Saturday, July 24, 2010

7.16.10: London & Preparing for the States

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Tonight is our last night in London and the last night of the McNair Scholars program study abroad experience. What an experience it has been!! The housing at UEL is very different. We each have our own room, kitchen and even a whole hallway for ourselves. Although we did not really put the kitchen to use, we did have some good meetings and bonding time in our space. It was also really nice that once we arrived to the dorms in London, the McNair Scholars from the University of New Hampshire greeted us and were living right across the hall. Our first night in London the McNair Scholars from UNH showed us the ropes, as far as transportation and grocery shopping goes; and later they took us around London to see some of the many things London has to offer.

While staying at the University of East London we were able to meet with some really brilliant people (John Locke and Daryl Newport). We even had the opportunity to support our fellow McNair Scholars from UNH in their graduation from their summer program at UEL.

The last couple of days we were able to enjoy the city and each others company in a more relaxed setting as we set out to see London. Although we were sad that one of our cohort members, Marcus, had to us leave early for an IRT conference; but we know that it was for the best as it will bring him one more step closer to graduate school. While exploring London we were able to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Modern Museum of Modern Art, the Shakespeare Globe Theater, the London Bridge Underground Experience, and the Winston Churchill Museum. We also were able to take a boat tour down the River Thames and walk across the Tower Bridge.  After seeing all of those sites, I still feel like we did not even make a dent in visiting all the places London has to offer. This city is absolutely amazing and has so much to offer!  Although our time in London was not long enough to experience the culture to the fullest, I am so happy we had the chance to visit London, especially before the 2012 Olympics!

Tomorrow we travel back to the states; I am so excited because my Abuelita came from Miami to see me back home. This opportunity was one of the best I have had in my life (besides being a McNair Scholar) and I will take everything I learned back to the states with me to incorporate into my everyday life.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

7.12.10: Leaving Varaždin

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We left Varaždin today by bus. When we came to Varaždinfrom Zagreb it took almost three hours but now taking the bus it was like only one hour to get to Zagreb! It also helped that a few of the students from FOI (Allen, Benjamin and Tomislav) came back to Zagreb with us. Speaking of Tomislav, I learned that Tomislav was the name of a Croatian king (after meeting a second Tomislav), one of many tidbits of information I learned during my time in Croatia.

Returning to Zagreb, after spending so much time in Varaždin, with our dear friends from FOI, feels much different than when we first arrived in Zagreb. Not only have we become accustomed to the lifestyle (to a certain extent) but we have all grown to love Croatia, its people and everything that being in this country has taught us. Walking through the streets of Croatia’s capital, I have a new respect and appreciation for this country.

Needless to say, our visit to Zagreb for the second time was fantastic. We were surrounded with great company and hospitality. I cannot believe our trip is over so fast, but I can sincerely say that I enjoyed and absorbed every bit of it. And now, tomorrow morning we are off to experience another exciting country, the United Kingdom!!!  I am really excited to be able to actually explore London (instead of waiting in the terminal) but I am also very sad to be leaving all of our friends behind in Croatia. I know London will be an experience in and of itself, but after being around these amazing people in Varaždin, it will be hard to compare our experiences and friendships here in Croatia. This experience and these relationships that we have built, I know will last a lifetime, and I am forever thankful that I was given this opportunity.

Monday, July 19, 2010

7.8.10: U.S. Educational System Presentation

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Today was my day to present.  I discussed the U.S. Education system. I must say that participating in the Student Education Summit (ENLACE Conference) for the past two years helped me to acquire most of the knowledge for this presentation. I felt very proud to have been able to represent UCF and the McNair Scholars Program.  It was great to compare and contrast our education system with other European systems.

I was definitely nervous leading up to the presentation.  I felt at ease once I stood in front of everyone and saw how supportive all my fellow colleagues and all the FOI students were of me. My first McNair presentation was a success. The audience questions about dual enrollment within the high schools, scholarships that are offered for students (because in Croatia if you are not a top student your chances of getting a scholarship to study college are slim) and questions about current legislation within Florida regarding education.

After my presentation, Ozzy and Katarina presented on Student Associations and Student mobility within FOI.  Ozzy talked about opportunities for growth within their Student Association.  An example was raising awareness about their organization and what they can do for students.   This was very interesting to me because I know in some of the organizations that I have been in or worked with at UCF we also have problems with membership and getting people out to events.

After the last afternoon workshops, Professor Violeta took Candice and I to visit a Safe House for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. That experience was heartening in and of itself and I can truly say that Candice and I learned so much about the issues that are not so much in the public eye about women’s rights around Croatia; a lot of the issues are connected with the war.  Thank you very much Professor Violeta for providing us with yet another life changing experience.

When we were at the Safe House, they had pretzels, bread chips, Croatian cookies, water with orange flavoring (our version of cool aide) and coffee; this was significant to me because here we were in a house with seventeen inhabitants in which most of the women are barely making ends meet and yet they welcomed us into their homes with open arms and prepared items for us.

We have been welcomed with open arms everywhere we have gone in Varaždin, from the meeting with the FOI management board, to the visit to the Regional County Government, to the meeting at the first elementary school in Varaždin, to all the workshops, and down to the Safe House. The people here are so pleasant, welcoming, caring and we are all so thankful for them and all their generosity. We all hope to pay it forward in order to display our appreciation for all their kindness.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

7.6.10: Trip To U.S. Embassy & Opatija

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Today we took a couple of field trips to the US Embassy in Zagreb and later visited Opatija on the  Adriatic coast.  Robert, Ozzy and Katarina came with us on the field trip.  After taking a tour of the US Embassy, we got back on the bus to make our trip down to the coast.

When we reached the town of Opatija we saw some of the effects of tourism and the influences of the Mediterranean. At first the weather was gray and it even stormed for a while but we had a coffee break (it is a past time here in Croatia) and learned more of the Croatian language. Once it stopped raining we all ran in the water to say that we touched the Adriatic Sea and began taking a plethora of pictures.  We even got Katarina into the picture taking mode – by the end of the day she said  “I have never taken so many pictures in my life!”

As we were walking I was able to collect some stones from the shore and later Renata, Laura, Amethyst, Katarina, Robert, Ozzy and I all jumped into the Adriatic Sea! The water was so clear and beautiful and it was extremely cold at first (compared to Florida oceans) but once we started swimming and moving around it was just right. One thing we were warned about was to avoid touching the ground of the sea because there are a lot of sea urchins so we treaded water the whole time.  We also found a diving board that Ozzy, Robert and I dove off of.  I had never dove before from such a high altitude (I think it was like one story from the water) – so invigorating!

After dinner we headed back to Varaždin on the bus and had a 15 pretzel stick eating competition, played a joke on Robert and listened to music; another fantastic day in Croatia.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

7.5.10: Day one of the Conference

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Today was the first day of presentations in which Marcus and Candice presented their concept maps and research. It was so invigorating to see Marcus and Candice present their research because one could just tell by the way that they spoke and explained their topics that they were passionate about their topics.  They both are a constant inspiration and role models for me.  After the first sessions, some of the FOI students discussed the history of Varazdin and the festivals that take place anually.  One of these is the Baroque Evenings concert series in which Renata herself has participated in with her choir.

Later Matija presented on the Croatian education system. The presentation was extremely informative and interesting to see the similarities and differences between education in our two countries.  One of the things that really stuck out was that in Croatia, for high school, students chose a specific disciple that they are interested in and study this topic throughout high school.  They also have general high schools that are more broad.  This is very similar to some of the policies that I was researching last spring about specific graduation tracks and their success rates.  Even just a few extra elective courses within a field of interest can help to better prepare students for higher education.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

7.4.10: Touring Varaždin

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Today we were able to set up our computers with internet access and I was able to communicate with my family and some friends back in Orlando.  This morning, Bobo was our own personal tour guide and he even gave us pamphlets of the town. I was really taken back by the history of Varaždin but also by how much the people and the students know about their town’s history. As we made our way through the city to the old city we were able to see the much anticipated castle and see Varaždin in the day light with all of its beautiful architecture.  Inside the castle we took a tour of the various rooms and learned about the different artifacts. Then we had a coffee break in the old city center in which there were students from a music academy performing to everything from Beyonce to typical Croatian songs.  Later we walked to a museum of Entomology and got an idea of what the wildlife and nature looks like here in Croatia.

After eating at the student cafeteria for lunch, we decided to go to the pool.  At the pool, they gave us arm bands that scanned you in at the door and then you could use them to scan a locker.  I found this process to be very interesting and efficient.  After playing in the pool, one of the FOI students, Katarina, took Candice and I to a Croatian catholic church.  Being able to see a completely different ethnicity practice the same religion was an amazing cultural experience. Even though the mass was in Croatian, we were still able to understand the psalms and it was easy to sing along. 

Tomorrow the presentations and workshops begin.  I cannot wait to see my fellow colleagues present along side the students from FOI.  Looking forwarding for providing additional updates soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

7.3.10: Arrival in Varaždin

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Today we arrived to the much anticipated and beautiful city of Varaždin! After taking a train through the gorgeous, hilly, more rural side of Croatia; we met some of the students from FOI and Renata. A few stops before we arrived to Varaždin, one of the students, Katarina, happened to take the train and got on the same cart that we were in. It was so exciting to finally put a face to a name and meet the person face to face that we have been skyping with and communicating with through the various forms of social networking. Another thrill of the train ride was that when we arrived to Varaždin we had to get all of our suitcases and bags ready because the train only stopped for a minute before it continued on to the next stop. Luckily, when we arrived to our final destination, Renata, Robert, Bobo and Ozzy were at the station to help us get all of our bags down without being left behind. From now on, I will listen more carefully when someone says “you carry what you pack”. Packing those extra outfits for comfort can be a real pain when you have to lug so many bags around and walk long distances.

We were happy to make it to our next “home” for the next ten days. The dorms are so nice; it seems like a hotel but way better. I am sharing a room with Candice. Our room has two beds, two desks, two closets, a bathroom, refrigerator, TV and a lot of light sources and outlets (which will be sure to come in hand for our study time). To make us feel even more welcomed, one of the students, Robert, had went to the market that morning and bought us all bundles of lavender to put in our rooms. I can tell we are going to get along very nicely with all the students from FOI.

Next, we went out to dinner at a very nice, traditional Croatia restaurant, where Renata, Bobo and Ozzy helped me select a typical Croatian meal which was tomato soup, a refreshing salad, cooked pork slices, and a sort of shredded dumpling. After dinner we walked around Varaždin and saw part of a rock concert that was outside in which (what are the chances) an American band was performing. I want to be able to experience all the aspects of life in Croatia that I can while we are here, because who knows if and when I will be able to travel outside of the United States again.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Scholar Reflection: Zagreb

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These past two days have been full of wonderful travel, from the United States to London, England and then Croatia. The time change has been a little weird since we have been in Croatia. It is crazy to think that when we are finishing our day here around 5:00pm, back home, they still have the whole day ahead of them.

When we finally made it to Zagreb, Croatia it was so exiting! Zagreb is beautiful; with a lot of gorgeous architecture, parks and scenery. Since our arrival in Croatia, we have taken an airplane, bus and several types of trains. Tomorrow we will take a funicular (a cable car that goes up the hill) then travel by to Varazdin. I am really enjoying how relaxed the environment and people are here in Croatia. I can’t wait to meet the students in Varazdin!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trip Reflection: Lili Milanes

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scholar Spotlight: Lilian Milanes

Lili Milanes was born in Pembroke Pines, FL and shortly after her family moved to Indiana, PA where they lived for eight years. They then moved to Orlando, FL where Lili graduated from Winter Park high school and now attends UCF. She is majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Health Sciences. Her research interests include physical and biological anthropology with specific focus on public health, communal health and health disparities.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pre-Trip Expectations: Lilian Milanes