As sad as it is, I have completed my last large travel while abroad. This past weekend I went to Fez, Morocco. I knew before coming to Aix that I wanted to travel to Morocco, I just did not know how excellent it was going to be. Being that Morocco is an Arabic speaking country with a very different culture from Europe overall, it was an experience unlike anything else. I feel very lucky to be able to experience so many different cultures and ways of life within a two-hour flight. The Moroccan people in Fez were nothing but welcoming. When my friends and I made it to our Airbnb, we were greeted with tea and great suggestions of what to do around Fez.
Day one, we walked through the maze of the old city of Medina. There are endless thin, busy streets with artisan shops and food. Every street had its unique twist. If you paid enough attention, you could find art on every street. From the mosaics of tile to the woodwork of balconies, there was always something to see and admire. Being here gave me a great opportunity to purchase nice souvenirs for others at a cheap price.
We also did a cooking class in someone’s home. We learned how to make couscous and vegetable Tajine. We ended up staying way past the end of our class to talk to our new friend Yassine and his mother Maria. We learned all about Moroccan culture and got to listen to Arabic music he and his mother enjoyed. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Day two, we explored the outskirts and the new city. We were able to see the Jewish quarter, get beautiful panoramic views of the city, and learn more history of Morocco. We also ended up going back into the Medina to appreciate more of the architecture of the mosques, schools, and palaces. We visited the blue arc and a rainbow art street where there were more, unique artisans selling their products.
Studying in France has allowed me to take courses involving the culture and history of immigrants from the Maghrib (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) to France. By taking my courses in Muslim Presence in Europe, French Colonialism in North Africa, and my friend taking Islamic Art, we were able to get more than expected out of our trip. We were able to better appreciate the art and culture while teaching each other about what we were seeing and experiencing. We were able to learn and witness more of the religion of Muslims. We were also in the only city of Morocco where geometric art continued after the rule of the Ottoman Empire. This type of art can be seen from as old as the 14th century to the present day.
Out of all the places I have been in so far, this was the most culturally immersive. I was not only doing tourist things but also mingling with locals and furthering what I have learned in my courses. Fez was vibrant in culture, people, and art. I hope to come back to Morocco in the near future and explore more of what the country has to offer.
Hello from Aix!
It is finally December here in the south of France and I could not be happier. Don’t get me wrong, France is lovely. But at this point, I miss home so much that all I want to do is go back to Oregon and resume my normal life…
For this blog post, I want to give you an honest update of the past three months here and get some things off my chest that I have been holding back.
For those of you who don’t know, I came here to study wine. I enrolled in a Global Wine Studies Certificate program that was supposed to provide a unique wine-based education that I could not obtain at Linfield. I chose to take classes that I felt were closely aligned with my interests, namely the Food and Wine Paring for the Sommelier class, and the Wine Marketing and Analysis class. As a Wine Studies and Marketing double major, this seems like it would be a great fit, right?
I am so sad to say this, but I am very disappointed in this program. I don’t want to get into it too much, but needless to say, I feel frustrated that the program was marketed to me as one thing and hasn’t fulfilled those expectations at all. I’ve learned over the past month that the program experienced a substantial shift in structure right before the semester started, which left IAU scrambling to find a professor to fill the newfound void. The ramifications of this hastened hiring fell directly on the students, and unfortunately has resulted in a very dissatisfying semester.
I personally have been extremely discouraged with the situation and have wanted to say something but I feared I would come off as an “entitled American student that was just complaining.” I went back and forth trying to decide if saying something was the right thing to do, if the school would take me seriously or not, and whether or not I was the only student felt the way I did.
I finally decided that I couldn’t take it any longer, and I spoke up to the Administration. This turned out to be a good move that brought me an immense sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and it lifted the weight off my shoulders that I had been carrying around since the middle of September. It feels great when you are able to speak up for yourself in a professional, articulate, and genuine way. However, I am very remorseful that I don’t have better things to say about this program. There are some redeeming aspects and I have learned plenty of new information. But I came all this way for a niche wine education and I do not feel like I have received that.
At the end of the day, I hope that the purpose of this study abroad experience reveals itself to me sooner rather than later. I feel like the challenges I have faced are not often talked about, and I would love to share the nitty-gritty of daily life with anyone who wants to listen… but I won’t bore my readers with that!
I hope the best for other study abroad students, both those who are currently overseas as well as those who are gearing up to go. There are always things to learn, but sometime things go wrong that are out of your control. My best advice for you if you find yourself in this situation is to take it day-by-day and remember that it is all temporary.
Hope you are well,
Hello and Happy Thanksgiving from Aix!
This year I learned that Thanksgiving is huge in France! There is canned pumpkin, fresh cranberries, 20-pound turkeys and Stove Top box stuffing everywhere you turn!
Thanksgiving is as big in France as Bastille Day is in America. This means that when your host family comes to you and wants to celebrate Thanksgiving just like an American, you have to be prepared to get crafty. This year, the actual holiday of Thanksgiving passed just like any other Thursday of the week. Which, if you know me at all, you know that I am a Thanksgiving fanatic! I love to cook, eat, and nap… it is the perfect day! I never imagined that I would live through the 4th Thursday in November without a heaping plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, ect…
But alas, I got to celebrate the holiday after all! On the Saturday, November 30th, my host mom invited 13 of her friends over to our comfy little apartment and I showed them how to celebrate like an American. This may sound all well and good, but there is so much more to the story than the festivities of Saturday at 1:00pm.
It all began 2 weeks before the big day. I compiled a list of recipes for my host mom to look over, and we patch-worked a menu together that she felt her friends would enjoy. It wasn’t until much later that I realized she was deciding on recipes that she has never heard of! But luckily, when it comes to Thanksgiving food, it is hard to choose the “wrong” dish, right?
We meditated on that menu for a week, making changes almost every night until we ended up with the perfect line up. Meanwhile, I worked on decorations for the big day…
My host mom went food shopping every day after work for the next week. Mind you, she was didn’t know what any of these recipes looked or tasted like! But after a few phone calls, translations, and Google searches, we finally ended up with everything we needed. The cooking commenced on Wednesday when I cut up the bread for the stuffing.
On Thursday, I decided to prepare the turkey… the biggest we could find was a 7-pounder from the local butcher. Now I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but this may have been one of the most disturbing things I have ever done. Why? Because when you are expecting a Butterball Turkey that has been de-feathered, cleaned, and trimmed, and you get a bird that, in short, “needs more attention,” it’s an emotional experience! I was so unprepared for the task at hand and was so queasy that I almost had to stop. I was plucking feathers from the legs with my fingers, cutting off excess pieces of the bird, and literally crying through the whole process from the realization of what I was doing.. And the smell. Don’t even get me started. I rubbed garlic butter under the skin seasoned the top of the bird with fresh herb salt and put it back in the fridge. WHEW!
Once I collected myself (lol) I started on the cranberry sauce, using only dried cranberries since fresh cranberries apparently DO NOT EXIST in France. The same can be said for pumpkin puree. I had to solicit Zach’s help in bringing out 2 cans when he visited me during Fall Break!
On Friday, I got home after class, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work! I started with homemade mushroom soup for the green bean casserole, then made stuffed mushrooms with sausage, white wine, and cream cheese, and then began working on the pies. I made a pumpkin, of course, and my momma’s apple pie! (I quickly realized that we were at a shortage of baking vessels for these pies. However, through a little Macgyvering, I made it work!) I finished the dessert menu with a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies.
When my host mom came home, we finished up the dishes: creamed corn, marinade for the pork, maple-glazed carrots, and extra gravy. We then spent the remaining hours of the night putting up the decorations, rearranging the living room only to rearrange it all back to the way it was, and cleaning the apartment.
On Saturday, we woke up around 8:00, and tackled the most challenging task of all…Baking everything with the sometimes-working and unpredictable oven. This took some serious finessing, but we stayed calm and remained faithful. Guests started to arrive a little after 1, and by 1:45, all 13 of us were squeezed around the dining table with all of the food displayed as a buffet. It was all warm, the turkey was moist, and I was thrilled. Though there was a language barrier, I was happy to find that everyone loved the food and EVERYONE went back for seconds and thirds. I even got asked to share a few recipes!
For those of you who have cooked Thanksgiving dinner, you know that a direct byproduct of the delicious food is the mountain of dishes that lie in wait in the kitchen. Perhaps the best nightcap to this episode of “Thanksgiving in France: a Parody” is that the kitchen sink was clogged AND the dishwasher died. Every last dish ended up being washed in the bathtub…!
Overall, this was one of the most rewarding, enjoyable, and fun experiences I have had in my time here… and of course it involves cooking. I was talking to my host mom after all of our guests left, and she told me that I changed her friends’ opinions of American cuisine. In retrospect, this is all I could have hoped to do!
Hope you are well,
Howdy folks, time to get this show on the road!
Let’s first start out with a “Merry Christmas!” now that Spooky Season is no longer upon us
This one will brief — I just wanted to talk about my trip to Saitama and Halloween.
SO, Halloween in Japan is really intense. As a country, Japan celebrates many holidays, and most of them are spent with family or if you ask college students, spent sleeping or working. Halloween and Christmas are the only two holidays that have been adapted into Japan and both aren’t usually family holidays, more so something that you spend with your friends. I haven’t experienced Christmas here yet, but I heard it’s when you go to karaoke with your friends all night for the entire break (wowza) or go clubbing (also a big “yikes”).
Halloween on the other hand is an entirely different beast. During the week up to Halloween, the night streets of Tokyo are flooded with people in costume and already busy parts of the city become unbearable. This year, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco on the streets (something that’s usually legal) were banned in Shibuya. This was due to the danger that occurs when several million people come to Shibuya to celebrate Halloween. A few residents of Shibuya told me that the city of Tokyo spent over $250,000 on police reinforcements to prevent the rioting that usually occurs during the holiday.
When I first heard this I made up my mind to go and see the chaos for myself, but it was so busy the weekend before and I could barely move anywhere, so I didn’t see the point in going, and I was also deterred by the knowledge that last year people got really drunk and flipped a truck over and started vandalizing shops. A truck. a T R U C K. Overall, I stayed at my dorm during Halloween, watched a movie, and went to bed early (it was an overwhelmingly positive decision in my book).
There were a few Halloween parties that I went to, the one in my dorm was for a cupcake decorating competition, and all the kids in the neighborhood came to trick or treat with all of us. It was really fun, they auctioned off prizes and we played a massive game of infection (if you haven’t played before you’re missing out). That evening we had a Halloween gathering, where we had unlimited food and karaoke. It was really fun and I lost my voice but what else is new :))
NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT SAITAMA
My trip to Saitama was really fun, I went with a group of Aoyama students — it was sort of a field trip which was really fun for me (like I was back in elementary school). Saitama is a smaller town up towards the mountains. There I got to make my own stamp (carved it myself – yes I did – that was me), after which I picked some grapes. These grapes are extremely expensive and cost about three dollars for just a single one, so a bushel, (a bunch? a gaggle?) costs anywhere from thirty-five to fifty dollars. Since they were so expensive we all got the larger bushels thinking that we would get them for free — which is true, we did — we just didn’t know that we had to finish all of the grapes right then. So, we proceeded to each eat about 20-30 grapes in one sitting under 15 minutes (I know it doesn’t sound too bad but these grapes are huge).
Note – ***fun fact*** we played chubby bunny with the grapes and I can fit nine in my mouth before I can’t breathe fully. Hehe – (in positive news I won so yay!)
Anyway, we all thought we were going to die of grapes and many of the people there have sworn off grapes for the next several months haha!
It was a very long day (and a very fun one) and I hit my head on every door of every bathroom I went into so if you’re above average in height make sure you duck 🙂
Okay, that is it! I love you and have a love life with my beautiful people!
The second half of the semester is getting crazy with projects and last-minute work. Balancing work and travel has been very difficult lately. Something that happened by chance but I am thankful for is that I had every other weekend in Aix. Although Europe is perfect for traveling at a low price, Aix is beautiful and has so much to offer.
Something I have learned while being here is that no matter what you do, even if it is staying in town, everything is great! After all, I am in France. Staying in Aix is equally as enjoyable as discovering a new place. I wish I got to know the city I live in a little bit more as my time closes here. Do not feel pressured to travel every weekend if it is too tiring or you simply do not have the means, Aix has more to offer than you think!
On a different topic, last weekend my travels took me to Amsterdam! This city was different from any other I have been to in Europe. The differences culturally, gastronomically, and linguistically were insane. Amsterdam is known for its obscure buildings, beautiful canals, bicyclists, and much more. This was one of my favorite destinations because of its uniqueness.
One must do in Amsterdam is renting bikes and riding through one of their beautiful parks. My friends and I rented bikes for an entire day for only eight euros! Although it can be stressful to ride through the center of the city, you get used to the chaos quickly and enjoy the beautiful scenery you stride past. A unique and quite delicious pastry is a stroopwafel. At the Albert Cuyp Market, there is a stand where they freshly make these pastries for only two euros.
Of course, the most famous thing to do here is to visit the Anne Frank house. I did not know that in order to get guaranteed tickets, they need to be purchased two months or more in advance. 20% of remaining tickets are open for purchase at 9 am day off, but are almost impossible to get. Long story short, plan/buy ahead if there is a popular attraction you NEED to see! Amsterdam had so many museums and unique free activities/shops. I would strongly recommend trying to plan a weekend here if you are looking for something unconventional and fun!
Onto my current home of Aix. They recently have finished setting up the lights for the holiday season. They changed the usual clothes market to a Christmas market(although, the clothes market still goes on, just on a different street). They set up little white home-like shops with diverse, local products! The items being sold can be for Christmas gifts or just souvenirs in general. The shops are individual and fun. They also sell hot cider, beignets, and the French version of churros. It has been fun to buy hot cider with a pastry and watch the bustle of people go through the market. The lights are beautiful and I am so happy to be able to celebrate a portion of the season in Europe where they really do go all out.
On the topic of holidays, I spent my first holiday away from home here–Thanksgiving. I think everyone experienced a little bit of homesickness, but IAU tried to make it less intense. The school decorated the main hall and provided us with an, as close as it can get in France, Thanksgiving dinner. It was actually very nice to have a large free meal with the friends I have made and share our traditions at home. IAU and Aix has provided me with a great environment and community. I am thankful to be able to be here and be able to travel the way I have.
The last couple of weeks have been full of travel, exams, swim meets, zumba, funky weather, cool orange juice machines and lots more. Time is flying by much faster than I’d like it to–it’s hard to believe I have only a month left in Spain. Seville has truly come to feel like a second home. I don’t like to think about another exchange student taking my place next semester, staying in my room, having dinner with my host mom and brother and playing with my host mom’s granddaughter when she comes to visit.
We recently had our fall break, and three of my friends and I decided to visit Madrid and Valencia. I think Valencia liked us better than Madrid did, so it’s probably a good thing we ended the trip in Valencia. One of my friends was pickpocketed our first morning in Madrid. We were walking to a cafe to have breakfast, and in the five minutes it took to get there her phone vanished into thin air. We really couldn’t fathom how it happened. Believe people who tell you pickpockets are extremely skilled at their job.
Later that day we got trapped in the palace gardens. We found four or five gates, all of which were locked. Our wandering in search of an exit was not in vain, however, because we witnessed a woman fall into a fountain while attempting to take a selfie. She submerged completely and crawled out unharmed but with soaking hair, fur coat, hat, scarf and leather pants. We wandered through the Market de Santo ?, visited the Prado Museum and strolled through Parque de Retiro with its lake, crystal palace and a surprisingly high cat population. Our day ended with a woman mooning the restaurant where we were having dinner.
Valencia was a bit calmer, much to our relief. Though Spain is known for its paella, Valencia is the region in which it originated and is actually the only part of Spain in which it is regularly eaten. Elsewhere, paella is considered more of a tourist attraction, so we decided to wait for the real deal and eat it in Valencia. The plate was so big that the waiter had to wheel it out on a special cart. It was delicious, even though we weren’t exactly sure what sea creatures we consumed. We hit the beach after, and even though it was extremely windy, I had to swim in the Mediterranean. No one else was swimming except for a man wearing a rubber-duck patterned swim cap. I was probably considered just as crazy as he was by the fur coat-clad people strolling along the boardwalk. But for me, the sun, blue sky and palm trees indicated that it was perfect weather for swimming.
Speaking of swimming, I competed in a meet with the team I’ve been training with here. In some ways, it was just like any other meet I’ve attended in the U.S. and in other ways it was completely different. It was a pretty small meet–there was no electronic timing system–but nearly everyone was wearing technical racing suits (known as “fast skins” in the swimming world), which are usually only worn for championship meets as they are pricey and wear out after a few uses. My teammates asked me why I didn’t have a fast skin (which they use the English words for, just pronounced with a Spanish accent) and seemed very concerned that I had not even brought mine to Spain. The whole team was quite animated during the meet, screaming for everyone who raced. They have a lot more variation in their cheering vocabulary than just “go!” and “come on!” I tried my best to learn but had no idea what they were yelling for the most part. After the meet we took a team photo. I did not have a jacket like the rest of the swimmers, but someone’s dad tossed me his to borrow for the photo. When I tried to give it back he insisted I keep it as a present even though it was a bit large and had his name written in it. It’s totally cool to have a jacket from a team in Spain, I just felt a little bad about taking it.
Last week was midterm week at the University of Seville. I was terrified, but the exam went a lot better than I expected it to. However, I was a bit confused when my professor returned it to me. There was no grade, comment or correction on the exam itself–only a note on the back that read “You’re passing, but you could do better. Good for you!” I asked him what he meant by that. Was I doing well? Was I not? Was “good for you” meant sarcastically? “No, you’re doing great! Most of the class is failing,” he said with a big smile.
I’ve meet some wonderful Spanish friends and have been trying to spend time with them in my last month here. They’re all older than me–mid to late twenties–but they don’t seem to care. We have lots in common, we have fun together, and that’s what truly important in a friendship. Making plans happens extremely last minute, which I’ve been trying to get used to. Last weekend, one of my friends texted me to come over to her house in an hour. She told me I could come to her zumba class with her before meeting some more friends for dinner. Then we decided to use the spa at the gym and chat with the lifeguard. By the time we left it was after 9. We went back to her apartment where she showed me her travel album and chatted for a while longer. Her boyfriend and several more friends joined us for dinner, and we ate and hung out at the restaurant util 1:30 a.m. I was surprised at how late it was when we left, but there were still people arriving as we headed out.
I’ve also discovered these cool little orange juice machines. You push a button and get to watch it squeeze the oranges into your cup. It’s been a challenge not to buy some every day.
Hello from Aix!
It has been awhile since I posted an update, which is good because I have a lot of information to share! So, here is what I have been up to in the last few weeks…
The week after midterms was IAU’s Fall Break. This was such a fun and exciting time for me, especially considering how mellow and calm my daily routine has become. It all started when my host parents came home with Pepa, an 8-week old Shih Tzu puppy! Are you a fan of Shih Tzus? To be honest, I wasn’t either (haha) but after meeting Pepa and experiencing her joyful and goofy personality, I have been converted! She’s adorable!
The fun continued on Saturday when my boyfriend Zach (shoutout dude!!) flew out of the country for the first time to spend the week with me! IT. WAS. AWESOME. I got to show him the apartment I live in, he met my host parents, he met Pepa (😊), I showed him the university, the bakery I go to, the stores I like to shop at, and the beauty of the surrounding area. Then, we rented a car and drove to Lyon, France for one night, then to Switzerland for three nights, then to Italy for three days, and finally, we spent a night in Monaco! We laughed so much, drove over 1800km, ate like champs, played cards in every country, and explored with so much joy and contentment for the moment. Saying goodbye to him was hard, but it marked the exact halfway point before I return home!
(If you are planning to study abroad in the future, I strongly suggest that you find out if and when your program offers a break and make preparations in advance to take full advantage of your “free” week. Most students that I talked to had grand plans of traveling all over the place, especially because it is so inexpensive in Europe compared to in the United States. Make a list of the top 3 or 4 cities that you want to see and just do it! Or wing it like Zach and I did… Either way, I truly believe that some of the best memories from studying abroad will occur in this week. Just be careful not to be overly ambitious when you are making plans because traveling is EXHAUSTING.)
The weekend following Fall Break, my host family went out of town for the long weekend (November 11th is Armistice Day in Europe, and the entire country of France takes the day off…) and is and left me in charge of the house and of Pepa for three days! I was excited for the peace and quiet for a few days, and spent my time working on homework, talking to my family back in the states, taking Pepa on walks, and COOKING! I had a blast buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the market and coming back to the apartment to cook lunches and dinners for myself. I made a silky butternut squash soup to pair with a Sancerre (white wine) from the Loire Valley, and let me tell you, it was delicious! If you are at all interested, here is the recipe I wrote for the soup! (Serving: 2 hearty bowls)
- 1 med-large butternut squash
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil (again)
- 1 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 cups chicken stock
- ¼ cup bacon, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced (again)
- 1 oz. goat cheese
- Heavy cream
- Begin by heating your oven to 400°F. Peel the butternut squash, slice in half to remove the seeds, and then cube. Toss in olive oil and roast for 30 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove from oven and allow time to cool.
- In a stock pot on the stove set over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is up to temperature, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Transfer the roasted squash to the pot and cook for 3 minutes, adding the salt, pepper, nutmeg and maple syrup.
- Transfer the items in the stock pot to a blender along with the chicken stock. Blend for 2-3 minutes, stirring to make sure that the soup is smooth throughout. Then, transfer the soup back to the stock pot, taste, and make adjustments as necessary. (You may need to add more stock, depending on what consistency you want the soup to be!) Turn the heat to medium-low and allow the soup to cook for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes! Add the bacon pieces and minced garlic to a frying pan and cook over medium-high heat until the bacon is browned and crispy. Drain on a paper towel to remove excess grease.
- Finally, prepare the dish. Drizzle a ring of cream around the center of the hot soup and top with the bacon pieces, goat cheese and a sprinkle of Herbs de Provence!
Anyways, I hope you are doing well… Thank you for taking the time to read all of this, it is fun to share my time here with you!
Until next time,
After midterms, a friend and I decided to take a trip to Busan, which is in the south of Korea. It was a nice weekend getaway from the busy Seoul life. And it was just what I needed after midterms. Although it was a weekend getaway, it was full of exploring, walking, and trying new things. First, we headed to the Busan Tower. The view from the top of the tower is absolutely stunning, showing the whole city of Busan.
While at the Busan Tower, a friend and I decided to try on a hanbok, which is traditional Korean clothing for semi formal or formal occasions. This type of clothing dates back to the Joseon Dynasty period which was from 1392 to 1897. The hanbok that I wore had made me feel like true princes, I had never in my life worn something so beautiful. It’s pretty custom that Koreans and foreigners alike rent the hanbok’s for a short period of time and take pictures. Since we were at the Busan Tower, it was perfect place to take pictures.
We also visited the Yeongdo Lighthouse, which is a historical sight where the lighthouse provided a beacon of light to ships around Busan Port for over a hundred years. The air was fresh and luckily we got to see the lighthouse when the sun was out and shining.
One of my favorite spots to visit was the Busan Gamcheon Culture village. The tourist guide explained that the Culture Village was once a popular place for war refugees to settle in after the Korean War. Also known as the “Machu Picchu” of Korea, the village is full of paintings and murals on the walls and now has become a very popular tourist attraction. With cafes, shops, and many more businesses filling the area.
Overall, my trip to Busan was absolutely exhausting but it was so worth it. It was nice to get away from one of the busiest cities in the world and enjoy the beach and the breeze.
Ill update as soon as I can,
Our last study trip of the semester was a trip to Poland. We left at night by train and arrived in Kraków the following morning.
We were told to dress for cold weather, but I definitely wasn’t prepared enough. It was so cold and the wind was even harsher.
On our first day there we had a city tour with Barbara, a local and long-time friend of Hermann. One of my favorite landmarks was St. Mary’s Basilica located by the main market square. The gothic church was a work of art to look at as the walls were designed by Jan Matejko and created by Stanisław Wyspiański; all hand-painted!
The next day we woke up to take a bus to Auschwitz and Auschwitz – Birkenau. Prior to our visit to Auschwitz, I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl was a psychiatrist that survived the Nazi death camps. He later wrote many books on his and his patient’s experiences.
But nothing prepares you for the realness that are these ex-concentration camps. It was eerie to see people take selfies in front of the arbeit macht frei (work makes you free) entrance sign. But it was also a reminder of how one in a place like this shouldn’t act.
The next day, I went to Kraków’s modern art museum, where I found an installation that questioned the “novelty” around Auschwitz; in if people go there because it is an important historical moment to never forget or if they go there because you need to go there when in Poland.
It was a faux souvenir stand where people could “buy” Auschwitz merchandise. It was a hard installation for me to take in, considering I was in Auschwitz just a day prior, but it also made an important commentary on the matter at hand.
On our last day, we took a trip to the Wieliczka salt mines a bit outside of Kraków. The mines are a UNESCO site and there is a salt church 150 meters (492 feet) below ground. Kara and I took the opportunity to lick the salt walls; it was safe to lick the walls since salt is an antiseptic.
My favorite part of the Krakow trip was the time spent in the Jewish Quarter of the city. We ate at a restaurant in the area where they had live music Jewish/Yiddish music. The group was lovely and by the end of it, we were all in awe from the talent of the lead singer. It was also a reminder that Jewish culture and history goes beyond the horrors of WWII.
Poland was a cultural experience that I would have not been able to have had without the help and planning of AAIE. They prepared me both for the fun and also the necessary educational experiences I had.