Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Roy’s Peak »

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This is a picture from my very first hike in New Zealand and my first weekend leaving Dunedin. We began the day waking up in a house that was being rented by a couple wandering hippie types who were being kicked out of the place that morning who were all trying to figure out their next step. Our next step was up to Roy’s Peak. We began hiking around 10am, fueled by black instant coffee and two day old sandwiches from a bakery. The hike was a solid uphill climb for a couple hours. After the first hour a couple of us ditched our boots due to blisters. Despite a couple thorns in our feet and painful steps on the rocky parts of the trail, our quest was successful. Above is mine and my flatmate’s view at an elevation of over 5,000 feet where we stood shoe less and awe-struck. This day was the first of many adventures and many memories.

Istanbul Marathon 2014 »

This picture resonates deeply with my time abroad. I ran the Istanbul Marathon almost a year ago today and still feel a sense of excitement from the experience. The marathon is the only time of the year that one can cross the Bosphorus straight on foot, and it is the only marathon that crosses two continents, Europe and Asia. It was a pretty surreal moment when you are out on the Bosphorus bridge with tens of thousands of people and could actually feel the bridge swaying from the weight of all the people running.

This picture resonates deeply with my time abroad. I ran the Istanbul Marathon almost a year ago today and still feel a sense of excitement from the experience. The marathon is the only time of the year that one can cross the Bosphorus straight on foot, and it is the only marathon that crosses two continents, Europe and Asia. It was a pretty surreal moment when you are out on the Bosphorus bridge with tens of thousands of people and could actually feel the bridge swaying from the weight of all the people running.

Study Abroad Experience in Dunedin »

This is a picture that was taken over holiday break on the Kepler track in New Zealand. Hiking on a mountain track above the clouds was an amazing experience. The trip was made even better by my two roommates from in New Zealand and my friend Madeline from Willamette. There was no other group I would rather spend a week traveling with. It was the perfect combination and great views with new and old friends.

This is a picture that was taken over holiday break on the Kepler track in New Zealand. Hiking on a mountain track above the clouds was an amazing experience. The trip was made even better by my two roommates from in New Zealand and my friend Madeline from Willamette. There was no other group I would rather spend a week traveling with. It was the perfect combination and great views with new and old friends.

Karinjini National Park »

KaringiniThis photo accurately sums up my absolute awe for the natural beauties of Western Australia.

Although much of my experience in Perth, Western Australia consisted of the beach, studying, and being enveloped by my residence’s ominous planned activities, I was fortunate enough to embark on a ten-day road trip spanning from Perth all the way to Karinjini National Park, traveling roughly 1,500 km just one-way with twenty other international students. I would say that the road trip was one of my most favorable and memorable experiences. It was at times a challenge to live in camper vans, often going without showers for ten days, with little privacy but the sights I saw were of upmost beauty.

Often when people ask me why I would want to study in Western Australia, over the more popular and touristic areas on the East Coast such as Sydney and Melbourne, I can comfortably refer to the unique challenges and rewards that the West Coast offers. Since so much of the national parks and tourist attractions are spread out and difficult to access, it comes as a long-awaited gift when I find a place like Karinjini after driving in the outback, surrounded by dry shrubbery and red dirt for nearly 10 hours straight.

Karinjini is one of many of the natural wonders of Western Australia. It is the second to largest national park in Western Australia, and consists of layers of rock formations and sediments, interspersed with refreshing pools of fresh water just waiting to be explored and celebrated.

Since Karinjini was the final stop on the ten-day road trip before driving back to Perth, it holds much sentiment in my heart. It was a fun and celebratory place, and symbolized the end of my emotional transition from the U.S. to Australia, since it marked the half-way point of my semester there and at that point I felt truly comfortable and happy.


Argentine Salt Flats »

The picture below was taken a few days before we were to leave Argentina and return to the United States. We had gone from the jungles to the dessert, here we were at the Salinas the northern Salt Flats of Argentina. There are pools that are dug out all throughout the salinas, it is a tradition to jump over these pools, a leap of faith they say. My friend capture this image just after I had successfully landed on the other side of salt pool but right before I fell back into the freezing water. Abroad is a lot like this picture, a leap of faith. You’re not sure what you are going to find and it’s a little bit scary at times but at the end of it all every experience is worth it, even the salty ones.


The salt flats of northern Argentina

Jump of faith in the northern Salinas of Argentina.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum – Glasgow, Scotland »











10606190_900686656621125_2407140278550560573_nFor spring break, five of us took advantage of cheap flights and spent some time traveling around Scotland! This was one of our first days in Glasglow after spending almost a week in Edinburgh.



Shakespeare & Castles »

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 presetThis picture was taken at Kennilworth Castle, one last stop on our way back to London after we had stayed in Stratford-Upon-Avon and seen Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Shakespeare Company. We enjoyed a windy afternoon of climbing the ruins, enjoying the amazing view of the countryside, and went to the oldest pub in the town for dinner. We learned the story of the castle, why it was in ruins, and its significance in British history. Even in its current state, the castle was still beautiful in the late afternoon winter sun.

My Experiences With Dogs in Italy »

This past semester I studied abroad at Duke University’s Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (ICCS) program in Rome. We stayed at the Centro, a four-story building in the Monteverde area of Rome that served as our dormitory, classrooms, and dining hall. I had many fantastic experiences while in Italy, but out of all the experiences, some of the ones that have had the greatest effect on me were my experiences with dogs. I had two very negative encounters with dogs in Italy that brought back some of my childhood fears and have changed how I interact with them. While I still love dogs, I tend to be wary around them now and I try to avoid walking too closely to ones that I haven’t met before.

The first negative experience took place at the Villa Doria Pamphili Park. The park, once the suburban estate of the wealthy Pamphili family, is the largest in Rome and certainly one of the most beautiful. I frequently took walks there in the afternoon to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and it was always a pleasure to watch the birds frolicking in the pond. One day, a couple weeks after I arrived in Rome, I went for a brisk walk around the park. The incident happened as I was walking, deep in thought, down a muddy trail near the edge of the park. A man and his dog walked past me up the trail, but I was not really paying attention to them. The dog was not on a leash, but this was nothing unusual since most Romans do not obey the well-marked leash laws. All of a sudden, I heard the dog snarl at me. I spun around and immediately started backpedaling down the hill because the dog was almost on me. It was large dog with grey fur and appeared like a less domesticated version of a Husky. I came close to slipping in the mud as I tried to get away. Fortunately the owner managed to get between me and his dog. The dog, however, kept trying to circle around him to attack me and its owner had to keep moving between us to keep the dog at bay. Eventually it stopped trying to get around him and ran a little ways up the hill. It continued to ignore the shouts of its owner and stared at me menacingly as I backed away. As soon as I could, I picked up some rocks and a heavy branch and left the park as quickly as possible without encouraging the dog to give chase. After I got back to the Centro I sent out a Facebook message letting the other students know about what happened so they could stay safe. I was very shaken up from the whole experience and did not end up going back to the park for almost a month.

The second negative experience happened while I was in Sicily visiting the site of the ancient Greek colony of Segesta. Oddly enough, the coins minted at ancient Segesta had a dog on one side, referencing the mythological story that the city was founded by the descendants of a river god that would take the form of a dog.  That day we were greeted by the ubiquitous stray dogs when we got off the bus at the entrance to the site. We noticed that one of the site dogs was particularly well groomed, having a much thicker and fluffier coat than was usual, but when we started petting him we noticed that he had a large open wound on his side and fresh pink divots in his snout. This felt out of place because in all other respects, the dog seemed perfectly healthy. I wondered aloud what had injured the dog, and almost as if to answer my question, another seemingly friendly dog trotted over and then suddenly attacked him. It was so sudden; the attacking dog just latched on to the injured dog’s face without having given any noticeable warning signs. The whole incident probably happened very quickly, but everything felt like it lasted for much longer. It was horrible to watch, but even worse to hear. The injured dog was yelping and yelping and the attacking dog was snarling and then all the other dogs ran over to join in on the fun. I just froze. I could only watch as one of my teachers tried to shoo off the attacking dogs by clapping at them while some other students splashed water at them with their water bottles. The attack didn’t end until the site guards physically grabbed the first attacker by its hind legs and yanked it off the whimpering dog.  Even then, the guards still had to throw stones at the other dogs to give the injured dog time to escape. It was a pretty shocking experience and I kept thinking about what had happened during the rest of my time at the site.

While the two bad experiences I had are very memorable and have been responsible for the reappearance of some of my childhood fear of dogs, the vast majority of my canine interactions in Italy were very good. I remember the friendly dogs at the site of Morgantina, an ancient city we visited on our trip to Sicily. As soon as we got off the bus there, several friendly site dogs descended upon us with wagging tails. One dog in particular stood out: a cute little black and white puppy with a friendly disposition that I immediately named Oreo. Oreo was a trooper and followed us around the ruins of the city all day, sniffing inquisitively as we sketched the layout of the ancient forum. He was a bit of a distraction during my teacher’s presentations, but I think all of us were glad to have a canine companion. It was hard saying goodbye to Oreo when we had to leave the site at the end of the day. He followed us all the way back to our bus and stood by the door with dejectedly drooping ears as we got on board. I also met a lot of great dogs at Volpicelli’s, my favorite cafés near the Centro. Luigi, the owner of the café, would spoil the dogs that were brought in by their owners. He always asked how the dogs were doing and I even saw him giving a corgi some gelato. Most mornings when I went to Volpicelli’s for a cappuccino and a pastry a small dog named Layla would be sitting outside the café with her owner. I only got to pet her a few times, but it was always nice to see a familiar furry face in the morning. I definitely went through some dog withdrawal that semester. My own dog, Sammy, is a bit of a Luddite and refuses to get near the computer when I Skype my parents and I didn’t really get to see her for the entire time I was away from home. Despite my bad encounters with dogs, the friendly ones I met definitely made it easier to get through the moments of homesickness that semester.

Oreo, the cutest mutt at Morgantina.

Oreo, the cutest mutt at Morgantina.

Russian Mathematics »

The remnants of my classmates and I working on a problem for Computability and Complexity. The Russian pedagogy of mathematics emphasizes collaboration on problems that are often too difficult to feasibly do alone.

Mathematics is a special discipline in that one’s culture and upbringing rarely affects its content. A historical account can be shaped by your nationality, your interpretation of a novel can be affected by your race, and even the observations you make in a scientific experiment can be affected by your cultures (albeit fields like physics and chemistry don’t suffer that much from this). But mathematics has nothing to do with the human condition, and as a result, enjoys almost unanimous agreement as to what is considered “truth.”

So when I enrolled in the Math in Moscow program, I was unsure what “Russian mathematics” was. I only participated for the opportunity to take high-level courses not offered at Willamette. And while it’s true that there isn’t some fundamentally distinct perspective on the mathematics itself when studying it in Russia, the pedagogy and the structure of the courses diverges from the typical North American style. In most American math classes, you listen to a lecture, do a few homework problems that solidify your understanding, followed by taking an exam. The reason it’s like this is because this basic structure has been tried and tested over the course of centuries.

In Russia, the math courses are much more interactive. All of my classes had a dedicated “problem solving” portion where the students would collectively work on the day’s problem set, or some question posed by the professor. But the most important part was our reliance on each other for the homework problems. After the second week or so, the problems we were assigned were so difficult, that just every student in the class had to consult each other out of necessity. It’s not that the course itself is inherently difficult; it’s easy to assign trivial topology problems, but the university felt we would get more out of the classes by working on difficult problems as a team. One of my favorite memories was working with two other students on describing how to construct a universal Turing machine. The previous lecture gave us the definition of a Turing machine and a few examples, but it was sometimes up to us to prove some of the more substantial problems. Universal Turing machines are a core concept in Computability Theory, so I suspect that if I were to take the course in America, this would just be another lecture. This mimics how mathematics research is done. Mathematicians work on difficult problems and collaborate with others to seek new insights.

Furthermore, the classes emphasized the interconnectedness between seemingly disparate branches of math. This might fall on deaf ears, but the prime example I can think of is how contour integration of a meramorphic function around a pole is strikingly similar to determining the index of a singularity of a vector field on a surface. The central idea is that the specific geometry of a loop around a pole or a singularity of “nice” functions is not as relevant as the fact that the object in question is contained in said loop. That is, “nice” functions make seemingly infinite calculations straightforward. This is a recurring theme in mathematics, much like how one could say the desire to retain power is a theme that runs throughout history.

I would highly recommend any student at Willamette interested in learning how mathematics is done beyond the confines of our small community to study abroad. Whether it’s Math in Moscow, Budapest Semesters in Math, or even the MASS Program at Penn State, there are so many opportunities available.

A Brief Summary of Five Months Abroad »

“Everybody has a backstory. For example, though I am currently living in France and adapting myself to the ways of the French, I still like listening to alt-j and watching Parks and Rec while I get ready to walk the half a mile to school each morning.

Everyone I am encountering here also has a backstory. I only know them in the context of this country and these strange new habits, but I occasionally see pieces of their former selves fuse with the new. A small piece of identity worms its way into our conversations and suddenly its like a light bulb has gone off somewhere far away, reminding them of the self they left on the other side of the Atlantic. I see them watching it happen to me too, as I point out a store that reminds me of someone back home and provide a lighthearted anecdote as context. It gets a bit jumbled sometimes, but that’s generally what happens when you hold two pieces of your life together and hope they become one.

Much in the same way, Lille (and, consequently, France) has a backstory too. You can see it in the cracks snaking between the cobblestones and the paint chips flaking from buildings. I have been here for a long time, the city seems to whisper as you drift through its worn streets. I have been here, and here I will continue to be.

Today, though, the city didn’t need to whisper because its inhabitants did all the talking.

When we arrived downtown, we stumbled right out of the metro and into a crowd of people. They were all dressed in black and many of them held signs reading the same thing: Je suis Charlie. 

It’s not often that you see a group of people who both share a common goal and carry identical signs. But here they were marching before us—sometimes silent, sometimes clapping in unison, always united. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I both felt privileged to be witnessing such an event and like a child trying to sit at the adult table during a family holiday.

In this tumultuous and tragic time for French history, I feel it is very important for me to remember where my place is. I am just a visitor to this country. I, shamefully, do not know nearly enough about its history or politics to truly understand what’s going on. I can only take my experiences and hypothesize about that which I do not know. But I can also be respectful.

I am attending classes with both other exchange students and French students. I navigate the metro with a tinge of green in my cheeks as I try to act like I know what I’m doing. I eat at creperies and try new foods and learn to recognize food labels at the grocery store. I drop whole loaves of fresh bread into puddles after walking half a mile home from a poorly timed and very rainy grocery run. I go to the discothèques and bop around cluelessly as those around me belt out a song I don’t know and wonder why it’s followed by an American pop song from the 80’s. I sleep through the night or I don’t sleep at all and I come in each day and feel more at ease when I see the fifty-five photos I’ve plastered to my walls. And even just one week later I couldn’t be more different from the person I started as on the other side of the security gate.

But in the end, I am still just a guest in this city, treading carefully over eggshells that have already been broken. And I know that some of those pieces have already worked their way through my shoes and flesh and stumbled into my soul. But I think that’s the beauty of this whole adventure. Because isn’t that kind of what I wanted in the first place?”

When I first wrote this blog post on January 10th, I only had an inkling of an idea just how much going abroad would impact me. But the sentiments I expressed here do, I think, a good job of summarizing what study abroad was like for me. It was simultaneously the most difficult and thrilling adventure I have ever been privileged enough to experience, and this is in large part because of the people and places I encountered along the way. But it is also because of the parts of myself that I uncovered through my travels, and how those parts of myself fused with the new things I was discovering to create an irreplaceable experience and, ultimately, a new version of me (pictured below).