From Albania to Zimbabwe: Tents and Rare Birds, A Finals Tale


No matter where you are in the world, From Albania to Zimbabwe is the right place to find out about international happenings at Brown University! Hi, I’m Celina Stewart, a sophomore concentrating in International Relations here at Brown, and this is my space to give you updates and info about all things international at Brown, including international student life, international speakers, and different clubs and activities with an international focus. Read along and explore everything international at Brown! 

Have you ever slept in an uninsulated tent, without a sleeping bag or anything between you and the ground? If you haven’t, I strongly suggest you do- it builds character, and allows for a lot of time spent musing. If you have, you probably know what I’m talking about when I say that sleeping on the ground, with its little rocky surface you don’t realize is there until you’re trying to fall asleep, and damp overtures in the early hours of the morning, is not a restful experience. I wouldn’t even really say its a fun experience, unless you have a good reason to do it.

So why am I talking about tents, and why is the picture for this week a collection of tents in what looks like a jungle? You guessed it- there’s a mixed metaphor in here. Sleeping in a tent, uninsulated and without padding, is a lot like finals week. You don’t sleep a lot, and in fact, those noises in the morning once you’ve finally coaxed your body into sleeping will be exponentially more annoying (I remember getting… aggressive… toward a rooster)(don’t worry, it was on the hill in the photo’s background, no roosters harmed in the formation of my character). During finals, sleep is something that probably happens more than you think, but that doesn’t mean it’s great sleep or lasts for very long. Most students don’t end up pulling all nighters, but most people will end up sacrificing a little bit of time snoozing to make sure their grades are maximized.

However (remember, this is a MIXED metaphor), sleeping in a tent, and finals week, are both what you make of them, and context matters a whole lot. The tents above were part of a nature retreat that I helped lead for students that are part of the Plan Padrino program in Ibague, Colombia, a program that I spent a lot of time in high school raising money for. Upon arrival in Ibague, we fell in love with the people, the culture, our volunteer work, and mostly the students benefitting from Plan Padrino’s funding, which ensures that these students can attend school and get personalized attention at the ACJ (YMCA). The students we met shared their experiences living in poverty; many came from rough neighborhoods, which we visited to show their families our support. As someone that has been given opportunities to attend school, to have meals consistently, and to have access to healthcare, seeing students and families living in less than favorable conditions hurts- you just want to do something, tell someone, make this situation better. Over the course of two weeks, I grew an incredible amount as a person, and was inspired to increase my fundraising back in the USA exponentially.

It wasn’t all hard emotionally though- the students and their families are some of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. Colombians are a lot of fun, whether they are teaching you to salsa properly (phes, Colombian men can dance), cooking you amazingly delicious, yet simple food, or simply sharing their stories with you, and that made this trip the fourteen best days of my life, no hyperbole. On the nature retreat where we stayed in those tents, students shared their joy at having a trip away from home, staying with friends, and practicing their English with us volunteers. The nature retreat was held on a finca, where a naturalist grows free-trade certified coffee (AMAZING) and his son catalogs rare birds for biological research in the Andes mountains.

267739_1904271175772_1511520206_31816570_8201648_nThis bird with a weird beak is apparently an incredibly rare find, perhaps the only one that has been seen in the region in a very long time (the naturalist was so happy).

HOW DOES ALL OF THIS RELATE TO YOU? Because my spirit animal is that bird. Really though, because finals week is like staying on a nature retreat, in an uninsulated tent, when you don’t even care about not sleeping, because you just found an incredibly rare bird and have a worthwhile experience anyway. Staying up late in libraries or dorm lounges, you will bond with the people around you. You’ll start drifting off, and start reading the books left on the study carrel you’ve found, no matter what the subject (today’s find: ‘Albion’s Final Tree’. Unsure…). You’ll learn how you deal with pressure, stress, relaxation, and time management. You’ll push yourself to work harder than usual, but the reward will be great. I’m not saying finals will be the best week of your life (please) but it is what you make of it, just like those tents.

Now, if I could only get some of that fresh-grown coffee…

Have  questions or comments? Feel free to email me at and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible! Or, if you’d rather, just comment on the blog! 


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