The Great Awakening

Seven o’clock in the morning arrived quickly as I rolled out of bed and to the villa to leave for the day trip to Lugano. Not feeling very awake, I ate some yogurt and granola in hopes of boosting my energy. Minutes later I found myself out the door and on the way to new adventures.

Lake Lugano

Walking to the train station, I passed by two young middle school students who looked to be enjoying the brisk Thursday morning with a bike ride to school. With chipper faces, they turned to me on their bikes and greeted me with a “buon giorno”. I stopped for a second in puzzlement before I responded with a hesitant “buon giorno”. It was not even eight o’clock in the morning and these young students were kind enough to greet a sleepy stranger. To my surprise, I received the same type of welcoming from an elder man as I neared the crosswalk to reach the train station. The sun had not yet crept over the mountains and my early morning was already delightful.

The feeling must have emanated from the intimacy and kindness of the small-town setting of Riva San Vitale, because the minute I stepped onto the train I felt like an outcast. As I took my seat next to an elder woman and middle-aged man, they both picked up their newspapers and turned their head in discontentment. My eyes scanned the rest of the train car for a friendlier face but there was none to be seen. Everyone had put up their walls and had no interest in any general conversation. Did they not like the fact that I was a tourist or was it just a bad morning?

Streets of Lugano

The rest of the ride continued in the same, quiet manner. As we approached Lugano, everyone seemed to gather their belongings and make their way towards the doors to exit. Why Lugano? After the introduction of the steamboat and railway in the mid to late 1800s, travelling became more accessible and practical amid Switzerland’s diverse landscape. Surrounded by a gorgeous lake and mountains, Lugano began to attract many tourists and travelers who wished to experience the city’s natural beauty. Consequently, the city of Lugano has become one of the largest touring cities in Switzerland. The development of this service sector has expanded the city’s job capacity and led to many commuters, which was evident on the train. For every one person that commutes out of Lugano for work, seven more commute into the city. This would explain the stampede of people hustling off the train at the Lugano station.

Entering the city, I expected to find a hustle and bustle of people and crowds. To my dismay, the city seemed quite empty with shop owners just arriving and barely opening their shops. It was almost nine o’clock already. By this time I thought most shops would be open and people settled into work for the day. For a second I must have forgotten that I was in Switzerland and not the United States. I obviously was not accustomed to such a slow way of life. As I continued to walk through the streets and passed local clothing stores, pastry shops, and fresh produce stands, I could see the city’s endeavor against becoming another industrialized, “cloned” town. Despite the rapid development of industry and tourism, the slow and tranquil way of life seemed to be unaffected by the cities growth.

Empty Square

Continuing to the central square, along Via Nassa, I still found the city asleep. Few people were up and about, and those that were looked like they had been forced out of bed. No welcoming words of “buon giorno” or “ciao” was to be heard, even when I attempted to start the conversation. I sat in the square for a few minutes as restaurant owners began to climb out of their caves and place table cloths on the outdoor tables. After observing for fifteen minutes I realized my hope for action and conversation had quickly withered.

For the next few hours I walked along the path surrounding Lake Lugano. A steady stream of cars drove past a lull. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere but getting nowhere. Even the pedestrians, who mostly walked alone, seemed to embark on a hopeless journey around the city. The fog continued to droop over the lake like a blanket of white as a hush lay over the city.

Foggy Morning on Lake Lugano

After eating my lunch on a nearby bench so that I could observe the lake and those that passed, I ventured back towards the central square. To my surprise, there had been a great awakening. The sun decided to awake and creep over the mountains as the fog faded away from the lake. It was one o’clock and the city had come to life. The elder women looked ready for tea with the Queen as they walked around in their leather boots and fur coats with an air of dignity. Likewise, the elder men strolled around in their tailored coats, walking their pampered dogs. The teenagers just got out of school for lunch break and had crowded the streets with their skinny jeans and school books. At the same time, businessmen and businesswomen seemed to magically appear and sat themselves down for a nice, long lunch. Almost everyone was in a jovial and hospitable mood. Even some musical entertainers entered the square to provide entertainment for the tourists.

Musicians Performing in the Square

What caused this great awakening? Whether a result of changing times or a morning cup of coffee, it was obvious that the city like its history had transformed from a sleeping town to a lively city. Things have drastically changed for the city of Lugano since the age of industrialization and globalization, and it seems that things will only continue to transform. After all, life is about new adventures and our personal “great awakenings”.

From the Hilltops

Getting My Feet Wet

Sunday and Monday marked the beginning of my European travels. On Sunday it began with a day trip to Milan, Italy (otherwise known as Milano). As one of the fashion capitals of the world, Milan holds up to its title. After walking around the city of Milan and exploring the endless rows of shops, Dr. Knox took us to Quadrilatero della Moda. Let’s just say that I felt very out of place. As one of the most exclusive shopping areas in Milan, this section of the city has guards in black suits standing inside the entrances like bouncers. Guess they could tell a bunch of college tourists didn’t have the money to buy a $5000 Armani suit. Not sure exactly what the prices were, but I know that I would have had a heart attack if I actually looked at the prices. While walking around this block I noticed a few stores dedicated to children. One of the stores was named “Young Versace”. Really?!?! I guess if someone can afford to drive around in a Ferrari or chauffeured car then they can afford designer children’s clothing.

It was definitely an experience along with visiting the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Like the Quadrilatero della Moda, the Galleria was filled with designer stores. However, these stores were enclosed in an ornate, cross-shaped covered building. The glass ceilings gave the Galleria an open air feeling while being safe from the weather. The colorful, granite-looking flooring added even more beauty to the white, stone building. The intimidation of its grandeur led me to not explore any of the shops, not even the McDonalds. Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything there.

However, right next to the Galleria is where I spent most of my afternoon in the Duomo. My breath was taken away when I arrived at the cathedral. When my eyes fell upon the building, everything else around Milan seemed to disappear into thin air. The malls and gallerias seemed to be ants compared to this cathedral. Tall steeple structures surrounded the top of the cathedral, and on top of each one of them was a statue of a person. As if the elaborate detailing and stone work of the outside was not enough, the inside led me to a whole other world of beauty. I cannot even begin to imagine how long the multiple scenes within the cathedral took to paint, carve, and sculpt. As I sat and observed in the pews, the sunlight poured in through the stained glass, creating a prism of colors reflecting off of the stone within the cathedral. Here I sat for hours in amazement. When it came time to leave, I wanted to stay in the cathedral and soak up its angelic beauty.

Monday came with a blink and next thing I knew I was roaming the streets of Bellinzona, Italy and climbing through castles. Although an exhausting day, I was awe-struck by the castles that had been so well preserved. They stood in almost perfect condition, except for those parts of the surrounding walls that had been taken out during war. What struck me as fascinating was how an entire modern city was built up against the castle walls. It was the old and new combined in one city. Yet it seemed like the people of Bellinzona paid no mind to the fact that an historic castle lay in their backyards. Despite the locals’ seeming lack of attention to the castle, I stood in amazement before the massive rock structures. I may not be an architect, but I definitely appreciate the time and labor that went into moving each stone used to construct this enormous fortress. As the day went on and we climbed around the castle and its walls, I was exhausted but filled with the excitement of an explorer.

After the castles, we had one more place to visit – the Collegiate Church SS Pietro and Stefano. Although not as grand as the Duomo, this church had a beauty of its own. The first object that caught my eye once I entered the church was this large throne type of structure that sat up high in the front of the church. I am not sure who sat there, but I know it must have been someone very important. Colored with grey marble and hints of gold and brown, this chair encasing was sure to draw the attention of anyone who entered the church. Just like the Duomo, I sat in amazement for an hour. It was time to go and I had realized that this was just a taste of what Europe has to offer. The challenge for me will be putting myself in the shoes of others and not just being a tourist. I want to be an active, global citizen not a passive globe-trotter.

Captivating! – Tree Time

Hey there! This is where I am going to post my favorite finding of the day. Whatever it may be I wanted to share my “ahhhhh” moments. So here is my first one. Today was my first official day to travel around Riva San Vitale, Italy. While walking around the small town I discovered that all of these amazing trees had their limbs and branches cut off. It look like a knotted bees nest had formed at the end of each main branch, but I soon realized that the other limbs had merely been cut off. This takes tree trimming to the next extreme! Why? I have no idea, but I hope to find out soon so stay tuned!

Not only was I fascinated by the knot-like structures on the trees, but I was intrigued by the camouflage pattern on some of the trees. They almost looked like paper birch but way cooler. Never though that a simple tree could have been so captivating. Can’t wait to see what else I will run into!

First Footprints

Christmas vacation flew by and before I knew it I was inside of Dulles International Airport waving goodbye to my family that I will not see for 3.5 months. Part excited and part nervous, I walked through TSA security screening, without any issues thankfully, and headed to my gate to wait. There I sat wondering, “What in the world did I get myself into?” Reality hit, and it hit hard. A huge traffic sign saying, “NO U-TURN” flashed through my head. Before I could think any further I had boarded my flight to John F. Kennedy Airport, where the adventure surely began. With lots of help (or lack thereof), Austin Larrowe, my travel buddy, and I were able to navigate through the airport to finally find our flight. With time to waste, we met Danielle Smalls for our final American dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. Nothing is more American than chicken wings! A few hours later we boarded our Swiss Airlines flight and strapped in for the journey of a lifetime.

The flight was like most international flight – long and tiring. However, the food was not bad for Airline food. I got to have a decent dinner that consisted of chicken in some sauce, steamed vegetables, and rice. What better way to top it off than with a genuine piece of Swiss chocolate! The sweets helped make up for the guy who sat beside me and decided that he owned half of my seat the entire flight. After the 8 hours of in-and-out rest, we had finally landed in Zurich, Switzerland. At last! Taking that step off the plane felt like making a fresh footprint in a patch of sand – invigorating and exciting!

From the airport we worked our way towards baggage claim, which wasn’t too hard considering the signs were in German and English. However, I was quite a sight to see with my 2 checked bags and backpack and carryon suitcase. Yes, I was THAT GIRL! Meeting up with 15 other classmates, we made our way towards the train station, where we bought our Swiss half-fare cards and train ticket to make our journey towards the most southern part of Switzerland. All was going well as we switched trains frantically, until some classmates got left on the train. At the instant I realized you have to be faster and more aggressive than the Swiss, which is a giant feat. With less than ten minutes in between each of the trains, we managed to finally arrive in Riva San Vitale! I had finally made it to my home for the next semester. Despite the hiccups, the ride 3.5 hour ride through the mountains was breathtaking. Snow covered the foothills with a blanket of white. I felt like I was in a movie as we passed by unique and colorful chalets! This was the Switzerland I had been waiting for!

Arriving at the villa by foot, most of us were a sweaty mess. However, we were just too excited to care for the moment. The villa looked just like the pictures on the website, which rarely ever happens. Entering the Villa Maderni, the early 18th century building looked to be in its original pristine condition. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling and beautiful paintings of flowers and fairy-like creatures seemed to dance around on the ceilings. After a tour of the rest of the enchanted house from our director, we got the keys to our apartments and headed over. Thankfully, I had a short walk as my apartment is just through the garden of the villa on top of a catering business. With six other girls, we managed to get settled in before dinner. After the long plane ride and no food since, the homemade Italian food of our chef Luigi was every bit satisfying and more. Served family style, I finally got to sit down and enjoy the company of those around me – even meeting some of the architecture students staying at the villa. After a delicious mushroom soup, turkey, fried potatoes, and vegetables, I finished the dinner off with a delectable apple cake.
The night was still young as we had to do a short debriefing about the villa. Afterwards, many of us decided it was a good idea to contact our friends and family to let them know that we made it safely. After heading out of the villa for the night, we walked around the town to see all of the mini bars and night life that the small town of Riva San Vitale has to offer. Exhaustion soon set in and my body let me know it was time for bed. Settling down in my new bed felt surreal. This is my home! The change felt weird, but I’m sure it will all set in soon. Ready for tomorrow (after some sleep) and the adventures that tomorrow has to offer!
Ciao for now!

Embracing Uncomfortable

That awkward moment when you run into someone you know but can’t remember their name. Or the moment when the professor calls you out in class. Everyone has experienced some uncomfortable moment in their life. If not, please let me know! I must meet you!

These “uncomfortable” moments are exactly what I am looking for as I embrace a 4-month long study abroad adventure throughout Europe. I want to put myself in situations that don’t feel natural – the one’s that make me want to crawl inside my skin. Seems crazy, but these are the moments that shape and form us into more knowledgable and understanding people.

Too often college students studying abroad constrict themselves to the “American Bubble”. The average American student studying abroad spends about 4.5 hours a day communicating with family and friends back home. That’s 4.5 hours spent sitting in front of a computer screen and chatting or video calling. In that same amount of time a student can go for a hike, go have coffe with some locals, or go play sports with the native kids. It’s nice to check in with mom and dad every now and then, but too much communication can shackle a student and keep them from exploring. The world has so much to offer, yet most students stay within their comfort zone and only communicate with the Americans they travel with. Why not just spend a few weeks hanging out at Busch Gardens then? It offers the foreign food and thrilling rollercoasters all in one place at a reasonable price. This is not what travelling and exploring culture are about. Study abroad is meant to be a life-changing experience that pushes students outside of their bubble of comfort.

I must admit that popping that bubble can be quite intimidating and scary. My first time abroad I tried my hardest to avoid attempting to speak the native language. What a terrible mistake! I realized that being immersed in the culture is more than eating the food – it’s about a life-altering experience. If it’s nothing more than a tour here and there, then I will be nothing but another tourist. My goal is to be a global citizen, not a travelling American. I know that this full-immersion is going to be hard for me since I am a home body. However, I cannot let my family and friends keep me from broadening my perspective through this unique opportunity.

I must break free!
I must throw off my comfortable shoes!
I must embrace the life of the locals!

I must try on their shoes!

“Being willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.”
-Peter McWilliams