Thursday, February 20, 2014

Experiencing Indonesia

 Exploring another continent's Agriculture

One of the most important thing that one can experience, is living in a cultural context of harmony with nature and getting inspiration from it. Alexandra traveled to Indonesia to conduct research in her academic field, by the fields of Indonesian villagers.

Name:  Alexandra Mitsiou
Age:     28
From:   Athens, Greece
Trip started from: The Netherlands
To:      Indonesia
For:     Research

1. Your motivation to go abroad.

"I love traveling and this was a great opportunity to combine it with my studies."

2. How did you choose Indonesia?

"The choice was mainly directed from the research opportunities offered by my masters which was focused on the tropics but also from personal choice and the fact that I was curious to visit and explore this part of the globe."

3. What did you do there? For how long?

"I went there for 3 months to do a socio-economic research on the impacts of oil palm cultivation on the forest and the local communities in Kutai Barat district."

4. Your basic interest and background.

"My background is a MSc in Environmental Biology and my basic interest is in the field of sustainability with special focus in sustainable agriculture and food production."

5. The region you stayed.

"My base was Barong Tongkok at Kutai Barat district in East Kalimantan but I also visited for a few days Jakarta and Samarinda."

6. The best thing about the city.

"There is nothing exciting about Barong Tongkok that I could mention. It was more of a research base close to the villages where I had to do my field work. However, there were really nice villages close by where you could dive directly into the ‘Dayak’ lifestyle!"

Typical Dayak hut

7. The people.

"Indonesia is a very diverse country in terms of religion and cultural background, thus depending on where you are, which island or which region you visit, you get a different social experience. 
In general, I would say that people are very nice (sometimes too nice that they will never judge you or say that you are wrong); welcoming and excited to show you around and make you feel at home. 
The region where I was based is home of the ‘Dayak’ people and it was very fascinating to experience their cultural tradition, mentality and customs. They still have values about social bonds and nature that we in our western-minded society have forgotten or put aside as non-important or non-profitable. In their society, family is the principal institution that has to be protected, the elders are respected and considered as source of wisdom and nature is the vital resource to be protected and handed in ‘healthy’ to the next generation."

8. The food.

"A lot of rice and chilly! My favourite was the ‘sticky’ rice that is cooked with coconut milk in a bamboo stick…"

9. Indonesian nights out.

"If we are talking about drinking and partying depends on where you are; in a touristic place where everything is possible, a village where booze is non-affordable or in one of the big cities that are the best example of the dominant religion in Indonesia which is Islam. According to the ‘coran’ alcohol is illegal and consequently pretty expensive to get. However, in every big city you will find your ‘European paradise’ (usually an Irish pub). Other than that, good hang outs with nice people and friends it is an all-time possible."

10. Something people would not know about Indonesian culture.

"Again varies a lot by region but I would say something about Dayak people that the style of stretched ears was first launched by the Dayak women as an indication of power in their tribe."

11. Something you found difficult to get used to.

"The Muslim mentality and the fact that is not ‘right’ to expose your body as a woman even if we are talking about wearing short sleeves in the warm and humid Indonesian weather."

12. What you will keep forever form your Indonesian experience.

"The traditional Dayak ceremonies were a great experience to keep in memory. Moreover, the lifestyle of Dayak people in the villages, which makes you revaluate the western way of life, our priorities, goals and definition of happiness."

Friday, February 14, 2014

La Vida Cubana

 Researcher in Havana

Philippine is a typical example of the international type of person. Having roots from different countries and having traveled a lot, changing cities is very natural for her.

Name: Philippine
Age:    24
From:  Provence, France
To:      Havana, Cuba
For:    Research on urban agriculture and Latin-American cinema

1.      Your motivation to go to Cuba.

"Buena Vista Social Club, old cars and salsa, how original! Even before signing up for my master’s in the Netherlands I knew that I wanted to go to Cuba, so one of the first questions I asked the admission committee was whether it was possible to do research there during my first year. 
They said it might be possible, and I wrote to the Cuban embassy in the Netherlands, who after a few months responded that I could do research with a local university. 
I googled Cuba and sustainable development (as that is the topic of my master’s degree) and found out about the famous Cuban urban gardens. I decided to do my research on that and go explore the largest Caribbean island and all of its cultural highlights."

2.      Your basic academic interest.

"That’s always changing. I was always very interested in environmental protection, but then my interest grew wider, including social and political concerns, and eventually leading me to a mixture of engagement, media and arts. I got passionate about documentary filmmaking, and I decided to study sustainable development as a way to get a chance to investigate on the issues I would like to work on in a more creative way."

3.  What was research about?

"Last year, I focused my research on urban agriculture. This year I began a research on mobile cinemas in Latin America as a tool for social transformation. Two very different topics, but food and arts are both very important!"


4.  What you loved about Havana.

"Everything feels so different due to the peculiar geopolitical situation. Things seem to have got stuck in the past, which is usually a reason to despair for locals but makes the experience captivating for foreigners."

5.   The hardest thing to get used to.

"The excessive attention of people on the street was the hardest thing for me to get used to. Most people seem to imagine that any foreigner is a rich tourist who doesn’t speak Spanish or know anything about life on the island, and it was exhausting to have to explain things over and over again. Having no cell phone and very limited internet access was difficult at times, but it is also an interesting experience since one learns to live without much technology as we did in the good old times…"

6.  How was the place you stayed? 

"I split my time between Neptuno street in the center of Havana and a film school in the country-side. Havana was interesting but tiring for the aforementioned reasons. My last house in Havana had no electricity half the time and barely any windows, so we had a lot of romantic candle times. The film school was incredible, surrounded by palm trees and filled by young artists from all of South America and beyond!"


7. The best thing to do with company in Havana.

"Sitting at the end of the Malecón (the wall at the edge of the city facing the sea) on a warm night, listening to street musicians and watching large container ships pass by."


8.   Something special about the citizens.

"They have gone through a lot, so they are pretty strong and ingenious. Most people are cultivated, and no matter what they keep dancing, and even two years old children know how to move."

9.   The food.

"As much as I was traumatized by the culinary experiences of my first six months in Cuba (rice, beans and chicken every day and little opportunities to find better for acceptable prices), things are rapidly changing and I was pleasantly surprised on my second visit. There are now more imported products, and the introduction of private-run restaurants seems to be encouraging a little creativity in the cooking department."

10.  Something one would not imagine/know about Cuba.

"It can get down to 4 degrees in the winter!"

11.  A negative aspect of the country that you experienced or found out.

"The segregation between foreigners and locals. As a student I was allowed to take Cuban buses, but non-resident foreigners are obliged to pay much more for the same service on special tourist buses."


12. The best place you visited in Cuba.

"A little fishermen village at the eastern tip on the island called Nibujon, there was green grass around the houses and barely any commerce. A family invited us for dinner and showed us a wonderful place to camp on a hill near the sea."


13.  The best city you have ever visited in the world.

"I would say Amsterdam, Istanbul and Tbilisi. Don’t ask me to choose!"

14. Where you would like to settle down (if you’d ever chose to do so)…

"As much as I can’t chose my favourite city I would find it very hard to answer that question now. It is hard at times to be a foreigner everywhere, but I don’t imagine going back to where I came from. I’d like to be in a place with a dynamic alternative/artistic scene, so why not Buenos Aires!"


15. Your personal definition of “home”.

"Where I feel comfortable and alive."

16. Your tip or your warning about going to Cuba. 

"The value of local currencies, a convertible Cuban peso equals 25 cuban pesos, so don’t mistake the two!"

[ Photos by Philippine ]

Sunday, February 2, 2014

From California to Brazil

The Rio de Janeiro Experience

After living in a couple of European cities,  Lauryn, decided to spend some some time of her life in Brazil. The Brazilian positive energy made her love the country and its people. 
Having been to 3 continents, she now lives in New York City.

Name:  Lauryn Langston
Age:     24
From:   California, USA
Rio       De Janeiro 
For:      Learning Portuguese

1. Your motivation to go to Brazil... and why Rio de Janeiro.

"The first time I went to Brazil was to visit my best friend Marianna who studies at my high school for a year. At 18 years old, I went a 10-day trip to Rio de Janeiro to visit her. The moment I landed in Rio everything felt magical. The culture, the food, and most importantly the people; the people with their positive energy and smiles. Five years later, after traveling the world; I still called Brazil my favourite country I have visited. So I decided to return to Rio de Janeiro, but to study Portuguese. Januray of 2013, I returned."

2. Your basic interest the last years.

"I was studying Fashion in Europe then moved to New York City to start my career in Fashiom. I felt that I needed a break to clear my head so that is when I decided to go to Brazil to study Portuguese."

3. Yourself by the sea of Rio de Janeiro.

"My daily life in Rio othen than studying was to go to he beach. My favourite beach was Ipanema Beach near Posto 9 & 10. Me coming from California and the beach was my favourite place, but the beach life in Rio was different. I would go to school woth my bikini underneath my clothes, so that I can just study on the sand."

4. What is special about the city.

Month of Carnaval
“The energy of the people. For example, the hot days on the beach with vendors carrying heavy items such as food, clothes, jewelry, etc. and walking countless hours down the beach, but with a smile. So also have their personal shouts or sing to catch the attention of other but with such happiness. Also the colors, not just the beautiful patterns and colors of the clothes but the colors of the people. Everyone is mixed, which I find so beautiful and interesting. Traveling around the world, I haven’t witnessed such beautiful colors of skin tones, to hair color, to eye color.”

5. People of the city in 3 words.

"Love. Warm. Free"

6. The best thing about the local food.

"REQUIEJÃO!!! It is like a creamy cheese spread that I put on toast. That was my ultimate favourite. But the food is delicious, especially the Brazilian barbeque Churrasco"

7. How easy was for you to find company? The friends you made.

“Very easy. Other than my best friend Marianna and some others I met on from travels. For example, I met my friend Patrick just from a small conversation on the bus. We exchanged numbers instantly, then a week later I am spending a weekend in Angra dos Reis with 30 others brazilians at his vacation home for his birthday celebration. Within the hour, I felt so comfortable with everyone and we now all call each other the "Familia Angra".”

8. The best thing to do in the city. 

“The beach. But there are many things to do on the beach. Such as playing volleyball, football, train, surfing, swimming, and so much more. At night if you want to dance and listen to great brazilian music, go to Lapa. You can find different kinds of people all together. You can have beer on the streets then go to the bars or clubs and listen to live music and dance.”

9. One of the best memories in Brazil. 

"Climbing Pedra de Gavea. It was difficult, took 3 hours to reach the top. But once you reach the top you see the most beautiful view of Rio de Janeiro." 

10. Where do you see yourself in the future?

"I see myself living either in South America or Europe owning my business and living by the sea.”

14. What are you going to keep for ever. 

"The feeling of "love" that Brazil has given  and showed me".