Abroad at Home
I wasn’t sure what to say in this “final reflection” of this course, other than it was and wasn’t what I thought it would be (in a good way!). When I read the title of this blog, that annoying Christina Aguilera song from the Mulan movie soundtrack came into my head....ah the 90’s. *sigh* Not too sound overly cheesy (however, it is my nature), but I learned a lot from this course and I had an incredible experience, no doubt enhanced by the readings and discussions had with Steve Hutkins (I’m not being a brown-noser, but I genuinely happen to think I wouldn’t have gotten the same experience in this class without his insight on traveling). This course showed me a new way of thinking towards what one should do as a traveler as opposed to a “tourist”, and if that negative connotation towards “tourists” was in fact, justified. More than anything though, the articles we read on the sociological aspect of travel were quite informative, as much as I initially disliked them. They helped expose me to much more in-depth information about traveling as people did in the “old days”, if you will. This course also allowed me to meet great, new, like-minded andopen-minded individuals with a desire to see and explore the world around them, as I desire to as well, whereas most people are rather content living in their own little bubble without daring to step outside their comfort zone.
For my second assignment, I had a bit of a hard time deciding what book to read when it came time to narrow down a second book for our travel blog. I wanted something that I could use as a basis for understanding Czech culture and how natives think, but at the same time wanted something that I would both enjoy and that would serve a practical purpose, so in that spirit I did my research and found just the book. As it turned out, I chose to read “The Book and Laughter and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera, one of my favorite authors, who wrote one of my favorite books of all time, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. Funny enough, I later got an e-mail from the NYU Global Affairs office stating that NYU in Prague students were actually assigned to read the same exact book after I had already purchased it (needless to say I returned my free copy at Barnes and Noble and now have a store credit which I’m planning to use to buy the Harry Potter-related Tales of the Beetle and the Bard). ☺
Oh Prague...what can I say about you? I haven’t even gotten there yet and I’ve already felt like I’ve been living there vicariously through you online. However, I will say that despite my excitement for my study abroad site, it wasn’t and realy still is most definitely not my first choice in terms of where I wanted to go abroad by any means. Its sort of a “settling” of sorts, if you will. You see, originally I wanted to go to the NYU Paris study abroad site, but as my life would have it, a) Paris had limited course offerings b) Filled up far too quickly before I could even try applying and c) My adviser didn’t think that Paris wouldn’t “fit” into my concentration, which for some reason really angered me. But that’s beside the point, well...almost. Instead of being in the romantic city of Paris, I’m instead off to a land of erm....pork and beer? I guess I’m being slightly bitter about the whole thing, but when I start to really think about it, I’M GOING ABROAD TO EUROPE FOR AN ENTIRE SEMESTER!!!! How many people are able to say that they lived in Europe for months at a time? As the French would say, a nice sojourn (sigh).
When thinking of where I wanted to go in Prague, its rather easy and clear to say that I have no idea how to get there, and that I have no idea what there actually is to see or do within Prague, as studying abroad came more of on a whim for me. Well, not a whim per say, but rather, I didn’t think it was actually going to happen, despite how much I actually wanted to spend a semester abroad, and now that it is actually happening, I had to buy a good guidebook for the trip! So admittedly, I was a bit of a shallow person when it came to choosing my guidebook, and I went immediately to the prettiest looking one, which turned out to be the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide for Prague. ...Don’t judge me!!!
Anyway, it turned out to be a rather decent choice, especially because the illustrations that are featured in the book not only go into detail about the things that are illustrated, but also because they feature in depth and accurately illustrated maps of all of the different subdivisions of Prague, making it rather easy to go from place to place without getting lost (or in my case not COMPLETELY lost). I also learned in this book that unlike in New York, traffic WILL NOT stop for you, which admittedly terrifies me because the act of throwing myself in front of a moving vehicle has now become a part of my daily life. However, what most appealed to me about this book is that while it is a very “tourist-y” book (no offense meant to the tourist that may read this), it also gives you plenty of options and information as it applies to letting you go “off the beaten path” if you so choose (which I shall).
I’d like to wish everyone in class a great trip to wherever you’re going, be it Paris, Prague, London, Vietnam, Tanzania, Buenos Aires, Brazil, it sounds like it will be an amazing time. Also, I hope everyone keeps their blogs going, even part time, while they’re abroad, especially since I’ll be at the website at least once a week in this class’s counterpart, “The Art of Travel.”
Over the past few weeks, as I think I said in my free post, I’ve had the opportunity to look at the country I’m going to a much deeper degree than I would have otherwise. I think it was good to try and practice challenging assumptions here before doing in vis-à-vis some high level of culture shock (that I’m sure will occur anyhow). Certainly, it would be impossible to experience Germany in the same way that I will experience it over the next couple months but that isn’t really my main concern here. I’m glad that I’m going abroad, and I think that the most important thing to have drawn out of this class, at least for me, are the tools with which I can make my travel/tourist experience more useful and become self-reflexive.
That said, I have two very different topics I’d like to talk about briefly for my final post that I find intriguing:
I’m a big planner and so this class definitely enabled me to make time to plan for Paris. I’ve made a list of big things I want to do while studying abroad and a list of fun little things to do when I wake up in Paris and don’t know what to do.
Late January: Somehow get a press pass, pretend to be
assistant or, at worst, just sneak in to see the Chanel couture show.
Sometime in February or early March: Go to London. Eat authentic fish and chips, go to Top Shop, see Roni Horn at the Tate Modern, take photos of the punk street fashion.
March 17-21: Go to Art Dubai. Soak up and take tons of photographs of the beautiful architecture, brave the markets, and go skiing in a mall.
April 5: FINISH the Paris marathon and break my personal record!!!
April 11-26: Spring break in Barcelona and someplace else I haven’t yet decided. See Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia!
When the weather gets warm: Go to Versailles one Sunday and bike around the gardens.
June 10-14th: Go to Art Basel in Switzerland and take tons of photos and spot tons of art celebs.
Little Things To Do
Go to a fromagerie and ask for their three most famous cheeses.
Museums to hit up frequently: Louvre, Pompidou, Musee D’Orsay, Picasso Museum, Musee Rodin.
Go walk the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and window shop at the Christian Louboutin flagship store.
Find the original Chanel boutique.
Have tea and macaroons with a friend at
I've had a really good time in this class, it was great getting to meet and talk with other students who are going abroad and I learned a lot about Cuba. When I heard that NYU had a photography program I knew I had to apply not only because of my interest in photography but because when else would I have the opportunity to go to Cuba? Apart from the Revolution, I admit that I knew very little about Cuban culture and history before taking this class.
The blog assignments forced me to do a lot of research that I otherwise might have done at the last minute, if at all. I especially liked the book assignments, because they gave me tan excuse to do some non-school related reading. Reading "Havana: an Autobiography" was very helpful since I now feel like I have a basic knowledge of the history of the country that I will be living in for four months, plus it was fun to read! Watching Soy Cuba also got me even more excited to go to Cuba. After researching the Riviera, I realized that it was the hotel where they filmed the scenes of tourists swimming at the hotel pool, which is pretty cool. The island looks so beautiful in black and white, I can't even imagine what the film would have looked like had it shown all the colors of Havana.The map assignment was also great. Although I need to walk around to really figure out where I'm going, I did find places that I want to check out in my spare time.
Oh man. I’m so excited, I can’t contain myself. I find myself talking about Argentine to anyone, whether they want to hear me or not. We could be talking about chemistry and somehow I’ll incorporate Argentina in the conversation. Anyway, the main reason I took this class/independent study was that I had been concerned with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to look back on my travels with clarity because I hadn’t documented them. I simply wanted to articulate my experiences in written form. This class has definitely helped me to do that. Sometimes I feel that I neeed some structure in my life, and this class provided that with ease. Having a set topic to discuss and knowing you’ll get feedback is very encouraging. The topics were so helpful because it forced you to think about things that you might not have otherwise. For instance, our topic on authenticity, isn’t something I’d normally give much thought because of the subjectivity of it, but it is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially as a visitor in another country. I do wish we had more open topics to share, but I guess we could always just submit more posts if we see fit.
I already finished my last two books that were travel memoirs of 2 journeys throughout Argentina and Latin America, so I decided to open the free travel book that NYU gave us as a supplement to being accepted to study abroad. The book they gave us, a Lonely Planet's Guide to Buenos Aires, is pretty short and sweet. Hopefully the writers actually wrote this one. There's not much in the book that's particularly mind blowing, but I do love the little stories of Argentine expats and how they view Buenos Aires from the perspective of someone born and raised there. It's nice to hear advice from travelers to Argentine, but it's also great to hear where Argentine people like to go and what they do with their spare time. With questions like, "what's the first thing you do when you get home?" and "where's the best place to go to just write?" these are things that are relatable to everyone and things that can be appreciated by everyone.
I am going to assume that writing about a place is more accurate when you’re actually in the place. It’s difficult to understand a culture when you aren’t immersed in it. That being said, I do not mean to chide the intent of this class because I did learn a lot about Prague and it definitely increased my excitement about going there.
Many of the blog assignments were very educational. I enjoyed reading travel guides and narratives, studying maps and the layout of Prague, learning about the cuisine, and a few others like music and cinema. However, I think it would have been cool had we had more open topics because this would provide us with the opportunity to explore exactly what we want (which is probably what we will end up doing when we go abroad anyways).
Something else that was on my mind during the course of the class is that it felt like an independent study. It was cool to see where other people are going and what they had discovered about their abroad site but it often felt like I could only really connect with the information of my specific location as I was the only one to actually study it (I think there’s only one other person going to Prague from the class aside from me).
I’m not sure my philosophy of Prague has altered during this class as I had no prior knowledge of it to begin with. I am really excited to explore the city and get to know my way around. The city seems to have a simple layout similar to Chicago (my hometown). The language barrier is a concern of mine as I know no Czech, but I’m hoping to pick some up while I’m there.
Overall, I feel pretty confident and about this upcoming experience. I have traveled a lot before and have really enjoyed every place I have been. I can’t imagine Prague having a different effect.