Lasting Lessons- Erin Hicks, Maggie Mahfood, and Rebekah Provines

We are all sitting around our respective tables tonight, finishing up last minute packing, and getting ready for our four AM flight to Texas. It has been an incredible month in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we are undeniably grateful for the ability to have had this experience. We have been fortunate enough to have spent this month with three terrific faculty members who have invested their time, a precious and limited resource, into our lives, and we are better people for having learned from them. It is with very mixed emotions that we begin our journey home. The past thirty days have taught us:

  1. How to truly appreciate art.
  2. What it means to be outside of our “comfort zone.”
  3. To slow down.
  4. How to make the small moments count.
  5. How to embrace adventure.
  6. What it means to communicate effectively.
  7. To respect cultural values different than our own.11418270_10153010524286229_1436893778_n
  8. How to navigate public transportation.
  9. How to take initiative in planning independent trips.
  10. What a true Italian meal tastes like.
  11. What good coffee means. Quality over quantity.
  12. The great things that we are capable of.
  13. How to disconnect from technology.
  14. How to connect with the people around us.
  15. That home can be a feeling, not just a physical dwelling.
  16. How to value people’s individual outlook on every aspect of life.
  17. How to get along with a diverse group of individuals.
  18. How to live on a budget.
  19. How to pursue happiness.
  20. What it feels like to be truly content.
  21. How to deal with European washing machines.
  22. What it means to make friends.
  23. About the overwhelming beauty of nature.
  24. How to marvel at the history and beauty of mankind.
  25. The value of trust and loyalty within the Italian culture.
  26. How to love people genuinely.
  27. How to accept and cope with the things we cannot change.
  28. How to endure a nine hour flight.
  29. That travel sparks an untamable curiosity.
  30. What wanderlust feels like.

 

This list is by no means comprehensive, as it is impossible to quantify all that we have learned here. Every single one of us has had a unique experience during our time abroad. There are lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom. This world is big and begs to be explored, and GATE has given us the opportunity to learn and experience something absolutely life changing. We are forever grateful to those who made this experience possible and look forward to carrying its lessons with us for the rest of our lives.

The View- Maggie Mahfood

It is hard to believe that in less than 48 hours we will be back in Texas. We have each had very unique experiences and been taught lessons that we will continue to learn from and reflect on for the rest of our lives. Before I left home someone said to me, “You are going to have an experience that many will only dream of.” This has been undeniably true. Last night we all gathered to have a final dinner together before we leave this place we have grown to love. We each took turns reflecting on the lessons we have learned and sharing memories with each other. It was so hard to specifically define the best moment of this incredible adventure, but after giving it some thought, I knew which experience had been the most impactful for me. Halfway through our trip, we left Florence to spend three days in Rome. On our second day we had the entire morning to ourselves. At this point in the trip, exhaustion was setting in, emotions were high, and morale was low at 6:30 in the morning. However, five of us managed to drag ourselves out of our blissfully air conditioned hotel room and trek to St. Peter’s in Vatican City

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Early morning breakfast before heading to St. Peter’s.

We were determined to be some of the first people in line to climb to the top of the cupola on St. Peter’s Basilica. The temptation to complain was high as we climbed 300 steps and had only made it halfway to the top. We completed our climb within a strenuous half hour. Upon stepping out of the stairwell, my breath was taken away and I felt tears of awe fill my eyes; the climb was more than worth it. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, and pictures cannot do the view any justice.

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An attempt at capturing our view.

Regardless of a person’s religious affiliation or background, the sweeping magnitude of Vatican City is inspiring. It was at the very top of St. Peter’s that I remembered someone telling us that people never asked “How much?” or “How long?” when building the beautiful, historical places of worship that we have seen throughout Italy. The construction of the beautiful churches took resources that, at the time, were scarce and many, many years to complete. It was in that moment that I was amazed at man’s ability to pour out energy into something greater than himself. On top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, I determined that I would never again ask “How much?” or “How long?” when it came to being a part of something bigger than myself, something special. That bigger thing is different for all of us. If I have learned anything on this trip, it is that people are to be loved and cared about, even when it’s not convenient. Life is to be lived to the fullest, even when we are exhausted. Joy is to be sought after every day and risks are to be taken. We can never hold back and never ask “How much?” or “How long?” when trying to make our world a more beautiful and loving place.

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Post climb | Full of joy

Wheeling My Way Downtown- Jessica Warren

Living with a handicapped parent for most of my life means that I have adapted to look for certain features whenever I visit a new place. I automatically look for ramps at entrances, I always notice whether or not aisles are wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, and I always look to see if counters are low enough for a person in a wheelchair to reach. I’m often disappointed at home in the United States when I find that a business has not taken into consideration that some people will need to be able to access it from a wheelchair, but here in Italy I have noticed that handicap accessibility is a bit more scarce than at home. Florence is absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately, not everyone is able to visit some of the beautiful places this city has to offer.

Most museums that we have visited here in Florence and in Rome have taken measures to make their facilities accessible to the handicapped, including equipment such as ramps, elevators, and stair lifts. However, older buildings such as the medieval and renaissance era churches are still inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. The fact that many structures in Italy have not been updated to include handicap accessibility is no surprise. When every inch of a building was designed by a famous renaissance architect, the question of augmenting the structure to add an elevator or other practical (but not so beautiful) element is a difficult one to answer. On the one hand, preserving the antique beauty of Florentine structures is incredibly important from an artistic as well as a historical standpoint. But on the other, not adding wheelchair accessibility to these structures keeps many people from being able to experience them.

one of the six flights of stairs to my apartment in Florence with no elevator or lift

Centuries-old Florentine churches are not the only structures that are difficult to access for the handicapped. Shops and restaurants in the city often have at least one step at the doorway, and sometimes have sales floors or dining rooms that are situated on multiple levels separated by steps. In addition to this, doorways and aisles in stores and restaurants are often much too narrow for a wheelchair to pass through safely. Though handicap accessibility is by no means universal in the United States, more legislation and regulation of businesses means that most apartment buildings will have at least one handicap accessible unit, and doorways of shops are required to be at least wide enough for a standard wheelchair to pass through. Here in Italy, my apartment building and most of the others I have been in have no unit on the ground floor and no elevator.  Shops and restaurants in Florence and several in Rome require you to walk down a flight of stairs immediately after stepping through the doorway. These stores and restaurants are full of beautiful and unique items and food, but it is unfortunate that part of the population cannot even get through the doorway. Aside from the actual structures in Florence, the streets of the city are complicated to maneuver for a person who uses a wheelchair. This problem is not necessarily unique to Florence; many cities have uneven or cobblestoned streets. In Florence, though, most of the city has sidewalks for pedestrians, but they are too narrow in most places for two people to stand side by side, and definitely too narrow for most wheelchairs.

The opportunity to live and study in Florence has been incredible and I am extremely grateful that I have been able to do this. Our group has seen so many beautiful sites, rich with history and culture. Florence is a breathtaking city, and I am hopeful that a solution can be found that both meets the needs of handicapped people who wish to explore this city, and preserves the history, culture, and beauty of the city.

 

Dante at Biennale 2015- BeeBee Hale

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog then you’ve already heard about the incredible art show, Biennale, in Venice that Alexis blogged about. If not, just know that this art exhibition is like no other in that it features just one artist from each of the 89 countries involved. This exhibition only takes place once every few years and to have had the opportunity to see it in person was truly incredible. One piece in particular stood out to me as the artist drew inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The work itself is a celestial chart depicting constellations constructed from red and yellow taillights against a black background made to look like the night sky. According to one very helpful exhibition worker this is what the piece means: the use of every day, man-made materials represents humanity and its accomplishments, while placing the taillights in the shape of constellations represents humanity’s constant desire to both figuratively and literally reach for the stars. Each of the three books in Dante Aligh-

IMG_9692ieri’s Divina Commedia- Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso- end in the word ‘stelle’ or ‘stars’ and just like the art piece, this is to call attention to humanity looking toward the heavens to find meaning, purpose, and inspiration. Dante’s Inferno, in particular, deals with the theme of human desire and how if we succumb to our baser desires, we might just end up in hell suffering grotesque, albeit creative, tortures for all eternity. Interestingly enough, the Australian artwork has the word ‘desire’ written in three different languages along the top curve of the circular celestial chart. This is to tie in the common thread of desire throughout all humanity despite cultural differences or boundaries.

One of the greatest things about this trip is that the knowledge we have been gaining in class is very applicable to the places we’ve been visiting. In Dr. Streufert’s class we read selections from Dante’s Inferno and even on a non-school funded trip to Venice, my friends and I saw a modern artwork that was referencing Dante. It just goes to show that everything we are learning about, even if it’s a comedy from the Renaissance period, remains relevant in the art world and is still affecting different cultures and people around the world today.

People and Perspectives- Rebekah Provines

Now that the end of the trip is in sight, I have had time to think back on what I have experienced. I could rattle off all the fun places we, as a group, have been, and all the memories that go with the journey. However, Italy has given me more than just that crazy time we climbed seventy five flights of stairs for the view or the times we ate at our favorite restaurant down the street more than four times in a week. Italy has given me a different perspective on life. It is not just the slow pace of day-to-day life or the great food, but it is the people.

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The Italian people have a very innocent way of life and by innocent I mean trusting. I can order a café and a pastry, walk outside, eat it, and they trust that I will pay for it when I finish. In the States, you pay before you receive due to the lack of trust. The people are also very kind as long as you attempt to speak Italian. They will laugh at you in a loving way but then help you find whatever it is that you need. Once you talk to a local for a couple minutes you feel a connection with them that is pure and genuine. I have befriended a lady named Clarissa at the local food market. I love to buy produce from her because she teaches me Italian as I teach her English. She doesn’t speak any English and my Italian is very poor. However, together we have created a friendship.

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Another way Italy has changed the way I look at life is through the enriching history. I have seen all the pictures of the Colosseum and the Forum in texts and online, but whenever you have two professors with a never ending wealth of knowledge about ancient Italian history the experience reaches a whole new level. Instead of looking at a rock sticking strait out of the ground, I am learning that it is a Doric column that was once part of the temple of Hera (a Greek goddess). It is simply amazing to look out over an ancient civilization and walk exactly where its citizens did. Italy has been an amazing experience and I know that all the lessons I have learned will help me in my future travels and throughout my life.

Florence: The Original Fashion Capital – Alayna Sims

When you think of fashion, everyone loves to shout out Paris, New York, or even Milan. In all of my years studying fashion, from designing to modeling, those were the names that were written about the most. So, you could imagine my surprise when I was informed that the fashion industry actually has roots planted here in Florence. While we sat in one of the lectures given by Enrica Guidato here at Santa Reparata, I was exposed to so much about the Italian influence of the fashion industry, that it is impossible for me to believe anything else. My favorite part of the lecture was finding out that Coco Chanel was apart of the invention of capri pants! This lecture had taught me to view the industry that I loved more globally rather than locally. I took over two pages of notes, and I feel that this lecture sparked my curiosity to study fashion with more of a global focus now.

Fashion exhibit at the Pitti Palace in Florence.

Another event that blew my mind was getting to see the costume gallery at the Pitti Palace. Getting to see how fashion has evolved throughout history had made me feel as if I was actually in those time periods!

Fashion exhibit at the Pitti Palace in Florence.

I thought I had loved fashion before, but being in Florence has given me so much inspiration, that I can’t wait to get back to the states to sketch and design so many new looks! What’s even better than the haute couture is how fashionable the Florentine public is.

An example of street style in Florence.

Everywhere I turned there was some woman dressed in Miu Miu or some man with a Valentino 3-piece suit with a Louis Vuitton duffel bag. It’s as if all of these people can get designer clothing at dollar store prices! By just people watching, I learned that the Italian people take pride in their appearance just as much as they do…well everything else! You can tell that the Florentines know where they live, and they strut down the streets of Florence with purpose and style, as if the town is their runway. If there is anything I learned about being in Florence, it is that the people wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear them.

First Impressions vs. Life As a Temporary Local: How My Florentine Experience Has Evolved Over Time by Alia Pappas

Somewhere along the way during our stay in Italy, my GATE friends and I became temporary locals of Florence. Having been here for almost a month now, I’m finding that my perspective of the city that all of GATE 15 now calls home has changed since our plane touched down on May 20th.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Upon our arrival in Florence, my roommates and I remedied our jet lag with a nap in our apartment and then set out to find some dinner. We quickly realized that we didn’t have to travel very far to find it. Turning the corner of our block, we were met with the sight of a piazza sporting restaurants, cafes, and a stunning cathedral that would remain nameless for many days until we became more familiar with our neighborhood and discovered it was called Santa Maria Novella. At this point, we were in the “honeymoon phase” and the pizza that we ate at a restaurant that I now realize caters to tourists seemed like the best we had ever eaten. Our immediate impression of Florence on that first night was that it was a city that was exciting and beautiful, which was only furthered as we walked around the block for gelato and then back to our apartment to the tune of street musicians playing “Beauty and the Beast.” At this point, we were giddy and nervous, and every moment was a lifelong memory waiting to happen and we were eager to receive each one.

Alayna Sims, Becky Dixon, Penny Dutton, and I enjoying our first dinner in Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.

Alayna Sims, Becky Dixon, Penny Dutton, and I enjoying our first dinner in Florence next to Santa Maria Novella.

For our first few days in the illustrious Firenze, my roommates and I discovered the city and made a few tourist faux-pas. I remember us searching for tourist destinations with our noses pressed to the pages of maps, jittery at the possibility of pickpockets and trying to avoid annoying waiters beckoning us into their restaurants. In our apartment, I remember being nervous about living without an air conditioner and fearing that the infamous mosquitoes would eat me alive.

LIFE AS A TEMPORARY LOCAL:

The mosquitoes did eat me alive, and Vape (vah-pay), an Italian brand of mosquito repellant, has since become my new best friend. Despite this one negative, however, my extended stay in Florence has opened me up to a plethora of positive experiences and realizations. Meeting locals and discovering more of Florence are the two things that have most helped me to integrate into life in the city. One of the most prominent locals that I have met is actually one of the aforementioned “annoying” waiters that kept trying to persuade my roommates and I to eat at his restaurant. We have had to pass by “the best restaurant in the world” every day, so we have become friends with this waiter, getting high-fives from him on our way to take our midterms. He and other locals have helped me to better understand the Italians’ lifestyle and customs, which I have discovered that I love, especially walking arm-in-arm with friends and enjoying the slower pace of life here.

Becky, Penny, and I walking like Italians through the streets of Siena.

Becky, Penny, and I walking arm-in-arm like Italians through the streets of Siena. We do this all the time in Florence, too!

By exploring the city, I now walk with confidence and, although I remain aware, I am no longer terrified by pickpockets. I have come to rarely need a map and have found many restaurants and grocery stores to frequent. Sometimes, when I am walking to these places I even find myself growing a little annoyed with the lost tourists, but I remind myself to have sympathy for them because I know what it is like to be in their place. One of my shining “local” moments was when one of these tourists asked me for directions and I was able to easily give them.

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED?

Although I have grown accustomed to life in Florence, some aspects of it never get old. I still smile when I hear “Beauty and the Beast” outside my apartment, even if I have every note memorized. Florence is still just as beautiful and captivating as ever. When I first arrived here, I thought that every little experience was worth documenting. Today, I think the same. I have learned so much on this trip, such as how to be more accepting, patient, innovative, and caring. I never want to forget this life-changing experience of living in Florence, my home away from home.

My wonderful roommates and I in front of the Duomo. Florence wouldn't be the same without them!

My wonderful roommates and I in front of the Duomo. Florence wouldn’t be the same without them!

Bargello- Omar Rodriguez

This trip to Italy has been an amazing experience. We have seen an incredible amount of beautiful paintings, and sculptors by different artist. As time goes by I have noticed that my knowledge about art history as increased. It would be nice to talk about all the different museums and sites that we have visited, but I will just talk about two museums that we visited today.

The visit to the museum Bargello left me speechless. The statues of the David’s by Donatello and Verrocchio were both made by bronze. The David by Donatello was the first David and it was made in the 1440s, while the David by Verrocchio was commissioned by the Medici family. In the statue by Donatello we can see that he is wearing a hat and boots which cause some controversy.IMG_3352

While being at the Bargello museum I also learned about the contest that Ghiberti and Brunelleschi had to see who would get to construct the doors of the Baptistery in Florence. The contest was that the one who would make the best Sacrifice of Isaac would win the contest. Ghiberti won the contest and was the one to make the golden doors of the Baptistery.The beautiful art and the history behind it here in Florence, and all over Italy is just fascinating. I am also fascinated by how much appreciation the people here in Italy have for their art. It makes me happy to know that people here take their time when doing something that way it can come out as perfect as possible. I am definitely planning on coming back to Italy sometime in the future. I have fallen in love with this country and their culture.

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The Colosseum- Steven Hullum

When we traveled to Rome during our second weekend of the trip, we visited many different places because our time in the sprawling city was limited, and we had much to see. However, we were able to spend some quality time in some of the most astounding places I have ever set eyes on. One of those places was the Colosseum, which is also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. As we toured the Colosseum, we had the luxury of having Dr. Lisot, our Art teacher, give us an in-depth analysis of the structure and its history. The Colosseum was built upon the ruins of Nero’s Golden House, which had been destroyed by the people because of his terrible leadership. The emperor that assumed power was Vespasian Flavian, hence the lesser known name, and he wanted to build something that the people could be proud of, something that would take their mind off of Nero’s rein. The structure was constructed from 70 A.D.- 80 A.D. but Vespasian never saw the completion of his most famous monument; he died in 79 A.D. and his son Titus assumed power and finished the building. In honor of the grand opening of the Colosseum, Titus mandated that the first 100 days of games would be free. Each citizen of Rome could come to the Colosseum, get a ticket with a specific seating assignment(an amazing feat considering the Colosseum holds 70K and this was the 1st century A.D.), and get free bread as well. This is where the term bread and circuses comes from, and it refers to the mollification of the citizenry. This was a political tool used to distract the masses while the emperor grew more and more powerful through his mandates. However, regardless of what the intention was behind the games, they were extremely successful at entertaining the Roman citizens. Moreover, it was a place where the Romans came together as a common people who could enjoy the blood sport together. All people of Rome were able to come, however, one’s class determined where they would be seated. The Ima level, which is the lowest, was reserved for the Emperor and his family, the Senators of Rome, and the Vestal Virgins. The next level moving upwards, the Media (middle) was reserved for the officers of the military. The Summa (top), was for the common people of Rome, and this was where the largest available seating was. The attic space, which is the very top of the Colosseum was for the slaves of Rome, and the few women that were able to/ wanted to attend the games.

The Colosseum is a feat of engineering. Not only has it remained mostly standing for almost two thousand years(most of the damage was due to looting), but it was also a very flexible venue. The engineers found a way to use existing aqueducts to flood the hypogeum, which is the area under the dirt floor of the Colosseum(if you’ve seen Gladiator think about where Phoenix stabs Crowe before their final showdown). They would do this so that they could reenact famous naval battles that displayed the Roman military prowess in comparison to other civilizations. Also, there were trap doors that were built into the wooden floor of the Colosseum so that animals and gladiators could spring out to amaze the crowd. Almost 2 million animals were killed in the Colosseum from the time it was constructed in 80 A.D. till the year when animal hunts ceased in 523 A.D. The reason why the Colosseum is still standing and in such good shape is because of the ingenuity of the Roman engineers. They mixed a volcanic ash called Pollozana with lime, and they made some of the strongest concrete ever created. Moreover, I recently read an article that said that Seattle based concrete companies were going to attempt to recreate the roman concrete because not only was it superior, but it also was more environmentally friendly. The Romans knew how to make stronger concrete, concrete that could set even if it was poured in the ocean, that emitted fewer Green House Gases 2000 years ago. Simply amazing.

Ultimately, the visit to the Colosseum captured the essence of my visit to Rome, sheer amazement at the beauty of the structures, shock at the ability of the Roman people those many years ago, and wonder at how they ever managed to fall if they were so advanced. Moreover, the Colosseum also captures the image and identity of Rome itself, both ancient and contemporary. The structure was such an icon of the ancient civilization, many Roman coins were printed with an image of the building on them so that word would spread of the Roman’s greatness. Furthermore, it captures the feeling of the city today. It, like the city, has taken some hits in its long lifetime. However, both continue to be admired for their perseverance and sheer beauty.

Steven Hullum

HOW TO BE A VISITOR, NOT A TOURIST – Chelsey Pryor

After staying in Italy for the last two weeks, I have noticed something astonishing: there are way too many tourists. Aren’t I a tourist though? No. I am not. Tourists to me is a horrible word, it evokes the feelings of only going to a new place to look at the monuments or taking selfies in front of stuff. I am not a tourist… I am a visitor.

THERE’S A DIFFERENCE?

Yes, yes there is. I think of it has going to somebody else’s house. When you visit somebody’s home, you respect their rules and customs, no matter how crazy they sound to you. You eat the food that they prepare for you and you try to talk to them in their native language. To me, many tourists do not do that. Tourists only care about running to the next monument or eating at a restaurant that looks like it came from their home country or only speaking to people who know their native language. Tourists don’t care about attempting to try a local hole-in-the-wall eating place or adapting their schedule to fit in with the local customs or even attempting to speak their language.

Learn from my bad example

Learn from my bad example

HOW TO BE A VISITOR, NOT A TOURIST

So, how can you change from being a tourist into being a visitor? Well, for starters learn a little bit of Italian (or the country’s most popular language or that region’s most popular). It is that easy. I really thought that people were being melodramatic when they told me that Italians really like it when you at least try to speak their language… well they were right. Italians will be very happy with you if you at least learn the most basic words. Do not assume that everybody speaks English, ask: “Parle inglese?” If they say yes, then great if they say no, well then that is why you learned the most basic Italian phrases. Also, do not get mad or frustrated when they do not speak English, it is not their fault that you don’t know Italian. Why did you come to Italy if you wanted to go somewhere where English is the primary language? Moral: learn some Italian.

After you have learned some Italian, the next thing to do is to stop stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to look at the map glued to your hand. There is nothing wrong with having a map (I use it when I am going into a part of town I have never seen before) the problem is when you are blocking the street for other people who need to get to school or work or something else. How would you feel if you were trying to get to work and a pack of tourists stopped right in front of you to figure out where they are because they took a wrong turn? Pull over to one side, out of the way, and get your location there. Moral: don’t block streets or entrances.

So, you know some Italian and you are not blocking any streets, next try some different kinds of restaurants. Italy is known for its food but don’t limit yourself to only tourist locations, try something off the beaten path. How do you tell the difference between a place for locals and a place for tourists?

  • Is it next to a monument? Yes – it is for tourists.
  • Is the menu mainly in English? Yes – it is for tourists.
  • Are there a dozen different gift shops around? Yes – it is for tourists.
  • Is the menu in the host country’s language (or a language other than English)? Yes – it is for locals.
  • Does the restaurant play music other than English songs? Yes – it might be for tourists or locals. Is the restaurant a McDonald’s or another fast-food chain? Yes – it is for tourists.

I know trying new food can be scary and somewhat hard, but if you put yourself out there and try something new, then I know you will have more fun than if you only go to the “American” style restaurants. Moral: try different types of food.

So, you have learned some Italian, stopped blocking walkways, and are eating new food, the next step is simple: talk to people. I do not mean to only talk to the people in your group or class (which you should talk to them because they are in your class) but also locals around town. What do you talk to locals about?

  • Lost? Ask a local.
  • Want to find the best restaurant? Ask a local.
  • Want to know how to get to that certain monument? Ask a local.
  • Need to find the nearest bathroom? Ask a local.
  • Looking to make new and awesome friends? Talk to a local.

By talking to a local you are not only practicing Italian but you are also forming a friendship with that person that could last the rest of your lives. Moral: talk to locals.

MORAL OF EVERYTHING

I know it can be hard to see yourself as anything but a tourist when you are traveling to a different country, but by taking these steps you will no longer be seen as that annoying tourist but as a respectful visitor.