until halfway done with our trip. 

Panic at the Alleyways of Venice

the mainland of veniceWe all eventually made it back to the Portoni della Bra, with an exception to Dounia and Georgina, who got lost trying to make it back. Nikos left the group to find them and guide them back, which made us 30 minutes late leaving Verona. This mattered because Nikos had made a dinner reservation for everyone at 7:00 PM in Venice. 

Once we finally arrived at Mestre (the mainland of Venice), we dropped our luggage off at our hotel. We immediately left to hop onto a bus that would drive us over the bridge that connected Mestre to Venice. I felt thrilled to be in Venice. In the setting sun, it was everything I wanted it to be. In fact, I was so excited about visiting Venice that I didn’t realize that Nikos — our faithful guide — was lost! 

I had been so caught up in racing around the window displays and photographing public squares that it was only once it was finally dark did I realize that we were seriously turned around. Nikos kept ducking into stores and restaurants to ask for directions. We didn’t show up to the restaurant until 9:00 PM, two hours late. While I’m sure he felt bad about getting lost, I had a great time taking the scenic route! Besides that, finding your way Venice is incredibly challenging. The alleyways are so narrow and winding that keeping track of where you are or where you’re going is impossible, especially as someone who doesn’t know the area well.

Summer Heat Affects All Cultures

After a great dinner of pizza and pasta, we left to take the bus back to Mestre. Apparently, however, we had arrived during the driver’s break! We wound up waiting on the bus for over twenty minutes. We piled into the bus, packed like sardines amongst tourists and locals alike, sweating in the Italian summer heat. Nikos refused to take off his jacket for fear of “being stinky.” I tried opening the bus window, and when I couldn’t get it because of the angle, the passenger sitting next to it helped slide it down. The entire front of the bus cheered as the cool outside air swam in.

venice italy

Finally the bus driver arrived and we took off. The bus lurched back and forth and we all quickly realized the bus malfunctioned! The tension while the bus driver restarted the bus was palpable. When the engine roared to life and we were finally on our way, the entire bus cheered again. 

Join me next time as I talk about our next day in Venice, my favorite city of the trip!

shopping in venice

 

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A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D. https://www.dreamsabroad.org/career-pathway-to-obtaining-phd/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/career-pathway-to-obtaining-phd/#respond Thu, 07 Nov 2019 11:00:45 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9542 By Leesa Truesdell Dalal Boland has been studying at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida for three semesters. She is working on Curriculum and Instruction in English Education coursework and has two semesters until she begins her dissertation. Dalal enjoys her program very much. She is thriving at USF and really enjoys the...

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By Leesa Truesdell

Dalal Boland has been studying at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida for three semesters. She is working on Curriculum and Instruction in English Education coursework and has two semesters until she begins her dissertation. Dalal enjoys her program very much. She is thriving at USF and really enjoys the sense of diversity on campus. Compared to Florida State University where she got her master’s, Dalal feels that USF has a thriving international community. “There is just the right balance for me. Cultural immersion is not as difficult at USF because I have Americans in my classes. I hang out with the decently sized Arab population after class and on weekends.”

Dalal is on a sponsored scholarship that lasts up to five years to complete her Ph.D. She plans to finish her degree in about four and a half years. She anticipates getting back to work in Kuwait after she graduates. Right now, she enjoys working at a university teaching English.

Here is what Dalal had to say about her career pathway to obtaining a Ph.D.

kuwait city study abroadWhat was it like growing up in Kuwait City, Kuwait? For example, what was the education system like? Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school?

“I did all of my schoolings in Kuwait at a public school up until I reached university, which was a private school. All public schools in Kuwait are segregated and subject areas are taught in Arabic. In high school, I focused on science in my educational track.  However, I decided to become a liberal-arts major at the university level.”

Did you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to Gulf University for your undergraduate studies?

“After obtaining my high school degree, I immediately enrolled at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), Kuwait. I majored in English education and felt thrilled to start my new journey.”

Where did you study for your undergraduate and graduate degrees? How long did it take to get a diploma for these degrees? Did you work in the field before you went back for a Ph.D.?

“I received my undergraduate degree from GUST back in 2012. I then took about a year off working as a teller at the National Bank of Kuwait with the purpose of saving up some money in order to continue my studies. However, I was lucky enough to obtain a scholarship in order to pursue my graduate degree.

Since FSU offered an excellent graduate program in Curriculum and Instruction, it sparked my interest when browsing for universities. I decided to apply and was lucky enough to receive admission. I spent a total of four years on my undergraduate degree and a total of a year and a half doing my master’s at FSU. After obtaining my master’s degree, I went back to Kuwait to teach English as a second language to native Arabic speakers at the college level. I spent a total of three years teaching English until I recently received another scholarship to continue my education in order to obtain a Ph.D.”

Why did you decide to go to the University of South Florida (USF) for your Ph.D.?

“I chose USF to do my Ph.D. because the college of education at USF is known to be one of the best colleges nationwide. They offer excellent degree-seeking programs and have accreditation by my sponsor. Moreover, USF is a research-driven university. I believe this would best help me in executing my research ideas in order to acquire more expertise in the field of English education.”

USF-University-of-South-Florida-Bulls-PHD

What is the University of South Florida known for with regard to education?

“The College of Education at the University of South Florida has multiple nationwide-recognized awards for its role in research and education. Also, USF’s College of Education received accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Furthermore, the Florida Department of Education approved the Educator Preparation Programs.”

In your opinion, is USF a good university?

“Without a doubt! USF offers a variety of opportunities. They encourage working with professors who are understanding and passionate about what they do. There is also a variety of students that come from different backgrounds that add a unique flavor to the academic settings.”

career pathway

You attended both Florida State University and the University of South Florida. Is USF a better university? What are some of the similarities and differences?

“Once a Seminole, always a Seminole and there’s no doubt in that! FSU has paved the way in making me the educator who I am today. USF is helping me build on the training that FSU provided. I would never make a comparison between the two universities as both are extremely qualified universities that should attract students to their programs.”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

“I have always wanted to study abroad ever since I was a teenager. However, I only got the opportunity to do so after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I believe that studying abroad makes a person grow on multiple levels. Those that study abroad are immersed in a rich culture. This experience offers different opportunities to explore not only the culture but oneself, too.”

ucf college of education

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed since being in the program?

“My expectation before I left Kuwait was that the program was going to be challenging yet very informative. My expectation was certainly met. I was blessed enough to be part of a university with a department that works with capable teachers who have valuable information in the field of English education.”

What have you done since you began your doctoral program? Are there any tips you want to share with any candidates about to start their own doctoral program?

“From the very beginning (and several times early on in my first semester as a doctoral student), I sat down with my advisor. We came up with a projected course of study in order to have a plan that would create the best path for my adventure as a doctoral student. I advise whoever else who has started this journey to have this plan done from the very start. It is so helpful to refer to it when it comes to classes that you need to take that also align with your research interest.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in the USA for an advanced degree?

“For those who are studying abroad, my ultimate advice to them is that they must constantly remind themselves of why they chose to leave their family and country behind and embark on this new journey. There are times where a person will feel homesick and overwhelmed with the coursework, especially as a doctoral student. However, one should keep in mind that struggle is temporary and a doctoral degree is forever! It doesn’t matter how bumpy the ride is. What matters most is that one reaches his/her designated destination.”

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

If you are thinking about getting a Ph.D., Dalal talks about five steps to take before leaving for the USA. She went back to Kuwait last summer and plans to return again this summer. I asked her what she misses most about Kuwait while living in the US. She explained that she misses the professional part of her life — the part of being a teacher. She wants to apply the techniques she has learned in attaining her Ph.D. on her students. More specifically, she wants her students back home to learn how to make their voices heard when applying the English language. We will be keeping up with Dalal to see how her final classes go and also discover what her dissertation will be!

 

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International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies https://www.dreamsabroad.org/international-education-management-at-middlebury-institute/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/international-education-management-at-middlebury-institute/#respond Tue, 05 Nov 2019 14:29:23 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9504 by Emma Schultz Emma Schultz has been a Dreams Abroad member since 2017 and has always had an interest in international education. We took the opportunity to catch up with her about how she’s been doing since moving from Madrid, Spain to Monterey, California. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Management at...

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by Emma Schultz

emma schultzEmma Schultz has been a Dreams Abroad member since 2017 and has always had an interest in international education. We took the opportunity to catch up with her about how she’s been doing since moving from Madrid, Spain to Monterey, California. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I was a friend of Leesa’s when she founded Dreams Abroad. She had talked about wanting to start her own website for some time, and it was really great to see it come to life. I was excited to start working with her as a writer in February of 2017 and have enjoyed other roles with the team since then. It’s been a joy to watch the project grow, change, and flourish over time. It has become such a great resource for anyone interesting in international education.”

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was teaching English in Madrid, Spain when I started writing for Dreams Abroad.”

apartment madrid spain

The view from my first apartment in Madrid, Spain.

 

How has your life changed since then?

“My life has changed a lot since then. I started writing for Dreams Abroad when I was in my first year of teaching English as a foreign language, which was also my first year out of college. I continued my time as a teacher in Spain for a second academic year and then transitioned back to part-time study. Furthermore, I was a Spanish student in Madrid during my third year and also worked at an internship. Also, I was a dual nanny/English teacher to a lovely two-year-old boy.

My biggest transition happened this past July, however, when I made the big decision to move back home to the U.S. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

It was a hard decision to make and an even harder transition. A lot went into my choice to come back to the States — what I felt I had gained in Spain, what I thought I was missing there, and what I thought I might find back at home. Ultimately, I decided it was time for me to pursue a master’s degree. I have long known that I want a career in education abroad management. I knew that I needed to get a higher education to make that possible for myself.

Transitioning into being more than a full-time student has been challenging, but it is absolutely worth it. I know I am gaining hard skills that I will use for a lifetime. I don’t think I could have picked a better program for my interests and goals.”

international education management at middlebury institute

The Middlebury Institute of International Studies campus in Monterey, California.

 

What did you learn from your experience living abroad?

international education management college“Living abroad did so much for me. It helped me to understand the world better. It helped me to understand myself better. I was able to explore pre-existing interests and engage new ones; I experienced new ways of seeing, interpreting, and understanding things. After three years in Spain, I can say I really feel that I have a connection to the country, its people, and its culture. The degree of love I feel for what has become one of the many places I can call home isn’t something I would trade for the world.

I loved my life in Spain — the balance between my commitments and my personal life, my incredible friendships, the beauty of the country, the warmth of its culture, and so much more. Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Coming to the decision to leave took me a long time.

When I moved to Spain, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my place in the world to be. In my three years in Madrid, I built something there for myself that mattered. I had a home, a life, and a strong love for where I was in the world. I learned, grew, and changed so much.

Why I Had to Leave

In the end, I think I had to leave Spain because of all of those discoveries. I wanted to stay, but for lots of other reasons I needed to go. I wanted to advance in my professional life. Plus, I needed to feel more stable and grounded. I needed to feel secure in a way that temporary visas didn’t provide. I needed to feel like I was working towards a life that I could make well-rounded.

Even though I loved Spain, sometimes I ended up feeling stunted. I felt like I didn’t have enough to engage my mind or fill my time. It was a limitation I had because of the restrictions of the visas I was able to use while there. It was a reality for me nonetheless.

monterey ca rocks on the water
This all led to the very challenging and definitely bittersweet decision to move back to the U.S. and pursue a graduate degree. I felt that by doing so, I could find my way to more professional fulfillment. Ultimately, I wanted to feel more balanced and grounded in my life. I hope to work towards feeling stable here or back abroad someday.”

What have you been doing this year?

“This academic year, I have been focused on my master’s degree and all of the work it entails. Choosing to go for a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies was one of the bigger decisions I’ve made in my life; I gave up a life in Spain surrounded by people I love there to pursue it.

Although I miss Spain and the life I built for myself there, I can’t say for a second that I regret the shift. I know that I am in the right place doing the right thing and that it will propel me towards the future I know I want.”

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Emma has been in California for almost two months now and may need some more time to feel like it is home too. But she’s hopeful that the skills she gains and connections she makes will help guide her forward to the next step after this. Hopefully, she can find all the things she’s looking for. Be on the lookout for Emma’s next pieces on how her life has changed and follow her journey!

city on the water

Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey, California.

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Origins of Halloween Traditions from Around the World https://www.dreamsabroad.org/origins-of-halloween-traditions-from-around-the-world/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/origins-of-halloween-traditions-from-around-the-world/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2019 11:00:16 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9447 by Nick Tuma Halloween traditions date back to the Celtics and their day of Samhain. When summer would end, the Celtics believed a shield protecting them would disappear. This meant that all the bad spirits would walk among them. To keep the shield working, they would have a BIG party with feasts and adult beverages....

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by Nick Tuma

Halloween TraditionsHalloween traditions date back to the Celtics and their day of Samhain. When summer would end, the Celtics believed a shield protecting them would disappear. This meant that all the bad spirits would walk among them. To keep the shield working, they would have a BIG party with feasts and adult beverages. Furthermore, they would also set bonfires and make costumes to scare off the entities.

Halloween is amongst our favorite holidays in America. From witches and ghouls to trick-or-treating and scary parties, everyone has something to choose from. As Americans, we tend to only know the Halloween traditions in the United States, but these traditions tend to differ around the globe. Read on as we go over a few completely different Halloween traditions and origins than you may have not been accustomed too.

Philippines: Undás or All Saints Day

The first tradition we are covering is All Saints Day in the Philippines, or Undás. It is Filipino practice of visiting deceased family members at the cemetery. This holiday is from the early practice of Pangangaluluwa. Groups of Filipinos stop by different houses during the evening of All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Does it sound familiar? It is very similar to trick-or-treating in America. Pangangaluluwa is a much older practice. However, rural communities still celebrate this holiday in the Philippines. 

Undás or All Saints Day altar

Undás Traditions: the Original Halloween Trick-or-Treating

Nowadays, child blankets pretending to be ghosts and go door-to-door singing. Children also would say prayers to people that passed. These prayers could also be for animals. In return for their songs, children receive delicious soul cakes, also known as a soulmass-cake. Soulmass-cake contains nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger or other sweet spices. On top, in raisins or currants, sits a cross. Filipinos believe that when these small cakes are eaten, a soul is set free. 

Furthermore, entire families and groups camp at night in the local cemeteries for Undás. They spend an entire night near their relatives’ tombs or graves. When visiting the family members’ cemetery, they clean and repair their tombs and headstones. Just imagine hanging out at the graveyard with family and friends doing a little upkeep. 

Filipinos honored their dead with candles, flowers, and lots of prayers. Oftentimes, this holiday ends up resembling a family reunion and consists of over a hundred people. During All Saints Day, they eat, drink, and tell stories about their departed loved ones. 

West Africa: Awuru Odo Festival

Awuru Odo Festival

The massive festival, Awuru Odo, features the return of the dead by the people of Nigeria. This celebration occurs every two years from November to April and can last for six or more months. “Odo” are dead spirits. Nigerian tribes believe that the dead are neither gone nor forgotten. Friends and family that have passed away live for a second time. They are then reincarnated to their families for this intense festival. Similar to other African cultures, the dead will help the living by protecting them from evil spirits and telling their fortune for future events.

Awuru Odo Traditions

The living welcome the spirits with a ceremony and offerings. Each family holds a welcoming ceremony for their relatives. Men take part in elaborate preparations and performances for receiving the Odo back. They prepare shrines, surrounded by fences. This is where the spirits of the dead will come to. The spirits’ arrival can come anytime between September and November. 

One Last Performance Before Odo’s Arrival and Departure

In April, before the dead depart, they have one last massive performance. It reenacts the Odo’s arrival and departure from Earth. This reenactment uses the costumes crafted entirely out of grasses, plants, beads and feathers. The people reenacting the characters must have great physical endurance because of all the movements. After the performance, Odo then climb Ukehe hills and travel back to the lands of the dead. They take the prayers of the living like good hunts, abundant crops, and large families with them.

Poland: Dzień Zaduszny

Similar to the Philippines holiday Undás, Zaduszki or Dzień Zaduszny remembers the dead in Poland. This special day has been part of the Polish culture for generations. These special days are dedicated to remembrance and honoring those who have come before. This special day was established by the Church when the Christian religion was just kicking off.

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day

The first day of celebration is recognized as All Saints’ Day . On November 1st, Poland celebrates all of the saints of the Church and there is a huge feast. In ancient times, pagans influenced the Church when they were still on talking terms. Preparations for All Saints’ Day begins a few days earlier when families straighten up the graves of those who have departed to the afterlife.

All Souls’ Day

The party really starts on the eve of November 2nd. All Souls’ Day is when the dead return to partake of food and drink. Polish families bake bread and cook large meals on this day. One such ceremonial grain dish was kutia, the oldest food known to their culture, made of wheat and honey.

Dzień Zaduszny All Souls Day

The families and groups then go to the cemetery with the leftovers and place them at the graves. Bouquets of flowers cover the cemeteries. Thousands of candles stand aglow on the graves of their loved ones and their lost souls. An old Polish legend says that these candles help the departed souls find their way through the darkness to find peace. Candles are said to blow in the direction the lost souls need to travel between heaven and earth. Fallen soldiers of the world wars typically receive special treatment.

If families could not get to the graves, an offering of food rests on the table at home. In the evening, doors and windows stand ajar so that the deceased can visit their former homes. 

Japan: Halloween Parade and Obon Festival

Kawasaki Halloween ParadeAlthough Japan has been celebrating the Obon Festival for years, there is not a whole lot of history regarding Halloween in Japan. It only came about recently due to a certain theme park. We can thank Disneyland for hosting a Halloween event back in 2000, after which, Halloween spread like wildfire. After Disney’s success, the other major theme parks hosted similar events and the popularity has grown across the county.

Kawasaki Halloween Parade

This Kawasaki Halloween Parade is on October 26th. It draws over 120,000 spectators and over 2,000 costumed participants. This year marks the 23rd year of the Halloween parade. Creativity is an artform when walking in this parade. Year after year, the costumes get more elaborate from the latest trends to Cosplay characters you will see everything.

Japanese Obon Festival

It is important to mention that the Halloween parade and the Obon Festival are not during the same month and they are not the same holiday. The Japanese typically celebrate the Obon Festival, also known as the Ghost Festival, during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, beginning around the 13th day, and ending on the 16th. It is a memorial for spirits’ and remembering ancestors from generations from ages ago.

Before the holiday, Japanese people clean and organize their houses from top to bottom. Almost like spring cleaning. Families then get various offerings together, which is a mix of items like green tea, sake, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They then place them in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar) for the beginning of Obon. 

Japanese Obon Festival

The Traditions of Obon

Chochin (paper) lanterns are lit to mark the first day of Obon. Celebrators construct the lanterns out of washi paper carefully glued onto a bamboo frame. Living family members bring the lanterns to their family’s grave sites to call their ancestors’ spirits back home. Also, Japanese people light entrances of homes with small fires to help guide the spirits into the forgotten residence. The second day of Obon celebrates the spirits’ return. There are performances and ceremonies around towns. Almost like a carnival atmosphere. On the third day, it is time to say good-bye to these spirits’. The participant’s goodbys vary but it all ends with the lighting of a lantern painted with their family’s crest.

Halloween Traditions Honorable Mention: World Dracula Day

Vlad Dracula IIIWhich Halloween monster could possibly be more recognizable than Dracula, the Prince of Darkness? Hey, we know this isn’t part of the original Halloween traditions! But the infamous vampire, Count Dracula, has inspired plenty of films, costumes, and characters. The Halloween holiday gives this story immortality. He is one of the most beloved Halloween characters. Fangs, blood, and darkness, what’s not to love!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is Vlad Dracula III

May 26th is World Dracula Day, which celebrates the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Not the Count from Sesame Street, this Count Dracula is the most iconic vampire around. His story was based on a real person, Vlad Dracula III of Wallachia (Romania). He was born in Sighișoara, Transylvania and was the real-life inspiration behind the horror novel. Vlad Dracula III earned the nickname “Vlad the Impaler” for the many ways his enemies succumbed to his torture. His victims included people who betrayed him when they were captured after his campaigns.

Count Dracula’s Castle in Romania

If you ever travel to Romania, check out Count Dracula’s castle. Celebrating Halloween at Vlad the Impaler’s home in Transylvania, Romania is an amazing experience. People come from all around the world to visit this idolized castle (although it was never technically Vlad Dracula III’s castle). There is quite a bit that remains unclear about World Dracula Day, but one would assume it all adds to the story.

Count Dracula’s Castle in Romania building chateau castle landmark

Halloween Traditions Are Best to Be Passed Down

Aren’t you glad you tuned in for this special Halloween traditions post? Most cultures celebrate the holiday by trying to reconnect with family and friends, as well as those who may have passed on to the next life. They bring them back as a remembrance for Halloween and other similar holidays. It may sound creepy to some but all-in-all we all tend to remember people who have passed in our own ways.

This Halloween, sink your teeth into some snacks and get the family together to watch your favorite horror movies. Carve some pumpkins, dress up, and invest in bulk packages of candy to get into the Halloween spirit! Traditions are best passed down the family tree. Have a happy and safe Hallows’ Eve no matter where you live.

children dress up for halloween trick or treating

 

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Life After Graduating from Florida State University https://www.dreamsabroad.org/life-after-graduating-from-florida-state-university/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/life-after-graduating-from-florida-state-university/#respond Tue, 29 Oct 2019 12:00:00 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9429 By Leesa Truesdell Zoe Ezechiels was born in Norway and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. She thrives in an environment that is filled with diversity and challenge. She studied abroad in an exchange program in South Korea for a year. Recently, she graduated from Florida State University with a BA in both Media Communications and...

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By Leesa Truesdell

Tally Cat Cafe after graduatingZoe Ezechiels was born in Norway and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. She thrives in an environment that is filled with diversity and challenge. She studied abroad in an exchange program in South Korea for a year. Recently, she graduated from Florida State University with a BA in both Media Communications and in Theatre. 

Zoe is a writer and video editor at Dreams Abroad and currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida. She is also working as a freelance copywriter, part-time barista, and a preschool photographer. She plans to move to Oregon in the new year to continue working as an onsite photographer. Read on as Zoe shares what she has been doing after graduating from Florida State University!

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I heard about Dreams Abroad in the most random, roundabout way. During my senior fall semester, I took a class about media and the environment. In that class of about 120 people, I only knew two classmates. One happened to be a good friend who I have worked within student theater (among other projects, like a Jonas Brothers Sing-a-long musical). If you haven’t read Grace Perrotta’s blog about her Ireland travels, take a minute of your time to check it out. 

It was Grace that told me about Dreams Abroad. We were sharing exchange student tales (she about Ireland, me about South Korea) and We Study naturally fell into the conversation. Before I was overseeing the We Study section, the beautiful Marina was at its helm. She had contacted Grace to do an article originally. And because I had also studied abroad, Grace acted as the liaison between Dreams Abroad and me.”

FSU graduation fountain

Now, I’ve been working with Dreams Abroad in various roles for about a year. First, I began as a writer and video editor then I moved on to working with the We Study program. Currently, I work as a writer and editor again in order to focus more on my journey and travel after graduating from Florida State. We’ll see where the future takes me with Dreams Abroad.” 

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was finishing my final year of university when I first joined Dreams Abroad. I was experiencing major senioritis at FSU as a dual degree student. Specifically, I was in my Media and the Environment classroom, not paying attention to the video that the professor was playing, when I first sent the email to Dreams Abroad.”

How has your life changed since then?

Zoe Ezechiels and her friend

“I graduated from Florida State University with two bachelor’s for one thing. Immediately after joining Dreams Abroad, I got really high grades in that Media and the Environment class. I did really well in my final two semesters of school (by nuking my social life, if I’m being honest). I made a lot of amazing friends and had people leave my life. Fortunately, I got to spend an amazing spring break in Portland, Oregon (where I fell in love — with the city). I grew a lot and have reached new levels of self-love. 

Directly from Dreams Abroad, I learned that my writing has value and I have a strong voice. I have become more confident in my skills (though I still have a long way to go). Overall, the glow up has been real.”

What did you learn from your experience of traveling abroad?

“Oh, where do I even start with this. I think I’d need an entire article for every time that I’ve been abroad. But, if I could cut to the essentials, I would have to boil it down to two main things. 

The first and most important thing is that I know that I’ve always got my own back. This means that I will never give up on myself. No matter how suicidal or depressed I get (medicated and blessed), I will still fight for my own life. Being cold and alone in the dead of the Korean winter taught me that I am my own ride or die. 

The second thing I learned is that wandering is your best bet. This is literal and metaphysical. Getting “lost” isn’t as bad as you think it is. As long as you’re careful and really aware of the time or place where you’re wandering, you have nothing to worry about. Metaphysically speaking, wandering in your mind is wonderful. Questioning everything, getting lost, and going deeper all sound terrifying but it’s super refreshing.” 

Tally Cat Cafe

What have you been doing this year? 

“I’ve been on that hustle. Since the beginning of this year, I have taken various work positions. I’ve been doing Dreams Abroad and copywriting since the beginning. Around March, I began to work at Tally Cat Cafe as a barista. I can make a mean cat-tuccino now. Over the summer, I took the last two of my classes to graduate in August. While I was doing that, I worked with FSU Special Programs as a Peer Mentor. I got to work with wonderful students from Macau, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and Japan. 

Since graduating, the Special Programs job ended and I started working with LifeTouch as a preschool photographer. The job allows me to get my kid-fix without being 24/7 responsible for my own. It also has awesome travel perks (I’m writing this from a cafe in Gainesville — LifeTouch provided me the resources to be able to photoshoot over 200 preschoolers during a period of three days in a place two hours away from home).”

What are your future plans?

canoeing Graduating from Florida State University

“That’s still up in the air at the moment. I plan to move to Oregon with the coming new year, which is the only for-sure thing I know. Hopefully, LifeTouch will be gracious enough to allow me to switch districts (since I’d like to continue working for them). I also hope to work with editorials, magazines, and publications in order to continue cultivating my writing. 

Eventually, I want to go to graduate school but first I’m focusing on gaining experience and saving money for now.” 

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Zoe has been a stellar member of the Dreams Abroad family and we look forward to working with her as long as she is able. We cannot wait to see what her future holds after graduating from Florida State. She also will be working on our upcoming annual holiday video this year. It’s an exciting project for our members and a time for our team to be featured together. Please be sure to check it out — you won’t want to miss out on her video making skills!”

 

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Kin Jae Vegetarian Festival Thailand https://www.dreamsabroad.org/kin-jae-vegetarian-festival-thailand/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/kin-jae-vegetarian-festival-thailand/#comments Wed, 23 Oct 2019 12:00:27 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9358 by Beth Young What is Kin Jae? Kin Jae (pronounced ‘gin jay’) is the popular name for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival held in October. The festival, also known as The Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a nine-day Taoist celebration that takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The vibrant event derives...

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by Beth Young

fireworks Kin Ja Festival

What is Kin Jae? Kin Jae (pronounced ‘gin jay’) is the popular name for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival held in October. The festival, also known as The Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a nine-day Taoist celebration that takes place in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The vibrant event derives from the belief that abstaining from meat, animal products, and other stimulants (such as alcohol and cigarettes) will help ensure good physical health and peace of mind for those who partake in the ceremonies. 

While the festival is famous for the thrilling celebrations, and somewhat gruesome traditions, it is a deeply spiritual experience for both participants and spectators. The origins of the Kin Jae Vegetarian Festival are still somewhat uncertain. However, generally, many believe that the festival was first introduced to Phuket by Chinese immigrants (performers and merchants) who later became sick while living on the island.

Nine Emperor Gods

As the tale goes, they adopted a strict vegetarian (more comparable to vegan) diet and prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods to ask for cleansing of their mind, body, and soul. In the telling of the story, after doing this for nine days, the community made a remarkable recovery. They astonishingly healed quickly from what was then a life-threatening illness. The people held a festival to honour the gods and express their gratitude. Over the years, the festival blossomed and progressed into an annual extravaganza. Thousands of participants and viewers from all over Asia and other western countries flock to it.

The Events and Ceremonies

The Kin Ja vegetarian festival is filled with several (and occasionally macabre), ceremonies that are believed to appeal to the gods. As well as the abstinence of meat products and stimulants, participants also take part in fire walking, body piercing, and other acts of self-mortification. They believe they are acting as mediums for the gods, or for spirits that they have a sacred ancestral connection to.

These events have only become more astonishing and audacious as the years’ progress Those who participate speak of being ‘possessed’ by the gods and spirits during these ceremonies. This is what allows them to feel no pain or harm from their acts of self-mutilation. It is believed that the Chinese gods protect them from physical and mental harm, as well as ensuring minuscule bleeding and scarring, during these times. This allows the vessels to go to great lengths to show their commitment. Puncturing skin (often cheeks) with various items (including knives, swords, skewers, and other domestic items – even bicycles!), wiping themselves with leather and rope, and even bathing in hot oil in past years are just a few of the ways in which devotees show their gratitude to the gods.

spiritual expression Experiencing Kin Jae

Hitting the Streets

The celebrations take place all over the island of Phuket but are concentrated around the area of the six main Chinese temples, which are dispersed around the island. The first event that takes place is the raising of the Lantern Pole. It is believed that this deed informs the nine gods about the onset of the festival. It acts as a means of calling them down to earth. The pole itself is around ten meters tall. Its erection is believed to mark the descending of the Hindu god, Shiva, who brings spiritual power to the festival. For the duration of the festival, Chinese-Thai families will bring their household gods to the various temples. They give offerings of food and drink. According to legend, this helps bring positive spiritual energy to the household.

Street processions are some of the main events during the Kin Jae Vegetarian Festival. It is in these events where participants will be embodied by the gods/spirits and take part in the body piercing and other self-disfigurement. These processions take place on the main roads in Phuket, often taking very long and somewhat illogical routes. Visitors can observe the participants in a trance-like state, while they are devoting themselves to their beliefs. These processions and events take place in the early mornings (6 AM and onwards) as well as in the evening.

fireworks Kin Ja Vegetarian Festival Thailand

Kin Jae Food and Cuisine

Aside from observing the spectacle and immersing yourself into the atmosphere, a big part of Kin Jae is the food! Many local restaurants will shut down their usual service and provide only Jae cuisine. Furthermore, many street food stalls solely provide Jae items throughout the festival period. To spot one of these stalls, look for yellow flags with red Chinese or Thai letters on them. Phuket displays these flags leading up to, and during, the festival. The vegetarian food and snacks are tasty, I must say.

Kin Jae Food and Cuisine

One of my favorite dishes is sticky rice and coconut grilled inside a banana leaf. It is so cheap and so delicious! A lot of dishes use meat substitutes, like soybean protein and tofu. However, don’t be afraid to try these items, as they surprisingly resemble meat. Upon first experiencing the events, I felt intrigued to learn more about the spiritual beliefs of the festival. It is fascinating to me to not only observe the participants during such a celebration but also to try and understand the mindset behind the festival itself.

The purity of the sheer devotion to their spiritual beliefs is something I admire. Admittedly, the events may not be everyone’s taste. They are not to be witnessed by the faint-hearted. I know many people who have felt physically ill from just watching the acts — and some have even vomited! Nonetheless, I love to observe and try to understand the surreal atmosphere and ideas behind these acts of self-mortification.

Experiencing Kin Jae for What It Is

I try to always remember that I shouldn’t disrespect the beliefs of others, especially in something like Kin Jae. Who am I to decide what is or isn’t real, to a culture and community I am not part of, or for events I have never experienced first-hand? Sadly, I do know of some people who make fun of the participants and the beliefs behind Kin Jae. It makes me feel irritated to hear comments of such attitudes. The festival itself and the beliefs behind it are some of the most beautiful forms of spiritual expression I have even witnessed or learned about.

While I acknowledge that I felt taken aback when observing the events for the first time, I also felt entranced. Watching the participants, I admired their devotion. I am someone who is somewhat into body-modification. It is very interesting to see the act used as a form of spiritual manifestation and as a means to communicate with our gods and/or ancestors.

Kin Ja Vegetarian Festival Thailand

While I have only witnessed the festival twice, I look forward to observing the event again. I can’t wait to learn more about it in the future. I will warn you though, if you have a soft stomach, perhaps the morning processions are not for you! That doesn’t mean to say that you cannot experience any part of Kin Jae. There are plenty of events that do not involve body piercing. For example, prayers and offerings, which take place at the many temples and shrines. Visitors can take part in lighting incense and candles around these temples. They can also give offerings themselves to the participants during the firewalks and more subdued processions. 

Kin Jae Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

So, does the Thailand Kin Jae Vegetarian Festival sound like something you would want to observe? If so, make sure you head to Phuket for the first two weeks of October next year! I will be more than happy to escort you to some of the events (and show you some of the best vegetarian/vegan foods around!). What are you waiting for? Why not check Phuket off your bucket list while being able to experience one of the biggest spiritual celebrations in Thailand, at the same time? See you then!

Kin Jae

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Getting a Master’s Degree Abroad: Kenny Obiora https://www.dreamsabroad.org/getting-a-masters-degree-abroad/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/getting-a-masters-degree-abroad/#respond Tue, 22 Oct 2019 12:00:52 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9271 by Leesa Truesdell Kenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12.  When I asked...

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by Leesa Truesdell

kenny obiora Getting a Master's Degree

Kenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12. 

When I asked Kenny about his parents’ decision to send him “home,” he answered, “they wanted me to have a good upbringing.” He later explained that this meant that his parents wanted him to be culturally immersed in his day-to-day activities and life. They wanted him to be part of the Igbo tribe and learn the Igbo tribal language. Kenny speaks three languages: English (which is the dominant language in Nigeria), his tribal language, Igbo, and French, which he studied throughout his academic career. 

Kenny is currently living in Paris, France on an APS visa. This visa class means that Kenny will have to work in a field in which he studied. Kenny recently graduated, getting a master’s degree abroad in health economics and is pursuing a career in the field. 

What was it like growing up in Milwaukee, WI? For example, your education system. Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school? 

“I had a mixed childhood. Before I was fourteen, I lived in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. I attended a private boarding school. I returned to the United States officially to complete eighth grade and high school. When I arrived, I attended a public middle school in a suburb of Milwaukee, and then a private high school in Milwaukee. 

The education system in Milwaukee is very broken. Most of the public schools are lacking — whether in quality teachers or in funding. Due to this, students are negatively impacted. My parents enrolled me in a program in Milwaukee called “Open Enrollment” which allowed me to be bussed into another school district. This program was only by application and there were selective spots. I was only able to finish middle school through the program. Afterwards, my parents decided to place me in a private high school.”

Boston CollegeDid you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to the university for your undergraduate studies? 

“No, I went directly to the university. I was fortunate to attend a college-preparatory high school, which pushed us to apply to a wide range of universities. I was most looking forward to the exciting majors and clubs at Boston College.”

Where did you study after high school? How long did it take to get a diploma for your undergraduate studies?

“I attended Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s funny that BC is neither in Boston nor a college! It took me four years to receive my diploma. I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in French. College changed me in many ways. I learned independence and what it meant to do things for myself. Laundry was no joke!”

Why did you decide on getting a master’s degree abroad at Sciences Po Paris ? 

“I decided to leave the United States and move to France for a few reasons. After I graduated from college, I spent a year working part-time in a lab in the Boston area doing clinical research and working part-time as a Resident Director and Diversity and Inclusion Assistant Director at Emmanuel College. My goal was to apply to medical school during this time. However, after I was accepted officially to Sciences Po Paris, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn’t studied abroad during my college years, and I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad in Health Economics would be a complement to my bachelor’s studies. The price point of a university in France was also very attractive. With all these decisions I decided to pack up and head to France!”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

Getting a Master's Degree Abroad in france“I’ve always considered myself to be a wanderer. I spent many years of my childhood in Nigeria. When I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as a university student, I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad was a priority. Studies in France are very attractive. For example, schools are much cheaper than they are in the United States and there are many opportunities to do dual programs in other countries.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the   location and what changed after having completed the program?

“I was an International Assistant at Boston College, which was a program that paired together international students and BC students to make the transition smoother. I was paired with a few French students. To be honest, they tended to stick with their friends from their country and thus, I thought the French would be exclusive. While this was somewhat true at the beginning, I did learn that the French value friendship a lot. While they can be closed-off at the beginning, once they opened up, they were very kind. 

I also didn’t expect the amount of bureaucracy in France. I was so used to the efficiency of the United States. You applied for something and you could receive that service in a short period. This doesn’t happen in France. Everything takes so much time to happen and is very difficult for foreigners. Getting an apartment, healthcare, a bank account, and visa are all long processes that took weeks to months.”

What did you not expect about living abroad and getting a master’s degree abroad in Paris? 

“I expected that university life would be similar to how it was in the states. You live and learn in the same environment. I was expecting that I would have classes right next to where I lived and wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. In Paris, the school was just for studying. Clubs and student residences were far and many students lived on their own in the city. In my first year of working on my master’s degree, I lived in a flatshare thirty minutes from school.”

What have you done since you got your graduate degree?

“I am currently looking for a job in my field in Paris. Also, I have been keeping busy giving English lessons to families and companies in the Paris area. I have been applying to pharmaceutical companies in the Paris area in hopes of working in the healthcare field. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in acting classes in Paris. It’s a fun outlet to express myself and meet other expats and students with similar interests in Paris.” 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in Paris?

“I would tell them to go beyond a semester study abroad program. A full bachelor’s or master’s degree would not only be enriching, but it would save them a lot of money and really allow them to immerse themselves in the culture! Getting a master’s degree abroad really changed my life.”

kenny obiora paris france

Starting a Professional Career After Getting a Master’s Degree

Kenny is actively looking for a professional career in Paris in the healthcare field. While looking for this position, he has experienced firsthand how competitive it is in his field. He has also realized how being from a different cultural background has its disadvantages. In this field (Kenny can’t speak for other industries), he has noticed that Parisians tend to work amongst themselves and often exclude outsiders. This isn’t just because of the need for a visa. It’s also a cultural familiarity amongst workers. Parisians tend to prefer working with other Parisians in big pharmaceutical companies in the Paris metropolitan area. Kenny just started interviewing and is teaching private English lessons at his college for extra money. His life is thriving at the moment, and he hopes to break through the cultural barrier during an interview soon. 

 

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Two Weeks in Italy: Mambo Italiano https://www.dreamsabroad.org/two-weeks-in-italy-mambo-italiano/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/two-weeks-in-italy-mambo-italiano/#comments Thu, 17 Oct 2019 13:00:17 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9236 by Stephanie Best The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K Chesterton  It’s hard to believe that I have been back in the U.S. (if you can call Miami the U.S.) for about two years...

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by Stephanie Best

VeniceThe whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K Chesterton 

It’s hard to believe that I have been back in the U.S. (if you can call Miami the U.S.) for about two years now. At times, I really miss having the freedom to go on the weekend and long holiday break excursions as often. So far, 2019 has been a particularly trying year for me personally, so when I realized that my schedule lined up so that I would have about a three-week break between my summer and fall semester obligations, I knew I needed to get away and explore some new places. I know that I will likely not always have these opportunities, so when the opportunity arises, I like to take full advantage of like two weeks in Italy. 

“Foreign Land” in the United States

The privilege of living, teaching, working, traveling, serving, and studying abroad has been essential is shaping my worldview, career trajectory, research, and passions. Being afforded the opportunity to step back into the U.S with a new lens as a “foreign land” has shaped me to be more empathetic and effective in serving diverse immigrant and refugee populations in my own “home” country. When I was considering options of where to travel, I knew I wanted to spend a significant amount of time exploring Italy. The opportunity to explore my own Italian heritage and explore new towns and cultures was a big draw. So two weeks in Italy it was. 

He who would travel happily must travel light.” – Antoine de St. Exupery

Before leaving, many of my friends and family were stunned to hear what little semblance of an actual plan I had. They were shocked that I’d be living out of a small backpack for a month, and with the small budget I was working with.” 

However, the way I see it, I would never have to leave my home state of Florida to hang out with other Americans in ritzy hotels. There is nothing wrong with vacationing this way, but there is a big difference between vacationing and traveling. The goal of a vacation is to relax and rejuvenate. The goal of traveling is to broaden one’s horizons and be immersed in a new and different culture. Still, trips can be a mix of both. Although I see myself as more of a “backpacker,” there are definitely times when I no longer choose to do everything in the absolute cheapest manner. However, I hope to be able to share with you all the ways in which traveling can and should be affordable, accessible, and enjoyable to all as I walk you through my two weeks in Italy.

Stop One: Landed in CDG Paris Airport (Not Italy?)

CDG-Paris-Airport-terminl

Tip #1– You can often save a lot of money flying out of or into an airport that is not your final destination.  I’ll be honest, I made this mistake before. The first time I flew to Europe, I flew American Airlines from Nashville to Madrid for about $1500. This time around, I flew Miami-Paris (round trip) on Air France for under $300 (you live and you learn). Flights directly to Italy were running in the $500-$600 range.

Visited the Eiffel TowerWrote a Paper and Re-Visited the Eiffel Tower

Meanwhile, one can fly Ryan Air or Easy Jet for about €20-€30 from Paris to Italy (or half that if you’re willing to endure a long bus ride). I had intended to spend the night at a hostel in the Paris city center. However, when I arrived, I was not feeling well. I still had multiple assignments to finish for my grad school summer term classes. I rented a “sleeping cabin” at the international terminal to rest up and proceeded to spend fifteen hours researching and writing to finish the summer term. Luckily, I still had time to re-visit the Eiffel tower. I re-wandered Paris before heading back to the airport to catch my flight to Milan. 

Stop Two: Northern Italy and the Beginning of the Two Weeks in Italy

My first stop in Italy was to Milan. Travel is not always glorious. Unfortunately, I was still not feeling so great and it was raining hard. I spent most of my time in Milan planning the week ahead (vaguely), hooking up an Italian sim card to an old iphone (unlimited and fast data for €10; do not ever waste money on U.S. international plans), sleeping, and exploring the shopping district a bit. However, seeing as I travel with just a small backpack, by shopping, I mean window shopping. Still, Milan is a robust city with much to explore. It is one of the places that I wish I was able to spend more time exploring.

Verona

basilica of san zeno veronaNext, I took a train to Verona, a smaller city between Milan and Venice. The beauty of the Italian train system is that it allows for much spontaneity and flexibility as trains connect most major cities and come every 20-30 minutes or so. In Verona, I spent the night at a bed and breakfast. The host was extremely warm and welcoming and walked me through a map of the city highlighting the most important sites to see. In the smaller cities, English (and Spanish/other common tourist languages) are less spoken, so it was a great opportunity to practice speaking Italian. It was also a pleasure to wander off the beaten path a bit and enjoy a quaint little town, with some immaculate views. 

Venice

My next stop was Venice. I stayed at a hostel in the “Venice Mestre” residential part of town, as it was much cheaper and still very nice. This just meant that I was one ten-minute commuter train stop away from the tourist destinations (which was fine). My first night there, I just wandered around the narrow paths surrounded by canals. The second day, I realized how overcrowded Venice was.

The closest thing I can compare it to is Disney World in July. The vast majority of the people were tourists (mostly American, British, and Spanish), so that took away from the authenticity a bit. I found a Groupon to take a Gondola ride at a reasonable price! I really did feel like I was in line at the Magic Kingdom. The city had in a sense been turned into an amusement park. As such, I was unwilling to wait in line for hours upon hours for many of the sites.

I was able to attend most of the churches that I wanted to see by attending mass. Even if one is not Catholic, mass is open to everyone. As such, you can go to the churches at mass time and enter for free and not wait in line (which is pretty sweet). I was a little disappointed that I had to buy a t-shirt to be granted admission to the churches, which have a strict dress code. The sundresses that I brought all bore my shoulders. When I had visited Italy before, it was winter, so this was not as much of an issue. 

Two Weeks in Italy

Stop Four: Tuscany 

Exploring Tuscany was my favorite part of Italy. The history, architecture, wine, views, and culture was absolutely breath-taking. 

Bolognia

My first stop in Tuscany was Bolognia. I dropped off my backpack at a luggage holding service of the train station and spent a few hours exploring. I immediately noticed a strong contrast between the overcrowded streets of Venice and the day-to-day “normalcy” that I witnessed in Bolognia. The highlight of Bolognia was definitely exploring the old universities and wandering around libraries. Bolognia boasts the first university of the west, and I loved exploring the intellectual history of this city. 

Florence

Florence is absolutely breathtaking. As often as I travel, it has been a while since I have been truly awe struck, but Florence really did take my breath away. One could spend a week going through the art, churches, museums, and history. Here are some photo highlights:

Pisa

Honestly, the main thing to do in Pisa is to try to take this picture… 

Pisa

… and it’s harder than it looks. 

Siena

Stopping in Siena was a personal stop for me, as my confirmation saint is St. Catherine of Siena and I wanted to go to mass here. I also got to enjoy these gorgeous sites. 

Stop Five: Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast 

Rome

I have previously been to Rome, so it was just a pit stop. It was beautiful to be able to explore and pray at the Vatican. Again, the touristy spots in Italy are way overcrowded in August, so I’m glad that I had the prior experience of exploring Rome in January. 

Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi coast was my retreat. Look at these gorgeous pictures:

It was great to truly disconnect and wander around. Wifi and cell reception were not great, so I was able to enjoy the beach and the views, uninterrupted. 

Two Weeks in Italy Has Come to an End

After finishing up two weeks in Italy, I was off to Eastern Europe for a week, where more adventure awaited. If you loved my post about my two weeks in Italy then check out what I did on my summer adventure

 

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Top Five Things To Do in the City of Cape Town https://www.dreamsabroad.org/top-five-things-to-do-in-the-city-of-cape-town/ https://www.dreamsabroad.org/top-five-things-to-do-in-the-city-of-cape-town/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2019 11:00:25 +0000 https://www.dreamsabroad.org/?p=9233 by Edmond Gagnon If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Africa, you have to include a visit to South Africa. Specifically, the City of Cape Town. There is something there for all ages, whether a romantic getaway or a family vacation. Cape Town is one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. My...

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by Edmond Gagnon

edmond gagnonIf you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Africa, you have to include a visit to South Africa. Specifically, the City of Cape Town. There is something there for all ages, whether a romantic getaway or a family vacation. Cape Town is one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. My wife and I stayed for three weeks and still weren’t able to do everything on our list. 

As with most places we visit, we try to stay in a central location specifically so we can explore on foot and submerse ourselves in the local culture. In the City of Cape Town we had no problem securing an Airbnb that was about a fifteen-minute walk to the harborfront. Our rental was in a high-rise building with a huge balcony and a great view of the cruise ship terminal. 

Locals Were Friendly and Helpful in the City of Cape Town

cape town map

For a major city, we found it altogether safe and easy to negotiate our way around. Locals generally kept to themselves, but were friendly and helpful. Our accommodations were great, and we found a huge variety of craft beer, local wine, and delicious food. A pub called Fireman’s Arms was right next door. The food was awesome and more than one pizza made its way up to our balcony for dinner. The South African currency was at a steep discount to the U.S. Dollar – everything was cheap.

Hop On-Hop Off Tours

After a couple days of acclimatizing and pounding the pavement, we signed up for the Redbus — Cape Town’s version of a double-decker, open-top tour bus. They offer one and two-day tours of the city and beyond, taking you up Table Mountain as well as along the various coastal beaches on both sides of the southern tip of Africa. 

The Redbus was the best investment we made while in South Africa. All the major sites were included on the tour, with an option to get off at any stop. Getting back on another bus and heading to the next destination was a piece of cake. There’s no limit as to how many times you can get on and off the buses, and if you’re only interested in sightseeing then just sit back and enjoy the scenic ride. 

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

I’ve seen famous waterfronts in cities like Venice, Nice, Lima, Seattle, and Boston, but none compare to the natural beauty and abundance of things to do at the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town. It is a working seaport and cruise ship terminal and it’s also a safe harbor for all types of sailing or pleasure craft, as well as tour boats. 

waterfront cape town

Local Aquarium

There is an aquarium with local Sea Lions that lounge on floating platforms in the sun outside the building. In addition, the area has cruises and water sports of every kind you can imagine, a giant ferris wheel and play area for toddlers, and a variety of restaurants and food booths offer everything from hot-dogs to fresh seafood. There is a giant shopping mall that has movie theatres. Other warehouse-type buildings house crafts, souvenirs, and food stalls.

Walk or Bike Your Way Around

You can safely walk the entire waterfront or rent a bicycle if you’d rather pedal your way around. Maps and historic walking tours are available. Cruise ships and watercraft from all over the world come to visit the City of Cape Town. We ate lunch and dinner at two unique places that stand side-by-side on the boardwalk: Mitchell’s Scottish Ale House for craft beer and calamari, and Perrymans for a steak dinner. Both historic places have great patios for people watching, entertainment, and excellent food. 

Table Mountain

No visit to Cape Town would be complete without a trip to Table Mountain. It is the monumental centerpiece of the city, and of South Africa. The location and height make it especially visible from everywhere. It even creates its own weather patterns: on certain days you can see the ‘table cloth,’ a fine layer of cloud that blankets the flat top of Table Mountain. There are many ways to gain access, and you can hike up if you’re in shape. We made it one of our stops while on the Redbus.

city of cape town africa

The Views Are Jaw-Dropping

From the bus stop, a revolving cable car takes you to the top of the mountain. Once there, the views are jaw-dropping. Tourists jockey for position to get the best selfies, with some stupidly climbing out onto cliffs that drop thousands of feet. The top of Table Mountain is about two miles long and most of it is accessible by walking paths that offer scenic views of Cape Town and both coastlines. It’s an overall easy hike along the boardwalks and marked walking trails. One company offers rappelling if you’re looking for a different way to get down. 

colorful houses Bo-Kapp neighborhood

Downtown in the City of Cape Town

Whether you like to walk, ride a bike, or bus around town, Cape Town is easy to navigate. Streets run in a grid pattern that is easy to follow on a tourist map. Long Street is the main artery that is chocked full of bars, restaurants, and unique shops. A must-see is the famous Bo-Kapp neighborhood, with its multi-colored row houses. You’ll find beautiful wall murals throughout the downtown.

cape town market

Neighborhoods Offer Different Vibes

Different neighborhoods offer different vibes. The 17th century Castle of Good Hope gives you a glimpse of military life in the early days. A huge street market lies just outside the fort, though, and is across the street from the historic City Hall. Behind that you’ll find shaded markets on cobbled pedestrian streets. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, there are huge inner-city parks to stroll, hang out, or picnic in. 

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden takes up the eastern half of the city. Nestled in a lush valley on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, it’s easily the most beautiful botanical garden I’ve ever seen. There are thousands of acres of unique fauna, wild and manicured gardens and lawns, and easy walking paths that you can spend the whole day exploring.  

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

We enjoyed the canopy skywalk, a man-made bridge that takes you up and over giant trees, where the park views are undeniably breathtaking. The different varieties of plants and trees have name tags, some only native to South Africa. There are colorful butterflies and exotic birds fluttering about the gardens and singing in the trees. On one path, an old tortoise about the size of a bowling ball held up pedestrian traffic. 

We Highly Recommend the City of Cape Town in South Africa

The City of Cape Town in South Africa is a place we’d easily return to and definitely recommend to fellow travelers. It is clean and safe and easy to navigate. Taxis and Ubers were plentiful and cheap. There is convenient access to buses and trains that go to surrounding areas like the various beaches and wine regions. The people were very nice and helped us if we need anything. We will be back in the future to explore the City of Cape Town in South Africa more in-depth.

If you enjoyed this travel blog post you can read more from Edmond Gagnon at:  www.edmondgagnon.com

 

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