Notes from Abroad

The overseas experiences of NC State University students

A Different Education System

This past week has consisted of mostly study. Over the weekend while I was writing multiple papers and not exploring much of Australia, I realized this was probably the first weekend that I’ve been here and have not had activities planned. It was nice to catch up on schoolwork. The weekend provided me a good opportunity to reflect on the education system in Australia and how it is different from that at North Carolina State University.

First, and foremost, the composition of grades is substantially different. At NC State, I most of my grades are composed of multiple tests, maybe one big paper, and a few small assignments. In Australia, my grades are composed of one or two large projects and a final exam worth half of my grade. In other words, I have yet to take a test in Australia, scaring me a bit for the final, because I do not know what to expect. Furthermore, the large assignments that compose a large portion of my grade are typically group assignments, making gauging how I am actually doing in classes quite difficult. Two of my classes here also have a large portion of my grade based off of a journal. The fact that I am graded about my reflections is different than what I am used to. This could be attributed to the fact that I typically take science classes and am taking two humanities classes in Australia.

Secondly, all lectures at the University of Western Australia are recorded. This means I could not go to a single lecture all week and just watch them all online. I think a lot can be lost from only watching lectures online and not being able to interact with the professor, so I tend to go to all of my lectures. However, it is nice knowing I can go back to rewatch a lecture if I am not clear on an important concept.

Another major difference is the amount of time I spend in class. Here, almost all students take four classes a semester for three years in order to get an undergraduate degree. The classes also meet less than lectures in the States. I am in one unit that meets a total of six times the whole semester for lecture and five times for tutorial (guided discussion groups). Each of these meetings is 45 minutes. This unit was accompanied by a three day field trip, but the time spent in class still felt minute compared to other courses I have taken in the past. My science classes meet twice a week for 45 minutes, with an occasional three-hour lab or weekly discussion groups throughout the semester. Having such little time in class gives me the ability to complete schoolwork and studying during the day. Maybe I just overbook my free time at home, but this useful time during the day allows me to accomplish items I would typically accomplish during nights and on the weekend, allowing me to travel more and explore more of Australia.

An interesting difference is how some lectures switch lecturers every few seminars. For instance, my Behavioral Ecology class has a specialist present for each new set of lectures, so the person lecturing is highly knowledgeable in their field. I like this approach because I get the most up to date information on a unit. However this method makes getting to know professors difficult as well as having to adjust to each person’s presentation style.

My favorite difference between studying in the States and studying in Australia is the level of competition. In Australia, competition is almost non-existent. No one cares how the person next to them did on the past paper or test. People don’t complain about how much they have to do to further their careers. Removing these constant conversations and pressures makes studying and learning less stressful and more fun. A lot can be learned from studying in another country.

The Pros and Cons of Schedules

I realized I’ve been slacking on my blog posts a little bit. Sorry! That realization actually led me to a perfect topic for future study abroad students: Schedules. Vienna continues to be an exciting place to explore and study even 1 1/2 months in. Back in the States I usually work 2 jobs while taking classes and trying to maintain an acceptable social life. So, needless to say I’m pretty busy and busy people need schedules to fit everything in.

When I arrived in Vienna, I had no job and no classes for a month which was great! It was such a relief to have unlimited free time to visit all of the sightseeing hotspots, or to gladly waste away an afternoon at a cafe (a Viennese art form), or to simply pause a little longer during my commute to listen to the street accordion player. I started slipping into a never-ending-vacation mindset where time was only important to remind me how long it had been since I last showered. This is when the lack of schedules actually started to bother me.

  • Planning trips to other parts of Europe (or even dinner in Vienna) was difficult because our open schedules caused everyone to shy away from taking the reins and actually setting a time and date.
  • I was eating very poorly because I would wake up, eat a light breakfast, visit one of the many museums for 5-6 hours, then eat a large dinner, and that was all.
  • I was finding it frustrating to talk to people back home between the time difference and activities without scheduling conversations ahead of time
  • I went MIA on my blog and social media posts that kept my family and friends back home up to date on my excursions (assuring them I was alive)
  • Everything in Vienna closes early during the week and most places are closed all day Sunday. This makes grocery shopping very difficult. Let’s just say I’ve had more than one close call when it comes to toilet paper…
  • Laundry. Dirty Laundry everywhere. (Note: actual dirty laundry not the blackmail kind)
  • With classes looming in the distance I needed to make sure I allotted enough time to get all of my schoolwork done.

Realizing the cause of these problems was my lack of scheduling allowed me to get on a healthier diet, make more plans with more people (I will be traveling to Bratislava on Wednesday with a group), stock up on groceries during the week, and find time to talk to the people I care about.

However, on the other hand I woke up yesterday with no plans. Thanks to a Facebook post in a group for my apartment complex I met around 10 new friends, saw one of the best sights of Vienna (yes, I’ll post pictures), tried some new local wine, and went to a party at a club lasting through the early morning full of other international students. I’m telling you this because sometimes “going with the flow” turns out to be the right approach. What I’ve learned and will continue to practice is the importance of maintaining a healthy, and comfortable balance between scheduling and the unknown.

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To the left is the city…

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…and to the right are the mountains that overlook Vienna.

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A planned visit to Belvedere Palace (behind me) and Gardens (behind the mirror)

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An unplanned trip to let loose with new friends.

Rottnest Island

This past weekend a large group of exchange students from Trinity went to Rottnest Island, an island approximately 20km off the coast of Perth. Since I had to be back Saturday morning for Relay for Life, Lindsey, Mandy, and Hana were nice enough to come with me early Friday morning so I would be able to spend an entire day on the island. In order to reach the island one has to take either a ferry or airplane. We took the ferry route, but with the early time all of us slept through the entire ride.

Rottnest Island is unique in the fact that no public cars are allowed on the island. The only vehicles we saw were government vehicles and tour company buses. Therefore, in order to get around we all had to rent bikes for the weekend. I had paid for my bike rental when purchasing my ferry ticket. When getting off the ferry and grabbing our bikes, they never recorded our names or if we had paid. I found that to be the strangest thing. The ferry company must assume people are quite honest or if they lose a bike there is nowhere for the bike to go but on the island. Either way, I was surprised by this lack of security.

The bike ride around the island took us all day, as we continually would stop at the beaches and scenery along the ride. The distance around the island was 22 kilometers. When we first began we thought no map would be needed. We soon realized how wrong we were when ending up on sand walking paths near the coast, not conducive to biking in anyway. Our little detour led us to some beautiful rocks we climbed to get an even better view. While climbing I had my first encounter with dangerous Australian wildlife – a large black snake. I decided not to identify him; I can only imagine how poisonous he was.

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Further on we stopped for a snorkel break. The water at Rottnest was crystal clear, similar to what I would see in the Caribbean at home. I walked right into the water and was floating amongst beds of sea grass and large rock formations. With the current research I am doing, I could name the species of sea grass making me feel confident in my research. As I continued to drift along I saw huge fish hiding under the rocks as well as others hiding amongst the sand. The snorkeling did not compare to what I had seen up north but was still beautiful. The water was absolutely freezing so we did not last long in the water before relaxing on the beach.

Stopping at another beach along our bike ride, we came across a quokka. Quokkas are marsupials, a little bigger than squirrels. Native to only the western island of Australia, they are quite unique. Even though quokkas are wild animals, they have become very humanized and came right up to us, begging for food. We bit pieces of our apples to pass to them as well as stroking their backs. It seems weird that a wild animal would not run away when people touch them. When posing to take a picture at the beach, we encountered some more wildlife. We came across a rather large lizard/snake creature. Even though they seemed friendly, we steered clear of them.

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IMG_3594 After completing our bike ride around the entire island, we met up with the other large group of exchange students at the two houses we were renting for the weekend. Needing food to barbecue for dinner, we headed to the general store on the island. Of course the prices in this store were outrageous as the owners had a complete monopoly over the island. Our evening was spent cooking and hanging out on the beach.

I left Rottnest early the following morning to ensure I was back in time to participate in Relay for Life at UWA. I was the only exchange student on the Trinity team, giving me an opportunity to get to know more people at Trinity I had not previously known. I would have thought by now in the semester I would know most people, but with 400 people living here meeting everyone is difficult. The relay was similar to ones held at NC State, just a little bit smaller in size. I think I walked a total of 6 hours in the entire 24 hours. I headed back to Trinity for a little nap between some early morning shifts, since I didn’t have a sleeping bag and everyone who’s sleeping bag I typically borrow was using it for the evening. Who knew one would need a sleeping bag so much when on exchange. A tip for anyone going abroad – bring a sleeping bag.

Life at National Taiwan University

It’s been a month since I have been studying at National Taiwan University. NTU is a very huge university just like NCSU, and most students ride bikes around to get to classes. Undergrads here take around 18 to 25 credit hours of classes per semester, which to me is crazy and insane! Gen Ed courses here are counted 2 credit hours, and most other departmental courses and science courses with lab are worth 3 to 4 credit hours, which is about the same as at NCSU. Therefore, it was a little bit hard to hangout with the native Taiwanese students here at first because most of them are taking so many more classes compared to me, and a lot of students at NTU are from Taipei City area, which means they commute to school. Therefore, campus life here as far as dorm life and after class activities are in a way very similar to NCSU since we also have quite a portion of student body that commute to school.

However, after a while of adjustment and meeting with my academic advisor here and students in all my classes, I not only hang out with other exchange students from the States or other Western countries, but also other exchange students from China, Japan, Korea, and many other places. Mostly importantly, I made friends with the local Taiwanese students despite the fact that they are all extremely busy with their super intense class schedule and other things!

Two classes that I am taking are field lab courses at the farm. We planted different agronomic crops, including sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans over the last few weeks. Last week, we even made sweet potato dishes with the sweet potatoes we harvested during class. I really enjoy the field activities at NTU because the school preserved quite a spacious piece of land for teaching labs right on campus! This is very different from NC State since our Crop Science Dept Teaching Lab is about 15 mins away from the main campus. In addition, this research farm at NTU provides the whole university community and visitors to NTU the opportunity of seeing an actual piece of research farm on campus. What a great idea of introducing crop production and farming to so many people that know so little or anything about this industry and plant science research!

Indigenous Field Trip to Albany

When coming to Australia I tried to pick out a class unique to Australian culture that I would only be able to take abroad. The class I decided on was an indigenous studies class titled The Dreaming and Darwin. The point of the class is to compare indigenous science with Western science and how the two previously interacted and continue to interact today. One component of the class is a field trip to Albany, Western Australia, a city approximately five hours south of Perth and part of the aboriginal Noongar country, home to the Minang family. Coming back a few days early to Perth from our road trip was a bit of a bummer to have to go on a field trip for a class. However, I looked at the field trip as an opportunity to see even more of Australia and learn about the rich culture Australia has. Before coming to Australia I did not realize how much culture is present in the country. I thought most of Australia was composed of European settlers, but I would soon find out I was wrong.

On the first day of the field trip we made the long journey south. Having stayed up late the previous night working on assignments for school, I slept the majority of the ride. The only scenery I missed out on was the occasional sheep farm and Australian vegetation. With a class of about 500 students, the field trip worked in rotations throughout the week. We also had rotations when we arrived in Albany. The first learning experience of the day was traveling to the Albany Residency Museum and receiving a town tour of famous memorial sites. The Noongar man with us explained the uses of the plants we encountered en route. I am always impressed with the way people pass down remedies and plant uses from one generation to the next. For instance, when the Marri tree turned white, mullets would come into the harbor to spawn.

In the evening a Noongar elder came in to share her story. Everything the Noongar elder shared reminded of the segregation once present in the United States. It saddens me to know even with cultural histories present, and learning between countries, segregation has still occurred and is still occurring in other places of the world.

Day two of the field trip included a tool making demonstration. I am always fascinated by the way people can make important, sturdy, and useful tools with their hands. In addition, we took a look at the way the Noongar people trapped lizards and fish with their clever inventions. Thousands of years later, the inventions are still present, but not used in the same way as they were previously.

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The main outcome of this field trip was to create a journal recording our scientific observations and reflections. Australian classes must really like their journals, as this is the second journal I have to create for a unit I am taking here. I was a bit frustrated with the lack of instruction given for how the journals should be set up and written. Many professors teach each single unit, different from in the United States, and therefore, each professor is looking for something different when grading assignments. When I would ask one professor a question about how to do the journal, their response would typically contradict what another professor said, making the task quite complicated. Without knowing what is expected of me, I have to go with my gut and hope for the best. In comparison with assignment guidelines in the States, I’m not a huge fan of this method, but I think the method further expands my creativity and is a good learning experience.

I went on the field trip to Albany with the group of exchange students I traveled north with as well as a few other students from Trinity. Therefore, we didn’t branch out much. I did meet some aboriginal students in Albany, which provided a nice addition to my learning. The camp we stayed at was the typical cabin location equipped with cold showers and bugs everywhere. Overall, I think my weekend field trip provided a nice addition to my learning about the aboriginal culture in Australia.

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First Kiss

September 4th, 2014
At last. I am here.
My correspondant from the school –Amaia– finds me almost immediately, though I’m not sure how she recognized me; we never exchanged photos. Then again, there weren’t many college-aged girls carrying two large suitcases at this smaller station… Or maybe I just look American.
Giving me a big hug, she helped me carry my luggage from the train station to the residence hall (which, I learned, is nicked named Howgwarts due to the castle-like appearance), and then took me on a tour of the city. The school sits in the middle of the city, surrounded by parks, cathedrals, government buildings, museums, and streets lined with cafés, bars, botiques, and other shops. Buses run throughout the city, and the train station is right across the street from both the school and my residence hall.
Before dinner, which is served at 8:30, we stopped by one of the bars for pinxtopote, (peencho pohtay), better known to the rest of Spain as tapas and cerveza. Laid out along the bar’s countertop, these finger foods are usually shared among friends throughout afternoon, evening, or late at night.
Afterwards, Amaia walked me back to my dorm, and I was inclined to give her a hug goodbye (like the Southerner that I am), but then I remembered in Spain, it’s a little different– you kiss instead of hug hello and goodbye. She showed me how– like a half-hug, half-shared secret, starting on the left, you kiss the air around the other’s cheek, then do they same for the right side. Feeling quite European, I headed in for dinner.
Later that night when I went upstairs and met my roommate for the first time, I was well prepared to greet her properly.
So that’s the first day in Spain. A lot of information, introductions, and cultural encounters which occurred much sooner than I expected. So far I’ve been able to understand everyone okay, and homesickness hasn’t quite set in yet. Classes start in five days, so I’ve got some time to settle in and explore before the homework starts piling up.

Prologue, Part II

June 22nd, 2014

Well, that was easier than I expected.

Arriving at the Embassy of Spain shortly after they opened, I went through a brief security check and stood in a line of about five people –all of them girls around my age– before giving my papers to a lady who quickly sorted through them, keeping the copies and handing me back the originals. She gave me a receipt and told me to expect my passport back in about a month’s time. And that was it.

My dad and I left Raleigh Sunday morning, arrived in D.C. in the afternoon, and rode our bikes around the city for the remainder of the day. Monday morning we took the metro to Embassy Row, applied for the visa, then used the rest of the day to revisit the monuments and peddle around surrounding cities. Brilliant trip, lovely time with mi padre, and a huge check mark on the study-abroad checklist.

Prologue, Part I

June 14th, 2014

The visa: the prologue of a grand adventure.

Creating, requesting, collecting, signing, and copying paperwork to convince the Spanish Consulate that I am indeed an upright citizen prepared to make a beneficial contribution to their country creates the bulk of the visa application procedure. If warnings of food poisoning, homesickness, or culture shock don’t deter you from studying in an international school, then the 15 detailed visa requirements might.

On top of that, students are required to apply in person, which means planning a trip up to Washington DC to turn in all my paperwork.

Just one missing document, and I’ll be turned away.

No pressure.

This weekend my dad and I will journey to Pennsylvania Avenue, where the Spanish Consulate is located, and hand over all of this:

If you’re curious as to what papers appear in the picture, you can visit this website and read the bullets listed under “Student Visa.” Needless to say, I’ve grown very familiar with that particular page.

In the event that I am missing something, I’ll have to come home, find what I need, and then make another trip back.

Six to eight weeks is the processing time, so, assuming that my request isn’t denied, my passport will be mailed back to me with the visa stamp mid-August at latest.

A Road Trip to Remember

Each semester in Australia, the school gives students a weeklong study break. This break can be comparable to spring break in the States, however the break occurs both fall and spring semesters. Many of the students use the break to catch up on lectures and stay at the university. Being an exchange student, though, I looked at this break as an extra opportunity to explore Australia. I decided to go on a road trip up the western coast from Perth to Exmouth with three other English exchange students, Georgie, Ed, and Gavin. A kind Australian friend of ours allowed us to barrow his car for the week. This just goes to show the kindness of most Australians.

The first day of our trip involved a lot of driving. Having lots of deadlines the past week, I slept a majority of the 10 hour ride from Perth to Shark Bay Heritage site in Denham. All driving of our trip had to be done during the day because driving at night is quite dangerous with the kangaroos crossing the road. Australians aren’t joking when they talk about this danger. There were dead kangaroos on the side of the road every few kilometers. We arrived at our campsite late to set up camp and make our own meals with the food we packed beforehand. The campsite was nicer than I was expecting, equipped with showers and all. We decided to venture down to the water in the evening to look at the stars. The water was nice at night, and we even spotted a large squid.

The second day we work up early to head to Monkey Mia to catch the morning dolphin feed. Each morning, guides from the Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife feed five female dolphins that enter the area. The purpose of the feeding is to bring people in to educate them about the dolphins. Gusts are randomly chosen to get in the water and feed a few of the fish to the dolphins. Unfortunately, no one from our group was selected. Only three fish are fed to each dolphin to ensure the dolphins keep their foraging behavior and can survive on their own. A few juvenile dolphins joined their mothers during the feeding. Even though the interaction was not as close as swimming with the dolphins as I have previously done in the States, I still thoroughly enjoyed the talk. From Monkey Mia we went to Lily’s Lagoon. The lagoon was big and one could walk out into the lagoon for hundreds of meters before the water became deep. Eagle bluff was our next stop off point, which had a great lookout as pictured below. Our final stop of the day was Shell Beach, a beach completely composed of tiny shells. Apparently this beach is one of only two in the world. The beach was beautiful, and relaxing in the hot Australian sun was a great way to start the week off.

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On day three we hit the road again to make it to Exmouth. On the way we stopped at some blowholes spraying saltwater 50 meters up into the air. We also stopped at Coral Bay where I went for a quick snorkel. I was amazed to be able to walk straight from the beach into the water and see a myriad of colorful fish. Even as a marine science major that has snorkeled many times in the past, I could not name most of the fish. The fish were new to my repertoire; I ended up just floating along admiring their beautiful colors. My lucky sighting of the day was a Lagoon Stingray. We made it to Exmouth before dark to avoid the kangaroos. For dinner that evening we went to the only Chinese restaurant in the town. All of us were having a very peaceful and nice meal until the owner of the restaurant tried to rope us into selling some stem cell miracle cream. She continuously was telling us how rich we could become if we started to sell the cream. We all knew it was a scam, but sat through her 30 minute talk anyways as to not be rude. When leaving the restaurant, we prayed we wouldn’t run into her again during our time in the small town of Exmouth.

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The next day was spent exploring the beaches of Exmouth. We began our day at oyster stacks, since snorkeling at that location can only happen during high tide. The snorkeling was not as good as the day before at Coral Bay, but snorkeling is always fun. Our second stop of the day was Turquoise Bay. The currents at this location made snorkeling difficult. Spending the afternoon lying on the beach was enough to make me one happy person. See for yourself, but I’d say Turquoise Bay was the most beautiful beach we went to on our road trip. We met up with another car from Trinity in Exmouth and decided to barbecue together at the campsite that evening. Lots of improvisation occurred, as we did not have nearly the amount of things we needed to properly barbecue. Cooking our own fresh vegetables was delicious after living mostly on peanut butter sandwiches for four days straight, even though the corn on the cob was slightly rare.

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I separated from the rest of my car on the fifth day to do some scuba diving. The dive trip was for the entire day and was composed of two dives on Ningaloo Reef, the reef right off of Exmouth and a place recommended to me by some professors at NC State. The dives were remarkable as expected. For the first time in my life I saw sea snakes up close. Snakes are one of the few animals that slightly bother me, however, these sea snakes seemed docile and quite curious. It was not until I got back on the dive boat and was talking to the dive master that I was informed the sea snakes I saw were some of the most poisonous in the world. Lucky for me, their fangs are not long enough to penetrate our skin so we don’t have to worry too much. In addition to the sea snakes I saw three different types of sharks – a lemon shark, a white-tipped reef shark, and a carpet shark. The colors of the fish continued to amaze me as they did in Coral Bay. The fish and reefs I swam among we absolutely beautiful. I cannot wait to do more diving during my time in Australia.

For the evening we ordered fish and chips from a local restaurant and took our food to the lighthouse to watch the sunset on the hill. The sunset was as nice as a sunset can be. The wind made eating our meals a little difficult, but I suppose the view made up for that fact. When we returned to our campsite that evening a nice little colony of ants had decided to infest our two tents. I spent the next hour trying to clean them out, but half of our group still insisted on sleeping in the car. The ants did not seem to bother me throughout the night and were gone in the morning. You have to love living with nature.

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The next day we were off on the road again for many hours of driving to Kalbarri. We took a quick pit stop in Carnarvon to walk to the end of the one-mile jetty. I think we were expecting something spectacular at the end of the jetty, as we were all a little disappointed to find a ‘Do not enter’ gate at the very end. The walk provided us a nice opportunity to stretch our legs before continuing.

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Our final day began early with a hike through Kalbarri National Park. The first hike we completed was Z-bend and the second was a visit to the famous Nature’s Window. Both hikes provided magnificent views, as visible in the photos below. The only complaint of the hikes was the hundreds of flies constantly swarming us. I cannot even imagine trying to do those hikes in the heat of the summer with all of the flies we encountered; we were lucky we hiked when we did. As we slowly made our way in the direction of Perth, we stopped at more lookout points including Red Bluff, Pot Alley, Island Rock, and Natural Bridge. At Island Rock we spotted some migrating humpback whales along the coast, a sight I had never personally seen before. Our final stop was at Pink Lake, a bright pink lake as the name suggests. We could spot the lake kilometers away. Unfortunately, the bright color was not captured well in our photos.

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My biggest accomplishment of the week was learning to drive a manual car on the left side of the road. With so many hours of driving, the boys I was traveling with had the time to teach me. By the end of the week I was well on my way to becoming a pro. Being from England, the guys find my inability to drive only an automatic car weird. Thinking about the situation myself, I find it a bit strange too. If I’m learning how to drive, shouldn’t I have learned to drive the hardest type of car? Traveling up the western coast of Australia was a great way to spend my break. Throughout the week my “English” vocabulary widened. The memories I made traveling with people from another country made me further appreciate the amazing people study abroad allows you to become friends with.

So much creativity in France!

The past few weeks have been full of creativity discovery, crucial for the ‘innovation’ aspect of my Master of Global Innovation Management program.  It started last Thursday when I went to the “circus” with my classmates.  This wasn’t the Ringling Bros…it was very different than what we think of American circuses.  Instead, there were several different small tents and huts set up in a field and organic food and drinks were being served before each individual show.  We were able to pick two different mini shows to attend.  The first one we attended was essentially a contortionist, telling her life story while performing amazing feats. While many people found this performance a bit disturbing at times, I found it extremely interesting and creative. The venue was very intimate, everyone sitting in a circle around the mini stage in a tiny hut. The second performance was much different and more lighthearted.  A group of approximately 10 performers were juggling apples to music while simultaneously telling different stories.IMG_3283In addition to attending the circus, we are also participating in a semester-long workshop called Creativity in Contemporary Dance with Ballet Preljocaj, a contemporary dance company residing in Aix-en-Provence, France.  Our first insight into the organization was last week when we had the opportunity to visit the studio, see the offices in addition to their theatre & studios where dancers were rehearsing.  The following night, we attended a show hosted by Ballet Preljocaj  called Le Manteau, featuring the Irene Tassembedo African dance company.  This was certainly interesting and I am looking forward to see what more this workshop has to offer me!

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