This Day in History

Today is known as Veteran's Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Great Britain and its commonwealth nations, but what are the origins of these November 11 holidays?

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the Allied forces (France, Russia, the British Empire, Italy and the United States) signed an armistice with Germany to officially end World War I. To commemorate this event, November 11 was called Armistice Day.

After World War II, the United States changed Armistice Day's name to Veterans Day, and the named was changed to Remembrance Day in Great Britain and its commonwealth nations.

In many parts of the world, people continue to commemorate the armistice at 11am on November 11 by taking a moment of silence.

Wikipedia is a great source of information on any topic.

Homestay Advice

By Sue Lavene

One of the best ways to become really familiar with a country is through its people. To make your trip even more fulfilling and to broaden your experience, one way to expand on that might be to stay with a local family wherever you will be based. If you are taking language, cooking or dance classes or just want to travel around a particular city using that city as your hub, you might want to consider staying with a local host family instead of at a Bed & Breakfast, hotel or hostel, at least for part of your trip.

When people travel abroad, even though they expect things to be different from the way things are at home, I don't feel that we always know what exactly WILL be different, especially in terms of those subtle differences in culture and the realities of everyday living. We bring with us certain attitudes, beliefs and expectations that sometimes get in our way of having a positive experience and we do ourselves a disservice.

I've had several opportunities so far to stay with host families during my travels abroad. For me, they were all very positive experiences; however, as different as there are people, so are these experiences.

So, I would like to discuss what to expect of a homestay experience as well as how to better prepare yourself, if that's the type of lodging option you choose for your trip. Here are some things to think about to get you started:

Realistic Expectations: This set of beliefs is probably one of the most important guidelines to be pondered because of its impact on the outcome of a person''s trip as well as being a challenging one to change. It can either make or ruin one's time in a country. Since your expectations are ripened over time, it is often times very difficult to change them but not impossible as long as you are open to it. Do yourself a favor: Make a commitment to expand your inner world in attempt to balance your expectations.

Meals: This is a difficult and often frustrating subject for travelers, especially those from the US since we (myself included) typically are accustomed to preparing and eating such large portions at home. Go to any restaurant at home and you're likely to have lots of leftover food for another meal or two or perhaps, you eat the whole platter.

Not necessarily the case abroad. In fact, our clients often report coming away from a meal still hungry. The reality of the meal situation is that some host families try to accommodate their guests by feeding them like they are accustomed in larger portions; however, other families serve meals as they would eat themselves, sparingly and more healthfully in terms of quantity ingested.

Family Interaction: What I have found most frustrating for our clients in this category is that the more extroverted ones crave lots of family interaction while some of our more reserved clients enjoy having their own space in which to explore alone. Neither scenario is better. It just is what it is. Some host families are more outgoing, enjoying spending the time with their guests, often inviting them out for a bite or along on a family outing. However, the reality is that not all families are as enthusiastic about having guests or are more reserved themselves, preferring more time alone with their own family.

For those of us who enjoy having alone time in between our activities and mealtimes, a private room provides just that, the ability to come and go respectfully, with your own set of house keys. We have our own space in which to relax and renew without interruption. There are host families for this type of student. On the other hand, for those clients who enjoy interacting as much as possible with their hosts, sharing the main areas of the house with them, there are other host families who are more friendly and outgoing.

When deciding to stay with a host family, it's really important for you to list your choices for a type of host family, stating whether you would like family interaction or a quiet, peaceful environment.

Family Demographics: As different as there are people, there are that many family types out there. You can be assigned to a typical host family with mother, father and children, a widow without children, a single mother with small children, a couple without children or with children who live elsewhere, etc. As you can see, there are lots of varieties of families. So, if you would prefer a particular type of experience, you should make sure to ask for it.

Although this type of lodging definitely has many benefits in terms of what you can get out of it, it is not for everybody. Unless you purposefully set out to experience it, there's little you can do to know in advance whether you will like it. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best. However, before you decide to venture out, you might want to prepare yourself mentally as much as you can for what can potentially be the experience of a lifetime.

Travel Portugal – Part Two

By Beth Klemick

Did you know that Lisbon has a sister bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco?

While our very friendly Portuguese taxi driver was pointing out the club scene along the Tagus Riverfront, my attention was solely on the bridge we were about to pass. If you forgot about where you were for one second, you could have easily imagined that you were in San Francisco, not Lisbon. The Portuguese sister bridge, the Ponte 25 de Abril, is no mere coincidence, as it was constructed under North American management beginning in 1962. This suspension bridge opened in 1966 and was originally named the Ponte Salazar after the then-prime minister/dictator of Portugal, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. The bridge was renamed the Ponte 25 de Abril after the 1974 Portuguese Revolution, which started on that date, so as to remove any reference to the former dictator. The bridge connects western Lisbon and Almada on the southern bank of the river, adjacent to the Cristo Rei monument, which is a smaller version of the Brazilian original in Rio de Janeiro. At one time the Ponte 25 de Abril was the longest suspension bridge in Europe, but it has been now been surpassed by the Humber Bridge in the United Kingdom and Bosphorus Bridge of Istanbul.

Coming soon…our visit to Parque de Nacoes, home and host of the World Expo of 1998!

Travel Portugal – Part 1

Whenever I search for cheap airfare or hotels on the internet, I'm always annoyed by how long the process takes. There are so many different websites dedicated to travel bargains that it's difficult for me to stop at just one because I always think a better deal can be found.

Well, enter OneTime, literally a one-stop shop for travel deals. All you do is enter your destination information and check the sites you wish to search, and OneTime does the rest. If you don't want to deal with lots of pop-ups (each travel site opens in a new window), OneTime allows you select each site individually. Personally, I'm not a fan of pop-ups, but there's something so cool about nine windows opening at once to find the best deal for me.

Happy Searching!

Movie: El Espinazo del Diablo

The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo) is one of those rare movies that I saw in the theater without the faintest idea as to how terrified I would be. I am not a fan of suspense or horror movies, and this movie is a mix of both; in spite of the fact that this movie gives me nightmares (It's not that scary…I'm just a horror movie lightweight), I've seen it several times and even own it on DVD.

The Devil's Backbone is set in 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Carlos, son of a Republican war hero, is sent to live in an orphanage (one with a humongous bomb stuck in the middle of the courtyard, and no, it hasn't exploded yet) run by the headmistress, Carmen, and Professor Cesares (both Republican sympathizers) in the middle of nowhere. Carlos is not comfortable at the orphanage from the beginning, and his discomfort grows when he discovers Santi, the ghost of a young boy living in a building used for storage. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'll just tell you that Santi's warning, "Many of you will die.", will leave you at the edge of your seat.

This description might be rather confusing (and somewhat off-putting) for someone who hasn't seen the film, but it's difficult to explain all of the elements of The Devil's Backbone. It's a beautifully filmed movie, directed by Guillermo del Toro, and lovers of horror and suspense will be thrilled by every twist and turn. Although I highly recommend The Devil's Backbone, I don't think it's an appropriate movie for young children or the truly faint of heart.

Portugal Trip – Part One

By Beth Klemick

Sunny, brilliant Portugal, how I wish I was back there now. Fall is here in Philadelphia, and the temperature is becoming cold. In late September, my boyfriend and I traveled to and spent eight wonderful days between Lisbon and Armacao de Pera in the Algarve. It was a perfect balance of city, culture and history blended with a few carefree, relaxing days lounging on the beach.

Lisbon, the Capital of Portugal, is a fascinating, monumental city that boasts centuries of history and has endured the conquest of the Moors, a devastating earthquake and fire. It is also a city with great shopping and nightlife; as you wander the medieval streets at night, you can hear the fado pouring out into the narrow streets.

Our first full day in Lisbon was spent mainly in Belem, which is often referred to as the historical heart and soul of Portugal. The natural harbor of Belem was the launching point for the exploratory voyages that made Portugal a sea-faring nation and once a dominant world power. There are so many notable sights of interest in Belem to explore. For example, the Tower of Belem (served as a fortress, prison and lookout), the Monument of Discoveries (patterned after a ship with Price Henry the Navigator at the bow), the Jeronimos Monastery (the tomb of Vasco de Gama is here!), and the Presidential Palace/Museum, all of which are free on Sundays!

Next week, is that the Golden Gate Bridge in Portugal? More exploration of Lisbon and the Algarve to follow too!

Recipe: Pan de Muerto

Today is Halloween, but tomorrow begins Mexico's Days of the Dead (Los Dias De Los Muertos) celebrations. Here is a recipe for Pan de Muerto, the "bread of the dead".

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water

5 to 5-1/2 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.

Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest

Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.

If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.

I found this recipe at Global Gourmet, where they also give you the history of the Day of the Dead.

Movie: Maria Full of Grace

By Sue Lavene

Maria Full of Grace (Maria, llena eres de gracia)

This is a distressing though honest view of one young woman's life-changing and life-threatening journey through the dark and scary world of drug trafficking, taking her from her rural town in Colombia to the streets of Queens, NY. Starting the film as an employee of a flower factory, pregnant Maria Alvarez, in search of some desperately needed money for her family, takes the risky plunge to become a "drug mule".

Playing himself in the movie, Orlando Tobon, often referred to as the "Mayor of Little Colombia", in his one-room travel agency in Queens, has worked with many immigrants for more than 15 years, collecting the unclaimed bodies of less fortunate drug couriers, raising money for their burial, helping people to find employment as well as tax preparation. You will find an interesting MSNBC interview with Orlando from May 2004 here.

My overall impression of this film was with mixed emotions, one of a
microscope portrayal of an innocent woman looking to the promise of a
significant sum of money through one of the most dangerous and hated
activities in society. I sat through most of the film white-knuckled,
praying that Maria would make it out alive to be able to use that money toward an honest and bright future in her adopted country.

On the other hand, at times, without getting onto a soapbox, I was angry at the reality that people do smuggle drugs into our country because of the upsetting effects of it seen in the media, though this film carefully focuses its energies back on the people swallowing the drug pellets. I couldn't help but feel the human side of the women's ordeals and their obvious desperation. Even though, at times, it's difficult to watch, I would recommend it. And for lovers of the Spanish language, it's shown in Spanish (with subtitles)!

Concert Review: Lila Downs & Mariza

By Jennifer Horigan

It's rare to find a perfect pairing of concert performers. I was lucky to see one such performance, the pairing of Lila Downs from Mexico and Mariza from Portugal. Lila Downs performed first. She has become recognized in this country with a small part in the film Frida. Originally from the southern part of Mexico, she sings many traditional and traditionally-inspired songs from Oaxaca and the surrounding areas. She took the stage of this performance hunched over, a drum swung over her shoulder, playing and dancing in time with the other musicians. She sang primarily in Spanish or the traditional Indian of the region, performing only one song in English, a tribute to Woodie Guthrie and the migrant workers who are prevalent in the southern United States. Her voice was like an instrument, running up and down the scales with ease. You could sense the pride, history, and ancestry in every note, every breath. She sang songs of celebration, songs of death, and even songs about native animals. She is definitely a product of her past and the many cultures and people she has met along the way. An amazing performer.

Lila Downs was a delicious appetizer for the delectable main course, Mariza. Mariza was born in Mozambique and raised in the most traditional Fado neighborhood in Lisbon. She was born to a legacy of emotional folk music. She peppered her performance with stories of her childhood, of the music she loves, the Portuguese poetry that is her inspiration, and the marriage of African and Portuguese that is deep within her heart. During the performance she stood in the center of traditional musicians: various guitars, a cello, violin and viola player, and simple drum. Every note she sang was acted upon, whether through dance or arm movements. And her voice, that voice, was the finest crystal. Every note sang with perfection. You could feel Fado's history every time she opened her mouth. The final song was sang in a traditional Fado style. The music has flourished in small bars in Portugal, without amplification or bravado. Her three guitar players played without amplification, she sang without a microphone, but the music filled the room, as if we were transported to a small bar in Lisbon. A stunning ending to a breathtaking night.

If you ever have the chance, please see both of these artists, these strong women. Their performances go beyond music. They encompass history, culture, poetry, civilization. It would be an evening you won't soon forget.

Question of the Week

By Beth Klemick

As the coordinator of AmeriSpan's Academic Study Abroad, I have been asked the same question many times this week, and I believe it is important to share my answer with everyone.

The Question of the Week
I am interested in your Academic Study Abroad program in Costa Rica (Universidad Veritas). Is it possible for me to take two elective courses and one Spanish class rather than the three Spanish classes and one elective course?

Our Answer
Yes, AmeriSpan can assist and tailor your Academic Study Abroad program in San Jose at Universidad Veritas to meet your individual needs. We are well aware that many students want to have a study abroad experience but also need to fulfill requirements for their major; if Spanish is not your major, you should not have to forgo studying abroad. The best advice I can offer, if you wish to partake in more electives than language classes, is to have as many electives that will be relevant to your major requirements approved by your college or university. The difficulty that students run into when opting not to participate in the standard program model is that, at times, their desired and / or required elective courses overlap with one another, making scheduling a little tricky. So, the more approved elective options you have will increase the likelihood of a class schedule or program that will meet most of your wants and needs. As an important side note, tuition will change if you opt for a schedule outside of the traditional model of three Spanish classes and one elective, as will the total number of credits you will be able to obtain.

Happy weekend!