Yikes!

I should have posted something earlier, I know, but it’s been a bit wild. I’ve been in Ireland for over a week, went to Dublin less than 24 hours after getting off the plane with a roommate, and will fly back home on Saturday for a medical school interview. So…yikes! Anyway, here is a silly picture of me in front of the Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin (at least if this link works?) with more to come!

In Dublin

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Another eventful week in beautiful Oslo!

Hey friends, family, and anyone else reading this blog!  I have survived another week in the winter wonderland that is Oslo, Norway.  I am having a great time here meeting even more people from around the world and I think it will be a fantastic semester.

I started the week having a delicious dinner with my relatives here in Oslo.  I met even more of my distant cousins as we had a “Norwegian-style” pizza.  They  have been very kind answering my questions about the culture and way of life as well as helping me get set up in this new place.  Even so, they have had a lot of questions about the United States.  They thought it was interesting that I cut my food with a fork!  Oh culture differences.

I had my first actual week of classes this week.  Starting off with Intro to Norwegian Society we learned a lot about the history of Norway and the origins of it’s culture.  It was a long yet informative lecture.  I had another class of Medical Anthropology which I am embarrassed to admit, almost missed because of the use of military time.  This class is turning into my favorite as we are learning a lot about how disease and medicine has affected the direction of human progress since before the modern world.  Finally, I had my first lecture and lab for Archaeology.  We learned the basics of lithics that are commonly found in Norway.  In the lab we were given various stone fragments to identify specific characteristics of each type of stone.  It was really interesting but not all too challenging.

I am starting to get adjusted to the small differences here in Norway.  Going to the grocery store is not nearly as intimidating as it was during the first two weeks.  I am trying my best to make adequate food for my stay and, if I say so myself, I am doing alright.  I got a gym membership as well and they have really nice facilities here.  Now I am able to rent cross country skis so that I may fit in even more as a Norwegian.   My relatives are excited as they want to bring me to some beautiful cross country ski trails.

It seems that getting a part-time job here will prove to be quite difficult.  There was an information meeting for it this week in which they said if you do not know any Norwegian your options are limited.  I am hoping that I can land a job at some American tourist retreats such as the Hard Rock Cafe or T.G.I. Fridays.  But I might have to settle for a cafeteria job or even a garbage man!  We will see what happens.

To finish out the week there was finally a good snow storm here in Oslo.  It has been snowing for almost two days straight now and the area around my dorm is breath-taking.  Today myself and a lot of friends went sledding up in the hills surrounding Oslo.  I was expecting a typical sledding trip where you ride down a small hill for ten seconds then walk back up but I was proven very wrong.  We rode the metro for thirty minutes to the top of  a large hill just pass the Holmenkollen Ski Jump.  We rented sleds and a helmet and were told where the beginning of the trail was.  From there it was a ridiculously fun time as we road down a long steep trail for almost twenty minutes.  Everyone could hear our group going down the “mountain” as we screamed and laughed the entire time.  When we finally reached the bottom we got back on the metro and rode it back to the top!  After three long and incredibly entertaining runs we had to leave as everyone had a lot of bruises and we were all very tired.  It was an unexpectedly awesome end to another week in Oslo.

This next week I am looking forward to another round of classes and a potential trip to Tromso, Norway up in the Arctic Circle.  A few friends and I have been planning it and we hope to hear back from some “couch-surfers” so that we may get a chance to experience almost 24-hour night time and the famous northern lights festival.  All while desperately hoping to see some actual northern lights.  I hope to make another post regarding this trip so wish us luck!

Too long, did not read: Another awesome week in Oslo filled with classes, meeting new people, sledding, riding the metro, and enjoying the new snow.  Hopefully going to Tromso this next week! Friends and family are great here and I am definitely hoping for even more fun this semester.

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First Week in South Africa

After forty hours of travel time, I arrived in South Africa last week! The last week has been a whirlwind of activity, and it is hard to believe so much has gone on in such a short amount of time. I have experienced almost no jet lag, simply because there is too much to do to get tired!
The international students at Stellenbosch University are a very closely knit group, and evening socializing is a daily occurrence. Indeed, South Africa as a whole seems to be a very social country; wine plays a part in every gathering, even school functions! If you look lost on the street, often times someone will ask you if you need help, and all native South Africans seem eager to share the best parts of their country.
Driving here, on the other hand, is not so friendly. People drive very aggressively, and there is no such thing as “pedestrians have the right of way” as it is in America. That coupled with the fact that you must look the opposite direction when crossing the road makes walking or biking around town a death defying experience, to say the least.
Also, South Africa does not seem to be nearly as dangerous as everyone was warning about (at least in the small town of Stellenbosch). Of course there are many beggars, and plenty of small crimes, but for the most part it seems safe. There are certain parts of South Africa that I am leaving out of my assessment however, most notably the townships (huge camps of corrugated metal shacks that surround every major city) and the rural areas.
There is still one more week off before classes begin here, and much of that time will probably be spent at the beach! My hope is that by the time I am old, there will be a cure for skin cancer.

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Grant in Oslo: Episode 1 The Adventure Begins

Finally I have arrived in Oslo, Norway!  After a grueling, sleepless flight from Denver to Reykjavik to Oslo it felt wonderful to step outside in the brisk winter air.  I arrived on Monday the 7th of January at 11:00 A.M. Central European Time.  I was extremely tired when my cousins picked me up from the airport but kept having the realization that my journey was just beginning.

The first day was a difficult one to get through as the time difference (jet lag) took a massive toll on my sleep schedule.  The excitement was enough to keep me awake as my relatives drove me to the dorms I would be staying at.  The first day was foggy but even so I could notice the striking similarities of the landscape to my home state of Minnesota.  But when we arrived to the city the architecture was immensely different from what I am used to in the states.   The smaller, twisting roads and the design of the buildings were enough to throw me off.  However, after a short trip to Ikea and picking up my keys at the University it was a welcome relief to finally sleep!

The first week was filled with a lot of fun and very little sleep.  Right away there was an orientation week in which all the international students met up and learned the basics of living in Oslo.  We were put into “Buddy Groups” based on our field of study and would hang out with them for the coming weeks.  Right away our buddy group hit it off and I met a lot of cool people from all around the world including Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Korea, Japan, and of course the United States.  Our leaders were students from the university who wanted to volunteer to help us through our first weeks.  These people were very cool and really easy to get to know.  I knew right away I was going to have a great time in Oslo.

There were many welcome parties the first couple weeks where I met a lot more people from around the world.  I went on a bus tour (I know, pretty cheesy) around Oslo which took us to see the City Hall, the fjord, and the famous Holmenkollen Ski Jump.  The city is absolutely beautiful and the view from the ski jump was incredible.  I visited the Nationalmuseet with my buddy group and we were able to see famous works from Pablo Picasso to Norwegian native Edvard Munch.  It was a great experience to see the works of Norway’s best artists.  I also went ice-skating one day and having told everyone that I came from Minnesota they assumed I was very good at skating.  I proved a lot of people wrong that night.

Getting around in Oslo has been such a great surprise.  The amount of public transportation is staggering as I can get literally everywhere in the city by taking a metro, bus, or tram.  This has made it less frightening when I choose to get lost in the city as whenever I see a bus I know I can get back to the student village.

The weather has been very cold lately with some snow.  At first I bragged to people about my love for the cold but soon I realized I was not as prepared.  Wearing gloves and a hat is necessary when walking around town.  The days are very short to the point that sometimes I think I woke up too early but really it is almost noon! The sun sets around 4 p.m. every night and because of that I end up feeling ready for bed around six or seven.  But I will keep saying that is jet lag.

The language barrier was very intimidating at first but soon I learned it is very manageable.  Everyone is able to speak English but Norwegian is preferred.  The first time I went to the grocery store I panicked and only bought bananas and grapes as everything else was in Norwegian.  And when I am checking out the cashier initially speaks Norwegian to me.  I had to be that “American” and say, “English please” but soon I was able to pick up what they were saying.  So far the automated voice on the metro has taught me my first Norwegian phrases which are “Dorone Lukkes” (door closing) and “Neste Stasjon” (next station).  I hope to learn a lot more while I am here.

I started classes on my second Monday in Oslo.  The first was an hour and a half lecture on the history of Norway for my class “Norwegian Life and Society”.  The class was filled with international students and I learned a lot about what sort of impact Norway has had in the development of the old world.  However, the class system is very different here in Norway.  I have one class on Monday and two classes on Tuesday and that is it.  I have no classes for the rest of the week.  My dream of a super-weekend of no school is finally true but I am worried what I am going to do with all my free time in Europe!

I hope to travel a lot but while I am here in Oslo it seems that the most popular thing to do is cross-country ski.   When I ride the metro I always see so many people with cross-country skis.  I had no idea it was so popular as cross-country skiing in the States only practiced by a few.  My relatives have promised to take me cross-country skiing a lot while I am here in Oslo.

Which brings me back to my wonderful family in Oslo.  They have been so hospitable during my two weeks so far in Oslo.  They have had me for dinner and showed me around town all while making sure I have all the necessities for living in Oslo.  I am so lucky to have this connection in Oslo and it definitely makes me want to live here in my future.

I apologize for not posting this earlier but I had a hard time condensing the experiences I have been having into one single blog post.  I am going to be posting  at least once a week from now on to make sure that my experiences are not so abridged.  Skol to a great semester in Oslo!

Too Long, Did not read: I love this country and I love the people I have met.  My family here is wonderful and I am looking forward to six months in Oslo! Skol!

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First Real Post

Hello MSU study abroad online community!
My name is Neil Liotta and I got roped into writing this blog about my experiences as an exchange student at Stellenbosch University in South Africa next semester. It is hard to believe, but this coming Saturday I will leave my home in Anchorage, Alaska for the opposite side of the world for five months. Hopefully I like South Africa, because five months is a really long time!
According to Google Earth, the distance from Anchorage, Alaska to Stellenbosch South Africa is 11,550 miles. Now, it doesn’t take a college student to recognize that as a very long distance. Even though I leave on the morning of the 19th, and have only two stops in Seattle in London, I don’t arrive in Cape Town until the morning of the 21st! I have never sat down in an air plane for more than five hours, and here I am subjecting my behind to TWO back to back twelve hour flights. I am actually concerned it may fall off.
That being said, it is hard to contain my excitement for the next couple months. It will be good to have a break from the standard math and science classes at MSU and to take some more humanity-oriented classes abroad. It will also be very refreshing to not have to worry too much about grades, and I look forward to taking full advantage of grades being pass/fail abroad (as long as I pass, my GPA will not be affected).
It will also be great to get out of Alaska! While Alaska used to look like this last week…

…It now looks like Seattle or London or someplace else equally as rainy and dreary. If you can’t have snowy coldness, it may be time for beachy hotness right?
Anyway, next week this blog will make more sense as I will actually be IN South Africa. Until then, I need to go outside in order to get thoroughly sick of Alaska before heading to the other side of the world.
Peace,
Neil

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Quadalajara, Mexico

I love it here! I really like the culture and the people are so nice. The food is amazing as well. I really like this program because it is a total immersion for Spanish. I do not speak any English here! I am really beginning to understand and think in Spanish.

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A year is a very long time.

What began as a semester in Sevilla somehow turned into three. Since my last post: I went to work at a summer camp in Ireland, spent the end of Summer home in Minnesota, Came back to Sevilla in the Fall to study as well as continue my job as an au pair, went home for the holidays and ended up in Sevilla once more to study this Spring.  In short, it went something like this…

Spain–> Ireland–> America–> Spain–> America–> Spain

A ton of great things have happened in the past year, and at the top of that list is that I can speak Spanish.  It may appear as an obvious occurance after living here so long, but it is amazing the number of study abroad students who come to Spain with little knowledge of the language and leave having only enriched their vocabulary with the word chupito (shot) and maybe dame (give me) if they’re lucky.  I’m going to be honest here and say that for the first three months here that was me.

Pre-departure there is this majestic image put out that all of a sudden you get to your destination abroad country and become instantly fluent in the language.  However, like 2Pac at Coachella this year, this majestic image is completely false. Learning a language is hard and takes a surprising amount of effort.  Classes and living in a home stay are great assets, but its during the other 80% of the time when not at home or in class that most students find it difficult to keep up the practice. Upon arrival, myself, like many study abroad students, stuck to what I knew.  I only went out with the Americans from my program, and for the most part that was to sponsored events with free sangria where only other guiris (foreigners) would show up.  I had an awesome time, made great friends, and did all the other amazing things that go along with study abroad, except one thing, I hadn’t learned the language.  Then came May.  The program ended and all the Americans left, but I stuck around working as an au pair.  It came down to two options: stay at home and play on Facebook in my off-time, or go out and learn the language.  I picked the latter of the two and can now happily say I speak Spanish, but getting here didn’t come without its share of difficulty and embarrassment (heavy on the embarrassment).

In the beginning without the comfort of other Americans, I met a whole lot of people who for lack of better/appropriate words, weren’t so great.  It didn’t matter what time of day it was or where I was at, as a blonde haired blue eyed American with a poor understanding of Spanish I was a prime target for sleazy pickup lines. Imagine you meet some guy or girl and when you strike up a conversation with them they respond with things like, “I like to make skiing” and, “I have 21 butt holes” (in Spanish, año means year, whereas ano means butt hole).  Lets be real, unless you want in their pants or are an insanely kind-hearted person, the chances of striking up a genuine friendship are pretty slim. Fortunately, through the process of talking with all those not so great people, I managed to meet some of the insanely kind-hearted ones who had a genuine interest in friendship and helping me learn Spanish.  It was a slow process and remains a constant work in progress, but is completely doable.  Effort and dedication are clutch. Basically take a look at all the posters  in Barney Stinson’s office and then apply that to learning a language.

I guess I wrote this so (hopefully) future study abroad students don’t have to feel as frustrated when learning a language, knowing that every student goes through it.  Also, for the parents of former, current and future study abroad students: if your kid comes back with less progress than anticipated, know that they learned more than you could imagine.  Language is only one of the elements that goes into making a study abroad experience. That’s all I have for now.  Shown below are an array of photos from the past year…

Playing with the kids at summer camp in Killarney, Ireland Back to Spain… Thanksgiving Halloween Playing at the beach Playing in Granada Favorite tapas bar

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Rome-ing Charges May Apply…

What would be your definition of a thoroughly enjoyed international experience?  Does it involve visiting a certain amount of countries?  Learning a new language?  Savoring the delicacies from as vast an array of culinary delight as possible?  I suppose these are the questions that have run through my mind as my theoretical (and literal) departure flight from my Europeanly delightful stint is quickly drawing near.  I find that experiences like mine are substantially difficult to quantify with numbers or charts (I need no further motivation to avoid these painful methods of documentation) and instead can best be realized through a sort of nostalgic kaleidoscope of all my overseas experiences, both good and bad, throughout the past five months.
For starters, I can confidently say that my Spanish language think tank has steadily risen at a satisfying rate and has either met or exceeded my pre-conceived expectations before the beginning of my journey (the level mark on the tank was slightly blurry and, hence, difficult to gauge).  As a matter of fact I have found parts of this blog to be more easily communicated in Spanish than my own native tongue, a very positive sign indeed for how much I have grown in the language.  Looking back now I can say that my means and methods for stretching and growing my bilinguistic abilities were sufficiently challenging and effective.  For all those who also desire to take hold of a new language, allow me to share my humble suggestions for you:  (1) switch your cell phone, computer, facebook and e-mail account to the language you are trying to learn.  Doing so will force you to constantly use your new language, regardless of your country of residence, and it will introduce you to very practical and useful terminology in the world of technology.  (2) Don’t be lazy.  In other words, put yourself outside of your comfort zone by seeking social groups, study partners, or clubs which will allow you to use your language in common settings outside of the classroom.  (3) Read a book.  Quit worrying about whether you’re good enough yet, just get the freakin book and read it!  Have a dictionary on hand with a personal notebook for new vocabulary.  Learning a language requires a healthy balance of listening, speaking, reading and writing, so make sure you keep a happy medium.
Enough with the self-help column.
As I was saying earlier, I have chosen to think of my overall experience here in Spain as a kaleidoscope.  Lots of colors, your view is in constant motion, and it’s almost as hypnotizing as watching a bonfire or a waterfall when you’re already about ready to fall asleep (if anyone knows how that last part relates to my analogy, please tell me).  Food was great.  I made an effort to savor at least one morsel from every land in which I visited.  The list includes paella, sangria, Serrano ham, and Spanish tortilla in Spain, potato soup and fresh Guinness in Ireland, haggis in Scotland, bratwurst in Germany, and Norwegian chocolate in…..you guessed it, Norway!  Unfortunately, due to a massive kick to my bank account’s face I was forced to pinch and scrape to make it to Rome, sadly leaving me without the taste of fresh, hot Italian pizza or cold, creamy gelato on my tongue.  But fear not!  My days of adventure are far from over as I am but little more than a mere fifth of the way through my journey toward 100 years of life.
Countries.  Unfortunately the silly European Union has inhibited my dream of a stamp-filled passport with their laxness of passport control (yes, I just looked it up and laxness is a word).  Nevertheless, my little blue adventure booklet is slightly tighter around the waist than when its feet left American soil last year.  To date my travel log includes the following countries:  the beautiful US of A, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, and Norway.  Perhaps a bit weak in comparison to the long list of exemplary world travelers out there, but still a good start for this newbie.
I shall save you the long list of details of the amazing friendships, funny experiences, flat tires, language barriers, and everyday happenings I have encountered.  Needless to say, I can say that it is nothing less than pure joy when I put my kaleidoscope up to my eye and slowly spin the sphere, watching the moments go by that turned into experiences, all cumulating into a beautiful roaring sea of memories and emotions.  To a certain degree I am happy (okay, ecstatic!) to return home to my friends, family, and familiar surroundings.  But I will surely miss the life of mine that has so quickly developed and, now, is so quickly nearing an end.  It’s amazing what can happen in five months, how your views and opinions of the world around you can change, how your appreciation for things outside of your own culture can increase so dramatically, and how your interest in football (that’s soccer to us Americans) can so insanely explode especially when your team (Valencia) makes it to the finals and Barcelona and Real Madrid tie in an unbelievably tight matched game and you know that miracles do happen and that Valencia could potentially find itself in front of thousands of fans face to face with Barcelona, the best football (soccer) team known to man, in the finals of the King’s Cup…!!!!!  I suppose lots of things can change in five months.  And as I hear my departure flight approaching the gate (literally speaking this time), I can’t help but think about how much and in what ways my life will be different from here on out because of my decision to study abroad in Valencia, Spain.  There’s no going back, but the future looks bright.  Especially here in the Mediterranean sun.  So before I conclude this farewell blog post, let me leave you with one final humorous discovery I made of the Spanish language while attempting to translate the typical ending to a fairy tale (you know, the ones that goes “and they all lived happily ever after”):
And they all lived happily,…and ate partridges.

Un ultimo abrazo,
Jake

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I rode a lion and a dragon

Greetings friends from the soakingly wonderful green land of Ireland!  I have been looking forward to writing this post and sharing with you the first half of my two week European extravaganza extrordinare!  With the semester just about finished (with the exception of my final French exam) I’ve been able to take some time to stretch out my hands and snag a brief and fleeting touch with more of Europe than just Spain.  So here’s my best effort to give you a brief snapshot of my journey so far…

I must say that I experienced the most unique and culturally mixed holiday season this Christmas.  My friend Rachael, who is currently studying missions in Northern Norway, was able to join me and several other friends on Christmas eve for a delicious cultural smorgasborg.  Dishes ranged from spanish tortilla to almond cheesecake to a delicious Lithuanian fish and vegetable dish.  The sangria was sweet, the conversation hilarious, but most of all the company was warm and hospitable.  I have to admit that I never imagined I would spend Christmas Eve in a mixed group of Americans and Lithuanians in a tiny flat in Valencia, Spain.  But I suppose not much of my life as of lately has been what I would consider “normal”.  The next day consisted of feasting on sweet potato pancakes, opening the amazing gifts from my amazing family, and then frantically dashing through the streets of Valencia in order to just barely make our afternoon bus to Barcelona (Christmas morning.  The drive was relatively uninteresting, with the occasional moderate mountain interrupting the mellow dry, cracked hills of the Spanish landscape.  The Mediterannean remained a close companion to the East as it dipped in and out of sight all the way to the capital city of Catalunia.  We arrived in Barcelona and met up with my friend Michael Raveling and his brother at our hostel.  The next two days were a frantic dash of rapid touristic activity as we did our best to visit and experience the highlights of the city with such tight time and money restrictions.  We calculated the total distance we walked to be approximately ten miles in just the first day.  My feet been bitterly resentful towards me since that day (we’re in the process of working things out).  Highlights of the city include seeing Gaudi’s most noteworthy works, most notable being the Sagrada Familia, visiting the towering Castle Montjuic in it’s precarious position overhanging the sea, checking out the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 summer games, and having my mind blown from the breathtaking views from the foresty area on the northern end of the city.  I also rode a lion and a dragon… that may or may not have been made of iron and clay tile.  On the 28th Michael, Rachael and I rudely interrupted our sleep at a quite ungodly hour to make our flight to Dublin, Ireland.  There was no mistaking this awe-inspiring country as we flew over the green covered mass of land and all of it’s majestic fauna and flora.  Thankfully, we found the city to be much smaller than Barcelona, allowing us to adequately explore many of the main attractions and sites on the first day.  It was so refreshing to see the starkly different motifs of the Irish culture, such as the gray, stone building material in all of the towering churches, the cozy brick houses that lined the Temple Bar part of downtown Dublin, and the lush and flowering gardens.  Most importantly, I believe I have discovered that Ireland is the true name of the long lost place known as “the other side”.  We have always known that the grass is always greener in this mystical place called “the other side”, and now I know where that place really is.  If you can conjure up every preconceived image you have of Ireland, all the pictures of gray, drizzly skies, sheep filled pastures intersected by short, stone walls, and warm, cheerful pubs overflowing with pints of Guinness, you’re pretty close to the reality.  The scenery (when you can see it through the haze) is breathtakingly beautiful, the food is warm, “potatoey”, and delicious, and you’re never short a smile from the locals.  After our first day in Dublin we took a bus and traveled across the country to the West Coast, where we are currently staying in a little town known as Galway.  The West Coast is famous for it’s jagged cliffs and inspirational costal beauty (many an author have found inspiration in this rolling landscape).  Yesterday we toured down the coastline where we beheld ancient medieval castles, countless sheep, and beautiful cliffs, the most majestic of which, unfortunately, being covered by a thick blanket of gray, wet fog.

Today is our rest day, as we are slightly exhausted from all of the excitement and adventure we have experienced over the past week.  Tonight we will return to Dublin where we welcome in the New Year with a firm handshake in one hand and a pint in the other.  But regardless of where you are for the festivities, may they find you already fulfilling your life’s dreams and goals, with little need for a commercialized holiday to commit to fulfilling some unattainable objective.  God Bless my fellow lads and lassies!

Jake

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It’s a Wonderful Life

My break has officially begun.  Yes, no more classes, no more assignments or projects to turn in, no more tests (well, just one more French test in January), and no more dealing with the disfunctionalism of the Spanish educational system!!!  Life continues to delight me in so many ways, a wonderful surprise which I hope to continue as long as possible.  One of the highlights of my time, surprisingly, has been the compliments I have received from several friends on how my spanish has improved, which reminded me of the subtle yet fluid aspects of this life.  Though we may feel as if our life is stagnant, boring, or simply uneventful (although I can assure you this statement is not a reflection of my view upon my life as of lately), so many things in our own worlds are always changing and fluctuating, subtly flowing with the tides of time.  I certainly can’t point out to you a precise moment over the past four months in which I can say “that’s the moment when my Spanish improved” or “that’s definitely the minute I finally understood European culture”.  Enough said.

My life lately.  Wonderful.  Travel.  I managed to sneak a three day trip into the beautiful city of Munich (München), where my good friend Carter and I plunged into the heart of Bavarian culture and all of it’s history, tradition and atmosphere.  Everything from breakfast at the hostel to climbing the church bell tower that overlooked the city was fascinating, confirming everything I had ever imagined about Germany.  The people there are so friendly and hospitable, and nearly all of them speak close to perfect English.  This is representative of the high degree of excellence they expect from just about every part of life.  Our time at the Haufbrau House was delightful.  It was as if someone had filled a giant cauldron full of German laughter, lederhosens, and brass music and then invited us to plunge into the fun.  Except it was a pitcher instead of a caludron.  And it was full of beer.  The Haufbrau House is the most famous beer haus in Munich and now I can see why.  The place was teeming with life and you couldn’t help but leave with a smile and a new friend.  It was so refreshing to see such a joyful environment with a beer mug in everyone’s hand WITHOUT the obnoxiously sad traces of the chronic colle kid love affair with drunkedness and everything associated with this particular scene.  I felt at home in such a warm environment, and could picture the many differences I would experience in my life if I were to live in such a place.  On the final day of our trip we took a sombering tour to the Dachau concentration camp, a emotionally thick and turbulent graveyard with thousands upon thousands of reasons why we must never turn an ignorant eye to the past atrocities of mankind.  The empty bunks, open courtyards and ominous showers were far less entertaining than the mugs of beer we had held in our hand just the other night, yet their power and tenacity were far more moving than the latter.  I left that place feeling just a trace of the life that was gouged from the face of the earth, but only what was emotionally possible for someone who had never lived through such a ghastly period in the world’s history.

On a lighter note, I am eagerly looking forward to my upcoming plans for the holiday.  In just four days my friend Rachael and I will venture North to the Catalunian capital of Barcelona to celebrate Christmas day with my good friend Michael Raveling.  After three days in Barcelona, we will traverse across the Atlantic to partake in the New Year’s festivities in the green paradise of Ireland.  Following Dublin, I will skip across to Scotland for a quick two days, leap over to Norway for a quick jaunt, before bounding back to my current home of Valencia.  Blessings abounding, and I again find myself behind the wheel of this machine I call my life.  My helmet is on, goggles are up, and my oxygen tank is securely fastened nearby in case of excitement overload.  Friends, this is a wonderful life.

Un abrazo,

Jake

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