Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Graph That Explains It All, More Cheese, and FRICK It’s Almost The End !!!

So lately I’ve noticed that my levels of happiness, sadness, and excitement have all been doing something like this:

That’s right, folks, they’ve been following a general upward trend and are currently at their peak levels.

So… what does this, like, mean, exactly?

Well I’ll tell ya.

It means that I’ve been here for long enough to master the train / metro / tram schedules (AKA I’m no longer embarrassed to run through the gare); to know how to eat lunch for under 7 CHF (thanks to Migros tabouli!); to learn to not eff up “la bise” when I meet new people (although barely); to feel comfortable yelling at my host siblings to stop talking while I’m stuck in a very tall tree (lol); … to feel like I’ve really taken root in this community.

It also means, though, that I’ve been here for long enough to have almost reached the end of this incredible adventure, and that I’ll soon have to say adieu to the stunning mountain-lined lake views; to eating my lunch at the Chateau de Nyon with my friends; to hearing Céleste call me her “Kiri en sucre,” or to Elias call me “Petit Patt” (neither of these really make sense, even for a fluent French-speaker, so don’t worry if you’re confused)… and it truly makes me so, so sad to think about.

What about the excitement that’s also rising tho?

Duh: I’m coming home soon! Home! Parents! Alexis! Dog! Friends! Adams Peanut Butter! Freedom to be impolite AF at the table! I am genuinely so looking forward to being back 🙂

So basically my POINT here is just to say that my current mental state is becoming increasingly saturated with some very strong and seemingly contradictory emotions which are leaving me feeling like this kid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsMLeqfX2y4

For now, though, I’m STILL HERE, and want to take full advantage of that. I’m sure I’ll write a post after I leave to honor the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve come to know and love, but for now, how’s one more “what have I been up to lately?” post sound?

On y va !

The weekend after Nice started on a Thursday. A few friends and I decided to spend our day off in Rolle, a lakeside town in between Lausanne and Geneva. We laid on the beach, ate some pistachios, swam a little, and (most notably) got FRIED by the sun. We each got a stern talkin’ to from our host families upon coming back home that evening (apparently severe sunburns are seen as signs of being uneducated in Switz… ooops).

Carelessly getting torched by that high-elevation sunshine with Zoë

As if that wasn’t enough for that day, though, I ended up worsening my physical state when I leapt in the air and twisted my ankle while playing in the garden with Elias (it is still not back to normal and it’s been 3 weeks… should I be worried, or…?).

Elias took the liberty of documenting the aftermath of my injury

The next day I (BRAVELY) limped to the train and took a BlaBlaCar to nearby Annecy, France with Izzy, where I learned exactly where I want to vacation, raise my children, and retire. We spent the day walking (read: limping) through a beautiful outdoor food market, where we sampled enough cheese, saucisson, and macarons to warrant skipping lunch (not that that stopped us from purchasing and eating a massive hunk of gruyère, some truffle brie (!!!!!!!!!!!!!), an avocado, a tomato, an entire baguette, and 6 macarons tho!!).

Izzy and I’s favorite day ever probably

They call it the “Venice of the Alps” for a reason!!

Utter Perfection :’)

After picnicking in the park, we rented a peddle boat (surprisingly okay for the ankle, thanks for asking!) and floated upon one of the most stunningly turquoise / clear / clean lakes I’ve ever seen.

Annecy has and always will have my heart

Izzy and I spent the next day back in Switzerland with Anne, Elias, and Céleste. Together, we ate sushi beneath a Japanese Maple Tree in an arboretum looking over the constantly-visible, ever-impressive Swiss mountains.

Izzy and Anne walking through a stunning Swiss meadow, post-sushi picnic

Izzy and Ema under a Japanese Maple, loving life

It was one of those “is this even real life?” perfect sets of days.

One semi-boring-but-never-that-bad-because-I’m-in-good-company week at my internship later, I boarded a plane to head to Munich (or “München” as I, an experienced traveler, like to call it 😏) where I met up with ***fellow Whittie Lukas Koester!!!***

Lukas and I showing off our Munich pride!!!

Munich was a beautiful, vibrant, and distinct city; seeing the 11 o’clock Glockenspiel show, partaking in various Springfest activities, and petting many small, expressive German dogs contributed to an excellent experience; however, by far the best part of it all was the family we stayed with while we were there. Lukas happens to have some family friends who are native to Munich; they were gracious enough to offer up a room in their apartment downtown.

The Glockenspiel in Marienplatz

Ahhh unbridled tourism… <3

However, this family did so much more than house us. They took it upon themselves to guide us through the city, provide us with expert beer and meal recommendations (MANY sausages, MANY pretzels, SO GOOD), take us to a very *ahem* “interesting” 90’s-themed club, and send us home with more souvenirs than I have ever owned in my life. This trip more than anything inspired me to want to pass forward this generosity when hosting visitors; it is truly what made the trip as special as it was.

The following weekend was the weekend of May 6th, AKA the weekend I had been looking forward to for months, AKA the weekend that I passed up going to Venice in order to stay in Switz AKA the GRUYÈRES CHEESE FESTIVAL !!!

Evan, Evan #2, and I spent the day sampling cheese, watching alpenhorn street performances, and (mostly) pinching ourselves to confirm that we weren’t in fact dreaming up the views that surrounded us. Gruyères was S T U N N I N G.

Le Chateau de Gruyères

Of course cheese town happens to also be heaven…

Cheeeeeese

Killer hike to make it up to this beauty, but WORTH IT

This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, and I am so happy I got to see it before leaving this country.

During all this time, my classmates and I had been working on our final projects of the semester: 20 page research papers on some topic related to the field of our internship institution. Naturally, my paper covered complementary currencies (see previous post about Monnaie Léman for clarification). I won’t go too far into the details, but essentially I discussed something called credit clearing systems and argued that this interest-free lending model (seen also in Islamic Banking, a very interesting subject that I encourage you to read up on!) has immense potential to contribute toward more equitable and more resilient banking and finance practices.

Although writing such a paper wouldn’t be at all too difficult to accomplish at Whitman, doing so here proved to be quite the challenge. When surrounded by so many beautiful sights, opportunities to travel at no cost (thank you SwissPass!), and amazing people, writing a paper does feel like a massive inconvenience. NONETHELESS I got it done, completed my presentation, and officially finished the semester a little under a week ago.

To finish off the semester, part of my group went to Lugano this past weekend. This mini-trip, too, was beautiful and filled with delicious food, midnight swims in the lake, and AirBnB dance parties. I’ll miss these kids.

Crazy youths exploring Switzaly (Ticino)

The view of Lugano from the train station

The water was surprisingly warm, even at night!

Right now I have approximately 35 hours left in this country, and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s a pretty overwhelming feeling. I’ll go more into it in the next post, but, for now, all I can say is that I am so grateful to have had this experience. It has truly been life-changing.

And now: your fav part: your SWITZ MONEY-SAVING TIP!!!:

  1. STUDY ABROAD. So, like, this one might seem strange, considering studying abroad costs a hecka lotta moolah… however, you can’t forget about scholarships, aid, etc, of which there are many. More than scholarships, though, the thing that I feel made the biggest difference in cost was the expertly planned, highly efficient nature of the program. Having a host family, for example, allowed me to live in a beautiful home and enjoy home-cooked meals that I DEFINITELY could not have afforded otherwise (not to mention the potential to create a strong familial bond <3). Traveling to Greece was effortless; our apartments, museum tours, boat rides, hotel rooms, etc. etc. etc. were all organized and ready for us to use them. In Switzerland, being provided with SwissPasses (which allowed us to use any and all forms of public transportation, including bus, train, tram, metro, boat, in all of Switzerland without limit) made travel insanely easy. The time that I would have had to spend planning out a trip like this would honestly render it infeasible out of sheer inconvenience. I genuinely feel like studying abroad is an extremely effective way to get your money’s worth out of your travels. Not to mention, I just earned 16 university credits. How ’bout it? 🙂

Well folks, that’s it for today, but tune in later for my final post, in which I will attempt to scratch the surface of what this experience has meant to me and will inevitably fail dramatically. 🙂

Til next time!

<3, Ema

Swiss Easter (Sweaster?), Monnaie Léman, & Kind People Everywhere

Written a few days ago, #s of days are a little different now, but you get the idea.

It’s been exactly 83 days since I last backed up my computer, which means it’s been exactly 83 days since I boarded a plane and left the USA. I cannot believe how quickly it’s all going by (or the fact that I left my external hard drive back home! crazy and reckless!!) and how short 83 days can feel.

Though the first sentence of this post directly contradicts this, I noticed the other day that I’ve reached the point in this trip where I’m no longer counting the days that have passed and have instead begun to count the days that I have remaining: 33 days until I leave Switzerland; 50 until I fly home. It kinda feels like I’ve been walking backwards until now, watching everything pass by, until suddenly turning around to face forward and seeing a cliff 30 meters away (did you catch my use of the metric system there? #international).

A cliff, though, implies that leaving this place will be a purely painful experience, and this is not at all the case. Don’t get me wrong; saying goodbye to my little Swiss life will be CRUSHING. But, at the same time, I am really beginning to miss my home. Seeing the flowers in bloom here reminds me of Whitman’s duckling-dotted campus in the spring; watching my host family interact (even hearing Elias and Céleste bicker) makes me miss being with my own family (i.e. annoying Alexis); and, finally the thing which I am missing perhaps most of all, is my beloved Adams Crunchy Peanut Butter… <3 Being here is making me appreciate Europe a whole lot more than I ever have, but it’s also making me appreciate how exceptional my life back home is.

I’ll be home before I know it, and that’ll definitely come with a whole storm of emotions… but until that day comes, I’m going to really try to be present and relish in the experiences I am having here, now. Speaking of which, why don’t we transition into discussing what I’ve been up to as of late in this great and faraway land? Let’s begin where we left off: Easter. 🙂

Though we had a long weekend to travel, I decided to stay in Suisse to spend the time with my host family and their extended family. The way that we celebrated was actually very similar to the way I usually celebrate back home. We decorated eggs, sought the chocolates the easter bunny had hidden, ate said-chocolates, had a beautiful family meal, and went on a long walk together.

One of the most memorable parts was definitely decorating the eggs. Anne & the fam taught me a whole new method, and it’s SO pretty and SO cool and SO fun. Definitely something I’m going to do again.

Pinterest-worthy egg decorating prep with Anne & Céleste

To begin, Céleste and I went into the garden to collect some small flowers, leaves, and clovers while Anne heated up large pots of water and natural dyes (one of the dyes was made using only onion skins!). We then spent some time dipping the plants we had gathered in a bit of water and sticking them to the shells of the raw eggs in whatever pretty pattern we wanted. Using cut up stockings and string, we were able to secure the flowers into place. When we were ready, we placed the eggs in the pots of hot, dyed water to boil, cook, and beautify!

When we removed the eggs from the dye and peeled away the stockings and flowers, each bore a beautiful little flower and leaf design on its shell. It was so sweet.

Easter itself was spent at the home of my host grandparents in Fribourg, the city that divides the French- and German-speaking parts of Switzerland. We began the day with an easter egg hunt, which, though similar to those typical to the US, was different in a couple key ways. First, there are no plastic eggs to speak of (only real & chocolate ones). Second, the end goal is actually to find your specific nest (which is basically a huge pile of chocolate labeled with your name and hidden under a bush).

After being introduced to this Swiss version of Easter, I realized that I had never really considered just how wasteful the plastic-riddled Easters that I’ve grown accustomed to are. As much as I love cracking open a bright green plastic egg nestled in some hot pink plastic hay to access the goodie inside, working with real eggs & chocolate nests just makes so much more sense. I’ve been converted!

Post-Easter lunch walk through Fribourg

The sweetest part of this fine Sunday occurred as my “host grandfather” distributed to each of the 4 young kids an empty paper bag (to be used to carry all of the Easter Nest chocolates they were about to discover); to my great surprise, he handed me one as well. I must have looked a little confused because he smiled and said (in French), “I think that the Easter Bunny might have left you something too.” And sure enough, after much searching, I discovered a mound of chocolate labeled “Ema” under a shrub in the garden. It was simultaneously very funny and so unbelievably KIND that they included me in this part of the festivities. 🙂

Fribourg with the host fam

TL;DR Easter ROCKED and I am beyond glad I joined a program that involves host families.

Following Easter weekend came (you guessed it) the WEEK-week. My peers and I now only attend one class, once a week, and instead fill our time participating in the internship portion of the program. Five of us are interning at Monnaie Léman, a non-profit organization that has created a complementary currency for the Lake Geneva region on Switzerland and France. I won’t go too much into detail about this, but, in essence, they’ve created a new unofficial tender (available in cash and digital form) which can only be used for transactions at local and sustainable businesses. Think visa gift cards for the local economy. The main goal is to promote the sustainable, cooperative, and solidarity-driven growth of the local economy. It’s honestly a really cool organization, and I find the work that they’re doing to be interesting relevant to what we’ve been studying throughout this program.

As interns, our involvement so far has been relatively minimal. On one hand, I understand, seeing as there’s only so much we could actually learn and accomplish within a 5-week time period; however, I wish I were being pushed to use and improve my skills just a little bit more. On the plus side, the five of us are having a great time sharing an office together in Geneva! 🙂

I’ve been trying my best to take full advantage of my time outside of the office, especially now that the sun is beginning to shine more. Over the past two weekends, for example, I’ve gotten the chance to travel to two really cool spots: first was to Zürich with my host family, then to Nice, France with two of my good friends from the program, Izzy & Zoë. Both trips were unREAL and made me feel so so so lucky to have such cool people here with me. As much as I’m sure you’re all super curious about how I spend every second of my life, this post is already the length of a 6 page double-spaced paper, so I’ll have to leave you only with some vague bulleted lists of the highlights of each city and some STUNNING photos to summarize these little vacays.

Zürich:

  • A long walk through multiple parks bursting with flowers
  • Going to the Kinderzoo & riding an elephant
  • Swimming in a pool on the roof of a very tall building downtown !!! WHAT !!!

Zürich: Scared but worth it to hang out with Elias and Céleste <3 (nervous laughter)

Kinderzoo in Zürich! What cuties

Spring in the process of springing, Zürich

Nice:

  • “Discovering” a beautiful waterfall at the top of a very large hill
  • Bread, pasta, gelato, curry, fruit, chocolate, avocado, and more crêpes
  • Laying on the most beautiful, mint-green, pebble-covered beach
  • Walking through outdoor markets selling herbs, crafts, jewelry, and flowers
  • Seeing the SUN and FEELING her warmth on my VISAGE
  • Literally everything
  • Making it to the airport on time :—)

Zoë and I next to the waterfall (photo creds Isabel Ashley)

Zoë and I exploring Old Town Nice (photo creds Isabel Ashley)

Izzy on a beautiful Nice beach

Found a hill and CLIMBED it to the top of Nice

I can’t believe flying to Nice for the weekend is something I was able to do. This just isn’t real life, I think.

Thanks for tuning in, once again, to my meandering and always late updates on my time abroad :))

Before I sign off, here’s your MoNeY sAvInG tIp Of ThE wEeK (plz don’t expect great things here I’m running out of tips idk what I’m doing even the Easter Bunny knows I’m still a child):

  1. Traveling as a group of 2 or more? AirBnBs are usually your cheapest bet. Going by yourself? A hostel is the way to go.* When booking, make SURE that the AirBnB / hostel / whatever has a kitchen. This is what allows you to COOK your own food, which will save you MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars !!!                                                                           *usually

À bientôt <3

Ema

Back in Suisse: Alt. Finance, Surprise Soirées, & Freddie Mercury’s Fav Town

I’m not even going to look at the date of my last post… needless to say, I’ve been MIA for a WHILE. So why don’t we try to catch ourselves up a bit, huh?

The last time I blogged, I was in Athens, having returned from an unforgettable trip to Crete and relishing the beauty, hospitality, and affordability of Greece. In the days that followed, my group and I continued to explore Athens, discovered the best falafel ever, learned a TON about the Greek financial crisis, visited the Acropolis, and got to know one another super well. Leaving Greece was definitely tough, and it didn’t help that Switzerland was waiting for us beneath a fresh layer of snow; nonetheless, I was excited to return to the incredible landscapes and homecooked meals that awaited me.

It’s now been just over three weeks since I got back to Lausanne. In that time, mine and my group’s routine has remained pretty consistent: For three hours in the morning, half of us take a French class, and the other half (myself included) attend a class on alternative financial systems (where everyday a different guest speaker comes in and discusses anything from Impact Investing to Islamic Banking to Bitcoin). After a long lunch break, the group as a whole returns to the classroom for another three hours to learn about research ethics. At 5pm, we are free to go back to our respective villages / cities along the lake to spend time with our host families and relax.

Lunch between classes at the castle in Nyon

Though the days can be long (especially with a one hour commute each way), they aren’t too difficult, and I’ve genuinely found almost every lesson interesting. I feel like the material we’re being presented is extremely relevant, which is a nice change from the often outdated graphs and theories I’ve encountered in traditional econ classes. The combination of learning about these non-mainstream / up-and-coming / alternative economic systems along with the opportunity to meet passionate individuals who are directly involved in each field has been extremely effective in influencing my way of thinking. I am now more than ever convinced of the financial, social, and environmental benefits of impact investing, or eco-innovation, for example. I now feel like I could actually contribute something of worth to a conversation about digital security, or the future of the blockchain, or the function of complementary currencies. And that’s super exciting!

The walk to class in Nyon

In addition to school, much of my time over the past few weeks has been spent with my host family. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that they were “better than cashmere,” and that verdict stands truer than ever… I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have been placed with such a genuinely caring, highly talented, and ridiculously fun group of people.

Céleste in the midst of explaining her theory of why she and I HAVE never and WILL never find a 4-leaf clover.

We’ve done a few distinct activities together (like going to a super cool aqua center / water park in Bern, or making some extra AF neon cupcakes, for ex.), and those have been super fun. But the part I’ve been loving the most is the experience of living with this family. Drowsily sharing Anne’s homemade bread (which Céleste insists is like eating a “brick,” but which I LOVE) and jam at breakfast, trying to teach each other jokes in our respective languages (turns out it’s v hard to explain what makes “knock knock” jokes funny… or maybe they just aren’t … ?), and taking turns with the aux cord while washing the dinner dishes (grace à Elias, voici the best 4 minutes and 24 seconds of your life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTY3LevaQQ0) are the moments that are forming this into a truly exceptional experience.

The makings of what would be so top notch sammies

That being said, there was one night that was particularly special: Anne’s surprise birthday party. The whole day was spent preparing: Céleste, Elias, and I made a “Happy Birthday” garland and polished glasses while the rest of the family, plus some friends, a few neighbors, and both sets of grandparents came over bearing tables, flowers, a coat rack, a projector, and god knows what else to set up. Anne’s favorite caterer, too, came over to prep what would be an incredible 5-course meal of salmon, asparagus and morel mushrooms, roasted chicken, risotto, and two desserts. When Anne came home, there were about 30 people hiding on her balcony waiting to surprise her.

That evening, I talked at length with some very sweet grandparents (one of my favorite activities), laughed over a presentation of Anne’s childhood photos, and danced to 80’s French hits (see link from two paragraphs ago) with my host siblings until 3am (!!!). This evening reminded me of my own large family gatherings and made me feel closer to home than ever.

The view from my Lausanne home

Basically, my host fam ROCKS. So much so, that I’ve taken it upon myself to single handedly market the west coast as the best place on earth (like “manifest destiny,” minus the imperialist and chauvinistic attitudes that drove it… so actually not at all like manifest destiny) to make them visit me after I leave.

And yet, I do at times decide to leave the house for reasons other than school, which, considering how fun the other kidz in my program are (and the fact that we’re in Switzerland???), is easy to enjoy. Earlier this week was definitely a highlight: I, along with some friends, decided to take the 30 minute train to Montreux, a city situated at the end of the lake and home to that famous castle that always pops up when one googles “Lake Geneva” (because everyone’s googled that a few times, right?). Following a lunch of $16 hamburgers (a very average price for this place, despite not including fries or anything!! coming back to US prices will be a TREAT), we walked over to that very chateau, exploring the city on the way.

THE Chateau de Chillon in Montreux

Montreux is absolutely breathtaking. The clear blue water, colossal mountains, multitudes of colorful flowers, and (somewhat bizarre and yet still stunning?) palm trees lining the roads combine to create an almost suspiciously perfect scene. If this place can look this unbelievable under an overcast sky, I can’t imagine what it must look like under a blue one.

Montreux

On the walk back to the train station, we stopped by a free museum called “Queen Studio Experience”: it turns out that Freddie Mercury, along with his bandmates, loved Montreux so much that they recorded SEVEN of their albums here!! First of all: I get it 100%. I, too, would record seven of my albums in this stunning lil slice o’ heaven. But also: what a strange and specific addition to Montreux’s legacy! As if this place couldn’t get any cooler.

Montreux

Notice the palm leaf peaking out on the left!

So there it is! And, yes, the past few weeks have involved more than all that you’ve just finished reading (I also went to Milan, for example! PS I really don’t like Milan, but this isn’t the time or place to talk about that !!), these experiences nicely describe the gist of it. I won’t lie — it’s been a little bit exhausting to be in class for six hours a day, to speak only french at home, and to fit in traveling amidst all of it; however, the LEARNING, personal GROWTH, and MEMORIES these experiences have been providing me with are making this one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

Lausanne by the Lake

Le Jet d’Eau in Geneva

This weekend I’ll be spending Easter with my host family in Fribourg; we’ve already started prepping, and I’m sure I’ll write about all that next time. Until then, though, here’s your long awaited SWITZERLAND-IS-EXPENSIVE-HOW-DO-YOU-SAVE-MONEY-TIP:

  1. Stay organized & BUDGET: Wanna know the REAL reason I’ve been neglecting my blog? It’s because I spend all my time BUDGETING. (Not saying that’s an excuse, but like… at least it’s not instagram?) (Ok it’s also because of instagram.) But in all seriousness: writing down how much money I have, how much money I need to save for future spending, and how much money all of my potential activities (i.e. travels) would / should cost, etc.!! has allowed me to enjoy my time here without stressing nearly as much about money. It’s allowed me to plan upcoming trips to Nice, Munich, and all over Italy, while knowing exactly how many times per week I can splurge on a sandwich from La Gourmande. BUDGETING = FRANCE AND SANDWICHES. Don’t forget it.

And with that, I leave you all to your respective lives, until my next post, which will hopefully be written sometime this millenium.

À bientôt et merci !

<3, Éma

GREECE: Cheese pies, islands, and lots of photos

Kalimera / Kalispera (depending on your timezone) everyone !

I’m gonna try to start this post differently than my others, so here’s a haiku:

Greece is the best thing

That’s ever happened to me

Mostly cause of food

(If you’ve seen any of my snap stories from this past week, you already know that my diet has been *d e c a d e n t* since I’ve gotten here. It’s been a pretty constant stream of souvlaki, gelato, feta cheese, and shrimp. I’m so happy.)

Souvlaki

Easily the best gelato I’ve ever had

In addition to the food, this first week in Greece has truly been one of the best weeks of my whole entire 20 years and 10 months on this earth !!! I won’t lie, though: the prospect of writing about even half of all I’ve done / seen / learned / eaten this past week is pretty daunting. But, hey, if my two biggest problems right now are that I have too many cool things to write about, and that I’ve spent all my money on gelato and handmade pottery, then I really have nothing to complain about. 🙂

So, what exactly happened this week? Read on !!!!

After landing in Athens, we were taken to our apartments. And OMG. Our apartments are A C T U A L L Y in the most incredible location in Athens. We are situated across the street from what appears to be the most popular bar in the city, next door to a gorgeous fruit / vegetable stand, around the corner from a 24/7 crêperie, down the street from a place that sells insanely good €2 souvlaki, and exactly 20 feet from the ORIGINAL OLYMPIC STADIUM. Seriously wondering who SIT had to blackmail to get this location…

After settling in, we were taken to eat a feast of traditional Greek cuisine that never seemed to end (one of the best meals of my life), and, the following day, began classes and excursions. We’re currently taking three classes, all based out of the College Year in Athens (CYA) campus: the first is a basic Greek language crash-course, where we’ve started learning the alphabet and some useful words / phrases for everyday interactions; the second is a research methods course, which provides us with tools to conduct primary research; the third (and most interesting) focuses on the Greek financial crisis.

Athens is beautiful — the orange trees that line the streets are so picturesque it hurts — but the really remarkable part of this first week started the moment we left Athens and embarked on our excursion to the island of Crete.

I’m gonna skip over the beautiful overnight boat ride (titanic-like, minus the sinking part), the first museum visit (very informative!), and the market scene in downtown Heraklion (fun, crowded, cheap, unique, beautiful) and jump right into DAY 2 of Crete. Day 2 is when things really got interesting.

The day began with the usual 7:30am wakeup call, quick breakfast, and hurried entry of the bus. Here “usual” should not be confused with “natural” or “easy,” as it was neither of those things and was in fact an “unnatural” and “hard” wakeup. But we made it on the bus and settled in for what would be one comically uncomfortable journey.

Now, I don’t want to brag, but I consider myself a kind of pro roadtripper. I’ve experienced some long, hot, carsick, boring drives in my day, and I can handle it. This drive was only two hours long, and yet, reached a whole other level of discomfort. The fact that I was sitting in the back of the bus was already rough; however, it would have been manageable had the drive not been the windiest, hilliest, rollercoastiest journey imaginable. My usual trick of watching the road to avoid nausea was rendered ineffective due to the impenetrable fog that surrounded us as we rose, fell, and spun on the road up a huge mountain. Somehow, we reached our destination without any emergency pullovers to the side of the road.

We were headed to the cave in which Zeus Himself was born. A 15 minute hike to the top of the mountain led us to a very long set of stairs that descended into a very large, very deep cave. This place was SOMETHING. The tall ceiling and meandering floor of the cave were covered with massive collections of stalactites and stalagmites, producing a surreal and almost supernatural atmosphere.

The stairs down Dikteon Cave

Inside Dikteon Cave

The view from inside the cave

We climbed up and out of the cave, and hiked down to a cafe where we were served a “snack” I’ll never forget: fried feta cheese pies covered in honey. We had apparently all forgotten that, in order to leave this mountain, we would have to experience the “bus drive from hades” (get it ???) again, because we each ate at least five of these ultra-rich pastries. It wasn’t until we returned to our seats in the bus that we realized what a bad decision that was.

Feta cheese pies with honey; delicious, but not ideal when trying to avoid carsickness

Needless to say, the bus ride back down the mountain was significantly more difficult than the ride up. One of the guys even had a small plastic bag on his lap ready to go the whole time, just in case his stomach decided to give in to the excessive nausea-inducing conditions of the journey. Despite — and, in fact, due to — the fact that half of us were ready to throw up, we couldn’t stop laughing. The combination of factors — the bus, the winding road, the fog, the fried cheese / honey combo — contributing to our collective queasiness was so exaggerated it almost seemed planned. To top it off, our next activity of the day was a boat ride to a nearby island. Amazingly, we reached the dock without ever having to use the little plastic bag.

The boat ride turned out to be anything but uncomfortable; this was actually the end of the upset-stomach-phase of the day and the beginning of my favorite part of this entire trip. A five minute ride through the clearest and most turquoise water I’ve ever seen took us to the tiny island of Spinalonga. Thanks to our wonderful guide, Hüseyin, we learned that this island was once used to quarantine people with leprosy. For us, though, this beautiful, crumbling fort represented only the coolest playground ever which we explored at liberty. I felt like a kid again as I crawled through holes in the bricks, ran beneath lush olive trees, and meandered through series of stairs, meadows, and rubble piles to reach the highest point on the island. I had so much fun.

Spinalonga from the boat

The journey to Spinalonga (feat. Paula)

The view from the shores of Spinalonga

The abandoned fort on Spinalonga

On Spinalonga — I’ll never have as much fun as I did here

The top of Spinalonga !!! (feat. Lizzy and Paula)

We sailed back to Crete and drove a short distance to the city of Agios Nikolaos, where we ate a waterside dinner before returning to Heraklion.

The view from our restaurant in Agios Nikolaos

Can you believe this is still Day 2 of Crete ??? Because I couldn’t !!

The following day was almost as eventful, with stops at an ancient palace, a pottery shop in the village of Margarites (where we got to watch an incredible pottery wheel demonstration), Lake Kournas (a few people were brave and swam in the cold water), and another beautiful port town for seafood and dangerously good frozen yogurt. That night, we boarded the ferry that took us back to Athens for Week 2 of our “Extended Excursion” to Greece.

History! Beauty!

Beautiful, brilliant pottery in Margarites

Jake and Anna were the first to enter the ice cold water at Lake Kournas

I was — and still am — so sad to leave Crete. It was honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And, though it was exhausting to have such packed days (even this very long blog post is skipping over so much), every stop was absolutely incredible. Traveling with SIT is enriching the experience in so many ways; I’ve gotten to see so many places I never would have known to visit, without having to worry about travel logistics, and with a group of 15 really cool people. It’s seriously u n r e a l.

I’ve got class tomorrow morning, so it’s time for me to sign off!

Before I go, here’s my SWITZERLAND MONEY SAVING TIP of the week $$$:

  1. Go to Greece. Just avoid Swiss prices by l e a v i n g. Everything is crazy cheap here. Very effective !!!

Tune in next time to hear about Athens, classes, falafel, and whatever else this week will bring!

ευχαριστώ for reading!

<3, Ema

Better-than-cashmere family, learning galore, and the best floating sauna ever

  1. Written on Feb. 12, 2018

Allô Bonjour Salut tout le monde !

It’s been a week and a half since I first made the trip from Paris to Geneva, and, believe it or not, I’m already on my way out! As I write this post, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Greece where I’ll stay, along with my fellow SIT participants, for three weeks. While there, we’ll study the Greek financial crisis, as well as some basic Greek language skills, all while exploring Athens and the island of Crete. After those three weeks, we’ll return to our respective Swiss homestays and continue taking classes in Nyon.

Obviously, I’m so excited to go to Greece. But, I have to say, I’m also pretty sad to leave Switzerland so soon, even temporarily. Despite the fact that it hasn’t even been two weeks, I already feel like I’ve adapted — and even become attached — to the new people, places, and routines I’ve come to know.

Let’s start with my host family.

How do I put this?

I thought that I had used up all my luck for the year when the $17 cashmere sweater I found in a consignment store was my size, but apparently not because this family is beyond amazing.

My host mom, Anne, teaches social work at the local university, buys only organic / seasonal / local foods, and hates cow’s milk (cut to seven-year-old me sobbing in class after learning that the so-called “snack” of the day was milk). Anne also has some really freaking cool kids!!! : sixteen-year-old Mael, fifteen-year-old Elias, and twelve-year-old Céleste. Each plays an instrument (flute, violin, and harp, respectively), a couple sports (capoeira, basketball, circus acrobatics, cross-country skiing, and more), and each has an incredible sense of humor. I have had so much fun getting to know them over this past week. The five of us (plus a cat whose name is ACTUALLY “Biotch”) share a stunning apartment in Lausanne with views of Lake Geneva and the neighboring cities. Oh, and they all speak French, allowing / forcing me to drastically improve my language skills.

In Vevey with the apparently too cool to smile Elias and Mael 🙂

Highlights of this first week with them have been a visit to an art museum in the (unrealistically beautiful) city of Vevey, a highly-improvised and very fun mini yoga session with Céleste, and a nighttime run to the Olympic Museum with Mael and his dad.

I was very sad to leave my lil family this morning, even for Greece, and I’m already looking forward to coming back to them in a few weeks. 🙂

In addition to #bonding with these wonderful people, I spent much of this past week in class. “Class” is a loose term here, as it’s so far consisted of seminars featuring highly accomplished guest speakers and excursions to international organizations and NGOs in the Geneva area. It’s all been fascinating.

Among the topics of discussion have been: the causes and complications of Brexit; trade facilitation through both the lens of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and that of the UN (both of which we visited); sustainable investing and green stock exchanges; financial and business solutions to sanitation crises around the world; complementary currencies (we visited an organization which produces a currency called the “Léman,” with a goal to encourage spending at local, sustainable businesses in the Lake Geneva area); economic relations between Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan (we were personally invited by the ex-ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to participate in internships in his country?!?); and more !!!

The coolest room in the Palais des Nations (UN Headquarters), Geneva

Outside of homestay / school life, I’ve had an amazing time exploring Geneva, Nyon, and Lausanne (the three cities on the lake where I’ve spent most of my time). On Friday, a family friend took me to a place in Geneva called “Bains des Paquis” for the evening. And oh my god, what an e x p e r i e n c e !

First of all, this place is located on Lake Geneva — not next to it: on it — because it’s all floating on docks! Though I didn’t know it when I got there, the Bains des Paquis experience involves a few steps. After getting changed into swimsuits (in 33ºF weather !!!) we began Step 1: the sauna. Amazing. Relaxing. Easy. Step 2 was a little harder. A speed-walk down the dock led us to to a set of stairs, which we descended in order to enter the pitch black 6ºC lake !!! (I didn’t even believe my friend when she told me this was happening but it h a p p e n e d). We stayed in the lake for approx. 7 seconds (would have been shorter if I could have exited the water more quickly, but my body froze up almost instantly and really slowed down the whole process), then hurried into Step 3: the steam-room. This is what makes Step 2 so worth it. The feeling of hot steam and warm water thawing your lake-chilled body is seriously magical; so magical, in fact, that we repeated Steps 1-3 once more before moving onto Step 4: the Hammam bath. After coating our bodies in a thick olive oil-based paste, we exfoliated our skin with rough cloths, and rinsed off with warm water. My skin has never felt softer, and I’ve never felt such a strong combination of relaxed and energized before.

In addition to this evening, my favorite moments have been spent climbing to the top of the Lausanne Cathedral (via a very steep spiral staircase — much scarier coming back down omg), walking through the old / winding / cobblestone streets, stopping by the “American Market” where you can purchase a box of Froot Loops for 17CHf (approx. $18!!!), and eating lots and lots of hot liquid cheese. :’)

In front of the Nestle headquarters in Vevey

Every day of this first week has left me exhausted and ready to crash at 7pm, but it’s the good kind of exhaustion that comes from hours of walking, learning, and expanding one’s worldview (!!!). And I love it.

Next time you hear from me I’ll be an expert in all-things Greece (lol), so check back in for that!

Until then, here are two more $MONEY SAVING TIP$$ for your travels to Suisse:

  1. Buy sandwiches ! Food in Switzerland is SO expensive, and it’s not always possible to cook / prepare your own lunch. I’ve found that the cheapest option is a sandwich from Migros grocery store, or even from many of the small bakeries around. Anything in a sit-down place will run at least 14CHf.
  2. Don’t feel obligated to spend money in order to participate in social activities ! I’ve definitely felt a sort of pressure to follow the lead of the group when it comes to buying food and drinks, but it’s super easy to have a great time without spending all your hard-earned franks. :-)))

And with that, I bid you all a good night!

~Ema

Abroad (Pre-Study): Iceland & France

Written on Feb. 2nd, 2018

I just finished rereading my last blog post and I’m really struck by how big of a difference two weeks has made in the way I view this trip. The details on which I focused so intensely before, like how many pairs of socks I should pack, or how I would stay awake in Reykjavik, or the logistics of catching all my planes / trains / buses, seem incredibly insignificant now. Will I learn from this and stress less next time? TBD!

Hello World! Today marks two weeks since I left my state, country, continent, and cOmFoRt ZoNe and it has been, how you say, “incroyable.”

Since my morning departure on the 20th, I have spent at least a day in nine cities (Reykjavik, Bréval, Versailles, Rouen, Paris, Marseille, Genève, Nyon, and Lausanne) in three countries (Iceland, France, and Switzerland). Although I’ve been trying my best (“my best”) to document every moment in my trusty travel journal, the reality is that there’s far too much happening to record it all, and thus, I have not. 🙂

So, here are some of the highlights of (the first 2 weeks of) my grande adventure so far!

Reykjavik was a strong combination of serene and surreal. I spent the majority of my brief time there trudging through the uniquely beautiful, impressively windy, and almost completely silent streets of the small city. I was shocked to learn that everything there is incredibly expensive (seriously couldn’t find a breakfast for under $20 and quickly learned how to really savor every bite of a meal) but I made do and had a wonderful time nonetheless.

Reykjavik

Splurged on ONE meal, panfried fish balls with potatoes, onions, carrots, arugula, and cucumbers. Ljúffengur!

By far my favorite moment of the trip was watching the sunrise at 10:30am from a steaming and almost empty thermal pool surrounded by piles of snow. The sensation of sitting in warm water while freezing winds blew on my face was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I loved it.

Reykjavik

Tied for second place were my visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum (!!!) and an Icelandic poetry reading (which I can only assume was good?) held at my hostel.

An early flight brought me from Iceland to France, where I stayed with some of my extended family for one very full week. I explored a new city / neighborhood / cathedral every day, ate cheese with every meal, and mastered the art of showering without a shower curtain (rlly grew a lot from that last feat). Among the highlights of the trip were:

A day at the Château de Versailles, where my cousin and I got lost — really lost — in Marie Antoinette’s gardens (no complaints there!);

An afternoon in a city called Rouen that, based on the narrow streets, cathedrals on every corner, and bakeries every 20 feet, made me seriously doubt that I wasn’t on a Disney movie set;

A weekend in Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast with my 20-something year old cousins Clément and Antoine. I was surprised by how different Marseille was compared to the other French cities I had visited. While it bore many stereotypical French characteristics, such as the architecture of the official buildings, its placement on the Mediterranean Sea transformed it into something completely unique. The climate was similar to that of parts of southern California — dry, warm, and sunny — and the colorful apartments and homes crowded on oceanside hills could have been featured in a “Twelve Months of Italy” calendar. I absolutely loved it.

My time in France ended almost a week ago and I’m still not over how amazing it all was.

La galerie des glaces, Château de Versailles

Le Grand Trianon, Château de Versailles

 

Rouen

Marseille

Marseille

Paris

This period was vraiment fantastique, but it was also highly transitional. There was a specific moment when I noticed that my seemingly constant state of awe and easy happiness was suddenly disturbed by another sentiment. I experienced an unexpected combination of unease, fear, and thrill that I can only assume stemmed from a sudden recognition of my new reality and represented the transition into my new environment. In that moment, I stopped viewing my travels as simple vacation and noticed myself beginning to adapt to this new, albeit temporary, way of life. It isn’t the most comfortable feeling in the world, to face the fact that you’ve just willingly left behind your community, routines, and, saddest of all, jars of Adam’s crunchy peanut butter for awhile… but it’s also incredibly exciting to feel completely out of your element and know that you’ll soon feel at home in an unfamiliar place.

I took a train to Geneva a little less than a week ago, where I met my fellow SIT participants and began orientation. Since then, I’ve started classes, made some friends, and gotten to know my host-family (I’ve also gotten lost in the world’s tiniest metro system, but that’s for another time). It’s definitely different than Whitman, but things have been going really well so far.

Before I conclude, here are 2TWO2 money-saving tip$ I learned throughout the aforementioned adventures (in case you didn’t read the “about me” page, I’ll be doing this in each post as part of a scholarship requirement):

  1. Shop for food at grocery stores when possible ! Not restaurants ! This saved my life (almost literally as I would have starved without it) in Iceland.
  2. Take advantage of friends / family ! In a good way! (?) I was only able to spend a week in France because I have family there, and I saved a lot of money that way. It was also 1000000x more fun 🙂

Thanks for sticking with me through this scattered — and very late — blog post. It’s crazy how much more difficult it is to write when I actually have things to write about…

Tune in next week for (finally) actual info about my study abroad program !!!

À bientôt,

Ema

The 3%, Beyoncé, and (4 and 3 and 2 and 1-1)

Tomorrow is the big day.

January 19th, 2018, is the DAY!!! … the day that I PACK.

Now, you might be thinking, “shouldn’t the ‘big day’ be the day that you leave?”

Well, dear readers, that was what I once believed, too, until I was faced with the massive responsibility that I anticipate to be a monstrous combination of mentally-and-emotionally-taxing-decision-making and physically-strenuous-labor that’ll last at least 12 hours That Is Packing.

I’m reminded of the Brazilian Netflix Original series 3% (if you’re unfamiliar, check her out, she will not let you down). I think that choosing what to pack will be a lot like The Process in that show: each of my belongings desperately fighting to make it to The Offshore (i.e. Europe), each willing to suffer (i.e. in my overstuffed bag) for hours, or even days, to secure a spot, each unabashedly trying to show how useful, how attractive, how versatile it is (i.e. not only can this sweater look cute and casual with jeans, it can also completely conceal sweat stains, making it ideal for a professional setting as well!) in the hopes that it will be included. In the end, only the most qualified 3% will make the cut, and the rest will be forced to return to their respective drawers / hangers, rejected and abandoned forever… (like, four-ish months). Hopefully this made sense to those of you that haven’t seen the show.

For a person like me, who likes to plan, and write lists, and be in total control, packing for such a huge and unfamiliar trip feels overwhelming. And it’s not just the packing that’s making my head spin; the logistics of getting to where I need to be, when I need to be there, with the proper supplies, and without spending all my money, feel complicated and (especially with jet lag added to the mix) exhausting.

My attempt at “preparation” and “control” has taken the form of many new apps for every possible situation. (“Morse Code” was not downloaded for travel purposes but, hey, you never know!) (I also downloaded the music video to Beyoncé’s “Grown Woman,” which IS for travel purposes.)

To better understand where I’m coming from, it might be helpful to know what “The Plan” is for the upcoming week / month / semester.

(Inhales):

On the morning of Saturday, January 20th, I’ll fly to Reykjavik, Iceland, where I’ve scheduled a stopover. My plane will land around 10:30pm PST that night, which will be 6:30am in Reykjavik. After two full days of solo travel (during which I still have no idea what I’ll be doing… museums? aurora borealis? sit in my hostel alone?), I’ll catch another early morning flight to Paris, where I’ll be picked up and housed by my great aunt Georgette and other family. I’ll spend about a week in France, then take a train to Geneva, Switzerland on January 31st to meet the SIT program leaders and fellow participants. We’ll get settled with our host families and begin classes. About a week and a half later, we will all board another plane and head to Athens, Greece, where we’ll stay for three weeks and take more classes. We’ll then return to the Geneva area, where I’ll continue taking classes and eventually do an internship until mid-May, at which point my program will officially end.

(If you’re waiting for the Exhale, so am I !!!)

I’m sure I’ll go into more detail about the actual “study” part of the study abroad in due time, but for now, I’m still just trying to figure out how I’ll manage four different types of currency in the span of two weeks!

By this point in the blog, I think I’ve made it clear that I’m feeling stressed, and scared, and already outside of my comfort zone, despite still being in my own bedroom. However, I think it’s important to mention that, in addition to all of this, I am really very excited to go. I’m excited for all the new landscapes and cities I’ll see, for the people I’ll become close to, for the (hopefully engaging) classes I’ll take, for the copious amounts of incredible food I’ll binge-eat, and for all the experiences I don’t even know about yet.

I’m even excited for the moments when everything will seem to go wrong, because those awful moments almost always turn into the best, most ridiculous memories. A brief example to demonstrate this theory:

A few weeks ago, in an attempt to parallel park in a spot that was “upstream” of where I was on a one-way street, I found myself parked entirely on the sidewalk of downtown Ashland. And when I say “parked entirely on the sidewalk of downtown Ashland,” I’m not talking about one of those “one wheel on the curb” situations. I mean that all four wheelswere parked. on. the. sidewalk. of downtown Ashland. (Don’t ask me how it happened, I refuse to do anything but blame it on the fact that my car is a stick shift.) And as I sat alone in my car, making eye contact with tens of strangers who had to walk around the large silver intruder sitting in their clearly marked territory, completely humiliated, I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous my current circumstances were. This mega-awkward, prolonged moment reminded me of something that would happen to Abbi Abrams (à la Broad City) on an average day. And I realized that, though it was pretty gosh darn embarrassing, it was also super harmless and ended up making for a pretty funny story (my mom loled hard when I called her immediately after it happened).

So, to end this inaugural blog post, here is my final thought: in this moment I am indeed stressed to the max; however, I’m ready to get out there and, as Beyoncé puts it, be a “grown woman” and “do whatever I want” (with responsibility and safety in mind, of course @Whitman!). And in those inevitable moments when that doesn’t work out and I find myself lost in a train station spilling trail mix out of my fanny pack, I hope to be able to recognize the humor in the moment and embrace it for just that reason.

The next time I blog I’ll be in a different continent and will (hopefully) have more to write about than pop culture references, so stay tuned! ~~

(Also wish me luck packing tomorrow, I will need it) :))))

‘Til next week,

Ema