Friday, September 28, 2012

"In the Dangling Conversation"

 -->Hello readers! Sorry it's been so long since my last post, but as you know I have been traveling around Greece and Italy and most times I had no internet access. For this post I will update you on my adventures in Greece specifically, and my post about Italy will follow at a later date. 

For those of you following the news surrounding Athens, let me assure you that nothing major occurred while I was there. It was strange to see large amounts of Police wandering through the city, and it made me cautious and a little wary about the possibility of a riot or protest. The city layout reminded me slightly of New York, which surprised me, and there was more graffiti than I have ever seen, a lot of it having to do with their current issues. I never felt unsafe or threatened while navigating through Athens, but their economic situation did make things a little difficult at times.

On our first day, for example, our group had to rearrange our transportation plans because there was a Bus and Tram strike for the whole day. Luckily the electric trolleys were still running so we could take those. The only problem with this was that all of Athens had to take them to get around as the cheaper form of quick transportation, which resulted in overpacked, hot trolley rides. Our GLS group had about 20 people total, so we all had to cram into the same crowded trolley to travel together. I squeezed in between several bodies and I swear I was touching at least 6 people at once from all directions. I was really happy when we got off the trolley for our tour of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Then we were back on the trolley and headed to the Acropolis and Parthenon. Our tour guide was animated and made the experience really fun. As we climbed the slopes of the hill, I was amazed how the Ancient Greeks would do this everyday. They certainly picked the perfect location for the Acropolis and Parthenon because the views of the city were amazing from up there. Standing next to the Acropolis, I felt small and a little insignificant because the architecture was overwhelmingly beautiful with its Doric columns. I remember studying Ancient Greece in 6th grade, and I was thrilled to finally be able to see their work in person. Later that night I caught a wonderful view of the Acropolis and Parthenon from the roof of our hotel. 

Me at the Acropolis

The great view from the top

Night view of the Acropolis and Parthenon from our hotel


For my second day in Greece, a group of friends and I decided to take a Ferry boat to the Greek Island Aegina. Luckily the tram was running again after the previous days' strike, so we were able to take the tram from Athens to Piraeus where we hopped on our Ferry boat to Aegina. The weather was perfect and the island was small, so after exploring for a bit, we decided to take a bus to the other end of the island to Agia Marina, a beach connecting to the Agean Sea. For the rest of the day we swam in the clear, warm, (and very salty) water. We were even joined by a friendly beach dog.  --> During our Ferry ride back to Piraeus, we saw a beautiful sunset.

The dog :)

The Sunset from the Ferry

For dinner that evening a friend and I decided to grab a quick meal near our hotel. I was pretty tired from the activities and sunburn from the Island and I was hoping to get to bed before midnight (I put on sunscreen, I swear!). As we were looking around the Greek version of a Subway, a man that I estimated to be around 70 years old started talking to us. He heard us speaking in English and wanted to know where we were from. His name was Demetris Stavropoulos, and I learned that he worked in New York City as a barber for 20 years before he moved back to Athens, his original home. He said he considers America his home just as much as he does Greece. Demetris asked us questions about America’s economy and he wanted to know if it was true that no one is hungry anymore. Of course we informed him that we unfortunately do have many homeless and hungry people in America too.  He left us so we could order our food, but he told us to stop by his table to meet his friends and tell them about America.

After getting our food, my friend and I found Demetris’ table and he invited us to pull up chairs so we could share their table since all the others were full. (I promise I felt safe and welcomed by his company and I knew his offer was in good spirits and not of a creepy nature). Turns out, this was the best dinner I had in Greece because I had a great conversation with Demetris and his three friends. Demetris spoke English very well, however his friends spoke very little, so there was a lot of translating going on between all of us. His one friend, the dentist, didn’t understand something I said about crossing the street in Cyprus, and Demetris translated the dentists’ comment as: “My friend didn’t understand anything that you just said about having to look left first in Cyprus, but you said it so animated with your body language that he enjoyed it anyway!”

Another of his friends was a singer and I told him that I sang too. We asked him to sing something for us, and he started to sing “Maria” from West Side Story. Of course I knew it too, so I chimed in, and his friends were impressed by our duet. They asked me to sing something, and I told them I could hum their National Anthem since it’s the same as Cyprus’ and I’ve known that since 7th grade from my research (see my first ever post if you’re confused). They started me off, and when they heard that I actually knew it, they dropped out so they could hear me. When I was done they all clapped and Demetris said I was an Angel from God sent to warm his heart with my smile and song. 

Here is a video my friend took of me and the singer friend singing "Maria" together. This is the second time we sang it cause the first time was too spontaneous to catch on video, so we did it again. And it's kind of hard to hear, but at least it's fun to share with you!

Demtris and his friends asked questions about Obama, American education, our economy, the job market, and health care. I explained what I knew to the best of my ability. And I asked questions about Greece's situation, but it seemed that it was a controversial topic for them to share with 'a privileged American' so I didn't learn as much as I would've liked. The dinner down the street from my hotel, that I imagined was going to be quick, ended up turning into a 2 hour conversation with Demetris and his friends which I very much enjoyed and is what inspired today’s post title to be from "The Dangling Conversation" by Simon and Garfunkel. I even learned some Greek from Demetris and his friends: 

ime poli kala euharisto   - I am doing well thanks.
signomi      -Sorry
Thelo ena nero    - I want a bottle of water.
to yelio ine igia ed zoi    - The smile is heath and life. (Since they said I had a beautiful smile)

On my third and final day in Athens, I visited the Theatre of Dionysus, the Olympic Stadium, the National Gardens, and The Temple of Zeus. Being at the Theatre of Dionysus was an amazing experience and I loved the idea that I was standing in the same spot where Greek Theatre was created and performed. I was so happy to be there! 

Danielle and I being Comedy and Tragedy at The Theatre of Dionysus

Temple of Zeus (look how tiny I am!)

 We also hiked Lycabettus Hill and stayed up there to watch the sunset over Athens for our last night in town. I can't even describe the view from the top, but it was definitely a sight that I will never forget, especially with the vibrant colors melting over the horizon.
Enjoying the view from Lycabettus Hill

Athens as viewed from Lycabettus Hill

As some of you will find out in a few days, I sent some postcards from Greece, however when I went to buy stamps at the post office, I was required to take a number to wait. My number was 218 and they were on 168. A man waiting in line heard my statements to my friends about not wanting to wait that long to get stamps and he said “This is everyday here in Greece. You’ll wait 40 minutes.” I decided to find stamps somewhere else once I learned that a trip to the post office in Greece is something that actually takes dedicated time. 

Some of the Greek foods that I enjoyed were real Gyros, amazing Feta, Baklava, Souvlaki, and Spanikopita. Needless to say, after 3 days in Greece I had my fill of Gyros and I was ready for some Italian food in Italy! I enjoyed my visit to Athens and I hope you liked the highlights that I chose to write about. Stay tuned for my next post about the second part of the trip to Italy!

Till next time!

-Courtney <3

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon"

This is going to be a quick blog post (I hope) because it's already almost midnight and I am leaving for Greece and Italy at 5:15am! I can't sleep yet so I figured I'd update instead of staring at the inside of my eyes.

Anyways, since my last post I've experienced a lot of culture and different aspects of Cyprus. Tuesday night was the beginning of a 6 day festival in Nicosia called Septemberfest, which is a celebration held at night right next to the Venetian Walls. It is filled with Entertainment, local food, gelato, and of course beer.....sound familiar? If Musikfest was the first thing that popped into your head then you're a Lehigh Valley reader and you're right! And if you're saying "What's Musikfest?" then just ignore my last comment and take my word for it. Septemberfest was on a much smaller scale seeing as there was one stage, but still it reminded me of home: only Greek and in Cyprus-haha. On this night of culture and food, my friends and I were listening to the Greek music and observing the locals dancing in the Greek style. Not long after, the circle expanded and we were welcomed into the large circle surrounding the dancing individual in the center. The person in the center kept changing every so often, and I watched as their dance style was all about careful foot placement and precise arm movements. It was really fun to watch and I wanted to try it. At one point the middle was empty, and my peers encouraged me to give it a try. I was worried about offending the locals since I wasn’t of Greek heritage and had no idea what I was doing, but I slowly approached the center and gestures of encouragement came my way from the Greek Cypriots; I felt welcomed. I danced in the center with a huge grin on my face because I felt a little silly but also excited; it was great to see everyone clapping their hands and having the locals smile back at me!  When I exited the center I got a round of applause, and I was glad I decided to ignore my fear of embarrassment and gave it a try. Later on in the night, another Greek dance broke out where there was a smaller circle of people holding hands inside a larger circle of the same. A bunch of GLS students and I decided to jump in on the fun once more, and we had a great time spinning around in circles, holding hands and kicking our feet alongside the local Greek Cypriots. Septemberfest was a night filled with culture and fun, and because I got to interact with so many Greek Cypriots and they were so welcoming, this was one of my favorite nights of my Journey to Cyprus thus far! I also got to try some Cypriot made nut bars (which were amazing!) and something called
Souzouko which was almond wrapped in a flour/honey mixture and looks like a candle since it's made like one around a wax string (it was chewy and weird). The best food there by far: NUTELLA GELATO!
Me dancing in the middle of the Greek circle
On Wednesday we had An Overview of the History of Cyprus class, and the professor filled in some gaps that I didn't know about and  gave us some fun facts. He informed us that it is illegal to park on the sidewalks and to drive while using a cell phone, yet Cypriots do them anyway because they'd rather pay the fine. I also learned that the giant Turkish flag display on the Kyrenia Mountains is the largest flag in the world and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for that. This flag is a message from the Turkish Cypriots to the Greek Cypriots that 'it is great to be Turkish'. The flag is made out of Limestone and needs to be repainted every so often to keep its' red and white color.
A picture I took of the Turkish Flag in the Mountain
  As I explain the situation between North Cyprus and South Cyprus, I'm sure you're confused because I can't explain it all in writing because it would take me a while. (Ask me about it in detail when I return!) For a brief overview, see my last post. My fellow GLS students and I were as curious as you are about the North. My post title for today is inspired by this curiosity with lyrics from "I'll Make a Man out of You" from Mulan. We have a trip scheduled to the North later in the semester, but we decided to head over there today and check it out. The process was pretty simple but rather strange. From South Nicosia (the Greek side where I live) we walked down Ledra st. and just kept walking until we reached the buffer zone. There is no indication that you have reached the buffer zone besides the signs indicating the passport control ahead. So we continued down the street and got to the Turkish checkpoint. The street is nicely organized on both sides and has a strange feeling but not a threatening presence. All we had to do was fill out a visa paper with our name, passport #, and nationality, and show them our passport in order to get by. We were told not to let them stamp our passports because they are technically not allowed to stamp since they are not recognized as a state by the rest of the world other than Turkey. If they did it would be illegal and make our passports invalid if anyone recognized it. To get around this, they stamped our separate paper visa instead.
Entering the Turkish Checkpoint, does it look scary to you? Not me
 Once we were in North Nicosia, we could tell we were on a less economically sound territory based on the look of it. The Turkish Republic of Cyprus cannot import or export goods since they are not recognized as a state, and thus they only import goods from Turkey or make their own.We did find some pretty nice parts of town like the one pictured below, and there were some great shops with low prices for obvious reasons.
A nice town square in North Nicosia
 After walking around a while we found the residential area of North Nicosia, and it was sad to see how most of the Turkish Cypriots are forced to live compared to the homes of the Greek Cypriots. It really makes you hope that the unification effort could be made into a reality so that the economy of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus would be better. I am hoping that other cities in the North are more fortunate than North Nicosia. On a positive note, the children in the North were very friendly and spoke all the English they knew to us. Two boys on bikes stopped and did tricks around us, one of them spoke very well. The two children pictured below were walking with their mothers, and the mothers saw our cameras and gestured for us to take pictures with them. They were all very kind even though neither of us could speak to one another. Another group of girls shouted: "hello, goodbye, please, thank you!" in our direction, and we think those are the only English words they knew and didn't even know what they meant. We all said "merhaba" in return (which means hello) and that's the only Turkish word we knew! It was sweet to see them all in such positive spirits even though their living situations are not the greatest. It was also nice to see that taking their picture meant the world to them, where as on the Greek side I feel like they feel violated from pictures.

run down houses of North Nicosia
Turkish children with me and my roommate, Anya

The group brave enough to visit the North
 Passing back into the South was as easy as going through. We showed the Greek Passport control our visas and passports and they stamped our visas. No biggie. Crossing to the other side wasn't scary or threatening as it is sometimes made to believe. The hardest thing about crossing to the North was seeing how close poverty is to the flourishing economy of the South. It was very weird to see such different atmospheres in the same capital city of Cyprus but from opposite perspectives of the Green Line Buffer Zone. I am looking forward to going back to the North and traveling outside of Nicosia to see more of the other side. I am fortunate to live in America, and I'm glad that Cyprus has at least gotten to the point where crossing the buffer zone is a possibility.

Sorry if I just depressed you, but that's the reality people. And even though the area was a little shocking, it was a great experience in understanding more about the world and myself. And I am looking forward to continuing my journey as I travel to Greece and Italy for the next few days. I'll be back in Cyprus soon, and classes start on October 2nd. Keep up with my travels! I hope you're enjoying my blogs.

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

Monday, September 17, 2012

"All it Takes is a Little Faith, and a lot of Heart"

I'M IN CYPRUS!!! Can you believe it? My 7th grade self would never believe me if I told her she was going to be studying here. Today is only my third day here since I arrived late at night on Friday, but I'm loving every minute so far! This post might be a little long, but I promise it's worth the read!

My full closet...
Starting with the plane: For those of you that were wondering, my suitcase was 52 pounds but they let me slide without paying the fee for going over 51. I don't know how it weighed that much considering I hardly brought anything with me. Here's my full closet picture as proof:

My total journey from Newark to Nicosia was about 17 hours. The first flight with British Airways that left at 11pm wasn't bad, but I couldn't sleep at all. Also, they fed us 'breakfast' at 12:30am, but it was Indian Chicken... Why does anyone want that for breakfast? The flight from Heathrow to Larnaca, Cyprus was horrible; there was so much turbulence that I felt like I was on a roller coaster rather than a plane. Eating lunch while the tray keeps moving is pretty difficult. I was thankful when we finally landed in Larnaca, and I am happy to report that my luggage arrived too!

Global Learning Semesters had a Taxi waiting for me and Maggie to take us to Nicosia, the capital, where my apartment is, and it was about an hour till we arrived. I couldn't see much of Cyprus outside the cab window since it was 10pm, but what I could see was the stars. They looked so bright in the sky and I could see ones that are not visible in the US due to light pollution. Our cab driver was nice and spoke enough English to mumble through small talk. When I arrived at my apartment at 11pm, I was happy with the quaint setup that I will call home for the next three months. My roommates, Anya and Lauren, already chose to room together which left me with the open room all to myself. I unpacked my stuff, met my neighbors and roomates, and headed to bed by 2am.

My Apartment (Maro)

My Veranda
Saturday morning I woke naturally at 6:45 with the bright Mediterranean Sun shining through my curtains, which means I only had about 4 hours of sleep, but somehow I felt well rested. I went out onto my veranda and was amazed by my first glimpse of Cyprus in the daylight.

My first view of Cyprus in the daylight
Then I went to orientation where our program directors told us about our program and a general overview of Cyprus' history. I knew a lot of the history already from research I did in 7th grade as well as my pre-trip preparation. I met a lot of great people during orientation! Some people who want to go hiking, someone else who will travel to London with me, and some more people who might want to run the Aphrodite 5k that I discovered. I'll keep you posted on all of those events as they happen.

After orientation a bunch of people were tired and wanted to go back to their rooms to nap, but Jessica, Katie, Kristi and I decided to go for a walk and explore Nicosia. This was a great decision because we came across a beautiful view of the city from a church perched on a hill.
The Greek Orthodox church we discovered

Walk with a view :)

Afterwards Kristi and I stopped at the Supermarket to buy some groceries, which proved to be a difficult task since mostly everything is in Greek. (Some items have English on them, you just have to find it first!)  The milk didn't have English on it so trying to figure out which one was the closest to 2% was a guessing game. I think I got a good one though because it tastes good and fresh. And the pomegranate juice here is AMAZING! Kristi and I also decided to register for a free shoppers club card in order to save money with sales. Woot!
Trying to figure out what Milk to buy
Later that night GLS treated us all to dinner at a great Greek Restaurant. It was buffet style and my favorite thing I had was the spinach pie and of course the chocolate moose cake. After dinner I played Spades with some new people I just met, and I had a great time talking and bonding over a good card game.

On Sunday I woke naturally again at 6:45am with the sun shining through my window. I never wake like this so early, so the fact that I did so two days in a row was a little weird. I wondered if the jet lag was causing it, but then I developed a theory that the sun was waking me up since it's so bright. I still felt rested though, so I didn't mind. I was able to fall back asleep until I actually had to get up for the day.

We visited the Cyprus Museum where we followed Cyprus' history through artifacts. Cypriots were known to gather influences from the various countries that controlled the island at the time which is why Cyprus has a lot of Turkish, Greek, Egyptian, and British aspects. The island is known for copper mining and specialized in ceramics and statues. I've decided that the beauty of statues in a museum is not the piece itself, but in the imperfections of the pieces as created by time and weathering. My favorite display was the collection of Theatre masks and statues that were buried with those who performed in order to honor their life and participation in the arts.
One of the Theatre masks
The whole group outside the Museum
After the Museum we toured the Old City of Nicosia, which is the part of the city that existed during the 1974 invasion from Turkey. We got to walk along the Green Line, which is the buffer zone that divides Cyprus into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus in the South (the Greek side). I assure you this relationship is safe for me to be here, it is just that the citizens of both sides cannot agree to form a mutual government that will satisfy the Greeks and the Turkish. Since 2003 there are spots along the border that allow people to pass freely from one side to the other, it just requires checking IDs. I could write a lot about their relationship and how this works, but I think I gave you a basic overview without confusing you. (I hope). It was really cool to see the Venetian walls that surrounded the Old City Nicosia that I read so much about, but it was really weird to feel the ominous presence of the Green Line. A lot of houses near the buffer zone have been abandoned since the 1974 invasion, but recently the Cypriot Government has been fixing these places up and giving them to couples with children in the hopes of rebuilding this area.
An abandoned house
A fixed up house
 After the tour, a group of friends and I went to a Greek Restaurant. We asked questions about the menu, and he decided to give us a special deal. The Meze there is usually 16.50 euros a person, but he said he'd give it to us for 10 euros each (about 13 dollars). We had learned about Meze and were really excited to try it, so we agreed! A Meze is a Greek special that is different for every Restaurant. The servers bring out whatever they feel like pretty much, and they keep bringing dishes. We had dips, warm pita bread, greek salad, stuffed grape leaves, greek meatballs, pork, sausage, chicken kabobs, lamb liver (yuck), grilled feta, sesame feta (my favorite thing out of them all!), french fries, greek pierogies, and I'm probably forgetting something! It was a crazy experience, and we were all stuffed. Everytime a new dish came out we asked "How many more are there?" and his response was "Don't worry, don't worry, just eat." Typical Greek hopitality. haha. I'm pretty sure we asked for the check before they were even done, but it had been maybe 40 minutes since our last dish was brought out, and we couldn't eat anymore anyways! 

That brings me to today. I woke up this morning at guess what time?....6:45am before my alarm. I'm definitely thinking the sun is going to keep me on schedule as long as I'm in Cyprus. haha. I kind of like the consistency though. Our first activity of the day was a presentation by an organization called Peace Players, which "uses the game of basketball to allow 11-15 year-old Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot boys and girls to play together, learn together and build positive relationships that overcome generations of mistrust and formidable physical barriers to interaction." I thought this concept was interesting and sounded very hopeful for a unification of Cyprus. I signed up to volunteer with Peace Players while I am here, so hopefully I can fit it in my schedule and be able to observe the Turkish and Greek Cypriot children and help with the unification effort. Click on this to visit their website to read more!  This idea is also what inspired Stars by the Weepies to be the title of today's post because I feel it reflects the mission of Peace Players.

Next we went to a Cyprus Traditional Cuisine class where the speaker introduced us to all sorts of Greek favorites, and he even fed us lunch. I got to try grilled halloumi cheese for the first time, which is a cheese made only in Cyprus. It has a smokey flavor and is thicker than most cheeses, but I didn't think it was the best cheese in the world or anything.

After some free time, we gathered as a group to go over the itinerary for our trip to Greece and Italy. I leave at 5:15am on Thursday already! Woot, so excited!

Then some new friends and I went bowling, where we talked to a local 70+ year old who was fascinated by us. His English was pretty good, and he wished us well with our studies. He goes there everyday at 5pm, so we'll probably return again at that time to continue our friendly conversation. Besides, I have to beat my score. (I got a 45.....)

Speaking of conversation: I have learned 3 Greek phrases so far and I use them all the time because they are so basic! haha.
Hello: γεια σας   (pronounced yeah-sauce)
Thank you:  ευχαριστώ  (pronounced ef-cah-wris-toh)
You're welcome:   παρακαλώ (pronounced pah-rah-cah-loh)

Anyways, I apologize for the really long post, but I hope you were interested in my first few days in Cyprus. To reward you for getting to the end of this post, I will leave you with a lovely picture I caught on the way back from bowling!

Is Cyprus really Atlantis?!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Wave Goodbye, Wish Me Well..."

Hello again, Readers!

Please fasten your seat belts because the plane is about to depart! In less than 12 hours, I will be on a plane headed to Cyprus! With a total of two planes and a travel time of 14 hours and 45 minutes, I should arrive in Larnaca, Cyprus around 9pm on September 14th since Cyprus is 7 hours ahead of Bethlehem. From there I will take a taxi to Nicosia, the capital, where I am to find my apartment and meet my roommates Anya and Lauren. Let's hope this trip runs smoothly compared to my last international journey to Germany in High School. (My first flight was delayed two hours and my suitcase didn't make the transfer in time and therefore did not arrive in Germany when I did! It was delivered to my house a few days later.) Needless to say, I will be very pleased to see my suitcase greet me in Larnaca! I'm hoping I did not just jinx myself.....

Anyways, I'm super excited that departure day has finally come! I am all packed, ready to go, and looking forward to living/studying in Cyprus. I'm a little nervous, but mostly excited so the nerves hardly matter. For those of you that read my last post, I decided to give in to temptation and upgrade to an even bigger suitcase. My younger brother Cameron pointed out that the smaller one I was using weighed more empty, so it made sense to switch to the larger one that weighed less empty so that there will be more room to bring stuff back! I will not be surprised if my suitcase weighs more than the 51lbs limit though....I guess you'll have to check back to find out! haha.

In related news, yesterday I found out that I have been selected for Global Learning Semesters' Blog Scholarship, which means I have to send them a blog for their facebook page every ten days. I'm honored to be chosen and I can't wait to experience everything this program has to offer!

Well, I have to pack my computer away soon so I guess this post has to end somewhere. I could go on and on about how excited I am, but I think you get the point. I have requested that we stop at Cracker Barrel for my last meal before I go, and we're going to stop at Barnes and Nobles on the way so I can pick up a book to take with me that a friend recommended. I'm not sure what the Internet is like in Cyprus, so you'll just have to keep checking for updates! Today's post title is from Human by the Killers.

And if anyone would like to send letters here is my address:

Courtney Haines
c/o GLI Global Learning Institute
P.O. Box 27931
Engomi, Nicosia 2434

Thanks for reading everyone!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Packing My Bags and Giving the Academy a Raincheck"

 Hello there! If you are reading this, then you have found your way to my first blog post- Congratulations! 

For those of you who are interested in following my adventures in Europe, I suggest you subscribe to get updates because if I were you I would forget to check back. Now if you're asking yourself: "Courtney's going to Europe??" then allow me to fill you in. When I began my study abroad search, I was originally going to pick one of Muhlenberg College's organized Theatre trips to London or Italy or the Business trip to Maastricht. I'm sure any one of those programs would've been an awesome experience, but I was looking for something that gave me more independence and a little less 'Muhlenberg in Europe'. I began my search with one country in mind- CYPRUS! Why Cyprus? Well, when I was 12 years old, my 7th grade teachers at Northeast Middle School asked us to pick a country that we wanted to research for various projects resulting in slideshow presentations at the end of the year. We had to pick two countries that we had heard of and one that we knew nothing about. My countries were:
1. Germany
2. Ireland
3. Cyprus
Cyprus was obviously the one I had never heard of, and as any good teacher would do, I was assigned that country. My 7th grade year was the first time laptops were introduced into our classroom, and the objective of the country projects was to demonstrate the many ways we could use our laptops. I researched Cyprus for projects like travel brochures, original poems, a history report, a persuasive essay to travel to Cyprus, and of course the final slide show.  After doing so much research on Cyprus, I fell in love with everything the Mediterranean Island had to offer, and it became a dream of mine to travel to Cyprus one day. So, that's why I began my search with Cyprus. 

August 20th, 2011 was the day I began my search, and Google brought me to Global Learning Semesters' website. I was very happy to learn that not only does their International Business program take place in Cyprus, but it also travels to 10 other countries! This opportunity sounded amazing to me and I knew this was the right program for me!  

Once I discovered my dream program, I had to work on getting Muhlenberg to approve it since they only allow students to travel on approved programs for the credits to transfer and for financial aid to help pay for it. When I inquired about petitioning for my program, I was informed that not a lot of petitions get approved, and I was afraid that my dream opportunity might slip away. Basically I had to fill out an application and write a really good essay about why the program should be approved. The petition was due in October, but I had to wait until February for the board to review the petition and make a decision. After having to wait for 3 months, you can imagine how happy I was to hear that Muhlenberg had granted their approval --- I submitted my deposit to Global Learning Semesters that day!  :)

Anyways, that is the story that brings me to today. It is Monday and my flight departs on Thursday!!! I have been counting down the days since earlier in the Summer when I was at 75 I'm down to 3. Packing my bags was super frustrating seeing as I swear I did not over pack, and yet there's not much room for more. I had to upgrade to a bigger suitcase that we had once I realized that my smaller one wasn't going to cut it for 3 months worth of stuff. I also took out a few clothing items that I deemed unnecessary. I am tempted to upgrade to an even bigger suitcase, but I think I'm going to resist that temptation....

This post is already longer than planned, so I will save my last minute thoughts for another post right before I leave. I guess you'll just have to subscribe after all....haha. ;)

For your entertainment value (and mine) the titles of my posts will feature fitting lyrics from songs; that way I get to share travel updates and some of my favorite songs at the same time! Today's post is from 'It's Time' by Imagine Dragons to express my current state of bag packing and leaving Muhlenberg "the academy".  Also, the title of my blog is from my favorite artist of all time- The Tallest Man on Earth. His lyrics are so poetic and filled with meaning, so it seemed fitting to honor him with a blog title from 'The Wild Hunt' by The Tallest Man on Earth.

 A few days ago out of boredom and anticipation, I painted my nails with the flags of the 11 countries that I will get to see, and I wanted to share them with you. From left to right: Greece, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (they have the same flag with slightly different blues, so I just counted that as both) and CYPRUS!

I hope you are excited to read about my adventures! I have never kept a blog before, so it should be interesting to see how often I update it. Stay tuned for posts about my journey to 11 countries!

Till next time!
-Courtney <3