The big city life, exploring caves, discussing politics and more – live from JMU

Soon my last week at James Madison University begins. It will be tough to say goodbye to all the friendly people I’ve met here and lived so close to. But before we go our separate ways, we have one more week of projects, lectures and excursions left.

Last weekend was a fun one, when we all spent two days in Washington D.C. We had a guided tour around the big monuments in the National Mall and then visited museums around the area. Most museums in central D.C. are free to enter, so you can bounce around quickly from one to the other. I can’t put into words how much fun it is to have so many great museums lined up one after the other! Later in the night, I met an old friend who lives just outside the city, and we biked around and saw the monuments again but this time lit up against the night sky.

My favorite monument was without a doubt the Vietnam veterans memorial. When you approach, it looks like just a large black stone sculpture. When you start to get closer, you see the thousands of names engraved into the wall showing the American casualties. The memorial was designed by a young college student, and I think the concept it interesting. Instead of listing the names in alphabetical order, they are written according to the date the soldiers were killed or reported missing. It makes for more of a narrative display, compared to what would have looked like a phone book of dead soldiers if the names were shown alphabetically.

Later in the week we visited the amazing Shenandoah Caverns. They were very beautiful! The strange shapes created by minerals traveling with water has been featured in the National Geographic, and it’s not hard to see why. See for yourself in the pictures below!

We were invited to a panel discussion where four people born in the US answered questions about North American life, culture and politics from their personal perspective. It was interesting to hear their different points of view. Something that really got me thinking was when one of the participants said that “local-level politics are where the real meaningful decisions are made”, which should be a reason for people to get involved in what’s happening in their local communities. A problem in the US today is that fewer people go to vote, and focus on the local level seemed to me like a good attitude to have when fighting that problem.

As I’m writing this we have just come back from a very rainy trip to King’s Dominion, a big amusement park about two hours away from the university. It was without a doubt the wildest rides I’ve ever been on. Now it’s time to relax and have a warming cup of mate!

Thanks for reading.


Playing with children, camping and studying – first week at JMU

I have now spent just over a week at the James Madison University here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It has been some very busy days, and I have been sleeping like a baby every night. In this post I will mention a few moments that have stuck with me!

After a few days of settling in, being toured around campus and stocking up on necessities at a huge supermarket, the group went for the first excursion: the Boys and Girls club of America. It’s a daycare for kids all ages, located in central Harrisonburg. Seeing this place compared to a daycare in Sweden was a big contrast. Instead of small groups of children, divided by age, all the kids share a big building with several classrooms, a gym and a small baseball field in the outside yard.

It was very impressive how just a few caretakers could handle almost 60 energetic children running around. However, I think it may be almost impossible to give enough individual attention to the kids. I remember having a personal relationship with teachers at my daycare as a kid, and this experience made me appreciate that more.

The next day, we packed up to go camping at the picturesque Sherando Lake. So far, this was without a doubt the highlight for me! I have always liked being close to nature and the area we stayed in was very beautiful. Our campsite was close to a few different hiking paths, a lake where other campers would fish in the early morning and not far away from another lake where we would go for a swim.

Everybody were in a constant good mood and the trip was a great way to relax. Since I arrived to the US there had been a lot of new impressions, so having some peace and quiet in a pretty forest was perfect. There were even some members of the group who had never camped before, which in a way let me experience camping for the first time again! When I asked another member of the group what his favorite thing about this camping trip was, his answer was the modern amenities that was available at the campsite, like grills for a barbecue, many water taps and even an amphitheater for outdoors movie nights.

In addition to leaving campus for different activities, we’ve had classes with the professors of the Center for Global Engagement. It has been interesting lectures, seminars and workshops on subjects such as diversity, global citizenship and leadership.

Every day we exchange enlightening stories from our respective countries of origin, and they can often be surprising – like how children in Taiwanese school will be taught positive values while in the US the norm is that school “stays out of the raising of children”.

Last but not least, I have to make a shout-out to my classmates from Argentina who always has a cup of the herbal tea mate available to keep you alert and in a good mood!

Until next time,


Three tips for taking photos worth keeping

In a few days, I will be traveling to Harrisonburg, USA, to attend the Cross Cultural Summer Program on Leadership and Global Engagement at James Madison University. It’s going to be a jam packed month of different activities and excursions around the university and the American capital city of Washington D.C. It will be a month with a lot of experiences to remember.

The singer and actress Rickie Lee Jones said that ”you never know when you’re making a memory”.  And while that’s true, there’s a way to get around the weak points of the human memory: cameras. They give you the ability to choose your memories, in a way. The modern digital camera can store hundreds or even thousands of snapshots on a single memory card. But if you are anything like me, there’s a lot of pictures from some vacation lying unobserved on a hard disk somewhere. These digital memories won’t do you any good like that.

I will share three things that help me to take better pictures. What someone likes in a picture is of course really subjective, and these tips are really situational, but maybe these tips will work for you like they do for me.

  1. Get close!

When you’re about to shoot some old monument, most people would probably take a step back and try to fit the whole thing in the frame. This works for many occasions, but can also lead to boring postcard-style photos. Thousands of tourists have probably already taken the exact same photo as you are lining up right now. Instead, crop your image boldly. Find the small detail that catches your eye. It might make for a unique photo and will usually not feature any other tourists in the image, which is usually a plus. This tip works really well for photographing people too. Getting up close usually leads to more personal, fun and playful pictures.

  1. Be quick!

Keep your camera close, and draw it quick. For digital cameras, don’t be afraid to snap a few quick shots in a row to capture something happening in the moment. While carefully composed pictures are not necessarily bad, I find that my favorite shots are the ‘in-the-moment’ pictures, often with someone who has not yet realized I am taking their photo. It’s better to ask for permission after rather than before shooting the picture. And don’t skip cleaning up your camera reel by the end of the day, it’s the best time to edit out the boring pictures.

  1. Tell a story.

Humans love narratives. If you are ever going to show your vacation shots to a friend or relative, make it into a journey that is worth listening to. Landscape pictures are pretty hard to make very interesting, but can work as an establishing shot for the location that you arrived to. Then, follows a portrait of a local that gave you directions. Maybe you can get a picture that says something about the personality of your traveling buddies. Thinking about what a picture is saying can be a great way to make the images come to life, and help you remember all the things that you were thinking about when you were taking them.

End of week 1 at Murdoch!

So I have almost finished the first week of Uni here at Murdoch, and it has been a lot of new impressions and a lot to take in… I am doing 4 courses (called units here),  one is a basic course in mathematics, and one is more about the pedagogy and how to work with maths in the classroom. The third course is called “Country, Cultures, Peoples: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives Across the Curriculum” which focuses on the Indigenous Peoples in the Australian school system, a very interesting course for me to take while I’m here in Australia! The last course I am taking is a course about Social Science and how to teach it in primary school.

I am little overwhelmed by everything I have experienced so far this week. It is a lot to process and to understand, everything from their learning platform to adjusting to all lectures and workshops being in English. Since my program back home in Malmö is just in Swedish, it might take a while to adjust to the academic language in English. I am not looking forward to some of the academic writing assignments in some of my courses… But hopefully, I will be able to do it once I get there, I am still only in my first week 🙂 It feels like I will be needing to spend more time here for studies than back home, at least now in the beginning. Just like my education in Malmö, they have a lot of self-studies here as well, which means that we don’t have a lot of actual lessons but we have to read a lot of books and texts at home instead.

Tomorrow we have a costume party here at campus that I am really looking forward to! Besides that, I am going to relax a bit this weekend, play some basketball and swim in our community swimming pool here in the University Village where I live. I love to live here, it is only a 10 min walk to Uni and they have so many fun activities here for us who lives here. For instance, every Friday morning they serve a pancake breakfast, so I am looking forward to that tomorrow morning… 😉

/Rebecca at Murdoch University, Perth

En månad i James Madison University, USA!

Under Sommaren 2017 fick jag chansen att åka till James Madison University som utbytes student via Malmö Universitet. Under en hel månad skulle jag tillsammans med ett 10 tal andra studenter från, Kina, Taiwan och Argentina, lära mig mer om ledarskap.

Det bästa med programmet var att jag fick lära känna vänner från olika delar av världen. Tillsammans bodde vi på fräscha “dorms” i grace street som dessutom hade air-condition!   Den goda Buffé maten som skolans egna matsal erbjöd var dunder! Och dessutom var den gratis för oss! Där serverades frukost, lunch och middag. Vi fick även tillgång till universitets egna gymnastiksal som innehöll Gym, simbassäng, klätterställe, tennis, basketboll, squash mm. Jag kan väl säga att James Madison University och de ansvariga studenterna tog hand om oss väl och vi blev lite bortskämda.

2 dagar in på programmet var det 4:e Juli. Vilket innebär självständighetsfirande för det amerikanska folket. Harrissonburgs torg omvandlades till en festival med hoppborg och country music.

Varannan dag var vi på universitet och hade seminarier tillsammans med duktiga professorer. Och varannan dag gick vi ut på utflykter. Vi var ute och campade i skogen, Sov 2 nätter i Washington DC, besökte virginias berömda amusement park, besökte caverns, gick på outlet mm. Det bästa för mig var då vi besökte “boys and Girls club”. Det är som en fritidsgård för socioekonomiskt utsatta barn. Under en dag fick vi leka med barnen och lära känna dem.

Jag har bifogat bilder från resan!

O-week start!

Hi everyone!

My name is Rebecca and this is my first post on this blog. I am attending the exchange program for one semester at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. I am currently in my third year to become a primary school teacher!

Yesterday I moved into the University Village (on-campus accommodation) and today the O-week, Orientation Week, started! That is like the introduction for us exchange students and new students where you get to meet other students while doing social activities. So today on the first day we had a lot of information, small discussion groups about different topics and got to take part in some of the aboriginal culture- very exciting! Tonight we had a free pasta night for all of us living in the uni village, very nice!

I live in a shared apartment where I share a kitchen with 3 other people. We also have to bathrooms. It feels good to live with a few other people when you have moved almost across the other side of the world 😉

For the next two weeks, there will be a lot of activities and fun stuff happening, Uni will start on the 26th of February!

I hope that you guys want to follow my adventure here in Australia, and please leave a comment if there is anything specific you want me to tell a little bit more about!

Fierce sun, heavy rain and emotional goodbyes

Before the magic of Bali fades from our system we will try and relay what happened the last couple of days. The plan was to upload more posts during the journey but three days in to the conference it all became so hectic and the days became so long, there was simply no time. BUT here we are. for one final round. And what a fantastic couple of days we had.

The committee had done a fabulous job in keeping us busy, having planned to field trips per day for Thursday and Friday. On the first day we got to go snorkeling to see how the coral reef around Bali was coping with the climate change. As with most things climate related, it wasn’t all happy faces, however, we got to get insight into how the organisation Reef Check Indonesia is working towards a more sustainable way of enabling locals to take care of the reefs. And the waters around Bali were as wonderful as ever, giving some of us a glimpse of three playing dolphins.

Getting ready to snorkel at the Japanese Shipwreck.

After the reef check we moved on towards the next sight for sore eyes; Tirta Gangga; a spectacular water garden built in 1946 for the royal family.

Inga & DIna; Sweden, enjoying the gardens wearing fashionable sarongs.

At Tirta Gangga we were also given the pleasure of seing, and participating in(!), traditional Balinese dancing.

The dancers put on a spectacular show…

… and some of the people how chose Balinese dancing as their cultural activity a few days earlier were put to the test by the masters! 

On the second day of field trips we got up almost equally early and set out for the next spectacular day. This time we headed for the mountains to see an organic farm.

After an initial introduction to the farm, the corps and the farm’s way of using eco-friendly fertilization and pesticides we were put to work. Inga and Khalil; Sweden, doing a terrific job planting lettuce.

Before going to the farm, we were explicitly told to wear pants and not skirts. When asking the reason for this, as we were wondering if it was religious, we were given the information that it would be very cold and windy. Well… it was safe to say that for the Swedes this was not quite an issue as the temperature was still around 25 degrees and when, after an hour, the sun came out we all came home later that evening with quite a sunburn…

After having a phenomenal lunch at the farm, getting to taste their produce we got back on the buses and headed towards the next destination; Ulun Danu Beratan Temple. As we got there it was quite foggy and after an hour or so it started to rain, but all in all it was another wonderful (long) day.

Fernesto; Indonesia, displaying the temple depicted in the 50 000 Rupiah bill. 

SO. After three days of lectures, seminars and work shops and two days of field trips we finally had our free exploration day. Now, I won’t go into detail on what each of us did here, because I could go on forever showing you a million pictures of everyone’s fantastic adventures. If you want to know more about that; you’ll simply have to ask us!

However, we are moving towards the end and the last day was probably the biggest adventure of them all. We got up at dawn to participate in the grand finale organized by the committe; The Amazing Race. We all set out at 7.15 without breakfast, without a clue of where the race would take us. Unfortunately at 7.30 it started raining. Heavy. And it didn’t stop. By the time we reached the second challenge it had turned into a full blown storm we were all soaking wet and the committe decided to cancel the race.


It was very cold and very wet and we were not very happy. 

I cannot in words describe how wet we were, the only way to fathom it is by me telling you that as we got back to the hotel, we got in the pool fully dressed, and it didn’t make any sort of difference in terms of wetness.

After recovering for a while the day moved on to the poster presentation prepared by each group. Now this layout was a bit unfamiliar to many of us and the afternoon became a lot longer than we anticipated. Nonetheless we got to see many great posters proposing many good ideas for change.

At 5 pm we were all dressed and ready for the closing ceremony where we had been asked to wear traditional formal wear. Seeing how this is more common in Asian countries and not something you see everyday in the west, the surprise factor was quite high when Sofia showed up wearing an Ingelsta-dräkt belonging to her mother. In just a few minutes she, and everyone else who dressed in their absolutely beautiful traditional wear became tourist attractions with pictures taken left and right.

Sofia together with the Bangladesh delegation.

The closing ceremony was great with everyone receiving their diplomas and us getting to see several cultural performances and getting a final chance to say goodbye to each other, sharing laughs and tears from the past week.

So to sum up; this has been an absolutely incredible phenomenal adventure from start to finish and we would recommend anyone and everyone to part take in it if the opportunity is given next year. What you should know is this; the days are LONG, the cultural immersion is HIGH, and the experience is PRICELESS. Below is a list of things we would like to share with future delegations.

  • January is wet season in Indonesia so when they say bring raincoat/umbrella – do. Because it will rain. At times A LOT.
  • The cost of being in Bali is not very high. We had exchanged between 800 and 2000 SEK and depending on how much shopping you did, this was perfectly enough.
  • You will be tired. The days will be long, warm and require a lot of energy so EAT. Plenty and often.
  • If there is anything you don’t understand in the conference guide write and ask the committee; they will answer and clarify!
  • Don’t bring to much clothes; you will not wear it all. You will not change as much as you think.
  • The sun in Indonesia is fierce; use sunscreen. Indonesia is on/below the equator; respect that.
  • Take every opportunity to speak with the other delagations; get to know them; talk about their cultures, and ask as many stupid questions as you can think of. This is the knowledge and experience that you cannot put a price on.
  • Oh, and drink water! Keep track of yourself so that you don’t become dehydrated. Dehydration is no fun.

There. If you stuck with us this long; congratulations! We’ve had a wonderful journey and we hope you’ve enjoyed it with us. In hindsight we are still in awe both that we made it to Bali but also that we made it home..!

 Three exhausted girls on the train from Copenhagen after 24 hours of travelling (Khalil was on a different flight than us 🙂 ) 

Thank you for joining us this past week!

/Dina, Inga, Khalil & Sofia/


My last weeks in Australia

Once university had come to a close I still had more than 2 months before I had to be back in Malmö for my next semester. I spent this time working and travelling.

After I handed in my last exam I started working a few hours north of Brisbane. Most of my days were spent under the hot sun planting trees. But on my days off I was able to enjoy the coast. After working, I had saved up enough money to spend some time in South East Asia. I visited Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

This is how I spent most of December, planting trees!

On one of my days off, Vappu came to visit me!

I explored Thailand by scooter!

The Grande Palace, Bangkok

One day we found some baby elephants taking a bath at the beach!

The bust streets of Bangkok, Thailand

The lush rice fields of Bali.

Our temporary home in Lombok.


My tour guide in Singapore!

Back in Malmö.

These past six months have been a great experience. Not only was I able to live and study in Australia, but it also gave me the opportunity to explore a part of the world I had never been to. Now I will try to settle back into a very different pace of life here in Malmö. I am glad to be back.

Workshops, lectures and an anniversary-celebration

Another two more days filled with workshops and lectures have passed since last. Each day has consisted of three workshops all designed to make us think about and discuss different aspects of climate change ranging from biodiversity to economy and tourism.

Daniel; Indonesia and Daphne; Spain hard at work at one of our quintuple helixes regarding climate change in the Galapagos Islands.

When we arrived we were all invited into nine subgroups of nine people. Each of these groups are required to make an informational poster on a certain environmental topic to present to the rest of the conference on Sunday before the closing ceremony.

Group 9 is focusing on Climate Change, Human Impact and Resilience in Biodiversity.
Jessica; Indonesia, Rumpa; Bangladesh, Wandile; South Africa, Ferdin; Indonesia, Sofia; Sweden, Thoung; Vietnam, Stella; Indonesia, Inggita; Indonesia & Daphne; Spain. 

One of the lectures held during the days was on the East Bali Poverty Projects (EBPP). It is a project initiated by a British civil engineer in 1998 but driven and owned by the local community. The aim of the project is to reduce poverty, increase education, health care and creating a safer environment for the people of the distant and hard reached parts of East Bali, specifically on Mt Agung (the volcano that is currently acting up). A fantastic project and a fantastic outcome of nearly twenty years of incredibly hard work from the locals and their collaborators. Truly inspiring!

During lunch we got to take part of the 63rd anniversary for the UNPAR Uni. One of the coordinators and lecturers of the conference; Fiona, did the honors and cut the cake. 

After a long day ending closer to 19.00 Dina, Inga and Sofia went out for dinner and some catching up. As we are all located in different rooms and groups we haven’t really seen each other all week so it was nice getting to talk a bit and sharing and comparing our impressions of the week so far.

Tomorrow another adventure starts when we are being picked up at 5.30 to go to Amed and take part of the projects carried out to keep the reefs healthy and prosperous.

Till next time!

/Dina, Inga, Khalil & Sofia/

A warm day even by Indonesian standards


As we’re closing in on midnight, we’re reaching the end of our first official day in Bali! in the travel and hetlag we’ve sort of lost track of what weekday it is, but we’re being so well cared for by our Indonesian students it doesn’t matter.

The travel here went well, although it was long and tiresome; Dina, Inga and Sofia met up at four in the morning on Saturday at Kastrup airport and arrived in Denpasar, Indonesia, close to 19 hours later; Sunday morning around 10 am (GMT+7).

As we reached Doha, Qatar for our layover, we met up with Khalil and boarded our second, 10-hour, flight to Denpasar.

Once we landed we were greeted by the wonderful students of Universitas Katolik Parahyangan (UNPAR) and were transported to out home for the upcoming seven days.

Each of us are paired up to live with an Indonesian student, some more of a match than others. One of us is paired with a party girl who can handle cockroaches (great asset!) and another with a native Balinese who explains the culture to us – all in all a great way to get to socialize and share experiences.

Upon arrival our biological watches were all a bit messed up but after a short rest we went out for lunch and a walk around in the close-by area and down to the beach. As you can see the weather is cloudy at times and today we had quite a downpour but it was rather a welcome end to a VERY hot day.

At 16:00, the opening ceremony began with an opportunity to meet the other approx 70 students joining. We got to do some introductory games and everyone were good sports about trying to remember everyones names and working together.

As a starting point for the opening of the conference one of the teachers cut and offered the traditional nasi tumpeng which symbolizes different parts of Indonesian/Balinese food items. After that we all got to try the different components for dinner.

The evening was an early one for most of the jet-lagged people from Europe and the US so that we would be able to get up for the lectures today. During the course of the day we had four lectures, that were all very inspiring and interesting. The room we were in however soon reached ridiculous temperatures, even for the Indonesians, and a couple of people had to leave in order not to faint. 

One of the lectures was held by two young Indonesian girls, fourteen and seventeen years old. They came from the organisation Bye Bye Plastic Bags, an initiative started a few years back by equally young girls. Their aim is to raise awareness on the issues of using plastic bags and reducing the consumption. After their incredibly inspiring lecture (feel free to watch the initiators’ TED Talk!)  we were all invited to turn one of our t-shirts into a handy textile bag. Dina was chosen as the Swedish representative and below you can see her spectacularly pretty Malmö Uni-bag!

At the end of the day we all took part of a traditional Balinese culture activity; either painting, dancing or a certain religious ceremony. Some of us went dancing and others tried to see if we had a hidden talent for painting.

Joe from Thailand admiring three of the paintings we used as inspiration; turns out he had real talent! Unfortunately we didn’t get a picture of his finished artwork. 

Sofia from Sweden, Clarissa, Jessica and Indi from Indonesia were by far the loudest group in creating their masterpieces. 

After a really long and hot day, the evening was free so a bunch of us went out for dinner and later drinks accompanied by a really enthusiastic reagge-singer. After heated discussions on everything from the climate to the LGBT-movement we’re calling it a day and going to bed!

Take care, and until next time; Selamat malam! (Good night in Indonesian)

/Dina, Inga, Khalil & Sofia/