A postcard from…

By Giulia Hughes, Lucy Howorth, Emily Nutbean, Maddie Pope, Isabelle de Merode, and

…Siena, Italy

By and

It’s been almost two months since we both moved to Siena and it has quickly become a city we now consider a home away from home. From the first week, we were overwhelmed with a sense of excitement and anticipation for what was to come. Exploring Siena has allowed us to discover the rich culture and history the city has to offer; from the glistening stars on the ceiling of the Duomo, to the Contrada’s wavering flags hanging from green shutters. Each day we find ourselves collecting countless memories. The late-night aperitivi with new friends and affogati in Piazza del Campo sitting under the September sun, have been highlights of what has been an unforgettable experience so far. We have both embraced the Italian way of life. In fact, Lucy, now Lucia, is fully integrated into Sienese society with her reimagined Italian name. The pace has slowed down since the initial hustle and bustle, and we have learnt to navigate the inner walls of the city: memorising the way to our classes, finding our favourite espresso spots and meeting with friends in bars.

Each day we find ourselves collecting countless memories

Whilst classes occupy the weekdays, the weekends have provided the opportunity to discover Florence, Bologna and Rome. Taking advantage of the train system as well as the wonder that is FlixBus, we have travelled through quaint Tuscan villages to busy Florentine squares. However, we have both come to acknowledge the comfort in returning to the gem that is Siena. It is the perfect city to be a student; neither too big, nor too small and with endless opportunities on its doorsteps. Time has flown past already and as the days have turned into weeks, and these weeks into months, each moment spent here has, and will continue to be treasured and remembered fondly.

 …Marburg, Germany

By

Moving to a new country for a year feels like your brain is on constant high alert. Although I am just as close to my friends and family by train as I was in Durham, the homesickness is magnified. Living somewhere where your native language is not the standard can feel incredibly overwhelming at the start, but immersing yourself in the city is a sure fire way to pick up that language very hastily.

Marburg is an unbelievably beautiful city. With an impressive church, even more stunning castle on the outskirts of the city centre, and a Rapunzel-esque tower situated in the middle of the forest, the architecture is breath-taking to look at. At almost every restaurant in the Oberstadt (old city), you are certain to find the classic German delicacy, auflauf. Made from pasta or potatoes, with a thick cheese sauce, auflauf will normally cover a whole section of the menu, and is easily one of the most delicious meals I have tried since moving here. The cafes and restaurants are the real heart of the city, and their late closing times enhance the bustling atmosphere in the evening.

Marburg is an unbelievably beautiful city

I’ve only lived in Marburg for two months, but I’ve already settled into the daily routine here. As a university town, Marburg is a hot spot for Erasmus students, and the opportunity to meet so many people from so many different countries has been incredible. With Christmas looming around the corner, I cannot wait for the already beautiful city to be transformed by the Christmas markets that are infamous in Germany. A year abroad is a truly amazing opportunity.

…Amman, Jordan

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On one of my final nights in Amman, Jordan, I wandered down the winding and hilly streets of al-Weibdeh in the warm, early evening air along with two of my friends. Google Maps was directing us towards an immense stone stairway sat behind wrought iron gates and set in between two street walls the colour of honey. We gingerly made our way up the steps, feeling as though we were rudely entering a private entrance – in a way, we were. At the top of the stairs sat Beit Sitti (translated into English as ‘My Grandmother’s House), an old family home still bearing the relics and furniture of previous lives. Here we would be spending the evening cooking a traditional Jordanian meal thanks to three sisters – Dina, Tania, and Maria – who turned their grandmother’s home into a cookery school.

We tentatively entered the house and all worried that we had accidentally stumbled into the wrong home (not that that would be an issue – Jordanians are renowned for their hospitality). We were greeted by an intensely kind and maternal woman, our cookery teacher for the evening who led us out to a terrace covered with flowers and bushes, the walls draped with furls of vines and hanging plants. A wooden swing hung in the corner, whilst sitting in the middle of the terrace was a fully-set dining table. There we sipped on orange and honey water before getting down to business. We were, after all, here to cook.

Preparing maqlouba (an upside-down rice dish) was first on the agenda, before moving onto mutabl (the most delectable aubergine dip), a local salad dish, and homemade bread. We were taught how to burn the aubergine just so on a gas hob in order to create the smokey aroma of mutabl, whilst innovative ways of chopping garlic were revealed. Finally, it was time to serve the maqlouba; an elaborate ordeal that consisted of flipping the ginormous pot of rice upside down. Thankfully, it landed perfectly on the serving dish!

I’ve never felt more at home

Sitting down to eat the meal we had just crafted with the guidance of the most wonderful women was magical, not least because we had done so while only speaking Arabic. Finishing up with a slice of basbousa (a syrup-soaked cake), we each reflected on the previous few months of living in Jordan as the pine trees and city lights twinkled below us. I’ve never felt more at home.

…Guatamala

By

I am a third-year languages student nearing the end of my time in my chosen Spanish-speaking country: Guatemala. I am currently working as a volunteer teacher in a small village in a rural, coffee-growing region of the country. Seeing where my fellow year-abroaders have ended up, it doesn’t seem like I’ve chosen one of the most popular destinations for those studying Spanish.

If you type “travel to Guatemala” into google, you may not discover the most reassuring results. The UK government website warns of possible violent crime, gang activity, volcanic eruptions and more. However, after various meetings with my year abroad supervisor and a (very) enhanced risk assessment, I can safely say it was worth the effort to get here.

There are certain aspects of this country that are unparalleled. For the past few months, I have been living next to Lake Atitlán, nominated as one of the seven wonders of the world, and having my morning coffee at the foot of a volcano. I have also found that the culture here suits me perfectly. If the students and teachers feel like having some kind of party or celebration at school instead of classes, they will simply do it, and classes are cancelled with about five minutes warning. I respect that. I have also found the people here to be incredibly generous, especially with their time. Whether it be offering their friendship, extra Spanish practice or even motorbike rides. Since arriving, I have never felt alone.

Although you should always take certain precautions, don’t let the information you find online deter you from considering Central America as a destination for your year abroad. Nothing can beat the feeling of hopping on the back of someone’s motorbike for a ride through the Guatemalan countryside or having a drink beneath an active volcano.

…Germany

By

 If you’re anything like me, you probably spent the run up to leaving for your year abroad scouring the internet for YouTube videos, articles and really anything you could get your hands on (even Durham has its own Instagram year abroad pages) of people describing this ‘once in a lifetime’ year. With a head, as heavy as my luggage, full of eager expectations of what this foreign country and life will hold, I embarked on my year abroad to Germany.

My first few days were as I had pictured. The idea that just outside my front door lay the untouched pavements of a city to explore and new people to meet gave me a stirring sense of excitement that brimmed my steps as I delved into the novelties of a different culture. Yet, as much as my expectations were met, as the weeks ticked on, there was lingering bitter aftertaste that I was not having the ‘crazy year abroad’ that everyone else seemed to have had and, by looking at social media, was having this year. As the initial novelty dwindled and I got used to my routine, an unfamiliar sense of loneliness nagged at the edges of days and I compared my small circle of friends to the large number of people everyone else was with. The experiences I was having were still cool and I found myself having so much to tell in phone calls back home. However, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by my year abroad versus my romanticised expectations.

Where the problem lies is that there’s a lot that goes unsaid about the year abroad. There’s lots of quite stressful admin, the fomo from not being at Durham and how exhausting it can be living in another language and culture. I am not saying to not fill up on the enthusiasm of what’s to come and I have already created so many memories and accomplishments, but come into it aware that it won’t be just a holiday.

…Amman, Jordan

By

I am currently studying in Amman and have been here since August. Throughout these past months, many things about Jordanian culture have surprised me and my (regrettably often misinformed) preconceptions about Jordan have been challenged. Before coming to Amman, I had my fair share of  “keep safe out there”s and “be really careful”s from many friends and family members due to widespread (and again, misinformed) preconceptions and homogenisations of Middle Eastern countries as ‘dangerous’. Naturally, these warnings, coupled with the underlying buzz of Islamophobia woven through western newspapers I read most mornings, made me feel slightly nervous about spending time here.

Inevitably, wherever you travel in the world, you will encounter safety risks and obviously, you must make yourself aware of these. However, living in Jordan has made me realise the importance of considering whether these ‘risks’ and dangers are sometimes exacerbated by cultural misconceptions, and to an extent, xenophobia.

The constant hum of anxiety I felt throughout my first few weeks here was fed by these misconceptions about the ‘dangers’ of living in a Middle Eastern country and also partly due to the immense culture shock. However, the more familiar I became with Jordanian culture, the less nervous I became. I began to realise a disconnection between the ‘dangerous’ and sinister perceptions of life here portrayed in particularly Western medias with the reality I was experiencing. The hospitality here is overwhelming. I have never experienced friendliness and warmth as I have felt here in Amman. Although I have learned that, as with anywhere in the world, it is crucial to approach any hospitality with caution (especially coming from men), it seems as though locals here go to any length to help friends and neighbours with anything.

The flood of اهلا وسهلا ’s (welcome!) I receive when entering any shop, building or restaurant is comforting and far from the insecure and individualistic culture you’d find in England. Although sometimes overwhelming, I feel comforted by the efforts of everyone here to welcome me into their country and into their culture – especially when they learn that I study their language. The importance placed on hospitality and kindness here is so immense that there have been many times I have had to fake excuses to leave my landlady’s apartment, after talking for hours and being offered biscuit after biscuit and coffee after coffee and blanket after blanket when I show the slightest indication of being slightly cold.

The importance placed on hospitality and kindness here is so immense

In summary, my time here has taught me that whilst it is important to be aware of genuine risks and dangers in any country you travel to, it is equally important to remain conscious that the information fed to us in the media is highly selective. It seems as though articles and publications drawing on the dangers and horrors of Middle Eastern societies are abundant whilst material focusing on the beauty and hospitality within these same cultures is sparse. It is important to experience life within a particular country or culture before forming an opinion on it.

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4 thoughts on “A postcard from…

  • Hi all! Does anyone have experience installing the 6.7 powerstroke egr delete? I saw it in an advertisement, I want to try to install it but I’m afraid it won’t have the same effect

    Reply
    • Hello! Yes, I installed it. The sound is incredible and there is a noticeable increase in power. Highly recommended! The main thing is to turn to good specialists so that you don’t mess up

      Reply

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