1. Introductions, 2. Departure-Arrival Story, 3. Traveling places, 4. Open Topic, 5. Discuss a reading (1), 6. Quotidian life, 7. The "art" of travel, 8. Open Topic, 9. Authenticity, 10. Open Topic, 11. Discuss a reading (2), 12. Open topic, 13. Place, 14. Person, 15. On habit, 16. Thanksgiving story, 17. Tips, 18. Final Thoughts
My name is Sam and I am a junior at NYU studying Media, Culture and Communications in the Steinhardt School. I was born in South Africa, where all my family is from, and also lived in England for a few years. As of now though, I live in Boston, Massachusetts. As part of the Liberal Studies Program, I studied in Florence, Italy for my entire freshman year of university. As you may be able to tell, I love to travel. This semester I am studying abroad again, this time in Accra, Ghana.
When I would tell people that I was going abroad in the fall, it was always the same. Their faces would light up in excitement as they asked the natural succeeding question of “Where?!” and I would immediately respond with enthusiasm and confidence, “Ghana!” I wouldn’t exactly say that their expressions fell necessarily, but a definite combination of disappointment and confusion would come over their face; followed by the ‘I’m trying to be nice, but really don’t understand why you would want to go there’ phrase of “ooohhh….wow. Okay…”. After the first few dozen times of hearing this reaction I would simply shrug my soldiers and say the only thing that I felt could be said-
“So what are you going to do there?” is always what follows, as if, just because it is not Europe I need some specific purpose. It must be community service they all think. But I am here to study. Just like any other study abroad program.
Except that NYU in Ghana is not just like any other study abroad program. We don’t have hundreds of kids in our group. We are a modest and close 32. No one school of NYU is dominant here. We have a small sampling of almost every one. We are not attempting to see as many countries in four months as we can. But rather truly immerse ourselves in the Ghanaian culture through internships, home stays and excursions throughout the country.
We all have our reasons for choosing to study abroad and for the location we decided on. I am not entirely sure why I chose Ghana in the beginning, and I know my reasons have and will change over time, but I also know that I am in the right place. And I am determined, hopefully with a little help from this blog, that I will be able to prove to those disappointed and confused skeptics that I made the right choice. That far from being disappointing, Accra actually is the perfect place to study abroad. I look forward to reading all of your adventures and hope that you will enjoy mine.
Yebehyia bio! (Talk to you soon!)
I always knew I wanted to study abroad in college. My parents introduced me to traveling when I was eight with a trip to Bali, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m always looking for ways to go somewhere new, whether it’s a community service trip in Thailand or a surf camp in Costa Rica. In high school, I spent my junior spring in Rome at an international school. It was a mixed experience, but the challenges only made the semester more valuable. I came back far more mature and independent and, as clichéd as it is, with a greater sense of the outside world. Since Rome, I’ve tried to travel with a purpose and grasp a non-tourist perspective. This usually involves ending up in bizarre but wonderful situations, like painting a chicken coop on a farm in Italy or stumbling into a Austrian wine tasting. I figured Ghana would provide the least “touristy” study abroad experience and would challenge me far more than the typical European semester. As wonderful as studying abroad in Europe is, I felt like I already had my turn—spending another semester in Europe would be too familiar, too easy.
Even though I signed up for a dramatically different experience by choosing Ghana, there are certainly moments when I wish I’d chosen Berlin or Florence. It would so simple to just sit in a café and sip a latte. In Ghana, everything requires effort and thought. Every interaction with Ghanians is so loaded with cultural complexities—white/black, foreigner/native, Western/non-Western—that even buying a mango is challenging. On the walk to the fruit stand, I’ll attract stares and men call out, “hello, hello.” When I get there, a young girl, no older than ten, will sell me the mango. Instead of going to school, she has to help her mother’s fruit business. It should be a simple transaction, but it raises so many difficult issues of race and class that it becomes exhausting. Yet I remind myself this is why I’m here, to challenge myself and better understand the developing world. Before this year, I envisioned myself working in the global public health field, improving maternal/child health in developing nations. This semester is a test for myself, a way to gauge whether I truly want to work in that difficult field and live without the comforts of first-world countries. After Ghana, I’m spending my spring semester with International Honors Program, studying public health around the world. I’ll be spending around a month in each country (Brazil, Vietnam, and South Africa). Ghana feels like just the very beginning of a challenging, but hopefully an amazing year.
(own picture in Senya Beraku)
Where do I want to be? Everywhere. I can’t remember just when I caught the travel bug, but I can’t seem to eradicate the thing from my system. I avidly follow travel blogs, I save clippings from Travel and Leisure in a scrapbook, and I idolize Samantha Brown. For some time I struggled to find the source of my travel obsession. It wasn’t until I came across a copy of “The Art of Travel” in The Strand my freshmen year, when I found the cause of my symptoms. De Botton explained how, “The constant calls of screens, some accompanied by the impatient pulsing of a cursor, suggest with what ease our seemingly entrenched lives might be altered were we simply to walk down a corridor and onto and craft that in a few hours would land us in a place of which we had no memories and where no one knew our name” (37). I then realized that my affinity for travel was derived from its sense of escapism. How thrilling it is, to arrive in a new place, explore a new world, and explore a new side of yourself. So, when I came across “The Art of Travel” in the University Registrar, I became excited to explore my semester abroad, based around the book that helped me realize just why I wanted to travel.
This is my first big adventure, and I’m adventuring to London. Though it may not be one of the most romantically foreign cities, it provides this travel rookie with a platform to dive head first into all that is British, while getting my feet wet in some European culture. For me, this semester isn’t about racing to see all that I can within the next three and a half months; it is about discovering myself as an individual and as a traveler.
I look forward to sharing my experiences with all of you and reading about everyone’s international adventures!
(The attached picture is one that a took on my first day out in London by the Household Cavalry Museum)
Hola, my name is Griffin and I'm studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What was my reason for choosing Buenos Aires? Well it seems to be the best balance of exotic and I am a Junior at NYU and am actually at CAS but I took a Sense of Place and hence I am using up my last 2 credits out of CAS to take another one of Steve's classes. My major is Environmental Studies with a minor in Psychology. Nothing abroad really pertains directly to my studies but I am really just abroad for the experience and hopefully to learn Spanish. I am taking Spanish classes, a creative writing class, and a class on Latin American studies while I am here. I am also living in a homestay so I can further immerse myself and force myself to speak Spanish. They are a really cool family with a four story townhouse that is amazing and right in the heart of the city and that certainly wouldn't exist in New York. The family has a 12 year old boy, 22 year old twin boy and girl and a 24 year old guy, oh and I can't forget the big Bernese Mountain Dog Pampa. I am hoping I can make some Argentine friends and not just stick to expats and students because that is obviously the easy way out. Already on my flight down I sat next to an Argentine independent film maker who said he would take me around the city and show me his favorite spots the tourists can't find.
I am originally from Carmel, California. A small coastal town about 2 hours south of San Francisco. The last 2 years or so living in New York have been amazing but it took some getting used to. The first year I was just ready to leave the cold and go back to the beach at home but by sophomore year I loved the gritty city and finally felt it was really becoming my home and this past summer I stayed in the city the whole time only going home for a couple of days at the end. It feels as though as soon as I got settled in and found the New York that I can call mine I get uprooted and sent down thousands of miles away to South America, so leaving was bittersweet but regardless I am excited for what the semester here will have in store, especially for all the travel that I'm planning on doing.
My name is Alyssa, and I am a Junior in Gallatin. My Concentration is International Archaeology, a mixture of International Relations & Law, Archaeology, and Languages. I'm from the very exotic upstate New York, along with a good portion of NYU, and am excited and scared to call Paris my home for the next couple of months. As far as classes go, Paris is interesting in that you don't really know your schedule, where you're living, or who you're living with until you spend a few days in a Hostel with the other students in the program undergoing orientation. So, I'd post about my tiny apartment or my excitement about my class schedule, but I'm still pretty much in the dark- which doesn't help any abroad apprehensions- though, I'm sure you all understand that.
I'm just going to start off by saying I have dually high expectations and no expectations about living and studying abroad. On the one hand, it's been exciting and nerve-wracking to build up an image of a romantic dizzying wine-filled existence full of strolls by the seine, new people in the city of lights, the city of love- Paris. However, on the other hand, I've tried to maintain a no-expectations mindset. I'd like to let study abroad to just happen to me. There is an end, and it will do what it will.
On that note, one thing that I would like to accomplish while abroad is realizing the things that are happening in Paris right now. I'd also like to get a taste of the French world view first-hand as I'm living here and experiencing France from an outsiders' perspective. Hopefully these posts will serve as solidifiers for the fact that this study abroad experience is happening now-and all of the experiences for all of us at our respective sites are going to change us...It will be interesting to see how all of us document the progression of what the profound effects of living and studying in a foreign place will have on us.
With that, I hope those of you who are already abroad are settled in as best as you can be so far- and I look forward to reading all of your posts!
Oh, also, the image is a portion of France's Motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité"- "Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood."
My name is Esthela Lopez. I'm a sophomore at Gallatin. Originally from Los Angeles, California and currently in the beautiful city of Madrid, Spain. I am still a bit undecided on my Gallatin concentration, but I’m looking towards cultural analysis and nonprofit management. I am definitely interested in various cultures, especially because I came from and go to large cities: LA, NYC, Madrid, etc. I love the concept of civic responsibility and I hope to see how different cultures abroad respond to such a concept. As a member of the Generation Y, I have seen several young people respond to the ‘call of duty’ and I would love to participate here in Madrid.
I have been in Madrid for about two days now, depending on what time zone you’re in. I was supposed to arrive three days ago but the whole hurricane Irene severely impacted my travel plans. I am still a bit jet lagged and haven’t really taken the opportunity to go sight seeing. I have taken advantage of siesta. Which, I might add, is a fantastic idea, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it! Anyway, so far I have felt very comfortable in Madrid. Which is strange since I am typically someone who gets homesick very often. Ironically since I go to school so far away from home. I think it has to do with the weather of Madrid and the architecture. It feels like all the beautiful places I have ever been in one locale.
Classes begin next Monday and I am definitely excited. I am taking primarily all Spanish culture classes in the Spanish language. As a native speaker, I don’t have any formal training in Spanish. I think my biggest challenge this semester might be thinking and learning in a formal Spanish setting. Let’s see how it goes!
(Pic: Calle Mayor, one of the oldest streets of the main plaza of the center of Madrid. Very beautiful!)
My name is Rebecca (Becca) Zeidman. I am a Junior in CAS studying Anthropology. I am minoring in Global Visual Art and Media, Culture, and Communications. I don't have a specific career path in mind but I know I want to do something with travel and photography later on. This fall I am studying in Shanghai and I joined this course so that I would be forced to actively examine my experience abroad as well as learning about people's experiences at other study abroad sites. I am also working as a photo intern at Time Out Shanghai which hasn't started but should be an interesting experience. I have been in Shanghai for almost two weeks and my experience so far has been very positive. Though this is not my first time in China (I have actually vsited Shanghai twice before) this time it feels remarkably different becuase we live and go to school quite far from the tourist/city center. We are just finishing up our first week of classes and they have been fairly normal so far (Elementary Chinese I four times a week is a bit much but it is a requirement of the program to be taking a Chinese course). Each of the non-Chinese classes are three hour blocks once per week which can be a bit draining.
As you may or may not know many social networking sites (and a host of other sites) are blocked or limited in China including - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. So I set up a WordPress blog linked to my facebook before I left home (http://shanghaishanghai.wordpress.com/). It has a bit more of my daily life and funny stories about the first two weeks.
The internet in my apartment is very weak but once I get back to the school building I will be able to upload more/better pictures.
I look forward to your posts and comments,
(This first photo is one that I took on my little cell phone of raw beef on ice at a great hot pot [cooking food in boiling broth] restaurant near the apartments)
While I was a sophomore in high school I studied abroad in Genoa, Italy. This changed many things about my life. As a result of that study abroad experience I was bit with the travel bug and knew without a doubt I would be studying abroad in college. Again, looking for something drastically different, I chose Accra, Ghana. I have been here for almost 2 weeks now, one of which was orientation, the other the first week of classes. I am excited about all of my classes, most of which focus on the humanities (Non- Western Art History, Play Analysis and African Popular Music.) I am taking one anthropology class about modernization in West Africa. In this class we are going on a weekend home-stay to our professor’s village to learn and experience first hand his culture and how it differs from the city life in Accra. All but one of my classes are at the NYU academic center in our neighborhood, Labone. The non-NYU class is my play analysis class, which I am taking through the University of Ghana Legon.
After hearing many horror stories from the other students who elected to take Legon classes, I was very nervous about mine. The classes tend to be gigantic lecture style courses, with virtually no student participation taught in three-hour blocks (note: classrooms are more or less massive pavilions with open sides, creating a constant battle against the inevitable lethargy that will ensue due to the heat.) I hesitantly went to the first day, forcing myself to keep an open mind. Even though my class was pretty large, I was pleasantly surprised by the professor’s accessibility and incorporation of the students. He did however call me out for being an abruni, or foreigner, asking where I was from and what my name was. With my red curls and pale complexion the phrase “fish out of water” does not even begin to describe how much I stood out. After I got the full once-over from all 150 of my classmates, class resumed as before, except now I sat there more self-conscious than I have been in recent memory, bordering on humiliated. While the overall experience was stress inducing, I remain optimistic at the opportunities and valuable friends that I will gain by studying at an actual African university. After all, getting out of the NYU bubble for one day isn’t going to kill me, right?
The photo is my own, taken at the University of Legon campus.
I’m sure any study abroad experience is life-changing, but I think that my semester in Ghana was particularly different because of its location. Everyone should experience Africa once in their life. No matter how I attempt to describe my semester abroad I never seem to do it justice. Towards the end of our semester, the NYU in Ghana admin held a workshop on readjusting to the US. One of the things we discussed in the meeting was how when we get back to the States no one will really understand our experience abroad, no matter how much we talk about it. So far, that seems to be true. Although my family and friends are all willing to humor me when I go on and on about the differences between the US and Ghana, they don’t seem to really care or understand.
The Art of Travel Class has been great because it has given me an outlet, a place to talk about my experience abroad, but I still do not feel that I have accurately explained my time in Ghana. Another reason for this may have been the insufficient amount of time. I was always late writing my articles because I was too busy actually experiencing the country I was in. I was off exploring markets, visiting villages, riding camels in Burkina Faso, etc. The amount of things I did that I would want to write about is so huge, that I find it hard to write about any of it. I think study abroad is an important experience for anyone to have for exactly that reason. If you want to experience the world you have to go out and experience it. You can’t live vicariously through other people’s writing because no one can accurately describe it. Just get out there and do it.
(Photo taken by me in the Sahel Desert in Burkina Faso)
I can’t believe that this semester is over. I can still remember the first month when I was miserable and wishing I could go back to New York and be with my friends and eat good food and not have people yell, stare and grab at me when I walk down the street. While these wishes still hold true, I have grown to love Ghana and all its funkiness. It wasn’t really until about a month ago that I truly felt acclimated and realized the beauty of being an obruni. Although the attention definitely made me uncomfortable for a while, it also made me break out of my shell and learn to take advantage of the fact I can walk around without any make up, with my unwashed hair on top of my head with crazy fabric tied in it. In fact I really should do this everyday because when will I ever have the opportunity to do this again?
Aside from constantly feeling like a celebrity, I’m really going to miss getting to live in a house with my amazing friends and spending a disgusting amount of time together. I’m also going to miss the 100 degree weather (never thought I would say that, but I’m finally used to it) and also all the cheap prices. Or actually, the lack of set prices, and the constant bargaining for things. Also, getting ‘dashed’ gifts from people like my produce lady who ‘dashes’ me three tomatoes every time I buy four from her. O man, and getting the best pineapple and coconuts on the street everyday for like 30 to 70 cents. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to justify a buying a $5 drink at Starbucks when I could feed myself off that for a week in Ghana. I also know I’ll miss people sharing so much. When ever anyone buys food for themselves on a Tro-Tro, they instinctively offer it to everyone around them. This is such a nice thing as it immediately connects people. I totally want to bring this idea to the subways back in New York, but I have a feeling it won’t go over so well.
In addition to food sharing skills, I think patience is another quality I picked up in Ghana that I hope to bring back with me to New York. Between 24 hours spent on a sticky, smelly, broken down bus to waiting an hour for a meal, only to find out the waiter had the order wrong, I am confident that I have become a far more tolerant and optimistic person than I was at the being of the semester. I want to also continue to be more globally aware, even if it means placing myself in uncomfortable surroundings in order to discover new people and things. I want to keep being a doer-just because I’m no longer in a foreign country does not mean I don’t have a ton more to discover. This semester had been truly life changing and I know that I will never forget everything I have learned here and all the amazing people I have met.
image source: photo taken by me of my group of friends chilling at the school yard we always hang out in on one of our last nights
Earlier in the semester, I was talking to my friend (the same one who got a tattoo at our dining room table) about my potential tattoo idea. I told her that I was unsure what exactly, but I wanted the thread in the drawing to turn into a formation of something meaningful to me. After getting to know me better, Kate suggested that I get the New York City skyline (I’ve lived there my whole life and it’s an obvious part of my personality once you get to know me).
Flash forward to the second to last week of the semester. Reaching up to this point, I have had so many unexpected experiences and done so many things that I never thought I would do. So why not add one more insane thing to the list? I decided right then that I wanted my tattoo and I wanted to get it right now, in my living room, in Africa. I had a drawing of what I wanted it to roughly look like, but I’m not really the best when it comes to drawing. Luckily I had art class in a few minutes and had my friend who is an art major help me draw out the building exactly how I wanted it (I guess normally you would have the tattoo artist do this, but something told me the Ghanaian man in my living room who barely spoke English didn’t have the slightest clue what the skyline looks like). After class, my friend Rebecca helped me fix it up a bit and added two little stitches to the right side.
I watched three of my classmate get tattoos and it only made me more pumped to get one. My original hesitance had nothing to do with the artwork or the meaning behind it, but whether or not I wanted it on my body for life. Do I want to be a mom with a tat? Yes! I got it on my back, to the right of my spine. It hurt for the first second and then my adrenalin distracted me from feeling anything. It came out smaller than I had expected, which I am pleased about. It’s super dainty and delicate. It’s perfect. I figure if someday sewing and New York City are no longer important to me, at least I will have the memory of the four months I spent in Africa, the people I met and all the crazy stuff we did together.
Image source: myself-sorry for the weird myspacey photobooth pic, no one was around to take one for me!
In all my time that I’ve spent in Florence, I still don’t know where Beppe Severgnini is coming to these introductory conclusions: “Italians are fascinated by the bella figura… they are obsessed with beauty.” I’ve lived here in Florence for nearly 4 months, and I haven’t met any Italian that is “obsessed” with the beauty of the human figure. Reading Severgnini’s “La Bella Figura,” I see a lot of stereotypical descriptions of Italians that would normally come from somebody who hasn’t lived in Italy. The mentions of women getting pinched by Italians? I haven’t heard of one person getting ‘pinched,’ that’s just some romantic dream ushered in by the swarm of trash British literature about sexually-suppressed English women fantasizing about sensual escapades in Italy. Lots of adjectives in that sentence. Microsoft Word loves to give me green squigglies.
I enjoyed Severgnini’s analysis of the typical Italian lifestyle, especially when it clashes with Americanization. With the Italians adapting the American idea of the shopping mall, they confuse its individualized shopping experience with the loud, confusing, bustling social network of open-air markets and piazzas. Yet most of “La Bella Figura” seems to be deprecating towards Italians—yet, interestingly, I share a similar negative attitude towards most Florentines, who seem to be closed-minded, hostile, and passively aggressive. It’s like nobody has ever showed these people what it’s like to really work for a living—they just all seem to be angry that they’re living in a country that barely functions, and does so with almost no efficiency.
I wonder if Beppe Severgnini has any insight into the Italian political situation of today. Ashley and I have had several discussions with Italians about politics, and I have not heard one person in support of Berlusconi’s governance. Everything I’ve heard is negative. It makes me so upset that such a beautiful country is so backwards and neglected.
When Goethe spoke of Italy in “Italian Journey,” he did so with a wholesome reverence that touted its rustic authenticity. Goethe called Italy a “cradle of Man, a mother of civilization.” Interestingly, the people that Goethe encounters seem to be very much like the same ones Severgnini describes—peasant-like, loud, and volatile, although not so boisterous and aggressive as the latter describes (I attribute that to modern influences).
When one goes deeper into the Italian countryside, far removed from the political turmoil caused by this joke of a government, I would hope that one would find that wholesomeness and rusticity mentioned by Goethe, back when Italy was still largely referred to by its once-powerful city states. By far, Venice was the only city most removed from any negative political feel--it still seemed that it was its own state, the Republic of Venice, and it's this city that gives me the closest feeling of the rustic Italian reknown so frequently mentioned in literature.
One would normally assume that by venturing abroad, you would shed all your normal habits and binding hobbies that plagued you back home, and you would become a free man in a new land. Unfortunately this is not the case with me, as it seems that my penchant for wasting my nightly hours with my fingers around a controller have not left my being, even here in Florence.
I recently introduced my girlfriend to a popular computer game called Civilization. At first, things were normal—she was hesitant to play because she had better things to do, like plan for the next day, do her homework, craft a budget so she wouldn’t run out of money abroad, etc etc. Yet I managed to convince her that this game was such a good use of her time that now, nearly every day for the past 2 weeks, we play this game for several hours everyday. It’s fun, we have great times, and it passes time like nothing else save for taking bubble baths with colored bubbles . That’s a lot of fun. And playing with legos. That’s fun too. As a matter of fact, I even brought a bag of legos with me to Florence so I could play with them if I ever wanted to. How’s that for acting like a grown up, eh? I’m going to be thirty-five and have little lego pieces strewn all over my office desk. My clients will be sitting across the table waiting for me to come in, looking at the little pieces just sitting there, like a baby came in and knocked them all over the room and stuck them in its mouth. Wow.
Everybody plays videogames. A friend of mine remarked once that he thought videogames went out with middle school. Ooph. That one hurt me right in the gut. I draw most of my inspiration and creative googley-wallapaloo from images, sounds, music, and themes that I’ve experienced while playing video games. They’ve been my books. Hope that doesn’t sound too much like bullshit.
The negative side to playing videogames abroad is completely a mental one—the shame I feel for sapping time away from being in a foreign land. But how much of that is worth feel shame over, and how much of it is just a cultural stigma? I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody in the videogame industry with pizzazz, with wit, intelligence, and charisma. Then again, I’ve never met anybody from the videogame industry. Goes to show you how much I know about the world after studying abroad—virtually nothing.
A couple days ago, my friend and I realized that nobody here stares at us anymore. When we first arrived in Berlin, it seemed like everybody would watch us wherever we went; even if we were alone, it was like the people could tell just by looking at us that we weren't normal Germans. As far as I could tell I wasn't doing anything to stand out, but there was definitely a vibe that they knew I didn't belong here.
I don't get that vibe anymore. Either I don't attract attention as an outsider anymore, or I just don't notice the staring anymore. One way or the other, I have adapted to life in Germany. There are so many things that I am going to miss from this semester. My apartment has been fantastic, even if the internet connection has sometimes been practically third-world. I'm going to miss speaking German in class and out in the city; there's a certain sense of accomplishment that comes from ordering lunch or having a conversation on the subway completely in a foreign language. I'm going to miss the bratwursts in Alexanderplatz and the crepe man on Friedrichstraße.
I'm going to miss the city itself too, even if it is unreasonably cold and covered in dirty snow. I'm going to miss seeing the Berliner Dom and Brandenburg Gate (pictured here in all its Christmas glory) and the Park Inn during my daily travels. I know that for at least a week I'm going to step outside and look for the Fernsehturm to be towering over the rooftops of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, only to see an empty sky.
As is the case every time I get ready to leave a place for good, I'm getting sentimental for all the little things that I do here, many of which I just listed. It reminds me of de Botton's chapter "On Habit," where he describes how adventures can be had even without traveling across the world if we just pay special attention to our surroundings. I hope that I will take this attitude home with me so that I can truly appreciate being in Lancaster for the winter break, London next semester, and eventually New York City when I finally return to Washington Square. My time with NYU is taking me to so many amazing places and this class, especially the readings from de Botton, has helped me to be better aware of my expectations and the reality of my experiences so that hopefully these adventures won't pass by so quickly or routinely as they might have otherwise. Blogging my time in Berlin has certainly helped me to see it with a fresh perspective almost every week, so I am absolutely happy that I signed up for the Art of Travel course.
It will be interesting to go home and find out how exactly I have adapted to German life. Maybe I behave differently, maybe I perceive other people differently. I kind of hope that it's a little of both. This semester is going to stay with me for a long time, and it would be fantastic to go home and realize that I have changed for the better. Next semester, I'm studying at NYU London, so I can approach my second semester abroad with experience and a special perspective. I hope to apply the things that I've learned in Berlin and through this course to my time in London, especially the appreciation of the little things that I experience every day. It's a good lesson to take forward to other experiences, at home or abroad, and probably the most important idea that I'm going to take away from The Art of Travel.
Every experience can be special with the right attitude. Now I just have to remind myself of that while I board my plane on Tuesday and fly away from this city I love...
It must be said that Botton writes with seemingly unnecessarily verbose language. It’s incredibly easy to determine why most people find foreign places exotic, and Botton doesn’t really hit the point. I’ve spoken of this before—the “allure of the unknown.” What we do not know, what we do not understand, we are attracted to, because our minds fill in all the blank spaces with imaginative wonders that we become compelled to find out for ourselves what the reality of it all is. It’s very simple. Egypt? Exotic? Perhaps—but what does exotic mean to a human? I’m as intelligent as anyone, and I don’t know a concrete definition for ‘exotic.’ Let’s find something else. Mysterious? Indeed. That’s something I can put my finger on.
Egypt is mysterious because it is touted as being mysterious. We know very little of its ancient civilizations, and it is proclaimed as being one of the greatest civilizations of its age, incredibly advanced and superior in the region. The Pyramids are as enigmatic as anything on the planet, having a relatively unknown function and being mere remnants of their past, glorious selves. These are just a few of the reasons why anyone in our civilized society would perceive Egypt as being mysterious, and that reason, attractive, and for that reason, desirable, and for that reason, imaginative, and for that reason, exotic.
The exoticism of camels? What the hell is this? Camels are not exotic to their native human cohabitants. The only reason Flaubert speaks of them reverently is for his own perception. Flaubert is no authority to anyone, his opionion on camels is just as good as my half-brained lackey, Wajeeb. It’s just an opinion of perception, it has no objective weight.
Travel-talk is usually crammed with this self-indulgent descriptiveness that really does not benefit the reader. As a reader, I will never be able to experience what the writer has experienced, so he might as well not try to give me a surge of sensuality based on nothing but indifferent writing. From my experience reading travel writing, I am compelled when a writer is telling me about how his world-view has been changed upon learning or seeing something new, about how he is having trouble assimilating new aspects of the world with the old. That compels me the most because it relates to me as a human being—I may go through the same conflict of perception. Writing is good when it deserves to be read.