This is the story of my 6 months of studying in Arizona in 2010 and subsequent travels in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Church and BBQ, tailgate and football game, Biosphere and more...

Once again I owe you an immense amount of stories, all of which are keeping me very busy in practice! :) You can find all my pics from September here.

Let's look back at last Sunday first, 19th September. I was invited by the Sanfords (my "American family", whom I got in touch with through the International Friends association) to go to church with them, and afterwards go to their house afterwards for a barbecue. As you might know I am not particularly religious, but with my endless curiosity I loved having the chance to see how a service is held in US. We started out first with Sunday School, I joined a young group of girls for their chitchat and bible readings. Afterwards we had the service, which was a little more "modern"(music and atmosphere wise) than I have seen in Denmark.

While I like the idea of a strong community with clear, supportive values, I find it harder to comply with the preaching of "the truth". After my hour-long conversation with Chuck and Janine Sanford about religion some weeks back I realize that as a non-Christian I wouldn't enjoy going to heaven, I am pretty settled on that aspect. :) It does however worry my that there is so much emphasis on the non-believers being "wrong". As this is a very touchy topic and I feel like I am lacking words, I will leave the rest of the discussion for a face-to-face opportunity.

Giant t-bone steaks
After church we went back to the Sanford house to grill t-bone steaks - and never have I seen such big steaks! Served with different salads and baked potatoes it might just have been the best meal I had since I came to the US. :)
Great company as well: The family (Chuck (23), Rachel (??), granddaughter Raven, mom Janine and dad Gary), Theo and Ziad (my Lebanese brothers :)), and Jing (china) and Aizhan (Kazakhstan). We had a fantastic afternoon with long talks and playing a game called Apple to apple. Who needs to study anyway... :)

Monday night I had dinner with Susan (aged 65), my other International Friends-friend, and her boyfriend Pat. They invited me for a biketrip soon to the desert and her house. Tuesday is inevitable Improv show to support Hillary and have fun, Thursday I had a great Strategic Planning class with MBTI personality tests and discussions, and Friday I went pharmacist shadowing in an outpatient pharmacy in a hospital. Another great experience, this time I got a better impression of what a "real" pharmacy is like over here. What surprised me the most is that the pharmacists actually count tablets for each prescription. They have big bottles out of which they take the required amount of tablets, hand count them, and put them into a little orange bottle. So happy we can save time and brains on that in DK!

Saphhire club patio 
Friday was also guacamole at Hillary's and Mexican dinner at Jesus's! YUMMY! Good food, sangria and fantastic company (once again), doesn't get much better! Hillary left me and the boys, and we went out to Sapphire, a club downtown. Finally I got to do some dancing over here! :)

Saturday I had arranged a trip to the Biosphere 2 with 10 people, 2 of which cancelled last minute. We took off 8.30 with Hillary, Chris, Theo, Ziad, Aizhan, Ji-Young, Meltem, and me. Biosphere 2 is (hard to explain) a dome with artificial landscapes inside, simulating various biologic systems (rainforest, desert, ocean) for scientists to study. Was a really nice (nerdy!) place to see, and a must for curious people in Tucson. :) Afterwards we went to a mexican restaurant with seafood for a great lunch.

Biosphere 2

After a much-needed nap I was off to tailgating and the football game, Wildcats vs. Cal. While Im sure you understand the latter, maybe you have never heard about the tailgate phenomenon. At least I hadn't. So tailgate is an American thing, where everybody pull up their trucks, and bbqs off the end of the truck. Thats the simple version. In the complex UA-version a HUGE grass area is filled with trucks and tents lined up, with grills scattered around, people throwing balls and playing other games, drinking, eating, relaxing, cheering, etc. etc. IT IS CRAZY and a lot of fun of course! :) All this happens before the football games, and there is a great Wildcat-atmosphere, with everyone dressed in red!

My tailgate experience so far comprises 18th and 25th September, the latter where I went to the game afterwards with some people from one of my classes. The game was very slow, but it was still fun to watch - and the atmosphere indescribable when the Wildcats turned the game to their advantage seconds before the end! BEAR DOWN! :D

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Uff, time passes fast in this end of the world! Well ok, in Europe too, but... Let me give you a report of the newest discoveries and highlights! :)

First: I had a peanut butter/jelly sandwich the other day. I've always thought of that like something only the crazy Americans would enjoy, but its actually surprisingly tasty! Now Ill try not to get too fund of it, as I believe it is not the healthiest thing...

Saturday 11th I went on a hike on Mt. Lemmon with Theo, a Lebanese guy I met recently. Was a great day with a long, beautiful hike to the top of the mountain, on a different trail than last time. Took us most of the day, and I was soooo sore in the following days!

Monday morning I skipped classes to go to an Interprofessional Education event, with pharmacy students (Kristen, my roommate, was there), nursing and medical students. The purpose was to get to know each other and the professions better, in order to improve our professional collaboration. During 3 hours of case studies, conversations and discussions, different topics where handled. One of the medical students started out by saying "I have no idea [about the other professions], but I guess thats why im here!", and one finished off saying "Now im much less likely to shout at you when you're killing my patient", referring to a case study where a doctor and a pharmacist had an argument. :)

Monday night Susan invited me to one of the campus theaters for a show called "What I did last summer". It was ok, but not a spectacular performance. However always interesting to spend time with Susan, who has a lot to say about Tucson, Americans, and everything else. :) Just tonight I went to dinner with her and her boyfriend Pat, and had a good time once again.

Same Monday night Hillary auditioned for the university improvisation team, and got chosen as 1 of 3 out of 40! Very impressive!! And Tuesday night I was of course dragged (though I would have gone voluntarily) to the improv show, once again a lot of fun - even more now that Hil is on stage. Wohoo! Cant wait till the next show tomorrow!

Wednesday was special as well, as Hillary and I decided that we absolutely had to go out. Not too many comments about that... Kinda went off track considering that I had an appointment Thursday morning, but was definitely a nice evening!

So Thursday I woke up with a developing hangover, and went to the Medical Center, where I was going to shadow a pharmacist during the morning. I was referred to Megan by my professor, Terri, who has been extremely helpful in other cases as well. She came up with the idea of shadowing, that is following to see what they are doing, various pharmacists, to get an idea of what is happening in an American pharmacies - and in this case for a hospital pharmacist. So I met Megan, who was very talkative and open about the work, and also asking a lot of questions about the Danish system. Had a great morning, but was honestly relieved when I could go home to rest a few hours before my lecture at 2!

After a little nap I felt better, and went back to my Strategic Planning class. My EPSA/IFISO experience is really coming in handy here, as I am on top of the practical side of all the theories, and have already had a chance to practice my facilitation skills. :) Two of my other courses are however causing me trouble at the moment, because my background knowledge is somewhat insufficient. Or well, my statistical interest rather than skill is missing, but in the other course its my understanding of public health, and in particular the American system, that is causing headaches. However, I decided to pull through, and learn all I can, though it might not be applicable in Denmark. In any case, understanding of systems is always handy I figure!

I've got much more to tell about the weekend, but I think I will leave that for another post! :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Checking out the rec center

Just a little post for the sake of procrastination (DK = overspringshandling :))... I've had a slightly tiring 24 hours, with my visa card blocked yesterday, which I needed to fix by calling the bank when they opened (ie. late at night my time). At least I managed! Weird feeling not to have access to money, credit card nor cash.

So going to bed late and waking up early for a class with a test at 8 AM wasn't my favorite. I managed 18/20 in the test, and trying to get the last two points by arguing that a motivated pharmacist is not only part of the structure for quality, but also a result! Anyway...

Was reading a bit after class, and then visiting a professor from another course to borrow some books on Public Health. Maybe that will help me understand the whole basis for one of my more challenging courses better. Then I spent some hours in the library preparing a paper and chatting too much with people online. :) Just the perfect time to reach people in CET.

Went home, but was distracted by a stop in the bookstore, where I left with some paper (which was what I went in for) and two nice Arizona t-hsirts (which took me quite a while to choose). Hence delayed I went home to study more, fell asleep of course, and then... believe it or not, I dragged myself out of bed at 6 PM to go to the Recreational Center (like a gym). Ive been swimming there several times, but this time I wanted to use the cardiac machines, which are awesomely individually equipped with television screens and 40 different channels. What else can I say but... Welcome to the US.

Check it out: Campus Rec

I finished my training off with a swim in the warm water in the outside pool under the stars... Niiiiiice! :)
And now I should really get back to my studies! :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pictures from LA

... Are now available on FB. Click here to see them! :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Los Angeles day 2 and 3

Woke up very early in the morning, and left the hotel some time later (around 8) to get to another hostel in Hollywood. With the Red Line metro and my day pass the trip couldn’t have been easier, and I quickly found myself in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard! Rather bizarre feeling, actually. My hostel was just around the corner from the station, and I went there to see if they had any free beds. Luckily they did, but demanded cash payment. Making a long story short, my visa was declined in ATMs, and the bank couldn’t help me either. Deep down in a bag I found a 20 $-note and 2 10s in my pocket covered the price and deposit.

Back on Hollywood Boulevard I saw all the big theatres and the Walk of Fame with the stars in the pavement, and was shanghai’d to a “see all the star’s homes”-tour. I paid 20$, and think it was well-spent for a unique trip around the neighborhood and areas I couldn’t have reached without the guide. The guy was himself quite an experience; had come to Hollywood to become a star, and was constantly auditioning for part in movies and other shows. At the same time he was talking about all these poor people who came here to pursue fame, and had to go home, with empty pockets and shattered dreams. I wonder why he didn’t feel like being on the same path himself. He finished of our tour by being pulled over by a police officer on a motorcycle, for stalling traffic in front of the Kodak Theatre. Interesting experience indeed!

After the trip and a pizza slice for lunch I decided to jump back on the Red Line to find the Grey Line to go to University of Southern California (USC), just to check it out. However somehow I managed to take the Grey Line bus in the wrong direction. After like an hour of messing around with the bus in the other direction, which didn’t take me as far as expected I gave up, and went back underground to the metro. 

My plan for the evening was to go to the Griffith Observatory in the mountains with an exceptional view of the city and the sunset. I took a shuttle directly there, supposed to cost 35 cent, but as I had absolutely no cash, the driver let me on for free. I hoped it would be the same for the ride back from the mountain, and luckily it was. N the observatory there was a huge free exhibition with a lot of things related to astronomy. They also had a planetarium showing various movies for 5$. I chose one called “The light of the valkaries” referring to aurora (northern lights) and the Vikings. It was so extraordinary to sit inside the dome and see the sky appear with all the stars, as it would look if there were no lights from the city. The movie was really good as well, though the speaker struggled with the Scandinavian names of the figures in the Nordic Mythology. 

After the movie I laid bit on the grass, having already enjoyed the view of the city. I was waiting for the sunset. It was well worth the wait, and of course I made a ton of pics! Back in the shuttle and the metro to Hollywood, together with a guy from Israel called Matan. Bought some dinner and stuff for breakfast in a supermarket and taking photos of Hollywood Boulevard by night on the way home. Ate my dinner in the hostel common room, talking with the manager and two German guys who had just arrived. I gave them my recommendations for activities, highlighting the Observatory. Off to bed, and checking out the next morning to go to the center for my train home at 2.40 PM.

I spent my half day reading my book, and had lunch in a Mexican café. Bought a sub for train ride, and boarded the train for another 10 hour trip back home, which frankly I was missing after my few days in the big city! My trip home was nice, though I was sitting next to a VEEEERY talkative girl, who could easily have continued our communication throughout the 10 h trip. At one point I felt like stuffing my fluffy socks in her mouth. I did however manage to convince her to give me some peace to read my book and watch the view during the trip. :)

Back home in Tucson I could instantly take off two layers of shirts, and loved being back in my small desert city! 

Los Angeles - Day 1

When I sat considering one night what to do in the upcoming weekend when to of my best friends where to be out of state, I thought that a trip to LA might not be a bad idea! Checking flights and realizing that they were pretty only a few days in advance, I turned to the Amtrak webpage, and found some suitable train tickets instead. The night train, leaving 10.30 Thursday night would bring me to LA by Friday morning, giving me 2 full days before going home in the afternoon. Each way a 10 hour trip.

So I was in place for boarding Thursday at 10 pm, having already checked out the station in advance and found it to be nothing what Im used to from Denmark. There were passenger trains 3 days a week, all leaving quite late at night – and the station was pretty much locked off outside these hours. The train turned out to be very comfortable, with a huge space for each passenger. So I had a pretty good nights sleep, considering the circumstances on top of a two-level train rumbling through Arizona and California. Of course I had brought a considerable amount of food and snacks to enjoy on the way. :) 

We arrived one hour early, 7.30 AM in Union Station in LA. I had a hostel booked, and quickly found my way with a 2 day metro pass and the Red Line headed downtown. I left my luggage in the hostel lobby, and headed out to see downtown. With a free e-guidebook printed off the Internet, I went first to find a place where I could get up to get a view of the city. The book recommended a certain hotel with lifts on the outside of the building, and they allowed me a peak of the enormous area LA covers. After getting back on ground I continued my walk past the Disney Concert Hall and a huge new catholic church. Then off to China town to get some lunch. I ended up in an authentic Chinese eatery, where people were ordering there preferred dishes from a huge counter. I felt a bit bewildered, and fell into conversation with a black security guard, who was also in the eatery for the first time. His name was Daniel, and he was 42 – app. 10 years older than he looked! Anyway, we both found our way to some delicious (and cheap!) food, and sat down to eat together. He was, like so many others, rather concerned with the fact that I was traveling alone, and asked me to take good care of myself. Which I, for the record, always do! ;)

After lunch I went to Olvera Street, a semi-authentic Mexican inspired street with a lot of little shops and old houses. I went into one that one turned into a museum; it was the oldest of the remaining houses. Back past the Union Station to the City Hall, where they have an observation deck on 27th floor. Of course I had to go there as well, to take even more pictures of the view!

The time was now a bit past 1 PM, and I decided to go back to the hostel to check in and rest a bit. I had a nice room with a bunk bed, and my only roommate joined me minutes later. I wouldn’t see much of her, but she was nice. Daniel had given me some recommendations for the public transportation, and I felt like going to the beach for some air and space outside the megatropolis! Somewhat by a mistake I took a local bus, which did take me to Venice beach, but stopping on every stop on the way it took 1.5 hours. Finally I was out of the bus, and could smell the sea – wonderful after a month in the desert! I walked a long way, from Venice Beach to Santa Monica, in the waterfront. On the way I took a little nap in the sand.

Once on the Santa Monica peer it was dinner time, and I went into the city to find a restaurant. After a Ceasar Salad I went back to the sea just in time to see the sun set. I was sitting on a bench with a homeless guy, called Brother Kane, because, as he said, he played the harmonica. I had a very random conversation with him as the sun was setting, and afterwards I gave him a dollar for the two corn dogs he had mentioned several times during our talk.

Took the right bus back downtown, and was back in my hostel a little after an hour later. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lightning storms, tickets to LA, and improv show - lots of things going on!

Its like being in a different time zone over here... Ok, so well yeah I am, but like... (what a total American way of expressing myself, Im really integrating... :D)... Like time just passes quicker over here.

Like I wrote Im settling into the school work, which is getting slightly more challenging after the first week of classes. There are however a huge gap between the level of the courses, so some are very heavy on readings but easy in the classes, while others are... Well still heavy on readings, but easier in the classes. :) We have tests coming up all the time - had one today in a text from a book I hadn't even noticed I dont have, so obviously I was completely unprepared. Went surprisingly well though. My other assignments has been great so far.

Friday morning I met my "new American friend Susan, aged 65" whom Ive been "assigned" through the International Friends program. She seems really nice and talkative! We went on our bikes around the neighborhood for breakfast, and she gave me a lot of tips on what to do and see etc. etc. Im definitely gonna meet her again, to hear more insight stories of Tucson. :)

Had Hillary, Chris and Jesus over for Danish'ish dinner Friday eve, and we had a great time with homemade Margaritas afterwards! Sagan, my roommate, joined us just before we went out to 4th Avenue, and a good night out. :)

Saturday I was slightly hungover, but managed to get some studying done with Hillary in a coffee shop on University. They have a whole big room for studies upside, so people must come there to hang out a lot. This Saturday morning we had it to ourselves. :) Went to a dinner event with people from the pharmaceutical faculty in the evening, at my professors house out in the foothills (meaning the awesome area at the foot of the mountain, where you have a perfect view of both mountain and city). We had a barbeque and watched a movie, which I found... ahem... not so intriguing. I made a little video of a lightning storm which passed over, and got some great pics of the sunset!

Just press play or use this link: Video

Sunday morning Id agreed to meet with Hillary at 8.30 for a bike trip for my first tour in the center. Was smaller than expected - but very nice actually! It was on Susan's suggestion thatwe did the trip Sunday morning, when not so many cars are out, which was awesome really! Another of Susan's tips was to go for breakfast in Hotel Congress, where we both truly enjoyed a custom made omelet. Uhm!

Studies in the Student Union in the afternoon, considering that I am actually trying to be a pretty good student! Though the system here is quite different from what I am used to, I actually really like it, because we are really "kept to the fire" for every lecture. Its not like at home where you just need to be ready for the exam. Little assignments make sure that everyone is following the curriculum, and as a kinestetic learning I get much more out of what I read when I have a chance to process it into an assignment. The test I am not equally excited about, but well... Maybe Ill get used to it!

Monday - not so interesting, besides Ying, my Chinese roommate cooking me dinner. That was nice!

And now, Tuesday evening I just came back from an Improv show which Hillary dragged me to, which turned out to be a LOT of fun! 8 students playing improvised scenes for an hour, was definitely better than I expected!

Last little story for now: I bought train tickets for Los Angeles! Departing Thursday 10.30 PM, 10 hour in the train, so I have full Friday and Saturday in LA before going back with the train 2.30 PM Sunday. Monday is Labor Day so no classes - aka a chance for catching up with what I havent read yet, if I can get hold of the book I am missing.

All for me, another long post, I know - but there are just so many things going on, and since this is also kinda my diary, I wanna put it all! :)