Archive for July, 2011

Orientation Week Trips

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

So! I’ve been poring over the ASE site almost every single day now, and I’ve been looking especially at the optional (but seriously, who would pass these up?) trips during orientation week. And my nerdy English-major self is especially excited about the first one :)

1) Stonehenge, Salisbury, and Lacock.

Well of course Stonehenge warrants no introduction. It’s clearly coordinates aliens left to come back and attack us with. Salisbury, where Stonehenge is, has medieval cathedrals, and castles and forts from the Iron Age. And Lacock Abbey is where (drumroll) TONS of Harry Potter was filmed!!!

Aw yeah, recognize that abbey? If you don’t, you seriously need to re-evaluate the direction your life is going.

2) Nearby Spots of Historical Interest

The spot varies with the semesters, past trips were The Cotswolds and Glastonbury, where King Arthur is supposedly buried (picture).

Since I’m taking “Myths and Legends of Britain and Ireland,” I’m definitely rooting for a Glastonbury trip. Allegedly, it’s heavily mentioned in the Avalon myths, and has strong ties to the Holy Grail and Lancelot. Not only would that add depth to my class, but then I could annoy everyone and quote Monty Python the entire trek to see it.

3)Substantial Hike

While I’m sure my thighs will hate me for this, I’m definitely going on the hiking trip. The Jurassic Coast has apparently been a past location. Another favorite spot is Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales (pictured).

Apparently you can walk the entire park/mountain if you have 8 days to spare (it’s 95 miles…but I think I’ll pass on that one). I’ve got my sturdy hiking boots and weatherproof gear all set to go, and how many people can say they’ve gone mountain climbing in Wales? Anyone know any good hiking songs??

Summer in Spain 2011-07-30 05:22:12

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

I’m sad to be home but at the same time I missed America! The trip back was a total of about 12 hours. Jet lag has officially kicked in because its 5am and I am wide awake. Our last day was a lot of fun. We took our finals, received our grades (A-, B+) went to our graduation ceremony, an Irish bar with everyone, then of course Drakkar, the bar we always went to. We all were so sad to say goodbye to each other. I met some of the most amazing people in Spain, including Jackie, whom I miss already. Studying in Spain was the best experience I’ve had in my life for sure. I’m so grateful to be able to take part in that experience. I miss it already.

Leaving Chiang Mai

Friday, July 29th, 2011

I’m done with classes, I’m done with 15+ page papers, and I’ve payed all my school fines. The time has come that I must leave Chiang Mai. When I was leaving the U.S., six weeks seemed like such a long time. I was excited, anxious, and above all frightened. This city is so warm and welcoming that I couldn’t help but feel at ease. I owe everything to the friends that I have met here. They are the ones that made this experience unforgettable. I had the opportunity to learn within the classroom but also within the setting. In the U.S., it is so easy to here things, imagine what it must be like, and then forget about it within in 15 minutes. Here in Thailand, I was constantly bombarded with real life examples of my studies. Whenever you travel there never seems to be enough time.

I am excited to go down to the south for the next week but I leave with a sad heart. My connection with Chiang Mai goes beyond expected parameters. The city holds all the memories, friendships, and emotions that I have experienced while in Thailand. Through my classes I have experience the lows in Thailand, oppression of migrant workers and abuses within the sex industry, but through taking part in the Thai life I have fallen in love with the endearing qualities of this country and its people (that being said, I still think Thai music is god awful). I came here planning to be an observer but quickly I realized that if you try to learn from an outside perspective you end up only finding the information which reinforces your previous perceptions. But by actually living within your surroundings, you learn more from every language barrier issue, every late night clubbing experience, every cultural faus pax you commit, and every chance encounter with a new friend. I love Chiang Mai and it will always hold a place within me. I say goodbye, but hopefully not for long.

Adios Espana

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Matt, me and Jackie at our “graduation”

Yay for graduating! Wahoo!

Adios Espana

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Matt, me and Jackie at our “graduation”

Yay for graduating! Wahoo!

Elephants: Victims of the Tourist Industry (By: Monica Gillis)

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

While at Payap University, I became great friends with a St.Mary’s College of Maryland student named Monica Gillis. She is a rising junior and an Economics major. Since our time here, Monica has been very vocal about the mistreatment of animals around Thailand for the purposes of tourism. I had no idea how bad the situation was until I went to a Elephant riding camp and saw the mahouts repeated hitting, hooking and screaming at the poor animals. Once I saw that I refused to participate in the ride and have never been back to an elephant camp since. Since Monica has much more experience with the subject, I asked her to write this blog post and hopefully inform some of you potential Thailand tourists on the widespread mistreatment of these animals.

Monica Gillis!

When most people visit Thailand, one of the first things they want to do is spend a day with elephants. Generally, “spending a day with elephants” involves riding them, watching them perform a show, and possibly playing with them. And from the perspective of a naïve tourist, this seems like good clean fun. It can’t be exploitative if every tourist who has ever been to Thailand does it. If it were bad, we’d know.

Like any other traveler to Thailand, I did not know about the truth of elephant camps. Naively, I went to an elephant camp and rode on an elephant for an hour with my friend. I did look at the organization’s website beforehand, to check on the humane status of the institution, and the few lines stating that the elephants are treated well and only give rides when they feel up to the task comforted me enough that I did not feel uneasy. Even during the ride, I did not notice anything to make me question the website’s statement. I conveniently did not pay attention to the young elephant who was chained so that it could not roam on the mountainside. I did not put much thought into the hook the mahout (elephant rider and trainer) would “tap” the elephant with to make it walk forward. I especially did not think about whether this poor elephant wanted me on its back, if it wanted to lug me around. I was the carefree tourist that these elephant camps appeal to.

About a month later, I was walking down the streets of Chiang Mai with my mom. We were looking for some sort of day trip we could go on, trekking or kayaking or something equally as overdone and mundane. We passed a building that was the headquarters for an elephant camp. I initially did not want to go in because I had become uneasy about the whole elephant riding situation. When the intern was trying to convince us to spend the ludicrously large sum of money to see elephants, I was extremely skeptical. Every elephant camp claims humane treatment. But soon, I realized this place was different. There was no elephant riding, no hooks, no chains. This elephant camp, the Elephant Nature Park, was founded by a woman nicknamed Lek (meaning small), who spends her life saving elephants from domestic work. My mom and I did end up paying for a day trip, and the next morning we were picked up and taken to the camp.

There I learned the stories of so many elephants, and my eyes were opened to how cruel the world really can be. Traditionally, elephants are ripped away from their mothers at around 4 or 5 years old, when they are still young enough that they had never spent a day without her before in their lives. Then, they are forced into a small bamboo cage where they are tied up and brutally stabbed and hit with hooks. Mahouts and their young sons tend to aim for the most sensitive parts of the elephant’s body; its inner ear and soles of its feet. These elephants, too young to know what is happening to them, try in vain to fight back, to escape for this confined space.. However, they are kept in the “crush” for about a week, a little less for female elephants, being “trained”. After the crush, they are led into the village, being beaten if they try to escape or if they refuse to walk. This walk becomes a daily ritual until the elephant can make it without fighting back in any way. And thus, the elephant’s sole has been broken down; it lives in constant fear of its mahout. The elephant now spends its life trying to please its mahout, doing almost anything to avoid being beaten.

At the Elephant Nature Park, I learned the stories of many elephants who were mistreated throughout their lives. I learned the stories of elephants who actually ended up dying at the park from internal injuries or drug addictions (some elephants, mostly involved in the illegal logging industry, are force fed amphetamines so they will work 24/7), and I saw the physical suffering of elephants who were still being affected by their maltreatment. Jokia, a beautiful older female elephant, is now blind because her previous owner forced her to drag logs even while pregnant. She had already been blinded in one eye, due to mistreatment by the same owner, but she lost her vision in her other eye when she gave birth while climbing up a steep hill. Her newborn calf fell to its death. Jokia refused to keep on walking, devastated by her loss. Her owner beat her to get her to begin walking again. She did not. He ended up using a slingshot, shooting small rocks at her eye from a very short distance. This was the day she went blind. A blind elephant cannot drag logs. Jokia was sold to another owner to give rides to tourists, using her trunk as her only way of knowing what was in front of her.

Lek saved her, right before she was going to be killed and used for her ivory, because nobody wanted to get a ride from a blind elephant. Jokia, along with about 32 other elephants, now reside in the Elephant Nature Park, living a life free of logging and giving rides. I spent the day feeding, bathing, and watching the elephants. I learned a lot about how tourism negatively impacts elephants. Young elephants are sometimes used for street begging, which leads to elephants being overwhelmed by city noise and malnutrition because they are fed only a few bananas that are paid for by tourists. Elephants are also forced to give rides to tourists in climates they are not accustomed to leading to dehydration and exhaustion. They are also forced to do shows where they put themselves in awkward positions that are uncomfortable and are seemingly impossible considering their bone structure. Some elephants even become addicted to drugs. By far, spending my day at the Elephant Nature Park was much more fun than riding the elephants. Seeing a happy animal is much more rewarding than riding on an abused animal.

However, the solution to elephant abuse is not so simple. Elephants need a job. They are domesticated and would have a lot of difficulty surviving on their own, and to compound this problem, most elephants provide the entirety of a family’s income. Without elephants, families would have nothing. Therefore, we can’t all just stop going to elephant camps. It is very hard to get angry with the tourists who do support this industry, because the issue is so complicated and not very well understood. All I know is that I refuse to ride elephants, and I try to tell as many people I can about the truth of Thailand’s elephant camps.

Elephants are an endangered species, but under Thai law, domesticated elephants do not have any special rights. They have the same protection as cows and pigs. Who is going to look after them? Deep seated cultural beliefs are what is driving the abuse of elephants, and seemingly the only way to change that is by changing the way tourists interact with elephants. So, if you’re ever in Thailand or any other country with elephant riding, make sure you check out the place beforehand. There are a lot of places were elephants are treated humanely. The use of the hook is still widespread, but a good mahout will not use the tip to physically injure their elephant. Elephants need work, but only by demanding good working conditions for them will the culture of elephant abuse change.

Also, please take a look at the Elephant Nature Park website. Read the bios of the elephants!

Thanks for reading!

– Monica

On the Reef

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

The next day we all got up early, packed and headed to the airport to meet our flight to Cairns. It was my last morning in Sydney and I left it on a cold and dreary day. Thankfully, when we arrived in Cairns it was bright and warm. We were picked up from the airport by a Sun Bus shuttle driven by a very talkative Australian woman. On the 45 minute drive from the Cairns airport to the Meridan hotel in Port Douglas  she talked all about the amazing diversity of wildlife to be found in that region. We heard about venomous spiders, sting rays, jelly fish, crocodiles, and snakes. It really made all of us enthusiastic to spend time outside. By the time we got to our hotel and checked in the day was winding down, and even though the temperature was in the 80′s it was still technically winter, so the sun started to set around 6pm.

Hotel in Port Douglas

Pool at the Meridian, also the view from our room

The beach in Port Douglas

After checking in we headed out to the beach, about a two minute walk from our hotel, to take in the last remaining half hour of sunlight.


tiki hut living

Having had a late lunch in the airport we weren’t terribly hungry, so mom went to the grocery store to buy some munchies and a cheese plate for us to snack on, and dad went to the bottle shop to get a bottles of liquor and a bottle of tequila. Since Julie is of legal drinking age in Australia, dad was fascinated by the idea that he could do shots with his youngest daughter, so once he got back to the hotel with his bottle shop purchases he started pestering Julie to do a shot with him.  I think he had anticipated Julie being unable to throw back a shot of tequila without wincing, but once she agreed to do a shot with him, she did so without even flinching. Clearly that side of the Lapointe family can take their alcohol, I can’t say the same for me and mom. Once the novelty of this had passed we snacked and watched some movies on TV before all turning into bed.

The next morning we were up quite early to meet a shuttle that took us to the Marina so we could meet up with Sailaway, which was the boat service we booked for the day to take us out to the reef. Sailaway is one of the smaller companies that does trips to the reef from Port Douglas. They use a small catamaran boat that takes about 30 people out each day, and they sail out so its a very green operation. The ride out was a bit chilly since it was so early in the morning and it was a bit overcast, but by the time we got out to the low isles where we would be snorkeling, the sun had come out and it had warmed up quite a bit.

Our Yatch for the day. Sailing Away!

Riding the boat out to the low isles

Low isles

shrimping boats in the distance

Ready to snorkel!

We were given wet suits, fins, and snorkel gear and then shuttled out to the islands in a small glass bottomed boat. On our way to the island we were able to see all that was below us through the window in the bottom of the boat. We saw all sorts of colorful coral in all sizes and shapes and all manner of wildlife. There is a very large sea turtle population on the reef, and as such they are a big draw for tourists, but we were cautioned not to get to close or to touch them at any point. Our tour guide said “Sea turtles can get to be hundreds of years old, and the last thing you would want if you were a hundred years old would be someone chasing after you in a funny looking mask.” Point taken.

We managed to see quite a few sea turtles and they were HUGE. We also spotted some clown fish, and they were much smaller in person than I thought they were going to be. Mom and dad set out together and looked quite comical trying to get out to the deeper water in their flippers with their pool noodles in hand. Dad was especially uncoordinated, and towards the end of the day his noodle started to get away from him, and in diving after it he got too close to the coral and impaled himself on the reef. He was ok, and just kept laughing about how of all the dangerous things in Australia that could have attacked him he ended up bleeding because he ran into a stationary object. Julie and I fared a little better, although Julie was a lot less daring than I was when it came to getting close to the reef.

Sea turtles! One of the main attractions of the day

Nemo= found.

We snorkeled for about three or so hours, taking breaks whenever we needed them. Around 2pm we loaded back into the glass bottomed boat which took us out to the bigger boat where we had an amazing lunch of shrimp, kebabs, fresh fruit, sandwiches, beer, wine, salad, and assorted deserts. It was such a relaxing way to end a wonderful day. We could not have asked for a better tour company or better weather. As we were finishing up lunch some of the smaller children that we hanging around the back of the boat noticed that we had attracted some friends. Three or four black finned reef sharks were circling our boat, so we began to throw them the leftover shrimp shells and heads, which of course only attracted more marine attention.

black finned reef sharks eating our leftover shrimps

beautiful blue water and a reef shark lurking below the surface

Once back in Port Douglas we headed back to the hotel to shower and change, and then walked up the main street to find somewhere to eat dinner. We landed on this rowdy bar/brick oven pizza restaurant called Rattle and Hum. Since we had a big lunch we all ordered light meals and drinks. I had to assist Julie in ordering a cocktail since she had never done it before. I started her out on a Cosmopolitan, a nice girly classic. After a long day out on the water none of us were up for too much excitement after dinner, so we all went to bed fairly early.

No quiero salir de Espana

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last night we had a ‘UMW Cocktail’ party. Dr Sainz organized it at a restaurant nearby and we had a private party room. We had a TON of h’ourdervs and Sangria. We all had so much fun talking with each other and Dr. Sainz. Everybody got pretty dressed up for the occasion so of course I took tons of pictures.

Emmalee, me, Kate and Rach

Emmalee, Kate, me, Megan and Rachel

Today I started to pack and I definitely am not ready to leave yet. Friday, July 29 is coming too soon. Today we had presentations and compositions in our language classes. Tomorrow we have our finals, and tomorrow night we have a graduation ceremony.


Summer in Spain 2011-07-26 11:11:02

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Eating lunch in Barcelona outside

Las Familias de Espana

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

This is my presentation project that is actually a powerpoint but I broke it down into sections to post on my blog


Durante la dictadura, el tamaño de las familias españolas eran mucho más grandes.  Los impuestos fueron reducidos para familias más grandes en varios artículos como libros, ropa, comida, etc }Una tarjeta de identificación se publicó que iba a ser presentado por los descuentos que se celebrará. Las parejas están teniendo hijos por el bien de su país .”Cuantos más, mejor” .La razón de las familias más numerosas se prefiere porque de la iglesia Catolico


Hoy en día, una familia típica española tiene 1 o 2 hijos, rara vez 3. Sin embargo, todavía hay algunos beneficios que la familia más grande (3 + niños) son capaces de aprovechar.  El número de hijos que las mujeres tenían reducido drásticamente debido a los derechos de las mujeres cada vez más disponibles.  Ellos fueron capaces de trabajar y eran mucho más equivalente a los hombres, lo que limita su tiempo para tener hijos. Cuando las familias se convirtió en dos familias de bajos ingresos la tasa de natalidad ha disminuido drásticamente.  Las familias españolas son cada vez más urbana y transitorios, y cada vez menos anclada en el matrimonio. En 1975, 10,895 niños españoles han nacido fuera del matrimonio, en 2006, fue 137,041. (Time Revista) }Varias entrevistas dijo que la mujer tendría un hijo sin importar si están casados o no, no la práctica de los valores familiares tradicionales. No es insólito que los niños vivan con sus padres hasta los 30 años porque la vivienda es muy caro específicamente para las generaciones más jóvenes y sus bajos ingresos. Por lo general se casan después de haber obtenido la educación, un trabajo y un lugar para vivir. Además, es habitual que las parejas a vivir juntos antes del matrimonio.


Según Deborah, Itziar, y Norah, sus familias son más pequeñas. Deborah e Itziar no tiene hermanos, mientras que Norah tiene 1.  Ellos siempre comen con sus familias, el desayuno, almuerzo y cena. Por la noche, pasar tiempo con sus amigos. Rara vez ni beber, ni salir con sus padres. (Por ejemplo, para las películas. Todas las 3 chicas declararon que habían varios amigos cuyos padres se divorciaron, bajo el régimen de Franco esto habría sido inaudito. El divorcio se ha vuelto mucho más comunes.

Our intercambio group


Las vacaciones son pasados con la familia y la familia extendida. Las tradiciones navideñas de la familia son muy similares a las de los Estados Unidos. (Recolección, comida, regalos)  Deborah, Itziar, y Norah, todos tienen sus familias extendidas relativamente cerca de donde viven, a las pocas horas uno del otro. Dijeron que esto era parte de la razón de que no se han alejado de la zona. Permanecer cerca de sus familias es importante en la cultura española. Muchas de las vacaciones en España giran en torno a la religión en concreto Catholism ya que el 95 por ciento de la población es católica. Es típico que los abuelos son atendidos por sus familiares si tienen el dinero suficiente