Stepping Out For Italy

I recently got a chance to go to Naples, Italy. Yes, it was pretty cool, I had fun, but I was not a tourist. Actually, I had been working for the trip since the past February! That was when I had decided to submit an abstract for the 63rd International Astronautical Congress in Naples, Italy. That was a commitment. I am a business major and love my Business Administration Building so just going to the interest meeting for the conference was an adventure, because I got lost looking for the building and then –  finding the right room.  I couldn’t write a professional research manuscript alone, in a field I wasn’t familiar with, about the space industry.  After knocking on few doors,  I was introduced to two business professors who were already looking at a NASA collaborative project which I could work on!

 

The work I did in the next few months was completely new to me and challenging but after I finished it, I couldn’t wait to present it a the largest international space conference in the world! The flight was long to Naples but there was no time to be tired since we only had a day and a half to accommodate and look around, before the conference started. I met the head of DLR (yes, I know all the space agency acronyms now; that is the German) and their many representatives, had dinners with the initial CEO of a company which would become the Swiss Space Agency, ESA representatives and so many more. I found out how I can work in companies around the world or their USA branches, while staying within my field. I presented my paper and listened to countless other presentations in every field and became an expert on all the different places to eat between our hotel and the conference center. I boarded the flight back to Huntsville with a year’s worth of experiences in one short week, but remembering that UAHuntsville had  more to offer.

 


Categories: Career, Research, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville


IAC Naples, Italy!

Hey all,

I will be going to Italy in a week for the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). It’s a huge conference where everyone involved in space technology will attend including NASA, JAXA, ESA, and the leaders of major space organizations.

I’m going with 35 other students who were selected by the IAC to present. We have an awesome staff who has worked hard to get us there and have made us better professionals.

I will be presenting a paper under the space history section “The Dr. Wernher von Braun Vision”.  Dr. Von Braun is one of my idols and was a brilliant rocket engineer and worked here in the Rocket City!

I’ll post about the many adventures I’m sure to have!


Categories: Research, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, Uncategorized, What Matters


“This is the post that never ends…

…yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people, started singin’ it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singin’ it forever just because…”

Hi there everyone! It has been 3 months since the epic trip out to Romania. I miss my classmates a lot, and reminisce on my fond memories.  A few of them still keep in contact. For that, I am grateful.

So you wonder what have I been up to? Since my return, I had to write a report and take an exam to complete the Study Abroad course. Because that was my last class, in August, I officially met all of the requirements for graduation!!! So yay me [Suite Life of Zack and Cody reference there...], I’m done! At least for awhile… I need a break after all of this studying/schooling/homelife/working schedule. Then for labor day weekend, I went to DragonCon – it was a very jam-packed weekend with many, many people in Atlanta. I recommend everybody go at least once in their life.

But saying the happy part that I am done leads me to a sad part. Because I graduated, I will not be able to blog for UAH anymore (the whole “student” status goes away once you complete school). I encourage all of you to keep in contact with me  for any questions, comments, or just to say hi. I will try to submit a guest blog from time to time, and of course, I will be at UAH for commencement, alumni events, and the like. If you would like to contact me, my email address will be as follows:  STW0004@alumni.uah.edu

Thanks for reading, and all the best of luck to you!


Categories: Graduate Studies, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


Day 14 – The End?

How did we ever get to this day? Is this really the last day in our two-week class already? Impossible. But here we are, at the Senate Hall, almost a déjà vu of the first day. This time, each student is asked to share our thoughts on our experiences. Each faculty member also says a few words, then Rector Folcut hands out the certificates and shakes each student’s hand. We go outdoors to take pictures with everyone.

Before dinner Alexandra promises to take us to a store where she purchased her traditional Romanian shirt. Becca, Molly, Randi, Emily, Ami, and I go there and ransack the place as if we found a New York City closeout sale. All of the prices are the most reasonable I saw compared to those in the shopping districts. I find a red traditional dress modeled by the mannequin in the front window; it fits perfectly! I find a few other shirts keeping in mind of the women in my family. While Alex tries on a shirt and a dress, Emily and I purchase it for her in thankfulness. We look at a few more stores around the area, and even a shoe store with every different color combination in every style you can fathom: teal and purple, red and green, blue and black – unreal for westerners, but very normal for Romanians.

I return to RAU with my new goodies and other students who did not go inquire about my purchases. I show them my dress, and they collectively determine that I MUST wear it for tonight’s dinner. I grimace in reply but do so anyways. As a person who likes to wear only one outfit for the day (and jeans and a t-shirt is my favorite go-to outfit), prior to this dress, I already changed my wardrobe twice and am lazy when it comes to “gussying up” for an occasion.

We head to the 18 Restaurant, located at a tall building near the university. And as its name denotes, it is on the 18th floor. There is a marvelous view, but like all places of Romania and because it is located at the top, it is a tad warm for me. We take pictures like fiends loving the paparazzi, and enjoy ordered drinks and the buffet style dinner. There is mention of possible dancing here, but the dinner ends before it ever starts. The professors speak to one another, and so do the students. We get a chance to say goodbye to one another, but none of the students want to leave. Horia suggests and organizes to go to a pub/restaurant for more refreshments that he claims is nearby. I have been on this trip for 14 days, and know a European’s definition of nearby is not the same as the Americans. However, myself, and the others with uncomfortable shoe wear, grin our teeth and bear it for the sake of the group. Part of me hopes it translates to mean a five minute walk. This walk is twenty, in the deep nested areas of the park. Once we arrive, we sit and do our best to cool and not get stung by more mosquitoes. I turn on the anti-mosquito fan I carry everywhere after bitten students ask me to. Then I order a delicious juice of apple, lime, and caramel. It is sweet and I reminisce nostalgically of my childhood schooldays licking caramel apple lollipops.

When we finish, there are those who decide to keep the night alive further. The time approaches 2300, Ami and I are fatigued. Because she has a flight to make waking her at 0400 and I have not yet packed, both of us return to the school together. All of us say our goodbyes, hug and kiss (in the European fashion) one another, and promise to keep in touch. Although I am most sad of this moment and it is the end of our two weeks, I am confident we will keep in touch. I am also very grateful for this experience and though I miss it all, I really just see this as the beginning…

Multumesec!

Here is a pic of Ana Maria and I on the last day.


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville


Day 13 – Springtime near IKEA

While students are still trying to gather their last minute souvenirs, I am in search of dinner again. Today, Leo has free time off to take us around. Emily and I go with him to Springtime (www.springtime.ro), a Romanian-based fast food chain. He tells us that the owner created the restaurant in the early 1990s after observing how well Romanians responded to other fast food restaurants. However, instead, the founder did extensive market research to find what food types the people were interested in consuming. The chain has grown to 26 franchises, all with varied food items such as Middle-Eastern shawarma, Italian pastas and pizzas, American burgers, salads, desserts, and premium grade coffee. These, with the combination of Springtime’s policy to use fresh local vegetables and meat keeps this restaurant in business, and will continue to do so for many years to come. After dinner, Leo leaves, and Emily and I walk to IKEA, a Swedish based store known to serve customers affordable and stylish furniture at a low price. Though most of their design is extremely compact and fashionable, most all of their items are made from cheap materials not known to last very long (particle board, plastics, etc.). This is Emily’s first IKEA visit, so I do my best to be her tour guide.


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


Day 12 – Caru Cu Bere

After class is over I decide to stay in my room because I am chosen as group lead for our homework group (Team 3). Tomorrow in class our team will meet and negotiate with a mock United Arab Emirates group (Team 4). Our team is a firm from Italy that manufactures and sells timber from Romania. This exercise is to introduce us to the different cultures and business practices and to strike a deal with one another. I am preparing mock contract agreements, emailing the counter-offer of our partnership, and creating faux business cards for each of the team members. The other students venture to the Peasant Museum’s gift shop nearby to purchase souvenirs.

For dinner the students, the UAH faculty, and Dr. Potecea meet us at Caru cu Bere, one of the oldest beerhouses of Bucharest. It started in 1879, along with its house beer, a secret recipe. The building itself is even stunning; there is a wooden spiral staircase that leads to the top, wood and carvings adorn every area of the walls, and paintings help decorate the scene. Bucharest once in its lifetime was known as “little Paris” and this restaurant still lives up to that name.

Before dinner begins, Adellina, (who calls me her “little sister”, but do not let that pet name fool you, as I am at least 6 years her senior) grabs my arm and wants me to meet her boyfriend and best friend. They tell me in well spoken English that they heard so much about me from her. Adellina is one of the sweetest and most beautiful students I meet on the trip, and then she kisses both her friend (in the European manner of two kisses that are artificially blown to the cheeks) and her boyfriend to bid them adieu for the night.

Dinner is delightful, again full of meats, cheeses, and the like. And for dessert, we have the pleasure of papanasi again. Except this time, everyone’s plate has two of each on it! None of us can eat more than one though I am sure we wanted to! Joshua looks at this monstrous sweet in a bit of disgust and says the favorite and most memorable line of the trip: “There’s more sour cream on my papanasi than I put on my baked potato!”


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


Day 11 – Mia’s Children

Prior to our trip, the class mentioned that we are interested in going to an orphanage. Horia works closely with one of them, so he arranges the trip for the evening. RAU drivers take us there, and Dr. Potecea and Horia bring us back. During the weekend trip, Horia mentioned to me that there were many numerous orphanages, but Mia Scarlat’s was the best. Her strong nature and savvy background make the orphanage work efficiently, and those who are in her care are inspired to perform their best and become successful. Mia taught herself English, mostly through the 3 month timeframe she spent with the Castle family in Tennessee. She then served as an interpreter to U.S. groups that aid Romanian orphanages. In her younger years, she was a dancer, and before starting the organization, she was a teacher. This combined with her love for children is the glue that holds everything together. The children are obedient, beautiful, and eager to learn. Her previous and current children are national winners, college graduates, grateful and graceful citizens.

With the money gathered from the students, we bring eggs, honey, juice, jams, and other food supplies she is in need of. In return, as we walk in, the students thank us and tell us hello. They know few words in English, but they are impressive during our first few minutes of meeting them. They sing us songs, play hand-games with us after shaking our hands, and are gathered for story-time.

She details stories on how a lot of them were abused, abandoned, and even used as child sex slaves. Mia detailed to us how difficult it is transforming them to understand physically and emotionally that they are loved unconditionally and all children should get a chance to know and live a normal childhood. She gives us a tour, and speaks fondly of her husband whom she lost three years ago; he was like a father to the children and Mia’s partner in work. Some of the orphans call Mia their mother, because her love and the way she cares for them is exactly that. I do my best to fight away tears that well up in admiration of her strength, and in sadness and shame our modern world still faces obstacles to be able to provide basic necessities and humane treatment to innocent children. It does not work, and the tear ducts let it pour like a rainy day in April.

Before we leave, we are given gifts made by the children. They are framed cross-stitch works, and mine is of a yellow giraffe. I hug the picture and hold it next to my heart. We give hugs to all of the students and depart. On the drive back, Dr. Potecea even admits he was a bit uneasy about going to his first orphanage, as there are many Gypsy children there. After he spends time with them, he is impressed that the children of Roma blood do not have the associated Gypsy accent he expected and are excelling far beyond the average Romanian’s expectations. Everyday since, I am thinking of them and ways that I can help do my part to assist them from afar.

We return after the Cantina has closed, and are famished. I am in the mood for sushi, as our classmates recommend it. Emily, Ami, and I take one taxi together towards the Baneasa. The taxi driver drives us in an unfamiliar direction, and points out the Piazza; a place we hadn’t been to, but a shopping area too. We tell him that this is incorrect, and we eventually drive back to the Baneasa. This takes the entire trip backwards, and he flirts with all of us during the entire trip. In our conversation we find out that he is 37, unmarried, has 2 sons, has a sister in Italy, and wants to come back to the USA with us. We politely decline while hysterically laughing at his attempts. Thirty-five Lei later ($10 USD), we arrive and everyone is too hungry to sit and wait for sushi. My cohorts settle on fast food, and I disappointingly order a fish sandwich from Nordsee.  For dessert, Carly purchases and wants to try macaroons and gelato. She shares with me to try her cherry pistachio gelato, and a piece of each of the macaroons: caramel, lychee rose, and coconut.


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


Day 10 – Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest

We’ve been here for 10 days and strange that we have not eaten any American food other than the time Ami and I ventured into a McDonalds. We hear good things about the Hard Rock Café a few blocks away near the entrance of the park. Ami, Emily, and Carly get a taxi to take them there. Because professor Hickman and I do not see another taxi coming, we start walking in that direction. A pizza delivery man who used to live in England but returned to his homeland takes us there part of the way. But he lets us out in an area that requires the same distance to walk as if we came from the school. Once we get there, the others already asked for drinks. I order an extremely beautiful fruit smoothie made up of strawberry and mango puree called the Groupie Grind. For dinner we split calamari, I order a side of macaroni and cheese, and a side of broccoli. Oh broccoli, how I missed you on this trip. Everything is better now. As we try to get the last bit ketchup out of the Heinz bottle for someone’s fries, Professor Hickman shows us a trick to get the remnants towards the cap. It involves him forcefully swinging the bottle while holding it upside down, and this happens a few feet away from a nearby waiter. The waiter sees him, and now is scared of Mr. Hickman and the bottle, and entertainingly tries to ignore us in jokingly fear. As our seats are in front of a window, the waiter comes by with a bottle of ketchup, and a sign written with red permanent marker reading “Beware! I will ketch (you) up!” Beware indeed.


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


Day 9 – Pizzalicious!!!

After eating breakfast and checking out of the hotel the group is free to do whatever until lunch at 1400. All of us walk the streets of Brasov to shop, look around more landmarks, and see the sights. I purchase Romanian traditional pottery bowls, and a pair of earrings. I also buy Adellina and Ana a hairclip, both different to fit their personality. For Adellina, I choose a purple rose hairclip, as she reminds me of a Spanish flamenco dancer. For Ana, I dawdle between a teal-color bow clip, and a purple one. We eventually settle that the purple one matches her style, a gift so she can remember me by. We sit to refresh with drinks after awhile, and on my way towards this restaurant, a poor ill-dressed and dirty child walks by and starts speaking to me in Romanian. To make him go away, I keep telling him “Nu inteleg!” He continues to try to tell a sob story to get money. Eventually he goes away in defeat. Eugen tells me I sounded expressively upset when I told the child I didn’t understand Romanian, and that it’s best to ignore the child beggars. I reply that I was upset because the boy interrupted my conversation with him, and that he chose the wrong person to plead to. Furthermore, as we keep walking the streets, a middle-aged woman points at me, then makes gestures of dancing, and yells in excitement “Yesterday, you dance!” Oh my, I cannot go anywhere in this country without being easily recognized.

Once we make it to another late lunch, I find out that it is most common to eat lunch in Romania at 1400. We are at Sergiana this time. They first serve us a meat and cheese plate, followed by sărmăluţe cu mămăligă. Sarmalute represents the meat encased in cabbage, and mamaliga is Romania’s version of polenta. I do not remember what the dessert is called, but it tasted what was reminiscent of an apple pie (plăcintă cu mere perhaps?).

After the meal we make our way to the Rasnov Citadel. Most of us are tired still from the night before, and with the use of energy in the morning and early afternoon, we are already spent. However, we truck our way to the entrance and look around anyways. Near the entrance I find an old man playing the violin. I have Ramona ask him if I can borrow it to play as I miss mine at home. He allows me to play a few tunes on it, telling me to speed up the tempo. Eventually we go in, only to find that it is what it is; ruins. Broken rubble, dangerous walking areas, and beautiful views from atop are all around us. Although the views are breathtaking, we witnessed many mountain-top views yesterday. This particular trip lacks a tour guide to explain historical milestones and safe areas to walk around. There are a few vendors open, a wishing well, and even an archery station. Professor Hickman is the first to try it, and other students like Ramona  and Horia give it a try as well. As there is only so many times I can watch this, a few of us get a head start towards the exit. During the wait, I get a bottle of water to drink, and the musician hands me his violin again to play. When a new bus of tourists return, he takes it back as he has to make his daily earnings. Before jumping onto the bus, professor Hickman purchases a dessert to share, Kürtőskalács. Its Hungarian name indicates a chimney cake; the yeasted bread is funneled atop of a rolling pin-like mechanism, and set on top of charcoal to bake while rotating on a spit. It is then covered in cinnamon sugar and ready for eating. It is delicious! It reminds me of a large churro.

As we drive back to RAU, I give arm and hand massages to relax and calm my classmates. They fall asleep immediately. For those who are still awake, we play a word game called Turkey. The first player starts off with a word, and then the next person has to use the last two characters of the word to be the beginning letters of the first word. For example, if the first person chooses “perch” then the next person can choose a word like “chair.” If the word ends in “ng”, the next person gets a strike, and takes the first letter “t” of turkey. The next strike is a “u,” and this continues until this person is struck-out. All I can say is, I was not the first person struck out, nor the last to be crowned winner.

Perhaps we come back later than anticipated; we did not stop for any restroom breaks nor dinner during our drive back. When we return, all of the UAH students are starving. A few of us decide that we want to order pizza so we do not have to go anywhere, and let the food come to us. Finding the right pizza place is difficult, and then finding someone who can relay what we want creates even more problems. A student that orders for us misunderstood. We attempt to order two large pizzas with pepperoni, and one with cheese. What we receive is two large pizzas with peppers and pepperoni, and one with cheese. I do not care what toppings they are, but this has a few of our classmates discouraged and upset. At this point, I am ready to eat whatever pizza comes my way.  

 


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


Day 8 – Peles Castle, Dracula, and Dancing!

In the morning, we are required to meet on the bus by 0800. I make my way to the Cantina before 0730 and see a few of the Romanian students say “you’re the first one here!” That cannot be right -then I remember that we sit in the faculty room for breakfast. I ask for my daily cup of coffee, and pick up my breakfast bag. Once we settle into the bus, the students realize we are still one person short – Maria. One of the RAU students call her, and she thought we had to be on the bus at 0830. She arrives in ten minutes and we are on our way towards Peles. The ride does not take long. About two hours later we arrive to find many Roma vendors trying to sell tourists fresh fruit. They sell strawberries, raspberries, and other berries I cannot see from my seat. It is a funny sight; the entire group trying to sell homemade baskets with fruit – I think it is a terrible business plan – too much competition. Later, there is a lone man selling his goods near the entrance gate. A smart businessman indeed! At the entrance, a few of us pick up postcards and minor souvenirs to take home. At the Peles Castle, the home built for the first Romanian king, Carol I, we are told again to pay for another camera fee. As Joshua has brought his SLR, we again determine to use this camera for memory capturing.  Because the building is immaculate and the preservers want to keep it that way, we slip on gigantic slippers over our shoes. Mine, as well as others, keep trying to detach themselves from our feet. To not spoil how gorgeous this place is, I will only mention that King Carol I had great taste. He was the first person in all of Romania to install electricity throughout the palace. He also installed heating and cooling systems all while maintaining the exquisiteness and endless amounts of collections. The servant’s quarters were so large, even I would think about leaving my home just to live in that section! My favorite area was the queen’s music saloon. Not only was she a talented musician, she also invited over nationally recognized musicians to come play. In the room, there are three paintings of the seasons, and a woman to represent each. We find out that because winter was omitted because it was her most disliked season.

For lunch we have a reservation set at the Bran restaurant. To get there, we hike up stairs and walkways that lead us high into the mountains. This walk is the least bit handicap-friendly. It is a late lunch and because we arrive there at 1400, we are hungry, and starving by the time we exercise our way up there. There is a marvelous view from the top and at our table. Mirabella Dauer sits not more than 20 feet away from us. The RAU students tell us she’s a famous singer of Romania. She is slated to perform and is currently staying in the area. Lunch consists of a tomato vegetable soup, bread, meat and cheese plates, and papanasi. The papanasi is my favorite [but most sweets are my favorite]; it is a donut-like dessert topped with sour cherry preserves and sour cream. 

Next adventure is to Bran castle, aka Dracula’s castle. This fortress, as famous as it is, does not strike as exquisite as the Peles. Because the government seized the building and their assets, most of the furniture and items are now gone and replaced by newer pieces. Our tour guide speaks impeccable English, and she is only 17! She is funny to be around, and with our group, she has given this tour at least 2730 times (she got bored with the many child groups she had so she started counting). Fun fact: Vlad III (the Impaler) is thought to have lived there but this is not the case. Although Dracula was based on Vlad’s personality, both have little to do with one another other than living in the same area. Much of the gruesomeness to observe include used, antique torture devices, each with a story and a picture to go with it. Most of the boards depict tortured women, and I ask our tour guide why. She replied that most of the victims were women thought to be impure, or followers of witchcraft. It is disturbing.

Afterward, the group splits to shop while others, such as myself decide to go to the haunted castle. I’m not scared of activities like this, but it is hilarious watching the others.  Most of it is because as an engineer, I understand the mechanics that make a lot of this happen. The sprays of pressurized air coming from the floorboards, the hydraulic system that drops the bridge to make it feel like you’re falling, and even the men wearing scary masks does not faze me. I even say “buna ziua” to one and he replies the same back! The group in front of me screams their heads off. They tell me afterwards that the man in the mask chased one of the girls as she ran backwards shrieking in fear. We check into the Apollonia, our beautiful hotel. I get my own room as I do not want to disturb my classmates’ sleep with my snores. It is nice to have cool air, a clean room with comfy beds, and wonderful facilities since living in the residence hall. I feel so spoiled! My favorite is the moon/sun window atop of the ceiling. There are curtains covering in the sunlight and a bit of me hopes I can move them to see the stars before my sleep, but alas, I’m too short.

After checking in and freshening up, we make our way towards dinner. I am unsure of the name of the restaurant, but it is located in the shopping district. We walk our way there and finally get seated. Another three course meal is brought with each plate as lovely as the previous one. There is entertainment; the Romanian dancers frolic around us exemplifying each district’s traditional dances. Some of the professional dancers reel our students in for a quick one-on-one dance. Before the main course arrives, the dance floor is open. The band and singers belt American and Romanian tunes. Our group is torn between foods and dancing. Most of the group chooses dancing, and boy, can the Romanian students dance! Leo teaches me a traditional Romanian dance that is done in pairs, and the tempo gradually picks up until it is almost impossible to dance to. It is most fun! There are group dances involving a group circle dance using four steps, and even “the train.” During the four-step group dance, I hold an old gentleman’s hand. When it ends he kisses my hand. Although there is not anyone translating for me, I think he is impressed with my dancing or is thankful for holding his hand. We are sad when the dancing is exhausted, but extremely tired. Some continue their way to more dancing and clubbing for the night. I am an old lady and decide getting rest is the best course of action. Dr. Potecea helps us find our way back. With a deck of cards on the trip with me, I invite the remaining students (after refreshing and/or showering) to come to my room and play card games. Eugen teaches us “Macaua”, aka Macau, a Uno-like card game with different variations. Afterwards, I teach the other 3 players “Rich man, poor man,” also known as President, or Japanese Daifugō. We play until the extreme exhaustion from today takes over, and we go to sleep.


Categories: Graduate Studies, Social Life, Study Abroad, UAHuntsville, What Matters


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