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TBS Abroad Week 7: Coffee

By Emily Weaver on March 28, 2018

Week 7: Coffee

Here in the US and all around the world coffee is an ever present commodity. It can be made using several different processes (French Press, American Drip, Keurigs) and for many different occasions. While being such a ubiquitous drink each country adds is own variation to it through preparation, flavor, or presentation. Tell us what the coffee scene is like where you’re studying. Is it reserved for special occasions or is it all over? How is it typically prepared? Are coffee shops a place of gathering or a quick stop on everyone’s morning route? Did you visit any local coffee shops? Are chains like Starbucks present in the place you’re staying? Tell us about your experience with this beverage.

Oneida Shushe

One of the stereotypical images I have of Europe is captured by Vincent van Gogh’s painting Café Terrace at Night. I think of warm summer days and mostly men sitting in the outdoor part of a cafe, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee with a friend or colleague. I’ve built this image from my time spent in Albanian cities. Besides the smoking and it often being a pleasure mostly men can enjoy, I support it. In Geneva, I haven’t seen exactly the same culture, but coffee is still a part of the lifestyle here.

Many people drink coffee in a rush in the morning or alone at their desk throughout the day to power up on caffeine (coffee vending machines are a thing here). But my favorite thing about the drink is how social it can be! Bumped into someone on the street but can only speak to them briefly? Ask to catch up more over coffee. Need to meet with a colleague to go over that draft which needs to be a final copy soon? Talk it out over some café au lait. First date? Maybe you’re so used to asking people to coffee all the time that asking someone you like is familiar and comfortable enough in an otherwise uncertain situation.

At a certain point, coffee becomes an excuse for meeting up with people, and that’s what I love most about it. Sometimes, when the afternoon is going by slowly, a few interns at the World Health Organization headquarters meet up briefly for coffee. I actually don’t love the drink, but if I’m invited to coffee, I’ll respond oui, bien sûr, knowing that the drink will be okay, but the  conversation will be better.

Micah Dirkers

My experience with coffee abroad was rather limited, particularly in the city of Edinburgh itself. Over fifteen Starbucks Coffees dotted the city of Edinburgh, yet I can say that I never stepped foot in one of them, nor did I really have any desire to. Many other venues which served coffee and coffee shops themselves were very common in Edinburgh, however, during my semester abroad in Edinburgh, I drank coffee rather infrequently in the city. However, while walking around the city, particularly during the morning hours and around lunch, I would see the coffee shops busy and observe many people maneuvering the city streets with caffeine in hand. Another popular time for coffee was in the afternoon hours of 16:00-17:00, as people would often need an afternoon pick-me-up. While the variety of caffeinated beverage in Edinburgh was impressive, my experience with them was not.  

That said, nearly each weekend, I went to a different place in Scotland, and one of my goals during these trips was to sample a cappuccino from each place I visited (you know, each place which actually had a coffee shop, it’s hard to find those in the Highland wilderness, so I probably sampled six in total) to compare the variations in flavor, roast, milk, and composition. I remember one cappuccino I purchased on the Holy Island of Lindsfarne which was piping hot, even after letting the drink sit for a time, that it left my tastebuds overloaded with heat for the next week—a drink to remember. In comparison to coffee shops in the United States which often label the beverage excessively with “Caution,” “Hot,” or “Warning,” the cappuccinos I had in Scotland were not marked as such, or maybe it was just the small sample of places I had visited which didn’t mark the drinks. After that experience, however, I learned the “just right” temperature for a cappuccino, which has guided me when I order that drink at Colgate from the Hieber Café. While I cannot say that I had the most involved experience aboard with coffee, someone who might have a closer relationship to coffee than myself would find that Edinburgh offers many options for a caffeine consumer to devour many cups of this commodity.

Jenny Lundt

Tea is the choice of drink in Nepal, instead of coffee. People generally get their caffeine fix from multiple servings of tea daily. So, I rarely drank coffee during my semester abroad.There was one well known coffee place in the Boudha Stupa area that most students went to. It was hard to find constant, available WiFi (even in our program house), so things like class registration, grant applications, and messages home were centered in Himalayan Java. This is one of the only chain restaurants in Nepal with around 10 in the country in total. The prices of drinks were like $4, which most of us felt was an outrageous price because of how cheap everything else was.

However, the most common drink in all of Nepal is milk tea which we call “chai tea” here in the US. The name is repetitive because “chai” already means tea in Nepali. We had several tea breaks built into our school day. We were released from class with a gong sounding where we would head out into the dining area and fill our mini cups with hot milk tea from intricate thermoses. The best milk tea I drank was in Humla with fresh yak milk straight from the pasture.

Po Cha (butter tea) is an integral part of Tibetan and Himalayan life. Traditionally, the drink is made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt.  Since butter is the main ingredient, it has many calories which is good for extremely cold weather, high altitudes, and energy. The fat of the butter also prevents against lip chapping. It is very important in the culture to serve to guests. The classic method of serving is to replenish the cup after every few sips, so the guest will never be empty handed. This was very kind of them, however I really hated the taste of butter tea, so it was not a good thing at all for me. I would describe the taste almost as drinking hot creamy, froth from the ocean. Not personally ideal. My host family was not very partial to butter tea, so I got lucky in this sense. Some of my classmates had Tibetan tea served to them at home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. We also were served the drink a lot when we went to Humla and stayed with families. Butter tea for them was just a part of daily life. So, despite my deepest wishes, I drank a lot of Butter tea during that trip.

My favorite hot drink that I had during my time was honey, lemon ginger tea. I will cherish chilly fall mornings on rooftop cafes observing the pilgrims circumambulating the stupa while sipping on my tea. I have tried to recreate the delicacy here, but to very little avail. My roommates this semester hate when I stink up the kitchen with large amounts of boiled ginger.

TBS Abroad Week 6: Walking

By Emily Weaver on March 21, 2018

Week 6: Walking

Last week we talked about bikes, this week we’re going to talk about walking. You can tell a lot about an area based solely on taking a walk through it. Different cultures shine through noises, smells, and sights you see while out and about. This week tell us about what it is like walking through the area you’re staying. Are the people around you relaxed or rushing to get to their next location? Are you the only one around or is walking the preferred form of transportation? What is the infrastructure like for pedestrians in your area; is it suitable for use by everyone? Is it a paved pathway or is a gravely dirt road? Lead us on a journey through the place you are staying.

Oneida Shushe

Walking is no doubt my favorite way to see a city. This past weekend, I walked 13 miles through Lyon. Even through the unideal walking shoes and initially rainy weather, I would not have had it any other way.


Walking through a new city

-feels like you’re walking in the shoes of locals, even if many locals take public transportation or drive.

-allows you to see more details in the city than if you sped by on a bike or car.

-positions you to walk into shops and come up with plans and activities spontaneously (“This pâtisserie looks good!” “Someone we just ran into said there are cool ruins down that way, let’s go there!”)

-makes you feel alive (because walking is exercise).

-is an activity all by itself, so if all I did in a new city was walk through it, I would be satisfied.

-is a privilege. Traveling is a privilege for the well-off, and walking (hiking, really) up hundreds of stairs to see the view I’ve included below is a privilege for the able-bodied.

-means you’re walking in the footsteps of many before you (Lyon is 2000 years old!) and many who will come after you (inspired by “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” by Walt Whitman).

View from the top of the hill in Fourvière district in Lyon, France


Jenny Lundt

There were definitely two distinctive parts of my study abroad experience that revolved around walking. Walking long distances in Kathmandu is certainly not for the faint of heart. As I’ve written about in these blogs previously, it is a very overwhelming city with lots of traffic. There are almost no sidewalks anywhere in the city, so you have to walk on the edge of the road as you simultaneously avoid darting motorbikes, cars, street food carts, and even cows. It becomes a perfect day excursion in itself to navigate the streets. The city is best described as a labyrinth in my opinion, as you wind through miniscule alleyways lined with old buildings.

I had the opportunity of being in Kathmandu for election day. As part of my research, it was very important for me to be out in the city observing and recording all that I possibly could. To eliminate potential security concerns, all vehicles (except ones with special permits) were banned from the streets of Kathmandu from sunrise to sunset that day. That meant, in order to get anywhere in the city, I would have to do what I had never done in the city, walk. I set out just before the first poll opened that day, accompanied by my econ professor friend Tara at Tribhuvan University, the biggest one in the country. We visited several different polls in different areas of the city and had many conversations about what the right to vote meant to several people. It was such an eye opening day that i didn’t realize that my distance for the day totaled 15 miles. Because the dust and particles normally in the air from vehicles were absent, I was also treated to the most amazing view of the Himalayas that is normally hidden. The walk showed me so many parts of the city that I had always failed to notice before because of my need to keep my eyes on the road or risk getting hit. I wandered around, being able to fully grasp the beauty of where I was. A day that I will always remember.

The other important part of my trip was being able to trek through the Himalayas. I talked in an earlier post about Humla, the “most remote” district in the entire country that we had the pleasure of visiting. What I didn’t mention about being there, however, was how we got around. Our excursion there was a little under three weeks where we moved from village to village. With the exception of one day on truck, we were completely dependent on our feet to get from place to place. This lead to a few very long days and aching muscles as we battled the altitude and our physical limits. The last day in particular will be forever etched in our memory. We were trying to get back from the village, Yari, where we had spent the last few days back to the capital of Humla, Simikot. In my homestay, I only was able to eat plain buckwheat pancakes and nettle soup (look them up), so definitely was not energized to my full potential. We had to essentially complete a full 12 hours of excruciating pain almost exclusively uphill. It was a battle of blisters, asthma, altitude, overheating, and general exhaustion, In my life, I am occasionally guilty of taking the easy route. However in this moment, I had the realization that there was absolutely no easy route I could take. No taxi, no Uber, no calling a friend for a ride. No getting a hotel for the night and continuing the journey tomorrow. No dramatic helicopter evac. No nothing, except moving my two feet in front of each other and climbing up the mountain. The feeling of exuberance and pride I felt at the top was something that I have only experienced once. I burst into tears at the top of the mountain and embraced my two best friends from the semester, Mary Grace and Emma and we proceeded to take out a blessed prayer flag and write the names of everyone from home that we wanted to be a part of that moment. I know those flags are still hanging up, dangling over the Himalayas, and that gives me so much happiness, even in my toughest moments back at school.

  • Jenny's Journey


Micah Dirkers

Building on my cycling post from the previous week, while Edinburgh did have a distinct and broad culture surrounding cycling, the number of bicycles on the street was unequivocally dwarfed by the number of pedestrians throughout the city, particularly in the city center. With nearly 500,000 people the streets of Edinburgh were always bustling with people, particularly on the more central streets such as Prince’s Street and. Whereas bicycle use is efficient on paved roads and reasonably level paths, walking allows for much greater (although sometimes slower) access to much of the city of Edinburgh. There was always ample room on the sidewalks, and sometimes, pedestrians moved as if one side was going down the left of the sidewalk and one group was going down the right. And if you wanted to decrease your travel time, you would adhere to the portion of the sidewalk in the direction that you were moving. Furthermore, walking also functioned far better than a bicycle or car for maneuvering the Scottish highlands, rocky beaches, sand, mud, rivers, streams, and grasslands, which were common encounters when traveling around the UK. These descriptives illustrating how people in Edinburgh walked are as varied, if not more varied, than the observations regarding bicycle use.

Personally, for the vast majority of my local transportation in Edinburgh, I walked everywhere, unless I was going on a longer trip (probably greater than a 30-minute walk)! It was a way for me to go out and explore the city, get some exercise, and navigate the cobblestone streets without being jostled around on a bicycle or a car. The area in which I lived was surrounded by little shops, grocery stores, academic buildings, and a five-floor gymnasium. I was situated on a little hill, St. John’s Hill, on a street called “Colgate,” only a one-letter difference from Colgate. The aroma in the air reflected the flora from the nearby park, the barbecue from the restaurant beneath us, and the petrol from the cars hustling down the street. When I went out to walk, I always felt like I had ample time to prepare for crossings and stoplights. There was ample space on sidewalks, and there were even crossing points, where pedestrians could jaywalk into a designated area in the middle of the road and wait until traffic clears to get to the other side—definitely a very different experience from the US where jaywalking is not encouraged and is considered in some places to be at least a misdemeanor.

While exploring on foot, I had this sense that, because I was on my own two feet walking around, I was in control, and I could go wander around or explore wherever I wanted to, without having to schlep around a bicycle or vehicle. Even when I was traveling around Scotland, most of my destinations required walking (obviously I took a car, bus, train, or plane, when traveling to other destinations) in the form of walking around on a guided tour, taking a hike in the countryside, or simply explore the land freely. This sense of exploration, this sense of freedom, was really refreshing during my time abroad, and it is one, of many, reasons to study in a different place to begin with.

TBS Abroad Week 5: Bicycles

By Emily Weaver on March 7, 2018

Week 5: Bicycles

People use them for exercise, recreational activities, and transport. Bikes can be found all over the US – children ride them around cul-de-sacs and city-dwellers ride them to work. They range in size, color, and design, but they all serve the purpose of transporting someone from one place to another. What is the bike-culture like in the place you’re staying? Are bikes used more regularly than other types of transport? Are there designated bike lanes on the roads or are the bikers mixed in with other traffic? Are there certain places where you are more likely to see bicycles than others? Since you’ve been abroad have you been on any bike rides?


Micah Dirkers

The city of Edinburgh (and my guess is that this would generalize to other UK cities) had a present culture surrounding bikes. As one of the most travel-friendly and bicycle-friendly cities in the UK (though still not on the level of Denmark or the Netherlands), many of the city’s residents and tourists use these two wheels as their preferred mode of transportation—culminating in  Cyclefest, the ten-day Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. One can witness cyclers pretty much everywhere in the city at most times of the day: workers used bikes to travel to work, students cycled to classes, and even Deliveroo employees used bicycles to deliver hot meals from nearby restaurants. Cycling is typically preferred by many, simply because it is much easier and much faster to get around, particularly for shorter distances. Given how Edinburgh is built on many hills, it easy to gain downward momentum that will carry you far, regardless of what type of bike you use. As far as I saw, there was no distinction between mountain bike and city bike, since most of the bikes looked fairly normal. As such, many of the bicycles were standard, rigid, two-wheel devices, which were not allowed indoors or on trains, but a growing number of people also used foldable bikes, which were allowed indoors and on trains. It wouldn’t matter if you did not own a bike, because rentable and loanable bicycles were readily available for a number of companies. Coupled with the environmental awareness that is also present in the UK, the culture around cycling was one of sustainability, mobility, and accessibility.

While there is, indeed, a distinct culture of cycling in Edinburgh, not all people buy into and approve of this culture. While a fair amount of the city has designated cycling lanes, these spaces are not found everywhere; hence, cyclists sometimes compete with motorists for space on the road. This can frustrate motorists, especially if a cycler is traveling slowing or attempting to maneuver dangerously through moving (or paused) traffic. Not only did motorists compete with cyclists, but there were also trams, busses, and trains that would occupy road space, especially as one moved closer to the city center. This was especially true on the cobblestone streets, where cars had a marked advantage, as cycling on cobblestone can be dangerous and rattling. Some cyclers tried to avoid both the traffic and the cobblestone by cycling on the pavement and designated walkways, but such action is illegal, as bicycles were basically treated as cars, and such instances were few and far between. Indeed, cycling is popular, but it is not without its challenges.

During our orientation’s safety section, we learned from a representative from Police Scotland more about these challenges regarding cycling in Edinburgh. We covered how one is basically free to travel on any road by bicycle—even those which are closed to vehicular traffic—but that all roads may not be maintained equally with traffic controls or pavement quality. Thus, all cyclists are encouraged to motion with their hands where they will be turning to provide clear information to other drivers, to wear at least a helmet if not other protective gear, and to be equipped with sufficient reflectors for safety. When storing the bike, t-locks were recommended, as those were the type of locks least prone to being sawed or sliced open. Indeed, cycling, we learned, is not without hazards, as the bike wheels can get stuck in tram or train tracks, resulting in injured riders and crumpled bicycles. Bicycle theft was actually the largest type of crime occurring in the city, according to the Police Scotland officer who conducted the presentation. A bicycle storehouse was situated outside our dorm, and even our residence staff encouraged us to keep our bikes locked safely. Having covered safety, he encouraged us to ride our bikes for ease of travel and accessibility. So while I did not personally use any bicycles to navigate the city, as I relied mainly on walking or riding buses, it was refreshing to see a culture, laws, and funding in support of an active use of bicycles in a modern city—something that is not always visible in many cities in the United States.


Jenny Lundt

Bikes were a huge part of my study abroad experience… but not normal bikes… motorbikes. It is impossible to miss them even upon the first second of leaving the airport. Motorbikes swarm the city like little buzzing insects, darting through the heavily congested streets and clouds of dust. Kathmandu is a city that is dominated by motorbikes through every muddy road, pot hole, and endless construction roadblocks. It is estimated that ¾ motor vehicles on the road are motorbikes. A lot of roads in Nepal do not have lane lines on them, so it is anybody’s guess as to how to navigate them. Death defying feats of motorbikes zooming through lines to pass the traffic were things I witnessed every day.

The bikes were also was a symbol of masculinity for my host brother as he was always gossiping with me about which boy in our neighborhood had which bike with what engine power. There are a large variety of bikes from the small ones that were lovingly referred to as “scooties” to large motor powered Royal Enfields. Tenzin tried to get me to help him at every dinner to convince our Pala that they needed to buy a motorbike for the family. He was the one to take me on my first ride during my semester as he raced my friend Nick and I up and down our street, flying past all of our neighbors.

I even received the opportunity (don’t tell my program please, this was very against the rules) to go on a motorbike trip to the Himalayas. My friend and I started in Pokhara and then drove 7 hours through the mountains to the hot spring village of Tatopani in the Sindhupalchok district. I will never forget the exhilaration of driving through bumpy, dusty roads just barely carved out on the side of a mountain. We drove through the deepest gorge in the world, through forests, through a funeral procession, and through a river where my shoes got absolutely soaked. The roaring sound of the wind and the rev of the engine as we ascended up and up into the clouds was one of the most empowering and freeing moments of my life. For the next few weeks, I had the opportunity to travel to a number of villages on the back of a bike, making so many dreams come true.

I took one pedal bike trip while I was in Nepal and that was in the lake town of Pokhara with 3 of my friends. We biked out of the main city and into the fields and villages surrounding it to watch the sunset. It was truly a wonderful day.

  • Jenny's Homestay Brother, Tenzin


Oneida Shushe

I’m so impressed with Geneva. As I’m writing this, I’m looking out my window and I see cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, buses, and bikers passing by. The city also has trams and, of course, trains, but trains don’t really pass on the same paths as these other modes of transportation. Last weekend, my friends also saw someone skiing down the sidewalk because it snowed a few inches here. In a busy intersection toward the center of Geneva, these modes of transportation come together for nothing short of a miracle in Swiss civil engineering. With clear traffic signals and designated lanes, everything runs mostly smoothly.

While I haven’t done it yet, I look forward to biking along Lac Léman, also known as Lake Geneva, at some point this semester. Because using a bike isn’t built into the road planning or culture of my community back home, I haven’t ridden a bike in a long time. But here in Geneva, bikes are everywhere! There are bike racks in front of super markets, by the train station, and most places if you look for them.

Riding a bike is efficient in a city because most people’s commutes or errand runs are a fitting distance away, but it’s also good for health. The 8th priority in the Shanghai Consensus on Health Cities 2016 is “design our cities to promote sustainable urban mobility” through, for example, “active transport infrastructure” like bike lanes and related planning. In this way, people can exercise without even realizing it! Recognizing the importance of health factors in city planning, I hope that more cities in the US and across the world will promote a healthy bike culture.

Bike rack next to the University of Geneva