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In Bearcats on the Road, students chronicle their lives while studying abroad or completing internships away from campus.

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Michael Cerchione is a junior management major at Saint Vincent. He will study in Florence, Italy this spring semester. 

Abby Bryant graduated from Saint Vincent College with degrees in Marketing and International Business in 2013. In June, she joined the Peace Corps to work as an Agri-business Volunteer in Panama, teaching business practices to local farmers. 

Michael Orange is a sophomore biology major at Saint Vincent. During the 2013/2014 winter break, he ventured into Mexico for a month-long study abroad experience.

Katie Kohler is a junior communication major at Saint Vincent College. In Spring 2013, she studied abroad in Australia, and wrote about her journey on this blog.

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IBIZA, SPAIN

  
  
  
At a Fiorentina Game

So these past two weeks have been crazy. The weekend of April 4th, we stayed in Florence and went to visit Santa Croce. Santa Croce is located in Piazza di Santa Croce, which is only a three minute walk from my apartment. The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world. In addition, it is the burial place of some of the most famous Italian artists, such as Rossini, Gentile, Foscolo, Machiavelli, Galileo, and even the famous Michelangelo. It is known as the Temple of the Italian Glories. Although it cost 6 euros to get in, it was definitely worth it. 

On Sunday, we finally got to go to a Florentina soccer game! Although the famous Mario Gomez wasn't playing, it was still a great time. Florentina played Udinese and were able to win 2-1. It was a great game to go to and an unbelievable experience I will never forget.

Ibiza, Spain

The next weekend was one of the best weekends of my life. Me and my roomate went to Ibiza, Spain for TRIPBIZA! We booked an extra night; therefore, we left Thursday morning and got there around 4PM. We were able to stay in one of the nicest hotels I have ever been in, which had an even nicer pool. Thursday night, we went to a white party which was awesome. The next day was even crazier when we went to the “Paint my body” pool party at JET Complex. We got there and saw just about 300 people at this amazing pool party. They had an awesome DJ and an even better pool which I was in just about the entire time. 

Ibiza Club in SpainWe went back to the hotel and showered for the ITACA Beach Club. The club was right on the beach and definitely one of the nicest clubs I've ever been to. After the Beach Club we went to by far, the best club I have ever been to, Es Paradis. The Tripbiza itinerary said it was a Water Party, but when we got there it was like a normal club until around 3AM - when all of a sudden water started spirting out of little holes on the ground and walls. Within 20 minutes, the entire dance floor had turned into a pool. Everyone was in the pool dancing and completely soaked. I have never even heard or seen anything like that in my entire life.

After a while of being in the pool, we decided it was time to go back to the hotel which was around 6:30AM, a half hour away from the sun rise! So my roomate and 4 other people we met decided to stay up and watch one of the most beautiful sun rises I have ever seen. Our room looked right over the beach and right towards where the sun rises. It was one of the best nights of my life. 

Sunrise in Spain

The next day, we woke up around 12 and went to get some breakfast. After, we went back and went down to another pool party at the JET Complex. It was just like the day before and was an amazing time. We went back to the hotel and got all ready to go to the famous PACHA Club. In 2012, DJ Magazine had a poll of the worlds 100 best nightclub's, PACHA rated number 3. The club was amazing and one of the best times I have ever had. The next day we woke up at 10AM to check out and catch our flight back to Italy. This week I have classes as usual and can't wait for next weekend when my family comes to visit. The first weekend, we are going to go to Venice and Rome and the weekend following that, we are going to go to Amafi Coast. I look forward to seeing them and showing them around my favorite city in the world, Florence!

SPRING BREAKKKKK!!!!!!

  
  
  

BarcelonaI may be coming off as repetitive by saying this past week was the best week of my life, but it absolutely was. But I won't start there. First off, the weekend of the 7th and 8th of March I went to Barcelona, Spain for the famous Abroadfest. Unfortunately, I was unable to get into Abroadfest because I wasn't wearing the "proper shoes," but Barcelona was still amazing. The city is humongous and the scenery right by the ocean was jaw breaking. We got to go all the way up to the top of a hill which overlooked all of Barcelona, including the famous Barcelona soccer stadium. We got to see famous tourist attractions such as the Sagrada Familia which is the largest cathedral I have ever seen. It began construction in 1882 and still to this day has not been completed. Other famous attractions we got to see were the Barcelona Cathedral, Parc de la Ciutadella, Placa d'Espanya, Torre Agbar, and the Arc de Triomf. All in all it was an amazing trip and definitely worth seeing. 

The next weekend we stayed in Florence, which was nice. We got to relax at the apartment and hang out with friends that are a part of the same program as us. It was a nice little break from everything and was just what I needed to prepare myself for the next weekend. The next weekend and week was spring break! My 3 roommates and I booked a trip through a company that is well known around here called Bus2Alps. We booked the Greek Island Hopping Trip which entailed ferry fees, bus fees, a room to stay in, and great tour guides that were so much fun.

Corfu, GreeceWe left Friday morning at 7 a.m. and took a bus to Ancona, Italy where we then got onto an enormous cruise ship. The ship is mainly used to transport trucks to and from Italy and Greece, so it was basically the cheapest way to get to Greece. However, we took that cruise ship to Corfu, Greece! Corfu is known for the famous Pink Palace Hotel. It's widely known around the world to go there for spring break. When we got there, we situated everything and got our amazing room. The room overlooked the ocean and island.

Toga Party in GreeceThe first night we were there was an awesome time. Everyone went to the dinner that was complementary and ended up being the place everyone stayed at to dance. However, the best time was the next night, when the Pink Palace threw a TOGA PARTY! I personally can't say I have ever been to a toga party, but it is my new favorite type of party. They rented togas out to everyone for 10 euros and of course, every person's toga was pink.

The next day, we hung out by the beach and got extremely tan especially since I don't burn. We left the Pink Palace around 4 p.m. and got onto another bus, which took us to another cruise ship that took us to another bus, which then finally brought us to Athens! I can't explain in words how beautiful Athens was. It was completely amazing.

Parthenaic Stadium in Athens, GreeceWe got into Athens around 3 a.m. and went to nap for a couple hours, until we woke up and took the complementary tour of the city. We timed it perfectly, because the day we ended up taking the tour was Greece's Independence Day. We got to see a parade of tanks, soldiers, policemen, helicopters, jets, and all that cool stuff. Nevertheless, the best thing that we got to see was the Panathenaic Stadium. The stadium hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It was really cool to hear about the history of the stadium. 

AreopagusThe next place we went to after that was Areopagus - the place where St. Paul preached to Athens about Christianity, which is known as the Areopagus sermon. There was a beautiful view from there, where we could see the Panthenon, Mount Lycabettus, Temple of Zeus, and the Temple of Hephaestus.

AcropolisThe tour was amazing and we were able to see just about everything except for the Acropolis, which we went and saw the next day. We went on our own and since we had our student ID's we were able to get in for free. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel above the city of Athens and contains remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance. 

The sightseeing was great, but what was even better were the rooftop bars that they had! Both nights, we went to a rooftop bar that was all lit up with a bunch of people there hanging out with a great view of the city. It was definitely one of my top 5 bars.

The next day we left for my favorite city in Greece, Santorini! Santorini was breath-taking. We got there around 5 p.m. and the sunset was around 6:30, so the Bus2Alps tour guides took us to a spot where you can have a great view and take plenty of pictures. We went there and then went to get some amazing Greece seafood. I got some of the best mussels I have ever eaten. Santorini only has 2 bars on the island and our hostel was right next to both of them, so we ended up going to both of those bars for the night and had the time of our lives staying up til 4:30 - talking to Santorini locals and hanging out with everyone.

Sunset in SantoriniThe next day, we took a tour with Bus2Alps who took us to the Red Beach and Black Beach. We stayed at the Red Beach for about an hour where we got to go swimming and lay out on the "sand". After that, we went to the Black Beach where we stayed for about 3 hours. The Black Beach is where everything hit me. Spring Break. We were just sitting at a table in the sun on the beach with hookah, a cocktail, and just a bunch of people having a good time. The weather was gorgeous, I couldn't have asked for a better day. We went back and went to another place for the sunset, which was even better than the first place. The sunset was like a screen saver on a desktop. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. 

Quadding in GreeceThe next day, we rented ATV's and went quadding throughout the island! The quads went up to 60 mph and were amazing. I personally have never been quadding and it was an experience I will never forget. We originally just went around town and then ended up at an amazing beach where we were able to go swimming and just relax on the warm sand. 

My entire spring break was the best spring break I have ever had. We got back to Florence on Sunday, and I have classes all this week. Then this upcoming weekend, I will be going to a Florentinavs. Udinese soccer game through my study abroad program. I can't wait to go to the game, but then the week after that I am going with another roomate to Ibiza, Spain for Tripbiza!

Czech Republic!!!

  
  
  

These past two weeks have been unbelievable. The weekend of the 22nd of February, I had an Orientation trip to Assisi, Perugia, Siena & San Gimignano.

We left Friday morning and first hit Assisi.Assisi was unlike any other city I have seen. There was a lot of history surrounding the city, especially around the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi. The basilica was built right after St. Francis' canonization in 1228. The basilica was beautiful and so was everything around it.

PerugiaAfter Assisi, we drove to Perugia, where we we had a little tour and then went to our hotel which was just 5 minutes away. The hotel was a lot of fun, especially since it had a giant pool in the basement, so as you can guess, I was there just about all night. The best part of the hotel was around 11 o'clock at night, when me and two other friends got really hungry and asked the concierge where the nearest place to eat was. He told us to walk about ten minutes down the street and there should be a pub there on the left. So we went to the pub and walked into a giant soccer supporter group. The Perugia soccer team was playing at the time and there was a giant supporter group going crazy over the game. As you can guess, me and my two friends joined the supporter group and ended up getting the Perugia supporter scarf to wear around. It was definitely one experience I will never forget.

Moreover, the next day we went to Siena and saw all the beautiful aspects of the famous city. After a couple of hours, we left to go to our last destination, San Gimignano. San Gimignano was beautiful, but overall the best thing they had was their famous gelato. The gelato store in San Gimignano was ranked the number one gelato store in Italy for two straight years. I definitely could not disagree with this because it was the best gelato I have ever had. Finally, after San Gimignano we traveled back to home sweet home, Florence. 

The next weekend was the best trip I have had since being here.

PragueWednesday night, me and my roomate made the spontaneous decision to go to Prague, Czech Republic for the weekend. The only thing I can say that was terrible about the trip was the 12 hour bus ride. The bus ride was miserable, but after everything I got to see and do, it was completely worth it. We left for Prague Thursday night around 8 o'clock, and arrived around 8:30 Friday morning. Right after arriving, we put our bags in our hotel rooms and went on a tour around Prague. The city was beautiful, we got to see so many famous cultural attractions including the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, and the Lennon Wall.

Lennon Wall in Prague

My favorite attraction was the LennonWall. The Lennon Wall is a wall filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti. The colors and creativeness of the wall was an inspiration. It is definitely on my list of most inspiring pieces of "art work" I have seen.

Following the tour, we went back and finally got our nap in. We woke up around 8 pm and went on the famous pub crawl. The pub crawl included free entry into 3 bars and free entry into the club of our choice. Friday's pub crawl was unbelievable. Me and roomate didn't know anyone going on the trip and by the end of the night basically knew every single person. Friday night was one of the best nights I've had until Saturday night happened.

Saturday night, we did a different pub crawl that included free entry into 3 bars again and then free entry into Prague's famous 5-story club, Karlovy Lazn. Karlovy Lazn is the largest club in central Europe and feautures 5 different clubs within one building. The first level contains a bar, sofas, and a balcony where you can look outside. The second level is an electronic dance music club, where I spent most of my night. The third level was the most interesting level. The third level was called the "Oldies Level." This level consisted of a dance floor lighting up in a bunch of bright colors with music from the 70's and 80's playing all night. Mostly everyone went to this floor and would sing along with all the great classic songs they played. The fourth level played mostly techno music and the last level was the Chill Out Room, where people danced in laser cages.

Overall, it was purely awesome. Sunday, we left early in the morning and got back around 10 o'clock that night where I fell asleep within 5 minutes of being back. Prague was the most amazing place I have visited and I would definitely recommend going there if anyone gets the opportunity to. 

This week, I will be in class until Thursday. The classses are great and I am learning a lot. My favorite class so far would definitely be my Contemporary Mafia and Antimafia class. It is unbelievable how much the mafia controls throughout Italy. It is almost as if the mafia runs Italy. However, this week is going to be hard to get through since all I can think about is next weekend where I will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain for their annual Abroadfest. I will be leaving Friday morning and arriving in Barcelona in the afternoon. Abroadfest is a 3-day concert going on which I will be seeing on Friday and Saturday, since I will be missing Thursday's. I can't wait to experience Barcelona and look forward to sharing all the great experiences I will be having.

  

From Interlaken, Switzerland to Venice, Italy

  
  
  

Thunersee Lake in SwitzerlandThese past two weekends, I visited two of the most unique cities in Europe. First, I went to Interlaken, Switzerland and saw the most beautiful part of the Alp Mountains. The first day, we took a tour around the city and visited the Thundersee Lake. The city was amazing, and the chocolate that they had was like no other chocolate I've ever had before. In addition, the Thundersee lake was one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen. The water had a beautiful blue color, from all of the glaciers falling into it. Unfortunately, it was too cold to swim in the lake or else I would have been swimming in it all day.

Snowboarding in the AlpsHowever, the next day I went snowboarding in the Alps! As much as I love New Jersey's Mountain Creek Ski Resort and Pittsburgh's Seven Springs, I will never forget the mountains in Switzerland. Interlaken was all about outdoor activities such as skydiving, paragliding, canyon jumping, night sledding, etc. Unfortunately, I'm kind of a girl when it comes to jumping or diving out of things, so I decided to go with snowboarding instead. Snowboarding the Alps was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The view of the mountains around you was just breathtaking. Seeing pictures of the Alps and how beautiful they are is one thing, but when you see them first hand, its completely different.

The day after snowboarding, I walked around town and bought a mini Switzerland flag. I've decided that whenever I visit a different country I'm going to buy that country's flag, collect all the flags and bring them back home with me. Overall, Interlaken was unbelievable and completely different from anywhere I have ever visited, including Venice, Italy!

Carnevale in Venice, Italy This past weekend, I ventured to Venice, Italy for their famous Carnevale di Venezia. The Carnevale is an annual festival held in Venice, and it's most famous for its distinctive masks. During Carnevale, people get all dressed up and wear a mask over their face and basically go crazy. So me and four other friends went there and all dressed up with basically the same black dress pants, white button down, and a black tie or bowtie. Everyone was supposed to buy a mask and wear it that night, but I was the only one that did so...Venice was absolutely beautiful, especially since it was Valentine's Day when we went there. All in all, it was a lot of fun and a great experience.

This next weekend there is a planned overnight trip through the study abroad program I am affiliated with to go to Perugia, Assisi, Siena, and San Gimignano which I would love to go to. However, I was also offered to go to Lake Bled in Slovenia. If I were to go to Slovenia I would definitely do some more snowboarding and even do some husky dog sledding! Either trip will be unbelievable and I can't wait to pick.

FIRENZE!!!!!

  
  
  
Michael Cerchione with the Leaning Tower of Pisa

So its been the first week of studying abroad in Florence, Italy. It has also most likely been one of the best weeks of my entire life. First off, we moved into our apartment, which is right smack in the middle of Florence. I am within 5 minutes of the famous Duomo, one of the largest churches in all of Italy and the largest brick dome ever constructed. After exploring and looking around, I got to know my roommates. I have 5 other roommates, one from Florence who speaks Italian fluently and speaks English well enough to carry on a conversation. Every night, we have went to a different bar or club and had the time of our lives. However, other than that, I have been keeping busy and on February 2nd, we got to visit Pisa and I got to take that famous leaning tower of Pisa picture.

Michael Cerchione and a beautiful view of FlorenceThis week, we are starting classes and I only have classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. So me and 5 other friends took advantage of having off on Monday and went to visit Fiesole, which was beautiful. We had a great walk and got to see some amazing scenery, but the best of all was when we got to the very top of the mountain after an hour walk and got to see all of Florence within one view. We got to see the Duomo from there as well as the Florentina soccer stadium. But we plan on making a trip every Monday to a town close to Florence to see some more spectacular views. This weekend, we are leaving Thursday night to go to Interlaken, Switzerland. We are going to stay there until Sunday and have a pub crawl and some skiing planned for the trip. I can't wait to tell everyone about my experiences these next few weeks. CIAO!

10 Things to Consider Before Joining the Peace Corps

  
  
  

After I started blogging about my Peace Corps experience, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people who are considering joining the Peace Corps, all of which I’m more than happy to answer. However, while I love sharing all of my inspiring and happy moments, I think it’s really important to share the tough times too. If you’re thinking about becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, it’s best to be prepared!

Panamanian girls

As a full disclosure, I’m drawing on my own experiences for this list. Each Peace Corps Volunteer is different, and some even live in apartments with wifi! In any case, it’s better to be the one who expected the hut and got the apartment than vice versa.

1.  Are you ready to be sick?

When I mentioned not wanting to be sick during my interview, my interviewer actually laughed. While Peace Corps has an excellent medical team and does everything in their power to keep volunteers healthy and happy, there are sometimes things that simply can’t be avoided. I’m one of the rarities in my region that has gotten off pretty lucky in terms of stomach issues (no worms or giardia! Yet… 1-31-2013 Edit: I must have jinxed myself. I am now the proud yet temporary owner of a stomach full of amoebas!)

I have, however, been plagued by skin issues: mystery rashes, grotesque abscesses, and the general cuts, scrapes, and bruises. 

2.  Can you be productive and happy in an unsupervised environment? 

If you’re like me, your boss might live at the other end of the country, so all of your work is up to you. You will need to assess needs, plan projects, train locals, evaluate your progress, AND ensure that your projects are locally sustainable, all without the physical presence of a boss or coworkers. 

Peace Corps Panama

3.  Are you ready to work and live in a location with no English speakers?

Peace Corps will give you excellent language training, but it’s still tough. As silly as this sounds, sometimes I talk to myself in English sometimes just because I never hear it anymore! 

4.  Do you understand that you will not like all aspects of the local culture? 

Of course you’ve heard about culture shock, but are you ready to really be shocked? Before arriving in Panama, I reflected on my experiences studying abroad and considered myself prepared… wrong. While I may get frustrated with so many aspects of local culture it is also important to remember that we aren’t here to change people, we’re here to help them help themselves in ways that they value and want. 

5.  Can you handle living in an area where sanitation might be scarce, at best? 

My host family’s baby didn’t wear diapers and pooped wherever he happened to be standing. Also, I am the only person in my community who uses a latrine instead of the creek. Also, one of the latrines doesn’t have a roof. Also, I once got sick during a thunderstorm and only had access to the roof-less latrine. Think about all of that. 

6.  Are you ready to be poor? 

For us to become respected members of the community, we have to live like the community. Thus, you’ll be paid enough for your expenses with not a whole lot left over. I make less here than I made working for the Saint Vincent Admissions department a few times a week- and I’m responsible for rent, food, transportation, vacations, etc. 

house in Bocas del Toro, Panama

7.  Are you willing to do what needs to be done? 

Despite what your job description says, we’re here to work in whatever capacity the community needs. If I turned up my nose at the work that didn’t involve business, I would never, ever make it. Instead, I work in the schools, on the farms, and with youth and gender development.

8.  Can you put America on hold? 

While I can still call home and use Facebook every once and awhile, there are some things you just miss out on. I have no idea what is going on with current music, am still clueless to the new social media apps, and don’t find out about big news until several days or weeks later. I can’t even imagine what coming home in 2015 is going to be like. 

9.  Can you put the glamorous vision of Peace Corps away? 

Sure, we still have a lot of great perks to our job, but it’s a lot less traveling and a lot more cold bucket water showers than you originally think. There will be great “Peace Corps” days where you dance around with little kids, a local businessman asks for your advice on a project, and your head is busting with ideas. However, there will also be days when every other neighbor tells you you’re getting fat, some kids broke some part of your house, your water ran out, you get sick and fall while walking to the latrine in the rain, AND your neighbors claim your rat poison killed their dog. And yes, both of those scenarios happened to me.  

10.  Are you really ready to commit to a full 27 months of service?

Think about everything that happened from the time you entered freshman year to the time you entered junior year. A lot, right? Now imagine being out of the country that whole time. You’ll miss your friends and family, you’ll dream of ice cream and Chick-fil-a, and you’ll have breakdown moments where all you want is your bedroom and a hug from mom. Despite all of that, you’ll still be committed to the full term of service. *Legally, Peace Corps is not binding, and should you decide to leave you will be free to do so. However, please don’t join If you don’t plan on staying. Your community and training team will have worked very hard to have you!

 Abby and a Ngabe woman

Before joining the Peace Corps, I felt as prepared as I could have been, and yet I never expected life to be as it is. The challenges that scare you before you get here usually end up being the easiest ones to get over and are only the tip of a very big iceberg. I have never in my life felt as physically, emotionally, and mentally challenged as I do as a Peace Corps volunteer. On the other hand, as cliché as it sounds, I have never felt more fulfilled or happy. Cold bucket showers and all, I know this is exactly where God meant for me to be. 

I hope that I haven’t scared you away from Peace Corps service. It really is great if you’re fully prepared and fully committed. If you’re still considering Peace Corps as an option,  I’m always here to help out a fellow bearcat- send me an email at AbbyExplores@gmail.com.

If, however, you realize that Peace Corps isn’t for you, Saint Vincent College has some great alternatives!  

Study Abroad.  This is a great way to travel and experience another culture, plus you’ll be able to cater the experience to your exact desires and goals.

Go on a Service Trip.  Saint Vincent College has several organized trips that are not only a great experience for you as the student, but also truly benefit the sites they visit.  Check with the Office of Service Learning for Upcoming Trips! 

Seek out a long term service project.  You'll develop a sense of community over the course of a semester or year, and you'll be able to see much deeper results from your work.  

A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer

  
  
  

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “So, what do you do?” Given that there are over 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in the world and none of us follow the same schedule or exact job description, I’d say that’s a pretty valid question.

The first answer I have- There is no typical day. As a former Type-A person who loves lists, schedules, and plans, this lack of structure was one of my greatest fears as I entered Peace Corps life. Ironically, that very same aspect has become one of my favorite parts of my job. 

Sloth in Panama with Abby Bryant, Peace Corps Volunteer

In my case, I am one of about 50 Sustainable Agricultural Development volunteers currently in Panama, and one of about 5 or so who are specifically tasked with agribusiness development. I live in a small community in Bocas del Toro, and the supervisor in charge of the agriculture program lives and works in Panama City, a twelve-hour bus ride away. So, not only do I have no fellow co-workers (in terms of other volunteers) but I also have no day-to-day supervision. Pretty different from a 9-5 with your colleagues and boss right down the hall, right?

However, don’t mistake the lack of supervision with a lack of work. If anything, I feel even more accountable for my day-to-day activities, especially since I still occasionally get comments like, “It must be nice to take a 2 year vacation” or “So when are you going to get a real job?” While it’s true that I do have more down time than someone working full-time in an office, I also never get to leave work. I’m a volunteer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no questions asked. 

As I mentioned, every day is different. Sometimes I have events, trainings, workdays, or meetings, and if I do then my day will generally revolve around that. 

For example, once a week I generally hike a little over an hour to visit my neighboring volunteer (who works with water and sanitation) to hang out and work on coordinating projects, on Wednesdays and Saturdays I meet with two different artisans’ groups to learn about local crafts and help them with basic business practices, and during the school year (March-November) I teach English to two elementary school classes twice a week. I’ve also organized training seminars for local producers and am working on putting together an after-school youth program. 

 SWAT Analysis

However, if I don’t have anything specific on my schedule, this is more or less what I do:

In the mornings I take my time and wake up slowly. Sometimes I’m up at 6:30, sometimes I sleep ‘till 9 or later. Then, I make breakfast and some locally grown coffee and spend an hour or so reading and planning out my day. The mornings are usually when I appreciate my job the most; When else is getting ready for work going to be this relaxing?

Next, I usually go pasearing, a Central American custom that basically entails taking a walk to visit families, completely unannounced. Usually the family will give me some of their home-grown coffee or hot chocolate, and occasionally I’ll also get a bite to eat. I always hold by breath and cross my fingers if they mention food, as it would be considered disrespectful for me to turn away a gift. Best case scenario: rice and a piece of meat. Worst case scenario: Chicken neck with boiled green bananas and a fermented grape nut juice. Regardless of the food, it is always great to hang out with the families and talk about upcoming or potential projects. They’re not only the closest thing to co-workers I’ve got, but also my closest support system. One family even told their kids to call me tia, aunt, so that I would feel like I was a part of their family too! 

Once I’m done pasearing, I almost always have my own work to do. Common chores include cleaning up after the chickens and pigs that roam around my house, washing my clothes in the creek (I’ve recently upgraded from rock to old-fashioned washing board), or working in my garden. 

Creek Washing

In the evenings I like to spend time experimenting with food and cooking a nice dinner. After his visit, my dad claims that I would be the best person to have around while camping- all of my food is hiked in, none is refrigerated, and my only appliance is a gas burner. I even like to get fancy sometimes; I’ve learned how to bake brownies on the stove!

A high point of my day is when I get visits from neighboring kids who can’t wait to go through my game box. In the evenings we usually color, play cards or checkers, make crafts, and sometimes even play games on my iPad (Which they’re currently obsessed with.) 

Panama Kids

If I’m lucky there might be a bit of cell signal at night to call home. If not, bedtime comes after a cup of tea and a nice book. To end the day, I tie my shutters open, snuggle up with my puppy underneath my mosquito net, and drift off to the sounds of birds, bugs, and the creek by my house.

Preparing to Study Abroad in Italy

  
  
  
italy resized 600

Hi! My name is Michael Cerchione and I am a junior at Saint Vincent College, where I am majoring in Business Management with a minor in Operational Excellence. This spring semester I will be studying abroad in Florence, Italy at Fairfield University. I have always wanted to study abroad in Italy, but it was more of a dream than reality until I started talking with the study abroad program at Saint Vincent.

It was hard to choose studying in Italy for an entire semester rather than stay at SVC especially knowing that I will be missing some of my friends last semester. However, everyone who has studied abroad or gone overseas says that it is a once in a lifetime experience and could potentially be the best 4 months of my entire life. I plan on traveling throughout Europe including countries like Spain, Ireland, and France while I'm there.

As my departure date comes closer and closer, I have been packing my things and saying my goodbyes. I will be flying out of Newark airport the 26th of January and will fly into Munich, Germany and then get onto another plane to fly to Florence, Italy. I can't wait to leave and look forward to sharing my experiences throughout the semester!

Snorkeling in Bocas del Toro

  
  
  

Looking for a fun way to explore the neighboring islands, my dad and I decided to spend our last day in Bocas del Toro on a snorkeling trip. Though I could tell dad was a little hesitant about this last minute adventure, I assured him he´d be glad he did. And wouldn´t you know it, I was right!

mangroves in Bocas del Toro

We started the tour off driving through perfectly still, mangrove surrounded waters to reach Dolphin Bay. According to our guide, Willy, you have an 80% chance of seeing dolphins on any given day, as this bay is home to a pod year round. The dolphins are free to roam out into the open ocean, but seem to prefer this secure bay which abounds with jellyfish- one of their favorite foods.

Dolphins in Bocas del Toro
Next, we made a lunch stop at a restaurant with one of the most beautiful views in the world.  Though the food wasn´t the greatest, their lovely macaws made up for it.

maccaws 
Bocas del Toro
After ordering our food, we headed out to the neighboring waters to snorkel while it was being prepared. I do believe that that´s the most fun I´ve ever had waiting for food.  

snorkeling in Bocas del Toro
Snorkeling in Bocas Del Toro
The next and final destination was Isla Zapatillas (aka one of the most gorgeous islands in Bocas). The aquamarine water and complete lack of development in this national park made it the perfect place to lay back and nap while listening to the gentle waves hit the beach. 

Isla Zapatillas
It´s certainly been a great week out of site, but I´m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things in my little village. If there´s anything I learned in the McKenna school, it´s how good it feels when your hard work pays off.  

P.S.  Everyone stay warm up there.  I heard it´s been a little cold?

:)

A Very Special Guest in Panama

  
  
  

During our last goodbyes in June of this past year, my dad tearfully hugged me and promised to visit me in Panama for Christmas. It was that very visit that gave me something to look forward to and got me through some of my roughest moments down here. 

Harvesting cocoa in PanamaHarvesting cocoa with some of my villagers

Six months, to the day, after that sad goodbye, my dad finally arrived!  To say he´s not exactly a traveler is putting it lightly. So, add an international trip with connecting planes, busses, and taxis in a land where he doesn´t know the language (and isn´t quite accustomed to the booming music and noises of Central American towns) and my dad was more than a little out of his element.  

After an overnight delay in Costa Rica (unplanned and unwanted), I picked my dad up from the bus station and threw him straight into my village. For the first few days he got a taste of life as a Peace Corps Volunteer- lack of amenities included. Despite my warnings to conserve water, my huge water tank was empty within the first 3 days. I reacted the only way possible, with a laugh and a walk to the creek to bathe and gather water. Even dad managed to look on the bright side.  In his words, "Who else do you know gets to look at a little waterfall when they´re taking a bath?"

Peace Corps house

Checking my water tank

Next, we headed up to the mountains of Chiriqui where we spent Christmas in Boquete (which happens to be one of the top ranked places in the world for retirement). I enjoyed being able to cook with tons of kitchen appliances, and my dad and I both enjoyed a coffee tour with Kotowa coffee.

Then it was back to my site for another week, where we visited various families, prayed for rain to refill my tank (which didn´t come), and prepared for our town´s first New Years Party.  

Fresh Breakfast in Panama

A deliciously fresh breakfast!

waterfall in Bocas del Toro

Last on our agenda, we spent a glorious week soaking up the sun on Isla Colon, a lovely 1 hour commute from my village. We rented bikes, cruised various beaches, took a snorkeling tour, played with a Macaw, and ate oh so much food. Though I had a stomach ache for most of the week (Apparently that´s what happens when my village vegan diet returns to a normal meat and dairy filled one), it was wonderful to spend our last few days in one of my favorite locations in all of Panama.  

Snorkeling in Bocas del Toro

Parrots in Panama

Saying goodbye this time was just as hard as the first.  Though I do love my town and my new home, it´s still a little hard to return to village life after a blissful week of vacation, especially since I´m returning without my padre in tow. Fingers are crossed and prayers are said for a safe trip home (and speedy return to Panama) for my dad, and I´m anxious to see who my next Panamanian visitors will be!

 Bocas del Toro

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