Notes from Abroad

The overseas experiences of NC State University students

I’ve been busy

Since I last posted I’ve traveled to 6 more countries. If you’re planning on visiting Europe on Study Abroad because you want to travel all over (one of my top reasons) you can’t beat Vienna. I mean, it borders 7 countries in the center of Europe and is a major city with an international airport, and an international train station, and great student bus system, and it rests on the Danube.

Since so much happened over the trip I’ll just give you a highlight (with pictures of course) from each country.

Slovenia was the first destination on the (in)famous 8 person, 2 car, 6 countries road trip. Unfortunately, we were only passing through Slovenia and only stopped at Ptuj Castle late at night. All my photos of here were accidentally deleted but it was definitely worth the trip even with the mutant spider infected bridge we had to cross.

After Slovenia we arrived in Zagreb the capital of Croatia. Here we spent a night in the club, in the rain and in the cars. Do not sleep in a car with 4 people. Not that it wasn’t safe, we were smart about it, but the cost of a hostel for 8 people is minimal and worth it. When we woke up before the crack of dawn we traveled to Plitvice National park which is on the UNESCO world heritage site list and for good reason: DSC00026 DSC00041 DSC00088

From there we moved on to Split in Croatia where we had an actual AirBNB apartment set up which was wonderful. We finally got to lay down for the first time in over 2 days. After Split we split and went down the coast of Croatia to Dubrovnik or as you might know it: KING’S LANDING. DSC00295

After Dubrovnik we headed towards Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Mostar there’s the “Old Bridge”. The story behind the bridge is that on one side of the bridge lived Christians and on the other side Muslims. The bridge was continuously being destroyed because the two sides could not get along but, it was constantly rebuilt because it was needed from travel and trade. Long story short- eventually times changed and the bridge has been up since 1994. DSC00354

From Mostar we went to Sarajevo where we stayed in a lovely hostel right in the center of town. For me all of Bosnia was very interesting because of everywhere I’ve ever visited Bosnia is the place that has most recently been affected by a war. There are still bullet holes in many buildings and there are ruins everywhere.

Whenever people need to meet up before dinner they just say "At Horse" and come here for an easy landmark in the city center.After Sarajevo the next destination was BelgradeSerbia which surprised our whole group. Unfairly out-shined by other European cities Belgrade has a very long and interesting history, a HUGE and beautiful city center, and (like everywhere else on our trip) wonderful food.

After Belgrade we got on the road once more destined for a hostel in Budapest, Hungary. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours in Budapest and were not able to fully appreciate it (I hope to make it back there before leaving).

302 steps up St. Stephen's Basilica to view Budapest

302 steps up St. Stephen’s Basilica to view Budapest

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From Budapest we headed back in to Vienna. Of course I’m leaving out the stories, jokes, people, dancing, arguments and other personal experiences that made this trip unforgettable but I don’t want to talk all day (and trust me I could talk all week about this trip). So, if you’d like to know more about any specific place, feel free to comment/message me!

The last place I’ve been to since last posting was Krakow, Poland but that will have to be a full post on it’s own since we were there for 4 days.

Traveling Abroad- Abroad

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Recently I embarked on a trip with 4 friends to Bratislava, Slovakia for a day. We woke up early to catch a train ride which took us to the neighboring capital in roughly an hour for 15 euros round trip. Great deal! Except that there isn’t much to see in Bratislava. We visited the Bratislava Castle which was interesting but felt inauthentic after being remodeled over the years since the original burned down in 1811.DSC09926 The view from the top of the castle was amazing though. In the castle was a museum with art, coins, and a World War I exhibit which was interesting because before going in I could not remember which side Slovakia had fought for. Then I realized Slovakia was non-existent at the time as it was part of Austria-Hungary and I definitely knew which side they were on. Other sights we saw were the main city center and Grassalkovich Palace (aka the Slovakian White House). We stopped in a brewery for lunch and here we discovered the best part of Bratislava is the prices. There’s very low cost for everything without sacrificing quality.

The trip was accompanied by the worst weather all 5 of us had experienced this semester as it was rainy, cold, and windy but despite the poor conditions and lack of things to do we had a wonderful time getting to know each other and learning about our respective cultures. There was an American (Myself), a Japanese girl, a guy from Belgium, a guy from Sweden, and a girl from neighboring Canada. One very interesting thing I’ve learned abroad is that most people know a lot about America. Be it good or bad, people (at least in Europe) know a lot about US politics, celebrities, businesses and media. People here know about their home country, Austria, and the United States of America. 

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I don’t have service in Austria, but many of my friends have bought plans that we can use while out and about. I also have a list of places I know I can go for wifi. But in Bratislava this was not the case so we were disconnected from the world until we went into a cafe for a snack and finally (overly dramatic?) found some wifi. Of course not having a constant stream of social media, communication and entertainment at the tip of your fingers 24/7 is an adjustment with cons and pros. It was a shock though, when my Canadian friend pulled out her phone and found out that the Canadian Parliament building had been attacked. Soon after we realized it was the headlining news story in all of our countries. I think we all had a realization at that moment of just how far we were from home. There had been a terrorist attack on a government building of our companion’s and we didn’t hear about it until 3-4 hours after the fact. As a Wolfpacker abroad of course I know you should Laugh, Think, & be moved to Tears everyday to have a full day and Bratislava definitely gave us a full day. DSC09983

On Wednesday I’m embarking on a road trip with 8 other international students to 6 countries over 4 days. We will visit Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, and Hungary. I’ll be back with plenty of pictures and stories I’m sure.

P.S. I also represented NC State at the Global Fair here and hopefully we have more International Students interested in studying back in Raleigh with us.

P.S. I also represented NC State at the Global Fair here and hopefully we have more International Students interested in studying back in Raleigh with us.

Margaret River

Although I had visited Margaret River for my half marathon in the past, I felt the region warranted another trip due to all the area has to offer and my inability to fully experience and explore the region previously. Once again, Oscar, an Australian at Trinity, was kind enough to take a group to his home and be welcomed by his friendly family. We left Friday evening to arrive in Margaret River by dinnertime. Known for their delicious fish in the region, we bought fish and chips take away from a local restaurant. Similar to previous fish and chip experiences, I loved the Australian aioli sauce (garlic mayo).

On Saturday, we explored the food and drink of the region. Our day began with a trip to the Candy Cow to see a demonstration of honeycomb being made. I have never experienced this candy in the States, but maybe it just is not as popular. Honeycomb is a common treat in Australia. They make the honeycomb from honey found in various trees. The honey is combined with other ingredients and made into a hard candy one can bite into. As expected, the treat tastes like honey. I will never complain about sweets, but honeycomb is not one of my favorites. After the Candy Cow, we began our tour of the different wineries in the region. All of the wineries had something unique about the way they made their wine. Walking through the vineyards made me feel like I was back in a cornfield in Iowa, however I have to say I think the vineyards are more picturesque. We even saw a wedding occurring in the one of the fields.

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At one of the wineries we visited, we saw a sign about the Australian drop bears, hence the picture below. I recommend googling the funny video that many Australians try to scare tourists with. I’m still not sure if drop bears are real…

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The remainder of the day was spent exploring the other specialties in the area including cheeses, ice creams, and chocolate. I think my favorite was the chocolate factory where we were able to sample some delicious chocolate morsels. We returned to Oscar’s house for our evening meal, where his mother let us make our own pizzas to put in their stone oven. Since all of my meals are catered at Trinity, having a home cooked meal was a great change of pace. In the evening we headed to the beach, hoping to see some bioluminescence in the distant waves. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the car, rain began pelting our faces, forcing us to retreat. There is something about the Margaret River beaches that must not like me. When I was running my half marathon the same thing happened.

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Before heading back to Perth we stopped at Lake Cave. The Margaret River region is lined with caves that have collapsed inwards in the past 700 years, exposing a natural beauty. Lake Cave is supposedly the most beautiful of the three prominent caves available to visitors. The cave lived up the expectations, with a lake reflecting the glittering white stalagmites. The cave also housed the only suspended table formation visible to the public in the world. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the serenity of walking through the dark, beautiful caves.

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I am continually amazed by how welcoming and friendly Australians are to foreigners. I have realized just how lucky I am to be living in the welcoming community of Trinity, where people are willing to show exchanges their country and welcome students only staying for a few months. As I enter my last week of classes before a few weeks of studying for finals, I cannot believe how my time here is almost over. But I’m not going to try and focus on the inevitable departure and, instead, enjoy my final weeks at a place I have come to call home.

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.

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