Archives for August 2012

Memories from Winter Study Abroad

The ECI team’s ghosts of Christmases past

Here at ECI we are usually very firmly focused on the road ahead, in the direction of Summer Study Abroad. But as we’re gearing up for the holidays, let’s allow ourselves a quick detour via ‘Winter Study Abroad’.

So many of our team have traveled widely, and along the way have celebrated Christmas in countries far from home. Here, Christie recalls her Celtic holiday experience in Scotland and Ireland. Christie’s recollections perfectly illustrate how ‘Study Abroad’ can create enduring and treasured memories:

Study abroad in Oxford, the best year of my life

‘I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand more times: my year studying abroad at Oxford in England was the best year of my life. One of the highlights of that year was the time I got to spend traveling in between school quarters. The first quarter ended at the beginning of December, so I traveled to Scotland and Ireland.

Traveling by train to St. Andrews, Scotland

My trip started on an evening train, which was heaven. I arrived in St. Andrews, Scotland and fell in love with the people immediately. I found the Scots to be very much like the landscape: untamed. The small town of St Andrews had a surprising array of activities. I remember cozy afternoon tea in a lantern lit, leather couch-filled cafe overlooking the original golf course, a fried candy bar I bought off a street cart (a “delicacy”, I assure you), and the random wonder of a bubble party. I only wish I had time to explore more of that crazy country.

Christmas in Dublin: the main event!

But the main event was Dublin. Entering the downtown, I was like a kid at Christmas, nose pressed to the cab window just taking it all in. Dublin had been transformed into a quaint winter wonderland. Those lovely decorated streets with lights hung like a canopy overhead and the constant tinkle of holiday music everywhere you went. George Micheal’s 'Last Christmas' was a particular repeating favorite that year.

Life-long memories from my time in Ireland

During my time there, I awed over the Book of Kells at Trinity College, took the obligatory tour of the Guinness factory, and walked over a blustery coastal trail to a neighboring village. Evenings filled with Irish folk music in the Temple Bar district were pure bliss. Those cozy winter streets, that feeling of Dublin at Christmas, created memories that I return to every time December rolls around.

Even now, I am so grateful for the time I spent overseas.
– Christie Corcoran

Paris Through the Back Door

Some cool things to see in Paris if you’ve already been there

Paris has something for everyone!

I first visited Paris as a college student and will never forget my initial glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, walking along the Champs Elysées or seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Since then I have chaperoned 6 ECI groups in France. Although ECI’s Paris itinerary is a great snapshot of the City of Light’s highlights, I really enjoy helping students who have already visited Paris discover new treasures and see some famous destinations from a new perspective.

I visited the Louvre with my parents, do I have to go again?

Yes, is the answer I tell my students. Even if you’ve already “been there, done that,” this museum has much to offer besides its well-known masterpieces. There are over 35,000 works of art in the Louvre so even if you’ve been I can guarantee there will be something new to see.

But it’s so crowded near the Mona Lisa where else should I go?

Most don’t know that the Louvre is the former royal palace of the French monarchy before Versailles was built in the 17th century.

  • Go underground at the Louvre and see its original 12th century fortress walls. Get a glimpse of life in the Middle Ages.
  • Go back even further in time to 1750 BC when the Code of Hammurabi was carved into stone in Babylonia (present day Iraq). The Code is known as the first written record of many laws still enforced today such as do not steal or use violence against your neighbor.
  • Jump back more centuries to 4000 BC and admire numerous Roman and Greek Antiquities.

Rest assured, there is plenty to see and discover at the Louvre besides our pal Mona Lisa.

I’ve seen all of the Paris excursions on the itinerary, can I just spend the day shopping?

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for shopping while in Paris. Our groups have time to explore the Latin Quarter where there are many shops to pick up some souvenirs or even a scarf. Around Sacre Coeur you will have the opportunity to visit La Place du Tertre where you can even have someone sketch your portrait. And of course, we can spend time on the Champs Elysées where you’ll recognize some popular American stores as well as major French chains.

What’s the name of that famous cemetery in Paris?

Bonne question, it’s called Père Lachaise and it’s Paris’ oldest cemetery. Probably the most famous American buried here is Jim Morrison, former lead singer of the Doors. I’ve taken students here before who really wanted to see his grave. Once we find his grave site, we also visit the final resting place for some famous French, such as Marcel Proust (author), Eugene Delacroix (painter), Édith Piaf (singer) to name a few. It’s also interesting to visit any cemetery while in France since their graves are usually above ground, making for some beautiful and unique architecture to honor their loved ones.

Getting to know San Francisco

Photos from the students time abroad in California

On Monday we went on a guided bus tour of San Francisco, where we went to the beach and the Golden Gate Bridge. On Tuesday we played Baseball and some of us turned out to be really good at it. In the afternoon and evening we went to Santa Cruz. On Wednesday we went to the Oakland A’s Baseball Game.

The students visited a professional dance studio in SF to learn a hiphop/jazz dance routine. Byron was a great instructor, and the kids did well! Everyone gave it a try and had a full routine by the end of the hour and a half lesson.

We also had free time in Union Square for shopping and photos. A few students walked on to the ferry plaza building to visit the farmer’s market and grab lunch.

Learning about Native American history

Native American history, as taught by Dino, became a very interactive lesson for our group. First we learned about how they hunted deer (as demonstrated by Arsene), then we twisted hemp to simulate how they created string to use in rope and decorative jewelry. Then we made beads from sanding the shells and boring a hole in pinon nuts. Finally we tried to start a fire with a stick and a board with slots/holes cut in it. Two teams were successful in making smoke and starting fires, but I think all had a fun time learning and trying new things.

Hiking up to Coit tower

We enjoyed the views from Coit tower today, and the beautiful gardens and mansions on the Filbert steps on our way down. Ferdinand and I enjoyed a rest after the hike up to Coit tower. Christopher Columbus is the figure of the statue behind us. Unfortunately, no view of the Golden Gate today as the famous San Francisco fog was in residence.

Here is a photo showing Diego Rivera had a sense of humor…of all the frescos he painted on the interior walls of Coit tower, his painting of the SF Chronicle announcing the completion of his paintings in April 1934.

– Beth Burdick, Local Leader

Last days in Nerja and a visit to Granada

One last adventure in Spain before returning home

Friday was the last day of classes in Nerja and the students received their evaluations and diplomas from school and said goodbye to their teachers with dos besos (the traditional one kiss on each cheek).

The rest of the day was free to go to the beach, go for last-minute shopping, and of course stop for at their favorite ice cream shop. The weather at the beach was surprising when later in the afternoon the fog rolled in and covered all of the beaches. It was thick but warm. Made me feel like I was back home in San Francisco except that it was still hot out. It lasted on the beach throughout the night.

Later we met up after dinner to go see more dancing. At the plaza de cangrejos (plaza of the crabs) they have different types of shows nightly. Tonight’s show was a flamenco dance school, so there were several different performances by dancers of all ages. Later the students had some free time to go dancing. I wonder if they used their newly learned salsa moves?

An indulgent breakfast of churros and chocolate

Breakfast in Spain is much different that it is in the US. Here they have a piece of toast or muffin with some jam and a cup of coffee or juice. But they also love their pastries for breakfast. Today we had a typical breakfast and went to have churros which are served here with melted chocolate. Yum! They are made to order and if you have not had them they are long pieces of fried dough, somewhat like a doughnut but not sweet.

Our Last Day in Nerja

Saturday was our the last day in Nerja. We spent time with host families and packing our bags to take off for Granada tomorrow morning. The weather did end up clearing up and we were all able to head to the beach for some more fun in the sun before saying goodbye to Nerja.

That night we all met up for some fun. We headed to the plaza de cangrejos to listen to some music. Most of the kids just wanted to go and sit by the beach for their last night. We had a big day following, so we cut curfew and sent them to bed early. Off to bed and a huge thank you to Nerja for such a wonderful trip. They kids couldn’t believe it was the end of the trip already. Alisha said “I should have done the month trip!”

Goodbye Nerja, Hello Heat in Granada

We left early on Sunday to be able to get to Granada for a full day of fun. This day was going to be packed to the gills. Wear comfortable shoes cause we are going to be running around! After checking in the Hotel Carmen we dropped our stuff and headed next door for some quick pastries before our tour at the famous Alhambra. There are normal buses in Granada but there are also some funny smaller buses leading up to the Alhambra. Luckily we are a small group so we all fit. We had a bit of time to kill before our tour so we played with a friendly cat and told jokes in the shade.

Visiting the beautiful Alhambra

The Alhambra is not just a palace, it’s an actual city and we could have used more than the 2 1/2 hours than it took to visit. The Alhambra is filled with marble columns, stucco carved walls with Arabic writing, and beautiful tiles. Zachary, who has been studying Arabic, translated a couple of the scriptures on the walls. Great job Zachary! We had a special treat and we able to see the court of the lions which are normally either covered up or being restored. Lucky us! Our tour guide was great and kept the kids interested in the history. I had no idea that there are over 8000 visitors per day to the Alhambra and that it is the 3rd most visited site in Europe after the Vatican and Versailles.

Rejuvenating at the Arab baths

After our tour we ran down the hill to the Plaza Nuevo for a quick lunch and back to the hotel to grab our swim suits and off to the Arab baths. What a welcome break from the busy day of traveling. This was definitely a treat!

The baths were lit with dim lights and candles. There were several different rooms; 1 with the small cold bath, 1 long shallow pool with the hot bath, the large lukewarm bath with the arches and columns that came into the water, the steam room which gave off mint smelling steam, the area with the hot marble slab with the fountains and the tea room which served sweet mint tea. They wanted us to be quiet but we could barely contain our excitement. First you go into the lukewarm pool, then head into the hot pool, then directly into the cold pool. Then repeat the hot and cold pool as many times as you want.

We also got massages and had our choice of oils. Olivia said, “This is actually my favorite thing we’ve done. It just keeps getting better!” After our amazing soak we showered up and got dressed. The girls noticed that in the girls locker room there were amazing smelling lotions and body oils which we enjoyed. Ahhhh! Check out the website for the baths

Before going back to the hotel we wandered into the Arabic neighborhood behind the Plaza Nuevo where it felt more like an Arab souk than the streets of Spain. Colorful cloths and clothing and yummy baklava was being sold and instead of Spanish we heard Arabic being spoken. Thanks again to Zachary who helped with some of the bargaining.
We had dinner at a yummy restaurant right below the Alhambra. As the sun sets on the Alhambra it turns beautiful shades of gold and pink. Dinner took a while but was fantastic and worth the wait.

After dinner we headed up the hill to the lookout for a wonderful view of the Alhambra lit up at night. We had a guide tell us a bit about the history of Granada and of the neighborhood we were in. We walked over to the Sacramonte neighborhood which is known as a gypsy neighborhood. We then headed to the Sacromente caves to watch a Flamenco show. It’s a small cave painted in white and could seat about 20 people. There were several different performers that performed right in front of us. Lots of stomping and spins and wonderful guitar playing and singing. Sam said that was his highlight of the trip. The kids were ready for bed after that full day.

Saying goodbye to Spain

I couldn’t believe how talkative everyone was on the bus at 6 A.M.! They were excited to get home. Well most actually wanted to stay but I know that it will be good for them to get home and back into their routine knowing they had this experience under their belt. We got the airport in Malaga and had to split up. Olivia and Rebecca had a flight on Delta and the rest of us were flying on American. We said goodbye and caught our first flight. In Madrid, everything went smoothly as some students took their own independent flights home before we departed. After our weather delays for the departure, it was great that everything went according to plan for the travel home.

It was a great experience chaperoning this group and I really enjoyed meeting all of them! They were all great and we had a ton of fun! I hope to see them all again in the future. My email is for anyone who wants to keep in touch. Besos!

– Marya Kahan, US Leader

Enjoying our time together in Nerja

After travel stress, we begin our study abroad in Spain

Terrible weather in New York caused extra travel stress for our Nerja group. My flight to JFK almost needed to be diverted to refuel, but thankfully arrived in time for the group flight to Spain. At the airport I met Alisha, Maura, Sam, and Zachary initially. Sam told me that he actually did have to land and refuel in Syracuse, but he made it on time and was good to go. Matt joined us last because he flight was heavily delayed due to the weather. His flight was so late that there was no time for his bag to be checked in, but our staff person in New York helped retrieve it.

It was great to meet the students. They were all a bit nervous about what to expect; the group, the language, the food, the host families, etc. I showed them photos of what they would be seeing as I had just been there the week before with the ECI Salamanca 1 group. They then became more excited than nervous. On the plane, most slept and watched movies. I slept and had dreams of the tapas I will be eating back in Spain.

Our arrival in Malaga

We finally arrived in Madrid and had a small layover before heading to Malaga. We met Delilah at the airport in Malaga, and then there were 6. We jumped on our enormous bus and headed on our hour-long bus ride to Nerja. All along the way we had glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea and whitewashed houses on the hills of seaside towns.

When we got into Nerja, the students were picked up by their host families and whisked away to go eat lunch. We all had big appetites by that point. Olivia and Rebecca would not be arriving until tomorrow (Monday) due to terrible weather and their flight being canceled. Pobre chicas!

Getting to know Nerja with Language Partners

Later in the evening the students were introduced to their language partners. These are young Spaniards who do activities with the students and show them around town and the students get a chance to practice their Spanish conversation skills. Our first excursion was a tour of Nerja to learn all the necessities; pharmacy, ATMs, best beaches, and of course best ice cream shops.

Later that night we all went out for ice cream. One of my favorite pastimes in Spain for sure! Most had already had ice cream earlier in the day but didn’t turn down a chance to have some more. YUM! They had all gone to the beach and were so excited for the chance to spend 2 weeks in this beautiful location. Then it was off to bed since the next day was the first day of classes!

First day attending language school classes

The students started the day with short interviews to asses their correct level, which of course made everyone a bit nervous. No worries they did great and I believe that everyone is in the level they belong.

Classes went well, and we jumped into our first briefing meeting where I explain the day’s activities. We have our meeting in the common area of the residence/club where some of the classes are held. In this first meeting another student from one of the classes sat in our circle while I went over the orientation including the rules and regulations for the trip. I used her as an example of someone being rude and not paying attention and said I would most likely need to contact her parents for lack of participation. Now every time we see her we all laugh and joke about how she is not fully participating in group activities. HA!

Free time by the beach

Later they were all eager to go get lunch and have free time at the beach. By this time they have all bonded and are doing things together. All smiles and fun to be had in Nerja. Olivia and Rebecca finally arrived and after they relaxed in the morning Patricia and I met them at the school to go over everything. And then there were 8! They were a bit apprehensive about fitting in with the group but I told them not to worry. No to worry indeed, when they met the group later it was as if they had been together the entire time.

The rest of the day was free to do what they wished, which meant beach time. Matt, Patricia, and I ran around to replace items he needed until his suitcase arrived. The boys had lent him some clothes until now and he had already purchased swim trunks and flip flops, so he had the basics, we just got the rest. All set now and we expect the bag to get here by the end of the week.

Visiting the Plaza de los Cangrejos

Later in the evening we visited the Plaza de los cangrejos or Plaza of the Crabs where there were a ton of people dancing, kids playing on a bouncy castle and people sitting and eating in the square. As soon as we arrived the girls were up and dancing while the boys watched on. Then we went to the beach and played a bit of soccer. Delilah had bought a beach soccer ball earlier in the day. Fun!

On Tuesday we started with classes then our daily briefing. We had our favorite “other” student attend the meeting again and actually had someone else join the group as well so we moved it outside.

After more beach time we had our “Introduction to Spain – then and now” by Olivia and Sam’s Spanish teacher. They all understood most of the talk and participated when asked questions. Good job groupo! Then back to the beach!

Salsa lessons with Paco

Later that night we met for our first salsa lesson with Paco, who is one of the language partners and quite a good salsa dancer. Paco started right away and we were off and dancing. Everyone got into it and had a ton of fun. The boys were paired with the girls and Paco had to bring in one of his friends to even it out. Before the friend showed up the girls would rotate with the boys and dance with Patricia. They all did great! All future ‘Dancing with the Stars’ participants for sure (well I guess they need to be stars first… details).

Today is Wednesday and I have just dropped them off at class so more to come, but a sneak peak at today is cooking class for dinner and we are making paella then a scavenger hunt in the evening-yes, all in Spanish!

– Marya Kahan, US Leader