Island Hopping: My Journey Through the Five Villages of Cinque Terre

Charlotte Armstrong, IS – Political Science, ’20

A few summer ago, I had the opportunity of traveling to Cinque Terre, Italy. My dad, who worked and lived in London years back, had a good friend who was Italian and had taken him there during his time in Europe. My dad wanted to take my mom, my sister, and I to see the place he had been so enchanted by the first time he visited. A tucked-away gem of five villages in the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre is off the tourist’s usual beaten path of cities like Rome, Venice, and Florence and beach fronts like Lake Como. “Cinque terre” literally translates to “five lands,” and the villages are isolated by the Mediterranean waters apart from the hiking trails that wind through lush, terraced land.

Riomaggiore is the “main” village, with a garden and a beach. Manarola is the growing site of many grape vines, Corniglia sits on a hill away from the sea, Vernazza is rich with gorgeous views, a plaza right at the edge of the ocean, and a winding stone tower, while Monterosso is closest to the “mainland,” known for its lemon trees.

The way to get from one to another is via these trails or by ferry. While I was in Cinque Terre, I did both. Though I stayed in Monterosso, the region equipped with a train station and a beach, I hiked to Vernazza and Manarola and ferried to Riomaggiore while there. The hikes are not easy ones— in order to keep sure footing, I had to watch where I stepped on the slippery, uneven rocks, between the dewy grasses, and over the strongly rushing streams. Every once in awhile, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the village ahead. Stairs are carved out in the hills, which gave my leg muscles a real workout! During my hike from Monterosso to Vernazza it rained, a dewy, clear sort of rain with big but spaced out raindrops. It was chilly, but my hiking kept me warm.

The terrain in Cinque Terre is extremely hilly— walking to my hotel every evening meant a strenuous, breath-stealing hike up the craggy cliffs. Cliff-diving daredevils pepper the edge of the beaches, and the agriculture on the edges of the villages relies on terraced farming. In the streets of the villages, you can find all sorts of artisan shops with hand-crafted pottery, embroidery, postcards and more. I bought some fresh pasta for my best friend, an apron for myself, and a little china bowl and tea mug for my aunt.There are restaurants and gelato shops, where I tasted my favorite gelato flavor in Italy: Fior di latte, a kind of sweet cream flavor. Most commonly found in the villages are the focaccia shops. Cinque Terre is famous for its focaccia, and the Italian locals say no better focaccia can be found in Italy. Focaccia is a kind of flatbread flavored with olive oil and salt, but the shops in Cinque Terre have all sorts of focaccia flavors: tomato, oregano, even pizza focaccia.

Because of the extensive hiking, Cinque Terre is, in some ways, relaxing, and in some ways, physically exhausting. In all ways, it is beautiful. The Mediterranean Sea is a vast and all-encompassing blue stretch, dotted with boats here and there. There are photogenic, colorful houses dotting the very green hills. Laws preventing locals from painting certain colors preserves the colorful architecture, only made more charming by the vines twirling down the walls, window boxes filled with flowers, and rows of clothes hanging from clotheslines spread between houses.

If you have a chance to go to Cinque Terre, I highly recommend it! I think it will be most beautiful while it is still relatively unknown. While you’re there, make sure to hike or boat to as many villages as you can! Your experience will be more rewarding the more ambitious you are with your itinerary. Most of all, drink in your surroundings. My favorite part about visiting Cinque Terre was experiencing the true, local Italian culture. Sitting in the square in Vernazza gave me a fascinating chance to people-watch, and to dip my toes into the chilly Mediterranean sea. There is no better way to make the most of your travels than to immerse yourself in local culture, and Cinque Terre is no different. If you pay proper attention to the villages, they will reward you!

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English Time?

Megan Cheung, International Studies – History ‘19

Over the Christmas dinner table last week, my family started talking about the merits of learning a foreign language. One of my cousins learned French in high school but when he went on a trip to France, he did not really need to use it because most French people know English and use it when talking to people who are obviously tourists. There’s also the stereotype that French people don’t like it when foreigners try to speak French because they can’t stand hearing someone butcher their beautiful language. While certainly a subjective generalization, this brings up a little dilemma many foreign language learners may encounter while abroad: should I keep on using the language skills I learned or succumb to the temptation of using English?

After learning Japanese for about three years, I was lucky enough to go to Japan on a class trip several years ago, part of which involved visiting a local high school and doing a homestay with a student’s family for a few days. I was really eager to speak Japanese but at the same time, the students wanted to practice their English. What resulted was a relatively equal cultural exchange, although upon further reflection, I tended to shy away from initiating conversations with my host family due to my limited vocabulary. But when we transitioned from being exchange students to tourists, it became harder to utilize our Japanese.

Just by looking at us, anybody could tell that we were foreign students. We were a diverse group of twelve, ranging in ethnicity, height, and fashion style. So even though we all knew Japanese to some degree, people mostly talked to us in English probably because they saw us as tourists and thought it would be most beneficial to use a more mutually understandable language. To them (especially those working in the tourism/service sector), English is easier to use to ensure smoother, more efficient communication. But for me, I wanted to test my knowledge of Japanese because being able to communicate in Japan was one of the reasons why I learned it in the first place.

Some locals whom I interacted with were surprised but gladly answered my questions in flowing Japanese, which was helpful depending on whether I fully understood their answer. But I remember in some cases, I would ask a question in Japanese to a taxi driver or a restaurant owner but would be met with silence or a comment in English. It was in these moments where I felt the most awkward because I found myself caught in an odd internal conflict, in which I debated if I should persist in using Japanese or concede in using English. Most of the time I would go with the latter option since it was easier for conversational purposes but I still felt inclined to show that I could communicate in Japanese. Alas, this is more difficult to do when you travel as a tourist with English as the predominant lingua franca.

For foreign language learners, culturally immersive experiences, such as study abroad, are probably the best way to effectively practice what you’ve learned. Even simply traveling to less touristy areas of a country, where English is not as commonly spoken, can be immersive. However awkward it may be, “butchering” a language is an essential part of the learning experience that should not be shied away from.

Christmas in the U.S. vs. the Philippines

Gia Pedro, Math – Economics, ’21

Christmas is a joyous occasion for thousands of people around the world. Each country has their own set of traditions and celebrations that they practice during the holidays. Since I moved to San Diego for my undergraduate studies, I noticed that there are several similarities and differences in the way Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. and in my home country, the Philippines.

Both the U.S. and the Philippines have similar Christmas traditions such as decorating the residences and public areas with Christmas decorations, putting up Christmas trees, and passing on the belief of Santa Claus. However, a lot of families in the U.S. tend to get a real spruce, pine or fir tree for their homes. Since these trees are not native to the Philippines, Filipino families tend to get artificial trees instead. Additionally, the Philippines has a special Christmas lantern called a parol. It is a star shaped lantern made of capiz shells and bamboo. Some parols are made with paper or cellophane. This lantern represents the Star of David.

Both countries also sing Christmas carols, gather for Christmas meals, and open presents on Christmas morning. It is important to note that in both countries, not everyone celebrates Christmas. There are a mix of beliefs in both countries. However, the Philippines is predominantly Catholic.

A major difference of how Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. versus in the Philippines is the food that is served during Christmastime. In the U.S., the typical food served on Christmas day consists of turkey and ham. The food also varies between families and regions in the U.S. due to its diverse set of cultures. Some families serve tamales, roast goose, jambalaya, and roast pork. In the Philippines, there is a special meal served on Christmas Eve called Noche Buena. It consists of lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, and rice cakes called bibingka and puto bumbong. Then on Christmas morning, families serve ensaymada (a type of pastry made of bread and cheese), ham and hot chocolate. Classic Filipino dishes are also served on Christmas day such as kare-kare (stew made with peanut sauce, pork, beef and tripe) and embutido (type of cured sausage).

The Philippines also has their own unique set of traditions during the festive season. As early as September, malls start selling Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music. The Christmas commercials also start playing on the TV. The Philippines also has a tradition called Simbang Gabi (Night Mass), which is a series of 4 am masses held from December 16 to 24. If one completes all nine masses, a wish they make will come true.

Despite the fact that Christmas is celebrated differently around the world, it still remains a time of giving and of spending time with loved ones. Even though not everyone celebrates Christmas, the winter holidays are a time for peace, love and happiness that can be shared with every person and every culture.

Across Oceans

Josh Arguelles, International Studies- Economics

My family moved from Manila to Los Angeles when I was eleven. It was difficult. Adjusting to a culture at such a formative time came with its own unique challenges. Having to leave my friends and my home to start a new life in an unfamiliar country was, at the time, confusing and perhaps the scariest thing I could have imagined. Then again, in retrospect, the culture shock could have been worse. Growing up, I admittedly was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel abroad (on brief family trips around Asia and summer holidays reluctantly partaking in an abridged version of the Grand Tour with my grandparents) and be exposed to cultures and environments beyond the familiar. I also–like most Filipinos–grew up in a somewhat westernized environment, considering the English language as a very close second language. I watched the same Saturday morning cartoons, got excited about the same movies, and logged plenty of hours on the same Playstation games as the friends I would later meet in Los Angeles. We would later bond over our favorite Cartoon Network shows (I, being quite the nerd and having an annoying older sister, really connected with “Dexter’s Laboratory”) and how we all wished to have been a part of the classic Nickelodeon game show “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” Perhaps the one striking difference about my childhood in Manila was that I ate peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches instead of a PB&J, an American classic. But I digress. Permanently moving to a different country is never easy. However, all of those experiences ultimately made leaving everything I have ever known and moving into a different city and culture slightly less alienating.

That said, I can’t imagine what my parents had to go through and what they had to give up. They sacrificed their careers and their comfortable lives in Manila. They separated themselves from their friends and families. They underwent great financial strain in the immigration process. They, without much help, uprooted theirs and their young children’s lives in pursuit of a better future. These are struggles that are all too familiar among immigrant families. Our parents have gone through great leaps to provide us with the luxury of self-actualization, but with that comes the immense (and often self-imposed) burden that the children of first-generation immigrants bear: to be worth all of their parents’ efforts. We must serve as walking validations that all of the risks our parents took were not in vain. But that is no easy feat.

In an economic climate that is starting to witness the American dream slipping from our generation’s grasp and a domestic political climate that too often views immigrants as a scapegoat for wider societal issues, achieving the actualization of our parents’ hopes is ever more challenging. That, however, is besides the point. We must be the actualization of our own dreams, be it (and I may be speaking for myself here) attaining a university education and then starting a fulfilling career that fosters personal growth, or starting a business, or spending some time seeing the world. Whatever it may be–and it is perfectly alright not to know for certain–pursue it in your own terms and in your own time. Here’s a PSA, a friendly reminder of sorts, for all my peers and especially those who share a similar experience: we must live for ourselves, in pursuit of our own happiness, and make our parents proud in the process.

How Traveling Made Me a Minimalist

Pamela Nguyen, International Studies – Business ’19

I was always a heavy packer. Many times I’ve heard, “You’re bringing that?!”, “You could fit a body in there!” and the old, “You’re only going for two days!” *Insert rolling eyes emoji* But like the extra person that I am, I loved bringing as many items as I could. I loved having unlimited options for every situation that I could have encountered. Whenever I brought multiple pieces of luggage, I felt like I was one step closer to becoming this glamorous, wealthy socialite jet-setting the world, aka London Tipton.

This past summer, I was going to do just that. I was studying abroad for a month in Madrid and planned on traveling before and after as well. My first stop was every girl’s dream: Paris, France–well, technically. The plan was to meet my friend in the southern part of France, and we’d road trip all along the French Riviera and then some. This was not only my first time traveling overseas, but also traveling on my own. I had just gotten off the plane at the Paris-CDG airport and found the train that took me directly to Avignon, where my friend was currently at.

As soon as the train pulled up and I saw the small entryway, I knew bringing the “Large” and “Bigger Carry-on” sized luggage was a big mistake. Coming from the US, everything in Europe was so… small. I struggled to lift both my overweight luggages up the three steps (I can tell you right now, those three steps really took the life out of me) and into the tightly seated rows. I had no idea where to go, as the only French I learned was from cramming a couple of sessions through the app Duolingo. But I figured I’d settle in the first available seats and shoved my two suitcases in the foot resting area. Moments later, a couple came to where I was and I realized I was in their spots! I didn’t know those were designated, so I attempted to ask people for help, but I would either get a muffled grunt, a “Je ne sais pas,” or a helpful direction, but one that was ultimately useless as I couldn’t understand what they were saying due to the language barrier. This predicament led me to strolling more than my own body weight back and forth through the train for a good thirty minutes before I finally found my seat: Car 15, Seat 84. By then, I was ready to just sit about anywhere.

Another incident during my two months of travel was during my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Dubai. I was checking in one of my bags, but they had refused to check it on the plane. They wouldn’t even accept monetary payments for the extra weight I had packed. I was flying to Japan, and due the carrying limit, bringing above 25 kilograms in my check-in bag just wasn’t allowed. Perplexed and honestly just downright tired of the inconveniences my hefty baggages had caused, I sorted through my suitcases in the middle of airport finding items I could throw out. After two trials, I was finally permitted to check in.

While travelling, I realized I wasn’t interested in buying anything, ranging from souvenirs for loved ones to the beautiful pieces of clothing the countries were known for–simply because I knew I couldn’t afford adding more weight and space to my suitcases, but also so I wouldn’t have to lug around one more thing that I didn’t need. From the items that I did bring with me, I used about two-thirds of it, one-third out of necessity and the other third just to prove to my friend that I did end up wearing the clothes and shoes I brought (even though I knew inside that I could have easily gone with wearing the same two shoes and a small selection of the outfits I brought). In addition, the products that I believed to be so essential to my skincare and makeup routine were more of a luxury than a necessity. I didn’t even end up wearing makeup for most of my trip! (European and Asian standards emphasized more of a natural beauty look and it saved me so much time so that I could venture in all the different cities.) The phrase “less is more” never rang truer than during those two months.

On my trip, I had plenty of experiences similar to the ones previously mentioned. Those experiences were a constant (and aggravating) reminder to pack less the next time I traveled, but also to know that I could live with so much less. Right before I set out on my first (basically) solo trip, I had curiously purchased Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I hadn’t finished the book, but ironically instead, I didn’t need to by the time I got home. In the first part of the book, she defines letting go of stuff you don’t need; how apt those first chapters were for traveling! A couple weeks after I got home from the trip, I was on my way again to visit a friend in Ohio. This time, all I brought was a carry on–and I was perfectly content, not to mention, a lot lighter.

Best of Both Worlds

Deborah Jeong, International Studies-Political Science ’21

As any bilingual individuals can relate to, there are certain phrases that the English language feels too limited to translate from other languages. As someone who grew up with a non-English language as my first language, it is inevitable that, at one point or another, such a phrase will come up in conversation and I will slip into Korean. Despite what the cranky administrators at my middle school believed, it was not (mainly) to gossip about the teachers to my fellow Korean friends but simply, an instinctual habit that was not, in any way, meant to be insulting.

People who hear me slip into Korean have a rather amusing variety of responses, the most popular being, “Wow, you can speak another language?” and “But you speak English so well.” It always baffled me, that even while living in a society as multicultural as the U.S., people seemed to view my bilingualism as an exotic ability. That’s when I further elaborate and let people know that I was actually born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States with my parents at the age of 2. Then the response shifts from bewilderment at my ability to speak English, to bewilderment at my ability to speak Korean.

Spending the better part of my childhood in the suburbs of Chicago, where there are not many Koreans, I only held onto my native language with the dreaded Saturday Korean Schools and, more than I would like to admit, my obsession with Korean Dramas. As there were not many other students with a similar background as me, I had always assumed that my knowing Korean was not that big of a deal. But it was after I moved to L.A. that I realized that especially from those who had immigrated at a young age, the degree of fluency in speech that I had retained, was pretty rare. The students around me who were actually fluent in Korean were mostly those who had come very recently from Korea. In between the recently arrived and the more “whitewashed” Koreans, I was a very odd mix – fully immersed in either “Korean” culture nor “American” culture.

And often times, when talking about when people immigrated to America, the labels of the different generations would emerge. First generation was the generation that was born in another country and immigrated to America. The second generation was the children of the first generation and so on, and so forth. As a child, I was always confused on what I which “generation” would describe me. In terms of rigid definitions of the term, I was a first generation, but this didn’t always sit right with me because other “first generation” individuals had a harder time with English and was more immersed in their native culture. But at the same time, I wasn’t a part of the second generation because I was an immigrant. When I expressed my confusion to my parents, my dad jokingly told me that I was in the 1.5 generation. As I gradually became more “Americanized” and adapted to the culture around me, he adjusted the number to 1.75, claiming I was American than Korean, now.

I suppose I am more “American” – 16 out of the 18 years I’ve been alive, I’ve lived in the United States. But as I began to fully embrace my identity as a Korean-American, I’ve found that the labels other people place on me because of my “generation”does not matter – because I can choose what I want to identify as. And embracing both parts of my identity – my heritage and my experience – seems to embody “get the best of both worlds” and I fully intend to do that.

Commonalitea: Finding friendship through tea culture in Asia

Sophie Osborn, International Studies–History ’18

In those awkward ice breaker games where you introduce yourself with a fun fact and frantically try to tie names to faces in your group, I have a go-to answer that I’ve found sparks just the right amount of conversation: “My hobby is making Chinese and Japanese tea in the traditional style.” This will usually elicit a confused “Oh, that’s unusual!” but every so often there will be someone who answers with reciprocated enthusiasm saying something like, “Do you like oolong tea?” Those moments of instant bonding over a shared and somewhat obscure interest are the reason I enjoy my hobby so much, and it was only when I went abroad for a year in Japan that I found out how this unusual practice can bring strangers around the world together.

While in the U.S., the idea of “tea” conjures up either posh British people sprinkling milk and sugar into a cup of bitter brown liquid, or of health trend-conscious urban yuppies latching onto more ways to add antioxidant superfoods to their diets. Unbeknownst to some, tea has a long history as the world’s second favorite drink behind water itself (yes, tea is better than coffee, sorry.) Originating in China almost 5,000 years ago (according to some sources), the beverage brewed from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant gained popularity as a drink and not just as medicine during the Tang dynasty. Over the many years, different types of tea and brewing styles developed depending on the region, and then spread their influence to other countries.

In most tea cultures, drinking tea is a social activity meant to be shared with a group. With the gong fu style of Chinese tea brewing, there are many tiny cups that hold only a few sips of tea that are served to groups of friends or acquaintances to enjoy together over conversation. In the Japanese tea ceremony, intricate and precise preparation steps lead to the brewing of one single immaculate bowl of matcha, to be served to groups that can sometimes be as large as twenty. Everyone takes one sip from the single bowl, all sharing in the feeling of gratitude towards the host for their care and consideration in providing for their guests on this occasion.

My own tea journey would not have been possible if I did not live in such an interconnected world. I first discovered the complexities of “true” tea (whole leaf, single-origin sourced, all from the camellia sinensis plant) in a small specialty store in Chinatown, San Francisco. Through the marvels of the internet I was able to self-study the different types of tea and teaware, as well as find an amazing community of tea nerds all over the world.

While I was abroad in Japan, I of course continued to search out quality tea stores and different tea experiences when I did some traveling, but little did I know that tea culture could also be a gateway to friendship. My most unexpected tea-bonding memory happened over spring break when I traveled with an academic program made up of Japanese university students to Thailand to learn about NGO work in the region. On one of the days we had a free schedule to explore Bangkok on our own, and my roommate and I paired off to wander the canals of the city. We eventually wound up in Chinatown, and as we were meandering through an alley full of food stalls with piles of dried herbs and fruits, we passed a small shop with mounds of rolled tea leaves. My companion turned to me and said, “Do you mind if we stop here? I need to pick up some of my favorite chrysanthemum tea.”

I was shocked! What were the odds of meeting a Chinese tea lover on an academic tour of Thailand with Japanese college students?? When I told her that I also like Chinese tea, she looked just as surprised! We of course promptly skipped over to the small open-air shop and struck up a conversation with the young shopkeeper about what she had in stock. We ended up spending at least an hour or so there, sitting down and trying different teas with the shopkeeper, hearing about her life story and why she moved to Bangkok. When we rejoined our group that night, we were practically tripping over each other’s words trying to convey the strange and beautiful coincidence we shared that day. Even after we flew back to Japan, my tea friend and I met up to visit a museum exhibit on historical Japanese tea ware, after which we of course went to get some hot tea at a local cafe.

Through what started out as a fun and obscure personal hobby, I was able to dig deeper into my study abroad experience and forge unexpected friendships. I guess the larger takeaway from this anecdote is that there is a special community for everyone out there, and while an open mind and a passionate heart will get you far when you travel somewhere new, an unquenchable thirst for delicious, quality tea will help you too.