Bridgetown, Barbados

The island of Barbados is 14 miles wide and spans 21 miles north to south. The Atlantic ocean is on the islands east while the Caribbean is on the island’s west coast. We had three days in Bridgetown and got to enjoy the island’s beauty!

I spent two afternoons on a beach on the south side of island; this was my first visit to the Caribbean and I am hooked! The water was so ridiculously clear and the sand had this white, smooth, soft texture that felt so good on my feet. The water was so clear and my friends and I just floats in the clear crisp ocean all afternoon! It really felt like we were on vacation- so incredible!

Besides going to the beach, I also went hiking and zip-lining. We toured Harrison’s Cave and learned about the geography of Barbados. Volcanoes formed all the islands in the Caribbean, besides Barbados. Barbados was formed after the oceanic plates shifted and therefore, Barbados is made of limestone. The cave we visited had all these incredible limestone formations and all sorts of shapes. It was so cool! At one point, I was 160 feet below the surface of the earth… so that was pretty wild to think about as well!

And zip-lining through the tropical forest was also a blast! Now, I’ve worked on a high ropes course at a summer camp in the United States the past couple summers, but the zip-lining we did in Barbados was platform zip-lining. So we zip-lined along to forest from platform to platform and it was really fun zip-lining through the trees.

Also, we learned the Barbados’s biggest exporter is… well… Rihanna. She is from the island and her family still lives there. In fact, she was actually visiting the island while we were docked there and some SAS students actually saw her out-and-about. So that was pretty funny to hear about!

Overall, I had an incredible visit to Barbados, but I am really excited about our next and last port. For the next four days, I will be in Cuba on an educational exchange. The past couple days I have learned so much about the Cold War, the Cuban embargo, and the Cuban missile crisis and I am excited to experience Cuba first-hand! Thanks for following along!

Salvador, Brazil

The city of Salvador is unlike any other city we have visited so far on our voyage. I mean, in most places, even in Morocco, we could find someone who spoke English. But here in Salvador, language was quite a barrier. At museums, at restaurants, with taxicab drivers- even with the tourist information booths, most people didn’t speak any English.

However, I enjoyed my time in Salvador. I learned so much about their education system and I tried lots of new foods- ox, octopus, and egg yolk pudding (quite the experience!). Brazil has a growing agriculture economy and after visiting the country of Brazil for a week, I understand why K-State sends so many agriculture students to study here.

Brazilians love meat- especially beef and they are trying to compete with Argentina and the United States to become the largest beef exporter in the world. In Salvador, I enjoyed my favorite dinner of the semester, a steak! It was quite delicious!

I really want to go to Fogo de Chao when I get home. Meat on a stick was so good in Brazil and the Brazilian students said that Fogo de Chao is actually a really good place with pretty authentic Brazilian food- so it’s got to be tasty!

One of the days I was in Salvador, I went with my social entrepreneurship professor to three different Brazilian schools and learned about the education system in Brazil. Elementary school in Brazil is free of charge, but severely underfunded. On average, each teacher has 40 students per class. This means that the wealthier families send their children to private elementary schools where resources are more plentiful and the children receive a better education.

However, let’s talk about college education. Public schools in higher education is completely government funded, meaning students don’t pay tuition or housing to go to public college. However, it is incredibly competitive to get a spot. There is one national exam that all students take and then apply to public universities across Brazil. There are 40 to 50 students applying for one spot at each public university.

The students who attended private elementary and secondary schools, typically score higher on the state exam meaning they earn the spots to get a free college education at public university.

There are private colleges that have evening classes and charge for tuition. Most of the children from the public elementary and secondary schools go to private universities. Then, the students work full-time during the day and take evening classes. For example, one of the Brazilian students who stayed on the ship for a few days, works as a police officer during the day and then attends college classes during the night.

On my trip with my professor, we visited three Brazilian schools, two public elementary schools and one private school. Our day was very eye-opening and quite, well, educational. There are many challenges students in Brazil face when working to receive an education.

Our ship is now sailing from Brazil to Barbados and the ocean outside is so bright blue right now. This morning, I sat outside by the pool and worked on a case study for my law class; it was so warm and the ocean breeze felt very nice on my face while I worked. I kept thinking how blessed I am to have a college education from the United States and what an incredible opportunity God has given me to travel to so many countries and learn about so many cultures this semester. We arrive in Barbados on Saturday morning. Thanks for following along!

2016 Olympic Games

Rio de Janeiro and Salvador are pretty far apart from each other. By bus, it takes 24 hours to get from one city to another, and by ship, it takes two days sailing. So while we were sailing from one city to another, two United State’s Foreign Service officers and five Brazilian college students joined the ship and gave several presentations about Brazil. Their lectures included topics like, life as a Foreign Service officer, the Rio summer Olympics, Brazilian education, the history of the slave trade, and even politics in Brazil.

It was really fascinating getting to know these people and one afternoon, my friend, Mary Garner, and I sat out on the back and talked with the Foreign Service officers for two hours. They told us stories upon stories about their previous posts. One of them was previously stationed in Yemen and was in charge when the embassy had to evacuate for the first time. Pretty wild.

I really enjoyed learning about the upcoming Olympic games and that is what I would like to focus this blog post on today. Rio de Janeiro will be hosting the summer Olympics that begin in August 2016. For the games, there will be 36 Olympic venues and under half of them are complete at this moment. However, the opening stadium is complete because it was also used in the soccer World Cup that Brazil recently hosted. It really is a beautiful structure and we could even see it from the deck of our ship when we were docked.

However, the main stadium is in the north part of Rio, but the majority of the games will take place in an area called Barra, which is a newly developed part of town that is southwest of the main city. It is very ritzy and looks more like California than the rest of Rio de Janeiro. That is where the Olympic Village is being built and most of the sporting venues. It is quite a distance from the main part of the city that is home to the Christ the Redeemer statue, the two famous Rio beaches, and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

There are some challenges that Rio faces as the games approach. Brazil has had to lower their projected budget for the games, which will make Rio the cheapest Olympics in the 20th century. The Olympic village was originally designed to be converted into low-income housing after the Games, but due to budget constrains, now the village will become luxurious condos. In addition, the water quality in the bays surrounding Rio do not pass international standards for events like parasailing, so either major work will need to be done, or those events will not happen.

Besides these challenges, the students who were on the ship with us all agree that Brazilians are pumped to be hosting the games. There is still a lot of work to be done, but after successfully hosting the World Cup, people are confident that Brazil can pull off hosting the Olympic Games. The Foreign Service officers are estimating that 15,000 Americans will go to Rio de Janeiro for the games and although I will not be one of the 15,000, I’m still really excited to watch the games from Kansas!

Rio de Janiero

The 14 days we spent crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro actually went much quicker than I expected. We stayed pretty busy doing lots of class work, taking midterms, and watching for whales. However, everyone was pretty darn excited to see land when we arrived in Rio.

In fact, I woke up at 5 am (not on purpose) and I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I went up to the front of the 7th deck, which is the top of the ship, and watched the sunrise over the ocean. The skies were filled with bright oranges and reds and we could see the hilltops of the mountains in Rio in the distance. It was quite lovely.

On the first morning, I went on a walking tour that described the African slave trade in Rio. We visited several archeological sites and museums and learned that more slaves came to Rio than to the Americas. We visited a mass grave that held over 10,000 bodies and saw the old port where the ships would enter. I didn’t realize just how many people were forced into slavery from Africa to work on the sugar cane farms in South America.

After our walking tour, we got on the public bus and headed up the mountain to visit the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. The bus dropped us off at the base of yet another mountain and we found the place to get tickets to ride the trolley up the mountain to the statue. Now when I say mountain, I mean mountain. Going up and down the hills through the jungles made it seem like we were on an adventure ride in a theme park, instead of visiting one of the seven wonders of the world. It took over 20 minutes to get to the top and at points, our little trolley car was very close to the edge of the cliff, but it certainly held great views!

Now let’s talk about the Christ the Redeemer statue.

– It’s actually a functioning Catholic chapel. On the inside of the statue is a real church where people get married at and services are held weekly.

– The entire statue is covered in mosaic tiles. It was built and assembled in Brazil, but the molds for the statue were constructed in Paris.

– The statue is 98 feet tall and Christ is standing on a pedestal that is 26 feet tall. Jesus’ arms stretch 92 feet wide. The whole statue is so large! You can see it for most parts of the city, but standing underneath the structure really made grasp the magnitude of the size.

– Christ has a thorn crown on in the statue and the crown is designed as lightening protection. On average, the Christ the Redeemer statue is struck by lightning 6 times a year.

– The statue was completed in 1931 and is built to withstand a hurricane stronger than Hurricane Katrina.

Now Rio is hosting the summer Olympics in 2016 and just recently held the World Cup, so it was interesting to see how the city looks and what work is being done to prepare for the games. There is construction everywhere- on the roads, on buildings, but one of the most interesting things is the renovation of the port. The port of Rio is located on the north side of town, pretty close to the stadium where the opening ceremonies will be held. So instead of building lots of new hotels, Rio is updating their ports and contracting cruise ships to come in and house people during the games. I’m excited to watch the games next summer, see the city, and learn how the construction finishes up.

This semester I have learned to love maps. When we arrive in a city, it is the first thing I find and study; where the ship is at, where the museums are at, where the post office is- all important places to locate. In fact, I have a book of maps that I have been keeping for my world geography class with maps off all the cities we have visited this semester. It’s really fun to look back at see all maps. I think it’s one of my favorite keepsakes of the trip and it’s getting pretty full. I added Rio de Janeiro last night and then we only have 3 more ports for the semester: Salvador, Brazil; Bridgetown, Barbados; and Havana, Cuba.

Thanks for following along! We arrive in Salvador tomorrow morning!

Barcelona

Our ship docked for four days in Barcelona and each day was full of adventure and lots of tasty food. I’m going to share my favorite three experiences while I was in this beautiful Catalan city.

One thing that surprised me about the geography of the city is just how much the Olympic Games impacted the city. Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic games, and even though that was over 12 years ago, the city still has lots of remnants of the games and we learned that the physical city was majorly adapted to host the games. For example, the beaches in Barcelona are world renowned for their beauty and there are 7 beaches in the main city. However, 5 of those beaches were created before the Olympic games and sand was brought in from the Moroccan desert to build them.

So naturally, we had to spend a day on these famous beaches and let me assure you, they certainly live up to their expectations. The white sandy beaches went on for miles and the shoreline was filled with many colors of sea glass, which was fun to search for. We also spent the day swimming in the Mediterranean; the water was so clear and so blue. It was absolutely beautiful to swim in!

The local food market is also a big attraction in Barcelona and although I visited a food market in Cadiz, Spain, the one in Barcelona was much different. The Barcelona market is much more geared to tourists, so there was less fresh fish and more fresh fruit. And let me tell you, the fruit was so fresh and tasty. Everywhere I looked, there were many bright colors of fruit- lots of greens, reds, yellows, all so bright! There were fruit juice booths everywhere and I asked the lady working one of the booths what her favorite was and she told me orange and peach. I thought that was a pretty unique flavor combination that I wouldn’t typically try, but she recommended it, so I selected that flavor and man! It was delicious! So good in fact that we went back the following two days and got juice again- so good!

In each port we visit, there seems to be a famous Cathedral or church that is a “must-see.” So this semester, I have toured some gorgeous churches, but the basilica in Barcelona is very near the top of my list! The church is called La Sagrada Familia and it really is worth googling. The church is the most unique church that I have ever seen…! The church has been under construction for nearly 100 years and the work continues today. The level of detail in this place is just unbelievable. The architect, his name is Gaudi, used a technique in his design where everything is inspired by nature. So several of the spires on the outside of the church look like honeycombs and the pillars that support the inside look like trees. And the stain glass is breathtaking- so many bright colors…! When the spires are completed, La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world. However, building will be one meter shorter than the tallest hill in Barcelona because the architect believed that God’s natural creation should stand the tallest.

The basilica was opened for worship in 2010 after the organ was installed. The organ has 1,492 pipes! One the opening day, 6,500 people worshiped inside and an additional 50,000 outside. Over 300 priests were brought into Barcelona for the service to help distribute Holy Communion. That’s a lot of people!

Barcelona was city in Europe for the semester, so it was pretty bittersweet when we pulled out of the port and waved goodbye to Europe. We now are sailing across the Atlantic Ocean and as I write this post, I see blue waves that just span in all directions as far as my eye can see. It is a beautiful view! Thanks for following along!

The Sistine Chapel

While I was in Rome, I saw so many beautiful buildings and museums. The Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, St. Peters Basilica- all incredible! But my favorite place we toured was the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

When I first walked into St. Peters Square and saw the vast space that holds so much history, two thoughts ran through my mind.

1. Wow- This is so neat, but I wish I could recall more information from my high school religion classes at Sion

2. There is the fountain that Bella ran through in the Twilight movie- crazy

It took over an hour and a half to get through the long line and security at the Vatican museum, but it was well worth the wait. Walking into the Sistine Chapel, I was immediately struck by the bright colors in the frescoes that surrounded the entire space. All shining in such a way that makes that humans depicted in the paintings look so full of life. When I first entered the chapel, my eyes went to the far side of the chapel, the southern wall, and immediately, I recognized that all the murals on that side, depict Moses’ life.

One painting shows Moses leaving Egypt, another shows Moses helping the women at the well, another depicts Pharaoh’s army being overtaken by the Red Sea, and another shows Moses holding the Ten Commandments.

Now this semester, Bible Study Fellowship, or BSF, is going through Exodus, which is the story of Moses. So when I saw these beautiful paintings in the chapel, I was so excited that I actually recognized the stories because I just had read some of them in the Bible. It was really neat to see!

Across from the Moses wall in the Sistine Chapel are frescoes depicting the life of Jesus. On the ceiling are Michelangelo’s famous frescoes and contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did not paint the masterpiece lying on his back. Instead, he built scaffolding and painted the entire ceiling standing up straight. I can only imagine how back his neck hurt at the end of each day. We were in the Sistine Chapel for only 30 minutes and my neck was sore the next day after cranking my neck back for so long.

Now, I really am not an art history fan or even can say that I have a true appreciation for art (However, the art history professor on the ship was very impressed that I have been to Crystal Bridges in Arkansas, but that’s another story), but I was in awe of the beauty in the Sistine Chapel. It is the most beautiful piece of artwork that I have ever seen. The stories and the colors are just impeccable and then to think about all the history the chapel holds- it’s truly incredible. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to visit the Vatican and Rome is very near the top, if not at the top, of the places I would love to return to someday.

Some tourists are intense

Wow o wow- where to even begin.

Rome has probably been my favorite port of call so far- it is such a beautiful place and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend four whole days exploring Italy. I spent two days in the countryside (see my previous post) and then I spent a day in the city of Rome and another day in Vatican City. I had a blast every day I was in Italy and I’m going to share just a few special moments from experiences.

First off, Chinese tourists are like no tourist I have ever seen before. And I feel like that is saying something after all the places I’ve visited this semester… When we were visiting the Vatican, there were these large groups of 40-50 Chinese people, with headphones in listening to the guide, following their Chinese tour guide who was holding an umbrella with a Hello Kitty doll on the top.

Now I totally understand the group part- it is challenging to learn when the all the signs in museums are written in languages you can’t read. And this semester, I have been in a fair share of these large tourist groups; where we ride on a large coach bus, wear these earphones that allow the guide with the umbrella to talk in your ears as you walk through museums. I’ve been in those groups were you follow the guide with the funny distinguishable walking stick, like a kindergarten class following their teacher, but I was not prepared for the intensity level of these Chinese tourists, especially at the Vatican, the headquarters of the Catholic church.

Now, if you have ever been the Vatican museum, you will be able to sympathize with my story, but if you haven’t, I will do my best to describe. Walking through the Vatican museum is the closest I have ever felt to being a heifer in a large cowherd who is getting herded through the shoots. There is one way to walk, and you better not stop, because if you do, you’ll just get pushed to keep going. And don’t even think about rounding the corner, turning around, or stopping to read signs. (Don’t worry, we splurged the extra few Euros and bought audio guides in English- totally worth it)

We walked through exhibit after exhibit and became very familiar with the people around us as we were forced to experience the entire museum together, but on the positive side, their was no doubt that I was going to stick with my travel buddies- there was no getting away from each other here!

After walking through the museum for over an hour, we finally arrived at the shining glory, the Sistine Chapel- of my goodness, it is breathtaking. But back to the Chinese tourists. In the Sistine Chapel, they do not force you to continue walking; you can actually pause and look around. However, there are still people everywhere! I was elbow to elbow with people and we had to be very patience to get a standing spot in the middle so we could see the amazing artwork.

As my friend and I were standing there gazing at the art, I spot the Hello Kitty doll on the umbrella through the crowd… headed our direction… Then before we knew it, they were upon us, the guide pushed right past me. Then came the tourists who were very set about following their guide. Pushing and shoving- I got elbowed several times before I really realized what was happening. There were all these tiny little Chinese ladies literally shoving past the crowd. I got stepped on, elbowed, pushed, and it was so crowded that I had nowhere to move to avoid the abuse.

Through the craziness, I noticed quite the scene involving the guy who was elbow to elbow with me before the treacherous Hello Kitty came through. He has his camera bag attached to his belt and as the herds of tourists were shoving by us, one lady’s sweater got stuck in his belt bag (don’t ask me how- I honestly have no idea how that happened…!) And the lady just kept walking and literally yanked the guy so hard that he had to take a step to catch his balance. Then, the tourist, instead of walking back three steps and getting unhooked, continued to just pull and pull and attempting to stay with her tourist group, as the poor guy with the camera bag tried to get her unhooked. Finally, a Vatican security guard stepped in a forced the lady to take two steps back to get unhooked. After being separated, the lady seemed very distraught to be away from her tourist group.

They were waiting for her less than 20 feet away at the back of the Sistine Chapel. Quite the experience to see!