Saturday, January 31, 2015

4,353 Miles

Being abroad is easy.  Traveling? Piece of cake.  Seeing the world? Beautifully eye-opening.  Being abroad and experiencing a new culture is everything everyone said it would be.  It's exciting, and I'm learning so many new things about a country and a continent that I knew so little about beforehand.  I have been preparing for this semester for two and a half years!  I did my research, took my pre-departure class, and bought my plane ticket.  I thought I was prepared and ready for anything.
Gate to the Old Medina in Fez

Nothing can ever prepare you for living abroad.  I was not ready for this.  I'm experiencing shock in more than one way, but my biggest shock of all?  Being 4,353 miles away from my support group, my family, my home.

Let me preclude the rest of my post with a tidbit of information that might put this into a bit of perspective: My significant other and I broke up about two weeks before I left the states.

Now for most of you, you're probably like so what?  YOU'RE IN MOROCCO!  Have fun and live it up!  Well, for starters, I'm trying.  Really hard actually.  Most days, I'm fine, and I'm enjoying myself immensely.

For others of you, you know that this breakup was incredibly hard for me because it was pretty unforeseen.  How can it be unforeseen you say?  I was getting ready to embark on a four/five month journey to Morocco. just was.  I wasn't expecting it, so it hit me pretty hard.  To be honest, even if I had been expecting it, it would have been just as hard, just as difficult, just at heart wrenching.

After my last international adventure
Now, back to my shock.  Breakups are hard.  Always have been; always will be for both parties.  I've been through a breakup or two before this one.  I'm going to let you in on a little secret: it's much easier when you're at home.  When you're with your friends, you forget a little.  When you're with your family, you cry a little.  But it's all made better by the fact that you're surrounded by people who love you no matter what, who will listen to you, who will back you up, and who will give you some tough love when you're being too mopey.  It's a beautiful thing, and you heal, and things get better.

My new family
I don't have that here.  I can't just call up my best friends and say let's have a girls night and climb trees in the middle of the night.  I can't call my mother and say let's go grab ice cream while you give me one of your motherly hugs.  I can't call my dad and ask him to go beat up the guy who broke my heart.  And I can't drown myself in work and applications and papers and meetings and deadlines to drown out some of the pain.  I'm living abroad with a broken heart without my support group: the people I rely on most in my life, and it (excuse my language) fucking sucks.

Girls' Night Out (apparently I can still have those)
I'm not going to lie, there have been a couple of times (flickers of thought really) when I have wanted to pack up my stuff and go home because of how hard this is.  Then I remind myself how lucky I am to be given this opportunity: the ability to study abroad in North Africa, in Morocco for four/five months.  I have made some amazing friends here.  They have become my support group; they have become my family.  I am receiving a once in a  lifetime opportunity, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way of that; not even 4,000 miles and a lonely heart.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Preparing Or Stressing?

Whether you are a skilled traveler or a first-timer packing for this 4 month long study abroad can be stressful.  I have made list after list (No really I’ve been through half a spiral notebook).  I made a couple mistakes when looking at what clothes to pack; I’ve  packed to much only to realize I packed the clothes I was going to wear and the change of clothes for my carry-on.  I have come to the point of realizing that yes we all have our favorite clothes and shoes, but most places have all the necessities you might need if you lose or forget something (especially me heading to Milan (fashion hub), Italy). 
 1) Toiletries, seriously these are not a big deal as people make them out to be. I have come to realize that if you Google what are the top hair/personal care brands in your Host country they will have familiar brands (i.e. Italy has Proctor and Gamble products). I have only packed shampoo and body wash in travel sizes in the 3-1-1 rule in my carry-on.  You will probably want to pack enough travel size toiletries for the first few days so you don’t have run out as soon as you land to get products so you can shower.
2) Medications are a big decision on what to take and how much.  I for one am pretty particular on what I take.  So I am packing enough vitamins to last me the duration of the trip.  Now on pain medication I am taking a few different types with me to help with the headache of flying and change in climate.  I am also taking some allergy and cold medication once again with the changes to your body it is advisable. As well in my personal bag I am packing some of those UrgentRX singles to help with upset stomach and the pains of flying and customs.
Research is your friend:
 I couldn’t tell you how many videos, blogs, stories, tips and tricks I have heard or watched.  I have learned some important things in my research. 
1)  do not pack any appliances (i.e. flat irons, curling irons, hair dryers) it will be easier just to buy cheap ones once you arrive do to the change in electrical current. 
2) Check the outlet styles for where you will be staying/ traveling to. Odds are they are different from here and some may different from other places you may visit (i.e. Italy has 2 different styles, but I asked my coordinator and found out that the three round pronged outlet is most common, but in the UK round 2 pronged outlets are more common. So be prepared for those weekend trips too. 
3) DO NOT and I mean DO Not forget convertors. You will fry anything you plug in most likely.
4) Cell phones: Here is the big one.  I am taking my current phone overseas with me. I advise talking to your service provider on what you can and cannot do with your phone overseas.  I lucked out and found out we have international texting and that when connected to Wi-Fi I can still use my phone to call through apps (Viber, Tango, and Skype).
5) Whatever device you are taking to use as a camera (phone camera, iPad, and etc.) pack extra memory cards and back-up the device regularly while abroad then back up that device regularly as well.
6) Research the culture and what is or isn’t taboo in your host country. (i.e. Italians do not wear sweatpants or yoga outside of their homes).
7) Those 5 inch heels are super cute, but it’s advisable to leave them at home. If you need to pick up a pair of heels for an occasion it would be easier than packing that beautiful pair and leaving those comfy shoes home instead (Plus who is going to turn down shoe shopping in a different country (especially Italy)).
8) Check and recheck your airline bag restrictions and requirements.  Measure your bags to be safe. Buy a baggage weight scale.  Practice packing and if you cannot carry all of your bags safely and securely through a crowded airport in a foreign location, rethink your clothes and extras. Remember that you may have to carry your entire luggage on a train, or down a cobblestone street. Be mindful to your surroundings and your luggage.
9) I do not know how much this will help other than helping with adapting easier, but look up the top music genre of the country and listen to some of it. You may find yourself liking some of the music or an artist and that can help with immersing into the culture. (Jovanotti Radio on Pandora is my new jam).
10) Not everyone has a Pintrest account, but you can find tons of blogs and tips when searching on there for study abroad or for study abroad in (insert your country here).  I found a few tips and tricks that way. 
Ciao amici,
2 days left in the U.S.

Me Encanta Pamplona...


I have now been in Spain for a week and 2 days and in Pamplona for a week! Let me just say I love this city! The people here are so nice and friendly and  have made me feel so welcomed.

On the day I arrived, I spent an hour and a half walking up and down my street or calle and let me tell you... I must have been a sight to see, from my giant suitcase to my "tourist backpack". I'm sure lots of people got some laughs. After a few broken conversations I finally found my apartment and I love it! It is very nice and I feel at home here. Below are a few pictures for you to see:

How cool is this! I have a clothesline that works on a pulley system!

The view from my room :)

My desk! 

My apartment is in a great location because I'm in between the main city center or Plaza de Castillo (below) and the University (also below). I have realized in the past week just how much we rely on cars for transportation in the US. I walk everywhere. At first it was really exhausting but now it is much easier and actually really enjoyable. I feel like I am really getting to learn the city and the culture here by walking. I have realized in general just how wasteful of energy I am in the US and its liberating to see how life can still be enjoyable while making less of an environmental impact.

La plaza


There is a program here called AEP and its an association of students who are from UPNA who have spent time abroad in other countries. They plan events for all of us study abroad students and so I have made a lot of friends from around the world and who have been to many places. The students really want us to enjoy our time here and are constantly planning outings with us. Our 1st night of meeting them they took us out for pinchxos (that's what they call tapas in this part of Spain) and to a discoteca. They definitely are much more used to being out late and thought I was heading out early when I left at 1:30am! Last Sunday they also organized a day trip for us to a town on the coast called San Sebastián. It was beautiful and a ton of fun! Next week is welcome week and there are activities planned for every night so I will have to report back on that.

AEP and Study Abroad Students


Other final thoughts:

  • My flat mate Zoe is from Australia... She's great!
  • Celsius and the metric system are confusing to me but I'm figuring it all out
  • Siestas are the greatest thing that I have ever encountered (and yes ALL of the stores close for 2 hours and then re-open!)
  • My Spanish has improved a lot but I still have a lot of work to do!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Costa Rica

Never in my life did I think I’d have the opportunity to study abroad while in college. When first hearing that Maryville was offering a j-term trip to Costa Rica I was all in. I was finally going to be able to travel abroad and immerse myself into a new culture and many new experiences. I honestly chose Costa Rica to travel somewhere warm during January and do new things I have never done before. Little did I know that this trip would turn into a memorable trip of a lifetime, learning so many things about not only Costa Rica but myself too. I will forever be grateful for our tour guide, Dr. Swann, Mr. Bruce and all the other students who made this trip what it was.  

The Crew on the last day!

At Catie after a presentation!

After returning to the states after a trip of a lifetime, I am still having a hard time coming up with words to describe this trip. I use the same lame response “It was amazing” when asked how it was. Words and pictures just cannot begin to explain how beautiful Costa Rica was. We experienced so much and did so many new things in such a short amount of time. It’s hard to believe that we were there for two short weeks yet we did multiple things each day. In the first part of the week we toured Catie and the farm they run across the street. At the farm they are working towards becoming self-sustaining in the years to come. To do so they use the manure from the 145 head of cows to produce biodiesel fuel to run the milking machines and the cooling tanks for the milk. In addition to that they use the manure for fertilizer for the fields surrounding the farm. On top of working towards self-sustainability, they are trying to produce a breed of cows that can live in the mountains climate and still produce enough milk to use. Catie is just one of the many examples of Costa Rica’s initiative of being a self-sustaining country by 2021. All of these ideas of self-sustainability and eco-tourism is something every country should strive for in the years to come. I wish every student at Maryville had the opportunity to study abroad at least once while in school. Studying abroad but more specifically in Costa Rica changed my life and allowed me to see how different and beautiful things outside the United States is.

Scotland: Week 2

A map of the city in St. Andrew's
It’s now officially been a bit more than two weeks I've lived in Edinburgh. Besides matters of settling, I've started classes, began to plan trips throughout Europe, and gotten a better sense of the area. My classes are much larger than classes back at Maryville, averaging about 10-90 students per class, and these huge classes (comparatively) revealed to me how incredibly diverse this area is. I talk to the same amount of foreigners as I do natives. Last weekend my roommates and I visited a popular pub, the Three Sisters, in hopes of meeting a few locals. Ironically, by the end of the night we had danced with people from Nigeria, Amsterdam, and Italy but had totally failed our original plan. While I’m sure we will eventually befriend a Scot, meeting all these other foreigners has only built my excitement for travel. As such, I've already booked board and travel to Dublin, Ireland for St. Patty’s day weekend and a ticket to Belgium for spring break in April where my roomies and I will be taking a train to Amsterdam for a few days. Right now, the four of us are budgeting for trips to London, Paris, Isle of Sky, and a yet-to-be-determined-city in Germany. And because I was completely amazed by the cheap price of travel upon arriving here, I will be taking total advantage of it. Moreover, whether its buses, trains, or planes, as advanced as we think we are, America is sadly lacking in public transportation. Without this readily available, affordable transportation my roommates and I wouldn't have been able to take our latest day trip to St. Andrews. Our trip was about 1 ½ hours each way and cost us only 10 pounds.

The beautiful coast in St. Andrews 

I'm not much of a tourist spot traveler, so my favorite place in St. Andrew's was most definitely the sea shore, and we made it up just in time to catch the last little bit of sunlight for the day.

The city's done a great job of marking historical sites
with explanatory plaques
This is the castle at which the very first
gathering of openly
protestants congregated.
 St. Andrew's was full of castle ruins from hundreds of years ago that were easy for anyone to walk to. This excursion made for a wonderful day trip that I would recommend it to anyone staying in the Edinburgh area.

Costa Rica for Days

Windmills in Monteverde
Upon visiting what is arguably one of the most naturally beautiful countries of the world, I began preparing myself for my trip of a lifetime well before necessary! After hearing the good news that I would be studying abroad in sunny Costa Rica, I found myself buying shorts, sunscreen, Chap Stick with high SPF year ‘round. I could not wait to go experience other parts of the world for the first time! But “why Costa Rica?” was a frequent question I was asked before my departure. Other than the obvious – it’s warm there in January! – so many other reasons factored into my interests in this particular study abroad program.
CATIE research center in Cartago
Not only did this international experience offer outdoor fitness in ways I hadn’t yet experienced such as zip-lining over a volcano, snorkeling, and beach yoga; it also provided personal insight to a cultural that I have been curious about. I have been volunteering as an English as a Second Language tutor for adults for almost three years now. All the while I have been exposed to numerous cultures throughout Latin America. I would hear of foods, music, stores, and close knit communities. The only connection I could make with them was our shared knowledge of and experiences in America. However, now that I have had the opportunity to study the culture of Costa Rica, I can finally relate with them on different levels. I have seen communities with the soccer field being the main attraction and different families circling around the watch the neighborhood kids all play. I have experienced rice and beans for every meal, sided with fresh fruit and grilled chicken. I have heard locals speak of their pride for their country and witnessed how a country’s dedication for sustainability can really change the world. While I applied for Costa Rica hoping to learn and experience in different and interesting ways, I never expected the love and appreciation I now to develop so strongly.

Monteverde, Costa Rica

White-nosed Coati
Dr. Swann told the group before we even got to the airport that if we learned even a tiny bit of biology, she’d be happy. This trip proved to teach biology, sustainability, and culture every day in ways that you didn’t know you were learning until you looked back at it. On our second day in Costa Rica, we toured a small, local farm that had around 145 cows. The farm was able to reduce electricity used by 40% by converting cow manure to biodiesel. Later into the trip, I was able to see Costa Rica’s national bird, a small brown bird. Even though Costa Rica is filled with hundreds of beautifully and vibrantly colored birds, the clay-colored thrush was chosen as a national bird. As described by a native, the thrush gets up early every morning and sings beautiful songs throughout the entire morning, making it seem to be optimistic and friendly. Looking back on Costa Rica and saying it was an experience of a lifetime is the understatement of the year.

Big thanks to Bruce and Dr. Swann to making it as wonderful as it was!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Costa Rica Week 1: From San José to Monte Verde


 Once my classmates, professors and I landed in San José, we were immediately greeted with a lovely summer-like temperature and a cool breeze. We met our guide (named Madri) and our bus driver. On a drive from the airport to our hotel, we stopped in Cartago to visit La Basilica de Los Angeles--the largest and most important cathedral in Costa Rica. The cathedral was built around the legend of a stone doll and was lavishly decorated with stained glass, sculptures, and gold. There were quite a few people quietly praying within the sanctuary, and our group tried to respectfully observe the decoration without disrupting them. Next, we entered Turrialba and met with a local organic coffee grower named Gustavo. Three words: best. coffee. ever. Gustavo oversees every step of the coffee's production from picking the raw coffee beans to brewing the finished product. 

Our first hotel, located in Turrialba, was perched on an enormous hill over looking the valley.

Day 2 was spent at a research station called CATIE (pronounced cah-tee-aye) where we toured a botanical garden, listened to a presentation on blue carbon initiative from Dr. Miguel Cifuentes (learn more about the blue carbon initiative here), visited a dairy farm that uses the cows' manure as a renewable energy source (!), sampled an overwhelming amount of delicious tropical fruits, and even made our own chocolate from cocoa grown on site at CATIE. 

Day 3 the whole gang went white water rafting. It was a day filled with adventure and some unplanned dips in the Sarapiqui River! This morning was when I think most people began to relax and settle into Costa Rica as their new temporary home. Other notable events included spotting iguanas, monkeys, and even a sloth while riding in the bus. 

Day 4 was spent on privately owned land dedicated to conservation. This particular piece of land acted as a corridor for wildlife, and included the houses of the land owners (divided by a river) as well as an area of forest residing just off a busy highway. One of the land owners, Jaime, showed us a huge variety of endemic plants that could be used for medicinal purposes. We learned a little about the data gathering process by running transects in the forested area of their land.

Day 5 included a trip to La Selva Biological Research Station. It was an exciting day where we were introduced to wild Peccary and howler monkeys as we toured the grounds. La Selva is a really fascinating place where students and professors alike can come to research native flora and fauna living in the tropical forest on site. Afterward, we kayaked down the Sarapiqui. 

Day 6 was spent at the spectacular waterfall La Fortuna, the longest zip-line in the world, and hot springs at our hotel. 

On day 7 we boated across Lake Arenal, drove up to the mountain town of Monteverde, hiked in a cloud forest, and visited a hummingbird garden! Of the entire trip, this day was my favorite. The cloud forest is a peaceful place where time seems to stand still. The hummingbird garden boasted several different species of hummingbirds, and some of the hummingbirds would perch on people's fingers while sipping nectar from the feeders! 

Pura Vida,


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Conservation and Costa Rica

As college students, we hear a great deal about the benefits of studying abroad. We're often told that traveling can open our eyes to new perspectives and help us see our own culture and world in a new light. This January, I was finally able to experience that concept during my first abroad experience in Costa Rica as a part of the 2015 Biology and Outdoor Adventure J Term Trip. While my initial intentions did not include gaining a new perspective but instead included sloths, surfing, and sunshine, months of anticipation-inspired Googling before the trip led me to develop an interest in the country's conservation initiatives. Before long, these approaches to protecting and further developing the country's great landscape and biodiversity became a major focal point of my trip, one that closely coincided with the line of post graduate work that I look forward to exploring in several months.

Going into the trip with a more defined idea of what I was looking to learn and take home with me from Costa Rica enabled me to keep my eyes peeled for efforts and measures of "sustainability" while being able to enjoy my experience to the fullest. What I discovered along these lines during my two week long trip was far more than one tiny blog post can express. I came home with a crinkled and sand-covered list of brief phrases that spanned an entire page, each representing an effort of environmental protection that I had never seen or heard of in the United States. Each day of the trip, I managed to add one, at the very least, new item to my list. 

The first concept that I found notable was the strong effort to protect and encourage the growth of sea grasses and mangroves. Mangroves are important sections of vegetation, including shrubs, trees, and everything in between, that grow along the coasts in saline water. Like sea grasses, this unique type of salt water forest is crucial in not only protecting from coastal erosion and providing habitats for many different animal species, contributing to the country's biodiversity, but also in being large contributors to carbon dioxide reduction. These plants have the ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and store them over time, which researchers call "blue carbon". Multiple research centers that our group was fortunate enough to visit in Costa Rica were concerned about protecting mangroves and sea grasses for these reasons. Not only were they concerned, but they were doing something about it in the form of research and legislation. 

MC students used this mangrove tree to hold their belongings while out surfing for they day.
This isn't the only way that the country is coming together to change a serious environmental issue. Tourism is a leading industry in this small, beautiful country but, it has the potential to significantly impact the very same biodiversity that draws people there. As a result, the country has put in place a system to rate tourist accommodations and attractions on their environmental impact. In America, you might choose a 5 star resort based on its luxurious qualities, whereas in Costa Rica you might choose a hotel with 5 leaves based on its water conservation, energy usage, and waste disposal methods. In the same way that Costa Rica rates its hotel with leaves based on environmental impact rather than luxury, they have implemented a system of flags for their beaches. These flags indicate the levels of pollution and general coastline quality, encouraging tourists to take note of and value environmental responsibility.

While these are large initiatives that are organized by research centers and the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism, there are many smaller scale and lesser noticed initiatives that are both simple and significant all over the country. One of these that is nearly everywhere in the country but can easily go unnoticed is the concept of "living fences". This is the idea that there is a better way to build a fence than using wooden posts. If we think about it, the process of building an American fence looks a little something like cutting down a tree - that we turn into a wooden post - that we put back into the ground - in a similar vertical position to the tree that we cut down to make it. The people of Costa Rica have found that it saves time, money, and trees if they merely relocate or plant trees in the fence line that they are trying to create and connect them by stapling wire into the trunks to build their fences. Such a simple concept can save countless trees.

Another conservation effort that could easily go unnoticed is the idea that owners of a few small farms in Costa Rica have had to harness the natural gas that is produced by the fecal matter of their cows. After a rather amusing trip to a farm where we heard a great deal about "s***" from one worker who had some trouble finding the English word for poop, we learned that these farmers are able to harness enough natural gas to be used as a bio fuel that powers their refrigerated dairy buildings. This severely cuts down on energy costs for these farmers and is an incredibly resourceful way to run their businesses.

All this said, I think it's clear that during my trip to Costa Rica I learned and saw some incredible things. Alongside all of the sloths, surfing, and sunshine that I was able to take in, I truly did gain a new perspective. However, what all of those people who encourage us to travel don't say is that sometimes this new perspective can be hard to stomach. When I first came back to the United States after seeing how important preserving the environment was to the Costa Rican people, it became glaringly obvious that our efforts in the U.S. just aren't enough. It strikes me as strange and disheartening that a country the size of West Virginia with only 4.75 million people is making more significant daily strides in environmental protection than our country that is 157 times its size with 66 times the people. The U.S. is regarded worldwide as a very developed and progressive country and yet, in my eyes, Costa Rican environmental efforts blew ours out of the water. Why don't our farms think to use their waste as natural gase? Why do we have so many fences built with fence posts? It's easy to see that I struggled (and still struggle) with my new perspective of my own culture and our approach to conservation. However, after giving it a lot of thought, I found that like most new perspectives, this one brings opportunity. Rather than discredit the U.S. for all it's not doing, I can credit it our country for all it has done and see the vast room for improvement. Furthermore, I can see the room for improvement in my own life.

In Costa Rica, you'll rarely hear the word "sustainability" because it's not something that they even really consider. They want to "preserve" and "conserve" what they have. They're raised to take care of the beautiful world that they've been given. They don't feel that they need to make their energy and water supplies last because every day they value their earth and conduct their lives in a way to protect it and their resources. So, rather than sit around and complain about how we should be doing more as a country, I can instead model my behavior after the Costa Ricans'. I can be more resourceful in my everyday life, use less and reuse more. I can appreciate the importance and value in the environment around me and be conscious of how my life impacts it. And I can help others to see this opportunity as the Costa Rican people have for me. As anything in life, conservation isn't one big movement, it's a collection of small movements that pull together to form something big. If I had to pinpoint the greatest lesson that I learned from my trip to Costa Rica, that would be it. If we want to take care of our earth, it won't be by making one big movement like switching to a new energy source. It will be by taking care of our environment with each choice we make, every day.

Sunset from Monteverde, where the view includes both the mountains and the coast.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Costa Rica 2015

I had the amazing opportunity to go to Costa Rica during J-Term this year and it was the absolute best trip I have ever been on in my life. I have heard from many people that once you go to Costa Rica, especially when you go with the tour guide that we went with, you'll never want to leave. From what I experienced, that is absolutely true. When we got to the airport on our last day, I was not ready to leave this amazing place.
However, we traveled for 13 of the best days of my life. The trip was oriented to be a mixture of outdoor recreation and biology. This trip mixed these two topics so well that I now understand how they blend together. This understanding couldn't have been achieved without the help of Dr. Swann and Bruce Guillaume while on this trip. Our tour guide, Madri did an excellent job at achieving the goals of our trip by giving us the best experiences possible, the best guides possible, the best food possible, and many other things that made this trip exceptional. 
Since we didn’t have Wi-Fi well enough to blog while in Costa Rica, I will give two different experiences that really stuck out to me and made this trip a life changing experience.
Experience 1, Day 3:
This morning we woke up early to leave the hotel by 745 to start our day. I was up by 530 and out the door by 6. I sat in the lobby and had coffee and saw a monkey and a black squirrel. The breakfast was very good, it consisted of pineapple, watermelon, guava, cantaloupe, rice and beans, star fruit, papaya, sausage, eggs, and bread. After breakfast, we met with Madri’s friends whose names I couldn’t understand. They showed us around all the property that was owned by their family since the 1900’s. The first two hours we spent under a hut down by the river learning the history of how they adopted that land and how his grandmother divided it up to give to the 11 grandkids. After we got the history, he had many exotic plants, fruits, and vegetables and learned all about their medicinal uses. There were some leaves that we tried that were so strong, that they numbed your tongue, mouth, and lips. Eventually, after drinking water, it went away. After the nasty leaf, they picked us all a coconut fresh off a tree, cut the top off of it and we got to drink fresh coconut water, it was delicious. After trying all the indigenous species of plants and fruits, a brother to the first guy we talked with took us on a hike through the trails throughout their woods. They explained to us the different types of plants and showed us some birds and poison dart frogs, which are never the same pattern in their color schemes. After coming out the woods around 12:30, his family had lunch waiting for us. Lunch consisted of chicken, rice, beans, salad, a sauce for the chicken, and pineapple jello. That was probably one of the best meals we have had because it was home cooked food. After lunch, they explained to us what we could be doing for the afternoon, and it sounded fun. We were going to be going out into the woods and making transects for that were 50m apart, 30m long, and 2m wide. We did four of these throughout the woods and during this process, we had to identify the trees that were within our 2m width from the center of our transect but they had to be greater than 10cm in diameter at breast height. After doing these transects, we went back to the hut on the river, wrapped up our discussion and left. This day wasn’t really a life changing experience as much as it reassured that I want to pursue a career in outdoor biology or ecology. The people we met with were so nice and caring. They truly cared about land conservation and to see something like that was incredible, because it’s not that often that you see it here in the states.
Experience 2, Day 10
We had been at the beach for three days now doing various activities and learning about certain groups. We had been volunteering at a WWF sea turtle hatchery for about 2 days, releasing baby sea turtles back to the ocean, building nests, and learning about how sea turtles hatch and develop. On the last night we were working with this group, they invited us for dinner and we had an optional choice to go on a night patrol along the beach to look for nesting sea turtles after dark. Three of us including myself decided to go on this patrol down the beach looking for sea turtles. Somehow, and I am still in shock by this, but we found a nesting black sea turtle. During this moment, I didn’t think it was real, I thought it was all make believe. The three of us, Lauren, Casey, and myself were in shock. Once Sergio, the WWF worker we were with made sure she was ready to lay eggs, we held red lights on her and watched as Sergio caught her eggs and put them in a bag to take back to the hatchery so they could be born. Words don’t begin to describe how it felt to watch this magnificent creature in the sand laying her eggs. This was the best experience I have ever had in my life.
This trip allowed me to see things that I could never imagine. I am forever grateful that I got to share these experiences with the ones I got to share it with. I am also grateful for the opportunity given to me by Maryville College with the scholarships I received that allowed me to go. This school is truly the best school anyone could ever go to.

In Over My Snow

First light little dusting: Still beautiful
Okay, so who in the world would guess that a country in Africa had the capability to get three feet of snow in one week?  Anyone?  No?  Cool.  What about a country in North Africa?  Still no one?  Awesome.  How about Morocco?  Not a single person right?!  Well let me be the first to tell you: YOU'RE ALL WRONG!
First day at Al Akhawayn: Beautiful right?

There is so much snow here that I can't even begin to describe how awestruck I am by its beauty and surreal-ness.  No picture will ever do it justice, but I can tell you that their is snow up to my waist on some parts of campus.  RIDICULOUS!

That's about 1 1/2 feet
Over 2 feet: pretty freaking cold!
As there is so much snow...the worst snow Ifrane (pronounced Ifrahn) has seen in fifteen years mind would think that there would be lots of salt on the ground to prevent ice and slippery paths. Again, WRONG.  They don't use salt.  They just shovel the snow, leave a bit of slush on the ground, and let it ice over at night so that all the students can bust it on their way to class.  OUCH!  I'll be the first to say that I have indeed fallen into the snow at least once...maybe twice...since the snow hit us.  Not a fun time.

My saving graces: Sofia and Columbia
Also, the roofs of the buildings are sloped in order for the snow to easily fall off the building and so that the weight of the snow doesn't cave in the roofs.  That sounds like a good idea until you're walking next to a building and all this snow just tumbles off into your jacket or on your head.  Luckily, this hasn't happened to me yet, but I've seen it happen, and it looks SOO COLD!

I'm telling you all this because I've never been so cold in my life.  The walks across campus are MISERABLE.  Al Akhawayn is a quite a bit bigger than MC, and my dorm (yes, the say dorm here; people give me weird looks when I say residence hall) is on one side of campus and everything else is on the completely opposite side.  Not cool.  Freezing cold really.  I drink lots of coffee and tea to stay warm because my clothes just aren't warm enough.  My saving grace is my Columbia jacket that I love and my friend Katelyn who gave me an ear warmer after I lost mine the first day of snow.  YAY for coats and friends!
This is Katelyn, she gave me the ear warmer!

My Arabic Books....we'll see how this goes!

One more quick topic: I know NOTHING about Africa: it's history, culture, languages, geography, etc.  I thought I had a pretty good grasp....WRONG.  It seems as though I need a pretty good background in all that in order to even understand what the hell is going on in my classes.  Oops.  Guess I'll just have to fake it 'til I make it right? Wish me luck!