Reflections on a Trip up the Coast

My family back in Venezuela has this tradition of traveling to at least one place we don’t know every winter for a vacation. Many times we return to places that we know and like, but we always reach a new destination. With me studying in the U.S., this year was the first time we wouldn’t spend Christmas and New Years together.

So I decided to embark on a trip and continue this tradition. What I found in Big Sur — about eight hours north of San Diego — was much more than what I was looking for.

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On Being Alone

At SciencesPo, my university here in France, we’ve just finished our orientation week; a week filled with non-stop socialization from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. After each long day, I’ve taken the elevator up to my floor and walked inside my room to find the deafening silence of my apartment.

The gentle hum of my mini fridge coupled with the rhythmic chugging of the fast train outside my window are the only sounds here. I live in an 18-square meter flat in a student residency about a minute’s walk from the central train station and a three minutes’ walk to the closet bar.

But surprisingly, human voices are few and far in between.

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Mindfulness in Rome

I am sitting on a covered rooftop balcony in Rome, Italy reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade-Meng Tan, an exploration of the benefits of mindfulness and self-awareness. Tan explains the phenomenon he calls “Expensive Food Meditation,” where people tend to appreciate expensive food more and take their time. He argues that if we treated every meal as we treat expensive meals, we would be much more satisfied and happy.

When I reflected on this, I realized this is how people treat foreign countries versus their own countries. What we become familiar with, what we believe to be mundane and everyday, becomes gray in our minds. When places are new, fresh and expensive to get to, those are the places about which we appreciate every little detail.

I, myself, am guilty of this. Yet being abroad has made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place as great as San Diego.

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My First Christmas in San Diego

There’s probably nothing worse then spending Christmas — or any holiday — away from your family. For me, studying in the U.S., it was actually the first time that I had to spend Christmas away from home and away from my family. Although I first thought that this would be an unpleasant experience, I was really surprised by the multiple things San Diego offered during Christmas time that made me feel less homesick.

It is really hard not to notice all the things that are missing when you move to a new place and how everything is different. For me it was quite an interesting experience because I spent most of my Christmas holidays in my native Senegal and then started celebrating them in Canada when I moved there for school.

My first Christmas in the United States was thus very different from my previous experiences in Senegal and in Canada.

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Learning A New Language Is Like Climbing the Highest Mountain

After a young friend and I finally went through the hassle of our home state’s airport check-in process a few months back, we began to discuss what crosses we would bear once  we began classes at the University of Haifa International School in Israel.

Now mind you, she and I had to already overcome several obstacles during the process of planning our study abroad adventures. Here, I will digress a little and offer an example of a challenge I had to face in order to achieve the goal I’d set for myself.

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The Beginning of Adulthood

To start from the beginning, my journey in the U.S. started in January, 2016. I was enrolled in pre-master’s language class at the American Language Institute (ALI) to prepare for my Graduate Record Examination. However, such place is good only if you are ready for studying on your own, because you are the only one who needs it. Without any extra effort you can get a certificate from Language School easily, but it does not give you a chance to pass other exams needed for applying to grad school.

People there were nice. Teachers were all adorable, interesting people, who were always ready to help you with any question.

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Christmas In Nazareth

Known as “the Arab capital of Israel,” Nazareth is the largest city located within the country’s Northern District. However, Nazareth is also one of the most historic places for those who focus in biblical history. It is that biblical history that I, along with a couple of friends from the University of Haifa International School, went to explore during the Christmas holiday season.

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Finding Identity in the Tribe

We began this journey to Thailand as a group of very different individuals; while we were all under the same cultural umbrella of SDSU, each of us came from a separate walk of life that was unique from the rest of the group. The beauty of study abroad is that it unites people who are unlikely to make an effort to hang out with one another outside of the trip, and pushes them to get to know each other.

And it is for this reason that we developed such a tight bond.

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Christmas in Scandinavia, New Year’s in Prague

This year I was not able to go home for the holiday season, and wanted to do something extra special because of it. Therefore, at the last minute, I decided to book an excursion to Scandinavia that included a cruise to four cities: Helsinki, Finland; Saint Petersburg Russia (visa free!); Tallinn, Estonia; and Stockholm Sweden. This was a student trip led by an organization in Germany, so I got a steal for what I did!

I also went to Prague for New Year’s to visit a few SDSU friends who were also studying abroad. What an experience to celebrate New Year’s in the second most popular European city to visit for the occasion.

Below are a bunch of pictures from my travels, as well as descriptions to give you a little bit of background.

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