Foreign Ventures and Practices in China

Foreign Ventures and Practices in China

Jet Lagged, Adjusting, and Classing

In early April, I was accepted to teach English in the People’s Republic of China by the China Educational Association for International Exchange. After going through several long, intense, daunting procedures, I hopped on a twelve-hour plane ride on Air China from Los Angeles to Beijing. Upon my arrival, I had a restful bus ride to the Beijing Commercial Business Hotel where I had to take a four-day Foreign Language Teacher course before training camp. Feeling very jet lagged, I got a good night sleep to get ready for the first day. During the TEFL course, we met with three US citizens who have a lot of teaching experience in China and learned the strategies they have used to help students improve their oral communication in English language and things that are important when adapting to the culture of China.

Foreign Teacher Training Camp

I already fulfilled my course requirements and it was time to go to Training Camp. The ten days of training in Northern Beijing was a grind with a tremendous amount of preparation. Every day, I learned to create my own lectures while following a textbook of what to teach. Every lesson required clear instructions, visible images, and activity objectives on power point slides. Another important factor was getting attention from the students, planning lessons every evening, and making the class a safe learning environment for everyone. Most of the teachings I have given to the top students who were selected to spend their summer at teacher training were:

  • Practicing oral conversations
  • Studying vocabulary words
  • Playing quiz review games

Every morning, our starting class strategy was Song of the Day. My co – teachers and I selected the songs that have touched our feelings and we welcomed students to share their thoughts on the songs we chose. It was a useful warm up to help our students be ready for their lessons and to think about how music influences our life in positive ways.

Day off for historical discovery

With a long week of teacher training, every foreign teacher had a day off to go to the Great Wall of China, and it was immensely magnificent. I took a cable car and climbed several steps to reach the top. The Great Wall is considered to be one of if not the most popular sites for tourists out of China’s urban areas. With the Great Wall of China having four different tourist sections, we ended up going to Mutianyu, since it was closer to where we were living. Some steps were easy to climb and some were slippery. The wall was created with different elevations of outdoor paths to reach different shades. Almost every indoor square of the wall had stairs to climb to the top to see other views of the wall and mountains. Eventually when it was time to leave, I rode a toboggan down the hill. It was a very smooth ride down the slide going fast and slow. Being on the wall was almost like walking on the wall of Ba Sing Se, which refers to one of my favorite childhood TV Shows Avatar The Last Airbender.

Foreign Teacher Orientation

Ten Days of teacher training in Beijing flew by very fast. After the closing ceremony, I hopped on a six hour train ride to Suzhou with other foreign teachers who were placed in the same district. Upon our arrival, we had one week of orientation. During that time, we met with experienced teachers from the United Kingdom and the USA to analyze strategies on classroom management, and ways to motivate students to learn a second language. Starting the week on a high note, we had our foreign teacher picture taken in front of the Suzhou International Foundation School, and talked about how life works in Suzhou, Jiangsu. In the middle of the week, we went on a field trip to the Mulberry Cultural Park in n the Wujiang District. At the park, we tie died our own pieces of quilt, and toured the exhibits of how soft quilt is designed. On the last day of orientation, I met my contact teacher and toured the Suzhou Xinsu Shi Fan Primary School, where I was placed to do my teaching.

Teaching Credentials

Suzhou Gardens and Temples

One thing that China has always been famous for is the spectacular settings of its gardens and temple designs. Every garden has its own design of Bridges going over the ponds, and other little hills and rocky steps to climb. Almost any or every pathway has a circular entrance leading to new parts of the garden. Other than plants and rocks, the gardens also have little temple designs to visualize artistic creativity from Chinese Artists. Suzhou, one of the main provinces in Jiangsu is home to one of the best gardens in all of China, along with temples that explain the history of a famous Chinese philosopher named Confucius.

Holiday/Dayoff/Weekend Adventures

Whenever I had time off from work due to National Holidays, day offs or the weekend, sometimes, I spent the days exploring China as much as I could. The train ride to Shanghai from Suzhou is approximately 30 to 45 minutes. During China’s 70th birthday, I explored the center of Shanghai in its famous skyscrapers and other outstanding exhibitions. Shanghai is one of the busiest and most crowded cities in China even though it is the second largest city behind Beijing. Shanghai Pearl Orient Tower is one of the most spectacular views in all of China. I took an elevator traveling 263 stories above the ground. Reaching the top of a circular narrow tower, I walked around the shining glass light that does not glow during the day. Every section of the floor had stations to charge phones. Much like any other skyscraper in the world, the Pearl Orient Tower is considered to be the most tourist spot in all of Shanghai and it is right next to the river where ocean and river cruises port. The Observation Tower is the second tallest skyscraper at the moment, just behind the Balk Kalif located in Dubai. Considering it is much taller than the Pearl Orient Tower, the views become much easier to see in any direction. The greatest thing about being in downtown Shanghai is there is a crossing bridge and underground tunnels connecting to the Metro and different malls leading to the top two landmarks.

Other than staring at incredible views in tall towers, I went to the China Art Museum and the Shanghai Aquarium, which both have very creative gallery designs. Both of these exhibitions start with an escalator up to one or two floors in the building. The coolest thing about the aquarium is standing on a conver belt that travels through a long tunnel of 168 meters to see different sea animals, even going through the mouth of a shark. The China Art Museum has numerous galleries shaped in the size of a square or a rectangle depicting sections of different artists and their art work. One of my favorite spots was next to a kids section where I saw paintings of traveling, and Disney.

Intrepid Jaunt

After teaching English came to an end, I went on a nine day jaunt in the mainlands, water towns, and the large cities in China. The trip began in Shanghai meeting at the Holland Hotel. After doing a little ice breaker activity, we had a delicious Chinese dinner at a local restaurant located three minutes away from the hotel. Spending the first portion of the excursion in Shanghai, we walked around the bund water front, which is directly across the river from the Pearl Orient Tower and one of the top tallest skyscrapers in the world. Then, we walked to the markets close to Yu Garden. Because the actual Yu Garden was closed for renovations, we decided to spend some time going up on the Observation Tower. Even though I have already done in the tower, it was a great to experience it during the day. Later concluding our day, we took a one hour bus ride to the Xitang Water Town. It is one of the smallest towns in China, very similar to Suzhou and Venice full of canal paths. We took a peaceful gondola ride around the town and visited several art exhibitions. Our hotel was right across the street from the town entrance.

It was time to travel to the main lands of the country. Our journey began with a long 15 hour train ride departing from Shanghai to Xian. Because the train ride was so long, we got to sleep on the beds of the train. They were very thin but I was able to get enough sleep. There are six beds per compartment of the train cars. The next morning, we arrived in Xian, dropped off our luggage at the hotel and explored the underground museum. The Han Yangling Museum has very low light to provide a visual analysis of the exhibitions. It shows the history of Xian through many different features. With our last day in Xian, we went to the pit palaces of the terra cotta warriors. The museum had multiple exhibitions depicting similar designs of the terracotta sculptures fighting in the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Empror of China. After a very delicious Chinese meal, we went back to town and walked to the Dacien Temple, the famous Buddhist temple for people to pray. Right next to it, there is a small art exhibition where we learned how Chinese artists do their paintings to exemplify their culture.

After two incredible days of exploring the central part of the nation, we took a four hour train ride to Beijing. Our first stop began driving to the country side of the Great Wall of China by Jinshanling. The Jinshanling part of the Great Wall has one of the most steepest steps to climb up and down. What makes the Great wall so fascinating is the holes in between the sides. They were the openings for the archers and cannons to stop people from coming through. Coming back from a long walk on the wall, we went back to the dining hall of the guest house for lunch and drove to the city of Beijing. Our hotel was two blocks away from the back of the Forbidden City. On our last day of the trip, we took a bus to Tiananmen Square, one of the most crowded locations in Beijing. A few minutes later, we walked through the entrance of the Forbidden City and toured the west part of it next to the main squares. We were right next to the Emperor’s sleeping location, the palace of the throne and many pillars of the Lion faces. Exiting the landmark, we walked back to the hotel again. We had our very last meal at a restaurant serving Roast Duck.

Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland is the one of the best amusement parks in Shanghai. Instead of worrying about taking a taxi, it was easy to take the metro all the way to the last stop. Even though I went on a school day, it was still a little bit crowded. Much like every Disney Park in the world, the castle in the middle is a little different. Instead of walking through it directly straight, you walk around it. I got to meet Belle right next to it. With the park being divided into separate categories relating to Disney Films, and writings, there are so many new rides to try. The Tron Legacy ride is a coaster where you lie on your stomach and your back and thighs are protected during the ride. The Snow White ride is just like Thunder Creek Mountain going through different parts listening to the song Heigh Ho. The Pirates ride changes a little bit of direction and it looks like being in a planetarium or 4D Theatre. Toy Story Land has several rides with a slinky round about, sheriff carriage twist. Winnie the Pooh has honey pots that do similar motions. Other than rides, one of the best sites to walk through is the decorations of the theme Remember Me from Coco, the statue of the Sword in the Stone, and Marvel Universe, to get pictures with people dressed up in Marvel Heroes. Right next to the park is Disney Town full of several shops to buy souvenirs relating to Disney, restaurants of all kinds of food, and shows that are played in Chinese.

Noar Hadash Israel Experience

Noar Hadash Israel Experience

Week 1

The day before we left for Israel, the entire group met up at Camp Havaya for dinner, and a little ice breaker. There were about 34 campers give or take including our friend Dan who we would meet upon our arrival in the Holy Land. After spending one night at camp, we took a two hour bus ride to Newark Liberty International Airport Terminal B and departed on an eleven-hour plane ride flying EL AL airlines. Feeling a little jet lagged from a long flight, we exchanged our American Dollars into Checkles, left Ben Gurion International Airport to meet our tour guides Maya and Itai and boarded the bus that we traveled on throughout the entire trip. Our first destination was at a desert with sheep and goats.

Having a day to adjust to a new time zone and eating a very delicious Israeli breakfast at the hotel, we had an early start exploring the Old City of Jerusalem. We walked on the walls and saw amazing views. Walking through the walls of the old city, we stood in front of the wailing wall, wrote our own messages and put them on the wall. After spending one hour at the wall, we proceeded to the subterranean arches and excavated tunnels near the wall touching the ancient stones to travel through a time period of spiritual significance. The excursion was quite tiring, but we kept our energy up with some delicious sandwiches, falafel pitas, and ice cream. Then we walked across the city’s various quarters.

On the second day in Jerusalem, we walked through the Hezekiah Water Tunnels in the City of David. The water was pretty cold and the tunnel was dark. Luckily, our tour guide had a flashlight to help us see where we were going. Once we got out of the tunnel, we had a very intense hike walking up five steep hills to get to our next stop, the Israel Museum where we could see the scrolls of the Dead Sea, the smallest bible in the world, and new artisitic creativity. Our last visit of the day was inside an art museum where we saw fascinating designs from modern Israeli Art to contemporary artifacts. The museum dedicates the existence of art from old and new cultures.

For our third day in Jerusalem, we went to an outdoor shuk market to get a bigger picture of Israeli culture through the shopping and eating. We had our very first Shabbat in Jerusalem. Friday evening, we went back to the wailing wall to see the sun set, Israeli citizens gather at the Kotel, and sing the Shabbat prayers. Saturday morning, we attended a Reconstructionist service at a diverse synagogue very close to our hotel. Getting a good amount of rest in the hotel, we spent time at the park near our hotel playing Frisbee and Lap Tag. Our havdalah service happened right in front of the hotel and some Israeli’s joined us in our circle. We went souvenir shopping to conclude a wonderful night before another long day of driving, hiking, and attending seminars.

Week 2

After a joyous first week in Jerusalem, we hit the road for the Dead Sea and Masada. Before we exited Jerusalem, we went to Ilanot School, a special-needs school that accommodates students who have experienced muscular diseases, limited or non-existent speech, and a variety of learning needs. Working with these kids on artistic projects was extremely impactful since it reflected my experiences of having learning needs and how I have used art projects to express myself. On our way to the south east of Israel, we went to Archeological dig to learn about fascinating artifacts that are more than two-thousand years old. To conclude our visit at Archeological dig, we walked through a steep cave full of candles, and small holes to climb and role through. Prior to our arrival at the Dead Sea, our tour guides gave us warnings of what to be aware of while swimming. (1) It is very salty, (2) You are expected to float (3) If salt goes in your face, exit the water and clean at the showers. I had salt in my face three times. It was not fun, but I managed my way to stay clean and enjoy the moment. Overall, swimming in the dead sea was a relaxing swim. We spread a lot of Dead Sea mud after floating for half an hour with our skins full of minerals that made us look like scary creatures. We ended the day with a nice ride to the Masada Hostel, relaxing time at the pool, a delicious dinner, and an early bed time to get ready for a long day of hiking.

Getting less than six hours of sleep and having a little snack, we made it through the steep hills to see the beautiful view of Mountain Masada as the sun was rising. During the sunrise, we gathered in a circle to share our blessings, and discuss all of the things we are most grateful for. After our gathering, we embraced the amazing scenery to learn about the story of King Herod. During our walks around the amazing view, we also examined a time period of strong leaders who have guided us to ask ourselves: What motivates us to be who we are? What are the qualities we will never throw away? Then, we walked back to the hostel for breakfast before going to our next destination.

Now that the long hiking day was over, we got to rest a little more, but we still had to be awake to go to a yard and pick up tomatoes. After tomato picking, we went on a trip to Rosh Hanikra along the northern Lebanon border of Israel. We talked about the border geopolitics and then took a cable car down to where the Mediterranean Sea to walk below the white cliffs. We walked through the natural grottos split by the water from the cliffs. Our next stop was to Akko’s ancient port city. In Akko we saw the city skyline, including mosques built by the Ottomans and exploring the ruins of a crusader church and fort. We went to the hotel feeling tired. After a good amount of rest we had lunch, swam in the pool and relaxed before bed.

We went on a walk through the cool waters near the Sea of Galilee to begin our morning. After sightseeing the magnificent waterfall, we headed to the Capernaum right by the same pavement that Jesus had. Next, we drove up the mountains us to a camp called “Scouts.” At the camp, kids of all ages slept in buildings constructed by campers 13 years of age or older. One of my favorite constructions was the design of characters from the Pixar Films, tree houses where kids could zip across to other trees, and the representation of the Israel flag. We divided into groups after looking at all the incredible constructions to learn how to bind knots just like the scouts. Our first stop began driving on top of a mountain. After a wonderful time on top of the mountain, we swam in the waters at Gan Hashlosha National Park. The waters were very warm and it wasn’t as cold as I expected. Before getting wet, we had falafel pitas for lunch. They are very delicious and one of the best sandwiches in all of Israel. For dessert, we had water melon, one of the best fruits to eat during the summer. Before going back to the hotel, I got a water melon ice cream popsicle and it was very tasty.

The next day started with a smooth drive to Bania through the hills. There we embarked on a lengthy walk right by a tiny stream, dipping our feet into the water and taking in the lovely surrounding landscape. We were happy to reach our destination, the Bania Waterfall, as the day became much hotter. Suddenly there was a roaring waterfall before us after a lot of walking. The Bania Waterfall feeds into a luminous blue pool full of fish. Ultimately, all our hiking and sweating was worth it! Then we drove to the banks of the Jordan River, where we were preparing to raft on the biggest river in Israel. Once we were divided into groups of six, we all piled up in our rafts and went into the water. We rafted for a little over an hour along the calm river, swimming intermittently, splashing other groups, and running along the manner into more than a few trees. We made it to our stopping point after dropping a very brief waterfall, and our fun rafting experience came to an end. Our last stop of the day was at another Golan Heights place. We drove through the hills to the far north of the nation, where only a few miles away we could see the ceasefire line with Syria. We learned about the history of the Golan Heights, its conflict and the controversy that still occurs. After a super long week of touring and exploring, we were ready for a restful Shabbat.

Week 3

Our relaxing Shabbat came to an end, and it was time to start the new week early. It begin with our first stop at the Kibbutz Ketura’s dining hall, one of very few socialist kibbutzim remaining in Israel, We did a little activity on the kibbutz about how they run the kibbutz, make decisions, and handle issues. They have a general assembly meeting with the whole society once a month. Committees raise problems for the assembly to vote on at that conference. Many subcommittees report to an executive committee. Currently, the subcommittees are working on various subjects and are making an attempt to establish alternatives and control their own Kibbutz life aspect. Leaving the Kibbutz, we got on the bus and went to Haifa’s excellent town. We arrived in the Bahai Gardens after a short bus ride, an array of lovely trees and flowers constructed in the hills of the Carmel. The gardens are sacred to the Bahai religion, and for individuals who just want to see pretty things, they are also a tourist destination. Having spent most of the day exploring beautiful gardens in Haifa, it was time to stay away from urban areas and explore environmental landscapes. We went on a four hour hike with it starting down the hill, walking on the rocky rivers, swimming by the waterfall, and climbing the hill.

Since yesterday was a very long day of hiking, we had more time to relax on the bus. Our first tour was at Zippori National Park, also known as the Sepphoris having proven to be one of the most archaeological sites in the Galilee. After our stop in Zippori, we went to the Naval Museum to learn the history of maritime traffic and shipbuilding in the Middle East with exhibits and a wealthy collection of maritime mythology, Greco-Roman coins, stamps, contemporary maritime traffic, naval battles and unique emphasis on Jewish maritime traffic. After these two visits, we drove to a beach in front of Mountain Carmel and swam in the Mediterranean Sea. After two hours of swimming, we drove up the mountain to learn about the Druze, a religious minority from Syria in Israel. Then we went to our hotel in Haifa where we stayed for one night.

On our way to Tel Aviv, we had a special treat from the camp staff and the tour guides. We saw Despicable Me 2 on the big screen at Cinema City Glilot. The characters spoke in English and the subtitles were in Hebrew. We were rushed, because we had to be inside the theatre before the movie started, or else we would not be permitted to enter. Even though I don’t go to the movies while I am traveling, it was a wonderful surprise from the staff to experience going to the movies in a different country.

During our time in Tel Aviv, we walked around Rabin Square, the biggest public square in the city. Making the most out of our very last Shabbat in the Holy Land, we went to service that was held right by the Mediterranean Sea. Being able to watch the sunset and enjoy the magnificent views of the ocean, it was by far the most relaxing Shabbat of the trip. As fun as our Shabbat was, we did some Israeli dancing on the penthouse of our hotel and had a very late dinner. The next day, we slept in until almost ten in the morning to have a late breakfast, and had our own service on the rooftop of the hotel. After one hour of rest, we went to the beach, which was a five-minute walk and swam in the warm sea. After Havdalah, we went to our close friend Dan Unter’s house for dinner. We had a very delicious Israeli barbecue, watched our friend play the piano, and looked at old pictures from our years at camp. Dan Unter is the oldest son of Gary Unter who is the head of the kitchen at sleep away camp.

Week 4

Following a wonderful week in Tel Aviv, we went to the Air Force Museum, an out door museum just outside of Beer Sheva in the northern part of the Negev dedicated to the preservation of the Israeli Air Force. After the air force museum, we visited David Ben Gurion’s desert house along with his resting place. Overall, we learned about his life and what he did as the first prime minister of Israel. Here is one interesting fact about him. He felt that sleep was a waste of time so he would usually get two to three hours of sleep a day.

Learning about the history of Israel’s most memorable advocates, we started a new day with a one-hour hike in the Negev desert. Walking through polluted ponds, climbing straight ladders, and reaching to the top of the canyon, we saw some camels. Camel riding was one of the most hyped sections of our journey. The camels rumbled like bears, and as we were lifted into the air, we held calm as best we could. These apparently fierce beasts, luckily, became silent and an indescribable experience began. Bedouin hospitality has been another look at a culture that is totally distinct from what we are used to. We had a delicious lunch full of humus, chicken and vegetables later. We took the time to appreciate the desert to calm down after a long day. We found out how easy it is in such a vast land to lose track of time. Before our evening activity, we went back to the hotel to swim and play games. Finally, on a bonfire, we made s’mores, turkey burgers, hot dogs, and then went off to bed. Interestingly, it was a great day celebrating my close friends sixteenth birthday.

Leaving the Kibbutz right next to the Negev Desert, our day started with a visit at a park in Sederot. The place was full of animal designs that we could crawl and walk through or even better, make noise. We were pretty close to the camps were soldiers who join the Israeli Army do their training. With much walking around the Western Negev city, we had a relaxing two hour bus ride to Jerusalem. We went back to the same hotel we stayed in from the beginning of the trip and went swimming in the pool before dinner time.

Being back in Jerusalem for the second to last day of the trip was very sweet. Our day started with a tour at the Holocaust Museum. The design of the museum began with the initiation of anti-semitism and how it was pushed. The exhibits are designed in a zig zag in chronological order. At the end of the tour, there was a large well, where visitors could drop Israeli coins and write little notes to commemorate their loved ones and the Jews who suffered during World War II.

Sadly, it was our last day in the Holy Land and we utilized our time in the capital of Israel. Our first stop was at the Golden Menorah in the Jewish quarter. With the walking tour continuing, we went to Mount Herzl, the site of Israel’s national cemetery. Going through the sadness of Israel’s loved ones we walked back to the wailing wall after lunch to write our last messages reflecting on the things we appreciate and the wonderful memories we have created for a long trip in a very small country. Together, we had our very last meal with the tour guides, and our bus driver. After dinner, we got our purple Noar Hadash T Shirts, changed into our Israel pants, and arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport. It was time to conclude our summer by returning to our home Camp Havaya for Shabbat.

Viking Ocean Cruise

Viking Ocean Cruise

Now that I have completed four successful years of undergraduate school, it was time for me to continue my travels. By the time I walked into the hotel room, I got a very sweet note from Viking, the cruise line I traveled with congratulating me on my college graduation and gave me some delicious European pastries. I felt very loved, especially because this vacation is a huge celebration for my success and all the work that I do for raising autism awareness globally. After dropping off the luggage in the hotel room, I went to the Nobel Peace Center, a museum just a block away from City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is held every December. During my time in the museum, I was reading about famous political leaders who have won the Nobel Peace Prize through their advocating skills. Once I saw the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, I was thinking about my two hard working instructors from my college career and how they have helped me become a stronger advocate for the causes I care about.

Oslo to Bergen Introduction

After spending the night at the Raddison Blu Hotel, we went on a bus tour to explore Oslo before heading to Bergen. Our first stop began driving up a hill to a skiing arena where there is a large hill to slide down from. Our tour ended at the Viking Museum. It was a very short museum depicting the designs of how Viking boats were made in the old days before it became a cruise line. Five minutes past noon was our seven-hour train ride to Bergen. During the ride, I watched the Da Vinci Code on Netflix. I usually like to watch movies on my computer when traveling to a different location, but I was very intrigued and entertained by the breath taking views that I got to see outside the window. We traveled through gorgeous farms, small towns, and snowy mountains. We arrived in Bergen around the evening and took a bus to our hotel. After dropping off our luggage, we went out for dinner and walked around downtown Bergen through a fish market, and souvenir shops. Even though it was raining, it was still very pleasant.

(Day 1: Bergen, Norway – Boarding the Ship)

After one night in the hotel, it was time to have our luggage sent to the cruise ship. Prior to boarding the boat, we went on a three-hour bus tour in Bergen. Our first stop was at the Bergenhus Fortress, one of the oldest and best preserved stone fortifications in Norway. After the fortress was destructed during World War II it became an exhibition renown to its history. Our last stop was at the Open-Air Old Bergen Museum, a very small town consisting of wooden houses. The most fascinating part of the museum was walking inside the buildings to see how people lived their lives in such an old town. In the center of town, people used to walk on pogo sticks and play horse ring tossing. In the afternoon, we boarded the Viking Jupiter, unpacked everything out of our bags, and had lunch. With a little bit of unwinding, we disembarked the boat and took a gondola to the top of the mountains to see the magnificent views of Bergen.

(Day 2 Bergen, Norway – Time to Sail)

It was our last day in Bergen and the ship was scheduled to depart around dinner time. Utilizing these last hours of exploring, we took a bus through the tunnels up to another mountain for magnificent views. We stopped at very few locations because it was rainy. By the time we embarked the boat, we proceeded to our emergency stations for a drill to go over safety guidelines of the ship and to be aware of signals if something unexpected were to happen. After the drill, we had dinner and celebrated 29 years of togetherness with my parents. When the drill ended, the ship started to set sail for the Fjords.

(Day 3 Geiranger, Norway – Fjord of Water Falls)

We were sleeping while the ship was sailing through beautiful mountains with waterfalls. As we arrived in Geiranger, the ship was anchored since there was another ship docked. Therefore, we had to take a life boat to town when getting on and off the ship. After breakfast, I went to the gym for 35 minutes to get some exercise. We disembarked the ship around 12:30 and walked around town by several boat docks. Then, we went on our three-hour bus tour driving up numerous hills to explore the views of how the water falls separate, connect with one another and touch the ocean. The fresh water come together and turn into salt water. After stopping at one location of water falls, we drove through a different road and stopped by a lake frozen in ice. After the sweet touring of Geiranger by bus, we took the tender back to the boat. Prior to sailing, I got to see the Viking crew get the safety boat back on the ship from my balcony. As we were floating, we kept seeing lovely waterfalls on each side of the mountains.

(Day 4 was a Sea Day)

(Day 5 Lofoten, Norway – Fjord of Beaches)

By the time we reached the Arctic Ocean, we sailed to Lofoten until the next morning. One hour before noon, we disembarked the ship for a two hour bus tour. During the ride, we traveled around high cliffs, small lakes, and a long tunnel to get to a beach, which was our first stop. The grass by the sand had several huge rocks to climb on and small rocks depicting different designs. In fact, people usually go camping at the beach during the summer when the weather is nice and warm. After spending fifteen minutes at the beach, we traveled back through the tunnel and went to a small art exhibition, which was our last stop. The art gallery is next to a dock where boats are built by construction workers. The paintings in the gallery reflect the community of Lofoten, designing the boats, birds flying around the shores, and mountains surrounding the lakes.

(Day 6 Tromso, Norway – Fjord of Earth Science)

Before going on a bus tour, I walked around the city. As I went sight seeing, I walked by a bowling alley, but I did not bowl inside the building. After taking a short walk around the town close to where the ship was docked, we got on our three hour bus tour. Instead of making two stops like previous days, we had only one. We went to a Northern Light planetarium located across the street from the main university. In the planetarium, the Imax took us between the distance of the sun and the earth. Once we left the planetarium, we drove through a tunnel with a round about in it, and we made a complete circle before getting out of it.

(Day 7 Honningsvag, Norway – Fjord of the Coldest Weather)

While driving through the road on the mountains, we saw reindeer moving all over the fields. Our first stop was at a small site with a souvenir shop and a tent with a lot of heat. After the quick stop, we drove to the end of the road to the Nordkapp Museum. It was super cold, windy and foggy. After going inside the building, I went all the way to the end of the landscape where another statue of the globe is located. Thankfully, I was able to get some good pictures, but I had to take my hat off since I did not want to lose it. During our time in the museum, we watched a brief film in the cinema discussing how the reindeer come into the Fjord and how animal workers help them with their lives. By the time we got out of the theatre, we went through a cave with Northern Lights depicting what happens during all four seasons.

(Days 8 & 9 were Sea Days)

(Day 10 Lerwick, Scotland – First stop in the UK)

Upon our arrival to shore from the ship, we went on our first bus tour in the United Kingdom in Lerwick, Scotland. We traveled through huge landscapes with houses far from each other. Our first stop was at an enjoyable view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was very windy. At our last stop, we got to pet some lovely ponies. They are taken care of by two farmers who are married in live right up the hill. Then we drove back to the port where the Viking Jupiter tenders are docked to take passengers on and off the boat. While the rest of my family explored the town, I went back to the ship.

(Day 11 Kirkwall, Scotland – Another similar town)

After one fun day in Lerwick, we sailed to Kirkwall, another island that is a part of Scotland. Instead of docking, we were anchored and had to take a boat to shore. Our first stop was at a small town next to a ferry port. The town had very small roads for vehicles to drive through. Before getting back on the bus, I had a very delicious Peach Ice Cream. Our last destination was at a huge grassland right by a lake full of carved stones. Managing our way through the unpredictable heavy wind, we walked around a circle full of large rectangular stones.

(Day 12 Edinburgh, Scotland – Very Tourist City)

Once again, we had to take a Viking Jupiter tender boat to shore from the ship. Once we arrived at the dock, we got on our three-hour bus tour traveling through the city of Edinburgh. We drove around a mountain and had our first photo stop at a siding to see the incredible views of Edinburgh. After the bus tour, I went to the Edinburgh castle with my dad and brother. Once we left the castle, we walked to the statue of a Syke Terrier named Greyfriars Bobby. The lovely dog is known for working with the Ediburgh City Police as a night-watch-man. As we continued exploring the capital of Scotland, we walked into a store with the world of wizardry. On our way back to the Viking Shuttle Bus, we walked through a gorgeous park.

(Day 13 Sea Day)

(Day 14 Greenwich London, England UK)

Prior to getting breakfast, I got to speak to Atle Knutsen, the captain and ask him questions about what it is like to be the captain of a cruise ship. At the end, I got to be in a picture with him. In the late morning, we got off the ship and met up with my cousin Maha, who is working in London as a Senior Political Advisor. We had lunch and pastries together. After spending time with my cousin and my dad’s older sister, I boarded the Viking Jupiter to watch an Imax about the history of the Arctic. After the Imax, we had our very last delicious dinner on the ship.

(Day 15 Greenwich London, England UK)

With a good amount of sleep, we had an early breakfast and disembarked the Viking Jupiter and took a taxi to the Double Tree Hotel to drop off our luggage. Then we took the train to visit my cousin. To utilize the last day of the trip, I traveled around London. My first stop was the Platform 9 ¾ exhibition of the Harry Potter Series at King’s Cross Station. Once I had my picture taken, I walked into the shop and shared my interests on Harry Potter and how the stories inspired me to become the successful man that I am today. After buying my souvenir and having wonderful conversations, I walked by the London School of Economics and Political Science, a public university that one of my closely connected instructors attended for his graduate and doctorate. After exploring London for four hours, I met up with my family again to take the subway and the Double Decker Bus to a family friends apartment. It was very charming to spend our last vacation day with other relatives.

Greenwich London, England UK Conclusion

Saying goodbye to a spectacular vacation full of treasured memories is no fun. But there is so much I can say about a wonderful two week cruise that will be remembered. I could not ask for a better way to celebrate my victorious accomplishment. I do indeed miss all of the fun activities I did while aboard the Viking Jupiter, such as swimming in the pools, playing shuffle board, and feeling entertained by Stephen Williams Jr. a famous magician, and a group of singersHaving the chance to reach the Arctic and set a new record of 20+ European Countries has meaning for my plans in global awareness.

Europe (Study Abroad January 2019) AIFS Germany

Europe (Study Abroad January 2019) AIFS Germany

The day before I left to Berlin, I watched several documentaries in chronological order that explain the history of anti-semitism. Watching the clips enabled me to get an idea on a study focusing on the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany. Overall, my intention was to examine what happened before and after the Holocaust. Being born with a Jewish background myself, this type of history has a lot of meaning to me and some of my fellow friends since we advocate for Jewish Rights. I also explored several museums to obtain more information on Hitler’s evil plans and how his ideology has negatively impacted the European Union. Upon my arrival, I received a museum pass from the program staff. Thankfully, it was usable for the museums I wanted to visit.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is full of fascinating artistic designs and statues that depict the canons, guns, and other materials that were used during World War II. For most of the class sessions, my professor took me and my classmates on field trips to visit the sites and reflect on how they are related to our assigned readings and the videos we watch in class.

Bradenburg Gate
Reichstag Dome

Berlin has extremely wonderful museums. On the first day of class, I received a museum pass from the directors of the program. It was usable in most of the art museums, however, there were exhibits that did not require it and I could be admitted without it. Other than going museums by myself, I have also taken advantage of the tours and activities that were pre planned by the program staff.

Learning to make an apple strudel was challenging, but a lot of fun. I struggled with my hands being gentle on the dough, but with the help I got from my fellow peers and the cooks, I was able to make it the way I wanted. Apple Strudel is a very delicious European dessert full of very unique flavors. It is as good as Apple Pie. Most of the time, it is eaten during the winter.

Against Anti-Semitism

The German History Museum was the very first field trip for class. It is another museum that begins with how Germany became a member state of the UN, it’s historical and current relations with other European countries. The most intense and important exhibition of the museum is the time period of World War I, following that, Hitler’s path to power, the second World War.

The topography of Terrors is a very small exhibition next to the Berlin Wall. It reflects the story of Kristallnacht starting from 1939-1945. The interesting part of the exhibition is listening to the communication that happened between Hitler and Nazi Soldiers and the sounds of destruction. A variety of synagogues were burned in Germany, Poland, The Soviet Union, France, and other nations within the European Union. At the end of the gallery, there are several pieces of cloth surrounded by the broken glass that was found after the bombs were thrown.

The Neues Museum is the museum that mostly represents Egyptian Art from the modern time period. Most of the galleries depict weapons that Egyptian Kings used to defeat their enemies with. There are also ware jars and cups that look like the top of bowling pins. Some exhibitions are built with Egyptian bricks that were used to build pyramids. Every single gallery is characterized by a sense of movement and activity within paintings, hangings of materials, and statues. The pergamonmuseum depicts the imagery of animals and their body parts on humans to share their unique artistic styles. Most of them are lions. Lion imagery can be found in all of the historical time periods we have discussed. It is mostly used in Near Eastern and Egyptian art. When I look at lions in Near Eastern Art, I see images of them dead with sticks on their body. In Egyptian Art, we have looked at pictures of famous landmarks that look like lions sitting, such as The Great Sphinx. In some entrances there are lions staring across each other at some gallery entrances. we have looked at images of lions with human faces and they can be seen in both the cultures.


The German Chancellory is the main agency of Berlin, Germany. Other than the German Parliament, it is another political office where most diplomats meet to discuss the past and present roles regarding the Federal Republic of Germany. On the right side of the building after walking up the stairs, there are paintings of former Chancellors. Their rooms are on the first floor after entering.

Charlottenburg is an extremely artistic, and well decorated palace. It is more than three centuries old. It is also the largest palace in Berlin. Almost every room that I walked through had two or three mirrors and usually more than 5 different paintings. Most of the paintings represent the people who used to live in the palace in the 1600’s before it became an exhibition.

Hambuger Bahnhof is a contemporary art museum that depicts current art in different designs. Walking into different rooms multiple times, I see lines of train tracks, television screens, and electric bulbs. The most intriguing design is the picture below of two basketballs stuck in glassed box of water that is not moving. I am also aware that some of you might ask me, “Do they serve hamburgers in the Museum Cafeteria?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

Potsdam, Germany

Traveling to Potsdam was a field trip that was offered by the program and almost every student went on the trip. Throughout the trip, we got to tour almost the entire city on a double decker bus and walk to old parliaments and other castles that are now exhibitions. Almost all of the palaces have windows full of extended half-rounds. They also have multiple stair cases that lead to different roads.

Entrance to the Palace

During the first part of the day trip was a bus tour around the city. My favorite part of the tour was crossing the Glienicke Bridge. The end of the Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies takes place on the bridge reflecting the cold war. After crossing the bridge multiple times, we explored the Cecilionhof Palace. It is a very famous palace where leaders of the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the USA negotiated about the relationships between Europe and Asia following World War II.

For the last portion of the trip, I went to the main palace where hundreds of people used to live in the old days until it became a fascinating artistic gallery. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photographs inside the building, but I did get some good pictures outside of it. Potsdam is considered to be the place where, “We must keep Peace and order and we shall not make any trouble.”

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

I traveled to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp with my group. I also came back again during one of my class sessions. The camp itself is in the shape of a triangle. The center of the camp is depicted with a tall memorial sculpture with six red triangles upside down. It represents the loving memory of the Jews who died in the camp. The main borders of the camp are the fences with electric lines that were used to prevent Jews from escaping.

Concentration Camp

Right next to the pathways of the camp are rectangles of grey pebbles, which is where the Jews are buried. The back of the camp reflects shattered glass and broken bricks of homes and synagogues that were right next to the camp.During the last portion of my visit, I walked into several rectangular houses that used to be cabins for prisoners. The cabins are designed like a museum.

I discovered names of several Jewish people who lost their lives in the concentration camp and I got to learn how they lived their lives while persisting through the difficult moments. Some chose to play “Chess,” one of my favorite board games to play. When the Jews played chess in the concentration camps, they had to design their own chess board and create the pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, queen, and king with rocks. Two years after World War II, this camp became an exhibition in the early 1960’s.

Warsaw, Poland

Traveling to Warsaw, Poland was an optional excursion that was provided. Having spent a weekend there was extremely enjoyable. The first day I arrived, I explored the Muzuem Powstania Warszawskiego, which I think is one of the best Jewish museums with in the European Union. Similar to other Holocaust Museums, one of the exhibitions has a underground tunnel pathway that looks like a sewer, but it is completely dry. The pinnacle of the museum is technology used in the old days. “Ahoy, this is your favorite world traveler, leave a message.”

Poland Flag

The next day, instead of going to a museum, I toured the main park of Warsaw, Palac Na Wyspie – Lazienki Krolewskie. I am standing in front of a lake frozen in ice. Surroudning the park, there are several gallery buildings that reflect the history of the park. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to go inside them, but I got to walk next to them. During the summer, there are a lot of music concerts, mostly Classic, and European.

On the last day before getting on the train back to Berlin, I went to the Muzeum Historii Zydown Polskich POLIN. It is a very creative below ground exhibition that begins with the history of Jesus Christ moving forward to the current phase of history. Every part of the museum itself demonstrates how Polish Jews lived in different time periods. Its organizational structure guided me to different spots. As you can tell, I am sitting on the throne even though I am not wearing the crown to be a king. I do feel lucky to call myself the king of traveling the globe.

Humboldt University
Mission Accomplished

I feel very proud to share that traveling to Berlin, Germany for three weeks, going to Poland for three days, and other towns in Germany on the weekends was a memorable experience that I can recall and bring back as I continue advocating for Jewish Rights myself and with friends. Having visited several memorials close to the Bradenburg Gate and looking at the statues of war vehicles really create a huge impact on my studies of Political Science. Anti-Semitism is a very heartbreaking issue to be an advocate for, but I am very lucky to have earrned an extraordinary opportunity to soak up new memorable events that have lead to Jewish conflicts. It takes a. lot of effort to walk around or crawl into the history of any particular topic.

Geneva, Switzerland Global Politics (Study Abroad)

Geneva, Switzerland Global Politics (Study Abroad)

After not being selected to travel to a conference that was held in Geneva, Switzerland, I found a program that would benefit my knowledge of the United Nations and my passion for global awareness. Before applying and being admitted, I did some reflection on my Model United Nations research and thought about what I could bring to the program. Having read about the different types political issues I would learn, I felt very excited to gain new knowledge that would be essential for my studies.

Red Cross International Museum

Red Cross International Museum

The first portion of the program focused on the history of the League of Nations and its current global issues. My main targets were on the Sustainable Development Goals, UN’s role in Global Governance, climate change after Paris, transnational terrorism, and the evolution of peace building. The task was to think about the difficulties of bringing peaceful relationships among UN Member States through these global issues, and think about the roles that Non-Governmental Organizations play. Being able to learn how international humanitarian efforts are made, I visited the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and explored all three sections: human dignity, restoring family links, and reducing natural disasters.

United Nations Main Office and Agencies

UN Headquarters

Geneva, known as the city of wealth and stealth is the place where international politics comes to life. Other than the Red Cross, I have visited the United Nations Office of Geneva and some of the UN’s entities and agencies: United Nations Office of Geneva (UNOG), World Health Organization (WHO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These offices are a part of 3 UN Principal Organs: General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, and Secretariat. I am very proud that I encountered this program online, applied for it, and got selected to participate. Looking back at all of the knowledge I have gained from this experience in international relations is vital to my career in global awareness. It will be useful for any future political conferences I attend around the world.

Simulation Role Play


Having spent one week studying the UN system, I proceeded to the next challenge, which was to think about world risks and how the UN can be invented participating in a diplomatic stimulation at the Institution. Every student in the program was given a country to represent in the Human Rights Council. I was assigned to represent Uganda and discuss the socio-economic challenges faced by Member States, plus the inequalities manifested by globalization and the implications of neo-liberal policies. This stimulation ran differently from the two NMUN Conferences I attended in New York City. Instead of drafting a working paper, the entire delegation was handed the same General Assembly resolution, and it was our job as diplomats to negotiate and edit the working paper and concentrate on the rights of protection and development.

Traveling to Geneva, Switzerland for two weeks and studying the United Nations and its Global Challenges at the Graduate Institute of Geneva was an unforgettable journey that instills my career in global awareness. Participants came from 20 different countries around the world. Our classroom setting was organized like a UN meeting room. We had placards with our real names on them instead of UN Member States. Every class session had a different topic relating to political science, and we discussed the global challenges with different instructors who are equipped with the knowledge through their own areas research and teach at the Graduate Institute. Overall, the objective of the program was not to attend an actual UN Conference, but to learn how the UN is operated discussing international policies with its entities and agencies.

Europe (STUDY ABROAD FALL 2017) AIFS Spain

Europe (STUDY ABROAD FALL 2017) AIFS Spain

Spending the fall semester of my junior year in Barcelona, Spain, I got to learn the rich history, politics, global relations of the Mediterranean. Before my study abroad program, began, I traveled around Spain with my parents. Spending the beginning of my experience with them was very helpful so that I could be enrolled in the program comfortably and have all of my learning accommodations met.

Discovering the Architecture of Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain

The day after taking a three hour train ride to Barcelona from Madrid, I went on a long bus tour exploring three different famous historical and architectural landmarks in Barcelona. They are Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, & Casa Mila. I would absolutely recommend future visitors to go to these places when they are traveling to Barcelona. The architecture in Spain does its job to persuade its visitors to change their views on colored designs and the appearances of intersections, and buildings in the city of Catalonia.

What type of architecture did I see when I visited these places:

Sagrada Familia

Going inside the Roman Catholic Church of Sagrada Familia, I have seen multiple colors of the church windows, people praying in the sanctuary, the statues of Jesus Christ, and designs of the church being built. Going inside the Sagrada Familia church was like going in another cathedral in Cologne, Germany. Inside the church, I got to see pictures of people lighting candles, being at a funeral celebrating a loved ones life, and attending a wedding to share happiness to all religions.

Park Guell

Once I entered the actual park, I got to see the beautiful view of the city, old houses where citizens from the 14th century lived, and sit on different colored shape stones. Looking at the view, I could see cruise ships, catholic churches, and the soccer stadium. Going to Park Guell, felt like taking a gondola up top to the mountains seeing the town or city I am visiting.

Casa Mila

Another good location to see beautiful architecture of Barcelona is Casa Mila. In the attic, I saw circular statues of people who lived in the building, and climbed different stair-cases. After entering the building, I could see the beautiful sky change without a retractable roof covering the top of the building. Going inside the building, I saw pictures of the people who owned the building and the type of life they lived during their generation. Going inside the house, I felt like this was a place where I could own a big house, live a good life and have all of my favorite things provided.

Seville & Granada AIFS Excursion


After being enrolled in my courses and have a sense of what my work-load is throughout the semester, I traveled with my group on the first optional excursion to Andalucia. On Friday morning, I took a one-hour flight from Barcelona to Seville. Seville is famous for its architecture. Seville’s architecture is a mixture of the old and the new, the ancient and the modern. Phoenicians, romans, visigoths, arabs have lived in this city and therefore have left a trace in buildings, urban planning and culture. After spending one night in Seville I went on a three-hour bus ride to Granada, another city in Andalucia that is a little more hilly. Granada is very famous for its beautiful gardens, city views, and historical palaces. Here are two wonderful places to go to during your time in Andalucia. One is in Seville and the other is in Granada.

(Granada) Alhambra:

The Alhambra is probably one of the most breathtaking places you’ll ever visit, but be sure to have good walking shoes because it’ll take a good 2 to 3 hours to see the whole thing. Even though, different palaces that are part of the Alhambra were used less and less and fell into disrepair for hundreds of years. Squatters moved in. A lot of the original artwork was lost. Parts were destroyed in the 1800s during battles with the French and a strong earthquake. It’s possible that the entire complex could have been forgotten about altogether if it hadn’t been “rediscovered” by European scholars in the 1820s. Since then, its been reclaimed and is still undergoing restoration. I personally love the Alhambra as a palace of fascinating architecture. Spending time up in Alhambra felt like being up in heaven, smelling flowers, and seeing so many people make it for an eternal loving life.

(Seville) Plaza de Espana:

My favorite place in Seville is Plaza de Espana. The massive building is Seville’s most impressive after the cathedral, for its sheer scale and grandeur. Love it or hate it – fabulous or fussy, magnificent or overblown, depending on your point of view – I would advise you not miss it when visiting the city. Plaza de España was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 (Expo 29), along with many of the pavilions you can see in and around the Parque Maria Luisa. I think Plaza de Espana is one of the biggest and most famous landmarks in the capital of Andalucia. Here is a fun fact. Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones was filmed at the plaza. If any of you are huge Star Wars fanatics, this is definitely the place to go if you want to feel like you are in planet Naboo with Senator Amidala.

Morocco AIFS Excursion


Because AIFS is one of the best study abroad programs in the world, I have signed up for an excursion traveling to a new continent and a new country, which is in fact, number 30 on my Travel Record Books. This weekend excursion happened one month after the Andalucia excursion and one I had been looking forward to the most: Morocco. Considering the fact that my Dad is from an Islamic country, I was so excited to visit a Muslim country, and finally experience a different country with cultural similarities. During my three days in Morocco, I have tried different food, walked around different towns, and went camal riding. I loved Morocco. I loved my time there. I loved the places I wandered through and the people who proved that Moroccans are kind, welcoming and helpful. However, I was super frustrated that I ran into local men I met were being childish because I was ignoring them. I am referring to men who were selling Moroccan souvenirs on the streets.

Here is some personal and helpful advice for people who plan to go to Morocco. This is advice when it comes to running into strangers who ask for money or try to force you to buy supplies.

(Dealing with local citizens):

There’s not really much you can do to avoid attention (I have met women travelling with men who were drained from the abuse directed at them) but there are steps you can take to minimise it. Look as if you know where you’re going when you’re out exploring. If you look frightened and disorientated you’ll also look like an easy target. When local men approach you keep your head held high, avoid eye contact and stride purposefully away. If they persist, ask them firmly to leave you alone. Some of you may ask me, how were you able to prevent yourself from being involved in bad incidents? I remained with my group and made sure I was staying with the people in my group. I disregarded any word that was spat out by any childish stranger trying to get my attention. Other than getting myself out of the dangerous situations, I am very happy to say that Morocco is a country where people can explore the religion of Islam.

Making Travel Plans

European Airline

It is without a doubt that almost everyone’s favorite part of studying abroad is traveling to different countries. As a matter of fact, I spent most of my study abroad experience doing activities in Barcelona that were provided by my program. However, I have myself planned and travelled on two weekend trips around Europe, but only on weekends when I really didn’t have any big papers to write or exams to study for, especially when I had long weekends with four to five days off. Believe it or not, if you follow these simple planning guidelines, your weekend trips will not only be hassle-free, but much more enjoyable as well. Here are my five need-to-know tips for planning weekend travel.

Travel with a group: Traveling with friends is not only safer, but also much more fun. I travelled to Prague and Budapest on my own and while I never felt like I was in danger because I was exploring with different groups. When I was in my Prague, I travelled with Bus2alps, when I was in Budapest, I travelled with Weekend Student Adventures. I stood in a 6 to 8 person room hostel with other study abroad students. Having multiple heads working together will make planning and getting around much easier, and if nothing else, it’s always better to have some company.

Creating a Budget: Actually, you’ll want to plan 2; one for your flight and hostel you book ahead of time, and one for the amount you’re going to spend when you’re actually traveling. Good hostels can be as cheap as 15 or 20 Euro a night depending on the time of year, and flights as low as 50 to 80 Euro round-trip. If I was going to be in a city for say 3 days and 2 nights, I usually took out the equivalent of $200 to $250 in local currency. Remember, the earlier you do your booking, the cheaper your travel will be. Check currency exchange rates before you leave! In some places like the Czech Republic, the rate is something like $1 to 20 Czech Koruna, so don’t be surprised when you take out 5000 CZK from the ATM.

Bring a copy of your visa and passport with you: I had my passport in my pouch at all times because I figured it was safer that way, although some people will disagree with that. If you’re following my lead, keep a copy of your visa and passport in your hostel locker, and on the off chance your passport does get stolen, having this will make your trip to the U.S. consulate to get a replacement go a lot smoother.

Investigate public transportation in your destination city: Few days before my weekend adventure begun, I have spent some time reading transportation maps about the city I am going to. This is something I personally advise all travelers to do before their trips begin, because this will help them avoid getting lost, spending money constantly, and make their trip a hundred times more safer. Note on Taxis: In mainland Europe, taxi drivers are occasionally known to charge you a ridiculous rate when you come to your stop. Negotiate either a price/mile rate or an overall rate right when you get in the cab, and stick to it. If the cabbie tries to mess with you, threaten to get the police and more than likely they’ll back down as they don’t have the time to get involved with the cops.

Why Study with AIFS

Selfie in Elevator

When I knew that I wanted to study abroad in Europe, some choices were very hard to make. I say to myself, “I know that I want to go to Barcelona, Spain, because I am familiar with Spanish, my high school teacher recommended me to study abroad in a Spanish speaking country. and the architecture is fascinating. The big question I asked myself is, “What program will best fit for me?” For me, this question was answered the way I wanted it to be. Spending a lot of time in the Study Abroad Office, the staff recommended that I would study with AIFS. By the time I finished reading the AIFS program book and getting in contact with the staff who work at the AIFS Abroad office in Barcelona, my decisions became much easier.

Here are my top 2 reasons why you should study abroad with AIFS.

They offer optional excursions during the weekends.

If you feel like you know where you want to go when you have time to travel during the weekend, it is with really great surprise that AIFS plans out weekend trips months before the semester starts. I am very proud to share that my favorite excursion out of three was Morocco. Considering the fact that my Dad is from an Islamic country, I was so excited to visit a Muslim country, and finally experience a different country with cultural similarities. During my three days in Morocco, I have tried different food, walked around different towns, and went camal riding. I loved Morocco. I loved my time there. I loved the places I wandered through and the people who proved that Moroccans are kind, welcoming and helpful. Fun Fact: going to Morocco was my very first country in Africa, but my 30th country on my all time record.

They also provide weekend activities to explore the country.

When you feel like you know that you are not traveling for some weekend and want to do more exploring in your host country, AIFS plans out weekend activities to museums, mountains, and cathedrals to give students some relaxation from academics. Out of all the activities I have done, my most favorite field trip was Montserrat. Going to Montserrat and climbing the mountain, I felt like I was up in heaven and that I could find loved ones in my family I have never met. Montserrat also has one of the most magnificent views any traveller can imagine. It is also a place of religious importance and natural beauty that is simply breathtaking.

Many cultural activities and travel excursions are included in AIFS Study Abroad programs. In addition, you’ll find great options available to supplement your experience in meaningful, sometimes life-changing, ways. No matter what country you choose to study in, the AIFS workers are very friendly, and always take their jobs seriously. They are there to make your study abroad experiences fun, enjoyable, and memorable.

Tips and Tricks

Sagrada Familia

Throughout most of my experience in Europe, I have spent an equal amount of time exploring my host city and traveling to different countries. Visiting and living in a city are two completely different experiences. Now that I know Barcelona personally, I have more of an insider’s perspective than a fleeting tourist does. Europe is very different from America, and Spain is a very different country from the rest of Europe. If any future study abroad student is looking for advice, has interest in my blog posts, or more questions about my experience, this is what I will offer.

  • Learn a little about your new city before getting here. It’s helpful to know some of the culture and customs so you’re not completely off track.
  • Bring locks for your backpack. I can finally declare that I survived four months in one of Europe’s most-pickpocketed cities, but it was because I took precautions with my items. Whenever I needed to bring my laptop, school supplies or any other electronic device around with me in my backpack, I made sure to lock the zippers and know the combination to the lock.
  • Make new friends. You shared a life-changing experience together. It might be hard to explain to other people back home about your experience, but you will always be able to talk to the friends you have made.
  • When you travel within the European Union, they don’t stamp your passport. I suppose you can go to Customs and ask for them to do it, but when you’re traveling, do you really want to waste time in an airport getting a little emblem on a piece of paper? Just a heads up so you won’t be disappointed like I was.
  • Many students don’t know this, but you can request where you want to live. If you know a past student from the program with a recommendation, you can request a specific host. I did, and I loved the outcome. If you don’t, you can still request certain things, such as proximity to the IES center. The program is usually pretty good about accommodating homestay arrangements.

To conclude this informational blog about tips and tricks, here are some important keys that I will offer. Studying abroad anywhere in the world is a once in a life-time opportunity to make your friends, relatives, professors, and advisors super jealous. It is also a chance to cherish wonderful memories for yourself and even for loved ones who are no longer with you. I am very thankful to say that I have cherished a memory not just for myself, but also from my beloved grandfather Harold Shapiro who passed away on February 28th, 2017. He gave me the gift to be a world traveler and to create the new adventures I wish to put in my travel memory book. Now that I have achieved a new record of 30 countries and have gained international experience in a different education system, I am ready to continue sharing these amazing moments that will encourage people to think about studying abroad.

Ecuador & Galapagos (Study Abroad January 2017) AIFS

Ecuador & Galapagos (Study Abroad January 2017) AIFS

Map of Ecuador

In January 2017, I traveled to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for two weeks. Having a lot of travel experience with my family and independently, I wanted to apply my studies of political science and peace and justice studies in a different hemisphere. I studied geology, history, and biology of the Galapagos at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I went on several hiking, snorkeling swimming, and museum field trips with my classmates and professor in the archipelago. By the time the course was over, I traveled to Santa Cruz to learn the early discoveries of the Galapagos and back to Quito to examine fascinating art designs in modern pottery. I also achieved a new milestone, which was walking on the equator.

Starting School in a new Country

USFQ Campus

I was nervous but excited to start school in a new country and adapt to a different education system. No matter how scared I was before, I made my mark by walking into the beautiful campus of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, establishing new friendships with the people in my group, and building a strong relationship with my professor who is a Marine Biologist. I have carried two guidelines that I have used during my educational experience, and they helped me control my nerves when starting school in a new nation.

First Full Day

Having a plan

Ensuring that I was mentally prepared for the day. It’s important to have a plan that you can follow. I also thought carefully about my expectations and what I wanted to make out of this educational experience.

Knowing your classmates

One of the most important things was taking the time to know my fellow peers. It not only showed how much I cared about them, but how my social skills and interaction with others has changed over the years. By doing this on the first day, I set the tone for a wonderful caring classroom community for the whole year.

USFQ Main Campus

Bringing these guidelines with me during my travels, I was welcomed by my professor, classmates, and the resident assistant. In addition, my curiosity of studying an environmental landscape where animals and humans share the land, I felt more intrigued with the material that was provided.

Galapagos: San Cristobal

USFQ San Cristobal Campus

The first island I visited in the Galapagos was San Cristobal. It is the third largest island in the Archipelago. Whenever I walked by the ocean, I saw sea lions, and other sea creatures come out of the water to find land. With my group, I hiked cliffs with rocks that were completely black, a cloudy mountain surrounding a huge lake, snorkeled by small islands where Iguanas usually live. Going on these excursions gave me a visual understanding of how humans and animals create a safe environment for themselves. In fact, the extension campus of Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in San Cristobal is right by the beach. Whenever my classmates and I were taking a break from studying, we would spend time at the beach before the next.

During my stay in San Cristobal, myself and a friend in my group lived with a host-family of a married couple named Ruben & Isabelle. They have one son named Daniel. Spending one week with them, I got to practice my Spanish Speaking skills. They were very impressed with how I was able to communicate with them in their fluent language. Bringing in some practice of speaking a new language, I have put little descriptions about the people I lived with in Spanish.

Host Family Picture

Daniel: Daniel es el hijo de Ruben y Isabel. Es muy simpatico, deportista, inteligente, y paciente. Le gusta jugar videojuegos, jugar al futbol y pasar tiempo con sus amigos.

Ruben: Ruben es el esposo de Isabel. Es simpatico, ordenado, trabajador, y divertido. Le gusta ir de pescar, jugar al voliebol, y tomar el sol.

Isabel: Isabel es la esposa de Ruben. Es simpatico, talentosa, y bonita. Le gusta cocinar, pasar tiemp con su familia y bailar

Patrick: Patrick es mi amigo y fue mi compañera durante el viaje. El estudios de ingeniería biomédica en la Universidad de Miami en Ohio. Él es de Chicago y le gustan los cachorros, Blackhawks, toros y osos.

Galapagos: Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Now that I have successfully fulfilled three credits on a travel abroad course, Ecosystems and Biodiversity I took a boat to Santa Cruz, another island in the Galapagos. It is the second largest island in the archipelago. After learning about the cooperation of organisms sharing an island, I read about the history of the Galapagos focusing on its discoveries by Charles Darwin, who is widely regarded as the father of evolution because of his extensive work explaining how species became what we see now. After visiting the research station of Charles Darwin, I went to a coffee factory and learned how people who live on farms make sweet drinks. I also fed food to a donkey.

Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

Getting close to the end of such a fantastic experience, it was challenging to say goodbye to the Galapagos Islands and fly back to Quito, Ecuador. Remaining with my group, I slept at the same hotel from the beginning of the trip. Now that I have learned both: biodiversity and history of the Galapagos, I discovered fascinating pottery and sculptures that were built by famous architects. With only two days left in South America, I visited two spectacular museums: Casa del Alabado Museum & Initan Solar Museum. Each museum name has a very brief description and some reflection on what I loved about them.

Casa del Alabado Museum has in its custody around 5000 archaeological objects belonging to ancient societies that occupied the territory known today as Ecuador. A finely honed selection of 500 pieces makes up the Museum´s permanent exhibition, with both scientific and museological content, invites the public to discover the worldview of indigenous Americans and explore the aesthetic and technical excellence achieved by ancient artists as they worked an array of raw materials. The Casa del Alabado Museum was extremely fascinating in the subject of art. I loved almost piece of material that I saw. Every design depicted its own creativity with humans expressing their feelings and how humans have used certain materials for centuries.

Initan Solar Museum proudly advertises itself as the home of the “true” equator. Located a short way from the “official” equatorial monument, the museum is bisected by a line of red paint which marks what proprietors claim is the unofficial-official site of the middle of the world. GPS tests come back with mixed results, and the rocky surroundings make accurate readings difficult to obtain, but you’re very close. The Initan Solar Museum is my favorite museum in Quito, because it has a combination of indoor and outdoor exhibitions. During my visit, I walked through tunnels made of tree branches, and played with an egg. At the end of the tour, I got to reached the equator, which was a new milestone for me.

Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises

After traveling on several cruises with Holland America Line, my grandparents were researching a European Vacation, but on a river cruise instead of an ocean cruise. We were very excited to checkout Viking Cruises for the first time. I have traveled on three river cruises with Viking all over Western Europe.

Rhine River

Viking Atla

(Day 1: Amsterdam, Netherlands) December 27th

(Day 2: Kinderdijk, Netherlands) December 28th

(Day 3: Cologne, Germany) December 29th

(Day 4: Koblenz, Germany) December 30th

(Day 5: Hiedelberg, Germany) December 31st

(Day 6: Strasbourg, France) January 1st

(Day 7: Breisach, Germany) January 2nd

(Day 8: Basel, Switzerland) January 3rd

Seine River

Viking Rinda

(Day 1: Paris, Le Pecq, France) December 20th

(Day 2: Paris, France) December 21st

(Day 3: Vernon, France) December 22nd

(Day 4: Rouen, France) December 23rd

(Day 5: Normandy Beaches) December 24th

(Day 6: Les Andelys, France) December 25th

(Day 7: Paris, Le Pecq, France) December 26th

(Day 8: Paris, France) December 27th

Portugal’s River of Gold

Viking Hemming

(Day 1: Lisbon, Portugal) Dec. 22nd

(Day 2: Lisbon, Portugal) Dec. 23rd

(Day 3: Porto, Portugal) Dec. 24th

(Day 4: Porto, Portugal) Dec. 25th

(Day 5: Regua, Portugal) Dec. 26th

(Day 6: Barca d’ Alva, Portugal) Dec. 27th

(Day 7: Salamanca, Spain) Dec. 28th

(Day 8: Pinhao, Portugal) Dec. 29th

(Day 9: Regua, Portugal) Dec. 30th

(Day 10: Porto, Portugal) Dec. 31st

(Cruise ends on “Day 10” and travel to Santiago, Spain by Bus)

Holland America Line Ocean Cruises

Holland America Line Ocean Cruises

Whenever I traveled around the world by cruise ship, Holland America Line has been one of the only cruise lines my family and I have signed up for. Coming from a diverse background of ancestors migrating to the USA from Europe, my grandparents become permanent members of HAL during its progression in the 20th Century. I have been on nine ocean cruises with Holland America Line. I have traveled on three to the Caribbean, two to Mexico, two to Alaska, one in the Canada & New England area, and one in the Mediterranean.

Western Caribbean (Ms. Veendam) 1997

(Day 1: Fort Lauderdale, Florida) December 21st

(Day 2: Key West, Florida) December 22nd

(Day 3: Cozumel, Mexico) December 23rd

(Day 4: Sea Day) December 24th

(Day 5: Ochos Rios, Jamaica) December 25th

(Day 6: Georgetown, Grand Cayman) December 26th

(Day 7: Sea Day) December 27th

(Day 8: Fort Lauderdale, Florida) December 28th

Mexican Riviera (Ms. Rotterdam) 2002

(Day 1: San Diego, California) November 24th

(Day 2: Sea Day) November 25th

(Day 3: Sea Day) November 26th

(Day 4: Mazatlan, Mexico) November 27th

(Day 5: Puerto Vallerta, Mexico) November 28th

(Day 6: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico) November 29th

(Day 7: Sea Day) November 30th

(Day 8: San Diego, California) December 1st

Eastern Caribbean (Ms. Zuiderdam) 2007-2008

(Day 1: Fort Lauderdale, Florida) December 30th

(Day 2: Sea Day) December 31st

(Day 3: Grand Turks & Caicos) January 1st

(Day 4: San Juan, Puerto Rico) January 2nd

(Day 5: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands) January 3rd

(Day 6: Sea Day) January 4th

(Day 7: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas) January 5th

(Day 8: Fort Lauderdale, Florida) January 6th

Alaska (Ms. Veendam) 2008

(Day 1: Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) June 28th

(Day 2: Scenic Cruising The Inside Passage) June 29th

(Day 3: Ketchikan, Alaska) June 30th

(Day 4: Juneau, Alaska) July 1st

(Day 5: Skagway, Alaska) July 2nd

(Day 6: Glacier Bay) July 3rd

(Day 7: Sea Day) July 4th

(Day 8: Anchorage Alaska) July 5th

Gulf of Mexico (Ms. Ryndam) 2009

(Day 1: Tampa, Florida) December 20th

(Day 2: Key West, Florida) December 21st

(Day 3: Sea Day) December 22nd

(Day 4: Belize City, Belize) December 23rd

(Day 5: Santo Tomas, Guatemala – Honduras) December 24th

(Day 6: Costa Maya, Mexico) December 25th

(Day 7: Sea Day) December 26th

(Day 8: Tampa, Florida) December 27th

Mediterranean (Ms. Nieuw Amsterdam) 2010

(Day 1: Venice, Italy) July 3rd

(Day 2: Dubrovnik, Croatia) July 4th

(Day 3: At Sea) July 5th

(Day 4: Venice, Italy) July 6th

(Day 5: At Sea) July 7th

(Day 6: Katakolon, Greece) July 8th

(Day 7: Corfu, Greece) July 9th

(Day 8: Kotor, Montenegro) July 10th

(Day 9: Split, Croatia) July 11th

(Day 10: Triste, Italy) July 12th

(Day 11: Venice, Italy) July 13th

Mexican Riviera (Ms. Oosterdam) 2010-2011

(Day 1: San Diego, California) December 26th

(Day 2: Sea Day) December 27th

(Day 3: Sea Day) December 28th

(Day 4: Mazatlan, Mexico) Deceber 29th

(Day 5: Puerto Vallerta, Mexico) December 30th

(Day 6: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico) December 31st

(Day 7: Sea Day) January 1st

(Day 8: San Diego, California) January 2nd

Alaska (Ms. Westerdam) 2012

(Day 1: Seattle, Washington) July 14th

(Day 2: Sea Day) July 15th

(Day 3: Juneau Alaska) July 16th

(Day 4: Glacier Bay) July 17th

(Day 5: Sitka, Alaska) July 18th

(Day 6: Ketchikan, Alaska) July 19th

(Day 7: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) July 20th

(Day 8: Seattle, Washington) July 21st

Canada/New England (Ms. Maasdam) 2013

(Day 1: Montreal, Quebec Canada) June 29th

(Day 2: Quebec City, Quebec Canada) June 30th

(Day 3: Sea Day) July 1st

(Day 4: Charlottetown, Prince Edward, Canada) July 2nd

(Day 5: Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada) July 3rd

(Day 6: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) July 4th

(Day 7: Bar Harbor, Maine) July 5th

(Day 8: Boston, Massachusetts) July 6th

Family Vacations

Family Vacations

Traveling the world is the central thing of my life. I am very lucky to have been born and raised in a family that has a passion for world travel from cruises, national parks, resorts, and places to see friends, and loved ones. With the countless adventures I have had over the years, traveling has helped me enhance my patience, flexibility, open-mindedness, appreciation, and social skills. Being a global citizen is like reading a book or writing a journal. you don’t know what happens until you open it. It closely connects to the phrase, “never judge a book by its cover.” 

Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Norway)

United Arab Emirates

Costa Rica