Thursday, December 29, 2011

The "Returning from Studying Abroad" Effect...

Just one and a half months ago, I was on a four month adventure studying in & enjoying all that New Zealand had to offer, while still getting a chance to kayak and explore Australia, and I even got to meander through Beijing and Shanghai, China. It was an explosion of energy combined with curiosity that unfortunately or fortunately may have been that 'once in a lifetime' sort of opportunity.

Before leaving the United States of America, I was warned that when returning, I may not feel at home, and may become seriously depressed. I'll be honest, I got anxiety often while abroad, thinking of how awful it would be to feel that way when I returned, since I would be going home in just a short four months... a moment I looked forward to, but at the same time, was afraid of the consequences. 

Fast forwarding to today, I don't feel depressed at all! I do miss all the people that I met along the way though... in fact very much so! But you have to understand and realize the opportunity you just had! Whenever I think about all that I did, I just smile. I miss the landscape of New Zealand, the wild nature of Australia and the surprise and excitement that awaited at every corner in Shanghai & Beijing. I miss putting together international weekend travel adventures in New Zealand, meeting crazy Kiwi's who would often do something you would never expect a human being to do, and those professors who you were supposed to show respect to, even though they were barefoot and had no socks on... both in the classroom and in their office... while sipping on a beer.  The kangaroo who was more than happy to shake my hand, the koala that cuddled with me in front of the camera, multiple, friendly chinese people who bought me green tea just to hear me speak english... and then a chinese scam artist who tried charging me a couple hundred dollars at a tea house... It's all a part of the adventure! How could I be depressed about all these things. Yesterday happened, today is now.

If your thinking about studying abroad, don't think any further, just do it! I have had a countless number of people tell me they either wish they could have studied abroad when they were in college, or they would like to, but are not sure how to do it, or they are simply scared. If your in college... no matter what year your in, go for it! Some College Students simply cannot study abroad, such as Nursing Students. If your a Freshman, Sophomore or Junior, I'd say definitely work on it... NOW! Although I did not include senior year, it doesn't mean its not possible, it would just be a challenge. In fact, I plan on studying abroad once more in Senior Year!

Remember, studying abroad is not just about partying... save your money for traveling and sightseeing. Take your classroom work seriously, but don't forget that sightseeing and learning about the culture is just as important, if not even more important. I did well in classes, but not as well as I would have if I was back at my home university- University of Rhode Island. One reason was because I was in a different hemisphere, I had to take classes that were one semester ahead of me... so rather learning with students who were first semester Juniors, like I was, I was with students who were second semester juniors, so it was a real challenge. But the other reason was because my professor actually told me to spend most of my time meeting new people and learning about the culture. I passed my classes, I met people from more than eleven different countries, travelled to three different countries, partied, made lifelong friends, learned about what I'm aiming for in life, and am still on track to graduate on time. In fact, I spent the same amount of money that I would have if I would have stayed at University of Rhode Island... perhaps even saved money, since I had no car or gas expenses. That's only a part of the magic that comes along with studying abroad. Now go for it! 

Hiked Australia

Rode on the Bullet Train (200+ MPH) from Shanghai to Beijing

Climbed the Steepest Street in the World- Dunedin, New Zealand
Made Lifelong Friends! Kaikoura, New Zealand

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shanghai & Beijing CHINA

New Zealand TO China
This is an article I wrote for the University of Rhode Island Newspaper

Arthurs Pass, New Zealand

Hiking through the Southern Alps in New Zealand, strolling through the valley of the small town New Zealand culture, and then attending class at one of the smallest universities known to man were a part of my lifestyle and experience while studying Landscape Architecture at Lincoln University just outside of Christchurch, New Zealand. Going from a culture which feels that it is okay to walk a mile down the road barefoot to pick up some groceries (and it is okay, in fact it’s fantastic!) to a city of 20 million plus would definitely be a big change... a change I was not sure I’d be able to adapt to. Either way, I was headed to Shanghai, China.

                                                                    Flower Building, Shanghai

Shortly after arriving in Shanghai, I was greeted by Adam Bernadino and Jeff Scherr, two 2011 Landscape Architecture graduate at University of Rhode Island. I was there for 7 days, so I was quickly given a tour of where everything was, including a toolbox of Chinese words that I would need in order to get around. On the first day, we went to their Architecture Studio. Jeff & Adam work for LT Architects of Hong Kong, though their office is based in Shanghai. They were lucky enough to get a job straight out of College at a prestigious Architecture Firm in China. Though their original contract was only for 6 months, they were invited to stay at the firm for another 6 months plus. The guys are not sure what they will do since the language barrier is quite tough, and they are really missing their friends and family back at home. They are thinking about coming home for a bit, and then heading back, but have not made the final decision yet.
Tiananmen Square- Beijing, China

I met the principal of the firm, Paul, who is a genuine business man and Architect who was not only interesting to talk to, since he spoke fluent English,  but was extremely knowledge able in the fields of both Architecture & Landscape Architecture. Although Adam & Jeff are Landscape Architects, they have found thus far that most of their work at this Architecture firm have been related to Architectural details, interior design, and only a couple Landscape Architecture jobs. Both assistant Landscape Architects at this firm, they have found it to be quite interesting that a Landscape Architecture degree can be brought into the fields of Interior design and Architecture. They are currently working on a Lamborghini Dealership in Shanghai. I worked aside them on this for a day, and found myself researching how to design a dealership, and even had a bit of input on their designs. Being in my Junior year at URI, I found it interesting to see what is possibly ahead and I was able to understand the perseverance and leadership that is needed as Landscape Architects, especially in this economy. They seem to be enjoying the work that is coming their way, so I am excited to hear what’s next on their agenda.

Forbidden City- Beijing, China

They have been learning a lot of Chinese, so being with them in China was comforting, since they could translate what I wanted to say. Often I would wander off on my own, which isn’t recommended, especially alone, since once out & about  in Shanghai (which is absolutely massive)  the question is, how do you get back... especially when you cannot pronounce the address of where your staying.  I ended up using the subway system, since there were staff members who spoke just enough English to understand where I needed to get to.
Being in this highly dense urban fabric, after living just outside of Christchurch, at a school of only 2,000, I was definitely overwhelmed. Even coming from New York, I felt lightheaded when I looked up at all the skyscrapers around me. They were everywhere... in fact I took the new high speed bullet train (opened just a few months ago) to Beijing for one night, and it seems as though developers are taking advantage of this train line, and are developing along the edges of it... this means that in probably less than 50 years, you may see Beijing and Shanghai meet with each other (1200 KM apart)... the only development I saw going on, were skyscrapers being built in the middle of giant farms... and this was along the whole stretch of the journey.
Tiananmen Square- Beijing, China... Chinese Military March

University of Rhode Island & LT Architects of Hong Kong are working together to create a connection so that Graduating Landscape Architecture Students may have the opportunity to work at this prestigious firm in Shanghai, ensuring a great experience out of college. Since Adam and Jeff recommend 6 months to start off with, I believe this program will turn out to be a success since I am sure that most students do eventually want to return to the states to do design work. Although both Jeff and Adam agreed that they would like to have international firms one day, they would want to have their base located in the U.S. for personal reasons. They say China is a great starting point, and that if done wisely, can lead to great lifelong networking connections. This opportunity, they say, will increase your understanding of what is out there, beyond the walls of the USA so that one may understand how business is done elsewhere. I find it intriguing to have heard what they had to say about international connections so early on in their career. I believe we can all learn something from this, and that is- Do not be afraid to leave the country... head anywhere, China, New Zealand, Australia, Canada... anywhere!!!! You will understand what a difference it makes to understand what others have to say about America. I’ve spoken to a lot of people along the way in my travels and not one person has been un-friendly in welcoming me but will often include a few jokes here and there about our culture- mostly based upon what they see in the media. There were often critiques and observations that were expressed during the many conversations I’ve had throughout China, New Zealand and Australia, but always in a friendly manner. This is something you can use to your advantage for future decision making in your careers, not just in Landscape Architecture. May we come together and congratulate Adam and Jeff for representing our school, and being a part of creating a connection between URI and Shanghai, China. This will affect our whole community in a positive way, creating not only jobs but priceless experiences. Good luck to you all.
s  u  s  t  a  i  n  a  b  i  l  i  t  y .
                                                                                   Street Sweepers Bamboo Broom
I found it fascinating to see how sustainable China really is. When you think of China, you think of mass production, tons of people, and cheap products (unfortunately)... cheap products we use in our everyday life. Though, when you get to china, you see some sustainable practices... much more than we incorporate into our lives in the U.S.. Because most Chinese have literally come from nothing... and it sort of being a third world country, though it would be hard to say with all the technology and advancement they have had in the last several years... I would say in some ways, their culture and lifestyle is able to accept not every luxury we take for granted in the U.S. such as unlimed resources (or so we think). While we are buying brooms made of plastic and other harsh materials, they are going into their bamboo forests, taking the dead, dried bamboo scrap stuck in between the bamboo shooters, and using both thin growth and thick growth to create their broom. Throughout Shanghai and Beijing are bamboo scrap sheds, which store thin rods to add to your broom, when some break or fall out. This is possible because of the great amount of bamboo in China... but think, what could we do in our everday lives, that we could harvest straight from nature, rather than having to go through a production regime to produce something that only cleans up after us? Mother nature created us... so I am sure she created something to help us maintain our lifestyle... it may sound crazy, but it has to be true! We could grow a bamboo forest in an urban setting, and use it to supply brooms for street sweepers... perhaps this is too late, since workers in the U.S. have gotten used to automated machinery that they ride on to clean the streets and sidewalks...


The 400 year old Yuyuan Gardens, located in Shanghai China, is one of the most pristine gardens in Asia. One of the most impressive, extensive rock gardens I have ever wandered through in my life. They too, in their maintenance regime use the bamboo broom to maintain their garden. I have never seen such a well kept garden in my life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Well, I think it's time to start reflecting on my travels.

Early July I was introduced to a foreign land. New Zealand. Soon, I found out it wasn't really a foreign land I was at, it was I who was foreign. Being foreign brings about only good feelings, because everything you learn, see and touch is so interesting, unique and somehow always fascinating! Not somehow, but for a good reason, and the reason being that I am in an absolutely beautiful country.

The people I met from the very beginning are the people that have helped me to feel at home. Sure I've met heaps of International Students- Norway, Germany, Austria, Africa, France, Colorado-Pennysylvania-Oregon-Idaho, China, Korea and Canada- but I have also met tons of Kiwi's. I truly and honestly have only met good people, people who I know I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life. This part is only the beginning to the my book. The next chapter gets even better!

Having some experience in planning trips, like the one I have taken to New Zealand and many others in the past, I figured I would step up to the plate and start planning trips for our international group. I figured were all college students on tight budgets, so why not travel together and save some money... but also make for great road trips leading to our destinations with such a diverse group of people. So that I did, and boy did we save money!

I approached Lincoln University with a proposition that would forever change the way some staff members viewed exchange students. Never before had an exchange student asked for money to fund for trips before me. Call it a big mouth, call me absurd, or perhaps call me brave, but I successfully received funding in the amount of $700 for 22 students to attend a road trip to Kaikoura, one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. It was certainly my top 'to see' destination. For students on a tight budget, this trip was in my opinion, 'too affordable' thanks to Lincoln University. Is there such thing as 'too affordable' though?

Us American students brought the concept of pancakes for breakfast to New Zealand.... well really, we only introduced it to the Germans and Austrians. With a slab of peanut butter, some jam, perhaps some honey and then of course syrup, and bam, you've got an American Pancake! To be honest, this was the first time I've had an American Pancake then, I guess, but surely, it was delicious!

And so it was July... as most do around the world, we celebrated Christmas in July. We enjoyed mulled wine, many deserts made by international students, sung about 3 different Christmas holiday songs and enjoyed time together, talking about different traditions we use to celebrate this joyous holiday.

It was time for me to plan another trip, so we decided to head off to Dunedin. Dunedin is more of a city, particularly geared towards college students and the party scene. So we did just that!

We climbed to the top of the steepest street in the world! It was absolutely amazing! As we were heading up on our trek to the top, we ran into some... snow? Yes... it started coming down like crazy... something New Zealander's don't see very often. The bus driver got a bit nervous, so we had to head out quickly and head to our next destination before heading back to Lincoln University... Moeraki Boulders!

I believe the image pretty much explains how amazing this 'rock park' was.

A picture captured from our train ride while in Dunedin.

And so that was Dunedin... an amazing adventure full of partying and sightseeing... this trip was literally nearly free... in my opinion. I was able to get funding in the amount of $1,650. The school was overly generous, and we were totally fortunate! Have you ever heard of a college paying for sight seeing? One more thing to add is that after our two trips (Dunedin and Kaikoura) we had snow days the following Monday... and after the Dunedin adventure, we had 3 days off! Some of the biggest snow storms New Zealand has seen in almost a hundred years!

Throughout the trip, whenever we would go on trips, I would always have a hand in cooking... so myself, Sam and Bill were the chefs! I also received some nicknames such as assistant RA (by the Lincoln staff) and Mr. Plan Man by the students.

I took lots of pictures... even some weird ones... of the train tracks!

And then it was time for Australia baby!

Beginning our adventure, we started in Sydney, Australia. We toured around and even had a surprise tour by one of Sydney's most aspiring architects. Emanuel Solomovic. So that was an educational adventure, learned tons and was able to see the city from a locals perspective, which was fantastic.

We had a lot of fun though and in the mornings would wake up and plan our day, with this sort of attitude. We would ask, where should we go, and that is where we would go. There was never a strict plan... which was kinda crazy, but I guess, my life is pretty unplanned, and that is really how life, in my opinion should be lived. Aim for the doors which you think you can open, but then challenge yourself to the ones which seem a bit stuck. The rest will flow open for you when need be.

So yeah, we went sea kayaking. Amazing... besides the fact that I got extremely sick while out in the middle of the sea. We were out for three hours, and for all three hours, I wasn't in the best of shape. Besides being sick, I swear that it was one of the best kayaking adventures I have ever gone on. The sights, the waves and the people we met while kayaking were amazing! It's amazing how the open sea really brings you together... and when I say that, I mean that when I was sick... I felt like it was all over. (The waves were HUGE! Being sick, dehydrated and unable to really paddle was in my opinion a pretty serious thing. Little did I know people went well out of there way to help me, by splashing me with water, giving me potable water to drink) Before I knew it we were at shore... we only flipped a few times :O ! Seriously though, I had so much fun... I know its hard to believe...

Can you tell I was happy to be back on shore? I'm the one who jumped the highest on the far right...

Have you ever seen THE BIG BANANA?

We saw some amazing sights...

I fed and shook hands with some fellow Kangaroo's

Had a photo shoot with a Koala

Visited the Opera House

Best of all, relaxed on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world!

Before I continue... yes we went to school and studied hard! I promise.....

Anyways, so we were off for another adventure. We were set to cover the North Coast and the West Coast in two nights! In case you don't clearly understand the trek we did... we drove 18 hours and hiked 10 hours. The rest were spent sleeping... in our rented car. There was no time to stop at hotel! We did bring a tent, but not only was the tent moldy (since we rented it from our university) but when we actually went to set it up, we thought a homeless person was sleeping on the bench next to our campsite (which was in the center of Nelson City). We got a bit scared, so we stayed in the car. Please don't judge us... This is the only picture we have of Nelson, since all we had time to do there, was sleep.

7:00 a.m. we were up and drove to Abel Tasman... windy roads and amazing views... This was only the beginning.

After a four hour hike in the mountains, we made it to a beach in a small New Zealand village called Anchorage. Even the guy from South France said it was the most beautiful beach he has ever been to. The best is that it was basically untouched since it is a pretty long hike for the average beach bum... its not accessible by car... how cool is that!

We had a nice dinner... and then were off for another adventure... the West Coast! A 7 hour drive brought us to Franz Josef. Franz Josef consists of a glacier (behind us... you can also see a raging river coming out the bottom center), a few small shops and some hot springs (which were closed when we were there because of how early we went, and how early we had to depart, in order to make it back to Lincoln University in time for dinner!) It was about 11:30 when we departed. Franz Josef, although very rainy, as you can see we were drenched... was a beautiful sight and offered some great hikes (or tramps, as New Zealanders would say).
We got back just in time for dinner at 5:30!

The glacier was the last adventure we have had since... but they are not over yet. We still have bungy jumping/sky diving to do... a visit to Queenstown in the southern end of South Island, and on Saturday, this Saturday, me and Traci are going to the North Island to visit Wellington and Auckland.... hopefully some Hitchhiking and awesome sight seeing... as well as meeting great people are all in the agenda. On the 19th, as long as my visa get's stamped, I am headed to Shanghai to visit a fellow classmate who is doing an internship there! So please cross your fingers for my visa!

Never stop. Never say no. Follow, understand and respect the network of people you are connected with. If it wasn't for my network, I probably wouldn't have all these opportunities ahead of me. Stay updated and be connected... connect with random people on and give compliments often to those around you. Don't go against the flow, always go with it and never take no for an answer... that's about all my philosophy for today. Stay happy, and always smile!