Sunday, July 25, 2010

Still dreaming of Europe

Posted in Amethyst Strickland |

Besides air conditioning, a nearby gym and perhaps my kitchen, I honestly did not miss anything about America while in Croatia. I did feel as though I needed a “de-briefing” upon my re-entry. I started missing Europe as soon as I left it. Traveling abroad made me recognize many blessings here that I take for granted but it also made me realize a lot of things I question about our culture.

Out of the top ten reentry challenges, I would defiantly say that “reverse homesickness” is the feeling I’ve encountered most. We all forged such deep and meaningful friendships while abroad and to go from enjoying the companionship of those friends 24-7 to strictly conversing oceans away by Facebook is a very difficult thing to come to terms with. The students and faculty at FOI were incredibly welcoming and gave us attention I felt in no way worthy of. The experience was above and beyond anything I could have imagined; from day trips to the Adriatic coast and exploring cemeteries to organizing salsa parties and morning trail runs, the Croatians did everything possible to make our stay a life changing experience.

During my stay in Europe, I was struck by how environmentally conscious they were. Everyone walks and rides bikes instead of relying on cars, the crime rate was incredibly low and the water quality was far superior to what we have at home. The food was actually made fresh instead of defrosted, and everything just seemed so much more real. It was hard to come back to freezer food restaurants, polluted water and an area not conducive to foot traffic.

Also, the students in Croatia seemed to really take their education seriously and somehow still find time to know a hundred other topics and balance a social life as well. Watching these students spout off three different languages, excel in social and academic life and tell me more about my own country’s history than even I knew, made me feel that perhaps I and other American students have missed something that these students have grasped. During our time in Croatia, we enjoyed every day rather than just existing to successively meet deadlines and go through the motions. This trip helped me reaffirm that international travel is something I want to be an integral part of my future.  In the meantime I hope to implement the “seize the moment” mentality and environmentally conscious behaviors that I learned in Croatia. I’m back in America but still dreaming of Europe….

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Waking up in Orlando

Posted in Amethyst Strickland |

Waking up in Orlando was…weird. I couldn’t remember where I was at first. Being gone for so long and then snapping back into ordinary life leaves me feeling like Europe was a dream, a really incredible dream. Despite the sureality of our European adventure, it did leave a lasting impression. I’ve been checking more on work and study abroad (such as teaching english opportunities and Fulbright scholar programs). I’m also planning to make crepes tonight, or at least attempt to make crepes tonight, in honor of my culinary experiences abroad. On a more serious note, my experience abroad changed my prespective on how I can help save the environment. After two weeks without air conditioning, I’ve come to realize I can survive with the thermostat above 74 degrees. Also, Croatia inspired me to purchase a bike to ride to class (I’m currently searching for one I can afford via craigs list ). I miss all my Croatian friends a lot, but I know I’ll go back to visit one day. In the mean time, I’m enjoying keeping in touch by Facebook and sharing what Varaždin and the rest of Croatia taught me with my friends here in America.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Leaving Varaždin: A tearful goodbye

Posted in Amethyst Strickland |

After yesterday’s tearful goodbye, we left Croatia and flew into the London airport. After settling into our dorms at the University of East London, we ventured out to see a bit of the city with some fellow McNair scholars from the University of New Hampshire. We hit the shopping first which proved to be hectic (the lines for the fitting room spanned across nearly a third of the first floor). We’re all still trying to wrap our heads around the dollar to pound conversion. London is a beautiful city, though a very different beautiful from Varaždin. I saw many holistic medicine and herbal centers dotting the Victorian Esq scenery. We went to a little Italian restaurant which had a nice variety of pasta specialties. The weather is a stark contrast to where we come from. The skies are constantly overcast yet somehow still bright enough for shades, and a chilling breeze intensifies the already rainy/icy environment. We caught the metro back to our dorms; I fell asleep with the light on while setting my alarm. This morning I awoke to a rather swollen tonsil and a very sore throat. Vitamins and sleep are helping however.

The university runs along a river. I have a nice view of the city skyline from my room. We have meeting for most of the day.  I’m hoping by some miracle to recover enough by 6pm to take advantage of the amazing running path along the river. Tomorrow we explore London :D

Saturday, July 10, 2010

July 10th: My experience in Croatia

Posted in Amethyst Strickland |

Yesterday, we took a field trip to see the Neanderthal museum, old Roman spa ruins and an incredible castle. After lemon gelato, walking the nature trails, making friends with a stray dog and a scenic bus ride home, we celebrated Stephanie’s birthday with a karaoke night alongside the FOI students and faculty. Amongst the limbo, air guitars and synchronized rehearsing of songs such as Thriller- it’s hard to believe we met this amazing group only a week ago. We’ve all forged new friendships since our arrival here and we’ve also grown closer as McNair cohort.

Personally, conversations I’ve had in lecture and while hanging out with the locals has broadened my view and caused me to question what is assumed “normal” and “correct” in the States. It’s interesting that the Croatians are just as surprised as I am at the different cultural practices between our nations.

In Croatia, they customarily say “Dobar tek” before beginning to eat. As far as culinary differences, our Croatian friends seemed surprised that we ate yogurt with a spoon instead of drinking it, that we dipped bread in soup, that we ate salad as an appetizer and perplexed that we ate sandwiches at lunch and asked for black iced coffee. Though the afore mentioned topics are minor, other conversation topics caused me more serious contemplation; why does English capitalize the word “I”?  Why do our schools focus strictly on American history instead of a more balanced historical overview?  How is it that the Croatians I’ve met all speak at least two languages and seem to know so much more about global history than I and still manage to retain such a rich cultural tie to their own history and heritage?

The people are inspiring, the country is breathtaking and the experiences we’ve had have been more incredible than I ever thought possible. We leave for Zagreb on Monday and fly out the next morning for London. Though I’m excited to see London, it will be very hard to say goodbye to Renata and all of our other new friends.

Thank you to all the students, faculty, advisors and support systems for making this experience possible and memorable for us!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Trip Reflection: Amethyst Strickland

Posted in Amethyst Strickland |

It is another beautiful evening in Varaždin. Yesterday we toured the castle museum and went out for gelato in the town square. Although the whole experience has been amazing, I especially enjoyed going to run at the Drava river and seeing all the beautiful trees. I really love the way Croatia seems to be so Eco-friendly.

Today we spent the day at FOI hearing our scholars present their research and learning about Varaždin and the Croatian educational system. Tomorrow we are visiting the US Embassy and the coast. I’m very excited to see the water and learn more about this incredible culture :D. More to come!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Arrival in Zagreb, Croatia

Posted in Amethyst Strickland |

Well after a very long 10 hours or so of flying, we finally made it; today marked our first day in Croatia. Funny to think before 6 or 8 months ago I didn’t know anything this country, and now here I am laying in my room at the Zagreb hotel central, thinking about a day in a country that seems too beautiful to be real.

This evening we visited an open air market of local artisans, ate at a side street café, wandered the city roads, chatted with friendly locals and made a wish in the fountain while visiting a breathtaking cathedral. The biggest difference I’ve noticed so far is the way time is viewed as more fluid and leisurely rather than scheduled and rigid like in the States. People here seem to take time to enjoy life as its happening, which is really refreshing.

As for my goals during this study abroad experience, I want to experience the true Croatia-the real sights and sounds of the people, not just the boxed tourist version, so I can get a real sense of the culture. I hope to come back to the States with a new, broadened perspective on life and having given those I encounter a positive prospective on Americans. I also hope to gain information on schools in Europe and the UK so that perhaps one day, I can return to further my studies.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scholar Spotlight: Amethyst Strickland

Amethyst Strickland was born in Pensacola, Fl where she completed her high school education and received her AA degree from Pensacola Junior college (graduating Magna Cum Laude in December of 2008). She is currently working on her B.S. degree in Environmental Science. Her research interests include ethnobotany and aquatic botany.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pre-Trip Expectations: Amethyst Strickland