Sunday, September 28, 2014

This is intimidating.

This is intimidating.

I’ve been here nearly three weeks now. It seems a lot longer than that, already. I’m so happy and just obscenely grateful to be here, I still can’t believe it. Honestly, it’s still hard a lot of the time, though. I feel really out of my element here. That’s not to say I’m unhappy, but I’ve come to realize that I am very comfortable with myself within a certain context.

Over the past couple years, I’ve really grown as a person and become a lot more confident in myself and comfortable with who I am. That was such a long journey for me to get to that point of being really happy with who I am and where I’m going. Because I had reached that point, I wanted to keep pushing myself, becoming better and stepping even further out of my comfort zone… that’s why I wanted to study abroad.

I’m definitely out of my comfort zone here; I’m unsure of how just about everything works, and that’s a very difficult realization to come to. I keep alternating between exhilaration, panic, excitement, and exhaustion. I love that I’m getting this experience to push myself and learn, and it’s also pretty freaking intimidating. I cycle through these emotions constantly, I can tell you I feel all of them even within a bus ride, every day. This is a big change; it’s a big step, bigger than I thought it would be. This is a really amazing place with really amazing people, it’s just not my place and my people yet. Yet.

I can come out of this as such a bigger person, with more experience, more knowledge of the world and its people, and a new perspective on all of that. I’m feeling like a fish out of water, but I look at these five months with optimism, and I know I’ll look back at them with gratitude.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Finlandia: Just another week

I've got my own little routine in Tampere and it's quite nice.

Wake up
Go to the school and eat lunch (optional)
Wander around town
Go to Lidl (grocery store)
Return home
Relax (Can be switched with cooking)
Eat dinner
Socialize in the kitchen sitting room
Go to room and relax
Talk to best friend

Of course that's my week routine and it's different on the weekends and it might change a little during the week, but that's my basic life and it's kind of nice really. I miss my bestie of course, but considering I talk to her like, every day, it's practically like we're hanging out like usual anyways.

I've met a few people who share some of the same obscure hobbies as me and it's wonderful! I've already learned so much and they've all just been so friendly, welcoming, and more than willing to help with anything that I might have trouble with.

Which reminds me, I need to talk to my one friend about organizing a trip to Lapland and Helsinki. As soon as I get my bank account I can afford to go and I'm so excited :)

Anyways, classes are kind of boring really, and my Finnish course is going well. This week's a short update but whatever haha.

Moi moi~!
Brieana K.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Finlandia: Finnish People Are....

So in these weeks news, let's focus on the Finnish people!

Firstly though, I have to mention something about Finnish people in relation to my learning. To put it bluntly there aren't a lot of Finns in any of my classes. You'll find one or two maybe, but nine times out of ten the student next to you is just as foreign as you are. On one hand that's nice, you already have something in common, but on the other hand, I came here to have classes with Finnish people, and I'm kind of missing out on that.

Which leads me to the real point: Finnish People Are...

1. Shy! Of course not all Finns are shy, you can't generalize a whole culture, but even Finns will jokingly admit to this fact.

2. Really interested in talking to you, but they won't. Unlike back in the South, people here live by the rules, "Keep your nose out of other people's business". I can't even explain how many times I've been talking at a shared lunch table with someone and looked up to see a Finnish person practically bursting at the seams to join in on the conversation. So what do I do? Of course I include them in. After the quick look of shock that undoubtably will pass their face, they'll happily join in and you'll have a lovely conversation.

3. Always willing to help! Even if they can't speak English very well and you can speak little to no Finnish, they won't give up on you. They don't raise their voices either which is something a lot of people could really take notes on. My two prime examples are when I went to Ikea and I asked the cashier a question and she did everything in her power to mime and use her little English to explain to me what I needed to do, and the sweet boy at my University who walked me through the whole building to show me where my classroom was even though he wasn't 100% sure where it was either.

4. Hilarious~! Once you make a Finnish friend you'll completely understand this. Maybe it's just the friends I've made, but I've not met a Finn yet who wasn't completely hilarious. Sometimes jokes get lost in translation, but when you find them again, man, it's hilarious.

5. Clean. Do you wear your shoes in the house? I do! However, the Finns do not. I notice though that a lot of places outside of the US do this. Honestly, I think it's a great thing to do. Sure, it can lead to clutter around the front door if you don't set up a good shoe rack, but it keeps so much dirt and debris from the rest of your house.

6. Recylcers, but not in the way you think... Finnish people do recycle, and there are containers for biowaste and regular waste all around the school, but what is taken most seriously is plastic bottles. The thing is though, a strange thing happens with these plastic bottles. Too lazy to take it to the store and get your money back? Just throw it in the street! No joke, that bottle won't even be on the ground for more than a minute before someone (usually homeless) will come by with a bag filled with other bottles to pick it up. I've even seen people with little sticks so they can reach into garbage cans and pull out these cans and bottles. You usually get like 0.20€ for them, but money is money, and at least it helps with recycling.

And Lastly....

Finnish people are friendly! I'm sure you've gathered that from everything I said already, but seriously, once you make a Finnish friend you always have someone to do something with. So far I've gone to an American diner, played table top games, had dinner, and just relaxed with my Finnish friends either at their own houses or out in public and it's wonderful. Sure I still mostly hang out with International students, but that's simply because we have more time to waste. When my Finnish friends have extra time though, they always invite me to come hang out with them. It's wonderful, and it makes me feel so much better about my decision to come here.

Anyways, at the end of another long post I just have to say that I do enjoy it here, and though I've had some awkward run ins and some pitfalls, I look forward to every day I wake up in my dormitory in Tampere.

Moi moi~! Until next time!

Brieana K.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Here I am, living the dream

Thursday, September 11

I landed in Belfast International Airport on Tuesday, September 9th at 9:30 AM. It is now 2:43 AM on Friday, September 12th. 

To describe my experience of a few days in a few words, it has been terribly unorganized, incredibly overwhelming, mentally exhausting, and the most excitement I’ve ever experienced in such a short time. There are seventy international students in the program here at Jordanstown, and I am desperately trying to get to know everyone. It’s been two days. My most desperate problem is how much I want to know, explore, and learn about everyone and everything. It’s my own greed for knowledge and experience that has made me feel so greatly overwhelmed for the past few days. I want to be friends with everyone, so I just keep talking to different people every time I see someone new. My brain has been simply overloaded with information. I’ve been alternately extremely excited and drained trying to learn names, places, language, and everything else.

Starting tonight though, I’m finally feeling a sense of belonging. Twenty of us took a train into Belfast and walked for two hours, exploring the streets. We bar hopped and ate at the Alley Cat, my new favorite pub in the city, drank beers, and talked about everything except which subject area we were studying. I felt like I was among friends.  We came back to campus late in a cab, and met up with another group in the Courtyard playing games, and we hung out with them for hours after that. It felt to me finally like a community. We all sat and talked and laughed and shared, and I felt, among all these people from every other country, that I was beginning to be at home.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Finlandia: The First Real Week

Wowie zowie this first week has been.... Hectic to say the least.

Due to a schedule misunderstanding twice, I missed one class on Monday, and had to change a class because I found out a class I really needed met at the same time as another one. Talk about annoying. There's nothing worse than sitting in an hour and a half class and only thinking about all the stuff that you have to go and do. I'm the kind of person who has to do stuff immediately, so when I'm forced to stay in one spot I get really antsy and I can't pay attention. It's one of the downsides to hyper-focusing, and though it can help to finish projects, it can also be a hinderance.

All the classes are fixed now though, and I officially don't have classes on Friday which is perfect considering the fact that every party that seems to go on in Tampere happens on a Thursday. I'm not big on heavy drinking and partying at clubs, but when I do want to indulge I don't want to worry about going to class the next day. It's not fair to the professor and other students when you come in to class hungover.

So if you're a friend of mine on Facebook you've already seen this picture, but I wanted to add it in here because it helps to explain something super important about Finland. We live near the water, it only takes me like, two or three minutes to walk down to the lake, and this is totally an outdoorsy town. People like walking around the lake, running, biking, hunting for mushrooms, all those kinds of things. Why is this important? Well, it's because I'm about to draw a huge parallel! Tampere, in a sense, is a lot like Maryville, just a lot bigger. Sure they've got public transport here and sidewalks, but Tampere feels like a really big and really spread out Maryville. 

It's nice in a way, I mean, I know I'm safe and that I can get help with anything if I need it, but it's also not exactly what I wanted when I signed up for this. I get antsy back in Maryville, I want to do things, I want to go out and go to museums and plays and everything. There's a Moomin museum, and a few other museums and theaters (I actually went to the Moomi museum and a dress rehearsal of Evita thanks to my Finnish friends), but I don't know, it's still not big enough for me, not busy enough. Maybe it's the culture shock talking, but on the other hand I know I've felt content in other foreign places. Limerick was pretty small (though I still adored it), but I remembered really liking Dublin, and of course I adore London. I also really liked Salzburg though. I don't know, I'm not going to think about it too much. I do love it here, it's very peaceful, but maybe it just feels too familiar to me. 

The good thing though, is I've made quite a few new friends here, and you can never feel lonely or bored or anything while they're around. Here's a picture from last night when we had a bonfire and tried to see the northern lights. The bonfire went out quickly (the students who set it up really don't know how to make a fire but I didn't want to be that person), and we didn't see the northern lights, we we still had an amazing time and it was totally worth it all. I keep forgetting to buy marshmallows so me and the other American students can teach everyone how to make smores. I'll remember one of these days though. There's a really weird brand here that is the most patriotic thing I've ever seen, but it's cheap American stuff, so it's kind of nice. I can show my new friends some of our 'weird' and tasty traditions and it barely costs me 5€!

Which reminds me, so far these are the things I've looked for and either I could not find, or they are not like what we have back home: BBQ chips, Mountain Dew, Fritos, Chex Mix: Muddy Buddies, McDonald's chicken nuggets, Mcdonald's spicy mustard.

I've added the two McDonald's things and I just wanted to point out that no, I did not pick to go to McDonald's, one of my Scottish friends did, but you never say no to fast food after a night partying and knowing you have to walk home haha ;)

Which brings me to the food category of my life here. Wow, WOW! I might have mentioned it before, but it's outrageously expensive to eat out at most places here. Like, we think it's a little pricey to do a 2 for $20 deal or my favorite 2 for $35 deal at Chili's (you get 2 margaritas, an appetizer, and entree, and a dessert ;) ), but that's nothing compared to the prices here. The pricey food has lead me to eat at home or in the cafeteria since it's only €2.60 which means I'm eating a lot better than I usually do. A banana or a croissant for breakfast, lunch in the cafeteria which automatically comes with a salad and bread as well as your entree, and either I cook or one of my friends does in the evening. It's actually funny, I barely eat processed food here. Like, I had a frozen panang curry dinner and it was pretty good, but like, a week or so later I had frozen fish fingers and frozen french fries just as something cheap and filling and I couldn't really eat it. I enjoy some chips every now and then, and I just had my first Mountain Dew in Finland today, but it's definitely not an everyday thing, and I really like that. It's reasonably priced to eat healthy meals here, and I love experimenting with cooking. When it comes down to it, Finland, or at least Tampere, is a healthy eaters paradise haha!

Wow, I had no idea how long I'd babbled on for, I guess I'll leave you all until next week. Should probably start studying for my first Finnish vocal quiz anyways.

Moi Moi~!
Brieana K

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Finlandia: A slow start

First week passed with no problems~!

Curiously enough though, as I was going through my morning routine I noticed something crazy, I'M ABOUT TO START MY THIRD WEEK HERE! Time is already going by so incredibly quickly. I feel like I just got here less than a week ago and it's already been three weeks. I haven't done a lot, which is kind of a problem.

I really really really need to start working on my thesis again, but I just don't have any motivation to look up all the sources. I think what I might do is just write (since I know exactly what I want to say and I already know the information that I'm going to put into it), and then go back and change everything so I can add in sources. That might be better. I can write pretty quickly when it's all coming straight out of my head, but if I have to worry about sources and other things it really slows me down and keeps me unmotivated. Plus, if I finish up my thesis I can finally get back to writing my short stories!

Anyways, my first week of classes was more like a tester week. I only had one class on Wednesday and then Friday so it was a super easy week. The course is survival Finnish, and though I do like it, I find the teacher a little hard to understand. He's very nice, but he has a super thick accent and does what seems to be a very common Finnish thing where he just starts and stops talking at random intervals. I say it seems to be common because I hear Finns doing it in their own language too, so I know it's not just when they speak English.

Next week starting Tuesday is my real first week of school. I have one class on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and two classes on Wednesday. Not so bad at all! I also finally get to open my Finnish bank account on Wednesday, so that means I'll finally start getting money from ISEP on the 30th, and I can pay in Euros online for fun things like hockey tickets and plane tickets ;)

Which reminds me, I might be going to Poland during my period brake in October to see Auschwitz and a few other major historical places so that's exciting! I'll get back to you on that though.

Talk to you guys later, Moi Moi~!

Brieana K.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Finlandia: The Training Wheels Come Off

This whole week has been orientation, and let me tell you, it's been hard to sit through.

Orientation at a new school is incredibly important, and I believe that it can be chock full of extremely important information, but I also think there is such a thing as too much information. We're all adults after all, and some things should just be common knowledge to us. Take for instance the constant reminder to clean up after yourself if you use the kitchen. We got it the first time, no reason to repeat it 80 more times, and moreover, if you need to be told to clean up your own mess there's a problem.

That's beyond the point though! I really love it here in Finland even if I don't always know where I'm going haha. My sense of direction here is okay, but due to the length of the names of certain places I tend to forget the names which makes it hard to find them when people want to go there as a meeting point. Luckily I've got great friends who are practically like homing pigeons and they always make me feel safe if we end up having to walk home because we've been out too late.

Speaking of friends, today was a beautiful example as to why you should make local friends!

Firstly, when I went to go to my overall fitting (I'll talk about the overalls in more depth when I actually get them, until then live in suspense), I found the directions given to me extremely vague and unhelpful. If it wasn't for my friend I would have stood outside that office with no idea what to do. I can't wait for my survival Finnish course so I don't always have to ask for her help.

Secondly, I was invited to see a dress rehearsal of a professional production of "Evita", like I'm talking about I got in free to a show that has ticket prices starting at 28€! So, of course the whole thing was in Finnish so I didn't understand everything, but it was still a great production and I picked a lot up from context clues and from my friends.

This week has been really great all the same and I'm going to the flea market and the fresh market tomorrow so I'm going to have a lot of fun.

Moi Moi~! I'll talk to you later.

Brieana K.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Finlandia: the Beginning of an Adventure

Brieana Kepley
University of Tampere, ISEP Program

Wow wow wow!

I mean seriously, what else can I say than wow?

Well, I mean of course I can say more than that, but it's all about finding the beginning I guess.  So, I'll start where anyone else would, departure:

To put it simply, the flight from TYS to Chicago O'Hare was nothing, very enjoyable, it wasn't until I got to Stockholm that all hell broke loose. I knew I had a 14hr layover, but you don't really know a 14hr layover until you've experienced it.

You get in to the airport tired and bleary, you have to go through customs and get your new flight ticket, you try to figure out the general direction your flight might be leaving from, and then you wander aimlessly finding a nice spot to either sit or lay down. Have to go to the bathroom? Don't forget to drag your 30lbs worth of luggage with you (not your under the plane luggage even) and god forbid you take your eyes off your luggage for even a second because the man over the intercom is constantly reminding you that there are thieves, thieves everywhere! Most importantly, make sure you know the currency for all the places you are stopping at!

I knew that Finland used the Euro, as many countries around here do, but I totally forgot that Sweden doesn't use the Euro, they use the Krona. Mind you, the Krona will make no sense to you at all if you are from the USA.

So, take for instance the idea that you have €15, about $20, (I'm using €15 because the wonderful woman at the currency exchange counter told me if you convert €15 or under you don't have to pay a fee) and you want to get some SEK, which are Swedish Krona. When I did that exact thing I got back 133 Krona. I still look at the little coins I have left over mystified! You know why? Because, even though I had 133 Krona, which sounds like an awful lot, a simple ham and cheese sandwich cost me 68 Krona! I'm not even surprised about the fact that that's a lot of money, it's an airport after all, what I'm surprised about is the fact that 133 Krona sounds like an awful lot, but it really isn't a lot at all when you look at the price of Swedish items.

Anyways, I took the short 45min flight from Stockholm to Tampere and was greeted by a teeny tiny little airport with no one there. I mean, maybe the departure gates are bigger or something, maybe it was because I arrived at night, maybe it was even because I was dead tired, but it looked even smaller than TYS!

I left for my hotel, and trust me, if you ever need a hotel in Scandinavia I totally suggest Omena hotels! It was a little pricey, €77.90 (really not that bad when you think of it), but you really got your money's worth. Two comfy beds pushed together with the ability to fold out two more beds, tea, coffee, a shower and bathroom to yourself, a television, and all the space! I mean seriously, it was so spacious! Don't expect a good view or anything of course, but who cares when it really comes down to it?

Anyways, that was all last night and today has been all about getting myself ready for the school year.  After forgetting to grab my passport and acceptance letter I rode the bus by myself back to my dorm before I picked up my kitchen starter kit (pan, cups, forks, knives, spoons, etc), got a few groceries (forgot an umbrella twice and still don't have one), a new 10meter internet cable (the internet cable connector box is practically on the ceiling on the other side of the room, who does that?!), and dealt with things like my student ID and Student Union fee.

Now as I lay here typing this I'm exhausted. It's only 8pm, but I've done so much and there is still so much to do. I met (actually stopped and talked to, not a passing glance or hello) the guy who lives across the hall from me and his friend who lives upstairs (they're both from Edinburgh, Scotland if you're curious), but unfortunately, as is often the case in my life, I've completely forgotten his name. I remember his friend's name is Michael since I have a friend by the same name who he reminds me of, but for the life of me I can't remember his name and I actually feel kind of bad about that. He's super sweet, and he helped me since I'm not tall enough, even when standing on a chair, to plug in my internet cord. He even invited me to come with him and his friend to the party tonight and a pre-party party he's going to. I was going to go, but when he knocked on my door I backed out. I am just too tired and I had to finish unpacking. Luckily he completely understood and told me he was actually pretty tired too, and if he hadn't already promised he'd show up to the pre-party party to a few people from the same country as him he wouldn't be going at all.

Anyways, I'm going to try to stay up for a little bit longer so I'm not going to bed too early, and tomorrow will be a brand new day~! I'm hoping to go to Ikea (I LOVE IKEA), and generally take some pictures and just relax. There's plenty of time to be busy, I just want to have some time where I'm not rushing or dying from exhaustion haha.

Until then I'll catch you guys later.

Moi Moi~!

Brieana :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Guía de Montevideo: cómo ir, llegar, y triunfar (Montevideo Guide: How to Go, Arrive, and Triumph)

Entender el sistema de transporte de una ciudad nueva siempre complica la vida. Estudiantes de intercambio viviendo en Montevideo tienen 3 modas de transportación: el ómnibus, el taxi, y los pies. Lo siguiente es una guía de cómo utilizar estos recursos con confianza.

Antes de salir, es muy útil ver el camino y encontrar las opciones de cómo llegar. El sitio de web oficial de la Intendencia de Montevideo  que se llama “Como Ir” es una herramienta que muestra cuales buses ven a tu destino desde tu origen. Se pone la esquina de las calles de cada ubicación, y se puede ver los horarios de los buses que te sirvan. Como Ir también da instrucciones de cómo llegar caminando, aunque la vista satelital de mapas google muchas veces funciona mejor para eso. Además, aunque no tenía un plan de internet en mi iPod 5 (que sí puede conectar al wifi), el GPS de mapas google me siguió por la ciudad –no la entiendo esta tecnología, ¡pero me ayudó!

Understanding the transportation system of a new city always makes life a little harder. International students living in Montevideo have 3 modes of transportation: omnibus (bus), taxi, and their own two feet. The following is a guide of how to use these resources with confidence.

Before leaving, it’s really useful to see the route and find your options of how to get there. The official website from the Intendancy of Montevideo called “Como Ir” (How to Go) is a tool that shoes which buses go to your destination from where you are. You just put the cross streets of each location, and then you can see the schedule of the buses that serve your route. Como Ir also gives walking directions, although the satellite view of Google Maps often works better for that purpose. Further, although I didn’t have a data plan on my iPod 5 (which can connect to wifi), the GPS function of Google Maps followed me through the city – I don’t understand how that works, but it helped me!


Sin duda, escogí esta opción la más frecuentemente y la disfruté muchísimo. Andar por la ciudad es una manera de entender los hábitos y estilo de vida de la gente. Se puede ver los barrios distintos, la arquitectura, plazas y monumentos conocidos, y las comidas de las calles. Un beneficio extra es que, después de algunas semanas caminando, es fácil hablar con los locales de lugares y eventos con la confianza de conocer exactamente de dónde están hablando. “Fui a la Ronda – la conocés? En la ciudad vieja, atrás del Teatro Solis…” “Sí, la conozco!”
Yo recomiendo que siempre camines cuando sea posible.


Without a doubt, I chose this option most often and enjoyed it the most. Walking though the city is a way of understanding the habits and lifestyles of the people of Montevideo. You can see the different neighborhoods and parts of the city, the arquitecture, famous plazas and monuments, and the street food. An extra benefit is that, after a couple weeks of walking, it’s easy to talk with the locals about places and events with confidence of knowing exactly where they are talking about. “I went to La Ronda – you know it? In the Old City, behind Teatro Solis…” “Yeah, I know it!”
I recommend that you always take the opportunity to walk whenever possible!

El Taxi

Los taxis son caros, pero confiables y rápidos. Son mejores durante la noche cuando los buses no vienen tan frecuentemente, o necesitas llegar legos con mucho equipaje. No estoy segura, pero oí chismes que los taxis calculan el precio solamente por la distancia, no por la duración del viaje. Ir 2.5 kilómetros sale tipo $5USD – depende en dónde vives, pero regresar del boliche normalmente salió $5 hasta $10 USD.
Los taxistas típicamente son amistosos, y están más feliz con una propina pequeña al fin del viaje. A veces tienen GPS, pero muchas veces es mejor ya saber la esquina de dónde quieres ir y aproximadamente la ubicación en comparación con otros lugares.  No olvides que los taxis no aceptan tarjetas, y muchas veces no tienen cambio por billetes grandes. Como siempre, es necesario tener dinero en efectivo y en una variedad de billetes.

By taxi

Taxis are expensive, but reliable and fast. They are best during nighttime, when the buses don’t run as frequently, or when you need to get somewhere with a lot of stuff. I’m not sure, but I heard gossip that the taxis calculate their fare based only on distance, not on how long the ride takes. To go two and a half kilometers (about 1.5 miles) costs about $5 – so, depending on where you live, returning from a night out dancing costa somewhere between $5 and $10.
The taxi drivers typically are friendly, and are happier with a small tip at the end of the ride. Sometimes they will have a GPS, but usually it’s better to know the cross streets of where you want to go, as well as roughly where it is located in relation to other places. Don’t forget that taxis don’t accept cards, and many times they don’t have change for large bills. As always, it’s necessary to have cash and a range of bills.

El ómnibus (el “bondi”)

Antes de discutir los omnibuses públicos de la ciudad, un comentario sobre los buses que van por el campo y a destinos internacionales. Aunque es posible encontrar información y los horarios de los buses por el internet, es mucho más fácil encontrar la información en persona. Si quieres planificar un viaje, va a Tres Cruces, el terminal de bus principal de Montevideo. Se ubica sólo 15 minutos caminando de la facultad, entonces se puede ver los líneas de bus durante almuerzo o entre clases. Por lo general, los precios de los boletos no son muy altos, y la calidad de los asientos es mayor que los de los EUA. Los asientos “semi-cama” se reclinan y son bastante cómodos, especialmente en comparación con los de MegaBus o Greyhound. Para viajes más largos, el bus proviene una comida igual a las comidas de los aerolíneas, y el baño (aunque no es algo de lujo) no es muy feo. Tomar el bus es más barato que volar por avión, y hay el beneficio de ver el campo lindo.


Los omnibuses públicos en Montevideo son de buena calidad: por lo general, llegan dentro de 10 minutos de cuando los esperas, no son sucios, y van a todos lado de la ciudad. Cada viaje por bus cuesta UY$22 ($1 USD), y si compras una tarjeta de bus, puedes comprar una hora de buses por el mismo precio. Algunos buses directos que van al límite del departamento cuestan UY$32 porque van lejos sin muchas paradas. Después de 21:00, hay pocos buses hasta la mañana tipo 7:00, entonces si quieres salir por la noche, es mejor buscar el horario de los buses o tomar un taxi. Siempre hay buses en la calle central 18 de julio, pero en sitios más aislados o bravos es necesario buscar el horario y parada del bus que necesites, o conseguir un taxi. 

Las paradas de ómnibus normalmente tienen una banca cubierta o al menos un signo de metal. Algunas paradas tienen signos que muestran cuales buses sirve la parada, y la ruta de tránsito. Entonces, se puede adivinar una ruta basada en la información de la parada si no estás segura de cual bus necesitarías. En realidad,  es mejor no tener que adivinar, porque las paradas no siempre tienen tanta información.

Cuando subes el ómnibus, hay que pagar el conductor o el cajero más adentro del bus – presta atención, porque los conductores no quieren estar molestados cuando hay un cajero! Después de pagar, recibirás un papelito que es el ticket. Por mis 5 meses, sólo una vez necesité  mostrar mi ticket a un agente de la compañía de bus, pero es una buena idea guardar el ticket hasta bajar. Lamentablemente, es común ver los tickets en las calles, una fuente grande de basura. 

Si utilizas el ómnibus frecuentemente, vas a acostumbrarte muy rápido al sistema, y vas a disfrutar un método bastante eficiente de viajar por la ciudad. Aventura y explora!

Omnibus (the “bondi”)
Before discussing the public city buses, I want to comment about the buses that go to the countryside and that run internationally. Although it’s possible to find information and bus schedules online, it’s a whole lot easier to find that information in person. If you want to plan a trip, go to Tres Cruces, the main bus terminal in Montevideo. It’s only a 15 minute walk from the university, so you can go to see the bus lines during lunch or between classes. Generally, the prices of the tickets aren’t very high, and the quality of the seats is way better than the buses in the US. The “semi-cama” (almost-bed) seats recline and are rather comfortable, especially compared to the seats on a MegaBus or Greyhound. For longer trips, buses provide meals equivalent to airplane food, and the bathroom (although it’s not anything luxurious) isn’t so bad. Taking the bus is cheaper than flying, and it has the added benefit of seeing the beautiful countryside as you travel!

The public omnibuses in Montevideo are good in quality: generally they arrive within 10 minutes of when you’d expect, they aren’t dirty, and they go all around the city. Each trip on the bus costs about $1, and if you buy refillable bus card, you can buy an hour of bus use for the same price. Some direct buses that run all the way to the limit of the department (province) cost about $1.50 because they go so far without stopping so often. After 11PM, there are few buses running until about 7AM, so if you want to go out at night, it’s better to look up the bus schedule or take a taxi. There are always buses in the central street 18 de Julio, but in places that are more isolated or rowdy, it’s necessary to look up the schedule and stop locations of the bus you would need, or to catch a taxi.

The bus stops normally have a covered bench or at least a metal sign. Some stops have signs that show which buses the stop serves and the routes of the buses. As such, you can guess the route of a bus based on the information given at the stop if you aren’t sure which bus you would need. But really it’s better not to have to guess, because the bus stops don’t always have so much information posted.

When you get on the bus, you have to pay the driver or the cashier sitting farther into the bus – pay attention, because the driver don’t want to be bothered when there’s a cashier on duty! After paying, you’ll get a little piece of paper that is your ticket. In my five months, there was only one time that I needed to show my ticket to a bus company agent, but it’s a good idea to go ahead and keep your ticket until getting off. Sadly, it’s common to see the tickets floating on the streets, a big source of litter.

If you use the buses frequently, you’ll get used to the system fast, and you’re going to enjoy a pretty efficient way of traveling through the city. Adventure and explore!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bonaire: The First Step off the Mainland

Bonaire: The First Step Off the Mainland
Brandon Denney

            It’s strange to think that as of today’s writing, my study abroad experience is already over. In a way, it seems like it never happened at all, almost as if it’s a brief but wonderful memory. At the same time, it seems like it was the most wonderful experience of my young life, with the best group of professors and peers I could possibly imagine.
            This trip served as my first trip outside of the United States, period. When I got word that I was accepted into the program, I was in disbelief. What would I experience outside of the United States? What will I feel finally setting foot on foreign soil? On March 15th, I finally got the answers after touching down at the beautiful flamingo airport in Kralendijk, Bonaire.

It's a shame more airports aren't hot pink. 
Our dive team in action.

After exiting the plane from the five hour flight, I immediately felt like I was in a different world.  The air in Bonaire has a certain thickness to it as a result from the humidity and heat.   The area surrounding the airport was mostly cacti and arid land, with the gorgeous mountains of Washington Slagbaai Park not far in the distance.  After loading our bags onto the shuttle, we headed towards our destination of the Buddy Dive Resort. Someone from our group requested some   Bonairian music on the radio; our driver enthusiastically agreed, and we were treated to the wonderful sounds of Beyonce. I don’t know what we were expecting, but regardless, it was neat to see that even a small Carribean island listens to our pop music.

One of my favorite fish! A french angelfish.
The resort was absolutely gorgeous – situated on the shore of Kralendijk, we got a perfect view of the entire shoreline of the island and the uninhabited Klein Bonaire. We essentially just threw our bags down and ran to the dock to get our dive gear and look out on the ocean. Looking into the water, we immediately noticed a number of the fish we studied in class and almost fell into the water with excitement. I was in disbelief that these incredible creatures that I only knew existed on a slideshow existed. In their environment, they were more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

A beautiful female princess parrotfish muching on some coral.

There’s a tradition on the island to be on what is known as “island time”, which means that time is approximate and clock watching is discouraged. In that sense, I fell in love with the place. The laid back atmosphere reached a peak when we undertook our first dive that afternoon. Our first dive took place at the resort, and lasted about 35 minutes. Although we had dove before at a local rock quarry in east Tennessee, nothing could have prepared me for actually being underwater in the reef. Pictures simply cannot do it justice – it’s as if you’re flying over a city and observing the inhabitants from afar. Some of the first “inhabitants” of this particular dive were a spotted moray eel, princess parrotfish, a coney, and a graysby. What was most interesting about diving was the sense of exploration you got when looking for creatures. After surfacing from the first dive, we were practically screaming about what creatures we saw and how giant they were in comparison to what we were exposed to on the slideshow. Each person had their own individual stories about something they found, an interaction with a dive buddy, or the sheer amazement of being underwater for so long. To me, that was one of the most rewarding parts about the trip.

In total, I went on 14 dives during my stay in Bonaire. I maxed out at 4 dives in one particular day (it goes without saying that I got a full 11 hours of sleep that night) and had two days with no dives in order to balance my nitrogen levels. The dive masters that went on our boat dives were professional, competent, and really easy to get along with. Never was there a time where I felt unsafe or nervous about a dive – I always knew that someone had my back and I was confident in my ability to troubleshoot other’s problems thanks to the training I had. One of the most relaxing dives on the entire trip was on the Buddy Dive resort, when my friends Lauren, David Lee, and I went on a dive by ourselves. Not only did we have confidence in each other to fix a potential problem, but we got some amazing shots with the group’s GoPro camera.

First dive success!
We ventured out beyond Buddy Dive for the next few days, going on a boat dive tour of the entire east side of the island. Dives such as 1000 steps, Kelli’s Dive, LeDonia’s Dive were all tackled in one day, and had their own unique sites and creatures to stumbled upon. It was easy to get excited as to what you were about to dive into! Some were more tailored to jellyfish sightings, while others had giant green morays lurking in the deep. Most of the dives on the island were named after Captain Don, an island resident since the 1950s that has been essential to preserving the habitat of Bonaire and turning it into a national landmark. Due to his history as a womanizer, most of the dives are named after women he had affairs with. He has a long history with the island, and most of the residents know him by name.

Some wonderful varieties of coral and sponge. Much use was made of the GoPros and underwater cameras.

When we weren’t diving, we were busy helping preserve the natural habitat of the island. In what may be my most favorite day on the island, we took a break from diving to go birding and work with the Sea Turtle Conservatory of Bonaire! We picked up an intern from the organization named Carly, a 21 year old student from the Netherlands that had the dream job of a lifetime. Our job was to clean the algae from rubber fishing lines that had accumulated over time. This line protects turtle seagrasses from being destroyed from tourist activities. Overall, the work was incredibly rewarding and I'm happy to have taken part in it!

Enz and Unger working on the turtle line clean up.

Arriving back on the mainland, I was so thankful for my time spent in Bonaire. I learned so much under Dr. Unger, Dr. Enz, and my fellow classmates. It's one thing to simply look at a picture of the ocean, but it's another to actively be a part of the ocean and see it's wonderful workings firsthand. Nothing can replace the amazing, life-changing experience that this was. Thank you, Maryville College, for helping me get there.
Miss you, Bonaire!