14,700

The autumn equinox was two days ago, so I now have it on record that I’m writing my summer wrap-up post at a semi-reasonable time (even though school started five weeks ago, we can ignore that fact). It seems like five weeks is my threshold for hours and hours of coding and solving math problems before I need to indulge in some writing and/or humanities. Is this high or low? You decide. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing this post against the sounds of snoring that could be coming through the dorm wall next to or above me, I will never know.

Fourteen thousand seven hundred miles, according to Google, is the distance I traveled this summer from home to study abroad to my internship back to college. To say this was a life-changing summer would be an understatement. In my honors Discernment and Discourse class at SMU last year, we learned about semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols as they relate to language and interpretation. One of the key points of this unit was that words and symbols are completely ‘bound’. An image will lead to a word being conjured in our minds, and vice versa. This leads to the idea that all language is inherently a restriction of our thoughts and ideas, and this is exactly the feeling I’ve had while brainstorming for this post. Every attempt to capture this summer with literal words and sentences feels like a misinterpretation that can never fully capture what I’m trying to convey, so rest assured, there will be plenty of pictures at the end.

Not even 24 hours after took my last final in May, I headed to DFW airport  to catch a flight to Rome for the SMU-in-Rome-Paris study abroad program. Quick background: this program consists of two honors history classes (Ancient Foundations of Modern Civilization in Rome, and One King, One Law in Paris) for a total duration of four weeks. I had been checking the weather in Rome and Paris for weeks before the trip, without realizing that I was checking night temperatures (because, duh, time differences). Needless to say, I definitely had an extra suitcase full of warm clothes for Paris that went completely unused. I will never forget the struggle of juggling my suitcases through the airports, not yet knowing anyone well enough to ask for some help, and then arriving at our apartment in Rome to find the elevator under construction. We had to carry our 50 pound suitcases up 3 flights of narrow stairs- arm day, anyone?

Of course, all of the “struggles” were far surpassed by the sheer beauty of Rome. I miss the winding cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, and layers upon layers of history in that city. Our professors did a wonderful job of making the city our classroom, and class everyday consisted of walking tours/lectures. This entire experience motivated me to strive to be a conscientious tourist interested in learning the history behind sights I’m visiting, because what’s the fun in only going somewhere to take pictures? I would often pause and look at other tourists who planned their trips themselves, or perhaps didn’t opt in to have a tour guide (all of whom could definitely be me when I travel in the future), and was overwhelmed by how easy it can be to miss out on some truly astounding information. I was in awe of how adeptly my professors could answer tangent questions during lectures, and how they seldom needed lecture notes. Although I didn’t used to think of history as my cup of tea, their enthusiasm was contagious. I hope to one day be as passionate and knowledgeable about my field of interest as my professors are about history. Three (of many) highlights of my trip to Rome were definitely watching the sun set over the Tiber River (I could’ve stood there for hours), visiting the remains of the port town of Ostia and having a seafood lunch by the Mediterranean after, and our weekend trip to Tivoli to visit Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este (helloooo beautiful countryside). There was a swing set- one of my absolute favorite things- overlooking the hillside in Tivoli that we didn’t have time to stop at, and it is now on my bucket list to one day go back and find it.

My first impression of Paris was that it seemed to be in an identity crisis, but the city quickly grew on me. There was so much variation in aesthetics throughout the city as one traverses between arrondissiments. In the area surrounding where we stayed, I could almost trick myself into thinking I was just in another American city (the unlimited supply of cappuccinos and chocolate croissants for breakfast broke this illusion). Perhaps because I had just come from Rome, my favorite parts of Paris were the areas with winding cobblestone streets and all of the beautiful and unique bridges across the River Seine. From rowing a boat along the Grand Canal outside the Palace of Versailles to picnics at the Eiffel Tower and wandering around the Louvre, this trip was unforgettable. Another unique aspect of studying in Paris was that instead of apartments, we stayed in an international youth hostel. There were students from Japan, Spain, England, etc, and other American students as well. The place overall had a young, collaborative, multicultural vibe that provided a unique contrast to our apartments in Rome.

Despite all the fun excursions, there was still plenty of ‘study’ in study abroad. During Spring semester before the trip, we were tasked with writing a ten page outline for each textbook for both classes. During the trip, we had graded notebook/reflection checks. I really enjoyed sketching buildings and sculptures for our class in Rome.  I don’t consider myself an artsy person, so getting to sketch in Rome felt, for lack of better description, pretty liberating. Writing reflections about our favorite parts of the day in Paris was also invigorating. It was nice to have set aside class time during the day to just sit and let the tons of information sink in, while pondering what resonated most with who we are and what we care about. After coming back home, we had the rest of the summer to submit drafts and final copies of ten page papers for each class; a research paper on a topic of our choosing for Ancient Roman history, and a comparative book review on a topic of our choosing for French history (papers will soon be linked below). Although it was definitely difficult to juggle writing these papers along with my internship, I am extremely proud of the final product and feel like a much more interesting person for having acquired so much historical knowledge about my topics: the urban design of Ostia (an Ancient Roman port) and French Enlightenment architecture versus Revolutionary architecture.

After landing back in the states, I had exactly three days at home before starting the 1,644 mile drive to Nevada, where I worked as a Systems Test and Validation engineering intern for GE Oil & Gas (now Baker Hughes GE). The three day drive to get there provided quality time with my parents as we got to see the beauty of nature across New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. This was my first technical internship, and it far surpassed my expectations in all aspects of the experience, both inside and outside of work. For a respite from these rambling paragraphs, here’s a list describing some of what I learned this summer.

  • To survive staying awake on the 30-40 minute drive home from work, if the rear view mirror isn’t shaking as my music is playing, the music isn’t loud enough
  • Treadmills are really, really bad for your knees (as is sitting for 40 hours a week)
  • I sound like Darth Vader having an asthma attack after any hike, regardless of difficulty
  • Calculating meal portion sizes when cooking is harder than I thought it’d be (I took overcooked, mushy pasta to work three days in a row)
  • It is possible to eat enough chicken soft tacos from Del Taco that the $1 off coupons at the bottom of my receipts can pay for an entire week of tacos
  • It is a very scary thing to let a Texan drive 50-60 mph through the curvy mountains of California
  • Yes, a lake can have beaches (aka Lake Tahoe aka my new favorite place in America)
  • I really really really really love the beach
  • People are amazing (loved hanging out with my coworkers/the other interns outside of work, super sweet and fun people!)
  • And finally, yes, I did learn plenty of new skills at work (a new programming language, how to design a Windows application from scratch, how to navigate hardware restrictions during development, workplace norms, etc)

As I already said 32048329 times, this list doesn’t come close to capturing everything I experienced this summer. Scroll through the pictures below for a better look. I didn’t want this summer to end, but I’m looking forward to a great rest of fall semester. My trip abroad has inspired me to plan a semester abroad, so stay tuned to see if I can actually pull that off! Fingers crossed!

Until next time,
Sunjoli

*Hover over/click on the non-food pictures below for more details*

|Food in Rome|

|Sights in Rome|

|Food in Paris|

|Sights in Paris|

|Pictures from road trip/internship|

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