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January 03
The Killing Fields

​January 2, 2013 is the day I would present my presentation at Choeng EK as known as the Killing Fields. In the morning I woke and I’m filled with anxiety, not so much because of my presentation; but because of the places that we will be visiting. The first place that we will visit will be Security Office 21 also known as S-21 the prison where victims were imprisoned, tortured, interrogated, and beat to death. The prison was formally a high school named Tuol Svay Pray High School. Pol Pot was a teacher there who taught in the past; however, later he turned it into a prison. Going in from room to room I could not comprehend the capacity in what would influence a person to want to do this to their own people. All I could think of was that could have been me during that time. Analyzing the pictures, trying to sympathize what it must have been like for those prisoners. There numerous pictures from young to old and the ones who were beaten to death photos will always be engraved in my memory. Upon leaving the facility I learned that out of over the 2million who were killed only 7 survived the Khmer Rouge Regime; two of the survivors were on site selling their books that told there story. I looked at them as they smiled trying to understand how could they smile or even find joy after such torment. Coming to a conclusion in my mind is that the only way to free yourself from what someone has done to you is forgiveness. I had learned that forgiveness is not for the person who committed the act; rather it’s for the person who is a victim in the situation. While heading to Choeng Ek “The Killing Fields” my anxiety returns as I quickly run through minor details of my presentation. We finally arrive at our destination and everything started to become so surreal.  I could not believe that I was actually at “The Killing Fields”. I am nervous, but waste no time to start my presentation about the history of The Killing Fields and why it all began. Although I was a bit nervous engaging in the crowd helped alleviate some of the stress of presenting. After I gave my presentation I was relieved and had to face another presentation of what had used to be a place where millions upon millions were beaten and killed. As I listened to the narrator as he depicted a clear imagine of what it was like for the victims between 1975 and 1979. Walking through what used to be a massive grave I began to get emotional. I could not phantom the thought of committing such an act to my worst enemy. It’s just cruel and inhumane.  As I walked along the path I seen fragment of bones, the fields that the victims use to work in, and a river that use to be a grave. Coming to the end of my tour in The Killing Fields, my outlook on life is so much more different. I truly appreciate life, love, and family. Learning about “The Killing Fields has truly broadened my knowledge of communism, power, and genocides; how that it can happen to anyone on any given moment.

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January 01
Christmas Dinner
On the day of Christmas I did not see any temples or tour sites. Instead I remained in my room to prepare my lesson plans. Later that afternoon when I arrived at the school to teach the students English they were ready and eager to learn. Today’s lesson in class was sentence structure.  I taught the students how to write an imperative sentence, sentence structure, and how to read English. At times it became challenging because of the language barrier or the choice of words I chose to explain a specific topic. However, since there were students in the class who were more fluent than others I was able to use that student as a translator. It was evening and classes were over for the day. That night we had planned to have Christmas dinner as a family at the Irish Pub. The night went well; it was full of laughter and joy. Many of us decided to dress up for dinner to get into the spirit of Christmas. There were some that wore many color prints brought from the market, while others wore dresses. The night was beautiful and full of tourist and natives from all walks of life. As the night began to cease, some of us ate ice cream at blue pumpkin. Blue pumpkin is a must visit ice cream shop for tourist to visit. Heading back to the hotel I could barely walk up the stairs, because I was so tired and ready to retrieve to my bed. As soon as I went in my room, I went straight to sleep.​
December 29
Last Week in London! :(

​Greetings & Merry Christmas from New York City! It’s Daniel here, again.  My last week in London with a weekend spent in Paris was absolutely amazing!  Several other students and I went to Paris last Saturday on the high speed Euro Train.  Most of us students that went, fell asleep on the train, however, I was able to get a small glimpse of the beautiful French countryside before arriving in Paris.  We arrived in Paris and our tour guide took us straight to the hotel to unwind for a few moments before heading back out.

We took a Bateaux Parisiens Cruise tour down the Seine River right across the street from the Eiffel Tower which was lit up at night.  On the boat, we passed some of Paris’s most famous landmarks including the Notre Dame De Paris.  After the tour, some of us headed back to our hotel as we were exhausted from traveling & touring all week.  However, we stopped off at a local vendor and snacked on some French favorite food which included crepes and gratin.

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The next morning, we left the hotel and headed to the Eiffel Tower.  Now, I am not afraid of heights, but this tower freaked me out just a little.  One the first elevator on the way in the tower, the elevator malfunctioned and stop suddenly, throwing everyone off their balance.  My face froze in a panic expression (NOT COOL).  We safely made it to the top and as windy as it was, I managed to hold my nerve and take some pictures.  

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I left the tower and went to explore Paris on my own.  First stop was the Arc De Triomphe (Amazing).  Next, was a walk down the Avenue Champs-Élysées where I took notice to all of the designer stores, street vendors with French Food and gifts, and walked all the way to the Museum of the Army and Tomb of Napoleon.  I really enjoyed to city and just walked every around and listened to my iPod to absorb the vibe city.

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We headed back to London for our second week.

We began the week off by visiting 5 Star Dukes Hotel.  The hotel was very classic-British style interior.  It was very pleasant visiting the hotel and the staff.  However, I was extremely impressed with the company’s commitment to keeping their guests happy, but also their employees.  I really felt that this hotel takes pride and effort in not only making sure that the guests are happy, but making sure that the employees are provided the support they need to perform at their best. 

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We also visited ExCel London which is a large convention & exhibition centre.  I got to tell you that this was the best & most profound center that I have ever seen in my life.  The design of the structure was amazing and once again, the design of the whole facility seemed very logical and advanced.  The centre had multiple restaurants & shops (something you don’t see in the United States); meeting rooms with balconies designed like a cruise ship, and the usage of green technology were all impressively incorporated into the facility.

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Throughout the week, we visited a classic, yet modern restaurant called Lime-Street Exchange in the financial district of London (Great Food), Tracoin Services/Travel Corporation (Amazing Travel Planning that company does), Harrods’s Department Store, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  St. Paul Cathedral is where Prince Charles and Princess Diana wed back in the 1980’s.  It was very historic inside as more tombs lie inside.  We also climbed over 500 steps to reach the top of the dome inside the cathedral.  Once we reached the top, we got a beautiful view of London.  I definitely got the leg work out on that day.

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Our last two tours included a visit inside Kensington Palace (home of Princess Diana and other Royal family members), tea time at Orangery, right outside the palace, and the Marriott County Hall Hotel (a beautiful hotel overlooking the River Thames adjacent to the Big Ben Clock).  Kensington Palace has a lot of history inside as we were able to see many portraits of deceased royal family members and their Victorian outfits.  After this tour and tea time at Orangery, I headed off to see Princess Diana’s Memorial (I don’t know why I seem fascinated with this lady). 

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On my last day in London, I spent the day walking the shopping district and visited the gate outside Buckingham Palace.  I tried as much as possible to soak this whole experience.  For me, this was a life-changing experience and I was so glad I got the opportunity to go.  Love London and thank you for everyone reading my blog!!!!

December 24
First Day Of Class

Today marks my first full day in Cambodia. Last night was my first night there; so far the city is very beautiful and the people are very friendly. I noticed a lot of their products are modern and westernized, which was a bit convenient to most of the students on the trip. I was quite nervous today because I knew that I had to teach a 30-40 student class. Our first destination was at the Angkor National Museum. At this Museum I was able to learn about the different Budda’s relating to their past, present, and Post Angkorian periods; as well as the Khmer culture and how the past activities and traditions influence their way of life today. At the National museum there were some rooms that displayed various Buddha’s and the different body transition that has multiple meanings. Gallery B at the museum stood out to me specifically because it explains the religions and beliefs of the ancient Khmer empire and had direct and indirect influences on all aspects of the peoples living. What was intriguing was the story line of the literary works, architecture and sculptures. Analyzing every detail helped me to imagine what it was like to be there during the time of era. As I arrived to the school it was a very welcoming atmosphere, the students rise as they welcomed me as there teacher in the class. This was different than what I’m typically used to. I admired the way that the students showed respect to me. During our first day in class I introduced myself to the class explaining why I was in Cambodia. We also had in icebreaker where I learned their names, career goals, and hobby. Soon after, the class was able to learn the different colors and vocabulary words. My first day of class went really well, I was quite pleased and excited. I enjoyed teaching my first day!

December 19
Half-Way in London!

​Hello Everyone:

It’s Daniel again, blogging from London.  It has been a great stay so far.  The group and I have done numerous tours and activities and we have only been here 5 days!!! Wednesday was exciting.  We made our stop to Westminster Abbey, which is a famous church where famous events in British History have occurred.  One of the more recent events was the wedding of Prince Williams & Kate Middleton.  We walked up the entire aisle/walkway where the ceremony took place.  On sad, yet historical note, this is the same church where Princess Diana’s funeral occurred as well.  I wasn’t expecting this church to be as large as it was.  Behind the area, where the altar was, there were commemorated tombs of deceased bodies of famous British playwrights and poets.  That kind of frightened me just a little, but it still was interesting.  We were then off to lunch were I ate delicious Thai curry (YUM).

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We ended the evening in the South London area at Fuller’s Brewery Factory.  I am not a beer drinker, but it still was interesting to see how Beer is made with 4 major ingredients (Barley, Yeast, Water, and Hops) through a fermentation process.  We toured the facility and got to sample the beers afterwards.  Again, since I am not a beer drinker, I tried to find the sweetest ones that I liked. 

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One thing I noticed in London is that it gets dark extremely here in London like around 4pm.  In addition, it happened to be the coldest day of the year here in London, which I am kind of used to (I grew in Maryland and I am New York City bred).  However, that did not stop me.  My roommate Adam and I decided to eat some more Thai Food (Duck Curry & Pad Thai-SOOOO GOOD), before we headed off to the Jack, The Ripper Tour.  For those who do not know, Jack, The Ripper remains one of the most cold-blooded killers (In my British Accent) of all-time.  We went on a walking tour with a guide who narrated throughout the walk about the story.  Also, she took us to all of the murder sites and showed us graphic pictures of each victim and how they were killed and discovered.  Most of his victims were prostitutes and Jack, The Ripper did not wear a large coat, or carry a large sword, or wear a top hat (Bet you didn’t know that).  After walking for 2 hours, needless to say, I was beat.

Thursday, we toured to 2012 Summer Olympic Village where all of the athletes stayed during games (GO USA!!).  We were given a tour outside the apartments and a PowerPoint presentation behind the development of those apartments.  The organizers even provided us with sandwiches (How nice).  The organizers explain as what will happen to those apartments as they will become a residential area.  We then headed to the Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre, which is the largest Urban Shopping Centre in Europe! I totally believe that as it was 4-5 floors of shopping.  They even had free electronic mobile & iPod charging stations, which is something I haven't seen in the United States.

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Next stop was the British Museum.  I had high expectations for this museum, but I was kind of surprised to see what I saw.  We saw Egyptian tombs and other important European masterpieces.  The one thing I did not expect to see what the “Rosetta stone”.  I was totally shocked to see that in the British Museum as I expected to see that in another country.  After 1 hour, we left the British Museum and headed back to the hotel to rest up. 

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After a little break, a few of the students and I decided to head to the Famous Winter Wonderland amusement park in Hyde Park of London.  It was one big fair full of rides, gifts, games, music, food, and people in the Christmas Spirit!  It was exciting and I even picked up a few gifts to bring back to the States.  After 1 ½ hours, it was time for bed.

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Friday was the day I never thought it would happen.  As some who do not know, I am a True Tennis Junkie, tennis player, and fan.  This is also known as obsessed.  We went to the All England Lawn & Tennis Club where Wimbledon is played (1 of 4 Grand Slams in Tennis).  Despite a rainy day, we toured the stadium grounds including Centre Court, Court 1, The press room, the museum, and Court 18, where the longest match between Nicholas Mahut of France and John Isner of the United States was contested (Match was 11 hours).  Of course I acted like a geek since I knew so much about its history.  I was hoping to purchase their famous strawberries and cream, but it was a seasonal item.  However, I truly enjoyed this tour the most as got to learn about great stories the tournaments.  Did you know Serena Williams forget to pick-up her prize money of $2 Million dollars this year after she won the tournament?  Also, I learned about how the grass is grown and maintained for the tournament to how income is made for the facilities.  This was a dream of many that came true for me and I hope to visit when the tournament next year.

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Well, that is it for now.  I have class in about 30 minutes, and then pack my clothes for Paris, France tomorrow, in which we will be taking the Euro Train there for the weekend. OH YES!!!

Cheers Everyone!

Daniel “Danny” Gourdine

 

December 12
Welcome to London!!!

​Hello Everyone:

Well, I have finally arrived in London after many months of anticipation.  I took a red-eye flight on Virgin Atlantic Airways from Miami International Airport on Sunday Night (Did not fly with the rest of the group due to scheduling).   I must say, the Virgin Atlantic Staff is very friendly and accommodating.  The seat was comfortable, the meals provided were decent, and ALL OF THE FREE MOVIES!!!! It was awesome and the flight was so relaxing, that the 8-hour travel time, seemed line 4 hours (partially due to my sleeping with a mask on my face).  I will definitely fly them again!.

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I landed at Heathrow around the same time as the rest of the group and was planning to join them at the pick-up area, but I narrowly missed them, by 5 minutes.  Plan B came into effect and I took the London Underground to the hotel.  It is also referred to as "The Tube".  The trains and tunnel are small and narrow compared to US subway systems in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC.  However, the service is impeccable here.  Trains run more frequently and faster without major interruptions, unlike the United States.  So far since I have been here, I haven't waited no more than 5 minutes for a train to come!  I could get use to this. 

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After reuniting with the group at the hotel and getting settled, we took a Double Decker Bus Tour of the entire city seeing all of the famous landmarks along the way.  We passed the Big Ben Clock, The London Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, St. Paul's Cathedral, and other sites.  The tour was very long and exhausting (I actually fell asleep on the bus on the second floor as cold as it was), but it was worth it for a first day.  We ended the day at a local English Pub for a private dinner.  Most of us (The Group) tried the famous English Fish & Chips.  Throughout the day, we noticed that is the most common meal here in London as we passed many pubs and restaurants that advertised this meal.  By the end of the night, most of us were tired and worn out.  We headed back to the hotel and fell right asleep

Day 2 was more eventful.  We started out with continental breakfast in the hotel which was nice.  The servers really insisted that we eat and were extremely attentive, which I appreciate.  Our tour for the day which was the Tower of London which did not start until 3pm.  So my roommate and I decided to do a Riverboat Tour of the River Thames that flows through the city of London in the morning.  We ended up seeing the Big Ben Clock, the London Eye, and the London Bridge again and ran into some fellow classmates on the same boat.  My roommate and I decided to walk around the city looking for some American clothing stores that we saw on the Bus Tour.  We ended up in the Leicester Square & Piccadilly Circus section of the city exploring all the shops and restaurants, and found the Chinatown section of London. How Neat!!! We stopped off at La Tasca Tapas Bar & Restaurant for lunch before rejoining the group for the tour.

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We arrived at the Tower of London (Resembles a castle) and saw all of the history that occurred there.  At the tower, we saw caging where lynching & imprisonment occurred, swords used in wars, crowns, diamonds, and jewels used by former Kings and Queens of England, and an actual guard.  The highlight of this visit was getting physically close to a black crow that barked really loud and did not move from where it was sitting.  We took pictures of the crow that didn't seem to mind the camera flash

After a quick Starbucks rest, we broke off with some of the other students and took the Ferris Wheel ride on the London Eye overlooking the city!  This was cool and allowed us to really see how large London really is.  It was beautiful seeing all of the lights and being sky-high.  We also visited the London Eye 4D experience which was next to the London Eye.  We watched a 5 minute 4D commercial about the London eye which was really great.  After touring and the London Eye ride, we ended the night eating Nando's Peri Chicken.

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Although the weather is really cold, London has been great so far and everyone has been really friendly and helpful here.  Even the "Brits" have helped us out when we get lo

I am off to bed and will post as soon as I can!

Cheers!

Daniel "Danny" Gourdine

 

 

December 12
First Few Days in London!

​Hello Everyone:

Well, I am finally in London after months and months of anticipation.  The flight was very good heading to London.  Unfortunately, I did not fly with the rest of the group (Holiday Plans with Family after the trip), but I highly recommend Virgin Atlantic Airlines.  I took a non-stop red-eye from Miami to Heathrow in about 8 hours (which felt like 4 hours, with a lot of sleep).  The staff was extremely friendly and welcoming, not to mention, all the free movies and meals provided.  I was looking to reunite with the group at the airport once I arrived, but I missed them at the meeting point in the terminal by 3-5 minutes literally.  I ended up taking the London-Underground to the hotel, also known as "The Tube".  The London subway system was a bit confusing at first, but after 2 days, it gets very simple.  Also, I must say that "The Tube" really looks like a tube with a marble ball flowing through it.  The trains are narrow and small compared to subway systems and subway cars in Miami, New York City, and Washington, DC.  Here is one thing that was impressive:  The Trains constantly run on-time and frequently come to a station more often, enabling the system to handle such large crowds (2012 London Olympics for example).  We have been out and about around town and the group and myself have never waited for a train to come for no more than five minutes.  London has been very convenient transportation-wise and for all of our other needs.

After arriving, the first day, we hopped on a double decker bus tour around London, visiting all of the famous sites.  We passed the Tower of London, the Big Ben Clock, London Bridge, The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul's Cathedral to name a few.  The tour great and exhausting, mainly because there were so many sites to see.  We ended the evening, eating at a Local English Pub for a private dinner.  I was told by many people, that the "Brits" are known for their "fish & chips".  I was excited to taste what everyone was encouraging me to do.  I enjoyed the meal and even helped one of the other students eat their fish.  With everything that happened on day 1 (travel, tour, and dinner), safe to say, I was ready for bed!

The second day was very exciting after getting much needed rest.   We started out the day eating a continental breakfast in the hotel.  Now, our second official tour as a group didn't begin until 2 p.m. so my roommate and I went to take a Riverboat tour on the James River in the morning.  During this tour, we happened to be on the same boat as some of the other students.  We passed the Big Ben Clock again, the London Bridge, and the London Eye again.  I was really excited to see it in the daylight and the feeling of actually being there was kind of hard to soak-in.  My roommate and I then headed to Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circle for some more exploration.  We passed through many shops, cafes, and restaurants (50% of those same stores are in the United States as well).  We sort of got lost and ended up in Chinatown which we were not expecting, but we will keep the memory.  After walking around, we ended eating lunch at a Spanish Tapas restaurant, before heading back to the hotel to meet with the group for the tour.

Then, we headed to the Tower of London (castle) for our tour of inside the castle.  We saw so many interesting spots inside the building which included cages where lynching occurred during English wars, swords, diamonds and jewels worth millions of dollars, and other colonial English historic re-enactments.  The tour was awesome and several members of the group wanted to explore more.  We then headed to the London Eye which looks like a big Ferris wheel that rotates in a circle in the sky for 30 minutes.  We decided to give it for a ride and saw the entire of London from up and above.  HOW AWESOME!!!!  After the ride, we indulged in one last experience visiting the London Eye 4D experience!  Just when I thought 3D was the future, 4D was even better.

As some may not know, London daylight starts to end around 4pm, making it very dark early.  I ended dinner at Nando's Peri with 6 other students who went on the London Eye ride with me.  Yummy!!!  I am having a blast in London and could envision myself living here!  As I write this blog, I should be sleeping to get ready for the next day so I will sign off from here!

Cheers Everyone!

Daniel "Danny" Gourdine

August 09
The city of Prague

​A city like no other, I dare say I plan on moving to Prague in the near future. Our array of planned activities and not so planned adventures introduced us to a whole new world filled with medieval treasures and modern gems. The cuisine was delicious at best and unique at others. The food was perfectly tailored to fit the Czech drinking culture. Proud of their "café" society, Czech's are well-mannered, warm yet reserved. Their efficiently run public transportation system is perfect for tourists and allows an effortless maneuvering around the city. Our small group of FIU students was welcomed everywhere we went and I can honestly say that the worst part of our trip was leaving!

 

Published By: Office of Study Abroad on behalf of student: Naffy Castaneda

August 09
The Soundtrack to Prague

​With much to see and much to do, boredom is virtually nonexistent in Prague. After the obvious tourist "must-sees", I found myself in a different jazz, night after night; there is an inexplicable appeal to Prague's smoke-filled music rooms. Mostly situated in basements, the smooth yet lively beats of this genre engulfed me in an unforgettable dreamlike aura on all occasions. The perfect soundtrack to Prague's mystic je ne sais quois, a complete experience of the city must include a trip to the Redutta, Aghartha, Jazz Dock or Jazz Republic.

 

 

Published By: Office of Study Abroad on behalf of student: Naffy Castaneda 

July 31
Nature in the Amazon

When I used to think of the Amazon, I would automatically start thinking about all the crazy animals and insects I would have to deal with if I was to go on this trip. The truth is that being in direct contact with nature was one of the best feelings i could ever have. Having the freedom to explore the forest at any time of the day, play with the clay from the soil, and to even swim in a river full of piranhas really makes you feel alive! Over there, you would get to hold a new wild animal, learn something new about the indigenous culture, and meet new people every single day, so there was no way you could get bored. In the worst of cases, If you were to run out of ideas or things to do, you could just go sit by the river to watch the beautiful pink sunset, or go up the observation tower and see as many shooting stars as you wished. Best experience ever!​

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