26 February 2010

I'm in Brazil!

OK, now that I'm south of the equator, I know many of you are super curious about what's been going on.  But first, I'll cut to the part I know you're ALL most interested in:  DOES THE TOILET WATER SWIRL BACKWARDS?????

Northern and Southern Hemisphere Toilets:

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Duration: 00:21

Answer: Nope.  Though Montevideo's toilet was much more suction-y. 

This is a big disappointment to me, as I'm sure it is to you.  As it turns out, the whole thing about water swirling the other way has been exaggerated.  In order for it to work, you would have to do a lengthy experiment; and it's not likely to ever work in a toilet due to the water jets on the sides of the bowl.  Bummer all around.


So now on to other news.  

Saying goodbye is-- by far-- the most difficult part of traveling.  I've grown really fond of my roommates and my friends and I've even grown closer to my family, so it was really hard to say goodbye to them and realize I wouldn't see them again for about half a year.  I admit, I cried.

Packing for this trip proved to be more difficult than I remembered.   I usually travel with a checked bag, a back pack, and a small purse.  Somehow, hours before my flight, I ended up with four bags.  No good.  SO I had to do a final filter on everything.  Even then I ended up with one checked bag, a backpack, and a carry on.  I still don't have a clue what's taking up more room than usual, and I somehow forgot the set of photos I had printed especially for this trip.  More bags and less stuff?  I'm baffled.

I flew out of Chicago Wednesday evening to Miami.  From there I flew to Montevideo in Uruguay, and spent 5 hours in their airport, which is the nicest airport I've ever been in.  I would really enjoy returning there this semester to look around and go to their beaches.  From Montevideo I flew to Porto Alegre, which is where I am now!  My new host family was there waiting for me at the airport.

From Montevideo Airport

Airport in Montevideo, Uruguay (It's much better in person.)

I really like where I'm living in Brazil.  My host family built student apartments into their home, so I'm getting the best of both worlds: intimate experiences with natives while living relatively on my own.  There are six exchange students here: me, three guys from Mexico, and two gals from Japan.  I have my own room (which came furnished, YAY!), and my own bathroom (again, YAY!).  All the students share a common room and kitchen, which is separate from our host family's common room and kitchen.  We have our own door to enter the house so we don't disturb the family if we're out late.  Really, it's quite nice.  Our host mother provides snacks for us, cleans our rooms and bathrooms, and does our laundry (wow, I sound spoiled when I write it out!).  We also have the option of eating lunch (which is the "big" meal of the day) with the family for a small fee more.  I haven't decided if I want to pay the fee or not.  It will depend on how my schedule turns out when classes start.

I've met the three Mexicans already, but the Japanese gals won't be here until next week.  They all speak English, but I've asked them to stick to Spanish or Portuguese so I can practice.  One thing I've learned already is that I need to learn a lot more Portuguese before I'll be able to understand someone speaking at a conversation pace that's not artificially slow for my benefit.  :)  I'm told that once I learn to hear the differences between Spanish and Portuguese it will be a lot easier.  I'll keep you posted.

Classes begin on Tuesday, and I think I'm ready.  It will be nice to have things to do again.  

23 February 2010


This is in response to a comment from another post, which asked if there are any good coffee places in Muncie near campus.  The answer? YES!

As far as cafés ON campus go, there are two Starbucks available to students (as you might have expected).  Personally, I'm not much of a Starbucks fan, so I go to the Bookmark Café in Bracken Library.  I like their chai tea, and it's right in the library, which screams convenience.  To add to that, students with meal plans (which includes everyone living in the residence halls) can purchase food and drinks at the Bookmark Café with their meal plans.  Seriously, when I lived in the dorms I ate there nearly six times per week.

If you're looking to get OFF campus for your coffee, MT Cup is a good place to start.  It's located in the Village (an area just south of campus that has many businesses that cater to students).  They have friendly service and wonderful outside seating for when there's warmer weather. 

If you're willing to go for a short drive, bus ride, or walk, I also recommend the Blue Bottle in downtown Muncie.  It has a more "urban" feel than the places I've mentioned, so it can be fun to go down there for some joe, if nothing else for a change of scenery.  There are plenty of other places for good coffee in Muncie, but I've never been to them since I'm not much of a coffee drinker. 

I invite anyone who reads this to post a comment about their favorite coffee shop in Muncie-- I'm sure you have far better advice than I do!

Also, as a quick note about music, again I'm not the best person to tell you about all of the opportunities there are to hear live music in Muncie, but even in my lack of knowledge I can tell you there are MANY places where local musicians of all genres perform.  One particular event comes to mind: Muncie Music Fest. 

Again, if you're reading this post and know of any fun places to go to hear live music or poetry, please leave a comment and tell us about it!


18 February 2010

Things that Rock about College

For one, you can listen to your friend DJ-ing one of the school's radio stations.  That's right, I'm listening to my friend right now rocking out on the airwaves.  I'm so excited for her-- she's always had an interest in music, but recently she's really been pursuing it and that pursuit has lead her to hosting/co-hosting two radio programs.  Seriously, she's so inspiring.  Kids, this is why college is awesome. And *maybe* I'm a little biased, but so far she rocks.  She really knows her stuff.

On other news, I was cleaning up my hard drive and I found this video my mom sent me a few years ago.  It's pretty baller.  Hopefully I can get it to work. . . and it turns out I can't.  :(  Oh, well.  Just click on the link and download. . . it should be fine.   


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13 February 2010

Victor's House of Gyros and Pancakes. . . ooooooooooooooooh yeah!

So, I'm always looking for new places to go in Muncie for delicious food that's not very expensive.  My latest find?  Victor's House of Gyros and Pancakes.  It's exactly what it sounds like. 

My friend and I found it on our way to the newly-opened Little Caesar's Pizza on Tillotson Ave.  (Side note: Little Caesar's Hot-n-Ready $5 pizza=perfect match for college kids!)  Victor's is on the same road but on the east side.  Seeing a sign advertising gyros and pancakes, my friend and I quickly decided to eat there the next day.  And I'm so glad we did.

It seems like the place is relatively new in Muncie; according to this article the place just opened a month ago.  I give my props to the business genius who finally recognized that Muncie needed a gyro place (the next-nearest one is about 30 minutes away).  And this place is well worth it.

We were greeted by the friendliest people ever when we entered the restaurant, and the service went uphill from there.  Our waitress was very friendly and good at her job.  She was quick to bring us refills and clear plates, and was never over-bearing.  We both ordered the gyro platter, which consists of a heaping plate of lamb with cucumber sauce, tomatoes, olives, and onions, and your choice of three sides (I chose potato soup, rice, and green beans).  Seriously, I ate my fill and still had enough food left over for two more meals (my friend--ex-football player-- ate his fill and had enough for one more meal).  Each meal was about $9, which works out to about $3/meal for me since I got three meals from the deal.  And all the food was delicious.

My new favorite restaurant in Muncie?  It's Victor's House of Gyros and Pancakes!  Now I just need to go for breakfast and try out their pancakes!  :)

Now you have no excuse not to go! 

12 February 2010

What is Landscape Architecture?

I had the idea of writing about this from a comment from one of my readers (like you!!).  I'm studying landscape architecture, but what the heck is it?

Many people think landscape architects landscape gardens, but in reality that's like saying architects build houses.  Think about what architects do: they design buildings, make technical drawings, and inspect the construction of the buildings.  Now, just replace "buildings" with "landscapes" and you have the definition of a landscape architect in a nutshell:  we design landscapes, make technical drawings, and inspect the construction of the landscapes. 

Many of us see the landscape as a purely natural thing, but in truth much of the "natural" world around you has been thoughtfully designed and planned.  Some are more obvious than others, but each of the following places had landscape architects' vision and design behind them:


 Environmentally friendly ally in Seattle.

 Student courtyard, Chicago

 Fallen Police Memorial, Washington, DC

 Near the American Indian museum, Washington, DC

 Meridian Park, DC

 Constructed wetlands/environmental rehabilitation, near DC

City street, Chicago

 Public plaza, Portland, OR                                       Environmentally friendly gutter system, Seattle


Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle                               Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

 Public fountain, Seattle (maybe Portland?)              Another part of the same plaza

Ira Keller Fountain, Portland

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle                                                                          Public park, Seattle

Public plaza/constructed wetlands, Portland, OR

Troll under bridge (haha!), Seattle

Public plaza, Chicago

River walk, Portland

Public plaza, Portland, OR

Ira Keller Fountain, Portland, OR

ASLA headquarters roof garden, Washington, DC

Community vegetable garden, Chicago

Japanese style garden, Chicago Botanic Gardens

Contemplation space, Chicago (I'm pretty sure it's near or in Lincoln Park Zoo)

 The best part?  All of these photos are from each of the annual field trips I've gone on with the Department of Landscape Architecture.  All College of Architecture and Planning students have the opportunity every year to go on field trips to various places across the country to experience design first-hand.  Time well spent, eh?

11 February 2010

Distance Education and Online Courses

This semester I signed up for some online courses.  While I firmly believe nothing can compare to having face-to-face contact with my professors, the two classes I signed up for (Earth, Sea, and Sky: A Geographic View and Recent United States History: 1945-Present) will fulfill some of the requirements for my core science classes and for my history minor.  It made more sense to me to do these courses online while I'm in Brazil than to try to find course equivalents taught in Portuguese.  I've had my history professor in previous classes, so I am familiar with his teaching style and I know what he expects from me.  I've also heard positive things about my geography professor, so hopefully I will do well in his class.  The best news is that by taking these courses now, I'll graduate on time.  (Yippee!)

I've only just started going through my coursework, which is clearly presented on Blackboard (it's the website Ball State uses to handle online course communication between professors and students).  The professors have video lectures and assignments for their students; I've already watched a few of these lectures, and I'm impressed with their high quality.  Soon I'll have my books and I'll get to work on my assignments.  The courses I'm taking are 9 months long (there is also a 10 week "fast track" option), so I'll have to manage my time so I can complete the requirements to receive credit.  I like that there are no real deadlines for the courses-- this is ideal for my travel plans since I can study when I have time and let it be when I don't.  The biggest catch is that it costs a bit more per credit-hour to take online and distance education courses.  For now though, the cost is worth it to me.  I'll keep you posted on how things go.

04 February 2010

Best Advice to Freshmen

I had a scholarship interview today.  It went well I think; if nothing else I enjoyed gabbing with the Garden Club ladies who interviewed me. One of their questions has stuck out to me though: What is my best advice for incoming freshmen?

Looking back, I decided it was to explore everything you can.  I mean explore classes, activities, countries, cultures, friends. . . anything that sparks your interest. 

Best idea: come to college and don't declare a major-- even if you've known what you wanted to be since you were three.  Take a variety of courses in topics you've never studied before, and do it your first semester in college!  Be daring, take risks.  Give yourself the freedom to take ridiculous classes you'll love-- who cares if they won't count for your eventual major?  There's so much time to do what you have to do, but there never seems to be enough time to do what you want to do.  College is your chance, sometimes your only chance, to wander down any paths you can find. 

Freshman, I'm telling you now,  the best advice you'll receive about college is this:  give yourself the chance to explore your options.  You'll be surprised at how many paths are available to you.

03 February 2010

And the Next Chapter of my Study Abroad Preface. . .

So, after all the hassle I had when I returned from break, things are starting to look up.  The study abroad office found an angel to work with the three of us who are going to Brazil.  In fact, for the rest of this post, I will refer to her as "the angel."  I can't do justice to my personal gratitude to her for what she's done to help us figure things out for our trip.

For starters, her appointment as the person who handles the Brazil study abroad program completely proves I was correct about needing to work with the study abroad office for my exchange and the woman who basically told me to take a hike was very misinformed.  That in itself makes me feel better about the whole situation.

More importantly, the angel has worked diligently to get all three of us our acceptance letter from our Brazilian university.  She did an excellent job, and all of us now have our letters.  She met with the coordinator of our program so they could work together more effectively.  She wrote a letter for the three of us for our visa applications, and she made sure we all knew what we have to do to apply for our visas.  She's prompt in responding to emails, and when she doesn't know an answer to a question she finds out the answer rather than turning us away or telling us to ask someone else.  When I met her in person she was vibrant and friendly.  In absolute sincerity, I have to say she is wonderful and I'm so happy someone had idea of putting her in charge of us. 

All I really  have to do now is make my way to Chicago to apply for my visa.  Assuming that goes well, I'll have everything I need about a week before I leave, which is in just a few weeks!  Soon I'll have to start packing, but I usually put that off until the day before I leave, so in the meantime I'll just try to spend a lot of time with my friends.  I'm already starting to miss them. . . .