Italy: Love at first sight

As soon as I set foot in Rome on April 11th my heart was immediately captivated, and as I continued to explore new cities and towns throughout Italy and Europe I only fell deeper in love. My program traveled around to Rome, Florence, Siena and Bologna the first 2 weeks and then we settled into Vicenza, our home away from home for the next couple of months. And it truly did become just that. We became regulars at the café down the street from our apartments and our favorite self-serve restaurant. We spent our evenings on the terrace that overlooked the neighborhood piazza. We would frequent the grocery stores for group dinners on the weekends and kick around a soccer ball at the local park. Class was typically outside, drawing and taking notes and when we were inside we worked on our studio project redesigning a new building and Piazza for downtown Vicenza.  Although we were finally settled in somewhere that did not mean that we were done traveling. Vicenza was a short train ride away from Venice and many other small Italian towns that we would go on day trips. Lastly, nearing the end of our time together in Europe our group went on a bus tour through Switzerland for week.

The entire 3 months that I was studying abroad I never ceasedIMG_1300 to be amazed by the architecture, art, religion, traditions and culture that seems to fill every nook and cranny of Europe. I like to think that Italy is an architect’s heaven on earth. Studying architecture there was incredible. I was able to see things in person that I had only seen in movies or text books. To be in the colosseum or the Vatican for example, places that I have spent so much of my life dreaming about was surreal. What’s more, those were only two of the countless buildings my classmates and I visited and each one, famous or not, was a masterpiece in its own wright.

Moreover, what lingers in my mind more vividly is the smaller details that make up the fabric of Italy: like the narrow cobble stone streets, the shutters, the laundry hanging outside of windows, the small alters for Mary and Jesus that are mounted on to the sides of buildings, soccer playing on the television, ordering a cappuccino, the smell of cigarette smoke, the smell of pizza being made and the lengthy greetings shared in Italian with the coming and going of every friend. These are the attributes of Italy that truly won my heart. I don’t miss the museums and the buildings, I miss getting lost in the streets of Italy and the people, sounds and smells that you run into along the way. Being immersed in a different culture is life changing. It opened my eyes to new possibilities. Traveling not only made me appreciate things about my life back in the U.S but also made me realize where IMG_2012I see room for improvement.

The people are also what last in our memories forever, more than the sites and tourist attractions. I didn’t know a single person in my program and by the end of my 3 months I can call every one of them a dear friend, including my professors. People with different backgrounds and lifestyles coming together over common interests in learning and exploring to create timeless friendships. I learned so much from each of my peers, my professors and the random acquaintances I made along the way. I feel a new sense of independence that I didn’t have before this trip. Now I have confidence in myself that I am capable of navigating the world, but this is thanks to the support and companionship of my new friends.


  • Eden Haskins-Dahl, Architecture in Vicenza

Finding A Home Away From Home

Sophie and I are two public relations college students from California, studying abroad in Segovia, Spain, for three weeks in the middle of the summer. We had previously expressed concerns relating to our host mother to our program coordinator, Marian Rubio, an exuberant blonde-banged Segovian with rich burgundy lipstick that pops just as much as her outwardly bouncy personality. But even with her help, the communication barrier continued to make it impossible to live comfortably. Marian is the Site Director of the GEO Study Abroad center in Segovia, vigilantly working to ensure that each student has a rich and exciting homestay experience. She finds families only through recommendations from colleagues and friends whom she trusts, interviews the prospects, and then visits their homes to make sure the housing situation is a comfortable one for students.

“At the beginning it was very hard to find families, but step-by-step people started to know us and trust us,” says Rubio. She has an intensive process she goes through when matching students with host families that involves evaluating housing situations and identifying compatible personalities. Homestays occasionally don’t always work out as planned.  “The family can be great, the student can be great, but sometimes the chemistry is not there. Maybe there is a misunderstanding or a difference in thinking. But since I have more than 300 families; I can change the family for the student immediately.”

It is very clear to Rubio that when somIMG_1810[2]ething goes wrong with a family, it may not be the fault of the host family or the student. The relationship is always a two-way street. Often the issue is only that of miscommunication or differences in lifestyle.

“Our families are like your families. Some are very rich, and some of them are not. Some of them are very good cooks and some of them are not. Some have swimming pools and some don’t. Just like your families. Different,” says Rubio. This is part of the reason it is so important to keep an open mind when anticipating living with a homestay in another country.

Micah Collamer, a college student studying in Segovia, Spain, is taking three classes in Spanish: art, grammar and history. I met him in the lobby of the globe-shaped Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. I began to explain to him the unfortunate living situation Sophie and I had stumbled into. After exchanging only a few sentences back and forth, we figured out that other than both being students at the University of Oregon, an awkward living situation was something else we had in common.

To my delight, the process he went through to change homestays was fast and painless. He spoke with Marian, explained the issues he was having and went into more detail about what he wanted in a homestay: specifically, a big, family experience. Within the same day, he packed up his bags and was ready to move. “With this [new] family, it is 100% clear. If there is a problem, they are willing to solve it,” says Collamer.

Homestay issues don’t only exist in Europe, or only with American students. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Marina Olalla, the nineteen-year-old daughter of a Spanish mother who has been housing international students for over five years, had her own homestay mishap in America.

“My family was very traditional and conservative and wouldn’t let me do anything without the daughter. Communication with them was difficult; that was the biggest problem,” says Olalla.  So, just like Micah, Olalla left in search of a new family to spend the rest of her stay with in the United States.

Olalla can also see the mistakes that she made, “I think that everyone has to make their point, and I never expressed myself. I should have expressed how I felt more often. I felt they got used to me not standing up for myself.” Olalla’s experience shows that it isn’t only the host family’s job to make sure communication flows between both parties. It is just as important for students to express their own concerns and doubts as well.

There are multiple reasons why someone would choose to be a host for a student. For many families, it’s a chance to broaden their minds and experience new cultures without traveling.

“There are different motivations for different families, because some have children and they want the contact between the students and the children because it is a rich experience. You can learn about other cultures, which is always great, because we teach students, but we also learn from students all the time. Our students experience our culture, but we can also share the two cultures,” says program coordinator Rubio.  Emi Del Rio, an English professor at a university in Segovia, Spain, who became my new homestay-mother, says, “I guess that hosting students is a way of sharing our lives with other people, just to know how people usually live in Spain. We like being in contact with young people because we can see it in ourselves that we have young minds as well.DSC_7123[2] We enjoy just knowing other cultures and talking to other people from different nations. We love that. We love being surrounded by people,” says Del Rio.

Del Rio’s attitude and open-mind towards new cultures is exactly why Sophie and I now feel so at home in their cherry wood embellished flat. Their little, yet elegant apartment, adorned with photos, trinkets and memories of their travels, is constantly infused with the smell of traditional Spanish cooking, all thanks to her husband Pedro. Their friendliness and willingness to accept people of all cultures and nationalities is just as noticeable in the air as Pedro’s cooking. The two of them have yet to experience any problems with students. “We both have a positive attitude, we are open and ready to help,” says Del Rio. “But students also need to be open minded and understand and accept the house rules. That’s the idea.”

As my two weeks here in the Del Rio household come to an end, I can’t help but stare at my cluttered suitcase, sitting amongst even more souvenirs, clothes and bottles of wine that Emi recommended, with the urge to keep it all unpacked. Thanks to Emi and Pedro, returning to the U.S. will be bittersweet, as we are undoubtedly leaving a second home here in Segovia.

The Del Rio’s have future plans to visit California; Sophie and I have invited them into our own homes without hesitation.

— Alletta Simons, Segovia, Spain


BIMG_2791eing an experienced traveler, I look forward to every opportunity that allows me to discover a new city, culture, and way of life different than my own. Not only is it refreshing to step outside of my environment, but it expands the way I look at every new city thereafter. As a graduate architecture student fascinated in urban design, a trip to a new city to me means looking at how accessible the public transportation is, how walkable and vibrant various districts are, if public spaces are successful and utilized, and how safe pedestrians and cyclists are on the street. Every city handles these issues differently, and it is fascinating to observe and analyze how each city designs for public use.

Driving into Vancouver for the very first time down Cambie St – a large multi-lane street – the entire city slowly exposes itself before you as you drive down towards the West End. The various bridges crossing False Creek give an expansive view into English Bay and the surrounding mountains that make up both North and West Vancouver. Immediately, I am able see the natural beauty surrounding this urban jungle, and what a crucial role nature plays in an urban context. Cruising down into the West End, the homogenous style of buildings known as “Vancouverism” becomes very apparent –30 story towers with two floors of street wall podiums, known for bringing a human scale to these vertical buildings.IMG_2996

Soon enough we are driving along the beachside on a calmer road, looking out onto English Bay which is covered in parks, pedestrians, cyclists, and a well maintained beach side along the shore. Immediately I am impressed by the lack of a large highway immediately by the water – such as ones that exist in cities such as Seattle and Chicago. Pedestrians easily cross the streets with bars, restaurants, and cafés lining the surrounding streets, making for a pedestrian-dominated and human-oriented fabric. What a success! Next destination: our new home for the next 2.5 months on bustling Davie Street. All of us were excited the second we got off the bus: markets, restaurants, grocery stores and small businesses of all sorts line the entire street. Within one block of our home you could find everything from Himalayan to Indian, Italian, Japanese, American, and even Canadian Poutine. Small single story and midrise buildings with a one story canopy made me feel welcome as a pedestrian. Because the commercial lots were very small in size, you could find anywhere from 10-20 different shops and vendors on a single street – an amazing diversity within such a small area that you could never get boreIMG_2958d.

Piece by piece, I began to understand why Vancouver is considered a successful model of urbanism in the 21st century, and why so many desire to live here. Besides shops and restaurants galore, the city is extremely friendly to cyclists – clearly designated lanes are prevalent all around the city. In certain parts of the downtown area, bike lanes are even separated by a landscaped median, allowing for maximum safety. Moreover, investments in public transit allows a strong connection to and from the surrounding metropolitan area. These rapid self-automated trains run at 47 different stops, and 6 new ones under construction, due to be open in 2017. The investment in public transit also adds to future compact development along these train routes. By developing new districts in proximity to these Sky Train stops, citizens have an incentive – both economic and environmental – to travel to the city via public transportation rather than the requirement of a car. By promoting this type of development, Vancouver’s appeal extends to young people and working families alike.

Cities in North America have many obstacles to overcome as we head into the future – ones that prioritize public transit, mixed-use compact development that expands up rather than out,IMG_2826 and lastly, designing for the walkable human scale rather than an auto-dominant world. Having experienced all of these positive aspects of Vancouver, I have expanded my knowledge on what successful urbanism looks like in today’s world. As a future architect and urban designer, I have redefined my criteria of what a good urban street means to me as a pedestrian, cyclist and explorer. Lastly, I have better understood how vital it is to celebrate the surrounding natural landscape and climate that each city holds, and is built on.

— Maya Krolikowski, Spring 2016 Architecture in Vancouver

The Sea of Green

What better way is there to study architecture and urban planning than to explore a new city from the perspective of a bicycle? Mobile enough to get around effiSteamclockciently and yet slow enough to take in new sights, sounds and smells. That’s what 17 students and myself had the pleasure of doing for 11 weeks in beautiful, Vancouver, British Columbia. There I was studying Kinetic Architecture and Urban Planning at Emily Carr School of Art and Design.

Every morning I wake up to the city noise of Davie Street below and wonder what the new day will bring. I get to bike over Burrard street to school every day where cars and bicycles begin to truly share the road in a safe fashion. My ride looks out over English bay and beyond to Stanley park. As I ride over Burrard sailboats and yachts alike make their way in and out of false creek beginning their day. First Street brings high end automobiles and a windy road until finally I reach my destination, Granville Island. A plot of land unlike any other I have been on the island abides by its own rules, set out to break traditional spaces and reinvent public space. It is clear the pedestrians of the island own the land and cars must abide by them as people stroll across the road however they please.
As I unmount and park my bike I can tell it will be a busy day. Even as the public market is just beginning to open travelers from all over the world are flooding in to take in the island and its arts and crafts in all forms. I make my way in to the hustle and bustle of the market and decide a dragon fruit will be my breakfast. I stop for a moment to observe a canvas where a picture of flowers in a field is being painted across from one of the many fruit vendors. Never coVancouveruld I have begun to imagine the diversity of such a small island in a city. The market is packed with artists that bring in their crafts for the day with the intention of selling them to the public. The stands pack in to the already busy space where artists are selling ceramic tiles with paintings, pearl earrings, custom wood work benches, chiseled marble stamps and so much more.
One of the woodshops is opening up their garage door for the day and I stop to look at the work strewn about the small space. Perfect wooden spheres and tear drops are scattered about the room as the artists starts his machines to continue his work. The pedestrians walking past don’t seem to faze him anymore; once he starts his work he seems entirely in tune with what is happening in front of him. As I move further towards class an asparagus painted cement truck races by exiting the concrete facility adjacent the market as another strawberry painted one enters. The silos they park under painted like caricatures. Upon first glance you imagine a children’s park hidden among the towers and trucks as the rich colors jump out at you hiding the grit of the concrete industry that lies within.

Between the gaps of the corrugated metal facades the towers of Vancouver exist behind, lying in the distance and yet only across the creek. The sea of green windows looks back at you and becomes one with Sunset Day 1the parks the buildings extend up from. Silhouettes of bikers and pedestrians dot the rich green grass, some headed to start their days and others finding a soft patch to call theirs for the time being. A stark white sailboat’s mast splits the view as it cuts its way out of False Creek. The yellow capped logs in front of me guide me down Johnston Street and I arrive in front of Emily Carr School of Art and Design.

It seems so natural here that industry, academics and arts of all form come together. What better way to display the rich history that brought us Vancouver, BC in the first place. A city so young and adventurous it seems anything is possible. And as you move through Vancouver and Granville Island yourself you begin to believe anything is possible.

– Jericho Bankston,  Architecture in Vancouver, Spring 2016

Bike City

The next place we’re stopping is a street corner in Chinatown and Professor Duff is asking, did we lose people. It’s not that our tour guides are leaving people behind on purpose so much that it doesn’t seem to occur to them that this is something that might happen. Whether we have any losses is unknown as we hear about the history of development in the city and how things came to be the way they are today. This is still the first part of our afternoon and we’re riding the bike path around False Creek. The ocean inlet around which Vancouver is built takes its name from the easy confusion that this could be a river, especially to those of us from Portland. At our first stop, a waste treatment plant (a destination that earned some sidelong glances among us), we’re meeting our tour guide and leaving again.oswald_moa

Even in a city as accustomed and accommodating to bikes as Vancouver, the people relaxing in Victory Square off Cambie Street still do a double take when our mob of twenty bicyclists adds to the chaos of a busy intersection. Dinner today is part of the tour at what we’re told is the best, if smallest, taco place in the city, and we are not disappointed. In the instant it takes to lock bikes to parking meters and trees, the line to order is out the door, much to the bafflement of the people just getting off work and stopping by for what they thought was going to be a quick bite. When we get back to the hotel, it will be eighteen students with bikes trying ascend to the seventh and eighth floors, drawing what we hope is only mild amusement from the inconvenienced hotel guests who will be taking the next one.

Riding a bike here is another part of life more than a form of transportation. It’s from a city planner turned tour guide for the day that we’re learning that the expansion ooswald_curlingf streets to accommodate more traffic, thereby creating more traffic, is a popular trend in cities but deliberately eschewed here. The result is traffic got bad, then stayed bad until people learned better than to drive their cars. For me every morning, it’s walking or biking down to the water and taking a short ferry ride across False Creek to Granville Island. Riding the ferry on a weekend afternoon immediately explains the success of the business model, but in the early mornings on weekdays, I am frequently the only occupant. This is the quietest part of my day, when in the center of the city I am as likely to encounter a heron or seal or Canada Goose as I am other people. For the few short minutes it takes to travel between shores, I can justifiably not worry or think about anything, surrounded by salty air and waves lapping the side of the boat against the backdrop of the quiescent, still awakening city.oswald_courthouse

On this tour, food is a destination and our guide is describing our next stop only as “two-hundred and eighteen flavors” before darting into traffic and we’re chasing behind. The gelato place where we arrive is “international themed,” but no one quite knows what that means, even standing in the middle of it. The competition prompt is right away apparent: How many flavors can you sample, each with its own colorful spoon, thereby tracking your progress, before settling on your choice? We are informed of the standing record from past years.

The tiny park across the street can barely accommodate our class where we sit in the shade of blossoming trees and hear from each person what flavor they chose and how many they sampled, with those contending to win or at least hoping to medal displaying their spoon collection with pride. And as soon as we can catch our breath we’re playing soccer and it’s the last day and pretty soon it’ll be that I can only remember this. I don’t know it yet, but this bike tour — the chaos of chasing a tour guide around the city in a gaggle of bikes, following a plan that only murkily materializes and then just barely ahead of us — will come to symbolize my entire study abroad experience in Vancouver. While this approach is fundamentally at odds with the very core of my personality, I am able to accept it, and am better for it.

But the reprieve of this park won’t last, and before much oswald_aquabuslonger we’re scrambling to reattach our helmets and jump back on our bikes before our tour guides leave without us and we’re lost on the streets of Vancouver, left to fend for ourselves.

– Adam Oswald, Vancouver, Canada