I am really very fortunate to have had so many opportunities to travel abroad. I am fortunate that most of these have been for periods of time log enough to see at least one season change. Speaking with fellow affiliate students here at UCL I often get the impression that they are treating London as a staging point for further travels; to ireland, throughout the UK and over to Continental Europe. Having arrived at what equates to the midpoint in the teaching curriculum here at UCL, it is often surprising just how much of the coming months will be taken up not by days in which we are expected to attend class, but reading weeks, easter vacations and an entire term dedicated to essays and end of term examinations. So, it is understandable that the attention of my fellow affiliate students has been caught by the reasonably priced train tickets, flights to the continent or school-organized weekend trips. Maybe its just my attempt at budgeting in an expensive city but I find myself wondering more and more what there is in London that has the potential to speak to the heart of British Culture. It is an international city no mistaking it and this in and of itself is fascinating (and delicious), but Im still curious what more London has to say about itself.
I have been able to attend both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Ballet in the past few days and if one is looking for culture, these are certainly brimming with it. The home of the LSO was built in the post-war boom of the 1950s and the theater has some of the best acoustics I have encountered. The orchestra itself is famous for a lot of things, most recently performing with Mr. Bean at the Olympics this summer. The Ballet, whose home is at the Royal Opera House overlooking Covent Garden, gives the impression of tradition. The building itself is grand and intimidating. I felt underdressed when I walked in and I was wearing a jacket and tie. The students sitting next to me in fleece pullovers and sweatpants made me feel a little better though.
Today I got out of the center of town and went for a walk in Hampstead Heath, a large park with enormous green spaces, very old woods and year round bathing ponds (I plan on trying these next week). Here are just a few recent photos. Enjoy.
And yes, there is a female bathing pond. And one for nude bathing…
Well another week has flown by. It is hard to believe that it has already been 4 weeks since we all arrived. More and more, I find myself settling into a comfy routine: classes everyday but wednesday, museum and other “touristy” things midweek to avoid the international hoards of people and finally some cross country running (to balance out these hearty english foods) and grocery shopping on the weekend.
As I mentioned, we have classes on most days of the week but the structures of these are very different from those at Stony Brook. Each module (one of the plethora of terms which refer to what we would term a course of class in the U.S.) meets once a week for 2 hours. The rest of the time expected from each student is outside of class periods (reading, lab or research time etc.) and takes a bit of getting used to, especially for someone like me who is used to spending the majority of ones time during the week actually sitting in class.
We Stony Brook students are enrolled in the Institute of Archaeology through which we are required to take at least 50 % of our courses. In retrospect, a single semester (or 2 terms in a trimester system, which UCL employs) is far too little time to really get to know a department, especially one so large and diverse as this. Nevertheless the courses I am enrolled in are fascinating.
One of these looks at the archaeology of London itself, through site visits to many of London’s famous sites that have lasted since before the Great Fire of 1666 (which destroyed mostly everything in the old City). Another will involve archaeological fieldwork in Sussex in may, for which I am very excited.
Generally speaking, the courses here are far less geared toward a traditional liberal arts education than are those in american institutions. They are designed to provide a focus for student’s interest and education. The fact that I am in an institute of archaeology whereas U.S. institutions have very few of these and the subject is incorporated into a more general anthropology degree, is a testament to this. Nonetheless, I am enjoying the range and diversity of the archaeology courses here ( I myself am taking exclusively archaeology courses, although as I said this is not a prerequisite for enrollment).
Otherwise, I am still walking everywhere and seeing a lot of this city. London’s heritage trail is long and complicated, constantly rewritten by fire and recent development. Some of the places I’ve visited, like Westminster Abby and Highgate Cemetery are great places to go for anyone interested in paying they’re respects to London’s famous dead. Here are just a few photos from these, and other interesting places.
Its hard to believe that the amazing experience of study abroad in Costa Rica, with the amazing GREEN program is now over. Its hard to believe ago that this view of Lake Arenal and the volcano was a regular sight less than one week ago. Its hard to believe that I had such a great experience that most of this mandatory documentation of experience (known as a blog) has been left to the past tense. Let’s just agree that there wasn’t much wifi… The lake in this image was once a valley, with a thriving community. A river was damned, a town relocated, and a major hydro-electric system (a reason for our trip) was installed. No one said that renewable energies don’t cause collateral damage, and, you cant make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
So I’ve been here at TBI for a couple of days now and its starting to feel like home. I think we’ve gotten into a proper rhythm of things, classes, meals etc. The first night here was confusing, it was very dark despite the waxing moon and some cabins and trees that seemed useful landmarks in the day had faded into the gloom while peripheral buildings that had gone unnoticed during the day had lights on. The effect was disorienting, and noone had a flashlight strong enough to illuminate the whole way from one building to the next, meaning that those of us congregated in the classroom and computer lab had no idea which way to turn to get to bed. Now, just 4 days later, we could all probably navigate between the buildings blindfolded if it weren’t for the presence of brambles and the fear of scorpions. Of course the nights are also brighter now, the moon is nearly full and at night the moonbeams make the pale tan sand glow silver except in the shadows of the buildings and the acacia trees.
The first class we’re taking is African Ecology with professor Dino (That’s Dee-no, not Die-no) Martins. He takes us out into the field as often as possible, we spent the last few days doing transects and counting seed pods on spiny Indigofera shrubs, comparing the health of plants inside the fenced compound of TBI and outside the fence, where goats and camels are. The difference in the health of the vegetation is quite stark, and while I had been aware of the threat of unsustainable overgrazing in a general sense, it was another thing entirely to witness the environmental impacts of overgrazing firsthand.
With the first week of classes almost done we’ve started to spend time planning and outlining methods for the “independent” research projects we will be doing for Dr. Matin’s class. I put independent in quotes because while each of us will be testing a hypothesis and presenting our findings solo, we have divided into small groups for the purpose of data collection. Meagan, Lyanna and Nat will be collecting mosquito data with me and we will each try to test our own hypothesis from the data we have jointly collected. I spent the afternoon doing background readings on mosquito behavior for my project which will concern the hypothesis that different ratios of mosquito species will be found inside and outside human habitations. While it is known that Malaria, Dengue, and Yellow fever are present in the area around Lodwar and Turkana, very little research has actually been done on the disease vectors in this part of Kenya. We’ll be collecting our first data tomorrow after a day trip to look at how insect communities have been affected in an area that recently experienced rainfall.
Next post will probably be in a few days, and will cover the trip from New York to Turkana.
I woke up on Tuesday full of excitement because it was the day we were finally going to see the wind turbines. Basically every day so far in Costa Rica, we have been able to see the wind turbines from a distance, but it is a completely different experience to see them up close, and to have one of the engineers you about it. To add to the good day, we had eggs with rice and beans for breakfast yum yum. Frank gave us a lesson on wind power, and then we set off for the wind farm. The particular wind farm we visited was built in 1999, and it had 32 horizontal axis wind turbines, which is on the large end of the spectrum for wind farms. The engineer took us all into the control room and told us about the facility. He explained that the turbines begin to generate electricity with wind speeds of 4 m/s and stop generating electricity when wind speeds exceed 25 m/s for safety purposes. He also explained to us that the turbines undergo maintenance three times per year. The overall life span of a wind turbine is approximately 20 years, so the facility we visited will need to be replaced in about six years. After the engineer finished his presentation, we took some group pictures and got onto the bus. Reuban drove us along the road that circled the wind farm. We returned back to the area outside of the control room for more pictures and snacks compliments of the wind turbine engineers.
For lunch we went into downtown Tilaran, and had some free time to shop and eat lunch on our own. We all split up to scope out the lunch options, and settled on a tiny cafe a block or so away. This cafe actually had a buger with fries on the menu, so of course I ordered it for lunch. When it came out, the burger was not a traditional beer burger. It had a chicken nugget patty with a slice of actual ham and cheese on top. It was not what I was expecting at all, but I still enjoyed it. I spent the rest of the time in Tilaran checking out the little shops and buying souvenirs to bring home.The pool area at Volcano Brewing Hotel was still pretty sunny when we returned from town, so we all went outside to get some sun. Once the pool area was overcome with shade, I took out my notebook and finished some work poolside. Another GREEN group met us for dinner at Volcano Brewing. We all had a big bonfire with some more Costa Rican Smores for dessert.
I’m never sure how honest to be when I’m writing like this. My first post on this blog is supposed to explain a bit about who I am and why I wanted to participate in the study abroad program at the Turkana Basin Institute. Well, my name is Timothy, and I am finishing my 5th year at Stony Brook University, anticipating graduating at the end of this semester with a double major in History and Anthropology. I wanted to participate in this program because I wanted to go to Kenya. That’s about it. Maybe I’m supposed to say something about meeting new people, or learning from a variety of prestigious professors or improving my resume for jobs and graduate school applications, I don’t know. I saw all of those things as nice bonuses, but for me there was a degree to which all of those factors felt like post hoc justifications; “reasons” I could pretend to give to justify a decision I had already made. I think I had decided to go to the Turkana Basin Institute from the moment I learned that it existed. I had already done the Stony Brook University study abroad in Madagascar and I had loved every second of it, so as soon as I learned that there was a second semester-long Stony Brook program in Africa, I knew that I had to participate. I since learned that the TBI program related to archaeology and human evolution, two of my chief areas of interest, and that the Institute had been founded by Richard Leakey, a famous paleontologist whose work I had studied and admired. These were further bonuses to be sure, but if I am honest not the reasons I am here. I came to Kenya because it called to me and I felt compelled to answer.
I hope that you enjoy reading this blog for the next several weeks as I describe my life and studies in Kenya. For the next couple days expect a flurry of posts which will then fall into a more regular weekly pattern. I currently have something of a backlog of notes and pictures which I cannot wait to share with you all!
My name is Benjamin Smith and I am very pleased to be blogging about my experiences here at University College of London Institute of Archaeology. There a great many interesting and exciting things to write about here concerning both UCL and London itself, not least of which is the glorious tradition of afternoon tea which I’m enjoying at this very moment. However, first you’ll have to indulge me in a few introductions.
I am a third year anthropology major at Stony Brook with a focus in prehistoric archaeology and with a particular interest in the archaeology of Africa and the old world. This is the second study abroad program I have participated in through Stony Brook and my third overall. I participated in the inaugural Turkana Basin Institute field school (for which I also wrote a blog) in northern Kenya in the spring of 2011 and before that, lived in Alsace France for a semester.
My fellow Stony Brook students and I have been here for about 3 weeks now and have (as far as I know) settled in very nicely. As I hope to go on into a career in archaeology I was attracted to this program from before I even came to Stony Brook. Programs with a focus in archaeology are rare in the U.S and I was very intrigued by the prospect of a study abroad program that had such a focus. As I later came to realize, the academic traditions between the practice of archaeology in the U.S and that in Britain and Continental Europe are often somewhat different and I felt that my education would benefit from as much exposure to these as possible.
Aside from my specific academic interests, I seek out every opportunity to travel and have been fortunate enough to have done quite a lot of it. As with many Study Abroad alumni I often return with a great appreciation of my experience and a frustratingly one dimensional response of “it was fantastic” when asked abut the experience. I am driven to see new places and learn from the history and cultures of different people. Britain’s deep history and the vibrancy of London have made these past few weeks a whirlwind of new and interesting places. I could write pages about each site I have visited so far. These include most recently Cambridge, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Camden Market, Trafalger Square and the National Gallery, the British Library (one of my two favorite buildings in London, the other being St. Pancras station) and the British Museum. My notebook has accumulated an interesting assortment of facts ranging from the awe inspiring (the Coronation Chair and altar mural in Westminster Abbey remain in use and unaltered since the time of Edward I, 1268 and 1296 respectively ) to the charmingly mundane (there is half a luggage trolly stuck between platforms 9 and 10 of Kings Cross station). The breakfasts have been superb, and the pubs have been warm and welcoming (as have people).
Below are just a few photos I have taken (something I am usually terrible at remembering to do). Next week I’ll talk a bit more about UCL and the Institute of Archaeology. Until then, best wishes!
Today will surely be one to remember. It will definitely stick out as a very interesting day. We started off with an omelet and toast breakfast and then went off to enjoy our days. I went right to the beach and spent time floating with the waves with a few other people. The sun shined across the water and terns and pelicans flew by snapping up little fish. There were points in time where we could see little fish jumping out of the water as waves came and terns snatching them up. There was a point in time when I could feel fish hitting my legs and when I saw a tern grab one literally one foot in front of me as waves crashed down in the area around us. After lounging around for a bit, some of us headed to the town of Tamarindo to check out the shops and get lunch. To get to Tamarindo we had to walk across the beach and pay 500 colones to ride across a small channel to another side of the beach. I actually forgot my flip flops so I had to walk through the hot pavement and gravel roads of Tamarindo barefoot; it was fine though because I had been going barefoot often in the last week. So I survived the trip to Tamardino to then enjoy more time at the beach flowing with the waves while watching surfers. I constantly appreciated the beautiful view of the beach and the warmth of the water and sun. After relaxing on the beach of Tamarindo, we headed back to our hotel. On the way to the hotel two things were relevant: the low tide and the high-speed wind. The low tide enabled Brian, my new-found friend and roommate during the throughout the trip, to walk through the current and pass the channel to get back to hotel. As we approached the channel, the wind picked up and shot sand grans into our skin. We made it through the channel and headed back to the hotel (the rest of the group took a boat to get through the channel back to the other side). After getting back to the hotel I had some time to check my emails and get up to date. We then headed back to the beach to relax. The second time we went to the beach is when we saw all of the terns and pelicans. The scene around the beach at this time was amazing: there were birds filling the skies, the sun was midway through the sky, the sky was clear and the beach was open. After enjoying this beach time we had to a nearby beach town to experience a more local beach. This beach was very beautiful and had a lot of locals enjoying their time on it; it was much less of a tourist spot than the beach we were staying by. We walked to a section of this beach where the sand became shells. As we walked to this section of the beach we noticed locals throwing back beached fish. Brian and I walked over to check the scene and saw a black cloud of fish going in and out of the shore with the tide. We threw a few of these fish back ourselves. This all happened as the sun set. After it set, we walked back to where we entered the beach and had a great dinner. During dinner we gave our tributes and appreciation for the GREEN Program, going around telling everyone what we liked best about the program. This portion of the night really hit us; our trip was about to end and we had gained a lot from it. I have loved everything about the trip and appreciate everyone who has made the experience possible. Never have I learned so much while having so much fun. So after dinner we headed back and stopped at the food market to pick up snacks for the airport venture tomorrow. When we got home, everyone became settled down and started to check their computers. We had a relaxing night and before it ended I walked out to the beach and walked into the ocean alone. I felt very comfortable with my surroundings; the moon shining above me and the waves crashing below me (it was sort of a scary scene but it was really nice and tranquil). After taking some time to reflect and be alone I walked back up to my room, talked to a few people and started today’s blog, so here I am. This trip has truly been wonderful and I have been blessed for the opportunity to go on it. I have gained a lot of perspective and will never forget the people I’ve met here. Pura Vida!
I do not know where to begin about this trip. It has been the experience of a lifetime full of wonderful memories that I will soon not forget. Even though this has been my second study abroad experience in Costa Rica, I have definitely not experienced the same things. The last trip was to learn about the culture and traditions of the indigenous Bribri people and this one focused on renewable energy and sustainability. In both of my experiences I have learned a great deal, but there is much more to learn out there. I look forward to continuing my education at Stony Brook, in the time before that however I have a well-deserved day at Tamarindo beach ahead, along with a flight to JFK and a week to spend with my family and hometown friends. To anyone reading this that is not on this trip, I cannot wait to see you again!
My experience in Costa Rica has brought me great knowledge of renewable energy production and sustainability. Thanks to the GREEN program, the Sustainability Studies Program and Dr. Sperazza I have been given the honor to go on this trip. I cannot thank you enough!
New chapters in our lives can begin at any moment, there is a lot to change and of course it can always be done. I have been through many new experiences on this trip, all of which were revolutionary and different than the conventional way of things in America.
First off, Costa Rica has a completely different mentality when it comes to running itself as a country. Most impressive is the fact that it has not had a military since 1948, that is unheard of in the rest of the world! After WWII the United States was rivalling the Soviet Union for its place as the most powerful nation, its military expanded to treat lengths and weapons of mass destruction were developed. While the military was bulking its arsenal, Americans were buying into consumerism and amassing into suburbs. To my knowledge the Costa Ricans were at peace and chose not to worry about nuclear onslaughts, they set out to improve the sustainability of their nation. Phasing out their military was a bold move, it showed that they were satisfied the way they were and stood for world peace. Building an excessive nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out millions of people is not sustainable, it is destructive and builds worldwide fear and distrust. Living in a nation that had no worries must gave been great, from what I have seen the Costa Ricans are still worry free and Americans live to work and are hard to please.
I really enjoy the fact that at least 85% of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable sources. It represents commitment to sustainability and appreciation of nature. In the area around Lake Arenal we visited a wind farm, a hydroelectric plant, a geothermal plant, a biomass processing facility and a house that is off the grid. All of these different sources of energy are being harnessed because in there respective area they are the most efficient option that takes advantage of their natural surroundings with minimal impact. The diversity of the landscape allows for all of these methods to be used to harness energy. In the United States, we act oppositely with few exceptions. The majority of our energy comes from non-renewable sources such as coal, natural gas and oil and we have built our national infrastructure to appease our addiction to these dirty resources. It is both scary and disgusting how far expansion of civilization has hurt the planet and us as well.
Just on the bus ride back from the Brasilito Beach I had a wonderful discussion with my friend Tom who I met on this trip. We have pretty similar interests and have both really enjoyed this trip, the GREEN Program and what we have been doing brought up the topic of sacrifice. The example he told me was about having instant access to the internet on our phones and how we miss out on experiencing moments of our lives when we look at our phones to distract ourselves. Whether the reason be useful, productive, or for entertainment we spend a lot of our time being distracted by what we think is more important than the big picture. The grand fullness of the world around us cannot be captured and displayed on a screen or delivered through a window, instant gratification is not a way of life, it is a fallacy. When I compare my experiences between being at home, school and Costa Rica I find that instant gratification is not a thing in Costa Rica and it has done them a whole lot of good. It is rare to see people on their phones or doing much other than simply enjoying whatever moment they are experiencing. A pet peeve I have is when someone pulls their phone out when they do not need to, or when there is seemingly nothing else to do but watch TV or be on facebook. Nature is important to me and appreciation of it should be encouraged greater than it is in the United States. To finally connect it all to sustainability I think that human progress has severely disconnected us as a species from the rest of the world. We think of ourselves as dominant but in truth we are young compared to everything else and our resources are taken for granted.
What I really like about this trip is the fact that we experienced a whole lot of different things, all of which had to do with nature and sustainability. I always enjoy going out and seeing things, ziplining yesterday was a whole lot of fun. There’s nothing like flying through a rain forest and having howler monkeys growl at you from five feet away. Earlier today in Tamarindo, we were swimming and riding the waves and we noticed 50 terns were diving into the water eating fish. We got close enough that the fish were nibbing at our legs, it was fantastic! I witnessed even more of that just a few hours ago at Brasilito when an even larger tern colony and a bunch of pelicans were feeding. Those kind of things are the best. I have grown up experiencing more and more nature as I go along, it is part of why I chose my major and how I obtained a passion for protecting it. As I have blogged about earlier in my adventures, there is great potential within all of us that if utilized has the ability to change the world. Being on this trip has encouraged me to do better and tap into my potential. As a race we can change our ways, and we should if we want the world to be a better place.
The sun may have been shining but no one felt its heat when we reached the Movasa wind farm. It was full powered winds all around and a few hard hats almost got blown away just while getting off the bus! It was great to see the turbines up close and talk with one of the managers. He graciously spent a lot of time with us, talking and answering all of our questions even though occasionally there was a language barrier when it came to technical terms. We also rode around the facility and saw the cell of these 44 meter tall towers up close.
Throughout this trip, I have been able to see the many wind farms across the tremendous mountain landscape. It is an incredible feeling to simply look out my window and feel as though I am looking into the new world. Progress is right in front of me everywhere I turn. I can only say that it really brings a smile to my face when I see those blades turning beyond the hills. It is amazing what has been accomplished in Costa Rica and the U.S. has so much potential to harness the renewable energy that I have learned so much about during this trip. It is really beautiful how the people here want to use technology to preserve the country’s resources and enhance the environment’s beauty.