Senegal | Tabaski


The eve of Tabaski, everything is quiet, except the five or so sheep atop our roof! Most have traveled to the suburbs of Dakar, or beyond, to join their loved ones for the holiday, but others, like my family, stay in their neighborhoods.  

What is Tabaski 

The Senegalese equivalent of Eid, la fête de Tabaski commemorates Abraham’s devotion to God in his willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael.  Upon seeing that he would indeed make this sacrifice, God excused Abraham from carrying through and instead, had him sacrifice a sheep. Therefore, as my host sister Aida explained to me, each boy must sacrifice a sheep annually to celebrate Abrahams devotion to God.  

Weeks leading up to the day of Tabaski, walk the streets of Dakar to find every open plot of ground packed with sheep under tarp shelters, their hooves pegged to rocks and wooden stakes, vendors keeping watch day and night. It was for that reason that I didn’t get to know my host brother Gorgui until after Tabaski commenced. I would catch him coming home for dinner, then leaving again to spend the night shift watching over the sheep to be sold the next day.  

Wednesday morning, the day of Tabaski, I woke up, restless in anticipation because precisely between the hours of 9:00 and 10:00am, the streets would be scattered with the blood of sheep, one or more per family, depending on how many men.  After much thought, I decided I wanted to watch the sheep ritual take place.  

The women had been preparing food since the minute I awoke. Standing on our little porch, my eyes surveying the sandy street, I watched the men returning from prayer, mats rolled up under their arms. After disappearing into their houses clothed in beautiful silk robes, they emerged in common clothing to dig deep holes in front of each doorstep.  

When my brothers brought our sheep, several friends appeared to help out.  Jumping aside as my brother Gorgui dragged a struggling sheep that had been living on our roof, past me and out the door, I watched as they laid it on the ground, neck over the hole.  Along our street, groups of boys and men did the same. After gently cutting the sheep’s throat, they directed the blood into the hole, and when it was dry, carried the dead sheep inside to butcher it.  

Aida, Mama Thiam, and Sigé had begun food prep early that morning, and the guys pitched in by butchering the sheep, and literally using every last piece. I chopped veggies and tried to take in all that was going on around me. Relatives and neighbors stopping by, kids playing, music blasting, the flow of people and greetings never seemed to cease. It is custom for each visitor to greet everyone in the house, I’m not going to lie, it got pretty overwhelming, but what a great way to get to know the extended family and neighbors, Oh! And break out of my shell as they made me dance to Senegalese music all day long!  

Having finished chopping up the mutton, the men handed it off the the women to BBQ alongside frying potato wedges, spices ground with stone, onion sauce in the making, and proceeded to sit down, smoke, make tea, and talk, comme toujours! In Senegal, the women do almost all the housework, though considered a guest, I was expected to sit with the boys and men, chatting and making tea.   

After a morning full of preparation, lunch was served.  My sister placed the big round bowl on a cloth in the common area and relatives flocked around the neatly placed BBQ mutton and homemade potato wedges topped with a spicy onion sauce. It is custom to use your right hand as you tear chunks of mutton from the bone and to use a friend to get more leverage of the meat is too tough. I don’t recall ever having eaten meat so fresh.  The bone on which I was gnawing had belonged to the sheep I had watched my brothers drag down from the roof that morning, and now, several hours later, I was eating it with spicy onion sauce.  

A now well fed extended family sat back, “sourna” – full/unable to eat more, but my sisters didn’t rest. Qu’est-ce que tu fait? I demanded, watching Mama and Aida chop and fry more potatoes and refill the BBQ with more cuts of mutton. Turns out it was time to prepare the next meal, the one we were to have in less than 3 hours. I don’t know how many extended relatives and friends stopped by that day, but there was an entirely new group present for the late afternoon meal.  I was happy to catch guests snacking on my California pistachios throughout the day.  

A little more relaxing and greeting family, and it was time for dinner! One thing I love about the way we eat here is the mentality that everyone takes care of everyone around the meal bowl.  People will take it in turns to break up the meat with their hands, distributing bite size chunks to each person’s corner of the round bowl to ensure they “mange bien!”. Nek naa torop – everything is delicious! The many meals and gathering of family reminded me of my US family’s celebration of Thanksgiving, a holiday on which other day is spent enjoying each other’s company and cooking food.  Tabaski, however, or just Senegalese eating habits in general, don’t permit you to over-stuff yourself because you’re eating out of one bowl and must leave some for others.  

A day full of festivities and it was time to sortir. The night of Tebaski, people generally dress up and walk the neighborhood visiting friends and loved ones.  It is tradition for children to dress in their best and parade around the neighborhood asking for treats.

Later in the night, my sisters Aida and Mama Tiam loaned me a beautiful orange and blue blouse and skirt and we got ready to “sortir”. Taking a bit of time to prep, I rushed to be ready on time. Turns out there was no need to worry, my sisters took another half hour to hour doing their make up and deciding what to wear. This was one of my first exposures to the reality that everything here is pushed back an hour or more from schedule. 

Two of Aida’s friends picked us up along with our friend Binta and we drove across town, my sisters taking selfies the entire way.  Arriving at Djob’s house (my sisters friend), I thought we were stopping in for last minute items before “la fête”, but this empty house was “la fête”! All six of us lounged in the living room.  I drank juice as my sisters spent an hour posing for photos in their Tabaski best. A cute room backset with Senegalese and Nigerian music and chatting with my sisters friends, I was content. After being there for several hours, we got back in Djob’s car and drove home. I definitely got an age specific perspective of Tabaski night for had I been with my mom, we would have walked around the neighborhood, stopping to see her relatives. Anticlimactic though it was, I enjoyed our little “sortir” that helped me get to know my sisters.   

Somewhat analogous to Thanksgiving, Tabaski was the perfect holiday to have during my first week in Dakar.  I met the extended family throughout the day, spent hours chatting with my brother and his friends around Ataya (tea tradition), witnessed the ritual Tabaski ceremony, and experienced a wonderful introduction of Senegalese culture through their practice of this major holiday.  

Senegal | Bienvenue a Dakar!


Transition, Travels, Neighborhood, and Family

Hello to all and welcome to my “Official Blog!”  Dakar!?  I can hardly believe I am here..

As I begin my third week living and studying in Dakar, it truly feels like I belong here.  But let me get you caught up on my travels to Senegal, my living situation, and my neighborhood! When I emailed my flight plan to my local advisor she responded, “Ohhhh Eliza!  My prayers are with you!” But my flight path to Dakar was a kick start to a wonderful semester.  After saying goodbye to my family in SFO, Itook WOW Airlines to Iceland, where I transferred and arrived in Denmark at ~5 pm.  Practically jumping off the plane and boarding the city Metro, I began my 12 hour layover at the Copenhagen metro stop my friend Anna had suggested.

I decided to center my adventure around finding the famous Little Mermaid statue, and saw some lovely architecture and cute narrow cobblestone streets on the way.  After sleeping a few hours near my gate in the Copenhagen Int’l. airport, I boarded yet another flight… to Lisbon!

A few hours later, I began another 12 hour vacation in Portugal!  The red, yellow, and deep orange tiles pop out against the blue sky, and after wandering through oceanside Lisbon for several hours, I met up with Sammy, another student en route pour Dakar!I am eternally grateful I did, as we bonded immediately and have been each other’s “comfort zone” ever since. After some tasty food and drink in a cute alleyway, we hopped back on the Metro to catch our evening flight to Dakar!!

Dakar, Senegal’s capital, is situated on the westernmost point of Africa.  A former French Colony, Senegal’s national language is French, while Wolof is the language most prominently spoken in Dakar.

Touching down in Dakar after speaking French to the Senegalese man sitting next to me for five hours, I couldn’t have been more excited and at ease. Driving through Dakar that night, my head out the window, smiling cheeks enjoying the night air, my mind full of enthusiastic anticipation, I finally started to feel like this was all real.

My host mother, Jacqueline Gomez, greeted me at the Brioche Dorée, a bakery at the center of our neighborhood; Cite Assemble, Oakam, Dakar.  Her arms open wide, I immediately felt comfortable and at ease. Having worried that arriving at 2:30am would awake the family, I was surprised to find everyone still up; Aida and Maman Thiam, my 27 and 21 year-old sisters, my 24 and 14 year-old brothers, Gorgui and Sherif… everyone was up and awake except for Baby Couree, my mother’s 6 months old granddaughter who lives with the Thiam family while her mother studies in Washington DC.  I would soon learn that staying up until 2:30am is habitual for this family, and that “going out” for Senegalese youth means returning home at 5:00 or 6:00am! They care for me like I’m truly their sister & daughter, and I cannot imagine a better fit for me.

I learned more during my first full day in Dakar than perhaps any other so far, and I spent most of it in our house. I think everyone can relate to the feeling of waking up, having arrived somewhere new in the dark, and feeling completely surprised and renewed.  I woke up to Senegalese pop music blasting from the main room, under my blue mosquito net, and smiled as I greeted my new reality. I have a small room and my own bathroom in which there is a bed, chair, shelf for clothes, locking drawer, toilet, sink, and shower. The shower is cold, but honestly, I wouldn’t want anything else in this humidity. Emerging from my room, my mom took me on a brief house tour, showing me the boys’ room, girls’/her room, living room, hallway/hangout space (where we spend most of our time), 2 small outdoor courtyards for cooking, hanging out, and dishwashing, and the tiny kitchen.  The front room of our house, which opens to the street, is lined with colorful garments and serves as my mother’s tailor shop. Next, she took me to the roof where they keep 7 goats. I get to hear and smell them constantly throughout the day. The house is small and simple, but a perfect size for my family and the many visitors they host as they pass through daily. That leads me to discovering the atmosphere of “Teranga” here in Senegal.

Teranga refers to hospitality, an allusion to the warmth of the welcome.  It’s a Wolof word that comes from the word Teral, or the word Earth, signifying arrival. To this they hold true.  It took me a few days to figure out which of the guys sitting in my house was actually my older brother, because there are 5-8 friends & neighbors in our house at all times. In addition, it is unacceptable for someone to enter without individually greeting every person in the room… but aside from that, come and go as you please!  Hence, I was given a very warm welcome not only by my own family, but by the whole block.

Because it was my first day, my sister Aida made Thiéboudienne (chéh-bu-jen), the national dish of Senegal, which consists of red rice (made with tomatoes and vegetables), fish (traditionally “chof,” but not so available today due to overfishing), cassava root, carrots, eggplants, cabbage, and peppers.  This dish truly embodies the concept of “teranga.” It is served in a large, round bowl, rice on the bottom, fish, veggies, and sauce on top, around which everyone sits. One uses their right hand to pick the fish off the bone, break off a piece of vegetable, and/or scoop up the seasoned rice, squeeze it into a ball, and mange!! Having been a vegetarian for the past few years, I found myself struggling with the meat, but as everyone eats, people take it upon themselves to break off chunks of meat, sometimes tugging the chunk between two people with harder meats, and distributing it to each person’s portion of the bowl.  I decided to put my vegetarian diet on hold while in Senegal, and boy was that a good idea. Not only do they eat meat for just about every meal, but these dishes are to die for! They are hearty,saucy, spicy, and you just can not overeat because everyone is sharing from the same bowl. I’ve found it to be the perfect amount per meal, and although I sometimes crave more vegetables than I get, I couldn’t be more impressed with the cooking.

That evening, I accompanied my sisters to nearby boutiques (small corner shops where you can buy anything from cell phone credit to ice cream), and went on a brief neighborhood tour with the other 15 US students living in Oakam. Our neighborhood lies in north-western Dakar, bordering the Atlantic. It’s only a 15 minute walk from our area to the beach, which is truly a gift! Walking to the beach after a long, HOT, Dakar day and swimming in the Atlantic could not be more refreshing! There is a small restaurant at our local Mamelles Beach, and a beachfront perfect for swimming, football, or watching the sunset.

Aside from the beach, Oakam is famous for an enormous monument to the African Renaissance and a hilltop lighthouse.  La Monument de la Renaissance Africaineis a solid copper statue built in 2010 that commemorates the Rebirth of Africa and Senegalese independence.  It is 49m tall, and atop a hill of approximately 100m, therefore, climbing the stairs and taking an elevator to the top guarantees quite the panoramic view of the Dakar peninsula.

I can thoroughly say I am pleased with my neighborhood placement, fellow students, and family in Dakar.  There is a dirt soccer field next to my house, a nearby beach, incredible food, interesting and genuine people visiting 24/7, and Wally Seck and Maitre Gims playing in my house all the time.  Yes, it is hot, and Dakar is definitely an adjustment, but I am feeling positive and like I adjusted relatively fast. Quality time socializing is an enormous part of the lifestyle here, which gives me the opportunity not only to become close to my family and neighbors, but to practice French all the time! I am grateful for all my French teachers and classmates in the past who helped me build enough ability to successfully communicate my needs, and to engage in more than surface level conversation with Senegalese family and friends. French is the official language of Senegal, however, everyone in the capital and surrounding area speak both French and Wolof. Learning Wolof has been slow thus far, but I hope that through my class sessions and full immersion, my understanding will continue to grow.

I called my Dad on face-time the other day and found myself saying, “I was born to live in Senegal!” Obviously, Dakar is only one small peninsula and CIEE has provided me a very smooth start, but I thoroughly love it here.  With every day comes an adventure I never could have anticipated. I look forward to many excursions, my classes, and beginning my Internship at the Ministry of the Environment for the Senegalese Government!

Cyprus | Post Midterm Relaxing, Visiting a Ghost Town and Ayia Napa Weekend Excursion


This week we completed our first midterm, and now we have about a week and a half until our final. The material slowly gets harder and harder, every time I think I start to get a grasp on a concept I realize that I’m actually six concepts behind. I’m sure that the frustration with physics is a universal thing though. We still have four more chapters to learn before we take our final, and our professor is really doing her best to squeeze it all in. 

Besides physics I’m really starting to understand that sunscreen, cold water, and deodorant are my best friends in this climate. Since it’s mid-July the heat is really picking up and most days the weather reaches just above 100 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels around 65%. We spend the bulk of our days inside classrooms or lab, sheltered by the air conditioning.  

This weekend Global Semesters arranged a weekend excursion to Ayia Napa, another coastal beach town. Ayia Napa is listed as one of Europe’s top beach towns, and is the prime tourist spot on the island. It’s mostly known for its nightlife, beaches, and caves. The main beach we visited was Nissi Beach, a very popular beachfront with clubs and beach shacks lining the sand.  

Since we were given the weekend to go and explore on our own my friends and I booked a boat tour with Aphrodite II Cruises on Saturday so we could see all the famous sights and go snorkeling. I had never been snorkeling before and so this was by far my favorite part of the entire trip. The cruise company picked us up in front of the Panas Holiday Village hotel where we were staying and took us to the Ayia Napa harbor where all the boats were docked. The boat took us all throughout the eastern coast of Cyprus and we got to see Cape Greco, the sea caves, and Famagusta, the ghost town. On the boat tour they docked twice and gave us free snorkeling gear so that we could swim in the Mediterranean Sea. The water was so clear and blue I had never seen anything like it. There were so many fish swimming around that would flit away as soon as I got close. Even though I got very sunburnt the boat cruise in Ayia Napa was by far an experience I’ll always remember.  

The UNIC Physics group also spent a couple of hours exploring Famagusta. Famagusta used to be a main tourist destination before Turkey invaded Cyprus, and now Varosha, the southern half of Famagusta, is completely vacated and empty. Famagusta now is on the Turkish side of Cyprus and we had to cross the border to visit. The town was filled with beautifully preserved buildings and churches.  

The last stop we made this weekend was to Larnaca, a city nearby the capital. We stopped at St. Lazarus Church to take a group picture and explore the inside of the church. There was a private baptism ceremony inside the church so we got some ice cream and wandered around before heading back to Nicosia. We’ve just moved out of the hotel and into our apartments and so I’ll tell you all about it next time. Until then! 

Arisa Dhiensiri studied abroad in Nicosia, Cyprus, in summer 2018: 

Cyprus | Week 2: 4th of July Celebration, Day Trip to Troodos Mountains


We just completed our second week of physics and we’re gearing up to take our first midterm next week! It’s so crazy to think that after two weeks we’re at the halfway point for our first course. The physics is getting even more intense and fast paced than last week since we have 10 chapters to cover for the first midterm, but luckily the first two chapters are review from calculus.

4th of July

This week we celebrated the Fourth of July with a small pool party! After lecture we made a quick stop at the hotel before we all headed to a local pool about five minutes away. There were a couple of students on other Global Semester programs so it was nice to get to meet new faces and hear about their experiences in Cyprus. The pool was decked out with red white and blue décor, and they served us traditional American food for dinner, hamburgers and hot dogs. The pool party was a really convenient way to blow off some steam and cool off, since it gets crazy hot in Cyprus.

We’ve just gotten back to our hotel from a day trip we took to the Troodos Mountains. The troodos mountains are the largest mountain range on the island. At first I was very apprehensive since I hate hiking but fortunately they had a bus pick us up and drive us around. The mountains were about an hour away from the hotel. Even though the roads were small and windy the view on the way up was so gorgeous. We were able to gaze down on the top of Omodos Village, a small wine town nestled amongst the mountains.

The first stop we made was at the Troodos Geopark where we got to look around the Visitor Center and learn about the local vegetation and geographic background.

After stopping at the Geopark we made our way to Troodos Square, which is the highest point in all of Cyprus. In the square there were tons of kiosks set up selling local nuts, berries, and other souvenirs. The kiosks gave out small samples of their food, and I went home with a bag of honey-glazed almonds that I basically finished before the day was over.

Before getting lunch we visited Lambouri Winery, a winery that specialized in producing a Cyprus tradition: Commandaria wine. Commandaria wine is a sweet dessert wine that is made from the grapes that grow in the Troodos Mountains. The wine is nicknamed “Wine of the Kings” and is the oldest wine in the world. While at Lambouri Winery we indulged in a wine tasting that culminated in trying Commandaria. This was my favorite part of the day, mostly because of the wine, and also because the Winery was so beautiful and scenic.

Once the wine tasting concluded we headed to Omodos Village for lunch and to explore. Omodos Village is cradled within the mountain ranges and is mainly known for producing wine. The village was so beautiful and quaint with really delicate cobblestone streets and rugged stone buildings. For lunch my friends and I stopped at Makrinari, which was a little bit further down from the main center. The streets were mostly empty and except for some shops, local artwork, and lots of cats.

We’ve just arrived at the hotel and most of us are already setting up in the lobby and prepping for our midterm. Wish us luck!

Arisa Dhiensiri studied abroad in Nicosia, Cyprus, in summer 2018:

South Africa | Why South Africa?


Back in 2013, my dad told me he was going to South Africa and invited me to come along. I grew up in Los Angeles, California, rarely learning or venturing outside of North America. I knew virtually nothing about Africa, and from what I had heard in the news and various media sources, I was a bit uneasy about it. However, I am adventurous spirit, and so I decided to head to Johannesburg, South Africa, with my dad, at the tender age of 16. What I didn’t know at the time of my arrival, was that it would be my favorite trip I have ever taken, up until recently (because another African country has replaced it of course).

The reasons I loved South Africa when I was here in 2013 were numerous. For starters, I was able to see Soweto, which is a township with a vibrant culture and it is also home to Mandela House. Additionally, I went ATV racing in the mountains and saw zebras, visited Sun City, which is an action-packed getaway spot, and saw Sandton, Johannesburg, which is the richest square mile in all of Africa. What I loved most about South Africa, however, was the people. Everyone was so nice, friendly, and willing to lend a helping hand. South Africa had captured my heart and I knew I had to return.

In college, the opportunity to revisit South Africa emerged. While UCLA does not have a program that allows you to study in Johannesburg, they have a partnership with the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. In contrast to my knowledge of Africa in 2013, by 2017 I had learned a lot about Africa, specifically South Africa, and its success, struggles, failures, and beauty. I have always wanted to learn more about South Africa and its rich, yet complex history, which includes Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, and Trevor Noah.

I had read and heard that Cape Town was stunning and that it had a modern wonder of nature in Table Mountain, so I needed little convincing that this was the right decision for me. Additionally, since my last year of university was approaching, I knew I had to strike while the iron was hot. About a year ago, I applied to study abroad in Cape Town, and was accepted into the program. My South African journey awaited and I couldn’t wait to settle into my new life abroad.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in fall 2018:

Ghana | Outside Accra: The Central Region and Cape Coast Excursions

By Ashley Young

After two weeks of living in Accra, learning about Ghanaian culture and society, and finally (finally!) adjusting our melanin cycles to the African sun, it was time to leave the Greater Accra Region and travel to the Central Region. The Central Region is situated on the coast, much like Accra, but due West of the University of Ghana by a few hours. The capital of the Central Region is Cape Coast, and near it is a town called Elmina. This is where we (the UCEAP students and staff) made our stay for the weekend.

Note: This trip was coordinated by our UC Study Center staff! I did not realize this when I chose to come to Ghana, but UCEAP includes many trips, meals, overnight stays, and excursions in the University of Ghana program! I’m not sure to what extent other programs or locations do this, but it is certainly worth looking into if you are considering studying abroad in Ghana or another country through UCEAP.

When we first arrived in Elmina, our staff took us to Elmina Slave Castle. The Elmina Slave Castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea. Currently, it is the oldest standing European building south of the Sahara. While the castle was originally established as a trade settlement, it evolved into one of the largest stops in what is now referred to as the Triangular Trade, in which Europeans brought finished goods to Africa, traded for human slaves which they brought to the New World, and then produced raw goods in the New World which they exported to Europe. Elmina castle belonged to the Portuguese from 1482 to 1637, the Dutch from 1637 to 1872 (the slave trade ended during this time period, in 1814), the British from 1872 to 1957, and finally, Ghana, from 1957 to present.

While the pictures I have posted of the castle may seem beautiful, it is anything but. The horrors that occurred within its walls and as part of the larger Trans-Atlantic slave trade are truly awful. While visiting the castle was not a pleasant experience, it served as an important part of the UCEAP University of Ghana study abroad program and helped us to understand the past and current marginalization and exploitation of Africa by other nations.

Though our first day in the Central Region was somber, the next day was packed with fun and exciting activities! First, we took a beautiful drive to the Kakum Rainforest Reserve, which is part of Kakum National Park. There, we did a short hike and a canopy walk, where we moved through the trees on a series of long, tall, suspended bridges! Some of my classmates would describe the experience as daunting and risky; others would describe it as beautiful and totally awesome! Personally, I think that it was a good dose of both of these things, and I would certainly recommend the experience to others.

After our rainforest adventure, we headed back to Elmina and the Coconut Grove Beach Resort, where we were staying. There, we rode horses, had lunch and dinner at the resort restaurant, and swam in both the seaside pool and the ocean itself. The following morning, a few of us got up early to watch the sun rise over the waves. For me, this was truly the highlight of our trip. The way that the light fingered the clouds, the beautiful and serene pink and orange hues, the shimmering reflection of the sun on the waves, and the sound of birds awakening in the trees – it was a wonderful experience, and a peaceful way to reflect on our time in Ghana thus far.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post! The next post will be about another weekend trip coordinated by UCEAP to the Ashanti Region, so stay tuned!


Complimentary Twi Lesson!: In every blog post from here on out, I will be sharing some words, phrases, or sentences that I have learned for conversational Twi! This post’s words are:

Maakye! (Good Morning!)

Maaha! (Good Afternoon!)

Maadwo! (Good Evening!)

Cyprus | Introduction, Information and Formalities !

By Arisa Dhiensiri

Hi and welcome to my study abroad blog! Through this platform I’m going to take you along with me during my summer in Cyprus. However I thought it would be nice to go through some introductions and information on the program beforehand. My name is Arisa and I’m about to start my third year at UCLA as a Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology major and a Global Health Minor. At UCLA I’ve been so lucky to find my home in organizations like Bruins Fighting Pediatric Cancer and Project Literacy, and I’m so excited to continue the Bruin experience outside of Westwood.

Me and my Baby Bruin from Project Literacy!

I just arrived in my hotel at Nicosia, Cyprus, and am really looking forward to settling in. I landed at the Larnaca International Airport, which is about an hour away from the hotel. Global Semesters, the program coordinators, arranged a group pick up from the airport at 6:00 pm, but since my flight came in after the pick up time they set me up with an individual taxi. En route to the hotel my taxi driver gave me a University of Nicosia Global Semesters bag filled with Cyprus brochures, a cell phone, and the daily schedule for the program.

UNIC Goody Bag

Through this program I’m going to be fulfilling my yearlong physics requirement, and finally completing all my lower division courses. This program was designed by UCEAP in coordination with the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, to fit an entire year of introductory physics into 8 weeks. We have Lectures every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and then Labs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While cramming such a sheer amount of physics into a small window of time seems daunting and absolutely insane, I’m looking forward to never having to do physics again after this summer.

Cyprus is a small island in the Mediterranean with a steep cultural history. It’s said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love. It’s rumored that she washed up on the shores after being born from the foams of the Mediterranean Sea. During my eight weeks I’ll mostly be located within the capital, Nicosia, which is inland. Nicosia is the largest city on the island and like the rest of Cyprus it’s divided into a Turkey Cypriot side and a Greek Cypriot side. The program has been set up so that on the weekends we’ll be taking trips to beach towns like Paphos and Ayia Napa, and other areas like Troodos Village, to truly get acquainted with the island.

For the first two weeks of the program I’ll be staying at the Altius Hotel in Nicosia. The university apartments are currently getting renovated so we’ll be moving into the apartments later on. Global Semesters, the program coordinators, have scheduled a bus to take us from the hotel to class every day until we relocate to the apartments.

Altus Hotel Lobby

Cyprus | Orientation, Exploring Nicosia and Touring UNIC

By Arisa Dhiensiri

Today we had a jam-packed day filled with museum tours, orientation, a nice welcome dinner and lots of walking. We started the day by eating breakfast at Altius Hotel before heading over to the Cyprus Archaeological Museum. The museum ended up only being a ten-minute walk from the hotel but in the heat it felt like miles. When we got to the museum we were separated into two groups and led on a tour guide. The museum houses the largest collection of Cypriot Antiquities in the world and it was really fascinating to learn about the history of Cyprus. Cyprus, being in the middle of the Mediterranean, is a cross section for so many different empires such as the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Persian, as well as having really strong Greek roots and influences. The tour guide explained how Cypriot art from specific time periods reflected the empire Cyprus was a part of at the time.

All of us at the Cyprus Archaeological Museum

After the museum tour we walked to the Old City of Nicosia and we were able to see the divide between North Nicosia and South Nicosia. Nicosia is the only divided capital in the world, the North being Turkish occupied, and the South as part of the European Union. The Green Line is No Man’s Land, and is the distinction between North and South. Directly around the border is the old town, Nicosia’s historic center. Old City is enclosed by Venetian Walls and a little removed from New City, Nicosia’s more modern side. The streets in old town are cobblestone and filled with beautiful historic churches and buildings that are very reminiscent of Greece.

A church in Old Town

Exploring Old Town

For lunch we were able to walk around Ledras Street in the old city. Ledras Street is kind of like LA’s Abbot Kinney, super cute and chic, usually where people go to hangout, and filled with picturesque cafes and restaurants. The tour guide from the Museum came with us to old town to explain the buildings and give some restaurant recommendations that I’m excited to try later on.

Ledras Street

After getting to know Nicosia, we walked to the University to start our orientation and get a campus tour. The university was mostly empty because there aren’t that many students taking classes over the summer. Compared to UCLA, The University of Nicosia is pretty small, however it has a really modern feel. On the university tour we passed by our future apartments and got to check out the restaurants included in our meal plan. Since they are getting renovated we’re staying at the Altius Hotel for the time being, but they told us that future programs would be staying in the new dorms for the entire time. The program coordinators also provided us with meal vouchers that work as our meal plan. The meal vouchers are good for 3 different restaurants located 5 minutes away from the university, and a 24-hour bakery.

We concluded our day with a welcome dinner in Old Town at To Anamma Traditional Restaurant. Here they served us Mezze, which is a huge collection of small dishes. The dishes include a variety of meats, a Cypriot Salad, dips, pita, and halloumi, traditional Cyprus cheese. Through dinner we were introduced to traditional Cyprus food and the rest of the people on the program. The program is mostly comprised of UCLA life-science students, however there are 3 people from UC Davis. The mezze was really the perfect way to end such a long day.

Tomorrow we begin our first week of classes and honestly I’m a little scared for the physics! See you next week!

Ghana | First Impressions of Ghana

By Ashley Young

              Akwaaba! Welcome! It is the end of my first week in Ghana, and WOW it has been an adventure! Since arriving, I have been taking part in the UCEAP Ghana Orientation Class, a class that introduces students to the culture, history, economy, and politics of Ghana. Our UCEAP program staff, two Ghanaian student assistants, and a handful of professors from the University of Ghana, have been leading us through this practical and experiential course, which is a mixture of lectures, field trips, and personal interactions with the Ghanaian culture and people. Thus far, we have toured the University campus, acquainted ourselves with its surrounding neighborhoods, tasted many new foods, learned about Ghanaian culture, including the importance of dance and music, and explored the historical, social, and political contexts of the country we are living in.
              While I have only been here one week, it is clear that studying in Ghana will be an eye-opening experience. One thought that has captured my attention so far is the fact that Ghana, and Africa as a whole, does not lack resources. Before I came here, I was of the opinion that Africa was without: without the basic materials and items needed to sustain a flourishing continent. My first impression of Ghana confirmed this opinion – from the impoverished street hawkers, who walk between cars at intersections selling goods like plantain chips, laundry soap, water, and eggs, to open sewage systems on the sides of roads, to begging children who follow and hold on to you as you walk to your destination, to the inconsistent flow of running water in the University dorms – all of these sights seemed to confirm that Ghana lacks the important resources needed to serve its people.
              But this is not the case. AFRICA DOES NOT LACK RESOURCES. Ghana, in particular, is rich in fertile land for agriculture and cattle rearing, gold, diamonds, bauxite, timber, and even oil. Alack of resources is not the issue. The issue is access, and the efficient assemblage of resources to most benefit the country. One example of this issue was discussed in the orientation class: Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (the country neighboring Ghana to the West) produce between them 60% of the cocoa in the world market. However, they only make 5.7% of the market profit share. This is an extreme inequity, and unfortunately, not an anomaly in Ghana or the greater African continent.While at times, it has been difficult to be a personal witness to so many political and economic development issues, the Ghanaian culture is rich and there is much beauty to be found!Below, I have attached some photos of the places we have gone:
              All of these excursions have been facilitated by our UCEAP Program staff – Auntie Rose, Auntie Sharon, and Auntie Dorcas – as well as two Ghanaian students – Araba and JoJo. We call our staff our Aunties because in Ghanaian culture, the family extends far beyond the nuclear family that we generally acknowledge in the United States, and individuals call those older than themselves either “Auntie” or “Uncle” to show respect and/or signify a relationship. Additionally, the student assistants, Araba and JoJo, have received their names based on the day of the week they were born on. This is a traditional Ghanaian practice – Ghanaians believe that each day has a spirit associated with it, and that this plays into the character of the individual.
              In fact, the integration of traditional Ghanaian culture into the more modern Ghanaian society is quite interesting! There are many practices and customs alive in Accra that I have never heard of before, many revolving around important milestones in life such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death. Already, we have been invited to both a traditional Ghanaian wedding and a naming ceremony for a new baby; I am sure I will get to experience many new traditional customs at these events!
There are many practices and customs alive iI am excited to learn more about Ghana, and excited to share it with you as I go along. Enjoy reading!
Ekua (MyGhanaian name!)

South Africa | UCLA vs UCT


I knew the University of Cape Town was a great school before I got to South Africa, but little did I know it was the best university on the entire continent. UCT’s campus is also stunning, as it is right in front of Table Mountain. The differences between classes at UCLA and UCT are plentiful, as are the similarities. Nonetheless, both experiences have been fun, wherein I feel as if though I have been academically challenged in both places.

In terms of similarities, UCT and UCLA both have a plethora of social clubs. I joined the squash team since I play squash at UCLA, and that was cool since I got to play with and against South African squash players. I went to UCT’s squash formal with an American and S. African too. Additionally, I decided to leave my comfort zone and join the canoe team, and it has one of my best decisions in CPT.

Another cool aspect about UCT is that similarly to UCLA, the campus and its students are socially aware and very active concerning social issues, such as mental health awareness and LGBQT issues.

If you are also worried about not having Janss steps to congregate on when you study abroad (if you decide to head to Cape Town), they also have their own version of it called the Jammie Steps, which I must say, gives UCLA’s steps a run for their money.

The biggest difference between UCLA and UCT, however, are the grading scales. At UCLA an A+ is a 97-100, an A is a 93-96, and A- is a 90 to 92 and so on and so forth. At UCT, I received a 75 on an assignment. I was disappointed and went to talk to the professor, until I learned that UCT had a totally different grading scale. First pass, or an A, is anything from 75 to 100, 70-74 is the second pass first division, or an A-, and 67-69 is second class second division, or B+, and the grades descend from there.

The class size difference at UCLA and UCT is also noticeable. The average class size for the courses that I was enrolled in at UCT was around 60 to 70 students. At UCLA, they have ranged from 75 to 300 students. Another difference is how much each assignment is worth (percentage wise). At UCLA, final exams usually range from 25 to 40 percent, but in contrast, at UCT, all of my final exams were fifty percent of the grade.

UCT may be different than UCLA in some regards, but it still felt like a home away from home, and it was an interesting and informative academic and social experience.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in fall 2018: