Go Global

Whew. It took 3 days and one panic attack to do, but my Study Abroad page is finally up! Please check it out. You don’t even have to read it. Just click on it and validate me. There are pretty pictures!

In keeping with the travelicious theme of the day, I’d like to share with you an email I got today. It is an article about the positively wonderful side effects of being a true global citizen – a label I wear with pride.


This was written by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyer (Veteran Journalist) about himself and published in The Times of India.

In 1992, I wrote a book titled Towards Globalisation. I did not realize at the time that this was going to be the history of my family.

Last week, we celebrated the wedding of my daughter, Pallavi. A brilliant student, she had won scholarships to Oxford University and the London School of Economics. In London, she met Julio, a young man from Spain. The two decided to take up jobs in Beijing, China. Last
week, they came over from Beijing to Delhi to get married. The wedding guests included 70 friends from North America, Europe and China.

That may sound totally global, but arguably my elder son Shekhar has gone further. He too won a scholarship to Oxford University, and then taught for a year at a school in Colombo. Next he went to Toronto, Canada, for higher studies. There he met a German girl, Franziska.

They both got jobs with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, USA. This meant that they constantly travelled on IMF business to disparate countries. Shekhar advised and went on missions to Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Kyrgyzstan and Laos. Franziska went to Rwanda,Tajikistan, and Russia. They interrupted these perambulations to get married in late 2003.

My younger son, Rustam, is only 15. Presumably he will study in Australia, marry a Nigerian girl, and settle in Peru.

Readers might think that my family was born and bred in a jet plane. The truth is more prosaic. Our ancestral home is Kargudi, a humble, obscure village in Tanjore district, Tamil Nadu. My earliest memories of it are as a house with no toilets, running water, or pukka road.
When we visited, we disembarked from the train at Tanjore, and then travelled 45 minutes by bullock cart to reach the ancestral home. My father was one of six children, all of whom produced many children (I myself had three siblings). So, two generations later, the size of the Kargudi extended family (including spouses) is over 200. Of these, only three still live in the village. The rest have moved across India and across the whole world, from China to Arabia to Europe to America.

This one Kargudi house has already produced 50 American citizens. So, dismiss the mutterings of those who claim that globalisation means westernisation. It looks more like Aiyarisation, viewed from Kargudi.

What does this imply for our sense of identity? I cannot speak for the whole Kargudi clan, which ranges from rigid Tamil Brahmins to beef-eating, pizza-guzzling, hip-hop dancers. But for me, the Aiyarisation of the world does not mean Aiyar domination. Nor does it mean Aiyar submergence in a global sea. It means acquiring multiple identities, and moving closer to the ideal of a brotherhood of all humanity. I remain quite at home sitting on the floor of the Kargudi house on a mat of reeds, eating from a banana leaf with my hands. I feel just as much at home eating noodles in China, steak in Spain, teriyaki in Japan and cous-cous in Morocco. I am a Kargudi villager, a Tamilian, a Delhi-wallah, an Indian, a Washington Redskins fan, and a citizen of the world, all at the same time and with no sense of tension or contradiction.

When I see the Brihadeeswara Temple in Tanjore, my heart swells and I say to myself “This is mine.” I feel exactly the same way when I see theChurch of Bom Jesus in Goa, or the Jewish synagogue in Cochin, or the Siddi Sayed mosque in Ahmedabad: these too are mine. I have strolled so often through the Parks at Oxford University and along the canal inWashington, DC, that they feel part of me. As my family multiplies and intermarries, I hope one day to look at the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona and Rhine river in Germany and think, “These too are mine.”

We Aiyars have a taken a step toward the vision of John Lennon. Imagine there’s no country, It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too.

My father’s generation was the first to leave the village, and loosen its regional shackles. My father became a chartered accountant in Lahore, an uncle became a hotel manager in Karachi, and we had an aunt in Rangoon.

My generation loosened the shackles of religion. My elder brother married a Sikh, my younger brother married a Christian, and I married a Parsi. The next generation has gone a step further, marrying across the globe.

Globalisation for me is not just the movement of goods and capital, or even of Aiyars. It is a step towards Lennon’s vision of no country.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us. And the world will be one………

Unexpected Austin

Wednesday, August 11th 2010: Wake up far too early for a sunny day in August. Eat some melon. Head to airport. 
Destination: Austin, Texas.
Purpose: Training as a Peer Mentor for Academic Programs International.
[Just wanted to set the scene for y’all. Why the James Bond writing style?…If I told you, I’d have to kill you.]
Once I passed through security – always a barrel of laughs, that process – I proclaimed it breakfast time. And whaddya know, but there was a UFood Grill in the American terminal. I have heard of this particular restaurant and have always wanted to go, but all its Massachusetts locations are in downtown Boston, and it’s not easy to just hop down there. (Mostly because I refuse to drive in Boston. I value the lives of myself and my car far too much.) It’s a super casual dining place that features all health-focused fresh foods – AND tart frozen yogurt. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a frozen yogurt, erm, problem. The problem being that I love it and will get it at pretty much anytime of the day or night, irregardless of actual hunger. It’s usually worth it.
But, I also saw they offered smoothies, and that sounded perfect so early on in the day. I grabbed a yogurt and the Mango Madness smoothie – mango, banana, and orange juice.
It was a little heavy on the OJ flavor, but it was pretty tasty. And it made me happy to see a substantial healthy breakfast option in the airport. It made me smile.
I had a layover at OHare in Chicago, and was equally as successful in finding a healthy lunch option!
It was lacking in the protein department, and was seriously screaming for some avocado, but it was really fresh and tasty. The cilantro made ALL the difference, and I was really impressed that it was even there! When I think of airports and herbs together, I see a flight attendant asking me if salt counts. Go OHare and cilantro!
Got to Austin and eventually found the other 3 Peer Mentors who were with me – we were on the same flight the whole time!
I’m just going to say it now: I have never, EVER in my life experiences humidity like I did in Texas. It was what I think rain forests and green houses are like. It was intense and inescapable. But I actually kind of liked it – the air conditioning never felt too cold! 
Despite all the heat, we still saw plenty of runners and bikers and strollers out and about, sweaty and smiling. It was impressive. Insane, but impressive.
After getting to the hotel, my roommate Gab and I chilled in the room and literally talked for 2.5 hours straight. She had studied with the API Toscania program, and it was absolutely incredible to share our mutual Italy experience/adventures. In fact, the entire time in Austin was like the best therapy I could have asked for in the transition back to home life. I loved hearing about everyone else’s experiences and even though we all went to different places, we all had the common ground of loving every minute of it and it was amazing to connect with that. It was just the coolest group of people. I kinda wish we got to work together more as Peer Mentors. But before I get too wish-washy…
On to the FOOD. We definitely ate well in Austin. The first night, we went to a Tex-Mex place. As we should have.
[Insert here bowls of some seriously delicious salsa, guacamole, and queso. I always thought queso was just glorified melted Veleveeta cheese….I was wrong. It’s amazing.]
I went with the fish tacos for my entree. It was a tough choice, but I’ve always wanted to try them, and I do love me some grilled tilapia. It was a good choice πŸ™‚
The corn tortillas were soft (my fave!) and tasted homemade, and I never thought I would say this, but the best part of the dish was the Chipotle Ranch dressing drizzled on top. I usually opt for no dressing, because the plate typically arrives drowning under a cloying, bland, cheap-tasting white goo. But this was unlike no other ranch I’ve ever tasted. It was light but wonderfully creamy, well-spiced but not too hot, and accented the dish without taking any other flavor away. Basically, exactly what a sauce should be. One of the best tex-mex experiences I’ve ever had. (The only one that was better was a seafood enchilada in downtown Boston when I was around 9. It remains in my head as one of the tastiest seafood dishes yet to reach my mouth. I could eat one right now.)
After dinner, the group of us wandered around downtown Austin (ha! that rhymes with Boston!…maybe I need to get out more.). Austin is such a cool city! It reminded me a lot of Charlotte, North Carolina which I was totally not expecting. Most of our group ended up doing a bit of bar-hopping on the [in]famous 6th street, but my 20-year-old status and very tired self prevented me from doing the same. Luckily, my roommate and one other girl were also still 20, so I wasn’t alone. Yay for the youngin’s!
After a none-too-restful night, I awoke groggy but excited to get started. It was so great to actually meet the people I had emailed obsessively and see the building where that rather hefty check was sent to. The API Staff is just awesome. And a lot of them are Gillianasana readers, which just makes me grin like an idiot to know. [Hi everyone!!!] And the office decor is SO cool. The creative director Mark is, well, creative. It’s really colorful and fun, and I have plans to decorate my future apartment a la API. You’re all invited to my housewarming party. Bring chocolate.
We went out to lunch & I had my first one of these:
A fried pickle! And the consensus was that it tastes like…um, a fried pickle. Yep.
Dinner was really exciting. Like, really really exciting.
Italian! What else would get me so excited?
[That was some delicious focaccia. Nothing like the focaccia I had in Italy…but delicious nevertheless. Crispy, cheesy, chewy. God I love bread.]
Remember my first garganelli experience? I loved the shape, and when I saw it on the menu simply done with a tomato & basil sauce, my mind was made up quite quickly.
Simple is always a good way to go.
The dining experience in Austin was really fun. Great food + great conversation. It was, well, great!
And lo and behold, what was across the street from this Italian restaurant but a frozen yogurt shop. I was all over that like white on rice.
This was my first experience with pay-per-ounce fro yo, and I must say, I am jealous of those of you who have one nearby. Although my wallet sure is happy without them.
But who can say no to this??
Not I. 
I went the next night too.
The next and final day, we all gave our presentations about our personal study abroad experiences. It was so much fun to hear everyone’s, and made me want to go back. And then go everywhere they went. Global tour, anyone?
Earlier, we met with our program managers, aka the person I stalked via email for 3 months when I was dealing with the massive amount of paperwork involved. [Note to all those study-abroad hopefuls I just scared: most of it is now done online. I am jealous.]. Mine was absolutely awesome, despite the fact that I emailed her 3 times in a row in a period of 10 minutes, and it was so cool to meet her (and see a pic of her adorable son!). 
Another highlight was lunch.
Turkey+sprouts+lettuce+tomato+mustard+”avocado”. Apparently in Texas, when you see avocado on a menu, it means guacamole. Only one more reason I love Austin. More places should adopt that principle.
But dessert basically eclipsed everything else. There is a “cookie delivery service” nearby that the office orders from often, understandably. But the kicker? The cookes are delivered fresh from the oven.
In one word? GENIUS.
That was hands-down the best M&M cookie I’ve ever had. It was all gooey and melty and warm and if I didn’t have enough reasons to up and move to Austin, this would do it. I want to open a fresh-from-the-oven cookie delivery service. Seriously. Possibly one of the best business strategies I’ve ever heard of.
After our training was all over (*tear*), a small group of us decided to check out Barton Springs Pool, which is a public outdoor swimming area with natural water. (I don’t know how else to describe it; by “natural,” I mean not chlorinated. So before you start giggling about the concept of “unnatural water”…shutup.)
[I love that there is an award for “Best Swimming Hole.”]
We ran back to the hotel and I fought with the hotel printer, and before I knew it, it was dinner time! We met at a tapas bar (we were going for barbecue, but the was an hour-long wait, and it was already 8 o’clock. Not happening.).One of the group studied in Barcelona, so needless to say, we asked him for recommendations. I
went vegetarian.
It was some fresh bread with some of the best grilled veggies I’ve had – and I have had a lot! It was leeks, artichokes, and asparagus in smoked olive oil + sea salt. The leeks literally melted in my mouth. That romesco sauce on the side was none too shabby, either. I wanted to partake in the bottle of wine, but that pesky age limit and my conscience stopped me. Oh, to be in Italy again.

It was really a great trip. Even better than I expected, and I was pretty excited to begin with! The job will be a lot of work, but studying abroad is something I’m pretty passionate about & I think it will really be fun. 
That wasn’t the only surprise; the trip seemed to trigger a bit if reverse culture shock. Perhaps it was all the talking about living in our respective countries and how much we loved and grew from it, but either way, I came home happy but a little hurtin’. But what it really did was remind me of what a crazy, confusing, beautiful experience studying abroad is and, for me, was. And I’d do it all over again.
Thanks, Austin!
I think I’ll be back πŸ˜‰
[P.S. – if anyone read this earlier, my mouse clicked the “Publish” button of its own volition when I was halfway through writing it. Hate it when that happens.]

When In _______, Eat Like the _______-ans.

Due to my impending trip to my study abroad program’s offices to be trained in all things Peer Mentor-y, I’ve had my time in Florence on the brain quite a bit lately.
Ok, that’s a lie, I think about my 3.5 months on the greatest city on earth on a hourly daily basis. But roll with me on this one.
I thought I would compile a definitive list – according to me, at least – of the absolute must-dos while abroad…and the other stuff that if you somehow fail to fit in to your packed, globe-trekking schedule, you won’t be in tears about once you’re home. And then I started typing the first item on my list….and it became a post in and of itself. If you haven’t guessed already, it’s about food.
You had to have seen that one coming. Yes, number one for me is *drum roll*…food. I know you’re sitting there saying “well duh, this coming from the food writer wannabe/culinary-school-student-to-be.” But hear me out.
Well, wipe that drool off the keyboard and then hear me out.
Food is a pretty important part of experiencing a culture. And by pretty important, I’m talking in the Top 3.
It usually goes by unnoticed, and perhaps that’s as it should be, but the way one goes about eating has a lot to do with his/her culture. Why, for example, are there millions of take-out & delivery services available from restaurants in the U.S.? Because we the people keep up a go-go-go lifestyle, and convenience is often a top priority. We may enjoy a PB&J sandwich, but it’s probably while also replying to 50 emails, holding a conference call, and/or making plans with friends concerning what to play during recess in a couple minutes. Further more, the ubiquitous PB&J – arguably a truly ‘American’ recipe – is ideal because it’s cheap & quick to prepare.
On the other hand, we have bella Italia, where places to dine specifically and exclusively for lunch abound. Their hours are usually somewhere between 11 & 2, give or take, but this is not to cater to a wide variety of schedules – it is so for people to enjoy a 2 hour lunch. Unlike the U.S.of A., where food accompanies conversation – and the quicker, the better –  the conversation accompanies the food in Italy, which is afforded several reverent hours. The pace of life is slower, the meal times truly appreciated. Yes, sandwich shops exist where you can drop in and get a quick bite to go – but you will usually find such establishments double as a wine bar, where as early as 11 AM little old men are enjoying a deep red glass of Chianti and chatting with the owner behind the counter. Merely by stepping into such a place, you are observing – and partaking in! – the culture. And I haven’t even started on the food itself yet. 
This part is somewhat obvious – what people eat is, of course, part of who they are. And their culture is also [duh] an important part of who they are, so it’s a double dose of cultural immersion. But, let’s face it, the real fun is on the menu. While back home, your younger brother is chowing down on turkey & swiss on rye, you are about to dig your fork in to a hearty plate of fresh pasta, doused artfully with homemade tomato sauce and crowned with real parmeggiano-reggiano
And don’t forget the bread on the side! Or maybe it’s a big steaming bowl of my very favorite ribollita (the presence of bread goes without saying). 
Either way, a far cry from that little Wonderbread-clad sandwich on the other side of the Atlantic.
Call it a bunch of rambling, but all of this is to prove a point. Yes, eating in a new place can be scary. (Cacciucco, anyone?) But it’s an important part of getting to know that new place so everything else in it can be, well, less new & scary! I learned a lot more than just what the best kind of cheese is when I ate in Italy. (It’s fresh pecorino, by the way. At least I think so.) So please, before you throw up your hands and spend whatever precious little time you have abroad consuming a steady diet of ham & cheese sandwiches (don’t get me wrong, they have their place – just not 24/7!) – try something new. Even if you have no idea what you just ordered. Even if the waiter tries to translate and you think it might be something with a a beak, 3 legs and a dorsal fin. You might discover a new favorite I-must-eat-this-every-day food! You might also discover a new I-will-never-touch-that-foodlike-thing-ever-again food, but that’s okay too. What I can guarantee is that you won’t regret your choice of going out on a limb and trying something brand new. I do recommend bringing a friend – for fun photo ops and, if that second scenario turns out to be the case, to share her inevitably delicious plate of whatever-it-is. 
Now, I’ve given a great deal of time to explaining all this. And yes, it is because I love nothing more than talking about food and Florence, but it is also because I’ve been there, too afraid of new food to enjoy the whole cultural experience of dining. The regret I had about my first trip to Italy – spent hungry – was tangibly painful, and this time around, I was not depriving myself of that again. I learned a lot the second time around, but I’m lucky I got a second time! Heed these words, and you won’t regret a single minute of your trip. You’ll just live each and every one.

Buon Appetito.


P.S. – See you in Austin!!!

One Month Back[iversary]

Coming home after 3.5 months in Italy is easier said than done. It’s been exactly one month today that I have been home, and I will level with yall – it hasn’t been getting easier. With the exception of the constant cloud of cigarette smoke around every corner, I miss everything about Florence. Daily trips to Mercato Centrale, aperitivo at Kitsch, gelato at Percho No, the Duomo. And don’t get wrong, I LOVE my car, but I miss walking everywhere. It’s been harder than I think I’ve let on, and not in ways I expected. Though I of course miss the food that I will always consider the best in the world, it’s so different here that I knew what was coming and it hasn’t been as hard on me (though my waistline may disagree – SO much processed food!) What has surprised me is my newfound passion about the importance of natural foods and supporting locals; it’s never been so important to me before. I also feel the frequent urge to tell people here to chill out!! The slower way of life there only became more evident when I got back and had a new view of how absolutely manic life here can be. I feel…restless. I’m glad to be home and have the chance to recuperate from an insane [and insanely amazing] semester and rest before the upcoming one kicks me in the butt, but at the same time, I miss the challenges there, especially speaking Italian. Man, do I miss having to struggle to think in a different language! I know some people who are going there soon. My one piece of advice: live it up, every single moment, and don’t be afraid. It’s just such an incredible place – Italy can change a person. I can’t wait to go back.

In honor of my one-month-backiversary, I thought I would change it up and show you my absolute favorite pictures taken in and around Florence. 

Heavenly doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The Eve of Our Leave

Twas the night before leaving Florence, and all through the house,

There was plenty astirring; it was time to move out!
Clothing was flung into suitcases without care,
Praying that all of our stuff would just fit in there!
It took weeks to get the idea of leaving stuck in our heads;
Oh, how we will MISS our lives here that we led!
Taking blankets to Indipendenza, where in the sun we would nap,
Chasing mosquitoes around the apartment with many a “SLAP”!
We ate pasta and pizza, platter after platter,
But with all of the walking, none of us were much fatter πŸ™‚
From Grom to Vivoli and of course Perche No,
And don’t forget Vestri – oh, so much gelato!

Shopping in Florence is truly without peer —
Just make sure you’ve got exact change for the cashier!
The vendors in San Lorenzo often think they’re quite slick,
But after 3 months, you know it’s the same old boring shtick.
We bought watercolor prints, scarves, and jewelry galore –
How odd it will be to have to shop only inside stores!
Restaurant critics we quickly became,
That we couldn’t go to them all is truly a shame.
Even though my face swelled up when by bugs I was bitten,
And I’ve been in closets bigger in size than that of our kitchen,
Aperitivo, wine tastings, Fiorentina “football’,
The Duomo and the David made up for it all.
What will my Tuesdays be without a trip to Casa del Vino!
How will I survive without my prosciutto and pecorino?!

And of course the two men who toyed with our hearts,
Beloved Mario and Sergio, who made soup a real art!

Perhaps I won’t miss the cigarette-smoke-filled air,
But dear Mercato Centrale – I could have lived there!

And API excursions – how could we forget those?
Venice, Rome, and Tuscany–although that first one drove us a tad psycho πŸ˜‰

And our own adventures were always a blast,
Verona, Bologna, and Barcelona (we saved the best for last!)

Livorno, San Gimignano and Lucca all twice,

What can I say? I found Italy quite nice πŸ˜‰

I learned so much about history and food and wine

(But try to take me into one more church and you will surely hear me whine!)

We were never in lieu of more sights to be seen,

From the Arno to Boboli, and everything in between.

My favorite sight, you ask, in this city to see?
Giotto’s Bell Tower, unique, graceful, and lofty.

But time has come to bid Florence “ciao, ciao” with a kiss,
With no doubt in my mind that it truly will be missed.
I’ve started to feel like an experience sponge –
It’s time to wring me out, I’m done!
Reverse culture shock is nervously anticipated,
Although to see my family, friends and dog I will be so elated!
I’ll remember the pasta and gelato with glee,
And every other crazy time I had with the roomies.
It goes without saying that I will be back,
For Italy is just not something my future can lack.
So before I board my plane to leave this incredible place,
And perhaps with a small tear but a smile on my face,
Io dico “ti amo Firenze, la mia cara citta – 
Per sempre tu rimarrai nella mia anima!”


Ponderments from the other side of the Atlantic

It is true what they say about studying abroad – you definitely learn more about yourself and really get inside your own head and heart. I have experienced it before – going to India was life-changing for me in ways it is difficult to put words to (even for an English major!). But it never ceases to amaze me how much one can grow simply by getting out of the comfort zone.

I am becoming more comfortable with who I am. No, I haven’t gone on any of the pub crawls or to any of the local discotecs (usually flooded with Americans and the, ahem, questionable characters who are simply waiting for them to get inebriated enough). But you know what? That’s not my thing. I adore going out and walking the streets of Florence all day, window shopping, stopping at a cafe for an espresso. Come home, make dinner, wind down. Yes, it is not perhaps “typical” of a 20-year-old to not want to go out and party all night, but when have I ever been “typical” for my age? It is admittedly difficult to not feel a little out of place when most of your other peers around you are talking about what bar they went to last night or how late they got home, but I would prefer to feel a little out of place and comfortable in my own skin than trying to be something I’m not. I’m not saying I’ll never go out, but I am aware of who I am enough to know that it is not all that fun for me, and it’s empowering to be able to say that and be comfortable with the truth.

I’ve noticed a similar thing fashion-wise. No, I am not fresh from a Milan runway or even a mall in the U.S., but I like how I dress. I like that I’ve always just worn what I am comfortable in and don’t feel compelled to adhere to a trend just because everyone else is. I’m a flat-footed-yoga-pant-shawl-wearing signorina!

Another thing that has crossed my mind frequently since settling in here is how lucky I am. Part of the reason I am so at home here is because I have traveled so much, and I am grateful beyond words to my parents for giving me those opportunities and always supporting me, in my travel endeavours and everywhere else. I often hear other people talk about their parents and I always think “man, my parents are pretty cool.” I got lucky. Don’t know why, but I did. I don’t question it, I am simply sincerely grateful.

Yes, I know, a *gasp* mushy post. But this is my blog, so I might as well write about what’s in my head! And don’t fret, Chocolate Festival pictures are to come. Prepare to drool.

Vi amo molto!